It has been a big day in the UK Coaching search, as new teams have had jobs come open and the number of UK Candidates have narrowed quickly. At this point, the best way to look at the situation is to break it down systematically, so lets get to it:
1. UK Now Has Four Primary Targets
After speaking with sources today, it looks like Kentucky has narrowed its list down to three head coaches and one coordinator. Mark Stoops, the Defensive Coordinator at Florida State, Mike MacIntyre, the head coach at San Jose State and Sonny Dykes, the head coach at Louisiana Tech are the three certainties on the list and from my conversations, I believe that all three have been interviewed. The fourth is likely Gary Andersen of Utah State, although I have not been able to get anyone to confirm to me that he is number four. The three head coaches all employ exciting offensive packages, while Stoops is considered one of the best coordinators in America and has one of the best defenses in the nation. If these are the final four (and I assume they are, unless we are wrong about Andersen and someone else takes slot four), then your next coach likely comes from this group.
2. What Happened to the Other Names?
Butch Jones was at one time the potential favorite for this job and may very well have been Kentucky’s first choice. Meetings between Jones and Kentucky took place on at least two occasions, but a source tells KSR that Jones has found himself a candidate for the Tennessee job and believes he could be hired in Knoxville. He thus is unwilling to commit to Kentucky at this point and thus for now at least, he is not on the final four list. It showcases the state of the college football coaching searches nationwide that a candidate who just a few days ago had some UK fans complaining about his pedigree, could now end up the coach of one of the sport’s traditional powers. It is a tough market out there. The other candidate who seems to have not made the final group is Kliff Kingsbury. I know at one point he was considered for the job, although I have been unable to confirm whether he ended up getting an interview in the process or not.
3. So Who Are the Favorites?
In my view, the two favorites at this point are Mike MacIntyre and Mark Stoops. A source tells KSR that both impressed the Kentucky folks with their vision for the program and both jumped up the lists after the conversations. I have been unable to figure out which of the two is the current “leader”, but the timeframe of the actual decision (more on that in a bit) could end up answering that question.
4. So Tell Me About this Mike MacIntyre fella.
I freely admit that when I first heard MacIntyre’s name, I had almost zero reason to be excited. The notion of getting the coach of San Jose State seemed to me a letdown and when I heard that at one point he was working at Shoneys, it seemed his candidacy was doomed from the start. But then I went and learned a bit about him and now I am more impressed. MacIntyre comes from a pedigree of coaching and his father spent most of his career in the SEC. He has connections to two people that Mitch Barnhart trusts (Bill Parcells and David Cutcliffe) and both highly recommend him. Mike was at Ole Miss for a number of years, where he was known as a tremendous recruiter, famously bringing Patrick Willis onto campus. He was the Defensive Coordinator at Duke and in 2009, was named National Coordinator of the Year. He then got the job at San Jose State, where he took over a program that may have been the worst in Division I. They were hit by scholarship limitations and had zero interest/facilities and literally, $0 for a recruiting budget. He built this program from a 1-11 season to this year, where they have gone 10-2. That includes a win over Sonny Dykes and a 20-17 loss to a Stanford team that is headed to the Rose Bowl. He now has San Jose State in the Top 25 and the Sporting News called his program development there “astonishing.”
5. So What About Mark Stoops?
Stoops may be the hottest coordinator available right now in college football and I am still slightly surprised he has genuine interest in Kentucky. He has been mentioned as a coaching candidate at Auburn and he still has one game left in the ACC Title game at Florida State. He went to Arizona as the Defensive Coordinator with his brother Mike and had decent success, but then left to take over at Florida State with Jimbo Fisher. Since there, his defense has been continually improving and this year was first in America going into the Florida game last week. He is considered a bright young college football mind and one Arizona reporter who covered him in Tuscon said he was a much better fit for a head coaching job than his brother Mike. He is of course Bob Stoops brother and virtually everyone believes that he will leave Tallahassee for a head coaching job this year.
6. Are there any new factors in the head coaching search?
There is one big new factor, and that is that there are a number of other jobs now open. In many ways, the search has fallen not in the best way imaginable for UK. They expected Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas to go after big names and they have…BUT it looks as if many have turned them down. Thus Tennessee at least has dipped down into the pool that UK has been targeting, at least with Butch Jones. Plus, jobs came open today that are in the Kentucky-level of jobs, NC State, California, Colorado and Purdue to name a few. If Kentucky is able to get a coach they want, the extra three weeks to beat these schools to the punch may be the difference. Because there are now so many more suitors, I think UK has stepped up their timetable and you may see a move quickly.
7. When Will Kentucky Make their first offer?
I was told this afternoon that Kentucky had yet to offer its coaching job to anyone…but this may change VERY quickly. A source tells KSR that there was extensive movement in the search today and that a big reason for this is the plethora of openings at these other schools. I would be surprised if we didn’t hear of an offer from UK very soon to one of its top targets. MacIntyre is apparently being pursued by Colorado and California, Stoops by Auburn, Dykes by Purdue and others are likely to emerge as well. Kentucky likely has to move very soon. This could affect the person hired as well, especially since Stoops has the ACC Championship Game this week. It may very well be hard for him to accept the job with that game looming, meaning that a hiring this week could mean MacIntyre, whose season is over.
8. Should Fans be happy with these Candidates?
That is really up to each individual fan, but I would say this. The current list of four includes one of the hottest coordinators in America and maybe the three hottest mid-major level coaches. For Kentucky, a school that may have the hardest job in the SEC (outside of Vandy) to get any one of those coaches, is probably a pretty good accomplishment. Many were disappointed when Butch Jones’s name came up and now he might end up the hire at Tennessee. If Tennessee ends up hiring Jones, that tells you just how hard the current market is for Kentucky to compete against. Those against the hires from Day One are either (a) hung up on Petrino or (b) somewhat unrealistic about UK’s position. If you are in the (A) group, I understand your feeling but at some point you have to move on. Mitch Barnhart is not going to hire Petrino and it looks like no one else nationwide is eager to either. You can let that ruin your fandom or not, but it doesnt change the circumstances. For those in the second group, I would encourage you to read up on MacIntyre/Stoops especially and give them a chance if they are the hires. I think both have the makeup of guys who could do well here and coming in with fan support would be of huge benefit.
We could know our new coach in the next 48 hours, so stay tuned. We will be discussing this all morning on radio and on the site. Until then….