Football Coaching Search Is On the Clock

The calendar has turned to November and the football coaching carousel is about to heat up. New athletic director Bubba Cunningham was in Chapel Hill this past weekend and the buzz is that, while he doesn't officially start at UNC until next week, he is already at work on finding a permanent coach for the Tar Heels.

Michelle Hillison at Inside Carolina, who did amazing work regarding the AD search, has posted a coaching search thread (subscription required) at IC with a list of rumored candidates and those who have expressed an interest in the UNC job.

Of course the big fish that Carolina is hoping to land is Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Multiple sources have said that Petersen is Cunningham's top target, and given Boise's success, it's easy to see why. Petersen has two sons, one of whom has battled cancer, and that has led to speculation that he might be interested in the world-class medical facilities in the Triangle. But Petersen himself has said his son is cancer-free and that would not be a factor in any decisions he might make.

There are some drawbacks to Petersen, as he is a west-coast guy, and ex-Boise coaches have not fared well elsewhere (see last week's ESPNU color commentator, former Boise coach Dan Hawkins, who flopped royally at Colorado). Plus, football was mentioned (if only in a minor role) in Boise's recent NCAA troubles. And frankly, given his level of success at Boise, he could probably write his ticket to a big-time job, so it is unclear why he would be interested in a mid-level ACC job at UNC. But you have to respect the fact Bubba is swinging for the fences, at least for a top target.

The other names that seem to be generating buzz are Miami coach Al Golden, South Florida coach Skip Holtz, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Golden might be looking to bail on the U if the NCAA drops the hammer on the Canes, particularly since the administration at Miami didn't seem to tell Golden it was coming. Holtz is frequently mentioned as having interest in the job but his (and his family's) connections to ECU, NCSU, and SCAR might work against him, plus it seems his dream job is Notre Dame. Sumlin is an exciting coach on his way up whose Houston team puts up some wild offensive numbers. Tuberville is an interesting candidate who has apparently expressed interest in coming to Chapel Hill. He has SEC chops and while his age (57) may be an issue, he is actually younger than Butch Davis. Malzahn is a message board favorite for his high-powered offenses (then again, when Cam Newton is your QB, it's easier to be high-powered) but just six years ago, he was a high school coach.

And then of course there is interim coach Everett Withers, who by all accounts has done an admirable job at UNC in a very difficult situation this season. But even if UNC wins out to go 10-3, there is no way that Withers gets the permanent job. In fact, that may have even been communicated to him when he was named interim. UNC did not fire Butch Davis to have one of his coordinators become head coach and leave most of the staff intact. The idea was to clean house, and that will occur very soon. UNC fans should be very appreciative of Withers' effort and loyalty and this season should serve as an audition for any school that would want to hire him. Withers will be head coach next fall if he wants to be, just not at UNC.

I'm sure the goal for UNC is an established, successful head coach with program administration experience, whether or not that is at the BCS level. Some anti-ACC snobs have suggested that UNC take the SEC-coordinator route, but that has not been successful for UNC in the past, given that the only coaches hired in the last 50 years without significant head coaching experience were Carl Torbush and John Bunting, and we see how well that worked out. In addition, it is rumored that Cunningham likes up-tempo offense, but UNC's pro-style sets (and pro-style program administration, for better or worse) is what attracted the NFL scouts to Chapel Hill over the past four years. So it will be interesting to see which philosophy wins out. Nevertheless, the knowledge that Bubba is on the job already seems to validate those who said his hiring would be good for football.

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