Five candidates for USC’s vacant coaching position

Javier Morales

October 09, 2013 at 12:59 pm.

USC may target Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin in its head coaching search. (Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE)

Somebody posing as a representative of USC contacted representatives of Tony Dungy and Jack Del Rio about the coaching vacancy, drawing the ire of athletic director Pat Haden.

I’m not going to go that far, but I will attempt to occupy Haden’s thought process and rank the top five candidates I would hire if I was the athletic director.

I have immediately crossed off the list any coach without a college coaching background (Del Rio and Jeff Fisher) or one who is not in step with the Southern California, L.A. lifestyle. The Trojans need someone who is vibrant (sorry Chris Petersen), with an understanding of what it takes to recruit and coach young talent at a major college program.

1.  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M head coach

Some in the media question why Sumlin, 49, would want to leave Texas A&M because of his lucrative contract ($3.1 million annually) and upgrades to the Aggies’ facilities. Three letters: S-E-C. Instead of having to compete against the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia every year, Sumlin could be a dominant recruiting figure in California and become a force in the Pac-12 at a traditional powerhouse. He has a better chance year in and year out to win a national title at USC than he does at Texas A&M.

2. James Franklin, Vanderbilt head coach

Franklin, 41, is a natural fit for the Trojans, having coached Vanderbilt to respectability in the SEC at a private university, similar to USC’s institution. He is a young, vibrant coach, who will unify the Trojans. If he can be competitive with the talent Vanderbilt attracts, imagine what he can do with five-star players at USC. The Trojans, because of their stature and location in sunny Southern California, should be led by a young guy who knows his Xs and Os and exudes confidence.  Franklin is that guy. Also, how much better can he be at Vanderbilt?

3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach

Much like Franklin at Vanderbilt, Fitzgerald, 38, may soon reach his ceiling at Northwestern soon. Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern player, can be lured away from his roots if he likes the idea of gaining national prominence at a high-profile program. That will not happen at Northwestern, at least not on a yearly basis. Fitzgerald is another young guy who can capture the attention of the Trojans’ players and the school’s student body. Also like Franklin, he coaches at a private university with high academic standards  and he is an accomplished recruiter.

4. Charlie Strong, Louisville head coach

Strong has a solid coaching background coming from Florida, where he worked briefly with Urban Meyer. He is 53 but has the looks and energy of somebody who is 20 years younger. Look at what he’s done at Louisville, previously an afterthought in college football. He has made the Cardinals relevant nationally with a top 10 ranking in the AP Top 25. He has experience coaching on both sides of the ball and is capable of recruiting and coaching a quarterback talent such as Teddy Bridgewater. Also, look at the programs where he has coached and recruited successfully: Florida, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

5. Art Briles, Baylor head coach

I know, I know … Briles is 57 and he coaches a Big 12 program that has not enjoyed success at the highest level. But watch out for the Bears. The way they are overpowering opponents with their speed and athleticism offensively is reminiscent of how USC’s Pac-12 rival Oregon operates in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon is a proven winning model in college football. Briles’ popularity will grow as Baylor continues to win. The Bears have a legitimate shot at going undefeated with Oklahoma and Texas having to travel to Waco. The Longhorns may come calling before USC does. Don’t forget that Briles has coached a Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III and has a legitimate candidate in Lache Seastrunk this season.