The Rebels have been officially on the market since July 20, the day Hugh Freeze resigned. So, theoretically, Ole Miss would be prepared to make a hire any moment now.
But there’s a black cloud lording over Oxford right now, and there’s no telling when the cloud may leave town: the ongoing NCAA investigation. The NCAA is expected to release its ruling in the case at some point, but here we are on the day before Thanksgiving and Ole Miss officials are still sitting under the dark of that black cloud.
Given that, it’s hard — nay impossible — for Rebels AD Ross Bjork to pitch his job to coaches and agents with any level of clarity. However, that doesn’t mean Bjork has been sitting on his hands. Bjork has been doing his due diligence on candidates and arranging meetings, and we continue to hear there is significant interest in the position.
The chatter within the coaching circles has been consistent over the past month. It has been demonstrated you can attract the level of talent to Oxford to win championships — both on the field and in beauty competitions — the financial compensation that will be offered is upper echelon, the understanding that the coach who accepts the position will be given the slack that he needs to rebuild the program in his image are all appealing characteristics.
Bjork supported Freeze until the bitter end, which sometimes drew scorn for the Ole Miss AD in the media, but coaches view that level of support from their administration as a positive.
Interim head coach Matt Luke has done a fine job holding things together during what can at best be described as a challenging season. He represents Ole Miss with class in everything he does and there is significant hope throughout the coaching community that he will stay on once the new head coach is hired.
Based on conversations with those in the profession, here’s what we do know about the Ole Miss search: the Rebels are looking for a program-builder, one that will be given the full support of the administration to construct his program in his image. Although it remains to be seen if one might accept, it is our understanding Ole Miss has been having conversations with representatives of current Power 5 head coaches, in addition to plenty of Group of 5 head coaches.
There has been plenty of chatter regarding Oregon head coach Willie Taggart this week. While we can’t say with certainty that Taggart is a realistic candidate, those are the waters Ole Miss is fishing in. (Unrelated to Ole Miss, it is stunning to reportedly see the first year coach at Oregon already on the look for another home.
With the disclaimer that we have no idea who ultimately accepts the job, over the course of the past few weeks we’ve heard countless names as “potentials” for the job (depending on who you listen to).
Coaches like Neal Brown, Mike Norvell, Chad Morris, Blake Anderson, Willie Fritz or Mike Bobo would all love to move up to a Power 5 job if they believe they can be successful there. More established coaches such as Mike Leach or Charlie Strong could decide this is something they want to pursue. Does Taggart really want to leave Oregon for this opportunity? Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre reportedly wants the job as does UTSA’s Frank Wilson. Whether there is any true interest in Leach or not, I mention his name simply because the idea of Leach sitting on the balcony, upstairs at City Grocery waxing poetic, amusing the locals seems amazing.
MacIntyre won six games in his first two seasons at San Jose State, then won 10 in 2012 and moved on to Colorado. In Mac’s first three seasons in Boulder the Buffs won 10 games, then (with Jim Leavitt’s help) they won 10 in 2016. The Buffs (currently 5-6) close out their regular season Saturday at Utah.
UTSA’s coach Frank Wilson, who coached running backs at Ole Miss ’05-’07, has won six games in each of his two seasons at UTSA. Their wins this year have come over Baylor, Southern, Texas State, Rice, UTEP and a last second field goal Saturday secured a 9-7 win over Marshall in San Antonio.
The Rebels conclude their regular season tomorrow night and most FBS head coaches conclude their regular season Saturday. At this point Bjork has to move forward as the new early signing date (Dec. 20) is looming. Can Bjork offer assurances? Sure. Can he get creative with contract language the might add additional incentives, compensation and security should future NCAA sanctions be worse than expected? Sure. Will coaches listen? Sure.
Ole Miss has attracted top talent in the past. There is no reason to think they are aiming any lower this time. The question though, is will the right coach commit to Ole Miss?
Things will get real in this search over the next seven days. As the focus of this search narrows we’ll keep you posted.
As always, for the latest in the coaching profession stay tuned to The Scoop.