In all honesty, I truly don't enjoy writing these kinds of "candidate" articles; because truth be told, very few people have a window into the decision maker's thinking. In this case, I have only casually met Rick Hart and certainly don't feel that I know him.
On the other side of the coin though are the candidates, many of whom I do know and feel that I have a pretty good feel for their career aspirations and current thinking. Thus, with every caveat known to man, I offer the following thoughts on some of the initial names everyone is bound to hear regarding this search.
Timing: Given the team's performance in their first two games, it's hard to envision SMU challenging for a conference title this year. Accordingly, it's hard to imagine Hart waiting until the final game to make his hire (assuming he can lure his top choice at the right time...more on that to come). I expect the hire to be the first of the year and to occur well before the final game is played.
The Process: The serious candidates will get word of their interest to Hart within the week. Of course, if word got out it would be denied (wink, wink). I expect in-house and third party vetting to take place in October and there will be confidential meetings later in October / early November. Depending on Hart's comfort level, he should be ready to pull the trigger as soon as he looks "his man" in the eye. The coach will accept the job within 24 hours and I expect it to be announced shortly thereafter. Depending on where that coach's team is in their season (and in his career) will dictate the timing of him moving into his new role as head coach at SMU or remaining on staff to finish out his team's regular season. Money won't be an issue in this search.
The Candidates: I expect Chad Morris to be offered and to accept the position. I also expect Morris to deny interest in the position until he is offered the job. Morris has quietly sought out other jobs, most recently he pushed for the Vanderbilt opening which went to Derek Mason, and this is one he will push hard for. Morris would love the opportunity to return to Texas and the bravado that comes with being a head ball coach in Dallas. Morris would thrive in this environment and would interact well with Mustang boosters. In my opinion, Hart has plenty of time and will perform his diligence but I believe Morris is likely on top of the list already and won't be surpassed. If Clemson were to lose to Florida State in two weeks, the playoff hopes for Clemson would be over and Morris would be free to move into his new role as soon as he accepts (which would likely be in November).
Mark Hudspeth - Hud has a nice job where he is and has been successful in the South. He's an excellent coach, motivator, competitor, program builder and fundraiser; but he's not Texas. Some places that doesn't matter. I believe it does impact his ability to be the next head coach in this situation.
Jake Spavital - Kliff Kingsbury was hired to be head coach after just two years officially calling the plays. Thus, some people think that is going to happen everywhere...I don't see it that way. Kliff's case was a unique fit with his alma mater opening when they needed a "family" hire. For the record, I think hiring Kliff was a great hire. However, I don't think athletic directors see the same thing when they meet Jake Spavital. Jake is an excellent football mind and has done well as a play caller. He's very impressive, smart, liked by the players and respected by the coaches; but he's not ready to be SMU's head coach. I see Spav and Kevin Sumlin riding together for quite some time...and doing very well together.
Philip Montgomery - Art Briles' offensive coordinator is awfully good at what he does; but he won't be the next head coach at SMU. Montgomery is a first class individual who truly loves where he is and is not looking to move on. Montgomery isn't a cultural fit in Highland Park either. Happy to be in Waco.
Tom Herman - Herman is bright and well liked across the board. He has a big future ahead of him and will be offered a head coaching position soon enough (with Urban's backing...which is important). Herman knows Texas well from his time coming up through the ranks and at Rice and I have no doubt Herman would be interested if contacted. I simply don't believe the money behind the program, and ultimately Rick Hart, would choose to hire Herman over Chad Morris for this position.
Mike Norvell - Norvell is Todd Graham's current best friend and closest confidant. In time, Graham will help Norvell find a head coaching postion; but everything I've heard is that Norvell is very happy being offensive coordinator at ASU for the foreseeable future and wouldn't expect Graham to push this on him especially given that Graham will expect undivided attention during the season on the field (not on job chasing).
Gene Chizik, Mack Brown & Houston Nutt - To climb to the top of the American, SMU needs top playmakers. They need excitement. They need good clean energy. Chizik, Brown and Nutt are all qualified coaches who honestly have each already thought about the opportunity; but I don't expect SMU to go this direction. Not much more than a feel on this part, just don't see that direction for this hire.
Wildcard Candidates: I haven't gotten a sense yet for Gary Kubiak's plans. Excellent football coach. Is he someone who could wow Rick Hart if the two were to meet? Yeah, I could see that. Second one, and this is just kind of fun to imagine...but wouldn't it be fun to watch Lane Kiffin take a stab at SMU? Nah, let's not go there.
Updated wildcard: After initially publishing this article a well connected source text me simply: Derek Dooley. While that's an interesting thought and all (he is in town...and wants to be a college head coach again), I wouldn't bet my money on that one.