After three eventful years, Mark Richt is no longer the head coach at Miami. The former Hurricanes quarterback tendered his retirement on Sunday morning, opening up one of the most intriguing jobs in the country.
Miami hasn't seriously contended for national championships since the glory days of The U Part II at the early part of this century, before the SEC grew into the behemoth it is today and before massive TV money transformed the sport. No one would have guessed when Miami joined the ACC in 2004 the 'Canes would go 15 seasons and counting before their first conference title.
All that said, this is still Miami. The program has one of the strongest brands in the sport, an army of NFL alums to serve as program ambassadors and one of the most prime locations in the nation, with more blue-chip recruits living in a 30-mile radius from campus than most schools can find in 300 miles.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon AD Blake James would not commit to hiring a search firm; but did reiterate several times that it is his job to hire the right coach as quickly as possible.
With that in mind, here are some names that make sense to be the next Miami coach.
We first have to start with Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. Cristobal was a 'Canes offensive lineman during the Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson days -- he was on the 1989 and '91 national championship teams -- and a GA for Butch Davis from 1998-00, helping build the 2001 national championship team. He spent six seasons as the head coach at FIU, owns a diploma from Nick Saban's Finishing School for Once and Future Head Coaches and is now on his way to a successful tenure at Oregon.
And here comes the but.
His buyout at Miami sits at $10 million. It drops on Jan. 31 -- well after the time Miami needs a new hire in place -- but only to $8 million. Beyond that, he just signed a top-5 class at Oregon, and Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert is set to return for his senior year. So much of college football hiring boils down to timing and fit; the fit here is excellent, the timing is not.
While we're on the subject, though, there are a couple of local options. Cristobal's former boss Butch Davis has exceeded all expectations at nearby FIU, going 17-9 in two seasons. His two seasons are actually better than Cristobal's best two. That said, Davis turned 67 last month.
There is a younger local option in Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin. His profile was bigger than his employer's when he took the job in December of 2016, and mushroomed further during his 2017 debut that saw the Owls go 11-3 and win their first Conference USA title. During that run, Kiffin shot down numerous job questions by citing his love for FAU's location; such objections would become moot if Miami were to come calling. However, the Lane Train brings its own baggage at any stop, and FAU's drop from 11-3 to 5-7 in 2018 raises concerns his 2017 success was more about offensive coordinator Kendal Briles than Kiffin.
PS: Uncle Luke likes this idea:
Another name that drew immediate mention is Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops. He was Larry Coker's defensive backs coach from 2001-03, then put together a successful defensive coordinator stint at Florida State from 2010-12. That run got him the Kentucky job, where he has successfully built Big Blue over a 6-year run that has seen UK grow from 2-10 in his debut to 9-3 this year with one game still to go. Stoops is comfortable at Kentucky and well valued there, as well; his $4 million salary was comparable with Richt's. It's possible he would pass on a job offer from a program with which he has a minimal connection in order to stick with the bird in hand (with a healthy raise, of course).
One sitting head coach that ACC head coaches would not like The U to hire is Syracuse's Dino Babers. Babers has zero connection to the program or the area, but that could be immaterial in this case. Like the Johny Cash song, he's been everywhere, man. Babers had no connection to Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green or Syracuse, but he took those jobs and won there. He's 55-35 in seven seasons over those three stops, and his 10-3 mark this fall was perhaps his best coaching job. If he can win 10 games and inject life and points into the program at Syracuse, what could he do with South Florida athletes in his backyard?
How about some fun options? According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, a contingent of prominent former Canes is pushing for former Jets and Bills head coach Rex Ryan to get the job, and Ryan is reportedly interested.
While we're on the subject, would Miami be interest in part-time South Florida resident Mike Leach? He led Washington State to an 11-2 season -- the most wins in school history -- and could be looking to cash out. Leach has never been a vigorous recruiter, yet he's always brought in enough players to win at outpost programs. What could his offense do in a hotbed?
Of course, there's a chance all of the speculation you read above could be for naught. The most logical candidate may be standing right there in plain sight -- literally. While Miami's offense crumbled under Richt's watch, the 2018 Hurricanes were carried by Manny Diaz's defense, which ranked fifth in total defense. That performance led him to take the Temple job, but Diaz was spotted on Miami's campus today. In something that could mean nothing or could mean everything: during his press conference discussing the search on Sunday, Miami AD Blake James spoke freely in response to many questions but no-commented when asked about Diaz.
In addition to serving as Miami's defensive coordinator through their most recent game, it's easy to see why Diaz would covet the Miami job. He's not just a Miami native, he's the son of a former Miami mayor. What better story could you write than the heir of one of Miami's political leaders becoming one of Miami's most important cultural leaders?
This search is only hours old, but James said he'd like to move quickly. Follow The Scoop for all the latest.