A rival coach of the University of Central Florida football program called FootballScoop Wednesday morning, barely after sunrise.
He said, “Heupel to Tennessee is real? Man, that's a good job in Orlando. They'll get a lot of good candidates.”
Said another coach with SEC experience across multiple schools, “UCF's a good job. I'd have been interested in being on staff there depending on the coach. Good spot. Good recruiting.”
Added another prominent SEC staffer, "Will be interesting to see who gets that job. Someone needs to run to that one."
The consensus: UCF is a place where coaches can win, and win big. So the news that Josh Heupel has left the Knights program after three years to take over the turmoil-ridden football program on Rocky Top has blazed anew another “good job” in perhaps college football's strangest coaching cycle of the modern era.
Our Zach Barnett has a great look at how good the UCF job truly is right here.
With the caveat that UCF needs to hire a new AD first, FootballScoop takes a look at potential top candidates for the UCF job, which is being held in the interim by Knights defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who leads off our list.
Randy Shannon: Widely respected across college football and already owns head coaching experience in the Sunshine State from his stint atop the Miami Hurricanes program. However, Shannon's defenses at UCF have been issue – and the unit in 2020 ranked 123rd out of 127 teams at the FBS level in total defense at 491.8 yards per game. The Knights were 92nd in scoring defense at 33.2 PPG.
Jeff Lebby, Ole Miss OC: Just might be the top overall choice for the Knights. Lebby was Heupel's play-caller in Orlando during the 2019 season, before taking the opportunity to team with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss in 2020 to form one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football. Industry insiders are adamant Lebby's a head coach “sooner than later,” and UCF's arc to national prominence emanates from its offensive beauty the past several seasons. Lebby's roots are in Art Briles' vaunted offensive system and he's been a part of six conference championship staffs.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina HC: A Tennessee native who got only a cursory glance from his home state for its just-filled job, Chadwell's star likewise has risen with his transformative work at both Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina. In 2020, Coastal finished ranked No. 14, posted 11 wins and closed as SunBelt Conference co-champs alongside Billy Napier's Louisiana squad. Coastal has rewarded Chadwell with a new contract, and he almost certainly will gain even greater traction among Power-5 openings in a year if the Chanticleers can duplicate their 2020 success. But Chadwell knows offense and knows quarterbacks, two things that have spurred UCF's rise the past decade.
Will Healy, Charlotte HC: Few coaching climbs in recent years can match the steep uptick of Healy. A former Chattanooga assistant who quickly turned FCS program Austin Peay into a playoff contender, Healy in 2019 guided Charlotte to a bowl berth in his first season at the helm. Healy's marketing skills also could fit well in Orlando, as the Knights fight for eyeballs and visibility in a city with no shortage of entertainment options.
Alex Golesh, UCF Co-OC: Golesh's first season in Orlando saw the Knights post a top-10 scoring offense and continue to flourish with their frenetic, uptempo style of play. A native of Moscow, Russia, and an Ohio State graduate, Golesh has worked under Oklahoma State Mike Gundy, Iowa State's Matt Campbell and, most recently, Heupel. He's positioned himself to take the next step into becoming a head coach.
Dan Lanning, Georgia DC: Though Lanning recently agreed to stay at Georgia rather than accept a top defensive position on Steve Sarkisian's Texas staff, the well-regarded defensive mind has made it clear his goal is to become a head coach. And, as noted, UCF is a program where coaches can win and parlay that success into Power-5 jobs; before Heupel took over at Tennessee, Scott Frost left UCF to take over at his alma mater, Nebraska. Plus, Lanning's early days in collegiate coaching include time heading up recruiting offices – and the recruiting element is a key move to sustain or vault the Knights program forward as Cincinnati, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa, among others, keep the American Athletic Conference highly competitive.
Gene Chizik, former P5 HC: Though Chizik's been out of coaching now a few years, sources with direct knowledge tell FootballScoop he is eager for a return to the sport. And Chizik's probably the only national championship-winning former Power-5 head coach the Knights could hire. Chizik won the 2010 title at Auburn with Cam Newton as his star quarterback. Chizik's also a Florida graduate and Tarpon Springs, Florida, native, so he does have some strong ties in the state.
Brian Johnson, Florida OC: The Gators' play-caller has seen his boss, head coach Dan Mullen, publicly advocate for Johnson to get a head coaching opportunity, sooner than later. Johnson spent the past season as Florida's offensive coordinator and he earlier in his career was Houston's play-caller. Offense sizzles; Johnson is a sublime offensive mind and also a key cog in Gators' recruiting efforts, per folks in Gainesville, Florida.
Interest is strong in this one. UCF is planning to make an AD hire relatively quickly. Look for that search to intensify first, and then all eyes on the head coaching search. Depending on who is hired to oversee athletics, that could bring new coaches into the mix as well.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.