I've looked high and low for names to contribute to the evolving list of coaches Kansas fans would like to see in the head coaching position now that Charlie Weis is gone. If you're looking for a new idea for a coach you hadn't thought of, this probably isn't the article for you. Actually, maybe it is.
The lists of potential candidates out there are a mix of up-and-coming coordinators and former head coaches with mixed results (with the exception of our own fetch13, who has done a great job of thinking a bit more unconventionally). Each suggested candidate has a reason or two for why it might work a Kansas, but few have the feel of being a good fit.
For me, the who isn't as important as the what at this point. By that, I mean I'm less focused on figuring out who the next coach should be than I am figuring out what I want our next coach's resume to look like. Mark Mangino, probably the program's most successful coach, came to us as a highly-regarded coordinator from Oklahoma, with ties to both the Bill Snyder and Jim Tressel coaching trees. Glen Mason, also on the short list of successful KU football coaches, came to us as an up-and-coming young coach who found early success in the MAC at Kent State. More recently, Turner Gill was a letdown after coming to Kansas from Buffalo. Gill's Buffalo team went from being one of the worst programs in FBS to winning a MAC title, and Gill was considered a finalist for the Auburn job just one year prior to landing in Lawrence. We all know the story of our most recent coach, Charlie Weis, who was largely an NFL coach prior to having mixed results at Notre Dame, and a brief, uninspiring stint as Florida's OC.
Clearly there's no single successful formula to hiring your next coach. Around the country, we've seen prominent coordinators at great programs yield big dividends, and in some cases fall flat on their faces. Plenty of faceless coaches had great success outside the power conferences, only to find themselves over their heads with the big boys. Myriad others got their start at smaller schools and now have had success at some of the highest profile jobs in the country (Nick Saban and Urban Meyer jump to mind).
In the end, I think hiring a new coach is somewhat of a crapshoot. Vetting and interviewing can give an AD some insight to a coach's potential beyond the simple on-the-field results, but at the end of the day it's extremely difficult to say if a promising defensive coordinator is going to turn into a Charlie Strong (Louisville version, at least)/Jimbo Fischer/Mark Dantonio, or fall flat and become a Mike Stoops/Will Muschamp/Carl Pelini.
With that in mind, I'm not going to mention names today. Instead, I'm going to lay out the ideal resume, realistic or not, I'd like to see in a head coaching candidate.
Experience level: Current head coach
It may not be realistic to think we can hire away a current head coach who's having some level of success where he is, but I'm not sure we can afford to gamble on a fresh, young coordinator. The roster has more talent than our results would indicate, but the majority of our best players (Heeney, Harwell, McDougald, Sheperd, Stowers, Mundine, Fusimalohi, Reynolds) are seniors. Our next coach will be taking over a largely young, inexperienced team and trying to mold them into something competitive. That's an awful lot for a rookie head coach to take on. Sure, there are up-and-coming coordinators out there who are probably up to the task, but it seems like an awfully big gamble to assume that the one you've picked just happens to be one of the few. A current head coach, preferably one who has experience taking over a struggling program and improving the talent level and results, seems like our best bet.
Regional ties: Midwest
There have been some mentions in the comments recently that Charlie Weis' loud mouth, east coast brand of braggadocio just never played in this area, and although I don't think that regional incompatibility is insurmountable (great lakes product Urban Meyer won a title at Florida, Chip Kelly found success at Oregon, etc), I think it makes things more difficult. A coach from the deep south or southern California is going to have a harder time impressing parents in suburban Kansas City or the Dallas Metroplex, and likewise they're going to have a tougher time pulling kids from their native region to come play at Kansas. I don't think it's a coincidence that the other current Big 12 coaches who have brought their respective schools to national prominence (Bill Snyder, Mike Gundy, Art Briles, Gary Patterson) have all been products of Big 12 country. Someone from the great lakes area could probably find success with the right staff, but I'd stay away from someone who just doesn't seem to mesh with the region.
Offensive/Defensive leanings: Offensive, but not a dealbreaker
The path to college football success in recent years has been paved with big yardage numbers and point totals. Mike Leach made Texas Tech a household name by installing a nearly unstoppable air attack. Oregon went from middling to powerhouse on the back of the spread option offense. Auburn restored their prominence with Cam Newton and Guz Malzahn's masterful use of the spread. Rich Rodriguez made West Virginia relevant by putting up gaudy numbers. Ditto Art Briles at Baylor, Kevin Sumlin at Houston/Texas A&M, Gundy at Oklahoma State...the list goes on. That's not to say defense and a well-run program can't turn things around (Patterson at TCU), but the list of successes using that formula are fewer and less drastic. At the end of the day if we're faced with a risky pick with a good offensive mind, or a proven pick who favors the defense, clearly I'll go with the proven pick. But if all other things are equal, please give me an offensive innovator.
(Also, I tried to leave stats out of this post, but positive offensive numbers are correlated more highly with winning % and blah blah blah.)
Size of schools on resume: Don't really care
Digging down beyond FCS level is probably too risky for our current circumstances, but anyone who has taken a struggling college program, regardless of the level, and built it up to where some level of success has been sustained should at least be given a look. Nothing's guaranteed, and I know that Turner Gill fits this bill to some extent, but I would argue that one good season bookended by losing seasons in the MAC isn't sustained success. I would also argue that given a different set of circumstances, Gill probably would have worked out a little better, but that's a different discussion. At any rate, there are enough examples of coaches from smaller conferences finding success at the power conference level that there's no reason to throw out anyone who's coaching at a smaller school.
There probably isn't a coach out there (at least an attainable one), who fits right into all these qualifications, and I don't expect to get one. However, too many names floating around right now simply don't fit my bill at all, and it makes me wonder if people have stopped to think about what they're really looking for in a coach. As we saw with Charlie Weis, the name doesn't amount to anything in the end.