Nebraska coaching candidates: Mark Stoops and Matt Campbell top coaching list to replace Scott Frost

Nebraska coaching candidates: Mark Stoops and Matt Campbell top coaching list to replace Scott Frost

For the seventh time since Tom Osborne retired in 1997, Nebraska is looking for a coach. This fact is both a surprising and depressing trend. Country son Scott Frost was fired Sunday after going 16-31 in three games in his fifth season. Even when they’ve made modest improvements in other areas, the Cornhuskers have consistently been weak in two areas: special teams and losing close games.

Frost has tried everything: changing coaches, changing approaches. Nothing worked out to the point that Georgia Southern sealed the deal Saturday night by gaining 642 yards at the hallowed Memorial Stadium where the Heisman Trophy winners and national champions resided.

Nebraska no longer has the same quality of employment as before. Going from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, the program lost its identity. Traditional recruiting grounds in Texas and California were either ignored or eventually shrunk. Nebraska has no natural rival in the Big Ten, as much as some want to make Iowa that team. Instead, he saw a distant outpost in a league suddenly claiming a presence in New York, Chicago and soon Los Angeles.

Can the Huskers rebound? Absolutely. Look at the teams they lost to. Northwestern has played two of the last four Big Ten Championship games. Georgia Southern’s Clay Helton was the first coach fired last season at USC. Almost a year to the day, he helped beat Nebraska and oust Frost.

Nebraska can transform its program quickly; he just hasn’t lately. The next hire has to hit because the coaches hamster wheel from Osborne is worn and rusty. Meanwhile, a once-proud program suffers.

Nebraska Coach Candidates

Mark Stoops, Kentucky coach: Stoops spent a decade methodically developing the Wildcats into an above-average and capable SEC program. Twice since 2018 he has won 10 games, which may have prompted his angry comeback recently when John Calipari suggested Kentucky is much more focused on basketball success. After picking up one of his biggest wins on Saturday in Florida, there’s evidence Stoops may have peaked with the Wildcats. Nothing against Stoops, but no one beats Georgia any time soon. He would have much better access to the Big Ten Championship Game (as opposed to the SEC Championship Game) playing in the Big Ten West. His culture, tireless work ethic and no-nonsense approach would appeal to Nebraska. If you don’t want to call him the new Bo Pelini, fine, but remember that Pelini’s legacy (67-27 in seven seasons) looks pretty damn good right now. Stoops can be even better than that…minus the baggage.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: Multiple sources told CBS Sports that Campbell is interested in Nebraska. It’s certainly more resource-rich than Iowa State, especially with the Big 12 moving down the pecking order with upcoming starts from Texas and Oklahoma. But Campbell has to reach a certain level this season to be in the game. That means 6-6 or even 7-5 might not be good enough for Nebraska, who definitely need to hit a home run this time around. Campbell (10-7 in his last 17 games) may just have hit his ceiling at Iowa State. Prior to this development, insiders said Campbell was only interested in two jobs: Ohio State and Notre Dame. Both are filled at the moment.

Mickey Joseph, Nebraska interim coach: Joseph has plenty of support as Frost’s associate head coach and former Huskers quarterback under Osborne. Like Frost, Joseph rose through the coaching ranks more recently at LSU where he developed what some say is the best wide receiver group in history. Like Frost, he has a national championship ring (LSU, 2019). It would also bring continuity to the program. With the timing of the layoff almost entirely tied to recruiting — Nebraska swallowed $15 million to fire Frost before Oct. 1, when the buyout dropped to $7.5 million — Joseph could pick up where Frost left off. stopped on the track.

Bill O’Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator: “Obie” already has Big Ten experience as Penn State’s first coach following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There’s no healthier training tree to choose a trainer from: Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. He coached both a Heisman Trophy winner (Bryce Young) and the GOAT (Tom Brady). The sentiment right now: If O’Brien is going somewhere, maybe it’s back in the NFL to replace Belichick one day.

Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin defensive coordinator: Like Oklahoma’s Brent Venables, Leonhard has turned down much interest in head coaching opportunities. Like Venables at Clemson, Leonhard must think he has a better job right now. His next gig has to be the right person. Moving within the division to suddenly kick out its former boss, Paul Chryst, and alma mater doesn’t seem like an ideal move. Leonhard is a brilliant defensive mind, but does Nebraska want to put all its eggs in the basket of a hot assistant who has never staffed or been in charge of recruiting?

Gary Patterson, Texas analyst: It makes so much sense. GP still has a lot in the tank at 62 after a bitter departure from TCU. (Think about this: how many guys with statues on campus get fired during the season?) Patterson’s skills were on display Saturday as he teamed up with Longhorns defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to limit Alabama to their fewest points in a real road game since 2017. Patterson knows Nebraska and its culture; he would come out of the box blazing on the recruiting track. Black shirts? They would come back.

Urban Meyer, Fox analyst: The Huskers wouldn’t…would they? Desperation seems to find guys like Meyer whose winning percentage ultimately needs to be balanced against off-court issues. The last were internal issues with Jacksonville Jaguars players last season. Meyer, a three-time national championship coach at Florida and Ohio State, was responsible for hiring OSU assistant Zach Smith, whose wife accused him of abuse. It cost Meyer a three-game suspension at the start of the 2018 season, his last with the Buckeyes. Meyer hasn’t even managed a full season in 2021 with the Jags. Meyer may coach college, but can he avoid becoming the center of attention for all the wrong reasons?

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