N.C. State’s athletic director heads the Wolfpack search committee on a quest to hire a new football coach, a journey that started shortly after Tom O’Brien was given the boot after six average years on Sunday afternoon. Despite five wins over rival North Carolina and four bowl-eligible seasons, O’Brien finished 22-26 against league opponents in the relatively weak ACC, a mark that couldn’t be overlooked by the person in charge.
Four weeks after a BCS-rattling win over third-ranked Florida State, O’Brien saw his fate sealed with an underwhelming home loss to Virginia, a defeat indicative of a program stationed in mediocrity.
Yow believes N.C. State has all the bells and whistles of a perennial Top 25 mainstay and is in much better shape to compete on a national level than its recent record indicates. But, there’s a problem for Yow and her constituents prior to starting spring practice with a fresh face — most “homerun” hires available for the taking will go elsewhere, especially since there are four current openings — five if Missouri’s Gary Pinkel resigns — in the Southeastern Conference.
According to recent reports, initial A-list names that have been tied to a possible future in Raleigh include James Franklin, a 40-year-old up-and-comer who has won 14 of his first 25 games at SEC bottom-dweller Vanderbilt. Yow wants a coach who is a good representative for the N.C. State community and one that focuses his attention on recruiting. She’s known Franklin for more than a decade as they worked together at Maryland and he was her “coach in waiting.”
Yow, however, assured everyone Sunday during a conference call that Franklin will remain at Vandy.
“I’m really not going to talk anymore about my communications with my long-term friend of 12 years,” Yow said after admitting texting with Franklin after the Commodores’ weekend victory at Wake Forest. “I think I’ve made it clear he’s not in the mix.”
Who is the next point of contact for the Wolfpack? Yow believes N.C. State can “do something special and become a player, legally without cheating, in the Top 25.” In the era of spread offenses, one would think Yow goes that route in search of someone not being targeted by Arkansas, Tennessee or Auburn.
Big-name possibilities who could likely fill SEC gigs include Bobby Petrino, Charlie Strong, Phillip Fulmer and John Gruden. Eliminate those four coming to Carter-Finley. It’s not happening.
Moving on to others, Sonny Dykes leads the nation’s top offense at Louisiana Tech and has the Bulldogs at nine wins this season. La. Tech nearly beat Johnny Football and Texas A&M in October after erasing a 23-point deficit midway through the third quarter. Two other spread masterminds — Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris — have a proven track record of recruiting athletes for their system and have each had extensive success in recent years. Malzahn’s Cam Newton-engineered offense in 2010 was performed to perfection en route to a national title at Auburn. One year removed from an 8-5, without Malzahn’s ability to put talent in space, the Tigers fired Gene Chizik.
Malzahn was actually linked to the North Carolina job last spring before the Tar Heels settled on offensive-minded Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora. Fedora’s Golden Eagles upset then-unbeaten Houston in 2011 and ended the Cougars’ BCS at-large hopes. In his first season in Chapel Hill, Fedora’s offense flourished — and sold tickets — against defenses that haven’t yet adjusted to the break-neck speeds of the spread.
Morris has never been a collegiate head coach, but has pounded several ACC defenses into submission this season in Death Valley with a hurry-up attack that leaves you gasping for air. With the right personnel, Morris could wind up being the equivalent to Chip Kelly on the East Coast — Oregon’s quirky head coach whose only plan is to play fast.
With Franklin reportedly out of the running and Yow insistent on hiring offense first, Malzahn or Morris would be ideal choices. Morris is a top-notch recruiter and has shown he can exploit ACC defenses light on speed and physicality. Outside of these few 40-somethings and maybe Butch Jones at Cincinnati, the national coaching cupboard’s thin for N.C. State.
Persuading a well-established name to take over the Wolfpack isn’t feasible when there’s other — more prestigious and elite — programs looking over the same pool of candidates.