Perhaps more than any post-regular-season stretch in college football history, the last ~7-month span has been a wild period of coaching news — hirings, firings, betrayals, tampering, usage of NIL to secure high school and transfer recruits, beefs about using NIL to secure high school and transfer recruits, inexplicable southern accents, etc.
And of course, our beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish were somewhat involved with all of that, what with Brian Kelly abruptly departing for Baton Rouge, Marcus Freeman emerging as the people’s (and team’s) choice to take over, the recruiting momentum and dapper outfits and “he’s saying all the right things” that followed, and so on. And although his first game at the helm was a tough-to-swallow collapse in the Fiesta Bowl, and he’s yet to coach a regular season game for ND, we’re currently in a moment of zen for Irish fans where just about everyone is happy with the head coach, content to watch guys like Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher lob blatant shade at each other at press conferences/speaking engagements while our guy keeps doing his thing on the recruiting trail.
Despite it being super nice to not have to feel anything about our head coach except hope/love for him, it’s also a pretty fun middle-of-the-off-season exercise to think about what it would be like if any of a number of top college football coaches were in charge of the Irish program instead of Freeman.
So, that’s exactly what I decided to ponder this week — if we perused the list of coaches at the top of the profession and/or at big-name programs right now, which ones would I be excited to see wearing Blue and Gold, how many would I have mixed feelings about, and which ones would make me want to puke (or at least make me question whether I wanted to continue supporting the ND coach and his team altogether)?
Those are the three categories I’ll be breaking the coaches into, and I plan to cover a solid number of them (i.e. all of the Power 5 head honchos, plus a handful of others who coach solid squads/programs), including some of the more ridiculous/unrealistic/downright offensive hypotheticals — so try to keep up as I rapid-fire through this a bit.
Coaches I Would Unquestionably Support as Coach of ND
- Nick Saban, Alabama Head Coach — The GOAT? Yeah, I’ll take a few Irish titles from this devout Catholic every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
- Kirby Smart, Georgia Head Coach — Dude seems likable enough, is an unreal recruiter, and just won a title...I accept.
- Luke Fickell, Cincinnati Head Coach — I thought he might actually be BK’s successor in a couple years anyway (prior to BK abruptly leaving in December), plus he seems like a good coach and likable — I’d stand behind him for sure.
- Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Head Coach — This would be the most fun 1-5 years ever, until an inevitable scandal and/or NFL gig brought it crashing down. Sign me up 10 times over, please.
- Kyle Whittingham, Utah Head Coach — He has quietly been a top 10-15 coach nationally for like 15 straight years...seems like a cool guy, would put together some fun teams, I could be down with this.
- Dave Aranda, Baylor Head Coach — He’s a great defensive coach and has already found some success at Baylor...there would be much worse options.
- Josh Heupel, Tennessee Head Coach — Yeah, the defense would probably never recover, but imagine the offense he could install in South Bend (especially if he brings the same penchant for setting up NIL monster-deals as he’s pulling off in Knoxville)...Also, he took down that Chris Weinke FSU team to win a title back in his OU days, so I’ll always love him for that.
- Matt Campbell, Iowa State Head Coach — Let me be clear that I do NOT want him as the next ND coach, ever. But he seems like a good dude and I do think he’s a solid coach. I could support him as he goes 9-4/8-5 for the next 3-5 years.
- Mel Tucker, Michigan State Head Coach — He seems to be turning MSU around after Dantonio left them crumbling (although his price tag is way higher than it should be just yet), and he’s batting 1.000 in terms of bringing in stud running back transfers, so I wouldn’t mind him at the helm and bringing that Spartan mindset to South Bend.
- Dave Clawson, Wake Forest Head Coach — Fun offense, likable guy, and would cleanse our palates for the Wake-to-ND pipeline after Elko soured that a bit (even though Clark Lea did his best to salvage that pipeline).
- Clark Lea, Vanderbilt Head Coach — Of course I would welcome him back with open arms — dude rules, and I sincerely hope he can find moderate success at Vandy so he can move on to something better, similar to how James Franklin progressed.
- Sam Pittman, Arkansas Head Coach — If his surprising success in season two with the Razorbacks wasn’t enough for you, this should be:
- Dan Lanning, Oregon Head Coach (2021-2022 UGA Defensive Coordinator) — The guy who helped build and lead one of the best defenses we’ve seen in decades? We could do worse, guys. Could be sort of a generic-brand Marcus Freeman in terms of being a young, charismatic recruiter and defensive mind.
- Billy Napier, Florida Head Coach — He seems like a good coach, and anyone who’s led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a solid amount of success deserves my support.
- Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina Head Coach — I will always support a Chanticleer. Roll Chants!
- Jeff Traylor, UTSA Head Coach — I will always support a Roadrunner. Meep meep!
- Shane Beamer, South Carolina Head Coach — He’s young, likable, seems like a good coach so far, and is the son of a legend...I’d be up for this, especially if it means more mayo baths — he’s very good at those.
- Gus Malzahn, UCF Head Coach — ND sweater vests and some fun Irish offenses — I could get behind this, despite the fact Malzahn isn’t the most lovable head coach.
- Jake Dickert, Washington State Head Coach — He impressed me in following the idiot before him, and seems like a good dude and coach. It would be a weird choice in terms of lack of high-level experience, but I would absolutely support him.
- Timmy Chang, Hawaii Head Coach — ANYONE WHO DOESN’T RIDE WITH TIMMY CHANG DOESN’T RIDE WITH ME. Dude was the best in his playing days, and would immediately make ND’s QB development issues a thing of the past.
- Dino Babers, Syracuse Head Coach — I know he wouldn’t last more than 3 seasons just because of performance, but his name is perfect, he gives great pregame speeches, and he’d be good for at least one ridiculous upset ND has no business pulling off, which would be fun for a change (although losing plenty of games they should win would be less fun).
- Chris Klieman, Kansas State Head Coach — If you have the cojones to follow Bill Snyder, I’m behind you. Godspeed, Chris Klieman.
- Deion Sanders, Jackson State Head Coach — This would be hilarious and I think most ND fans over 50 would spontaneously combust out of anger, which would be sad but then allow for a much better/louder home-crowd showing at Notre Dame Stadium.
Coaches About Whom I’d Have Mixed Feelings Leading the Irish Program
- Lincoln Riley, USC Head Coach — I don’t like him and obviously he just deserted OU for ND’s biggest rival, and of course ND would have 0 defense with him as coach. But the offense would be electric, and the idea of USC being left high and dry like OU was when they stole him from them — but this time in favor of the Irish and by the same guy they stole from OU — would be so sweet that I’d probably be okay with him because of that.
- Ryan Day, Ohio State Head Coach — I don’t like him very much, really, but he’s done a decent job keeping Urban Meyer’s success going, can recruit, and would probably find a decent amount of success at ND and bring some pretty fun offensive production to South Bend.
- Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Head Coach — He’s actually an okay coach and would be fantastic content in postgame pressers with his mullet, etc., but he’s also just not someone I agree with on a lot of things and I think his ceiling is roughly Brian Kelly-esque at ND. Also, he’s not a spry young 40-year-old anymore...
- Brent Venables, Oklahoma Head Coach — Nothing against him, but I will need to see he can be a good head coach before I’m okay with him at ND, because he’s not fun enough otherwise. I DO love his ability to build a top-flight defense, so he could pretty easily jump to the above group with some early Sooner success.
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky Head Coach — I respect the success he’s finding at a basketball school, but it’s not enough to make me excited to support him, ya know?
- Brady Hoke, San Diego State Head Coach — This is mostly a joke based on his horrendous showing in Ann Arbor (thank you for 2014, my friend), but I do think it’d be a funny scenario were he to take over at ND and somehow win a national title as Michigan fans continue to watch Jim Harbaugh go 9-3 every year...but really I think he’s best suited to coach a good mid-major program like SDSU, so he’ll never get higher than this group.
- Dave Doeren, NC State Head Coach — meh.
- Dana Holgorsen, Houston Head Coach — Dude is weird and I can never really tell if he’s actually a good coach. He’s a likely pass for me, but could be an interesting ND coach at least, even if not at all successful.
- Kalani Sitake, BYU Head Coach — meh x2.
- Mack Brown, North Carolina Head Coach — He’s an okay coach and would be kinda funny and a decent recruiter...but he’s old, I don’t love the guy, and don’t think he would be worth bringing to South Bend at all at this point in his career. He’s just kind of
- Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Head Coach — It’d be a crime to remove him from Madison and the mediocre job he is best suited for...plus I don’t want him, because we know he’d be another Brian Kelly at best. But he’s okay, I guess, both in terms of likability and coaching skill. I’m typically cool with the Badgers.
- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Head Coach — He seems like a good enough guy/coach considering winning at Northwestern these days is a tall task, but BOY would I be pissed if ND ever settled enough to make him head coach. Talk about an uninspired and doomed-to-fail choice.
- PJ Fleck, Minnesota Head Coach — The used car salesman version of Pat Fitzgerald.
- Tom Allen, Indiana Head Coach — He’s a good coach and likable, but kinda similar to some of these other guys, his ability to do decently at a basketball school/non-power football program isn’t enough for me to fully support him at the helm of ND. I’d rather just quietly root for him to surprise people occasionally in the Big Ten.
- Scott Frost, Nebraska Head Coach — I have to remind myself what he did at UCF, because the idea of the Nebraska version coming to ND scares me to death. But I do think he’s an okay coach capable of better things than he’s shown recently — just not anywhere near good enough for Notre Dame.
- Brent Pry, Virginia Tech Head Coach (2021-2022 Penn State Defensive Coordinator) — He seems okay, but I know basically nothing about him at all as a coach/person, let alone as a head coach. Gonna need to see more.
- Tony Elliott, Virginia Head Coach (2021-2022 Clemson Offensive Coordinator) — I think he’s a solid offensive mind and never got enough credit because he had some all-world talent that made it seem easy (maybe it was, but I think he had plenty to do with that success too), but like Pry I need to see him be a head coach before he’s someone I think could do much at ND.
- Jeff Hafley, Boston College Head Coach — He’s alright, but not ND-caliber — I think he could end up making one more leap in his career with a little more success at BC, but not to a title contender.
- Sonny Dykes, TCU Head Coach — He’s got a fun name, but is not really an interesting hire for ND or someone I’d be fully behind.
- Joey McGuire, Texas Tech Head Coach — who?
- Andy Avalos, Boise State Head Coach — who??
- Scott Satterfield, Louisville Head Coach — I think he’s a solid coach, but his Louisville struggles so far have me skeptical he could succeed at an even higher level. We will see if some of his recent recruiting success leads to any breakthroughs the next couple years.
- Neal Brown, West Virginia Head Coach — who???
- Mike Norvell, Florida State Head Coach — I think he’s actually turning FSU around and will have them competing in the ACC in a couple years, but for now I still need him to prove it. I would not yet be super supportive of him at ND, especially after his rocky start in Tallahassee (albeit amongst some rough circumstances).
- Bret Bielema, Illinois Head Coach — He’s only in this group because he would be hilarious as the face of the most storied program in the country. I can’t stop giggling just thinking about it.
- Jeff Brohm, Purdue Head Coach — He never really got Purdue to the next level like it seemed he might, so I’m not convinced he’s an answer for them, let alone Notre Dame. Pass.
- Greg Schiano, Rutgers Head Coach — I actually think he’s a pretty decent coach but I don’t really want him for my team, ever. He’s perfect at a place like Rutgers.
- Chip Kelly, UCLA Head Coach — He would bring a fun offense, and he’s been to a national title game and almost beat one of the best college players of all-time there, but he’s also got a checkered past and hasn’t exactly lit it up at UCLA. Would not fully support this, but I guess it could be entertaining.
- Kalen DeBoer, Washington Head Coach — He seems like a good coach, but let’s see how he does at Washington before we crown him someone I could get behind in South Bend.
- Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri Head Coach — Hilarious dweeb-like appearance and a great name, but not an exciting coach IMO — thus, I can’t fully say no, but definitely won’t say yes.
Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz channeling his inner Andy Reid and hoping for the same luck the Chiefs had last season. pic.twitter.com/1Z7KJEJZx9— Souichi Terada | 寺田惣一 (@SouichiTerada) June 17, 2020
- Rhett Lashlee, SMU Head Coach — Cool name, but also who????
- Justin Wilcox, Cal Head Coach — He’s only in this group because I don’t have enough negative reasons to put him below. He’s a default mixed feelings guy.
- Jonathan Smith, Oregon State Head Coach — who??????
- Mike Locksley, Maryland Head Coach — He’s a good offensive coach, but I wanna see if he can keep Maryland improving before I hand him the keys to the Irish.
- Ken Niumatalolo, Navy Head Coach — He’s pretty respectable and I think he’s a good coach, but I’m assuming his hiring would mean the triple option coming to South Bend...no thank you.
- Jedd Fisch, Arizona Head Coach — Fun name, but also who??????
- Lance Leipold, Kansas Head Coach — I think this guy is a very good football coach, but need to see him do something at the Power-5 level.
Coaches I’d Never Support and Who Might Just Make Me Stop Supporting ND Until They Were Replaced With Someone More Respectable
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson Head Coach — He’s corny, phony, and appears to go against supporting the players at all times in gaining any sort of compensation for the billions they generate each year...he would be insufferable.
- Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Head Coach — He’s slimy, refuses to run anything close to a clean program, and his name is Jimbo. I would never be able to support this mess of a man as ND head coach.
- Jimbo Harbaugh, Michigan Head Coach — I think he’s more weird than hatable, but he’s super annoying and odd (sleepovers at the houses of recruits??) and I don’t think he’s that great of a coach (my hunch is last season was more of a pinnacle than the new normal...which is a fairly cold take, I think). No thanks to Jim, would be too embarrassing to try to justify supporting him.
- James Franklin, Penn State Head Coach — I don’t think he’s a good coach, I think he always seems kinda whiny, and he coaches at Penn State, which I still believe should not even have a football program anymore. Pass.
- Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh Head Coach — He’s a clown. No way.
Because apparently it’s the offseason again, Pat Narduzzi says on his radio show that he thinks Notre Dame should join a conference.— Sam Werner (@sjwerner11) November 4, 2015
"I think I'd rather play Notre Dame than Central Florida." -Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi— Josh Heupel (@coachjoshheupel) December 2, 2018
Pat Narduzzi suggests giving Notre Dame an ultimatum https://t.co/nCOwsmJhKk— FootballScoop (@FootballScoop) November 11, 2020
- Mike Leach, Mississippi State Head Coach — He’s a certifiably insane clown. Also no way.
- Bryan Harsin, Auburn Head Coach — Hard pass.
- Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech Head Coach — He’s just not a very good coach, I couldn’t even bring myself to put him in the above group. Nothing against him personally, but no.
- Mario Cristobal, Miami Head Coach — I think he’s accomplished very little for all the hype he has as a head coach, and think he will continue to do very little in Coral Gables. Do not want.
- David Shaw, Stanford Head Coach — Annoying/pompous as hell and has run Stanford into the ground. Get outta here.
- Steve Sarkisian, Texas Head Coach — I think this guy should stay an offensive coordinator and win titles doing that, because his head coaching record — which isn’t good — speaks for itself.
- Herm Edwards, Arizona State Head Coach — LMAO.
- Karl Dorrell, Colorado Head Coach — Similar answer to Geoff Collins.
- Hugh Freeze, Liberty Head Coach — He would be an embarrassment and a half.
- Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Head Coach — I imagine Kirk is probably at a bare minimum in the mixed feelings group for all of you, with a number of you probably putting him in your “fully support” group. I refuse. I don’t think he’s a very good coach, he just has the coldest seat in America and skates by winning 7-10 games per year and occasionally losing the Big Ten championship to a much better team. This one is a weird hill I will die on — I would refuse to support hiring Kirk Ferentz. To hire him is to pursue mediocrity.
- Mike Elko, Duke Head Coach — I don’t need to explain this one.
- Brian “Caleb Crawdad” Kelly, LSU Head Coach (for now) — The guy spends too much time and energy on his dancing.
brian kelly dancing with recruits pic.twitter.com/ilCKLjZh5Q— Trey Rowland (@trey_rowland59) December 13, 2021
Alright folks, I’m gonna need you to sound off in the comments — who would make each of those lists for each of you?
Do you significantly agree or disagree with my categorizations above?