Oregon State was like most everyone else in the country; it, too, had no idea that at the end of the week it would need a new football coach.
Nebraska moved swiftly and intently to hire away Mike Riley, who spent the past dozen seasons at OSU, creating a new Power 5 opening in the process.
After Florida and Nebraska’s moves, Kansas, Michigan and Oregon State are the major openings at the moment.
Later, I’ll have notes on the ongoing search at Kansas and the new one at Colorado State. Plus, who will win the Will Muschamp sweepstakes once he gets back from the Caribbean?
As for Oregon State, Riley provided the model of success, winning 85 games and going to eight bowl games since his second stint at the school began in 2003. If that doesn’t sound like a very high standard, understand that it’s a very difficult job.
It was always a developmental program, but then Oregon’s rise made the challenges even greater. If a higher-end recruit wants to go to a remote Oregon city, he's far more likely to be wowed by the sites and scene in Eugene. That’s just reality.
All that doesn’t preclude success, but development and positive energy -- Riley’s calling cards -- have to be a central part of the hire for Oregon State AD Bob De Carolis.
So where does he look?
1. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU head coach
Mendenhall, 90-38 at BYU, went to Oregon State, started his coaching career there as a grad assistant and later returned as a defensive assistant coach. Those are all outstanding credentials.
If not for a season-ending injury to quarterback Taysom Hill this fall, the Cougars might have been in the race for a New Year’s Day bowl bid.
Since BYU is a private school, salary information is a bit scarce; most reports have the 48-year-old making around $1 million a year. Oregon State can work with that. Riley was making about $1.5 million per year at the time of his exit.
Last thought to file away: Coaches with defensive backgrounds seem to have better results when it comes to developing underrecruited players, and the Cougars have been a top-25 yards-per-play defense the past four years, including No. 6 in 2012.
2. Jonathan Smith, Washington offensive coordinator
Smith played quarterback for OSU from 1998-2001, earning offensive MVP honors in the Beavers’ 41-9 Fiesta Bowl win against Notre Dame in 2000.
He has learned quarterback and program development from Chris Petersen, one of the best at it. Smith followed Petersen to Washington, so he’s been broken into Pac-12 coaching as well.
Both (3) Tom Herman (Ohio State co-offensive coordinator) and (4) Scott Frost (Oregon OC) would be in the same vein as far as first-time head-coaching hires go. Those two, however, are among the five Broyles Award finalists. Herman does have a West Coast tie, too, having gone to Cal Lutheran in California.
5. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State head coach
After going 20-6 in his first two seasons at Fresno State, the Derek Carr-less Bulldogs slipped back to 6-6 in 2014. But there’s still plenty of faith in DeRuyter.
I was told DeRuyter was trying to work his way in at Kansas, and he still might be, but Oregon State could be a better fit considering where he’s currently coaching. Getting players from California will always be important for OSU.
6. Matt Wells, Utah State head coach
Wells’ name is popping up for a number of jobs, even Tulsa (where he was once an assistant). I would think he would be interested in any Power 5 job.
In Logan, he learned development from now-Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen.
The 41-year-old Wells is 18-9 at his alma mater, even though he has had to work around season-ending injuries to star quarterback Chuckie Keeton in each of his first two seasons. If healthy, Keeton had a chance to be what Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch was in 2013 in terms of a Group of 5 (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) star.
7. Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington head coach
If De Carolis went to the FCS ranks, Baldwin would be a solid fit. The native Californian led Eastern Washington to the 2010 FCS title, as well as semifinal appearances in 2012 and 2013.
At 10-2, EWU is the 4-seed in this year’s FCS bracket. It hosts Montana on Saturday. EWU is 33-8 the past three seasons. If it served as a sort of audition, one of those wins came last year at Oregon State.
8. Brady Hoke, free agent
Hoke and De Carolis were both at Michigan in the 1990s, when Hoke was an assistant coach and De Carolis was an assistant administrator. So there’s a tie.
But given the note above about developing players, is Hoke really the right call? Michigan recruited well, but it did not follow through in terms of development. I could see Hoke more in play at Colorado State than another, immediate Power 5 job, even with his link to the AD.
• Colorado State’s administration made clear Wednesday that it believes CSU is a “dream job.”
It’s a beautiful part of the country and a new stadium would be nice, but any school outside the Power 5 might want to tailor expectations accordingly.
For its last hire -- a very, very good one -- CSU hired Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama, Jim McElwain. So something along the same lines would be sensible -- though, no, I don’t mean it should pursue Lane Kiffin.
Some of the names from above -- Herman and Frost, in particular -- make a lot of sense. If ADs at major schools are looking for head coaches with experience, and Jeremy Foley is obviously among them, CSU would be a great place to be. It’s just never going to be an end-all destination, despite the administration’s passion for Fort Collins. How many of those are out there, in all of college football? A dozen?
However, if CSU is intent on something a bit more stable, DeRuyter could be a candidate to move across Mountain West divisions.
Hoke might also be good, going back to this more familiar league. Rich Rodriguez “remembered” how to coach once he left Michigan.
While it might not necessarily be a coach’s dream job, it’s about as good as it’s going to get in the Mountain West. McElwain probably made it into something close to a top-5 Group of 5 job.
• Will Muschamp is currently enjoying some vacation time with his family before making a decision about 2015 and beyond. He’d like to continue as a head coach somewhere, I’m told, but the defensive coordinator opportunities in front of him are better.
I expect Muschamp to land at Auburn. It presents everything he would want: a handsome salary, returning talent such as defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and a sustainable, viable coach in Gus Malzahn.
Plus, it’s more familiar to him than Texas A&M would be, even considering his time spent in Austin. Muschamp was Auburn’s DC in 2006 and 2007.
In fact, I’d say it’s more likely Muschamp would take South Carolina over A&M. If it went well, I’m told Muschamp believes he’d be in line to replace Steve Spurrier.
That seems like a stretch to me, considering he was just fired from a division rival with more resources. Maybe South Carolina couldn’t do any better, though. That’s going to be a tricky hire for former baseball coach Ray Tanner, whenever the time comes.
• Those close to the Kansas search say AD Sheahon Zenger is interviewing candidates via phone, going through some of the names we’ve been mentioning since the middle of the season.
Connections are important here, going back to the Jayhawks’ recent heyday under Mark Mangino. So former Nebraska OC Tim Beck (who will be a great free-agent hire for someone), Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty and Ohio State co-OC Dave Warinner are all in play, as is interim Clint Bowen. Bowen’s candidacy lost some steam when KU lost its final two games, at Oklahoma and Kansas State, by a combined score of 95-20.