Dienhart: Which direction will Illinois' search go?

Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas hired two football coaches when he ran Cincinnati’s athletic department, looking to the MAC ranks on each occasion in first tabbing Brian Kelly from Central Michigan and then Butch Jones from the same school. But he’ll surely have an open mind in replacing Ron Zook.

I expect the next Illinois coach to have an offensive background and to be younger. And I don’t think the next coach necessarily has to have head coaching experience. Will Thomas give a serious look at minorities? The Big Ten has had just two African-American head coaches, and both were at Northwestern: Dennis Green and Francis Peay.

Here are my top candidates:

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin offensive coordinator. It has been reported that Thomas talked to Chryst on Monday about the job. Chryst, 46, has interviewed for head coach jobs at Oregon State and Purdue, while coming close to taking a job as quarterbacks coach with the Dallas Cowboys a few years ago. A Wisconsin grad who also has coached in the NFL, Chryst isn’t a dynamic personality but he’s unmatched as a schemer.

Larry Fedora, Southern Miss head coach. A top offensive mind that has made Southern Miss one of the top programs in C-USA in forging a 32-19 mark in four seasons and leading the Golden Eagles to the C-USA East title this year. Fedora has a magnetic personality, which makes him a deft recruiter. Zook actually hired Fedora to be offensive coordinator in 2005, but the 49-year-old Texas native quickly left for the same post at Oklahoma State.

Butch Jones, Cincinnati head coach. Of course, Thomas is familiar with Jones, who is having a banner second season with the Bearcats. Jones, 43, runs a dynamic offense and knows how to operate a program at a high level and build a strong staff. Jones is a native of Michigan who played at Ferris State and cut his teeth under Rich Rodriguez as receivers coach at West Virginia.

Todd Monken, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator: A native of Wheaton, Ill., who played at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., the 45-year-old Monken pushes the buttons on an explosive Cowboy offense that’s among the best in the nation. He also has extensive NFL experience and has worked at LSU. He’s ready.

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator. The fiery Narduzzi, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who played at Rhode Island and Youngstown, has slowly made the Spartans into a defensive power. He knows his Xs and Ox, as the 45-year-old Narduzzi has learned much working for a defensive mind like Mark Dantonio dating back to their days at Cincinnati.

Kevin Sumlin, Houston. He’s this year’s “it” coach. And Thomas would be hailed an instant hero if he somehow could lure Sumlin, who is a perfect fit on so many levels. In addition to his glistening resume as a coach, Sumlin is a “Big Ten guy,” having played and coached at Purdue and also been an assistant at Minnesota, where he met his wife. The cerebral Sumlin is coaching gold in that he learned much as an assistant under Bob Stoops, but he may have better options.

Kirby Wilson, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach. A former Illini defensive back under Mike White, Wilson has an extensive background in the NFL and college ranks. He has worked for some of the best football minds, including Dennis Green, Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin. A native of southern California who was a junior-college recruit, the 50-year-old Wilson has myriad of nation-wide connections and is a personable recruiter.

OTHERS TO WATCH: Temple coach Steve Addazio; Toledo head coach Tim Beckman; Eastern Michigan head coach Ron English; Notre Dame defensive backs coach Chuck Martin; Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads; Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart; Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (6 Comments)
aroznowski on 12/1/2011 @ 12:32am EDT Said:

It would be nice if Illinois could get Paul Chryst away from Wisconsin. Losing Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, and Paul Chryst might just be what is needed for the Badgers to fall back into mediocrity where they belong.

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 12/2/2011 @ 8:41am EDT Said:

    Chryst is a great offensive mind and may be the hottest assistant coach in the nation. But if Ball turns pro early–along with Wilson departing–I still think the Badgers will be OK on offense if Chryst returns. Wisconsin has talent, and Chryst’s system has proven to be effective regardless of the personnel.

doak106@aol.com on 12/1/2011 @ 1:20pm EDT Said:

You’re forgetting about Bobbie Williams, another African American who coached at Michigan State, in the early 2000’s

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 12/2/2011 @ 8:48am EDT Said:

    Yes, I noticed that. Sorry. So, it’s three African-American head coaches in the history of the Big Ten. Williams; Dennis Green; Francis Peay.

Ace on 12/1/2011 @ 2:07pm EDT Said:

I do not want a african american coach just to have an african american coach, especially not from northwestern. If we can find one with a great potential from either an up and coming team or one that consistently has performed well, then go for it. Ideally overall I would like to get a defensive mind coach, continue on that success and then an OC who is big on the running game. Another area we have had success in for years, until this one.

Reginald on 12/2/2011 @ 10:00am EDT Said:

Why make this comment: “Losing Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, and Paul Chryst might just be what is needed for the Badgers to fall back into mediocrity where they belong.”

The focus is on Illinois finding a suitable coach to improve things with that program. Don’t dog a program (Wisconsin) for their success, especially when it appears to be doing things through hard work, focus, and getting kids that fit their system. Wisconsin never gets praised for their recruiting classes – but, they know how to fit pieces for their system and WIN!!