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Minnesota Football: Coaching Search Candidates

Here are some options for replacing Tracy Claeys

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Western Michigan at Ohio Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Minnesota has made the decision to make a coaching change and a search for a new leader of the football program is underway. The obvious question for Gopher fans is, who are the top candidates for the job? Who is going to be the new man roaming the sidelines of TCF Bank Stadium next September? I know that there has been a heavy dose of speculation that PJ Fleck is not only the target but is possibly already been tabbed as the guy. But here is an initial list (including Fleck) of potential candidates.

We dropped a few good reasons why this is a desirable job and the next obvious question becomes...who is interested?

My Top 3

These are semi-realistic candidates who would be excellent fits at Minnesota. I have a favorite, but any of these three are guys we can write a lot of positive things about. The decision was made to go a different direction and I’d be pretty excited if we landed any of the next three names.

Dave Aranda - top of my list, but it is just personal preference. Aranda was the Badger’s defensive coordinator for three seasons before accepting the same position at LSU before last season.

Why? He is a very bright, defensive minded coach. He has worked in the Midwest, understands the landscape that is the Big Ten West and I would love to do what it takes to ensure that the Gophers continue to field a good defense.

In three seasons at Wisconsin he never finished lower than 7th nationally in defense and he quickly was snatched up by LSU to lead their defense and is not the highest paid assistant coach in the country. Up and coming coach, he will be a head coach in the near future. I’d be thrilled if he gets that chance in Minnesota.

Homework - Read this background piece on Aranda. And here’s a YouTube video of the BTN crew breaking down the Aranda defense.

Greg Schiano - the former Rutgers coach who had some success at Rutgers over 11 seasons before accepting a head coach offer in the NFL. That NFL stint didn’t go so well but he did take Rutgers to 5 straight bowl games. After his tenure at Tampa Bay was finished he took a job as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Why? He took a terrible Rutgers program, turned it around to a program that garnered national attention. And he continually rejected other offers before the NFL was too great of a pull. He showed commitment to what he was doing at Rutgers. He’s had exposure to the Big Ten with his two years at Ohio State and I’m going to assume that he learned a little bit more about what it takes to be a successful head coach after observing Urban Meyer for two seasons.

If having head coaching experience and being successful as a head coach is important to you...he’s got that box checked. If being a coordinator at a helmet school and showing some success there...he’s got that covered as well.

This wouldn’t be a sexy hire, but it would have a very good chance of being successful.

P.J. Fleck - and that leads us to the sexy pick. P.J. Fleck is the hot, up and coming name. This has been the hot rumor for the last several days. Mark Coyle was going to meet with Tracy Claeys on Tuesday...which is the day AFTER Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos played in the Cotton Bowl. The rumor continues that through back-channels Coyle has been negotiating a deal with Fleck. If Fleck was going to be attainable, he’d let Claeys go and jump in the boat with Fleck.

Why? He’s a guy who took over a bad Western Michigan program and through relentless recruiting, along with solid coaching, turned them into a 13-0 team that played Wisconsin tough in this year’s Cotton Bowl. His name comes up with every single opening. He’s a very good recruiter and motivator.

He spent his career as a WR coach starting at Northern Illinois under Jerry Kill before moving to Rutgers for a couple years and then in the NFL for Tampa Bay for a year. At that point Western Michigan took a gamble on Fleck coming off a 4-8 season.

The question with Fleck becomes, is he all talk with little substance? Is he the next Tim Brewster? I’ll say this...Tim Brewster had actually zero experience as a head coach. He was never a coordinator. PJ Fleck has been a head coach and shown success as one. He’ll certainly be energetic and motivational, he’ll put a lot of energy into recruiting but you can’t take away that he went 13-0 after building from a 1-11 season just 4 years ago.

Homework - ESPN video profile on Fleck

Fleck will be highly sought after and word has it that he’d be interested in the Gopher job for a few of the reasons previously outlined. The way things went down today with the Board of Regents getting involved and Mark Coyle making the decision as he did...Fleck may no longer be interested. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rumors we’ll be hearing over the coming days.

Other Interesting Names

These are all names that might be interesting.

Gus Bradley - recently fired at Jacksonville but Gus Bradley has quite a bit of college coaching experience. Not to mention that he’s a Minnesota kid and might just be a good fit here.

Formerly the NDSU defensive coordinator for 10 years before moving on to Tampa Bay as a linebackers coach for a few seasons. He then was offered and accepted the defensive coordinator in Seattle with Pete Carroll. That was parlayed into a head coaching job with Jacksonville. Recently leg go in Jacksonville...would he be interested in taking a college job? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to give him a shot here as the Gophers’ head.

Ultimately this one isn’t all that likely as Bradley’s name is still a good one in the NFL and he will likely be a defensive coordinator somewhere next season, if he doesn’t get a shot as a head coach again.

Homework - some background on Bradley as he took the Jacksonville job.

Bryan Harsin - Boise State

Mark Coyle is the one who hired Harsin at Boise State when Chris Peterson left for Washington. Harsin was the OC at Boise before leaving to do that same job at Texas for two seasons. He then left to be the head coach at Arkansas State for just on year before taking the Boise head job.

Harsin has been successful at Boise going 10-3 this year and tying for first in the Mountain West in his third year on the job. Harsin is an offensive guy and would probably jump at the chance to join his former boss at a Big Ten school. He’d be an interesting hire.


I’ll list them but it’s not happening. Don’t try to convince me (or yourself) that it is’s not.

Chip Kelly - maybe he comes back to college but Minnesota is not where he’s landing. He’ll sit out a year, probably do some TV stuff before having his pick of job openings next year.

Les Miles - I know, I know, he’s been a Big Ten coach and maybe Minnesota is the perfect place for him to end his career. But he’s not coming here (and to be honest I’m not sure I’d want him over several other names).

Tony Dungy or Marc Trestman - please...just don’t even.

Jim Tressel - yes, I know his show-cause is up. But it’s not going to happen.

Bo Pelini - OK, so this is the most likely of the unrealistic ones. It could happen but I’m not sure that it is realistic. I’m not sure that you fire Claeys to bring in Pelini.


The hot rumor is that PJ Fleck will be your Gopher coach but the truth is that whoever the Gophers hire is likely not on this list. When Tubby was hired, he wasn’t on anybody’s list. Richard Pitino wasn’t on anyone’s radar and neither was Jerry Kill.

Stay tuned...