This Oregon coaching candidate wish list is a mixture of the hottest names in the country, proven head coaches and a former head coach-turned-assistant.
Oregon has officially decided to cut ties with Mark Helfrich, three days after the Ducks finished a disappointing 4-8 season with a 34-24 loss to Oregon State, which scored 20-unanswered points after the Ducks held a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.
Helfrich went 37-16 overall in Eugene and took the Ducks to the 2014 national championship game. But he went just 13-12 in the two seasons that followed, and the team’s recruiting has dipped over that same time frame.
Oregon will owe Helfrich an approximate $11 million buyout, but don’t expect money to be an issue in this coaching search. The question is who could be in play for this opening?
Which replacements might athletic director Rob Mullens be looking at as he composes his coaching wish list?
Let’s take a look at six names that ultimately could emerge as potential head coaching candidates for Oregon.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan Head Coach
Under Fleck, Western Michigan is undefeated and headed to the MAC Championship Game. He has the Broncos in the mix for a New Year’s Six Bowl game after beating Northwestern and Illinois in non-conference play, and he would absolutely be all ears despite reports linking him to the Purdue opening. Fleck is not just about winning football games—he’s about winning off the field in the community as well. He’s the ideal face of a program, and he’d quickly adjust to new recruiting terrain. Keep in mind that his staff was able to put together some of the best classes the MAC has ever seen. He’s a rising star, and he’d make Oregon football fun again.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State Head Coach
Harsin has been successful both at Arkansas State, where he won the Sun Belt title in his first and only year in 2013, and at Boise State, where he led the Broncos to a Fiesta Bowl victory in his first season in 2014. He is 38-13 in four years as a head coach, and he can easily snag more than the $1.3 million in base salary that he is getting from Boise. Of course, Harsin has extremely strong ties to the Broncos. He was born in Boise, played quarterback for the Broncos and coached there for 10 years before coming back as head coach. He could be Chris Petersen-esque and wait for the right gig, but Oregon just may be it.
Scott Frost, UCF Head Coach
This wouldn’t be an internal hire, yet it essentially would be after Frost spent seven seasons as an assistant coach for the Ducks from 2009 through 2015. He moved from working with the wide receivers and quarterbacks to being the offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2015 before being named the head coach at UCF. Frost has the Knights at 6-6 and positioned for a bowl game just one season after they were 0-12. He’d be able to elevate the level of recruiting close to where it was under Kelly, and that’s half the battle. And, in a short amount of time, he’s proven that he is a heck of a head coach too.
Greg Schiano, Ohio State Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
If the Ducks want to improve their defense—which is essential no matter how good of an offense is fielded each week—Schiano would be an interesting candidate to ponder. He helped put Rutgers football on the map during his 11 seasons in Piscataway (2001-2011), notching at least seven wins in six of his final seven years at the school, including posting a 5-1 mark in bowl games. He is co-coordinating Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes defense with Luke Fickell this season, so he’s been in high-pressure situations after a few years off of the sideline. Paired with an innovative offensive coordinator, this could be a route that Oregon explores.
Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington Head Coach
While he is running a program at the FCS level, Baldwin has won a national championship (2010) and is 10-1 this fall. During his time with the Eagles, he has compiled an 83-31 mark while overseeing very prolific offenses. And we know how much Oregon likes offense. He’s familiar with the West Coast recruiting terrain, and he’d be able to bring in a higher-caliber athlete than he’s able to at EWU. Young signal-caller Justin Herbert would certainly thrive in Baldwin’s pass-happy offense. It is risky, but it is worth it if the Ducks can’t land a big name.
Jim McElwain, Florida Head Coach
Despite reaching the SEC Championship Game in his first two seasons at Florida—the only coach to do so—McElwain has faced criticism from the Gator fan base. With a different athletic director in place than the one who hired him as well as the constant grumblings, would McElwain look toward a different school and away from the daunting SEC?
McElwain has ties to the Pacific Northwest—he attended Eastern Washington—and his wife is from Washington. His children are also grown, so there’s no ties to keep kids in school. With a successful track record at Florida, and Colorado State before that, Oregon could make a splashy hire in an excellent and potentially discontent head coach.