Reading between the lines of Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts’ comments On Sunday, when he announced the firing of Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers’ next coaching search will fit under these parameters:
- Nebraska will have money to spend.
As an example, the university will pay more than $16 million to throw Frost after the ugly loss to Georgia Southern rather than wait just weeks until October 1, when his purchase was cut in half.
Along with the ever-larger payouts handed out by the Big Ten, that tough package indicates that Nebraska will be motivated to go beyond Frost’s $5 million annual salary and approach or even surpass the $7 million mark, which has become the new benchmark for peak -the-line head coaches in the Power Five.
- Alberts will be patient (and he will have to be).
Getting out ahead of the market can pay off if you value candidates who are able to drop everything and step right into the job before midseason. In the last cycle, Texas Tech (Joey McGuire) and Georgia Southern (Clay Helton) hired new coaches in November, about a month before the market traditionally heats up.
Nebraska is not looking at such an option. Although the program may be able to reset the market from a financial perspective, the likely list of contenders for this opening will still keep the Cornhuskers tied until the end of the regular season unless the university taps an immediately available option like former Florida coach Dan. Mullen or former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall.
- The Cornhuskers want an established head coach
Meaning a current head coach or one who was a head coach in the recent past. More specifically, this search will focus on current Power Five head coaches with a track record of developing talent, building chemistry and establishing an identity that can serve as the foundation of the entire program.
Regardless of money, Nebraska won’t be able to remove a sitting head coach at a program of greater value — the athletic department must sell the opening as an opportunity to rebuild a once-proud brand in a coach’s image, which will be a lot. attracting a certain type of candidate. But the biggest names in coaching aren’t throwing aside a better situation simply for the chance to put their stamp on the Cornhuskers.
While things can and almost certainly will change before the end of the regular season, these are five realistic names for the Nebraska opening among current Power Five head coaches.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
As a candidate, Campbell is a safe and solid choice that meets three of the Cornhuskers’ primary criteria.
He is a proven Power Five coach who has achieved historic success under less-than-ideal circumstances by identifying prospects who fit his scheme regardless of their ranking as recruits or interest from Power Five peers. He established a culture at Iowa State that played a big role in the best run in program history. He’s a grinder who relishes the fundamental part of a coach’s tenure and would embrace the task of digging Nebraska out of the depths of recent embarrassment.
Basically, Campbell is a 300-yard drive down the fairway that leaves you in birdie range but with the floor of a save. You know what you’re going to get: clean, solid, physical football that would arguably play well in Lincoln. Regarding his availability and interest, Campbell had opportunities to leave Iowa State but waited for the right position to open up; Nebraska may represent the sweet spot.
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Dave Doeren, North Carolina State
Not long removed from scrutiny after a 4-8 finish in 2019, Doeren has the Wolfpack up to No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll and in the mix for the most successful season in program history. He posted seven scoring records in his nine full seasons and did a very nice job developing quarterbacks and edge rushers, two positions where Nebraska has missed far more often than not for more than a decade.
Originally from the Midwest and an assistant at Kansas and Wisconsin before being named the head coach at Northern Illinois, he would understand the landscape in the Big Ten but would need to re-establish a recruiting foothold in the Cornhuskers’ 500-mile bubble. Dull and reserved, Doeren’s personality would fit the Nebraska vibe.
As the last name on this list, however, for Doeren to choose the Cornhuskers would require him to throw aside a long building process and give up ownership of a program covered from top to bottom with his fingerprints. It could be a tough sell.
Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Few active coaches at any level have been as successful as Klieman, who took home four Championship Subdivision national championships in five years at North Dakota State and won eight games in his two non-COVID seasons with the Wildcats. This year’s team just beat Missouri and looks poised to battle with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas for the Big 12 crown and a New Year’s Six berth.
While he’s in a good spot with very solid job security, the Nebraska job ranks higher on the Power Five ladder. On the other hand, Klieman has already guided the Wildcats through the early transition period and appears to have this year’s team destined for a Top 25 finish. Is he ready to start that process over in a tougher situation with the Cornhuskers?
If it’s not the easiest decision for him to make, Nebraska can simply offer more: more money in a better conference with a deeper reservoir of resources.
Lance Leipold, Kansas
Fresh off an overtime win at West Virginia that leaves Kansas at 2-0 for the first time since 2011, Leipold quickly turned around the Jayhawks’ losing ways and put the program on an upward trajectory for the first time in more than a decade. As an outfield Nebraska assistant in the early 2000s, he understands the program, the expectations and, importantly, the downsides that come with the position.
Like Klieman, he won big at lower levels of competition. Leipold ran a stellar Division III program at Wisconsin-Whitewater, winning six national championships and playing for another, and then turned Buffalo into one of the top teams in the MAC.
While Nebraska can almost certainly get him, it would become a much easier sell for Alberts and the athletic department if the Jayhawks can stay hot and make a run at bowl eligibility. Even if the search isn’t aimed at garnering immediate public recognition, there’s a question of what kind of goodwill the new hire brings to the position: Leipold would be in a better place from the get-go if Kansas gets to five or even six wins during the regular season.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Stoops would represent a home run hire for the Cornhuskers based on his work transforming Kentucky from an SEC punchline to one of the toughest teams in the Power Five. He has the added history of swinging in recruits from Big Ten country, specifically Ohio. Schematically, Stoops and his staff developed a model designed to even the playing field with more talented opponents, with dire results.
Then there’s the question: Why would he leave the SEC for a place at a historically stronger but recently much weaker program? Like Doeren, he spent years building Kentucky into an annual Top 25 contender. Leaving means giving that away, of course. But the Cornhuskers can offer money and the chance to be the biggest show in town — something he’ll never, ever get with the Wildcats, which has worn on Stoops as evidenced by his public back-and-forth with basketball coach John Calipari.