With David Beaty learning that this will be his last season as the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, the first stop on the college coaching carousel appears to be an intriguing one. Kansas has long been the laughingstock of Big 12 football, but the program is developing new resources and with the recent ascension of formerly downtrodden programs like Iowa State and others, the opportunity to build a winning program in a Power Five conference may be an interesting proposition for some coaches.
Former LSU coach Les Miles and Los Angeles Rams assistant coach Jedd Fisch have already been publicly floated as potential replacements for Beaty, but let’s take a look at a five candidates who might currently be flying under the radar.
Dave Doeren — Head Coach, North Carolina State. The current Wolfpack head coach had one of the last undefeated teams this season, which is not surprising considering that he had been a winner at every stop, going 63-36 at Northern Illinois and NC State. Doeren is a Kansas native, and is familiar with the program having been an assistant here under Mark Mangino. Kansas would be a dream job for him, and he campaigned hard for the position back in 2011. New Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long has ties to NC State, so there is a lot that makes sense for Doeren to make what would otherwise be considered a lateral move (or perhaps even a downgrade) from his current position. All of that being said, Doeren has built a strong program with a solid recruiting base at NC State, and has a $6 million buyout. There is little chance that he leaves NC State at this point, even for his dream job at Kansas.
Willie Fritz — Head Coach, Tulane. Like Doeren, Fritz is also a Kansas native and may be tempted to return home. Also like Doeren, Fritz has been a winner everywhere he has coached, earning a 206-94 record at Georgia Southern, Sam Houston State, and Blinn Junior College. Fritz is a proponent of the triple option offense, but he has experience with other systems as well. Yet the possibility of a coach coming in and running the triple option in the otherwise wide-open Big 12 is a tantalizing one. It could help Kansas keep games close, and give them an alternate identity to other Big 12 schools that might help on the recruiting trail. However, Tulane is 4-5 this season, his turnaround of the program is still in its nascent stages, and he would not be the flashy hire that Kansas craves. Also Tulane is one of the highest paying Group of Five coaching jobs, so even if Kansas offers a higher salary than what they paid Beaty, it may not be significant enough.
A statement from Coach David Beaty: pic.twitter.com/8HPveKxRVx— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) May 21, 2018
K.C. Keeler — Head Coach, Sam Houston State. Keeler has been one of the FCS’ top coaches for decades, leading his team to the national title semifinal six times. He is one of the most experienced head coaches out there, with 25 years of leading successful programs under his belt. He has also been one of the most successful, compiling a 222-87-1 career record as the head coach at Rowan, Delaware, and now Sam Houston State. Keeler is an offensive mastermind, consistently delivering powerhouse offenses that would be wide-open even by Big 12 standards. Keeler has also proven to be an outstanding developer of talent, consistently winning without having top recruits. He has mentored hundreds of outstanding players, most notably Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Keeler will be 60 next year, so it’s now or never.
Lance Leipold — Head Coach, Buffalo. Leipold has a proven track record of success, winning six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater before making the incredible jump into the FBS ranks, where he took over a Buffalo team that has historically been one of the worst in top-level college football and in four years transformed them into a solid program that will likely win the MAC this year. He is also the fastest coach to reach 100 wins, as he began his career with an astounding 100-6 record. He could very well make another jump into the Power Five ranks to rescue another struggling program.
Seth Littrell — Head Coach, North Texas. In two years, Littrell turned around a 1-11 North Texas team into one of the hottest teams in college football, and is on target to compete for the Conference USA championship this season. North Texas was 5-8 in Littrell’s first season, only a year after going 1-11, then improved to 9-5 last year. Littrell currently has a 21-15 career record. He runs an up-tempo no-huddle spread offense that will fit right into the Big 12, and has a reputation as a strong mentor of young quarterbacks. He also has ties to Kansas, as he cut his teeth as a Graduate Assistant there under Mark Mangino. Littrell is currently a hot ticket for big programs looking to hire a promising young coach, and Kansas may not be what Littrell envisions as an ideal next step in his career path.
If Kansas is going to reverse their football fortunes, they will need to be smart and innovative in their new head coach hire. There is a lot going against the program right now, but Kansas also has a lot of untapped potential that a good coach can take advantage of and will benefit from patient fans, boosters, and administrators, who have already been through a long dry spell.