"We need to find the Tony Bennett for football."
You'll hear that phrase a lot from Virginia fans these days.
Before you join the hive mind on that buzz, consider:
1) Tony Bennett was a head coach at a Power Conference school when Virginia came calling.
2) He had a winning career record (63-33) as a head coach at said P5 school (Washington State).
3) He was 40 years old when he left Wazzu for UVA. Young by college coaching standards.
4) UVA was able to offer him a raise from his current salary.
5) He viewed Virginia as a so-called "destination job;" as a place he could go and build a program that would be uniquely his; a place where he could coach for 30 years and then retire.
I'm here today to tell you that I'm not sure if a Tony Bennett for Football (TBFF) exists as a realistic potential hire for Virginia in December 2015. I have my doubts.
Let's take a quick look at each of the P5 conferences, to see if we can find a truly viable TBFF...
We aren't getting Nick Saban, Les Miles, Kevin Sumlin, Dan Mullen, or Hugh Freeze. Steve Spurrier is too old (70), and wouldn't be interested in this start-from-scratch rebuilding job. Gary Pinkel is 63, and a Mizzou lifer. Jim McElwain was just hired by Florida, and wouldn't move again so quickly after being hired. Plus, it's Florida --- we aren't hiring anyone away from UF. In fact, I seriously doubt we could draw ANY of these SEC coaches. However, for purposes of this exercise, we should consider:
Bret Bielema, Arkansas - Maybe they're getting tired of him at Arkansas, because he has a losing record there: 12-18 in 2.5 seasons. But when you add in his seven seasons at Wisconsin, he's 80-42 overall at the P5 level. He's 45, so I'm willing to say that's fairly TBFF-ian. Would he view Virginia as a destination? I dunno, he could be an extreme longshot of an outside possibility for UVA. He's worth a phone call from the search committee, I'd say.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn - He's 49, so on the "not really all that young" side of young, but he has a 23-9 record at Auburn, including an appearance in the 2013 national championship game. Auburn fans seem to be pissy about the 8-5 (4-4 SEC) record in 2014 and the slow start (3-2, 0-2 SEC) to this season. Can he be had? UVA would need to pitch something in the Saban/Harbaugh realm of $7mil per season to make it happen, and I think that's probably an impossibility. Not a TBFF.
Mark Richt, Georgia - He's 55, and if Georgia fires him, he'll just retire to work in his ministry. Or so I've heard. Not a TBFF.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky - Now this one might have some legs. He's 48, being paid $3.3mil by Kentucky (we can match/beat that), but has an 11-18 record at UK. However, and it's a big however, Wildcat boosters seem to be really happy with the way he's building that program. So we'll see. I won't completely rule him out of TBFF consideration.
Butch Jones, Tennessee - Tennessee is a totally unrealistic fanbase, and thus, is unhappy with Butch Jones' 14-16 (5-13 SEC) rebuilding job to date. He's 47, and won at Central Michigan and Cincinnati before landing at UT... but could UVA compete with the $3.6mil the Vols are paying? My gut says no, but I am willing to marinate a little bit on Butch Jones as a potential TBFF.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt - Said simply, he's sucking at Vanderbilt (5-12, 0-10 SEC in his first year and a half). No thanks.
Harbaugh, Dantonio, Urban Meyer - nope. Bill Cubit is interim at Illinois. Mike Riley is in his first season at Nebraska. Kyle Flood, Darrell Hazell, and Randy Edsall are each about to get shitcanned themselves. That leaves us with...
Kevin Wilson, Indiana - He has the Hoosiers playing well in 2015 after a rough first four years (14-34, 6-26 B1G). I just don't see enough historical winning to justify TBFF status!
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa - At 60 years old, this is his 17th season at Iowa. His 120-85 (69-60 B1G) record looks pretty good, but he's gotten a bit stale. At one point around 2004 he was pretty hot shit... but that was a decade ago. Not a TBFF.
Jerry Kill, Minnesota - He's been a head coach since 1994, and he's only 54 years old. That means he's been at it for a solid 20 years, posting a very solid 151-98 record. The problem is that he's only 28-28 (13-20 B1G) at Minnesota. A .500 coach at the P5 level is not TBFF material.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern - If you believe UVA can compete against a school from the almighty (sarcasm) Big Ten, then you should look closely at Pat Fitzgerald. His solid 65-53 record at an elite academic institution screams "UVA fit." He's 40 years old, and checks all the boxes. Northwestern pays him $2.5mil per season, and I think Virginia would need to dangle $4+mil to even begin its pursuit. That being said, if you really want a TBFF, here's your guy.
James Franklin, Penn State - Yuck. I just hate this guy; I feel like he's a total slimeball. However, he's young (43) and wins (35-22 at the P5 level -- 24-15 at Vandy and 11-7 at State Penn), so there's that. Two more things: Franklin already makes $4.4mil, so he's out of our price range, and... c'mon! We aren't honestly going to try to talk about attracting a coach away from Penn State to come coach at UVA, are we? This is a total non-starter.
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin - He was very much 'meh' at Pitt for three seasons (19-19, 10-13 Big East/ACC) and he's been 'meh' at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 B1G), plus he's already 49. No thanks.
I'd venture that Art Briles and Bob Stoops are completely out of our range. Mike Gundy is too. Gary Patterson is too (but I'll still talk a little about him, because his name slips through Hoofans' lips enough to warrant a closer look). Bill Snyder is way too old, and a K-State lifer. David Beaty is in his first season at Kansas. Meanwhile, Paul Rhoads and Charlie Strong are about to be fired. So here are the Big XII coaches we should look at:
Gary Patterson, TCU - I won't waste my time talking about his age (55) or salary ($3.9mil). Instead, I'll merely point to the fact that he MADE the Texas Christian program. In 15 seasons there, he got them into a power conference, went to 13 bowl games, and transformed a middling mid-major program into a program that dwarfs Virginia's in just about every way. He'd be a slam dunk hire, but he's well out of reach for UVA. He might have been TBFF in 2005, but in 2015 the ship has sailed.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech - He's young (36), handsome (see below), and... kinda-sorta winning (15-15 in 2.5 seasons, 6-14 Big XII). He's a Texas Tech alum who makes $3.1mil, so that's a tough pry for Virginia. Given the current climate in Lubbock (fans are turning on him, it seems), he might be happy to find an escape...? Who knows? I'd say he's a darkhorse TBFF.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia - 44, makes $2.9mil, and runs a unique system. There are Tony Bennett parallels to be drawn here. He also is on a bit of a hot seat at West Virginia, despite a solid-enough 31-24 record with the Mountaineers. His problem is that he hasn't been able to win in the Big XII, posting just an 11-17 record in conference. He can be had, I think... but would Virginia want him? More specifically, would Virginia want to pay him $3+mil per season? Not really a TBFF, in my eyes.
We aren't pulling Mark Helfrich, David Shaw, Jim Mora Jr., or Chris Petersen. Mike Leach - as much as I absolutely love the dude - isn't a cultural fit at UVA (which kinda makes me hate UVA a little bit). Steve Sarkisian has too many off-field issues swirling around him right now; he's radioactive. Gary Andersen is in his first season at Oregon State. Mike MacIntyre has sucked at Colorado (9-20, 1-18 Pac-12). Therefore, we consider:
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona - I honestly think he's out of our (and Poly's) wheelhouse. 52 years old, $3.2mil per season, 29-16 (15-14 Pac-12) at 'Zona. He's a good coach, I just don't see it as a fit for UVA to pursue. In my opinion, he is not a TBFF.
Todd Graham, Arizona State - I love his system, but I hate the guy. His pedestrian 6-6 (4-3 Big East) mark at Pitt kind of tells the story of what he could accomplish at UVA. At 50, he's a little bit older than you'd like, and his $3mil/season salary puts him nearly out of our price range. 31-14 (20-9 Pac-12) makes him a sexy name, but I think he might be destined for one of the elite jobs in college football before too long. It doesn't feel right for UVA, any of it.
Sonny Dykes, California - He's 45 and makes on $2mil per season at Cal, but - to this point! - he hasn't been winning. He's just 11-18 (5-15 Pac-12), but things are looking up. You guys already know that I lust after the Air Raid at UVA, so I'm a little bit biased on this one. Personally, I'd love to see Sonny Dykes as a real candidate at UVA. I'll go ahead and say that if he's not considered a TBFF, then he should be.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah - Surprisingly old at 55, but his $2.6mil salaray can be topped and his 89-43 overall record at Utah is impeccable. However, his 15-22 mark in four seasons of Pac-12 play leaves something to be desired, plus it is said that he is deeply rooted in his Mormon faith and the Salt Lake area. He's been at odds with the Utah AD, but I doubt this is a nut for Virginia to crack.
I can't really imagine UVA poaching a coach from a fellow conference school. It's just not our style. But it could happen, so I guess we should take a look in the name of thoroughness. Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher - well out of our depth. Frank Beamer - no fucking thanks. Bobby Petrino has too much off-field baggage for UVA. David Cutcliffe is a very good coach, but he's too old (61) to start fresh again. Paul Johnson (58) is also too old, plus he's a prick. Scott Shafer is likely to get canned at Syracuse. Pat Narduzzi won't leave Pitt after just one season, much to my chagrin. Larry Fedora... I suspect... is simply a non-starter for us. That leaves...
Steve Addazio, Boston College - It's not unprecedented for BC to lose a coach to another ACC school, and 'Daz is doing good things in Chestnut Hill. It doesn't feel like he'd be interested in leaving anytime soon, and although UVA's athletic department is superior, it probably couldn't offer a big raise from Addazio's $2.6mil/season salary. As much as I like the 'Daz, this just isn't TBFF territory.
Al Golden, Miami - Once the offseason dominoes begin to fall, Al Golden will no longer be employed at Miami. The question is, would Virginia want to jump back into bed with a Groh affiliate? Miami is paying $2.5mil, and that's a figure Virginia could easily match. Golden's 31-23 (16-16 ACC) record sounds pretty good to long-suffering Hoofans, I'd imagine. Can he win without the 4- and 5-star athletes he was reeling in at Miami? I dunno. His Hurricane teams don't look particularly well-coached, either. Golden is 46... and I'm willing to put him in the TBFF ballpark, but probably up near the concession stand, buying a hot dog.
Dave Doeren, NC State - He's just starting to get some traction in Raleigh, and I don't think he'd want to make the lateral move to Virginia. HOWEVER, we can top that $2.2mil salary. He's got a losing ACC record (3-14) at State, and that doesn't move the needle in any direction other than down for me. Pass.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest - If we had done a coaching search following the 2013 season like we should have, I'm convinced that Clawson would have been our guy. In a year and a half at Wake, he's 5-12 overall, 1-9 in the ACC. So, not good. But the arrow is pointing up. He's still pretty young (48) and a proven program builder with ties to the state of Virginia. If we want to try to poach an ACC coach, I think he'd be our target.
Definitely Tony Bennett for Football material:
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Sonny Dykes, California
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Big, fat maybes:
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Al Golden, Miami