Gary Pinkel announced Friday that he will resign as Missouri coach at the end of the season to focus on his battle with lymphoma. Replacing the winningest coach in program history and a beloved figure will be no easy task.
Pinkel transformed a dormant program, winning at least 10 games five times and — maybe even more remarkably — winning the SEC East in Missouri’s second and third seasons in the conference. He also reportedly has never fired an assistant during his 15 seasons in Columbia, Mo.
— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) November 14, 2015
There are a couple of pretty obvious candidates to replace Pinkel, plus an assortment of hot coaching names that could be on athletic director Mack Rhoades’ short list. A couple of former Pinkel assistants could also be candidates if the Tigers want to maintain continuity after unprecedented success during the past decade and a half.
Here’s a look at some of the names that might be associated with the job once Rhoades begins his search in the coming weeks:
Houston coach Tom Herman
This is pretty simple. Rhoades hired Herman at Houston and then left for Missouri. Herman is in his first season as an FBS head coach, but he’s 10-0 with a high-flying offense and has become one of the hottest names on the coaching circuit. He was the guy who turned third-string quarterback Cardale Jones into a champion as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.
There’s a connection with Rhoades, but this might be more “Does Herman want Missouri?” than the other way around. He’s likely going to have several jobs to pick from, and he could just stay at Houston, given that star quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., has a year of eligibility left.
Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom
The best way to keep continuity is to hire from within. Odom is in his first season as Missouri’s defensive coordinator, but he played at the school in the late ‘90s and has spent 10 of the past 13 years on Pinkel’s staff.
His only head coaching experience was at a Columbia, Mo., high school for two years, but his defense has been awesome for the Tigers this year.
Toledo coach Matt Campbell
Pinkel came from Toledo before the 2001 season, so why not go back to that well? As it turns out, Campbell is also part of a group of young, exciting coaches who could be finalists for a lot of jobs this offseason.
Campbell is an Ohio guy with no SEC experience, but he’s also 34-14 at Toledo including an 8-1 record in 2015. He did beat Arkansas earlier this season and has faced Missouri twice (both losses) with the Rockets.
Memphis coach Justin Fuente
Another young, up-and-coming coach, Fuente revived one of the worst FBS programs in the country and now has Memphis rolling. He went 10-3 last year and is 8-2 in 2015. The Tigers won a total of five games in the three years before Fuente arrived. Fuente is also appealing because he’s coached as an assistant at TCU and now at Memphis, so he’s spent time developing relationships in critical recruiting areas.
There is also a connection for Fuente at Missouri. Odom spent three years working for Fuente as his defensive coordinator before returning to the Tigers in 2015. Could Rhoades land Fuente, one of the hottest names on the market, and keep Odom?
Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz
Fritz might be an off-the-radar choice, but his resume could be very appealing to Rhoades. Fritz is a familiar name in Missouri, having won 97 games at Central Missouri from 1997-2009. He also went 40-15 at Sam Houston State and is now 16-5 at Georgia Southern.
If the Tigers don’t stay in-house or go young (and expensive, for that matter), Fritz’s ties to Missouri, Texas and Georgia and all of his success could make him an intriguing pick.
North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik
How often would Missouri have a chance to hire a national-championship-winning coach? And one who did so in the SEC, no less? Chizik was fired by Auburn two years after Cam Newton helped him win a title, and his work at North Carolina is pretty close to miraculous.
The Tar Heels were pathetic on defense in 2014. They were 119th in the nation in points allowed per game. Enter Chizik in 2015, and North Carolina is one of the surprises of the season. The Tar Heels are yielding about 20 fewer points per game and are tied for 20th in the country in points allowed per game en route to a likely appearance in the ACC title game.
Dallas Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus
Eberflus was Pinkel’s defensive coordinator at Missouri from 2001-08 and worked on his staff at Toledo before that. He left Columbia for the NFL and has spent seven seasons there as a linebackers coach. The past five have been with the Cowboys.
He was a strong recruiter while at Missouri, and his NFL pedigree could be very attractive to recruits.
Texas A&M offensive line coach Dave Christensen
Christensen was Pinkel’s offensive coordinator from 2001-08 and at Toledo before that. He left Missouri to be the head coach at Wyoming. He was fired after five years and a 27-35 record, but before everyone yells “c’mon, this guy failed at Wyoming” … he went to bowl games in 2009 and 2011. Wyoming has been to exactly one other bowl game since 1993.
He went 5-7 in 2013, including a three-point loss at Nebraska, and was fired. Christensen spent 2014 on Utah’s staff and is in his first year as the offensive line coach/run game coordinator at Texas A&M.