With the firing of Tracy Claeys on Tuesday, Minnesota finds itself as the latest — and currently only — college football program in need of a head coach.
Who could replace Claeys and become the new Golden Gophers head man? Here are five potential candidates.
If P.J. Fleck is willing to row his boat to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota may have just inadvertently played the coaching market perfectly.
Currently the head coach at Western Michigan, many considered Fleck one of the country’s top coaching candidates this past coaching cycle. The 36-year-old Fleck accumulated a 13-0 record at WMU this past season, before losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
With his Midwest background, Fleck would be the perfect hire for a Gophers program in need of a fresh face. Unfortunately for Minnesota, however, he appears far more likely to stay put in Kalamazoo for another season than to wind up with the Golden Gophers.
While he may not bring the same youth and vigor that Fleck would, former LSU head coach Les Miles would be about as big of a name as Minnesota could hire. Having won a national title with the Tigers in 2007, Miles would bring instant credibility to a program that hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967.
A native of Elyria, Ohio, who played offensive line at Michigan and later served as an assistant coach for the Wolverines in the early 1990s, Miles possesses inherent connections to both the Big Ten and the Midwest. Given his recruiting prowess, the 63-year-old could make the Golden Gophers an instant contender in the wide-open Big Ten West.
After being fired by LSU four games into the 2016 campaign, Miles indicated that he plans to coach again in the future.
At 40-years-old and with a 38-14 career record to his credit, Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin could be Minnesota’s best shot at putting a youthful spin on its program, should the Gophers strike out with Fleck as expected.
The former head coach at Arkansas State, Harsin possesses natural ties to the Minnesota program. Current Golden Gophers director of athletics Mark Coyle hired Harsin while occupying the same role at Boise State in 2014.
In three seasons, Harsin has amassed a 31-9 record, including a 10-3 mark in 2016. It remains to be seen whether or not he’d be willing to leave his alma mater, having played quarterback for the Broncos from 1995-99.
A Super Bowl-winning head coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Tony Dungy has insisted as recently as December that his coaching career is over.
But would the former Indianapolis Colts head coach be willing to make an exception for his alma mater?
A Golden Gophers quarterback in the mid-1970s, Dungy spent the bulk of his coaching career in the Midwest. He’s also no stranger to the Twin Cities, having served as the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator from 1992-95.
But if no NFL team has already, it seems unlikely Minnesota would be able to persuade the 61-year-old Dungy to stalk the sidelines one last time. But there’s no denying he’d bring instant credibility to a program that’s desperately in need of just that.
Currently the defensive coordinator at LSU, Dave Aranda is rising star in the coaching ranks. He also happens to possess ties to the Big Ten West, serving as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2013-15.
At 40-years-old, Aranda could provide the Golden Gophers with the youthful excitement the program so desperately craves. He also happens to be a pretty good defensive coach as well, overseeing the nation’s 10th-ranked defense in 2016 and second-ranked defense with the Badgers the year prior.
Over the course of his coaching career, Aranda has been somewhat of a coaching nomad. He just may be the right man for the job at Minnesota as it looks to move on from controversy and form a new identity as a program.