The firing of Herm Edwards finally happened over the weekend after Arizona State’s bad loss to Eastern Michigan. The Sun Devils job has long been viewed as one with a lot of potential but, for a variety of reasons, has rarely had a lot of big success. Now, ASU is open again but the shadows of a long NCAA recruiting investigation shroud it. And who will be the athletic director a year from now? That is another potential hurdle for this search process.
Beyond that are conference realignment rumors: What will the Pac-12 be like? Will the Sun Devils be playing elsewhere? What other potential challenges might stem from possible realignment?
The hunch here is that, given all of the uncertainty, there will be a wide pool of rising assistant coaches, sitting head coaches and individuals with head coaching experience looking for a second run that will chase this vacancy.
Current head coaches
Jonathan Smith, Oregon State: I think Smith is the top West Coach option among sitting head coaches who could be in play. The 43-year-old from Southern California has done a really good job rebuilding his alma mater. The Beavers were a mess under and after Smith’s predecessor Gary Andersen, and Smith has built a sturdy foundation after starting 2-10 five years ago. In 2021, the Beavers had their first winning season in nine years and this season they have started 3-0. Would he leave Corvallis for Tempe? There’s much more of a recruiting base at ASU, and you’re much better positioned to Southern California and Texas there. It’s a call ASU ought to make.
Kalani Sitake, BYU: Another strong candidate out West, Sitake has a lot of Pac-12 experience and is doing an excellent job at his alma mater. He is 23-5 the past three years. The Cougars are headed to the Big 12 and there appears to be more stability, or at least certainty, in Provo than Tempe. It’ll be interesting to see if he’d be tempted to leave what he has for a job like ASU.
Charles Huff, Marshall: Huff, 39, is from the East Coast but is a coach we think will be attractive to ADs in any region. He’s coached in the NFL and at top programs (Alabama and Penn State) and has impressed folks inside and around those programs. Huff had a good win earlier this season, leading Marshall over Notre Dame in South Bend despite the Thundering Herd being without their best player Rasheen Ali. He is 9-7 since taking over.
Sean Lewis, Kent State: The 36-year-old Lewis took over a dreadful program and has built it into one of the MAC’s better teams. After a run of six losing seasons, Lewis, a former Wisconsin player, led the school to its first ever bowl win. He is another coach who has really impressed people around the sport who have gotten to know him and seen what he’s about. We expect him to be hired by a Power 5 program within the next few years, but perhaps ASU is the place that he is willing to step up now.
Former head coaches who are now coordinators
Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator: Monken has the Bulldogs offense rolling. The 56-year-old helped UGA win the national title last year despite some injuries and issues at receiver. A former NFL OC, Monken did a terrific job as a head coach at Southern Miss, taking the Golden Eagles from 1-11 his first year to 9-5 in his third season despite many administrative challenges. His experience of him working in Athens for Kirby Smart in this version of the Nick Saban model should help boost his profile of him as a head coaching candidate.
Barry Odom, Arkansas defensive coordinator: Odom has a great hire for Sam Pittman. Playing in the best division in college football, the Razorbacks allowed only 22.9 PPG, the fewest for an Arkansas defense since 2014 and good enough to rank No. 39 in the country. The Hogs were also No. 3 in the SEC in third down defense and third in red zone defense. Odom, 45, did pretty well coaching his alma mater, going 25-25 at Missouri after following Tiger legend Gary Pinkel. He was seen as a strong candidate at Arizona two years ago before the school hired Jedd Fisch.
Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC: O’Brien also might make a lot of sense here, given his experience taking over a dismal situation at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O’Brien did outstanding work stabilizing PSU, going 15-9 in two seasons before returning to the NFL. Last year, he helped groom a Heisman winning quarterback in Bryce Young and figures to get a lot of looks this winter with Alabama a strong national title contender. The Massachusetts native has never coached on the West Coast but he might be a fit here now.
Assistant coaches and coordinators
Alex Grinch, USC DC: Grinch figures to be a strong candidate. His Trojan defense di lui looks much improved from the woeful group he took over this offseason. They have already picked off seven passes and allowed only two touchdown throws. They are No. 8 in the country in red zone defense. In Grinch’s previous stint in the Pac-12, he worked wonders under Mike Leach at Washington State, taking over an awful unit and making it pretty salty. At Oklahoma, Grinch was able to change the attitude of a defense that for too long would hang its head whenever something bad happened. Now, he inherits what was an awful defense in 2021, ranking No. 112 last season, allowing the most points in school history. Grinch has bypassed some decent head coaching opportunities before, but we think he’d have a hard time saying no to ASU.
Jeff Grimes, Baylor OC: A Garland, Texas native, Grimes had a superb run at BYU, improving an offense that had ranked No. 78 in yards per play in 2018 and ranked No. 1 in the country in 2020. He then took a Baylor offense that had ranked No 125 and got the Bears up to No. 33. Grimes, who was a finalist for the Utah State coaching vacancy two years ago, is very well-regarded as a game planner and his big presence exudes leadership and confidence.
Kasey Dunn, Oklahoma State OC: He’s been a fixture on an OSU coaching staff that has seen a lot of assistants come and go since he arrived in 2011. He has developed a lot of terrific receivers in his career and was promoted to OC in 2020. He helped Oklahoma State lead the Big 12 in first downs in 2021. The 53-year-old Californian has worked in the NFL and all over the country and his unit is currently the No. 5 scoring team in the country.
(Top photo of Jonathan Smith: Tom Hauck / Getty)