Jim McElwain

Ducks' coaching search continues, new candidate rankings

Ducks' coaching search continues, new candidate rankings

Oregon's search for the a new head coach moved right through Sunday night with no resolution. 

Strong indications are that Oregon had its man in place but a deal fell through in the 11th hour. That man was likely Florida's Jim McElwain, whom on Sunday I ranked as the most likely replacement for Mark Helfrich.  

McElwain fits the bill as a relatively big name coming from a major program in a major conference. Those reasons might have led McElwain, who has openly denied being interested in Oregon's vacant job, to come to his senses and elect to remain at Florida.

So where does that leave Oregon and athletic director Rob Mullens? Scrambling.

The Ducks, who reportedly have already interviewed Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Southern Florida's Willie Taggart, are now conducting more interviews. On the list could be Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck.

But all indications are that Oregon wants a coach with a track record of success in a Power Five conference. That leads us to my new candidate rankings 2.0: 

1. Mystery candidate: Oregon wants to hire a coach with at least some name recognition out of a major conference. That person could have been McElwain, but now he is out. Expect UO to reach out to some similar candidates, if they haven't already. Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is a name that has been tossed around. Other names will likely be in the mix. 

2. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: Fleck had not been interviewed by Oregon as of Sunday, confirmed by a UO source. That doesn't mean he won't be interviewed today or tomorrow. Fleck is all the rage right now, but could be more hype than substance at this point. His team does, however, play defense, an area where Oregon must improve. The Broncos rank 25th in the nation in total defense (353 yards allowed per game) and 16th in scoring defense (19.5). His team ranks 16th in total offense (496.7) and eighth in scoring offense (43.5).  

Fleck would be a gamble, and that might be what Oregon needs. Seeking a potential star coach would be far sexier and intriguing than hiring someone who has been strong but not great at another major program. Fleck, and other young coaches mentioned below, are on the rise. Who knows how great one of them could become?

Hiring a more proven major college coach that hasn't been to the national championship game or even won a major conference championship to replace someone in Helfrich who has done both would be rather ho-hum. At the very least, Fleck would win the press conference and re-energize the fan base with his rah-rah approach. 

3. Willie Taggart, South Florida: Out of all of the coaches from smaller conferences, Taggart, who has interviewed with Oregon, is the most intriguing. He has rebuilt Western Kentucky and South Florida. His offense ranks 10th in the nation (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring 43.6). But his defense ranks 120th. Sound familiar? Still, the fact that he has rebuilt two programs should carry some weight. Just not sure he would beat out Fleck if the latter gets an interview. 

4. Bryan Harsin Boise State: Another guy that is on the rise. Intriguing choice who is 31-8 at Boise State. A source has confirmed reports stating Harsin has interviewed with UO. The question mark here is that Harsin took over a strong program from Chris Peterson after he left for Washington three years ago. Helfrich has been marginalized for taking over a well-oiled machine from Chip Kelly. 

5. Matt Rhule, Temple: I throw him in simply because, why not? He is a young coach at 39 with a strong record. Plus, folks are saying that Temple's recruiting coordinator is now following all of Oregon's recruiting commits on Twitter. Hmmm...


McElwain, Taggart, Harsin and Fleck lead list of possible Oregon targets

McElwain, Taggart, Harsin and Fleck lead list of possible Oregon targets

Oregon could name a head coach as soon as tonight. At the very latest, expect news in the next couple of days.

If you're still holding out hope for Chip Kelly the sequel, stop! Not going to happen. He isn't leaving San Francisco unless he is fired and the Ducks are not going to wait until the end of this month to hire a new coach. 

So who will replace Mark Helfrich, fired on Tuesday? Well, there appear to be four names that are realistically in play. Here is my rankings based on probability that's based mostly on pure hearsay with some inside info:

1. Jim McElwain, Florida: I've heard this name come up more than anyone else in my discussion travels. It wouldn't be a sexy hire, but he has a strong resume that includes stints with the Oakland Raiders, Michigan State and Alabama. He has been a head coach twice, rebuilding Colorado State, and he is now doing a solid job at Florida. Three coaches I've spoken with had varying opinions on McElwain. One dislikes him. Another isn't wildly impressed. Yet another thinks the world of him. Sounds about right for just about anybody. McElwain could very well succeed at Oregon, but he would be far from a slam-dunk to get the Ducks back into national title contention. The Gators lost 54-16 to Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game. That came with players from recruiting classes that over the past five seasons ranked No. 3 (2012), No. 4 (2013), No. 8 (2014), No. 23 (2015) and No. 14 (2016). His most experienced players came from classes that ranked in the top 10, yet the best McElwain could do was go 8-4 and get blown out in his final two games, including a 31-13 loss at Florida State two weeks ago.  

Still, he is a proven head coach with experience, and reportedly could want to return to the Northwest. He used to coach at Eastern Washington. Oregon could say it stole a coach away from one of the most successful programs of the past 30 seasons. Not a bad get. Just not a lock that he would do better than Helfrich and company. 

2. Willie Taggart, South Florida: Taggart has reportedly interviewed with Oregon and if he doesn't land at a big time program this year, he very well could be snatched up next year. Taggert rebuilt Western Kentucky from 2-10 to 7-5 over consecutive seasons before heading to South Florida. There, he has gone 2-10, 4-8, 8-4 and then 10-2 this season. Taggart also has Pac-12 experience having served as Stanford's running backs coach from 2007-2009.  This could be a risky hire with potentially great upside. Boise State's Bryan Harsin's name has come up more often as a more likely candidate, but Taggart's resume is probably stronger. If it were my choice, I'd go with Taggart. He graduates his players, has been in the Pac-12 and might be able to recruit well out of Florida. 

3. Bryan Harsin Boise State: Another guy that is on the rise. Intriguing choice who is 31-8 at Boise State, and has reportedly interviewed with UO. A source has confirmed the same. UO could catch Harsin, 40, on the rise and possibly see him blossom in Eugene. However, it is a risky move. He has not won in a major conference. Hiring Harsin would be a roll of the dice after blowing out Helfrich and at least most of his staff that included coaches who went to two national title games.  But this might be what Oregon needs. Live on the edge. See what happens. 

4. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: Fleck is all the rage but appears to be more hype than substance at this point. He is loud and fun, so he receives a lot of attention. But appears to be more media creation than legitimate big time candidate at the moment. Going 13-0 in any conference is impressive, but is it enough to land him the Oregon job? Reports are that he hasn't interviewed with Oregon. Yet. Maybe that's because he simply needs more experience.