Clockwise from top left: Clemson's Chad Morris, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi, Stanford's Derek Mason, Alabama's Kirby Smart.
Second in a group of stories looking at candidates Tom Jurich will consider in his search for the University of Louisville's next football coach.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Tom Jurich's formula for success in hiring football coaches has become evident over time -- find a top-level college football coordinator in the southeast with solid recruiting ties and experience with a winning program, and give him his big chance.
It worked with Bobby Petrino. It worked with Charlie Strong. Could Jurich be looking to make it work again?
In one sense, he's America's Headhunter, finding coaches who several years down the road are the envy of bigger programs who usually then come calling. One question is whether Jurich, with a move to the ACC coming, would want to risk another two- or three-year tenure. But if that tenure is successful, what's not to like?
There are some risks with the approach. But the rewards are high if you come up with college football's next big name.
In his current search, Jurich may have a larger pool of head-coaching-ready assistants than he's ever had. A look at some of the names he could be thinking about elevating at Louisville:
1. CHAD MORRIS, CLEMSON OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR. He's the nation's highest-paid assistant coach, at $1.3 million per year, which says something right off. Five years ago, Morris was a high school coach in Texas, where for 16 years he built a reputation of being an offense innovator. But after watching coaches like Chip Kelly, Gus Malzahn and Art Briles blaze their way up the ladder with scintillating offenses, there's little reason to believe Morris isn't ready to do something similar. After one year at Tulsa, he moved to Clemson. Morris was runner-up for the Texas Tech job a year ago, and has seemed primed to take a job in and around Texas, where he built his career. Even before he joined the college coaching ranks, coaches like Texas A&M's Mike Sherman were seeking him out for ideas on up-tempo offense. His creative use of the run game could be a great match for a Louisville program which already possesses multiple talented running backs and receivers. There's little doubt, he's ready to be a head coach. One thing he'd likely need to convince Jurich of is his readiness to be a big-time recruiter. Most of his contacts remain in Texas, but Clemson recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott has landed plenty of big-name players from Florida and could be a coach Morris takes with him. His familiarity with the ACC definitely is a plus. Jurich, no doubt, also will want to discuss defensive philosophy, as well as to judge Morris' ideas about staff. Morris will deliver points. His Clemson teams average better than 40 carries per game and have during his entire tenure. What Jurich will want to know about is the rest of the package.
2. PAT NARDUZZI, MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR. He's been with Mark Dantonio as defensive coordinator since 2004, and moved from Cincinnati to Michigan State with him when the Bearcats failed to hire him as head coach in 2007. He's had some head-coaching opportunities, and most recently turned down Connecticut. But Louisville likely would present him with the kind of opportunity in which he could excel. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guy with more glowing recommendations, including from Michigan State hoops coach Tom Izzo himself. Michigan State fans poured all kinds of heat on his defenses as they worked to rebuild the program post-John L. Smith, but now he has the Spartan defense in the top five nationally. Narduzzi is hands on. He's been known to throw off the headset and run down to the sideline in the fourth quarter to rally his players from close range. He's outspoken. Players love him. And he's one of the top defensive minds in the game, with a scheme that is complex, but once learned and executed properly, difficult for opposing offenses to deal with. He is the reigning Broyles Award recipient, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football. The son of a coach, he came up through the programs at Youngstown State and Miami of Ohio. He has a reputation for spending countless hours crafting game plans, and that work ethic likely will resonate with Jurich. As will his passion, which is evident while watching him on the practice field. Like others on this list, he'll need to make a convincing case for his ability to recruit and to build an offense. But he's ready. And Michigan State's Rose Bowl win over Stanford, along with the performance of his defense, have him in prime position to move to the head coaching ranks.
3. DEREK MASON, STANFORD DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR. He is, according to one source, "The next James Franklin," a coach who is expected to burst on the scene with energy and toughness and begin to be one of the hot names in college football. He has directed Stanford defenses to three straight top-16 finishes in the nation. He was an undersized cornerback at Northern Arizona, where Tom Jurich was athletic director. His life as a college assistant has crisscrossed the country, with his important formative job being with Frank Solich at Ohio, and he has NFL experience with the Minnesota Vikings. Once at Stanford, Mason soaked in the influence of Jim Harbaugh, and now David Shaw. Mason's calling card is that his is the defense that stymied Oregon. Want insight into the coach? Listen to Mason's description of how Stanford stopped the Ducks, given to CBSSports.com:
"Here's what I learned from playing Oregon: Oregon does what it does all year-round. If I try to make a defense for Oregon in one week we're gonna lose because they're so good at what they do. In order for us to find success versus Oregon, it started a year ago at this time of year. We said we can't keep trying to line up versus Oregon and our guys aren't in position. Do we have too many calls? Are we trying to do too much?
"We were trying to be smarter and we were putting our kids at a disadvantage. We had to give our kids a chance to play. Let's align fast. Let's have less calls. Let's let less be more. Our guys weren't mired in defensive calls. We practiced working to beat Oregon. Every week we dedicate an hour of time working to defend spreads. We played nine different spread offenses last year. We also saw gun read from San Jose, Arizona, Duke. There were precursors."
Mason is a rock-solid defensive guy, like Strong was. Jurich's questions about him, however, likely would revolve around whether he could be as effective a recruiter in the southeast as Strong was, and whether he has just as strong an idea of what he wants to do offensively. He's going to be a big-time head coach, and soon. The only question is whether now is the time, and Louisville is the school. 4. KIRBY SMART, ALABAMA DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR. In fan voting, Kirby Smart was the second choice of Kentucky fans when they eventually hired Mark Stoops, and he's the second choice of U of L fans in WDRB's poll. Smart, in fact, is mentioned with just about every job that comes open. One issue with him is that he has a good job -- he's defensive coordinator at the program that has dominated college football in recent years. He's a Georgia native who worked under Bobby Bowden. Many think he would be Nick Saban's successor. For that reason, he can afford to be selective. Smart has, without question, had a front-row seat to watch the top college coach of his time. He's been involved in SEC recruiting battles and seen how to win them. His head-coaching preparation probably is second to none. But also for that reason, he faces questions over how much success he would have away from Nick Saban. Opinion around the game is, however, whenever Smart decides to take a program of his own, he's going to be successful. Should Jurich talk to him, he'll be looking for ideas on offense, philosophies on recruiting, and to judge him as a fit for the program.