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As Baylor begins its 2016 season, all eyes point to the end of the season. Joe Gastler looks at the potential coaching hire for the Bears.

As Baylor begins its 2016 season, all eyes point to the end of the season. Joe Gastler looks at the potential coaching hire for the Bears.

Game number one is in the books. The Jim Grobe Era has begun. The first weekend of college football is over, and every major team in Texas, save for Baylor’s Week 3 opponent won their contest. Rice, our Week 3 opponent, suffered a loss at the hands of a Western Kentucky Offense that torched them for 517 PASSING yards. That should be a fun game for our wide receivers.

But it’s time to look to next season.

This is the conversation that will form the more enjoyable parts of the color commentary for televised Baylor games. Who is next in line to be Baylor’s head coach? Will the Jim Grobe Era continue past this season, or will his role as Lord Protector only last 7 months?

For now, here’s the list of names I’ve heard in relation to the Baylor job:

Larry Fedora, UNC

Chad Morris, SMU

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Kendall Briles, Baylor

Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

Dino Babers, Syracuse

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Charlie Strong, Texas

Tom Herman, Houston

Sonny Dykes, Cal

This is by no means a complete list. Obviously the powers that be could pull a dark horse out of a hat. Given the spotty track record of the past, let’s hope against that.

I think there are a few names we should cross of the list from the outset:

Larry Fedora, UNC – This pick doesn’t do it for me. The Russell Athletic Bowl was the only audition I needed. The previous Baylor connection is the reason for some of the smoke here, but UNC has had one truly good year (2015, ending with back to back losses to Baylor & Clemson) in Fedora’s tenure. And that’s in in the Coastal side of the ACC, which is a rough equivalent to the former Big 12 North. That’s not enough of a track record to impress me.

Chad Morris, SMU – This one may draw me some ire, but I’m less impressed with Chad Morris’ record than I am with Fedora’s. He’s a coach that can get players excited and motivated. Excitement and motivation are good – even great, but they’re not substitutes for game strategy against the bandsaw of the Big 12’s upper echelon. He had success as an OC/QB coach at Clemson, but his tenure as a head coach hasn’t taken off yet. I don’t suspect Saturday will be any different.

Gus Malzahn – Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Auburn let Gus Malzahn go at the end of this season, then hired Art Briles, and then we hired Gus Malzahn? No. Stop it. Get a hold of yourself. That would not be hilarious. It would also be ignorant of the repeated stories about Auburn coaches engaging in unethical behavior regarding student-athlete grades and classes. If we want to give scandal a bear hug (we don’t), we should at least aim higher than Malzahn.

Dino Babers – One of the first fruits of the Baylor coaching tree, but also sadly out of reach. He’s newly installed at Syracuse, and I don’t see him leaving, even for the allure Baylor might have for him. He’s in a Power 5 job already, and removed from the Texas recruiting landscape for a few years. 

Kevin Sumlin – I see this as slightly more likely than “never,” but for Kevin Sumlin to be in the mix for the Baylor job, he would first have to be let go by Texas A&M. If they let him go, it’s because he has underperformed, again. I thought Texas A&M moved too fast in hiring Kevin Sumlin away from Houston. His body of work there was too heavily influenced by Art Briles both in style and recruitment. In my view, the jury is still out on his ability to be an effective head coach at the Power 5 level. 

Charlie Strong – Of all the coaches I cross off this list, Coach Strong is, or rather should be, the most likely hire of this group. Strong, like Sumlin, would have to be let go by his current employer. It would seem from the one game litmus test we have that his team is ascending, but the expectations in the Hipster Mecca south of Waco are high, and his seat is still uncomfortably warm. While the t-shirt wearing nation of mesquite-smoked orange cows would likely mock us for hiring their former coach, that social media battle would provide at least three months of entertainment for all those in the cheap seats. He’s solid in recruiting, and if he brought Sterlin Gilbert with him, I think he would stand a much better chance of success in Waco than he has experienced to date.

Sonny Dykes – While there are rumors that he’d like to get back to Texas sooner rather than later, his track record at Cal doesn’t make him particularly attractive for a program looking to stay successful in a difficult conference. Cal has had some solid wins in a difficult conference, but they’re far from a powerhouse, and that’s what Baylor needs to be.

So let’s talk strategy. Art Briles didn’t just develop a solid contender in Baylor – he developed a brand. The Baylor brand is a young, feisty, fast, and (for lack of a better term) cool football team. I haven’t included Jim Grobe anywhere on this list, and that’s because keeping him on for longer than one or two years is equivalent to making Warren Buffet the CEO of Tesla. Mr. Buffet is a phenomenal businessman, and a great human being. He would also be the wrong long-term leader for the Tesla brand.

Dark and difficult days lie ahead. There will be realignment. There will be change. The powerful will survive, the weak will be pushed aside. To survive, Baylor needs to be stronger than we have ever been. 

In the wave of evil we’ve seen connected with Baylor’s success, we’ve overlooked the good that has come from it. We’ve seen growth on an unprecedented scale – a business school that holds ethics as a core value in an era where many schools teach the opposite, renovated facilities for student life, improvements to schools like Communication Sciences and Disorders that have a strong impact on our community, and a growing and thriving Social Work program. There is a correlation here. Baylor’s mission is wrapped inside the call to light the world. Those are the ends we seek – not championships, or money, or conference affiliations.

I’ve missed one Baylor home game in 13 seasons. I stood in the rain at TCU last year, and I was in the front row of the ten-person Bear Pit when Baylor went through dark basketball days in 2003-2004. I love collegiate athletics. But they are the means, not the end.

Our brand identity reflects our market position – or the way we approach the landscape of college football in every regard: recruiting, advertising, scheduling, and staffing. I think Baylor intends to maintain that position, and my reasoning is simple: Mack Rhoades. We didn’t hire an elder statesman, we hired a star on the rise. Connections to potential coaches notwithstanding, I like his hire. Teams that try to change their brand identity struggle and coaches lose their jobs for it. Imagine the Oregon Ducks hiring a head coach that likes running the ball out of the Power I and only allows two uniforms. It’s not happening.

Here’s the strategy I think Baylor should employ in going after a new head coach. We should go after the following coaches, in this order:

1.  Kendall Briles

2.  Tom Herman

3.  Philip Montgomery

Yes. I read all of the tweets over this weekend about KB. I get it. It’s a long shot. He’s angry. So am I. So are most Baylor fans. It’s an improbable – not impossible – sell. It’s still worth taking the shot. I’ve been friends with several Baylor football players over the past few years, and one of the impressions I got from them is that Kendall is a hothead. He’s fiery, passionate, and his dad often had to back him down. 

And yet we’re not getting that now. “He’s gagged, he can’t talk to anyone, maybe him writing CAB on his hands was his way of acting out.” Yeah, okay. I get that. But here’s another option: he’s been forced to mature. He’s not working for his dad for the first time in his coaching career. He realizes that he’s auditioning for his next post on his own merits. If he is given the opportunity to be a head coach for a truckload of money at a school with unrivaled facilities in a Power 5 conference at his age (33), he’s going to pass that up for personal reasons? It’s possible he gets an offer from a Power 5 conference, but who knows when, and who knows where. Rounding this out, KB is our recruiting engine, plain and simple. We desperately, desperately need someone who can pound the recruiting trail hard, and KB fits that bill.

“But he’s corrupt just like his dad.” Right. We hired Jim Grobe (who is from most accounts a better person than most of our grandmothers) on the recommendation of Grant Teaff (who is, in fact, a better person than most of our grandmothers), and he had no problem retaining Kendall. There will be sports writers who do more opposition research than most of us can fathom on any coach we hire. They spent a week or two trashing Jim Grobe. If KB is clean enough for Grobe, he’s clean enough for us, and at some point we have to ignore what Chip Brown thinks is best for Baylor Football.

Jim Grobe is doing a great job waging a campaign for the assistants to stick with him past 2016. Listen to him talk about them in a press conference or any number of interviews. The way he talks about the staff is close to hyperbolic. I think Grobe wants at least one more year, and that he wants to keep the staff. I think it would be the wrong move on Baylor’s part, and I think Kendall Briles is the first person they should offer the job to before the season ends.

Back on the main point – the biggest reason for offering the job to Kendall Briles is the next choice on the list: Tom Herman.

He’s an obvious choice. Many would say he should be the first choice. He’ll be in-demand, and if Baylor is the only opening in the South, we would be a good fit for his style. He’s had success on the field and on the recruiting trail. But what if Texas struggles through the rest of the season? What if A&M falters in October yet again? If Tom Herman lands with another Texas school, it’s a chess move that every other school in the state will have to counter. That’s why I’m set on Kendall being our first choice. If we get towards the end of the season and Baylor looks like a serious contender for Herman, maybe this order shifts. For now, an established blue blood program in our area (Texas, A8M, LSU, Auburn) coming for Herman is too dangerous a proposition to be ignored, and I see KB as the only countermove on the board.

Last, but certainly not least, is Philip Montgomery. Monty would be a fine choice – not superlative, but certainly a continuance of our brand. If this is the option we have, we can be confident in his ability to recruit, we’d likely inherit a staff from the Baylor tree, and while we would take more of a gut punch in recruiting than we would if we got KB or Herman, Monty recruited many of the players who brought us two Big 12 Championships. He’s a natural successor to our program, and he would be a very good choice. We’d hear plenty of questions about whether or not he was involved with the Pepper Hamilton report, but the same argument that applies to KB applies to Monty.

For whatever it’s worth, that’s my take. Have a great week, and don’t forget to #SicSMU!

For fun, here’s my “Just Shoot Me” List:

Lane Kiffin, Alabama

Mike Singletary, Nowhere USA

Mack Brown, Texas

And the “Dark Horse” List:

Sterlin Gilbert

Major Applewhite

Lincoln Riley

Sonny Cumbie  

Joseph Gastler is a three-time graduate of Baylor University. He has an MBA in Marketing and works as a Marketing Strategist for Four Columns in downtown Waco. You can follow him on Twitter at @josephgastler.

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