Illini Coaching Hot List v2.0

Illini Inquirer ranks the top candidates for the Illinois football coaching job

With Tim Beckman fired seven days before the season started, Illinois now is in the midst of an unprecedented coaching search.

Illini athletic director Mike Thomas may have said confidently that he will make the next, but that is an uncertainty as well. His program is in turmoil following a summer of investigations into abuse and three years of mostly disappointment by his hires. And with turmoil above him at the university level -- Chancellor Phyllis Wise resigned amid an e-mail scandal fit for politicians -- Thomas doesn't seem to have many allies above him.

All these factors will make this seasonlong search for the next Illini coach even more compelling.

Illini Inquirer will continue to stay on top of it and provide the latest rumors and hottest names to lead the next era of Illini football.

Aug. 29: Illini Coaching Hot List Version 1.0

Illini Coaching Hot List v2.0

P.J. Fleck | Western Michigan head coach | Age 34

P.J. Fleck

Why he fits: Fleck is young and insanely energetic. The transition to Fleck from Bill Cubit, the previous WMU head coach and now interim Illinois head coach, was rough and Fleck went just 1-11 in his first season. But the Broncos rebounded to an 8-4 record (5-3 MAC) last season. Fleck is so eccentric that he either rubs people the wrong way or turns them into believers, and more often than not it seems like the latter. The Sugar Grove, Ill., native is a top-notch recruiter who has ties to the state, especially the Chicago area. WMU signed the highest-ranked recruiting class in WMU history in 2015 and currently has the 44th-ranked class in the nation, nine spots ahead of Illinois. Fleck also was smart enough in his first head coaching job to add an experienced defensive coordinator (former Rutgers defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham). While some may not want to go back to the MAC after the failed Tim Beckman fiasco, Illinois needs an energizing force like Fleck. The question is: would Fleck pick to row his boat at Illinois or wait for something bigger?

Justin Fuente | Memphis head coach | Age 39

Justin Fuente

Why he fits: This one might be setting the sights a little high, but Illinois needs to approach the best candidates. Fuente has the pedigree (he comes from TCU coach Gary Patterson's coaching tree) and has had enough success at a traditionally tough school at which to have success (he led the Tigers to a Conference USA title and 10-3 overall record in 2014) that he looks like a coach-in-waiting for an SEC, ACC or big-time Big 12 program. Fuente mostly recruits the South but spent 2001-2006 on the Illinois State coaching staff as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Bill Cubit | Illinois interim head coach | Age 61

Bill Cubit

Why he fits: Cubit has the respect of current Illini players and administrators. Cubit is a top-notch power-five conference offensive coordinator. He had some success in his seven-year tenure as head coach at Western Michigan (51-47 overall, 36-27 MAC) but never could quite reach the top of the conference. If Cubit lead the Illini to seven or eight wins, Illinois must consider chopping off the interim label and giving him a four-plus year contract. Cubit would be able to keep together a pretty strong assistant coaching staff and try to continue some recruiting momentum built up in recent seasons. But Cubit also was on staff when this alleged medical misconduct took place. What did he know? Did he partake in any of the misconduct? Thomas said none of the assistants have been implicated, but Illinois may want to start fresh.

Dino Babers | Bowling Green head coach | Age 54

Dino Babers

Why he fits: For the last few decades, Illinois football has lacked an identity. Babers, who comes from the Art Briles' coaching tree at Baylor, would immediately give the Illini a high-octane offensive system to build around and sell. Babers also would provide the Illini with an articulate, energetic public spokesman who can connect with fans and donors. Babers has bounced around a lot in his career and didn't get a head coaching chance until he took over at Eastern Illinois in 2012. But he led the Panthers to a 19-7 record (14-1 OVC) and two FCS playoff appearances, including a quarterfinal in 2013. He's best known in Charleston for his development of current Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. There are a few questions about Babers. His staff is really young and he doesn't recruit nearly to the level of Fleck. But Babers likely would have high interest in the job.

Jeff Brohm | Western Kentucky head coach | Age 44

Jeff Brohm

Why he fits: There isn't much of a head coaching track record on Brohm, the former NFL and XFL quarterback. But his one season at Western Kentucky was mighty impressive. The Hilltoppers last year finished with an 8-5 record, won their first bowl game since 1963 (just their fourth bowl appearance in program history) and set 50 program offensive records. Brohm has familiarity with Illinois, serving as quarterbacks coach during Ron Zook's final two seasons at Illinois. But his tenure didn't end well as he and a few other Illini assistants fought a contentious contract dispute with current athletic director Mike Thomas's administration. But will Thomas ultimately be the one making this hire? Brohm's recruiting focus at WKU has centered more on Kentucky and the South. Former Illini players, especially Nathan Scheelhaase, responded to and praised Brohm -- who like Babers would bring a high-octane offensive identity. He has more to prove, but another huge season in Bowling Green, Ky., could shoot him up the list further.

Craig Bohl | Wyoming head coach | Age 57

Craig Bohl

Why he fits: This might not be a sexy hire, but neither was Jerry Kill at Minnesota. While Bohl didn't build up as many programs as Kill, he did build one powerhouse at North Dakota State. From 2003 to 2013, Bohl led the Bison to a 104-32 record, including three straight FCS championships in his final three seasons. He finally made the leap to the FBS by taking a job at Wyoming last season. He went 4-8 in his first season with the Cowboys. Wyoming is a tough job (ask Vic Koenning), and Bohl hasn't yet proven he can conquer it. But it's still early in his tenure. Bohl has an experienced staff, though most of its ties are in Nebraska and the Dakotas. Actually, Bohl would be an intriguing candidate if Iowa decided to finally part from Kirk Ferentz -- which means Illinois should give him a look.

Matt Campbell | Toledo head coach | Age 35

Matt Campbell

Why he fits: Would Illinois really go back to the Toledo well? Doubtful, but it shouldn't dissuade them from looking at Campbell. Beckman's biggest loss in putting together his first staff was not securing Campbell as his offensive coordinator. It's hard to blame Campbell, who at 32 became the youngest head coach in the FBS. But his seamless transition and ability to keep the Rockets among the MAC's best (he's 26-13 overall and 18-6 during conference play during his three seasons) suggest he was one of the bigger reasons Beckman had success at Toledo. Campbell has never left Ohio, so he has deep Midwest roots. Some may be tiring of MAC candidates, but there is an intriguing pool of guys on the rise in that conference right now.

Pep Hamilton | Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator | Age 40

Pep Hamilton

Why he fits: Hamilton interviewed for the Oakland Raiders head coaching job this year, so maybe he'll wait for an NFL head coaching opportunity. But a college program might entice the former Stanford offensive coordinator. He prefers a pro-style offense that calls for balance and power-running schemes, which would seem to fit in the Big Ten and at Memorial Stadium. But he has shown the flexibility to adjust to his personnel and air it out. He learned under one of the better college coaches, David Shaw, and coached a rare talent, Andrew Luck. He learned from other good coaches, including Chuck Pagano and Lovie Smith. Hamilton would be a bit of a roll of the dice, however, since he has never been a head coach and hired a staff.

Brock Spack | Illinois State head coach | Age 53

Brock Spack

Why he fits: The Rockford, Ill., native rarely has been far from Illinois. He played linebacker at Purdue, coached at Illinois State and Purdue (defensive coordinator from 1997-2008) and has been the head coach at ISU since 2009. Spack (43-25 overall at ISU) gradually built up the Redbirds from a middling Missouri Valley Conference team to a national championship appearance last season, catapulted by the addition of Indiana transfer quarterback Tre Roberson. Spack wouldn't be a sexy hire, but he would bring stability and knowledge of the Illinois landscape after heavily recruiting the state for years.

Scott Frost | Oregon offensive coordinator | Age 40

Scott Frost

Why he fits: There aren't as many clear-cut coordinator candidates now that former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi finally has a head job at Pittsburgh. But Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, is a hot name -- maybe too hot for Illinois? He has helped Oregon continue to put up monster numbers the last two seasons, culminating in the College Football Championship Game appearance last season. But how much of that is Frost and how much of that is Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich? But people said the same when Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly. Frost has no head coaching experience, but that likely will change soon.

Wild Cards

  • Greg Schiano, ESPN analyst: The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach is abrasive but has experience building up a traditionally subpar program into a consistent competitor at Rutgers. Would Schiano, 49, want the job or will he wait for a bigger college job or an NFL defensive coordinator position?
  • Kirby Wilson, Minnesota Vikings running backs coach: Wilson, 54, is well-respected in the NFL, where he has been a running backs coach for decades. He also has had stints as a position coach in the college game at Southern Illinois (1991-92), Wyoming (1993-94), Iowa State (1995-96) and USC (2001). Wilson has the support of many former Illini players. He wants the job and supposedly had discussions with Mike Thomas during the 2011 search. But Wilson has no NFL or Division I coordinating experience, let alone head coaching experience. Wilson would be an intriguing coordinator candidate but would seem to be a big gamble as a head coach.
  • Brad Childress, Kansas City Chiefs spread game analyst; The former Minnesota Vikings head coach spent seven years as an assistant at Illinois from 1978-1984. Childress also spent eight seasons at Wisconsin, including five as the offensive coordinator under Barry Alvarez. He then jumped to the NFL and spent seven successful seasons as the offensive coordinator under Andy Reid. As head coach of the Vikings, he went 39-35 with two playoff apperances and two NFC North championships. Childress can coach but has never been a college head coach. He hasn't recruited in almost two decades.
  • Jim Tressel, Youngstown State president: It'd certainly send shockwaves throughout the country, but would llinois really fire one of Tressel's mentees that he praised for abuse allegations, only to hire Tressel -- who had his own off-the-field issues (NCAA violations) in the Big Ten? Also, Tressel, 62, has publicly said he plans to continue his work as a college administrator. Plus, his NCAA show-cause penalty extends through the 2016 season.

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