Illinois got a huge head start on the head coaching search when it fired Tim Beckman without pay a week prior to the season for alleged abuse.
But that's for naught now, as several programs have joined Illinois in the demand side of the coaching market, including Southern Cal, Miami, South Carolina, Maryland and Central Florida. That pushes Illinois down the totem pole of desirable destinations that should be filled within a week after the season.
With more coaching vacancies on the way -- especially in the Big Ten (Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers are possibilities) -- the market will only get more competitive.
The Illini Inquirer Coaching Hot List was suspended for a few weeks following the Illini's win over Nebraska, but with back-to-back losses, injuries mounting and a coaching decision just a month away, it's time to take a fresh look at the possible coaching candidates.
Now, let's be clear: interim coach Bill Cubit definitely has earned a spot in the mix to this point. But even he knows -- despite injuries -- he has to win games to garner enough support to keep the long-term job.
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. Here is the the Illini Coaching Hot List v4.0.
Sept. 12: Illini Coaching Hot List Version 3.0
Sept. 5: Illini Coaching Hot List Version 2.0
Aug. 29: Illini Coaching Hot List Version 1.0
|Dino Babers | Bowling Green head coach | Age 54|
Why he fits: Babers has led Bowling Green to a fantastic start to the 2015 season. The Falcons (6-2, 4-0 MAC) have two wins over Big Ten teams (Maryland and Purdue), lost to 7-0 Memphis by just three and will win the MAC East for the second straight season, barring a collapse. Babers, who comes from the Art Briles' coaching tree at Baylor, would immediately give the Illini a high-octane offensive identity -- Bowling Green leads the FBS in passing offense and is sixth in scoring offense -- to build around and sell. Babers also would provide the Illini with an 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 with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, Babers led the Panthers to a 19-7 record (14-1 OVC) and two FCS playoff appearances, including a quarterfinal in 2013. There are a few questions about Babers, but his staff is very green, so he might need to find an experienced FBS defensive coordinator to come with him. Babers likely would have high interest in the job.
|P.J. Fleck | Western Michigan head coach | Age 34|
Why he fits: Fleck, who is young and insanely energetic, could be a boom-or-bust prospect. 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, and he's rebounded from a 1-3 start this season with a 3-0 start to MAC play. 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. But the Sugar Grove, Ill., native's biggest strength is recruiting. WMU signed the highest-ranked recruiting class in WMU history in 2015 and currently has the 37th-ranked class in the nation, 16 spots ahead of Illinois. Fleck has ties in this state, especially the Chicago area. Simply, he gets talent. He is mighty young but mighty intriguing.
|Matt Campbell | Toledo head coach | Age 35|
Why he fits: If Campbell -- whose Rockets are 7-0 and could run the table -- coached at any other program, he would probably be a spot or two higher on this list. But would Illinois really go back to the Toledo well? Doubtful, but it shouldn't dissuade them from looking at Campbell. And would Campbell, a former Beckman assistant, have interest in a school that fired his former boss? Questionable. Campbell's seamless transition and ability to keep the Rockets among the MAC's best -- following Saturday's win over UMass, Campbell is 33-13 overall and 22-6 during conference play during his four 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. Toledo has had back-to-back top-70 recruiting classes. Some may be tiring of MAC candidates, but there is an intriguing pool of guys on the rise in that conference right now.
|Bill Cubit | Illinois interim head coach | Age 62|
Why he fits: Unlike most of these candidates, Cubit has an inside track to the job. He would allow Illinois football to have stability, something it needs. Cubit could be able to keep together a pretty strong assistant coaching staff and try to continue some recruiting momentum built up in recent seasons. But a lot of things would have to go right for Cubit to earn the job. One, he would have to be cleared of any wrongdoing in the external investigation into player abuse. Also, he'd have to likely win at least seven games -- which means three of the final five games. Cubit is a good power-five conference offensive coordinator and had some success in his eight-year tenure as head coach at Western Michigan (51-47 overall, 36-27 MAC) but never could quite reach the top of the conference. Can Cubit do enough to force Illinois to drop the interim label and give him a contract extension? And who would have the power to reward that extension?
|Justin Fuente | Memphis head coach | Age 39 ]|
Why he fits: Fuente -- whose Tigers are 7-0 this season -- would be No. 1, but I just don't think he's likely to take the Illinois job. Fuente, whose offense ranks No. 3 in the FBS in scoring, could be this year's Kevin Sumlin, the hottest mid-major coach bound for one of the top jobs on the market. South Carolina, Miami and even USC could all fork over a $3 million annual salary for Fuente, who currently makes $1.4 million and has won 14 straight games at a traditionally bad program. Fuente has a great pedigree, coming from TCU coach Gary Patterson's coaching tree. Fuente mostly recruits the South but spent 2001-2006 on the Illinois State coaching staff as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
|Tom Herman | Houston head coach | Age 40|
Why he fits: Like Fuente, this might be tough to pull off. Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator, would have been on the short list of candidates for the Illinois job if Beckman had been fired following the 2014 season -- along with former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. With Narduzzi at Pitt, Illinois missed its opportunity with the rising defensive-minded coach. Has it also missed their chance at Herman, recipient of the Broyles Award (nation's top assistant) last season? Likely, because Herman now can wait for the "right" job as opposed to the "next" job. Herman, who runs a "smashmouth spread" offense (which ranks No. 4 in the FBS in scoring offense) predicated on mixing a power-run game with a quick passing game, is off to an impressive 7-0 start at Houston. Herman makes close to $1.4 million with the chance to make much more with bonuses, but Herman should be a hot candidate for some of the top jobs on the market.
|Jeff Brohm | Western Kentucky head coach | Age 44|
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 went 8-5 last season, won their first bowl game since 1963 (just their fourth bowl appearance in program history) and set 50 program offensive records -- and he's off to a 6-2 start this season, led by the No. 9 scoring offense in the FBS. Brohm has familiarity with Illinois, serving as QBs coach during Ron Zook's final two seasons at Illinois, but that probably isn't a good thing. 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.
|Matt Rhule | Temple head coach | Age 40|
Why he fits: Al Golden and Steve Addazio set the foundation at Temple, but Rhule is setting the ceiling. In his third season, Rhule has led the Owls to a 7-0 start, including a win over Rhule's alma mater, Penn State. The State College native and former Nittany Lions linebacker is different on this list in that hid success has come due to defens -- the Owls have the No. 8 scoring defense in the country -- but he is a well-rounded coach who has coached multiple positions, including defensive line, linebackers, offensive line, quarterbacks and tight ends. Of course, he is most familiar with Pennsylvania recruiting, something he has in common with Illini interim head coach Bill Cubit, and might be a better fit for an East Coast job.
|Brock Spack | Illinois State head coach | Age 53|
Why he fits: The Rockford, Ill., native rarely has never 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 (48-27 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. With ISU at 6-1 this season, he's silencing some doubts that he was a one-year wonder. Purdue should probably have him on their short list.
|Dave Aranda | Wisconsin defensive coordinator | Age 39|
Why he fits: If you can't beat them (Wisconsin), copy or steal from them. Aranda, who first-year UW coach Paul Chryst kept on staff after Gary Andersen left for Oregon State, has led the country second-best scoring defense the past three seasons (behind only Alabama). His aggressive 3-4 defense is tough to handle and prioritizes space-eaters on the line and athletic edge rushers with non-stop motors on the edge. Aranda has good recruiting ties in fertile Florida, Georgia and Texas. The question, as it is with most coordinators, is what kind of staff can he hire? He might be the kind of guy who would keep Cubit's offensive staff on board -- though that always could lead to factions and leadership questions in the locker room. Word is though that Aranda is very happy in Madison.
|Chris Ash | Ohio State defensive coordinator | Age 41|
Why he fits: Ash has worked as a defensive coordinator under two of the most successful Big Ten coaches of the past decade: Bret Beilema and now Urban Meyer. Colorado State -- which has been pretty good at hiring coaches lately -- gave Ash a look last year before hiring Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Like any coordinator, there are a ton of questions about what he'd do as a head coach (recruiting, putting together a staff, etc.). Illinois might not take the leap but someone will soon.
- Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans head coach: O'Brien and GM Rick Smith do not see eye-to-eye and that could cost either or both their jobs. I think Houston would make a mistake by firing O'Brien. He'd be scooped up in an instant, either as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator or as a power-five college head coach. O'Brien likely wants to stay in the NFL, but if he hits the market, Illinois should take a huge swing at him -- though they'd likely miss.
- Rich Rodriguez, Arizona head coach: Word is that Rodriguez isn't all that happy at Arizona and might want to travel eastward. If so, Maryland looks like a good destination. But Illinois should also take interest in a coach who has done well at every stop, except Michigan -- where you could argue that he wasn't even given enough support or time. Rodriguez's offense necessitates a dual-threat quarterback, which some seem to want back at Illinois.
- D.J. Durkin, Michigan defensive coordinator: The 37-year-old has only been a defensive coordinator for three years, but he's led top-20 defenses at both Florida and now Michigan. The Youngstown, Ohio, native recruits Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and Texas. This might not be the year he takes the leap, but he'll have his chances shortly.
- 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? And would Illinois want to hire a hard-nosed, military-style coach after its recent abuse problems with Beckman?
- Brady Hoke, former Michigan head coach: The Michigan man didn't work out in Ann Arbor but had success at Ball State, San Diego State and early success at Michigan. He also recruited pretty good offensive and defensive linemen and could try to build a smashmouth system at Illinois -- though he'd need time. But he'll likely have to rejuvenate his career at a lower level.
- 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.