What's next?

Well, now the speculation begins. With Head Coach Turner Gill's office at least technically vacated at the Anderson Family Football Complex, the search is underway for his successor. Here's an early look at the some of the likely candidates for the job - names we've heard, names that make sense and names we feel would be a good fit.

The Fan Favorite (and likely frontrunner) - Mike Leach

Current position: Unemployed

History: Born in Susanville, Calif. in 1961 (Age 50), the charismatic Leach got his start in coaching as an assistant at Cal Poly in 1987. After brief stints at College of the Desert (JUCO), Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State, he broke in to the Division One ranks in 1997 with the Kentucky Wildcats, as the offensive coordinator. Leach spent two years in Lexington, Ken. and was then hired by Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. After one season as the offensive coordinator of the Sooners, it was off to Lubbock, Texas where he received his first shot as a head coach with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

While at Tech, Leach compiled an 84-43 record, and his offenses typically ranked at or near the top of the college football world.

It makes sense because...

Leach is one of the game's legitimately brilliant offensive minds, and at 50 years old still plenty young enough to take over a rebuilding job - which the Jayhawks unquestionably are at this point.

Though Texas Tech resides in the most talent-rich state for high school football prospects, recruiting to Lubbock is no picnic - and yet he was able to produce nine bowl teams while competing in the far more difficult Big 12 South.

Beyond his resume, Leach is a big enough name to spark excitement among a fan base teetering on the brink of total apathy after the results of the past two seasons. He's charismatic and fiery, and cut from a similar cloth to that of former head coach Mark Mangino when it comes to his coaching philosophy - something many believe (true or not) the Jayhawks need to be successful.

Finally, one has to wonder if Leach would like a shot at Texas Tech each and every year.

It doesn't make sense because...

Leach comes with more than his fair share of baggage. After a messy departure from Texas Tech that included allegations of player abuse and disagreements with the Red Raiders administration, Leach is currently embroiled in lawsuits with the university and ESPN.

Despite those red flags, his record in Lubbock is likely to ensure Kansas won't be the only program showing him interest. Sunday proved a bad day for coaches across the country, with programs such as Illinois and Ole Miss now officially in the market - and others likely to join them this week - there could be some competition for Leach.

How much can Kansas afford to pay? Enough to entice him to Mount Oread?

Others In The Hunt

Larry Fedora

Current Position: Head Coach, Southern Mississippi

Salary: $704,500

History: The 49-year-old Fedora has enjoyed an impressive rise through the coaching ranks. After getting his start in 1986 as a graduate assistant at Austin College, he took over as the head coach of Garland (TX) High School - one of the top programs in the state of Texas - for three years. In 1991 he was hired at Baylor, where he would serve as the coach of the receivers, tight ends and running backs at various points during his five year tenure.

In 1999 he left Waco, Texas for Middle Tennessee, where he was promoted to offensive coordinator. After a successful run, he was then hired as the offensive coordinator at Florida from 2002-2004, and then headed back to the Big 12 from 2005-2007 - as the OC at Oklahoma State. In December of 2007 he signed a four-year contract with Southern Miss, his stint as a D-1 head coach.

Fedora has thus far compiled a 31-19 record in Hattiesburg, Miss. The Golden Eagles are currently 10-2 in 2011, and in the midst of their best season yet under his reign.

It makes sense because...

Speculation was that Fedora was a candidate during the last coaching search, and that he wanted the job. After four years as a head coach - with his teams showing improvement every year - he's seasoned enough that most would probably view his hiring with approval and not as risky as taking a high-level assistant from a traditional power.

Fedora knows the Big 12, and more importantly he knows the most fertile recruiting ground of University of Kansas - the state of Texas. His abilities as a recruiting helped him bring a five-star prospect to Southern Miss, in the form of wide receiver DeAndre Brown. Gill recruited well during his two years in Lawrence, and Fedora is a coach capable of building upon that momentum.

Financially, he makes sense as well. With his comparatively low salary, the Jayhawks wouldn't have to break the bank to give him a substantial raise - which would come as a relief to an athletic department not really in a position to casually throw staggering sums at a candidate.

It doesn't make sense because...

Notoriety.

Put simply, is Fedora the splashy candidate Kansas fans and alumni - or, more importantly, the boosters helping foot the bill for Gill's buyout - want to see? Though he has produced more consistently at Southern Miss than Gill did at Buffalo, Southern Miss is also a much better job. Will another coach from the mid-major ranks suffice?

Dave Doeren

Current Position: Head Coach, Northern Illinois

Salary: $371,000

History: A native of the Kansas City area, Doeren got his first college coaching gig at his alma mater - Drake University - in 1995 as the linebackers coach. He held the position with the Bulldogs until 1998, when he took a spot as a graduate assistant at Southern California during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. From there it was on to Montana for two seasons - also as linebackers coach - before he landed in Lawrence, Kan. For three seasons, from 2002-2005, he coached linebackers under Mark Mangino and earned a reputation as not just a great coach but a great recruiter, helping bring much of the talent to the program that would later go on to finish in the top 10 nationally and win an Orange Bowl.

In 2006, he was hired by Wisconsin, where he served as the defensive coordinator until 2010. In December of last year, he was hired by Northern Illinois to be the head coach of the Huskies. He is currently 9-3 in his first season at the helm.

It makes sense because...

Few candidates are as familiar with Kansas football and the Kansas City area as Dave Doeren. He already knows how to sell KU - what it takes to get recruits to Lawrence, Kan. And he's been a part of one rebuilding job with the Jayhawks already.

Additionally, the Jayhawks are in desperate need of some help on the defensive side of the football, and Doeren's talent as a coach on that side of the ball is well-documented. He coached the Jayhawks during a time in which the linebacker play was nothing short of outstanding - including a 2005 season that saw Kansas OLB Nick Reid earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. At Wisconsin, under his guidance the Badgers typically ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense, including a 2009 season in which they ranked 17th.

He's a comfortable name, one with whom everyone associated with Kansas football is familiar, and he's having success in his first season as a head coach. Financially, the Jayhawks would be able to offer him a substantial raise and pay an experienced staff handsomely as well.

It doesn't make sense because...

Again, the splash-factor comes into play here. Is Doeren enough to entice a downtrodden fanbase to buy season tickets, based solely on his name and reputation? It seems unlikely.

Plus, there's no way getting around the fact that he's inexperienced. 9-3 in the MAC is one thing, but Kansas just fired a coach who won a conference championship in the very same conference, at a far worse football school. There's also the matter of the Doeren-coached Huskies being one of the two teams Gill's squad managed to defeat in 2011.

Others To Consider

Manny Diaz

Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, Texas

Just 37 years old, Diaz is one of the hottest young coordinators in the college game, after helping revitalize the Mississippi State program in 2010 and helming one of the nation's top defense at the University of Texas this season. He doesn't have head coach experience, but he's young, charismatic and a brilliant defensive mind.

Could he get it done with the level of recruits he's likely to attract to Kansas? His brief stint at Mississippi State shows he knows how to coach when overmatched talent-wise on paper, but his Texas defense is loaded.

Mike Stoops

Current Position: Unemployed

Fired mid-season by the University of Arizona after a 1-5 start to 2011, the younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops spent much of his eight-year sojourn in Tucson seemingly on the hot seat, typically by managing to defeat highly ranked teams. In 2005, the Wildcats bested No. 7 UCLA and in 2007 they defeated No. 2 Oregon. Last season, it was No. 9 Iowa who fell prey to Arizona in the desert.

His record as a head coach isn't overwhelming (41-49), but he knows the area. He spent nine years as an assistant at Kansas State under Bill Snyder, before joining his brother in Norman, Okla. from 1999-2003.

Gus Malzahn

Current Position: Offensive Coordinator, Auburn

This is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky choice, but the talented OC will get his shot as a head coach somewhere. Why not Kansas?

Since making the leap from the high school ranks of Springdale (AR) High to an offensive coordinator position in the SEC with the University of Arkansas, Malzahn's offenses have almost always ranked as one of the tops in the country. He helped guide Cam Newton and Auburn to a national championship last season, and is typically viewed as one of the most innovative offensive minds in the sport.

At 46-years-old, however, Malzahn is young enough to wait. And if his offenses keep producing at such a high rate, he'll likely be a candidate for an upper-tier head coaching position in the years ahead - much like Will Muschamp went from defensive coordinator at Texas to head coach at Florida.

Kirby Smart

Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, Alabama

Smart is young. Like, really young. Just 35 years old. However, that hasn't stopped him from establishing himself as perhaps the finest defensive coordinator in all of college football - as evidenced by the success of his five-year stint with the University of Alabama.

Like Malzahn, Smart is in a position where he can afford to wait things out, continue to field an elite defense and make the jump to the head coaching ranks at a position higher up the ladder than Kansas. But if he's ambitious enough, it's possible he could be convinced he's achieved everything he can as a coordinator, and that it's time to make the leap to the next stage of his career.

Brent Venables

Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma

Venables' name is one that seems to come up every time a Big 12 coaching position becomes available - and yet he always stays firmly rooted in Norman, Okla.

His qualifications are undeniable. After a decade as an assistant at Kansas State and Oklahoma, he was promoted to DC under Bob Stoops in 2004 and has proven his worth as both a recruiter and a coach in the years since. Just 40 years old, he's definitely young enough to be the face of a program for a long, long time, and he knows Kansas football.

Still, one has to wonder...what's holding him back? It's not as if the opportunities haven't been there, but Venables has always either passed or the search committees have decided to go another direction on their own.

If Sheahon Zenger and the Kansas administration decide to go with a coordinator, he'd be a great choice. But history would suggest it's unlikely.


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