Ones to Watch: Head Coach

Houston Nutt's four-year tenure as Ole Miss head coach ended Saturday in Starkville. Who is Ole Miss targeting as a successor? We take a look.


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NOTE: Ole Miss is well into its search for a new head coach to replace Houston Nutt, whose four-year tenure ended Saturday in Starkville. The search is headed by former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning and Mike Glenn, the executive vice president of Market Development and Corporate Communications for FedEx Corp.



Larry Fedora

CURRENT POSITION: Head coach, Southern Mississippi

RESUME: In his first year in Hattiesburg, Fedora's squad broke 36 school records on the way to ending the season with a five-game winning streak to reach a bowl game. The Golden Eagles extended that streak in 2009 to eight games - the longest consecutive winning streak for the program since the 1958-59 seasons.

USM finished 31st in the nation in total offense in 2009, after finishing No. 20 the year before - the highest finish for the Golden Eagles since becoming a member of the FBS. Southern Miss is 10-2 this season, and will play Houston in the C-USA championship Saturday.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: As reported by the Ole Miss Spirit over the weekend, Fedora is one of three candidates expected to interview with Ole Miss in the near future. However, as of Monday, he had yet to interview for the job. Still, he is considered one of the favorites in the search. Fedora, according to sources, also has interest in Texas A&M -- should it decide to fire Mike Sherman -- and Kansas; Turner Gill was dismissed as head coach of the Jayhawks Sunday.


Hugh Freeze

CURRENT POSITION: Head coach, Arkansas State

RESUME: After enjoying successful stints as both a head and assistant coach at the NCAA FBS, NAIA and high school levels over the past 18 years, Hugh Freeze was named Arkansas State's 27th head football coach on Dec. 2, 2010.

Arkansas State is currently 9-2 overall on the year with wins over Florida International and Louisiana-Lafayette, among others, and received votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Arkansas State recently accepted a bid to play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Arkansas State is 31st in the nation in points per game, and 26th in yards per game.

Freeze was an assistant at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron for three seasons. He served as wide receivers coach. He earned the reputation of being a strong recruiter, chiefly due to his familiarity with the area, namely Memphis.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: According to sources and as reported by Chuck Rounsaville of the Ole Miss Spirit Sunday afternoon, Freeze was expected to interview with co-chairs Manning and Glenn Sunday in Memphis. Freeze has emerged as one of the top candidates in the search, and could very well be pursued by other schools with vacancies, including Memphis, Tulane and Southern Miss, should Fedora move on.


Mark Hudspeth

CURRENT POSITION: Head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette

RESUME: Hudspeth is in his first season at UL-L. Other notable coaching stops include Mississippi State -- where he was passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach -- and North Alabama.

The 43-year-old Hudspeth is a 19-year coaching veteran. In his nine seasons as a head coach, he has over 90 wins. UL-L is currently 8-4 overall and 6-2 in Sun Belt Conference games. The Ragin' Cajuns recently accepted an invitation to the New Orleans Bowl, the first bowl appearance for the school in 41 years of football.

He served as head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08, compiling a 66-21 record. The Lions won a pair of Gulf South Conference championships, and made five NCAA playoff appearances. Hudspeth led UNA to four-consecutive 10-win seasons, including a 12-2 mark in his final year.

Hudspeth spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons at Mississippi State.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: Sources indicated over the weekend Hudspeth was to interview with Ole Miss Sunday in New Orleans. His name has gained momentum throughout the search. Like Fedora and Freeze, he has emerged as a favorite to replace Nutt, and has the support of a number of high school coaches in Mississippi, where Hudspeth has strong recruiting ties.


Mike Leach

CURRENT POSITION: Television personality, book author

RESUME: Leach last coached at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to nine-win seasons in 2002, 2005 and 2007, and an 11-win season in 2008.

In 2002, Tech swept its in-state conference rivals Baylor, Texas, and Texas A&M for the first time since 1997 and then defeated Clemson, 55–15, in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the Red Raiders' first postseason win since 1995 when they beat the Air Force Falcons in the Copper Bowl.

Leach coached Texas Tech in the 2008 Cotton Bowl, losing to Ole Miss in a shootout.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: Leach continues to be the "fan favorite" in the search, and is on the selection committee's list. However, an impeccable source indicated over the weekend the pondering on Leach centers around several factors. It is believed he can win quickly and his record with academics is very good, but the cons include his pending litigation against ESPN and his former school, Texas Tech. Ole Miss could officially approach Leach, but sources indicate he isn't atop the list.


Gus Malzahn

CURRENT POSITION: Offensive coordinator, Auburn

RESUME: Before his arrival at Auburn, Malzahn coached at Arkansas and Tulsa, where he was offensive coordinator. He was named the offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2008.

In his first season, Auburn had the single season total offense record previously set by the undefeated 2004 Tiger team. He followed his debut season with a record-breaking 2010 offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at quarterback. Auburn led the SEC in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense, among other categories, en route to an undefeated record and a national championship.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: Malzahn is a name that emerged early in the Ole Miss process, then seemed to fade a little when he appeared to emerge as the prohibitive favorite at North Carolina. More recently, his name has resurfaced at Ole Miss, but he's behind the previously listed candidates.


Kirby Smart

CURRENT POSITION: Defensive coordinator, Alabama

RESUME: Smart is in his fifth season with the Alabama football staff and fourth as defensive coordinator. Smart's rebuilding job in 2010 was impressive as the Tide remained one of the nation's elite defensive units while replacing nearly the entire defense (nine starters).

Alabama led the SEC and ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and fifth nationally in total defense (286.4 ypg). UA also ranked first in the SEC (sixth in the NCAA) in pass efficiency defense. Alabama currently ranks first in the country in total defense.

SPIRIT'S TAKE: Smart has been mentioned as a coach of interest throughout the process. He remains a strong candidate, but doesn't appear to be in the top three at this point. Ole Miss could approach Smart soon, though Alabama's being in contention for the national championship game could delay the process.



Other Coaches of Note: Rich Bisaccia, San Diego Chargers special teams coordinator; Art Briles, Baylor head coach; Manny Diaz, Texas defensive coordinator; Kevin Sumlin, Houston head coach


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