Dana Holgorsen, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State
Holgorsen got his first Division I job 10 years ago, as receivers coach at Texas Tech, and has gradually worked his way up since then. Every year Holgorson has been an assistant, his team has gone to a bowl. He was inside receivers coach at Texas Tech, where one of his prized pupils was Wes Welker now of the New England Patriots. In 2005, he was named co-offensive coordinator, a post he would hold for the next three seasons. He spent two season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Houston. His first season with the Cougars, 2008, they ranked second in passing offense (401.6/game). In 2009, the Cougars led the country with 563 yards a game on offense. This year, his first year as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, he was in charge of an offense that lost first-round draft pick Dez Bryant. Insert Justin Blackmon, who finished third in the country with 102 receptions, second with 1,665 yards and first with 18 touchdowns. The Cowboys offense ranked first in the country this year, with 537.6 yards a game.
Sal Sunseri, Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers, Alabama
Whoever lands this job, there's going to be a great debate about whether the next head coach should be a Pitt guy, or someone from the outside. Over the years, whether it's Walt Harris or Dave Wannstedt, Mike Gottfried or the late Foge Fazio, there's no evidence to suggest one is better than the other. Sunseri just happens to be a Pitt guy who is also the assistant head coach for the defending national champion. In addition to that, Sunseri tutored last year's Butkus winner Rolando McClain, who now starts for the Oakland Raiders. Last year's defense ranked second in the country in nearly every category. Though the Crimson Tide didn't get back to the national title game, its defense still ranked sixth in yards per game (296). Even if Sunseri wasn't a Pitt guy, he's the type of coach--top assistant from the defending national champion--that seems to fit the requirement. The fact that his son Tino is the starting quarterback is just a coincidence. Sunseri also brings a wealth of NFL experience, including a seven-year stint with the Carolina Panthers as defensive line coach. He was a member of the 2004 staff that helped the team to its lone Super Bowl appearance in team history.
Paul Rhoads, Head Coach, Iowa State
Steve Pederson already made an effort to keep Rhoads once in 2002, while Rhoads was the defensive coordinator at Pitt. Rhoads served in that role at Pitt from 2000-07, before leaving for Auburn in the same role, then getting his own gig at Iowa State the following season. When Auburn tried to lure him away the first time in 2002, it was Pederson who stepped in and was able to keep Rhoads at Pitt for the time-being. That is reason enough alone to believe Pederson will at least gauge Rhoads' interest in the Pitt job. Rhoads was the first Iowa State head coach to win six games in his first season since 1915. He also ended an 11-game losing streak to conference opponents in his first season, and led the team to a bowl victory as well. With Rhoads' proven ability of taking Iowa State to a new level, that fits in line with what Pitt is looking for.
Teryl Austin, Defensive Coordinaor, Florida
Another Pitt guy who just happens to be with one of those ‘name' programs. Austin has steadily worked his way up through the coaching ranks, has proven ability as an ace recruiter at the college level, and was the defensive backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals, helping the them to its lone Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Austin was responsible for recruiting Steve Breaston to Michigan during his days as an assistant there. His name has been linked to previous openings at Pitt as he's worked his way up.
Shawn Watson, Offensive Coordinator, Nebraska Might be a reach here, but it's worth throwing out a Nebraska tie since that's Pederson‘s background. This is Watson's fifth year as offensive coordinator for the Cornhuskers. He brings 29 years of college coaching experience to the table. He served as a head coach at Southern Illinois for three years (1994-96), but has spent the last decade as an assistant at Colorado and now Nebraska. Watson was hired at Nebraska, initially as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator in 2006, when Pederson was still athletic director there. This year, Nebraska's running game averaged 259.6 yards a game, 10th nationally.
Greg Gattuso, Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line, Pitt
Gattuso and any other current assistant will be given the opportunity to stay in Pittsburgh and pursue the job if they want to. If Pederson is adamant about keeping some of the current assistants on staff, he might go the route of keeping Wannstedt's number-two guy in charge, Gattuso. There is a lot of support from some of the local high school coaches for Wannstedt and his staff because they have been the most visible staff in the local schools over the last 20 years. Gattuso can help keep those doors open with the relationships he has built up. More important than that, Gattuso has a proven track record of being a game-day coach, and coaching his players up. He was head coach at Duquesne, where he built the program up itself, compiling a 97-32 record in 12 years. His impact was felt on the defensive line when he moved to that position, after coaching tight ends. He turned that position into the strength of the team.
Frank Cignetti Jr., Pitt Offensive Coordinator
Though some of the offensive coordinators mentioned on this list have put up bigger numbers in tougher conferences, Cignetti as the in-house coordinator, will at least get a look. Since he began his career as a graduate assistant at Pitt in 1989, Cignetti has only had one stop at a school longer than three seasons, and that was his four seasons as offensive coordinator at Fresno State (2002-05).
Al Golden, Head Coach, Temple
Since he has been at Temple, Golden's name has been linked to numerous jobs, including a pretty lucrative offer from UCLA two years ago, which he walked away from. His name has also been linked to the current Miami vacancy. There's no question Golden would be a good candidate. Pitt and Penn State went 7-5 this season. Golden went 8-4. That's all that needs said about they type of job he can do. The question is, if he turned down an offer from UCLA, why would he take an offer--or even consider Pitt--a place that has similar challenges (university in a major city, playing in a pro stadium) to what he has now.
Tom Bradley, Assistant Head Coach for Defense and Cornerbacks, Penn State
Might be a long shot, but with Joe Paterno coming back for another year at Penn State, and the fact that Bradley has a proven track record for recruiting in western Pennsylvania and coaching some great defenses at Penn State, he fits the bill. The question is, is he really ready to give up that tenure at Penn State, and if so, does he still have hopes of being a head coach some day?
Larry Johnson, Defensive Line Coach, Penn State
Same as Bradley. Might be a long shot, but with Paterno coming back for another year, it's a matter of if Johnson still has aspirations of being a head coach, or is he still content being an assistant at Penn State, where he's been for the last 15 years. During his time at Penn State, Pitt has been through four head coaches. Looking at that logic might solve his answer.