Let me get this out of the way before I go any further: I grew up in Minnesota, and cheered for but never embraced the Gophers as a kid. When I moved to Columbus, Ohio, my sophomore year in high school I dropped the Gophers like a Mike Tyson right cross to Zack Galifinakis in The Hangover. The reason? The Gopher football program, in my opinion, has never been committed to winning. I mean REALLY winning and competing in the Big Ten. There was a window there when Lou Holtz came to town, but that faded after Notre Dame came courting. So when Tim Brewster was hired, and he said things like 'Big Ten Championships' and 'Rose Bowl', I loved it. Absolutely loved it. He was the first coach in my lifetime that said he wanted the Gopher program to be elite, and although he didn't attain it, I thank him for thinking big. I wish he had been as big of an X and O thinker, but hey, you can't have everything.
So now, Gopher football is at a crossroads. In this day and age, with a new facility, a more even playing field in terms of scholarships available to schools, and TV coverage no longer a problem thanks to the Big Ten Network, the next coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, if he can coach and recruit, can do well at a program that has a fanbase starving for success. But the University of Minnesota has to answer this question: Do you want to hire a coach that views this program as a stepping stone and will move on when the bigger, better deal inevitably comes along, or do you want to hire a coach with local ties that might be more inclined to stay and finish what he (hopefully) starts? Well, if their first move is any indication, it's a solid, aggressive one. The Gopher blog Fringe Bowl Team gives us information about Chuck Neinas, the headhunter hired by the university to conduct the coaching search. Neinas has placed Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and Mack Brown at their current schools. If nothing else, it means that AD Joel Maturi WON'T be doing the search, and that is addition by subtraction.
So I'd like to look at who I feel are the most prominent names that have been mentioned so far. They're not necessarily in order of preference, and it is by no means a complete list. If you want comprehensive, go to SB Nation UberBlog The Daily Gopher (and I highly recommend you check it out), and they'll give you a rundown on everyone, with grades and everything. Quality stuff.
Mike Leach: I was on the Mike Leach Bandwagon as soon as Minnesota lost to Iowa State...IOWA...STATE...in the 2009 Insight Bowl. It was a loss I thought in some ways was worse than the infamous 44-41 collapse in the 2006 Insight bowl...to Mike Leach's Texas Tech squad, ironically enough. If that game was the Mason era in a nutshell, the 2009 Insight Bowl was the Brewster era in a nutshell. A team with competitive talent, coached poorly, to an undesirable result. A lot of people think Leach was successful at TT because he had a bevy of Texas talent to recruit from. Well, good coaches win wherever they go. Steve Spurrier won at Duke before Florida, Urban Meyer won at Utah before Florida, Nick Saban, although he's the devil, won at Michigan State before he went to LSU and then Alabama. Is Leach as good as those guys? I don't know, but he won at Texas Tech, and in this day and age, if a guy can recruit and coach, he can win anywhere.
Biggest Pro: Proven commodity who can recruit and coach. And pirates. Arrrrgh!
Biggest Con: Off field issues in regards to alleged mistreatment of players, and he strikes me as a guy who will be looking for the bigger better deal from almost the minute he lands in Minneapolis.
Mark Richt: Would Georgia be dumb enough to fire him? The fantastic SEC SB Nation blog Team Speed Kills doesn't seem to think so, and laid out a good case for why back in August. Has that dynamic shifted since then? Maybe, maybe not. It's easy to see a scenario where he's asked to leave; the SEC East is as down as it has been in a decade, and if he can't get Georgia to a bowl game, or even a winning record in this environment, it might be the tipping point. The Bulldogs are currently 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the SEC, with only one real gimme game left, a non-conference tilt against Idaho State. Will they only win one more game? Probably not. Could they? Yeah, they could. If Georgia ends up 4-8, I can see a scenario where Richt leaves. But that's only half the problem. Could the Gophers get him to coach in Minnesota? Money talks, for sure, but how high are the Gophers willing to go, and if they got him to Minnesota, how long would he stay before the proverbial bigger, better deal came along?
Tony Dungy: It ain't happening. Dungy has unequivocally said he will not coach the Gophers, but I mention his name because he has said he will assist and advise the Gophers in their search. Tony Dungy involved in anything can't be a bad deal, so his involvement is as welcome as the Neinas news. The reason I mention Dungy is because if he has any say in it, I'm sure the guy he would probably recommend is his good friend and assistant...
Leslie Frazier: The current defensive coordinator for the Vikings doesn't have much time left in his current job, but not because of incompetence. On the contrary, Frazier has been climbing up the annual NFL list of "coordinators who are hot head coaching names," and by this time next year will probably be a head coach in the NFL. However, that's been the thinking for the last couple of seasons, and it hasn't yet come to fruition, so the opportunity might exist for the Gophers to swoop in and grab him before and NFL team can. He's been responsible for top defenses in the NFL for more than a decade, and would be an intriguing and well received choice by most Gopher fans who also follow the Vikes.
Biggest Pro: Solid coach with local ties that might not bolt at the first opportunity like Lou Holtz did.
Biggest Con: Professional coaching doesn't involve recruiting, which is essential in college. How good of a recruiter would he be?
Mike Grant: It feels like the Gophers are looking for a big name guy to take over the program, but the big pitfall with that is longevity. If you want a good coach that has local ties that would be inclined to stay and finish the job, look no further than Grant, son of legend Bud Grant. Granted, his success is all at the high school level, but he's won multiple state titles, and is an innovative X's and O's guy. As a Minnesota guy through and through, you would think he would have the potential to be Minnesota's version of Pat Fitzgerald, who is a guy you really can't imagine coaching anywhere else. He grew up watching his dad coach the Purple People Eaters, and was coached in college by the legendary John Gigliardi at St. John's, so he has close ties to two of the best coaches ever to ply their trade in the state of Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter.
Biggest Pro: With a long coaching career in the Minnesota high schools, one would think Grant would have to have an immediate edge in relationships with other coaches and a knowledge level on the potential recruits in the state that no other guy would have. A good relationship with other coaches in the state is essential in the recruiting process, because high school coaches hold a lot of sway with their players and are very involved with the recruit and parents when making the choice in which college to go to. The biggest recruiting problem the Gophers have is twofold: There aren't a lot of four and five star recruits in the state, and when they do come along, they can't get them to go to Minnesota. Grant could go a long way to changing that. And as a guy that has worked with and coached high school kids for years, he might has the best personality to come in right away and connect with a team that is a combination of mad, embarrassed, and upset that their coach got fired.
Biggest Con: Gerry Faust, anyone? Faust was a legendary high school coach at famed Cincinnati Moeller when Notre Dame tabbed him to replace Dan Devine after Devine resigned in 1980. Other than the high profile of the Notre Dame program, the similarities of the Faust hiring and a potential Grant hire are eerily similar. Faust could not get it done at Notre Dame, only going 30-26-1 in five seasons, never doing better than 7-5. He was replaced by Lou Holtz. after five seasons and Notre Dame never looked back. That's the big risk with Grant. Minnesota needs to start winning right away, or the good vibes engendered by the new on campus stadium goes away, and TCF Bank Stadium becomes a mausoleum. And if there is another era as bad as the Brewster one, Gopher football might become even more irrelevant than it is now, which is hard to believe.
It will be interesting to see what the university does. You can make an argument for any one of these guys, and you can also probably make a good argument for guys that aren't covered here.
Maybe the best scenario might be a high profile guy like Mike Leach coaching, with Mike Grant as the recruiting coordinator, and Tony Dungy as the AD.