As of this writing, there are three BCS-conference schools (including Notre Dame) with coaching openings, with a fourth, Kansas, widely expected to join the list soon. A look at potential candidates for each job:
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati head coach: The media’s presumed front-runner for months, Kelly is 33-6 in three seasons with the Bearcats and will play for a second straight Big East championship Saturday against Pittsburgh. He previously won the 2006 MAC title at Central Michigan and the 2002 and ’03 Division II national titles at Grand Valley State. He has fielded Notre Dame-related questions for weeks and has yet to definitively deny interest.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma head coach: Despite his statement Monday that “I’m going to be at Oklahoma next year, so I can’t be at two places at once,” rumors continue to persist that Stoops is the Irish’s No. 1 candidate and that the interest may be mutual. Obviously, it would be a home run for Notre Dame to land the six-time Big 12 champion and 2000 national title coach, but it seems odd that Stoops would walk away from a $30 million contract and lifetime job security.
Gary Patterson, TCU head coach: In nine seasons as head coach, Patterson’s teams have gone 85-27 and captured three conference championships. They recently completed a 12-0 regular season and will earn a BCS berth. Known as a defensive guru with an emphasis on speed, Patterson, who served as defensive coordinator prior to his ascension, has produced the nation’s top-ranked defense three of the past nine seasons. This year’s unit ranks No. 2 in the country.
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford head coach: Harbaugh has had a huge impact at Stanford in a short time, leading the Cardinal to an 8-4 record and first bowl berth since 2001 in this, his third season. He’s twice upset Notre Dame’s primary nemesis, USC. Harbaugh, 45, has proven a masterful recruiter at a school with similarly stringent academic standards. The one drawback: His penchant for controversial, sometimes inflammatory comments may not sit well in conservative South Bend.
Mike London, Richmond head coach: The former Al Groh assistant has been a rabid success in two seasons at Richmond (also his alma mater), capturing last year’s FCS national championship. This year’s team stands 12-1 heading into its quarterfinal game against Appalachian State. London, 49, has spent 21 years as a coach or player in the state of Virginia. The one question is whether AD Craig Littlepage and/or London would feel comfortable with him replacing his ex-boss.
Chris Petersen, Boise State head coach: Petersen, 47-4 in four seasons as a head coach, has been linked in the past to openings at UCLA and Mississippi State, among others, but remained steadfastly loyal to the Broncos. His reserved personality fits well in Boise, and he’s watched predecessors Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins flame out upon seeking greener pastures. However, Charlottesville offers much the same quiet setting he has at Boise but with greater BCS access.
Al Golden, Temple head coach: Another former Groh assistant (he was Virginia’s defensive coordinator from 2001-05), Golden, 40, has been one of the sport’s brightest stars this season, leading the long-suffering Owls to a 9-3 record, their first winning season in 19 years. Somebody’s going to snap up Golden sooner than later, but like London, there’s the awkwardness of replacing ex-boss Groh.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach: Virginia’s most successful coach of the past 60 years, George Welsh (1982-2000), came from the Naval Academy. In three years, Calhoun, 41, resuscitated Air Force’s stagnant program, going 24-14 and reaching three straight bowls. He has prior experience both in the ACC (as an assistant to Jim Grobe at Air Force) and the NFL (with the Broncos and Texans from 2003-06) and may be the best fit if Littlepage looks “outside the family.”