Home Next man up: Assessing the top candidates for the soon-to-be-open Virginia football job

Next man up: Assessing the top candidates for the soon-to-be-open Virginia football job


UVaHelmet_1Why wait, right? We all know that Mike London isn’t going to be back at Virginia. And we know that Virginia Tech has upped the ante with Whit Babcock using Bryant Hall to announce to the world that the rumors that he has snatched Justin Fuente off the market aren’t official yet, but will be soon.

Time’s a-wastin’ here.


Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

In eight years at the Naval Academy, Niumatalolo, 50, has gone 66-37, with six bowl appearances and a seventh on the way with the Midshipmen at 9-2 in 2015.

What I like about Niumatalolo: eight years as a head coach at a school with challenging admissions requirements, with seven winning seasons; the last time Virginia poached a Navy coach, that turned out well.

What I don’t like: his last name is hard to spell, and I’ll have to spell it a lot.


Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Why would Dan Mullen, 43, who is 54-35 in seven seasons at Mississippi State, leave Mississippi State, and the SEC, for Virginia?

For starters, Alabama. Then LSU. Then Auburn. That’s three programs in the SEC West with recent national titles.

Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M are the also-rans here.

Holy friggin’ crap. If I can trade in fighting my ass off to finish fourth or fifth there for playing Miami, Pitt, Duke, the two Techs and UNC every week, no disrespect to any of those schools, but sign me up.

What I like about Dan Mullen: has a master’s in education, has helped develop several top-flight quarterbacks (Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow).

What I don’t like: not sure Virginia can afford him; he joined the SEC’s $4 million a year club in 2015.


Matt Rhule, Temple

The drawback to Matt Rhule, 40, who is 18-18 in three seasons at Temple, is that he’s been a head guy for just three years. This is just me talking here, but I want a guy who has a little more CEO experience than that.

Being the head coach of a Power 5 program is as much about running a $20 million business with 100 employees as it is X’s and O’s.

What I like about Matt Rhule: Penn State alum; success, albeit brief, one year, this year, turning a program around (from 2-10 in 2013 to 10-2 in 2015).

What I don’t like: the last time an ACC school poached a Temple guy, Miami taking Al Golden, that didn’t work out so well.


Les Miles, LSU

Ha! As if this was ever a possibility.

And then LSU realized that it was about to fire a guy with a natty with a 111-32 record in 11 seasons at the school.

So Les will not be more, not in Charlottesville, anyway.

Note to the UVA fan base: your hubris is not at all attractive.


Everett Withers, JMU

If not for the fact that UVA is about to break ties with a coach based on success at the FCS level, Withers, 52, who is 26-12 in three seasons, one at North Carolina and two at James Madison, would be an intriguing candidate.

Withers has reversed negative momentum at JMU, leading the Dukes to a 19-6 record and two playoff berths, and doing so with an exciting brand of football that featured one of the better offenses in FCS history in 2015.

Withers also has a broader range of experience than what London was able to bring to the table before being hired at Virginia in 2010, having served as the interim head coach for a season at UNC and working under Urban Meyer at Ohio State before taking the job at Madison.

What I like about Everett Withers: a defense guy who is comfortable enough to be able to adapt to the changing offense-first times and be successful at it.

What I don’t like: that he won’t get a sniff for this job for reasons that have nothing to do with his qualifications.


Mack Brown, ESPN

Why the former Texas and UNC coach’s name keeps coming up in relation to this job is beyond me.

Nothing against Mack, but he’s 64. Frank Beamer just got pushed out the door at Virginia Tech because the feeling was that the game is passing him by, and he’s 69.

Five, maybe six years, out of Brown, 244-122-1 in 30 seasons, and that’s probably stretching it.

Only way this works is if you name a coach-in-waiting, and even that’s awkward.

What I like about Mack Brown: he has a knack for overlooking in-state talent that reminds me of the Al Groh years.

What I don’t like: having to listen to Mack Brown do color for ESPN.


Greg Schiano, volunteer

Please, for the love of God, no!


Tom Herman, Houston

Tom Herman, 40, wins 92 percent of his games as a head coach, which is pretty good, if you can do that.

But the sample size is small. Herman is 11-1 in his first season as a head coach at Houston.

One season as an HC. Yikes.

What I like about Tom Herman: he was the top assistant in the country in 2014 after helping lead Ohio State to a national title; the last time Virginia hired a top assistant coach to head a program, that guy turned out to be Brian O’Connor, and he turned out to be a good hire.

What I don’t like: one year!


Lane Kiffin, Alabama (offensive coordinator)

Trying to see if you’re paying attention. Yes, I’m suggesting Lane Kiffin. Everybody talks about Kirby Smart, the defensive coordinator at Alabama. Not me.

By now, you know what I value: head coaching experience.

Kiffin, 40, has it, parts of five seasons at two bluebloods, Tennessee and Southern Cal. Including a stint with the Oakland Raiders, Kiffin is 40-36 overall as a head coach.

I also value a coach’s pedigree. Lane is the son of Monte Kiffin, the Cover Two guy, and has coached under Pete Carroll, Al Davis and now Nick Saban.

The time under Saban is most intriguing to me. You have to assume that two seasons in Tuscaloosa will pay dividends for whoever it is that is eventually able to overcome their inhibitions with regard to going the Kiffin route.

Wherever that is, the guy will win.

What I like about Lane Kiffin: he outkicked the coverage with respect to his betrothed.

What I don’t like: that UVA would never in a million years consider him.

– Column by Chris Graham



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.