We haven’t heard a lot out of Kent State in the 21 days since the firing (or, non-renewal) of Paul Haynes after a five year span which saw him guide the Flashes to a 14-45 record. In that time, nine FBS programs have created and filled vacancies at the head coaching position, including Group of Five peers UCF, Rice and SMU.
Earlier this month, we prognostiated a few names potentially in the hunt for the job, with the assumption a coach would be hired forthwith. But it’s nearly Christmas and with the new early signing day on Dec. 20, Kent State still finds itself coachless.
That leads to a report filed earlier Tuesday afternoon from FootballScoop, which suggests administrators are scrambling to find even one taker after its primary candidate, South Dakota’s Bob Nielson, turned down the job offer.
Per FootballScoop’s Zach Barnett:
Yes, you read that right: as many as 15 coaches have reportedly turned down the opportunity to coach at Kent State.
Also in the same piece, Barnett reports that Minnesota offensive coordinator Ed Warriner, who has been considered a contender for the job since Haynes’ firing, has not been approached regarding the job. To this point, he is the only Power Five coach linked to the job.
It only gets stranger from there.
Barnett reports that at least three candidates are considered front runners, with Kansas quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley (younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley) and D-III Mount Union head coach Vince Kehres as names to be considered. Another mystery “lower level” coach is currently being interviewed as well.
Mount Union is set to face Mary Hardin-Baylor in the national championship game, which means KSU cannot contact Kehres until the conclusion of that game. Kehres is 55-4 as the head coach at Mount Union, winning the national title once (2015) in his four year career. He has been on campus since 2000 as both an assistant coach (2000-2004) and defensive coordinator (2005-2012). Kehres was also a defensive end for the Purple Raiders, playing from 1994-1997.
Not much is known about Garrett Riley, other than his relation to Oklahoma’s current head coach Lincoln. As a player, Riley split time between Mike Leach’s Texas Tech teams and FCS-level Steven F. Austin. Riley’s coaching career started in 2012 at D-III Augustana (Ill.) College as a running backs coach before being hired with his brother Lincoln at East Carolina in 2013. In his two years at ECU, he was an offensive analyst and outside receivers coach. Riley ended up in Kansas in 2016 as an offensive analyst under David Beatty before getting promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2017.
If hired, Riley, who is 28, would be the youngest head coach in FBS by a long shot, surpassing his brother Lincoln (33.)
Kent State isn’t exactly a destination job, so it isn’t surprising to see these sorts of names attached to it. That said, it’s still an FBS-level job and the fact administrators not only reportedly struck out on finding any interested coaches in 2016 per FootballScoop, but seemingly weren’t ready for their main target to reject their offer this season, does not reflect well on the search process.
Kent State has a long way to go to find success, and it could well be weeks before we know who will lead the football squad moving forward.