The coaching carousel has been swirling at whirligig speed thus far this season, even more than usual. With a lot of big names coming off the board, it’ll eventually happen that “smaller” schools will be affected, and that is perhaps why Kent State has been taking the scenic route with their head coaching search.
Taking time to review all the candidates is good and fine, but with the newly-formed early signing period coming up in a couple of weeks, the athletic director and board of regents will likely have to produce a candidate sooner, rather than later.
There’s been a couple of names floated around, though none officially, regarding the job, and it does tell a lot about how those with the power to hire might be looking.
For one, they’ll probably look to go with an offensive-minded coach this go-about, as the last two coaches (Darrell Hazell and Paul Haynes) have been defensive-minded. For another, they’ll probably look to go externally for the hire, as Haynes was an internal hire last time around. With that in mind, a few interesting options become available.
Minnesota OC Ed Warriner
Warriner was the first name to be floated for the job, by Allen Moff of the Kent Record-Courier. Warriner has just completed his first season as OC in Minnesota under PJ Fleck, having accepted the job there after one season as the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Ohio State, where he spent the previous five years coaching the offensive line and sharing coordinator duty.
The Golden Gophers were in a rebuilding campaign in year one, finishing 5-7. The Gophers finished 122nd in total offense this season, averaging 308 yards and gaining 29 total touchdowns.
The main attraction to Warriner is his connections to the area, both as a recruiter and as a person, being a native of nearby Strasborg, Ohio. He’s considered one of the nation’s better recruiters and has a bevy of experience at the Power Five level creating offensive attacks, including stints at Kansas during the 2007 season and Notre Dame prior to Ohio State.
One potential drawback is the fact Warriner, who has been coaching collegiately since 1984, has never held a head coaching job at any level.
South Dakota HC Bob Nielson
Per FootballScoop, Kent State offered the head coaching job to Bob Neilson, who has gone 12-11 at South Dakota over two seasons. The Coyotes made the FCS Playoffs this year, engaging in a wild shootout with Sam Houston State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs which saw 1,345 combined offensive yards before ultimately falling 54-42.
South Dakota is known for having a ferocious offensive attack, which was seen early in the MAC season in an upset of Bowling Green. USD finished second in total offense at the FCS level, gaining 6,807 yards in 1,065 attempts, scoring 65 times. The numbers are certainly helped by USD playing in a dome, but you can’t deny how simply ridiculous the numbers are on paper.
Nielson could be a potentially underrated hire, having been successful as a head coach at the FCS, D-II and D-III levels, going 100-26 with two D-II National championships at Minnesota-Duluth. He has a reputation for building programs quickly at every stop he’s made in his head coaching career since 1989.
One thing that could cause reservation are his records at his two FCS stops, as he is 28-31 in five seasons at the FCS level.
Austin Peay HC Will Healy
Austin Peay had a magical run in Will Healy’s second season before ultimately being snubbed from the FCS Playoffs as an at-large bid.
The former Richmond quarterback, who coached by Dave Clawson and Mike London in his time as a Spider, was the recruiting coordinator and served at various position coaching gigs at FCS powerhouse Chattanooga for six years before being hired in 2016 for his first head coaching gig.
Healy gained a reputation as a master recruiter during his time as a Moc, scoring back-to-back top ranking classes in the FCS per 247Sports. His recruiting chops have transitioned nicely, as he once again earned an ace recruiting class for APSU in 2017.
The Governors had gone winless since 2014 when Healy first arrived on campus in 2016, losing all 11 games in his first season. In 2017, that was not the case. The Govs went 8-4 in a miracle run, including 7-1 in the tough-as-nails Ohio Valley Conference, earning high praise from many football observers. This season, his team finished 17th in total defense and 49th in total offense at the FCS level.
He hasn’t been linked to the job, but the possibility is intriguing and time could be running out. FootballScoop has reported he was interviewed for the vacant South Alabama job. At 30 years old, he’s a hot commodity.
Middle Tennessee DC Scott Shafer
One name the Canton Repository is pushing is Scott Shafer, who has former head coach experience at the Power Five level.
Shafer went 14-23 in three years at Syracuse replacing Doug Marrone before being summarily sacked after a 4-8 season in 2015. Prior to that, Shafer had a long career in coaching as a defensive coordinator, starting at NIU in 1996 (as a DB coach) with a stop at Western Michigan (2005-2006) before moving on to Stanford as Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator and Michigan as Rick Rodriguez’s defensive coordinator.
He’s known primarily for an attacking defense which focuses on stopping the ball first and the pass later. That formula worked from 2009-2012, when he took a cellar-dwelling Orange defense into the top 20 in total defensive yards.
The attraction with Shafer could well be that P5 experience, something which KSU could see as an asset in terms of attracting recruits. It’s a respected name and would be a good hire for Kent if they coudl swing it. The question is whether or not the experiment would work, as he has never been a head coach at the Group of Five level.