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3 potential candidates with rising stock since KU football's last coaching search

Nevada coach Jay Norvell watches his team on their winning drive against Fresno State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

The University of Kansas football program is in the market for a new head coach so often — the position currently is vacant for the fifth time since Mark Mangino was forced out in 2009 — that some of the potential candidates for the job this time around might even seem like retreads from 2018 or 2014 at this point.

But there are some intriguing potential candidates with college head coaching experience whose stock has risen in the two-plus years since KU brought in Les Miles in its latest rebuild attempt.

Here are three current head coaches who have emerged as potential viable options for KU (once it hires a new athletic director) by winning at Group of Five FBS programs.

Jay Norvell, Nevada

Head coaching record: 25-22 in 4 seasons

The last time KU was looking for its next head coach, Norvell was in the middle of just his second season leading Nevada. The Wolf Pack went 3-9 during his first year in charge, but the Mountain West program has been piling up wins since then.

Nevada has made three consecutive bowl appearances, as Norvell led the Wolf Pack to an 8-5 record in 2018, a 7-6 mark in 2019 and a 7-2 finish in the pandemic altered 2020 season.

Earlier this offseason, when the coaching carousel was going full speed, Arizona and Vanderbilt reportedly were interested in Norvell as a candidate.

Why he makes sense for KU: Norvell, 57, has seen it all in football. After playing defensive back at Iowa in the early 1980s, he first got into coaching as an assistant, and worked at Wisconsin and Iowa State before becoming an NFL assistant with the Colts and Raiders.

Norvell returned to the college game in 2004 at Nebraska, as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After a stop at UCLA as O.C., he coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma from 2008-2014, then spent one year on the staff at Texas and one year at Arizona State, before taking over at Nevada.

Bill Clark, UAB

Head coaching record: 40-22 in 5 seasons

Clark quite literally rebuilt the UAB football program from the ground up, after the university temporarily ceased fielding a team from 2015-16.

When the Blazers returned to action in 2017, Clark led them to an 8-5 finish. And that wasn’t a fluke. UAB has continued to win in Conference USA under Clark, going 11-3 in 2018, when the Blazers won the conference championship.

Clark, now 52, also led UAB to a 9-5 record in 2019 and the Blazers went 6-3 in their shortened 2020 season.

Why he makes sense for KU: The man knows rebuilds. UAB went nine consecutive seasons with a losing record before Clark arrived in 2014 — just in time to see the program temporarily shut down following his first year in charge.

By 2018, Clark was racking up awards, being named the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year, as well as the national coach of the year by both CBS Sports and Sporting News. And the Blazers have finished .500 or better every year under Clark’s watch.

Sean Lewis, Kent State

Head coaching record: 12-17 in 2-plus seasons

At Kent State, Lewis inherited a program that had had gone 14-45 in five consecutive losing seasons before he took over. As would be expected, the Golden Flashes struggled in his first year as the head coach, too, going 2-10.

A young head coach — he will turn 35 in April — Lewis is just getting started in the MAC with Kent State, but could soon become a hot commodity for bigger jobs at the rate he’s going.

In Lewis’ second season, Kent State achieved a bowl bid for the first time in seven years, and the Golden Flashes beat Utah State in the Frisco Bowl to finish 7-6.

Kent State didn’t get much of a chance to build on that momentum in 2020, with the pandemic all but wiping out its schedule. But Lewis’ bunch went 3-1 in the shortened season.

Why he makes sense for KU: The MAC long has been known for catapulting its head coaches to bigger and better jobs, making it a good place to go mining for gems.

A former co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Syracuse, and tight end and QB during his playing days at Wisconsin, Lewis is no stranger to Power Five football, either.

Comments

Buck Bukaty

The Chief's Offensive Line situation just went from bad to worse with the release today of their two injured cornerstones for cap reasons. I still say place Mr Eric Bieniemy in the tickler file. Yes, at the first opportunity he would jump back to the NFL, but while he were here he should be a recruiting juggernaut given his NFL resume. Need to continue to rebuild the roster, and maybe pickup a transfer or three.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Karen Mansfield-Stewart

Bill Clark seems like an intriguing option. I've been to the UAB campus. If he can win there, I'd bet he can win anywhere.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Of the three, I like Norvell. A good fit since he spent time at Texas and Nebraska.

One of the reason that I’m a strong Monken supporter is stability. Face it, most bigger and better programs won’t likely go after him, which means we could have a long term solution in football. That’s not reason enough to hire him or not hire a rising coach but one thing this program could really use is stability.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Chris Bailey


1 year, 8 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Also, kudos to Matt Tait and Sam Mellinger for going right at Long at the press conference. I didn’t watch it live but heard clips afterwards. Their direct questioning of Long really showed his weakness as an AD and highlighted the fact that he had no viable role in the hiring of a new coach. Great journalistic effort. And I don’t mean for going after a “gotcha” moment. I mean for asking fair, tough and direct questions when they absolutely needed to be asked.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Andy Tweedy

If Long would have been trusted to make another hire, I would have completely checked out of this. Petrino? Bielema? Miles?

1 year, 8 months ago

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Bill Pitcher

And who hired Jeff Long?

1 year, 8 months ago

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David Robinett

I'd take anybody that can turn this around. But on the stability front, I do like the idea of hiring a 50+ year old rather than a 35 year old - IF that means they are less likely to jump ship after 1-2 decent seasons at KU.

Think of Gottfried had only stayed. If Mason had only stayed.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Jeff Coffman

I can't believe i hear that if we get a coach and he wins, we might lose him...we won and if he righted the ship and wants the leave, let him...we at least solved the first part of the problem. If someone comes and leaves, there will be a lot more coaches interested in continuing the momentum rather than starting from scratch.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Randy Bombardier

Whether a coach stays would be a nice turn of events. Mason was here 9 years. Could have kept him with cash. Mangino was here 8. We fired him. Let's hope we're not that stupid with a winning coach next time.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Layne Pierce

At the end of the day, losing Miles is not good for the football program, it may be good for a lot of other things. Coach Miles was building something, you look at the quality of the recruits, and the development of young players, and you could see it coming. Anyone who turns KU around will be a very hot item\, miracle worker deluxe.

RCJH

1 year, 8 months ago

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Micky Baker

Bill Clark! He sounds interesting. Going to have to read more up on him.

1 year, 8 months ago

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Jason Musick

I think KU needs to hire a head coach and his entire coaching staff with their next pick. I the Coastal Carolina Head Coach and his staff would be the best decision. He is young had a great first Year. His buyout clause is only 150 thousand. I think it was embarrassing with Less Miles and all the assistant coaches quitting because they could not work with each other. It really hurt the team.

1 year, 8 months ago

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