Oregon fired coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday night, ending a four-year run in charge of the program. Under Helfrich’s direction, the Ducks went 37-16 over the last four seasons. However, after winning 24 games from 2013-14, Oregon was just 13-12 over the last two years, including a 4-8 mark in 2016. Helfrich was promoted after Chip Kelly left for the NFL but was unable to maintain the program’s place at the top of the Pac-12 and as a playoff contender.
While Oregon has slipped in the Pac-12 pecking order over the last two years, this program is still one of the better jobs in the conference and has some promising young talent to build around for 2017 and beyond.
Who might replace Helfrich at Oregon? Here are 10 candidates to watch:
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is one of the top coaches at the FCS level and has ties to the Pacific Northwest after a playing career at Central Washington, followed by a coaching stint at the school from 1994-02 and 2007. Baldwin worked as Eastern Washington’s offensive coordinator from 2003-06 and was hired as the program’s head coach in 2008. Under Baldwin’s watch, the Eagles are 83-31 and have made the FCS playoffs in five out of the last six years. Additionally, Baldwin is a sharp offensive mind and has coordinated some of the top offenses at the FCS level in recent years.
Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina
Fedora is 39-24 in five seasons at North Carolina and guided the program to its first Coastal Division title in 2015. Prior to taking over in Chapel Hill, Fedora went 34-19 at Southern Miss and also made stops as an assistant at Oklahoma State, Florida and MTSU. Fedora has proven himself as a head coach at two different jobs and has a strong track record of success on the offensive side of the ball.
P.J. Fleck, head coach, Western Michigan
Fleck is one of college football’s top coaches on the rise and should be one of the favorites to replace Helfrich. The 36-year-old Illinois native is regarded as an outstanding recruiter and has brought significant improvement to Western Michigan in just four years. After a 1-11 record in his first season (2013), Fleck guided the program to back-to-back 8-5 records, followed by a 12-0 mark in 2016.
Scott Frost, head coach, UCF
Does Oregon want a clean break from the previous coaching regime? If not, Frost is a name to watch. The former Oregon assistant had a successful debut in his first year at UCF, guiding the Knights to a 6-6 record – a six-game improvement after the program went 0-12 in 2015.
Bryan Harsin, head coach, Boise State
Considering Harsin is a former Boise State quarterback and has spent a good chunk of his coaching career with the Broncos, it won’t be easy to hire him to another job. But if there is a job that could interest Harsin, Oregon would figure to be near the top of the list. Under Harsin’s watch, Boise State is 31-8 and claimed the 2014 Fiesta Bowl after a 12-2 record. He also has a strong background on offense, a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Texas and spent one season as the head coach at Arkansas State (2013).
Dana Holgorsen, head coach, West Virginia
Holgorsen is making a case for Big 12 Coach of the Year honors this season, but his long-term future at the school is uncertain. Holgorsen’s contract at West Virginia ends after 2017 and talks for an extension didn’t yield a resolution in the offseason. The Iowa native is regarded for his work on the offensive side of the ball, spending time as a coordinator at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State before landing in Morgantown. Under Holgorsen’s direction, West Virginia is 45-30 and is poised to reach 10 wins with a victory over Baylor in Week 14. Adding to Holgorsen’s successful resume with the Mountaineers was helping the program transition from the Big East to the Big 12.
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama
It’s only a matter of time before Kiffin lands another job as a head coach. However, the rumor mill seems to be placing Kiffin as a potential candidate to coordinate LSU’s offense under new head coach Ed Orgeron. Kiffin’s previous stint at USC did not go well, resulting in his firing early in the 2013 season. Kiffin went 28-15 with the Trojans and also recorded a 7-6 mark in one year at Tennessee (2009). There’s no question Kiffin is a sharp X’s and O’s coach. However, is he ready to be the head coach at a Power 5/national title contender once again?
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mullen’s name has popped up in the rumor mill for other Power 5 jobs over the last few seasons and could do so again in connection with the Oregon job. The Pennsylvania native is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches, guiding Mississippi State – the toughest job in the SEC West – to a 60-42 record since 2009. Additionally, the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff selection committee top 25 and have played in six consecutive bowl games (seven if you count the likely bid in 2016). He’s also a sharp X’s and O’s coach on offense and is regarded for his work in developing quarterbacks.
Greg Schiano, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State
Schiano is the only coach with a defensive background on this list, but his name generated a lot of buzz after Helfrich’s firing on Tuesday night. This may seem like an odd fit for Schiano, but the New Jersey native is due for another head coaching gig. Schiano inherited a program in need of a major overhaul at Rutgers in 2001 and led the team to a 68-67 record from 2001-11. Under Schiano’s watch, the Scarlet Knights earned six bowl appearances and winning records in six out of his final seven seasons. After a two-year stint in the NFL with the Buccaneers and two seasons out of coaching, Schiano was hired to coordinate Ohio State’s defense with Luke Fickell. Schiano helped Ohio State’s defense rank among the best in the nation, limiting opponents to just 14.2 points a game.
Willie Taggart, head coach, USF
Taggart is another rising star in college football’s head coaching ranks. The Florida native has ties to the Pac-12 after a stint under former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh (2007-09) and has adapted at USF from more of a traditional pro-style offense to a spread attack. Taggart is 24-25 with the Bulls, including an 18-7 record over the last two seasons. He also went 16-20 at WKU (2010-12), winning 14 games in the last two years after a 2-10 debut.