As the dust settles in the wake of Mike MacIntyre’s departure from San Jose State, it’s time to start looking at the big picture in regards to the Spartans, most importantly, who will fill Mac’s shoes?
The team fortunately already knows who will guide them in the Military Bowl on December 27th, that being defensive coordinator Kent Baer. Beyond that, is anyone’s guess.
There are two ways athletic director Gene Bleymaier can go about filling the position: Bring in a young, up-and-coming coach looking for his first head coaching gig, or hire someone with experience but more likely less of a hot commodity within the college football ranks.
The first option would be a repeat of MacIntyre’s hiring following the departure of Dick Tomey in 2009. It’s more of a high risk, high reward scenario. The rewards are what we just witnessed over the last three years: Potentially a more energetic candidate looking to make his mark in his first tenure as a head coach who quickly takes the program to the next level. The risk in this scenario is A) the lack of experience leads to a total flop and the program is set back a few years or B) the coach is simply looking for a mid-major stepping stone on his way to a higher-profile gig.
The second option is less of a risk because by bringing in an older candidate with experience, perhaps someone who has been to and fallen from the mountain top, the program is probably looking at more long-term stability. This could ultimately be a better scenario for San Jose State, where almost every coach who has ever experienced even brief success in the last 20 years quickly bolted for what appeared to be a better opportunity. That amount of turnover has to a certain degree contributed to the program’s mediocrity.
It has been ages since San Jose State had stability at the top, whereas a rival such as Nevada has had Chris Ault around seemingly forever; and Fresno State had a solid 15-year run with Pat Hill. The downside of course is that such long-term mid-major coaches tend to be there so long for a reason—they aren’t turning away offers from bigger programs because they haven’t quite had the amount of success the big boys are looking for.
Over the last few days there has already been a decent amount of speculation regarding how San Jose State will fill the position, so my list isn’t anything new. What it’s meant to be is not necessarily suggestions, but a look at some potential candidates, and why they may or may not be a good fit. I’m not going throw out Jeff Tedford (we could do a lot worse) because I’m not sure how taking another job would affect the money he is still owed from Cal; nor am I going to bother with crazy ideas like former NFL head coaches still in their primes (“do ya think Jack Del Rio will leave the Denver Broncos for SJSU?”).
1. Kent Baer
The aforementioned defensive coordinator has been with the Spartans for five seasons now, having been hired by Tomey. Having coached at all three Bay Area schools, he obviously is well-established in California and in theory should be able to continue SJSU’s recent recruiting success. I’ve heard that most players were very enthusiastic about Baer’s promotion to interim head coach for the Military Bowl as well. MacIntyre intends to bring as much of his coaching staff as possible with him to Boulder, so if Bleymaier wants to maintain some stability this could go a long way towards that. One possible negative is that after nearly 40 years of coaching experience, he has never been a head coach at the collegiate level…one has to wonder why.
2. Derek Mason, Stanford Defensive Coordinator
The Spartans could stick with a defensive-minded coach running the program, and Mason wouldn’t have to uproot to take the job. He would qualify as a young, first time head coach, but he is otherwise a seasoned candidate having begun his coaching career back in 1994. Like MacIntyre, Mason has NFL experience (he served on Brad Childress’ staff in Minnesota for three seasons) and the job he has done coaching Stanford’s defense this year speaks for itself. No idea if he would be interested, but definitely someone that should be on Bleymaier’s radar.
3. Dan Hawkins, former Boise State and Colorado head coach
Bleymaier could tap into his Boise State roots were he to consider Hawkins for the San Jose State job. Granted, he bombed significantly in Boulder, but was a major success at Boise State as the coach who brought them to the cusp of being a national powerhouse before successor Chris Petersen made the Broncos a BCS-buster. At Boise State he was 53-11 and had a 31-game winning streak in the WAC. His past mid-major success might be enough to warrant consideration at San Jose State. Hawkins is currently a studio analyst for ESPN and as a California native would probably like the situation in San Jose for a coaching return.
4. Justin Wilcox, Washington Defensive Coordinator
A former assistant coach at Boise State, Wilcox may be out of San Jose State’s price range (he is believed to be making around $800,000 a year at UW) but an inquiry wouldn’t hurt. Wilcox is considered a hot commodity in coaching circles and believed to be looking to make the jump to a head coaching position at some point, having already served as a defensive coordinator at Boise, Tennessee and currently for the Huskies. He would probably make a great short-term hire and continue the Spartans’ momentum past 2012, but almost assuredly would leave the Spartans with another coaching search a few years down the line after more Pac-12 or SEC schools start their next round of firings.
5. Tyrone Willingham
Sure, another coach who basically tanked at Pac-12 program (Washington) but he also had success at college football’s highest level. While he had a decent run at Notre Dame before one of the more controversial firings in recent memory, Willingham had the most wins at Stanford since John Ralston (44) and took them to the Rose Bowl in 1999, a feat even Jim Harbaugh couldn’t match while on The Farm. Based off his last coaching stint, you could conclude that he’s well past his prime. But Willingham has already found success coaching in the South Bay, and still resides there, meaning if interested he would probably be in it for the longhaul.
6. Pat Hill, former Fresno State coach
Hill probably wouldn’t be high on most fans list, and not just because he’s the former head man of the rival Bulldogs. After 15 years in Fresno, his stint there produced plenty of wins but only one conference championship, as Hill was never able to best Boise State once they rose to prominence. In fact, it was Boise State that spoiled Fresno State’s attempts at being the first ever BCS-buster in 2001, when the Broncos rolled into Bulldog Stadium and defeated then #8 Fresno State. While Hill had just a 4-7 record in bowl games, he also recorded 17 wins over BCS-conference opponents. At 60 years of age and currently on the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, he would probably make a good long term fit, though if Hill wants to surpass the success he had in Fresno he would be better off dropping his “anyone, anywhere, anytime” mantra that often left his Bulldog squads broken and beaten late in the season.