Search goes on: Another day, another name
Here's how crazy USF's search for two defensive assistants has gotten: On Thursday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a very close relative of one of the bigger candidates involved, wondering what I knew. I told that person what I'm telling you now: Nobody's entirely sure where Jim Leavitt will turn next, so we're left to slowly whittle down who it isn't.
I do have a new name to report -- candidates come and go with these jobs like afternoon thunderstorms -- but I'm not done explaining how fruitless it can be to try to figure out a coaching search like this. On Tuesday, I get a tip that USF has talked to a Sun Belt defensive coordinator to be a defensive position coach. Pretty vague tip, but I figure I'll run with it, look for solid assistants with Florida ties that might make sense as targets for the Bulls.
I start with the Sun Belt's top defense in 2008, Troy, and see that DC Jeremy Rowell was born in Florida, up in Crestview, near Pensacola. Rowell's a Troy graduate who's been coaching there 11 seasons, but you call and check, and he politely explains that it's not him. Then I try Middle Tennessee State, where DC Manny Diaz makes a lot of sense: Florida State grad, coached there as a GA, worked with Mike Canales at N.C. State, and his father is the mayor of Miami. MTSU recruits Florida like crazy, but when I reach Diaz, I learn it's not him either. I remember the scares that FIU has given USF, holding the Bulls to 17 points last fall, and check with DC Phil Galiano, a former Rutgers assistant. Again, it's not him, and at this point, I think it's just a bad tip, but you've got to chase everything at this point.
I've talked to a handful of current coaches, some at BCS programs, who have indicated interest in joining USF's staff, sent in resumes and everything, but they haven't heard from Leavitt, and I don't want to out them here and damage their situations with their current coaches. There were significant names with BCS experience interested in the offensive coordinator job as well, which speaks to Leavitt's confidence and trust in Canales.
The newest name that I'm told Leavitt has asked about is Chris Ash, the 35-year-old secondary coach at -- where else -- Iowa State, which started all this by hiring Wally Burnham away from the Bulls. Ash has solid ties to two coaches Leavitt respects -- he came up under Dan McCarney at Iowa State, first as a grad assistant and later in the secondary, then after McCarney was fired, he spent two seasons at San Diego State under Chuck Long.
I don't know how far along things are with Ash -- he didn't return a call seeking comment Thursday night -- but this seems like another coach with much stronger ties where he is. Ash was born in Iowa, went to college there at Drake and has coached 10 of his 13 seasons in his home state. The conventional wisdom is that he would be Iowa State's defensive coordinator had the Cyclones not hired Burnham, and he's seen as both a sharp defensive mind and a solid recruiter. It remains to be seen how interested Leavitt is, or whether he'd be able to pull him away from a program he chose to return to just two months ago.
-- Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler has spoken publicly for the first time since interviewing with Leavitt on Saturday, and he's claiming that he and Leavitt agreed he wasn't a fit for USF's defensive coordinator job. "It'd have to be a perfect situation for both him and me," Ekeler told a radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "It's got to be a perfect fit for both sides."
-- One other thing, even as Florida State bumped its start of spring practice from March 2 to March 16: USF won't be pushing anything back from its planned start date of March 9, even if the same two vacancies remain in place. Leavitt said he's gone through spring shorthanded before and will be happy to step in and coach the defense himself this spring if that's what he has to do. You have to think it's crucial to ease the transition by getting a coach in place by next week, so he has all spring to get acclimated to his new defense.
-- Sounds like the Big East schedule should be released next week, so Bulls fans will know dates for the conference opponents for 2009, with just three home games and four dates on the road ...