Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens isn't tackling this thing himself. After wrapping up his duties as part of the College Football Playoff committee, Mullens met with a search firm in New York where interviews continued on Monday. According to John Canzano of the Oregonian, Parker Executive Search, a firm based out of Atlanta, lined up a group of current coaches and "wildcards," who were interested in the vacancy.
There was speculation swirling around current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, who was in New York as part of the Monday Night Football broadcast, but Canzano dismissed his legitimacy as a candidate for the Oregon opening. [divider]
Our list last week was more speculation than anything else. We identified potential targets and explained why they may or may not be a good fit at Oregon. The search has become a bit more transparent since then. Here are the front runners:
Willie Taggart, South Florida head coach
USF football head coach Willie Taggart poses with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. (USF Athletics).
Taggart has already interviewed for the position, according to Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times. The South Florida head coach has worked wonders over the last two seasons, winning 17 of his last 21 games with the Bulls. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy had strong praise for Taggart and his potential for taking the Oregon job.
"I certainly think he's a good fit," Dungy told ESPN. "I had a chance to watch him coach a year when my son played there. I like his style. I think he's a guy that can relate to the players really well. He's put together two winning programs. He knows the west coast, having been at Stanford. He has all of the elements Oregon is looking for. Oregon is a great job, hopefully he gets it. If not, we are happy to still have him in Tampa."
Dungy isn't a legit source, just a respected former NFL coach speaking highly of a candidate, but he makes some solid points. Taggart was responsible for making Western Kentucky relevant, putting together back-to-back seven-win seasons after finishing 2-10 is first year. The story at South Florida was similar. Two wins in 2013, four wins in 2014, eight wins in 2015 and 10 wins this season. Clearly this is a guy who can turn a program around in a hurry, it's just a matter if the Oregon brass wants him. [divider]
Greg Schiano, Ohio State defensive coordinator
Current Ohio State defensive coordinator reacts to a play during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (NFL media).
There isn't a more unlikely candidate, yet Schiano has also been interviewed according to several major media outlets. On the surface, Schiano screams anti-Ducks. He isn't flashy or fun. He's rigid, strict and leads with a militaristic coaching style. Could you imagine Schiano sitting in meetings about the latest and greatest Nike uniform his team is expected to wear? We can't either. Do you think he would ever let himself relax in that incredible hot tub nestled in the back of the Oregon coaches office? No chance.
Schiano is a strong defensive mind, which again, would buck Oregon's trend of chasing offensive gurus. The Buckeyes' defensive coordinator has made his mark on the east coast, already hindering the recruiting trail. Remember the drama at Rutgers? It's never seemed like the nation's elite prospects were lining up to get a chance to play for Schiano.
The negatives are obvious, but Canzano offered insight into Oregon's interest in Schiano.
"Schiano would be a course correction for Oregon," Canzano said. "His defense wouldn't be generous. He has experience coaching in the NFL and in major college football. He won 11 games at Rutgers, and according to a source involved in the hiring process a Oregon, according to his peer groups, he's one of the best."
Canzano then sited a telling quote from someone he identified as a trusted college football source.
"Given that Meyer would be Knight's dream pairing with Oregon, the next best thing feels like Ohio State's right-hand man, Schiano."
Apparently Nike mogul and major Oregon booster Phil Knight is enamored with Meyer and the Buckeyes. Is that going to be enough to bring in Schiano? We shall see. [divider]
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan head coach
Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck looks on during a game this year. (Western Michigan Athletics).
There's a reason Fleck was ranked No. 1 in our original piece. It's no secret, he's the hottest rising coach in college football. There's also a reason Oregon hasn't pulled the trigger on another name quite yet. Fleck is loyal and focused. He's too busy preparing the Broncos for their biggest game of all time, with Western Michigan set to face Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2. This isn't a guy that is going to drop everything and rush to an interview with Oregon. He knows he's wanted. He's in the driver's seat.
There have been reports disassociating Fleck with the Ducks gig, mostly because he hasn't been interviewed yet. Don't be fooled. He should be, and likely is, one of the top candidates on Oregon's radar.
"Oregon will want to talk to a lot of coaches, Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck may be among them," Canzano's trusted source said. "I think if P.J. gets in front of Phil, he will get this job."
We aren't deeming Fleck a lock to coach the Ducks next season. We don't own a crystal ball, and can't see into the minds of the Oregon decision makers. But it's hard to imagine Mullens, Knight and Co. moving forward without even speaking to the Broncos' front man. Until Fleck gets interviewed, it's hard to see a decision being made. [divider]
The Wildcards: Gruden, Anybody?
Gruden feels extremely rumour-ish. That guy has it made as the highest paid employee at ESPN, but hey, coaches never lose the itch right? Chip Kelly still feels possible, given the train wreck that the 49ers have become, in addition to with his legacy in Eugene. Don't forget about the usual suspects like Boise State's Bryan Harsin, UCF's Scott Frost and even Florida's Jim McElwain, though there are varying reports on each. Those are just a few names from a lengthy list of names attached to the Oregon vacancy.
There's also a chance there are no wildcards at all, but in coaching searches of this magnitude, anyone and anything is possible.