And then there was one. One left in the conference, with no leader to push them forward.
If you've been following the Arizona St. Sun Devils coaching search lately, you'd probably think of that time you ordered those new shoes you really wanted to wear for the big game, only to find out they were the wrong size, and you had to cram back into your old insoles and ache your way through a painful few hours, days, weeks until the next order shipped in.
ASU thought they had nice new shoes to break in right in the form of June Jones. Unfortunately, turns out they didn't fit, and they had to start all over. Such is life for the Sun Devils.
Brad Denny at House of Sparky (our Arizona State SB Nation community) has been closely monitoring the situation, and I took some time to ask him a couple of questions regarding the troubling process of finding a new coach.
June Jones. What happened? How did he get so close to being hired only to get pulled at the last second?
Arizona State and Jones had two flirtations, both ended by intense opposition.
The Sun Devils had targeted Houston’s Kevin Sumlin as their top candidate early on and made no preparation for any Plan B, so after Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman and entered the bidding for Sumlin (which they eventually won), ASU needed a fallback. Due to some SMU ties by prominent boosters, ASU interviewed Jones over the same weekend they were originally going to meet with Sumlin, and by all accounts it went well.
However, intense booster and fan opposition led to ASU "pausing" his candidacy as they pursued other candidates. When those fell through, ASU again turned to Jones last week and was near a deal when the same booster and fan anger returned, and this time it was amplified to a much higher degree.
This outrage, combined with Jones’ $2-million contract buyout, led to ASU pulling the offer.
Jones seems like an interesting candidate. He definitely provides another innovative offense (the run and shoot) that might have worked out very well given the current personnel ASU has at their disposal. What were the fears of him taking over the reins?
The answer is two-fold.
First, the majority of the fans and boosters in opposition to Jones were scared off by the deep similarities to Dennis Erickson. Both are older coaches with NFL experience, long since passed their respective primes who are known for running undisciplined programs. While that may seem superficial, given the disappointment and angst surrounding the team over the last four seasons, it was enough to generate such swift and unified hostility.
Secondly, ASU has been hit hard by NCAA sanctions recently, most notably to their baseball program, and that dreaded term, "lack of institutional control" has been bandied about as a result. Knowing that the ice upon which they skate is thin, ASU was worried that Jones could bring potential issues and would require intensive monitoring.
There are a lot of interesting candidates floating around, with Tennessee DC Justin Wilcox the most prominent name. Which candidates do you think ASU should go after now and why?
Wilcox seems to be the current leader at this point, but if there’s anything this search has demonstrated, it’s that things can change in an instant.
Wilcox would seemingly be exactly what the Sun Devils need. Only 35, he’s already had very successful stints at Boise State and Tennessee as a defensive coordinator, and he has the tough-minded yet energetic and dynamic personality necessary to make the culture change ASU needs.
He played football at Oregon, and his recruiting ties are well placed in both the west and in the SEC regions. Wilcox is also reportedly open to keeping key ASU assistants in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Broussard, something Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was not open to, which apparently ended his candidacy.
Other names in contention are Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun and Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, although the school has seemingly cooled on them for now, leaving Wilcox as the front-runner.
It seems like this whole situation has been a public relations nightmare for the university. Will Lisa Love be the AD in the near future, and why or why not?
If the fans had their way, she would be out, although she likely is safe in the near term, pending a successful hire.
Love is not actually spearheading this search as many believe, despite her AD duties. Chief Operating Office of Athletics Steve Patterson has actually assumed the point position in this search, with heavy input from Love and university president Michael Crow.
So while her very near term outlook is probably secure, there has been talk of changing Love’s current responsibilities, with help being brought in—ASU legend and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Haynes’ name has been mentioned.
In any event, it seems that how long she remains will be closely tied to this upcoming hire.
Also, given the influence the ASU boosters have on the whole process, what type of qualities are they looking for in their new coach?
The boosters have been a very vocal bunch during this process, and their wants have ranged from specific coaches to overall qualities.
First and foremost, they want someone who can establish a foundation and be a long-term answer in Tempe. The Erickson era ended after five disappointing seasons, and this is not a process anyone wishes to repeat in four or five years. To that end, they are primarily looking at young (under 50) candidates.
They also want someone who can come in and change the culture of a stagnant program. Erickson was a "player’s coach" who ran a very undisciplined team that consistently made unforgivable and costly mistakes, and his mishandling of linebacker Vontaze Burfict was among his greatest failures. To that end, they want an energetic and tough-minded coach who can establish order and control.
Finally, they want someone who can finally tap into ASU’s potential. With all of the many things in ASU’s favor—facilities, recruiting base, conference etc.—there is little excuse for the Sun Devils to have not achieved a greater level of success in recent years.