Born: Tulsa, OK
Alma mater: Oklahoma, Murray State
Salary: $1.066 million
One of the hottest coaches in the country after turning around a previously awful Memphis program. In just three seasons he has directed Memphis to a 9-3 record. The three seasons before he was hired Memphis was 5-31.
He made his bones as the TCU offensive coordinator from 2009-11. In those three seasons TCU was 36-3 with the Horned Frogs setting records behind quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Casey Pachall.
But it's not offense that has been leading the way for Memphis where the Tigers were No. 50 nationally this season. The offensive coordinator is Darrell Dickey who was the head coach at North Texas for nine seasons. Even though the Tigers offense has not been fantastic yet under that has more to do with personnel. The things he could do with Chad Voytik, James Conner, and Tyler Boyd makes the head spin, though he is another spread offense devotee.
But it's defense that's been more impressive, ranking No. 22 nationally. Missouri alum, and Oklahoma native, Barry Odom, has been the defensive coordinator for all three of Fuente's seasons, and his turnaround of the defense has been highly impressive.
Fuente may be too young for Pitt, which would be a major mistake. He had only 51 scholarship players when he got to Memphis and in three years he has proven to be one of the next big things in the coaching world. He's also a no nonsense coach, yet refreshingly honest and charismatic coach, that players, fans, and media would love.
Fuentes just got a one year extension that takes him through 2017.
Born: Hurricane, WV
Alma mater: West Virginia
Salary: $600,000 + $145,000 possible bonuses
Much older than the other candidates and he'll be 58 before next season started. But with age comes experience and Holliday has tons of it. He started at his alma mater, WVU, where he stayed for two decades. He finished there as the associate head coach, and then followed that up with two more associate head coach stints at NC State and Florida before returning to WVU to again be the associate head coach for Bill Stewart for two years. When Dana Holgerson replaced Stewart instead of Holliday he went to WVU's hated rival, Marshall, where he struggled for three seasons before going 22-5 in the last two seasons.
This year Marshall is 12-1, though admittedly it's against one of the easiest schedules in the country. But the Thundering Herd have been destroying people. Marshall is No. 2 in total offense nationally, including No. 6 in rushing and No. 17 in passing.
Holliday not only has the experience, and the success as a head coach, but he's also one of the best recruiters in the nation, especially in Florida. There seems to be a lot to like on paper, and it helps that he probably will never end up at WVU at this point. As an added bonus for some, he so dislikes WVU now that he'd probably lobby the administration to play them again.
Current Head Coaches
Born: Louisville, MS
Alma mater: Delta State
Salary: $1.025 million
Probably the top non-Power 5 head coaching candidate currently. In fact, he's been called the next big thing for the past few years and is said to have the "it factor". He's never coached outside of the south which is good because he has a lot of connections in the talent rich south. I'm sure some will wonder if somebody that has only been in the south could succeed in the north, but they're both in the US. It's not like he has to move to Russia. Johnny Majors was from Tennessee, Jackie Sherrill was from Oklahoma, and Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon were from California. In other words, if you can coach you can coach anywhere.
As a head coach he was 66-21 in seven years at South Alabama. Five of his seven seasons resulted in double digit victories. He left to become the WR coach and Passing Game Coordinator for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State for one year. The next season he took over at Louisiana-Lafayette where he was 9-4 each of his first three seasons, and 8-4 so far this season. The university's only other 9-win season came in 1976 so that record is much more impressive than it sounds. In his first season he led the Ragin' Cajuns to their first bowl in 41 years. He's 3-0 in bowl games beating San Diego State, East Carolina, and Tulane. Overall, his career record is 101-37 in 11 years, and his first year at South Alabama is the only losing year in his career.
Hudspeth is a very passionate player's coach who has gone into the team's weight room and bench pressed 370 pounds and 225 pounds 25 times. He is also revered in Mississippi where both Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans want him to be their coach should they need one.
He just signed a six year extension that will pay him an average of $1.075 million over the contract. That's a very good contract for the Sun Belt Conference, but Pitt would pay more than twice that amount.
While he's known as a very good recruiter, Hudspeth runs a spread offense which the Panthers may not want to go back to. It's not a highly productive spread, however, and his teams at Louisiana-Lafayette generally finish around the middle of the pack nationally. His defenses have also been average. But, it is at a very low level program so you can only expect so much from him.
Bottom line, he'd easily be in the top list if he wasn't so beloved in southeast. He has the look of somebody that will end up in the SEC very soon. For that reason, he may not be interested in Pitt and vice versa. Would be a major hire, though.
Born: Sallisaw, OK
Alma mater: Utah State
One of the top young head coaches in the country even though he's only been a head coach for two years. Wells finished 9-5 last season and 9-4 so far this season. This season was even more impressive considering the Aggies were down to their fourth string quarterback. Star quarterback Chuckie Keeton played in just the first three games. Utah State finished No. 78 in total offense this season, obviously a product of their quarterback problems.
The defense under Wells has been better finishing No. 36 this season after being No. 12 last season. The defensive coordinator is Todd Orlando, the former UConn defensive coordinator from Pittsburgh. He's one of the more successful defensive coordinators in there country over the last decade. Why his coordinator career consists of stints at UConn, FIU, and Utah State is anybody's guess.
Wells was the offensive coordinator for this first two seasons at Utah State, under Gary Anderson, and in 2012 his offense set multiple school records with Keeton as the starter.
He's considered one of the top young head coaches in the country and even though he is currently at his alma mater he has not closed the door to getting a bigger job. Of course as somebody that lives and works almost his entire life in the western part of the country, there's always a chance that he could want to go back west eventually if he came to Pitt.
Would be a big get for Pitt but he's a western guy so the match may not be there.
Born: Sugar Grove, IL
Alma mater: Northern Illinois
Salary: $392,000 + a possible $236,000 max in bonuses.
A future star at a top program, but he's only 34 (barely) so that's probably a deal breaker. The former Northern Illinois star wide receiver was the WR coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and that was one day after accepting the offensive coordinator job at his alma mater. The one day is his grand total of coordinator experience. But even though he's young, Fleck has coached under some impressive people. He got his start as a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel. He's also worked under Greg Schiano
At Western Michigan he took over a 4-8 team and immediately went 1-11. At 32 he was the youngest major college head coach in the country. He immediately rescinded all of the offers for players that already committed. That was very controversial and it didn't help that he followed it by winning just one game in his first season.
With the hounds already at his door he responded by signing the best MAC recruiting class since the internet sites started rating them. The result is that he was 8-4 this year and was named the MAC Coach of the Year. He also is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for national coach of the year.
To say Fleck is an interesting personality is an understatement. At practice he lined up at receiver and torched the team's best cornerback. He also has done the polar plunge for charity (shirtless), and did a coaches only video of "Harlem Shake". His mantra of "Row the Boat", which is a sensation in Kalamazoo, is a call for the team to focus as one.
Bottom line, his age alone is something that will probably keep him from ending up at Pitt, but then you throw in his over the top personality that probably won't go over well in a pro city like Pittsburgh. He's somebody that seems very unlikely to replace Paul Chryst unless Pitt really changes how they do things. He just signed an extension through 2020, though it's doubtful that the buyout is prohibitive.
Born: Staten Island, NY
Alma mater: Georgetown
This is a name that's been bandied about by college insiders for awhile now, but some of his buzz may have lessened after Ball State ended up 5-7 this season. In four years Lembo is 30-20, but it was in his second and third seasons, when Lembo went 19-7, that he gained the buzz in the first place.
Lembo also had head coaching stints at Lehigh (44-14, 5 years), and Elon (35-22, 5 years). Overall in 14 seasons Lembo is 109-56, an average of 8-4. He's also 0-5 in playoffs and bowl games. But that can be a bit deceiving. The best program he's coached is at Ball State and they've only had two winning seasons in the 14 years before Lembo arrived. The two seasons prior to Lembo's arrival the program was a combined 6-18. The school thinks enough of him that he got a recent five year extension that made him the highest paid coach in the MAC. At Elon, the program was 14-42 in the five years before he arrived.
Bottom line, he's a very good, well respected coach, but he's more about solid efficiency than an exciting coach with a high ceiling. It seems like the Panthers could do better, but he's the kind of solid citizen that Pitt may like. And after all, they hired Michael Haywood from the MAC, and Lembo is much more accomplished.
College Assistant Coaches
Born: Miami, FL
Alma mater: Miami, FL
Yes, it's him again, and this time he's an even better major college head coach candidate. I know Pitt fans downplay Cristobal but he's a great candidate. He did a remarkable job at Florida International, a place where it's nearly impossible to win. But he did win in his fourth and fifth seasons (the only time in the program's 13 year history that they had a winning record. After a 3-9 record in his sixth season, Cristobal was fired. After he was fired, the FIU athletic director received massive criticism in the college football world for the decision. FIU is 5-19 since Cristobal was fired.
After being hired by Miami as the TE and associate head coach under Al Golden, he left six weeks later to be the offensive line coach at Alabama. There, under Nick Saban, Cristobal raised his profile by continuing his excellent recruiting. In fact, he's considered one of the best recruiters in the country.
Still young and charismatic, and with head coach and recruiting experience, Cristobal will become a Power 5 head coach soon.
Of course there's the big elephant in the room and that's that Pitt tried to hire him before. What happened exactly, nobody knows for sure. Did Pitt or Cristobal pass? And if Cristobal passed, what would it take to change his mind?
Truthfully, though, I don't expect the Panthers to go down this road again, especially since Steve Pederson wanted to hire him last time and the administration may not be too dependent on his opinion anymore.
Michigan State DC
Born: New Haven, CT
Alma mater: Youngstown State, Rhode Island
Considered by many as the best defensive coordinator in college football over the past few years, Narduzzi has interviewed for a handful of jobs over the last few years. Last year he won the Broyles Award as the best assistant in college football.
Narduzzi started his coordinator career at Miami, OH in 2003. After just one year he was hired by Mark Dantonio for the same position at Cincinnati. After three successful years there he moved with Dantonio to Michigan State. He was up for the Cincinnati job but it went to Brian Kelly instead.
Narduzzi has interviewed for head coach jobs in the past and would have had the UConn job if he wanted it. But he has been picky in finding the right job. Texas A&M tried to hire him away at one time, but thanks to a family of Michigan State donors that donated money to raise his salary, he stayed with the Spartans. He's currently the highest paid assistant in the Big 10.
Born: Wyckoff, NJ
Alma mater: Bucknell
This may be a long shot but the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach is obviously a big marquee name that would immediately give the Panthers instant credibility. While he was a disaster at Tampa Bay he did the seemingly impossible and turned Rutgers into a winner. He was 68-67 overall at Rutgers but 49-28 in the last six seasons, including an 11-2 record in 2006.
Schiano, who is still only 48, would recruit extremely well in eastern PA and New Jersey, and he would no doubt have great defenses, but his personality may be a bit too big for the conservative Pitt administration.
Removed from the list:
Ohio State OC
Born: Born in Cincinnati, OH and raised in California
Alma mater: California Lutheran
The administration will probably want to go for somebody with head coaching experience this time, but if they want to take a flyer on a coordinator, this is the ideal choice. Herman is literally a genius and by that I mean he is actually a member of Mensa. On the football field he may be a genius, too.
The former wide receiver started as a wide receiver coach but after just four seasons he became the offensive coordinator at Texas State. He was just 30 at the time and in his first season Texas State finished No. 8 nationally in offense. After two seasons he moved with head coach David Bailiff to Rice where Herman led the Owls to two amazing offensive seasons. In the second season, Rice had not one but two receivers with over 1,300 yards receiving, a tight end with 111 catches, and a quarterback that was the conference MVP.
Herman then moved on to Iowa State to work with then new head coach Paul Rhoads. Again he broke school records which caught the eye of Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Now in his third season with the Buckeyes, Herman just won the Broyles Award given to the top assistant coach in the country. Ohio State finished No. 7 nationally in total offense despite playing three quarterbacks due to injuries.
Herman, who is also considered an exceptional recruiter, runs a no huddle, fast paced, spread offense, but not a fancy, gimmicky one. Like Pitt, Ohio State has massive offensive linemen so the Panthers biggest asset, the offensive line, should not be compromised.
Born: Youngstown, OH
Alma mater: Ohio State
Pelini was just fired from Nebraska in what was considered a controversial move by many, mostly because in seven seasons Pelini was 67-27, including 9-3 this season. Pelini lost four games in every season but this season when he didn't get to coach in the bowl.
Pelini will get paid nearly 8 million dollars total for the next four years so he's in no hurry financially to find another job. He may not find it at Pitt anyway. At one point the Panthers were interested in Pelini but his volatile personality is contradictory to the image that Pitt tries to follow. For those reasons he seems like a long shot.
Born: Sharon, PA
Alma mater: Pittsburgh
Have to put a Pitt guy on the list but he's only been a coordinator for two years. Of course one of those years was in Florida and one is this year with the Detroit Lions where he's leading one of the best defenses in the NFL.
He was a very good recruiter in his day but he's only recruited one year in the last decade. He may also be getting NFL interviews after this season. It's debatable if he's really a "Pitt guy" that would find this his dream job since he's never coached at Pitt and he doesn't seem to talk about them a lot.
But I have to add him because you never know if the administration wants a Pitt alum.