The search for a new head football coach at the University of Texas is expected to come to an end in the next two weeks, as the list of candidates for the prestigious position begins to dwindle.
On Monday, athletic director Steve Patterson made his first public comments about a coach since the announcement of Mack Brown’s retirement after 16 years with the program. Patterson said he would like to name a new coach before the recruiting dead period ends on Jan. 15.
The most prominent name linked with a move to Austin had been Alabama head coach Nick Saban. The highly successful coach was rumored to be interested in the Texas job, but signed a long-term extension in December to stay in Tuscaloosa. Gus Malzahn of Auburn was also considered a top target, but most indications suggest he will stay with the Tigers.
Attention has now shifted to Art Briles. The Baylor head coach has compiled a 44-32 record since taking over the program in 2008. Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday, 52-42, but the Bears entered the game as the No. 6 team in the nation and finished with an impressive 11-2 record.
Briles, 58, is a Texas native with several years of experience in Texas. He previously served as the head coach of Houston, and as a running backs coach with Texas Tech.
Prior to coaching in college, Briles worked in the Texas high school ranks for roughly two decades. He has a strong reputation as a recruiter and is highly respected in coaching circles. Under Briles, Baylor earned their first Heisman Trophy winner when Robert Griffin III accepted the award in 2011.
According to the Dallas Morning Star, a major Baylor donor claimed Briles had indicated that he would stay with Baylor and not accept the Texas job or a possible Washington Redskins offer, which would reunite him with Griffin. A selling point to remain in Waco could be Baylor’s new on-campus football stadium, which will open next season.
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong is another strong candidate to fill the Texas vacancy, and has reportedly interviewed for the position. The Cardinals are coming off a strong showing in the Russell Athletic Bowl, defeating the Miami Hurricanes, 36-9. Strong, who helped the Florida Gators win two national championships as an assistant coach, has a 23-3 record the past two seasons in Louisville, and has turned around a program that struggled under Steve Kragthorpe.
Strong was signed to an eight-year contract in Jan. 2013 following Louisville’s victory over the Gators in the Sugar Bowl. Like Briles, Strong has done an excellent job of recruiting for a program that struggled to land top players in previous seasons. He was able to lure Teddy Bridgewater, a top high school quarterback recruit from Miami, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
James Franklin might be the candidate most interested in accepting the Texas position. The Vanderbilt head coach is not locked into a long-term contract with the program, and a move to Austin would be considered a major upgrade.
The 41-year-old is considered a hot commodity after leading the Commodores to a 23-15 record and three bowl appearances in three seasons. He was linked to the USC opening, and there has already been speculation that Franklin could be the frontrunner for the Penn State job with Bill O’Brien accepting the Houston Texans offer.
Other possible candidates that might be on Patterson’s radar include Mark Dantonio of Michigan State and David Shaw of Stanford. The two coaches squared off on New Year’s Day in the 2014 Rose Bowl, with Michigan State edging Stanford, 24-20.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis confirmed on Wednesday that Dantonio agreed to a new contract with the Spartans. Meawhile, Shaw is expected to stay with the Cardinal despite possible interest from NFL teams.
"I have no desires to pursue another job," Shaw said, this week. "As I said, I have not and don't plan on interviewing with anybody. I think it's really nice that my name gets batted around and that's great, and part of it is because I do have nine years of NFL experience, so it seems like an easy transition for some people."
An IB Times staff reporter contributed to this report.