3 months later: A fresh look at the top 5 candidates to replace Hugh Freeze

It’s been a long road for Ole Miss, and we’re not talking about the three-game road trip the Rebels are just coming out of in which the team went 0-3.

It’s been three months since Hugh Freeze departed Oxford after the discovery of his communications with a female escort service. While Matt Luke was put in place to see the program out from under the dark clouds brought on by Freeze and NCAA charges, it’s time to look to the future leader of Ole Miss football.

It’s become a dire situation for Ole Miss, whose athletic director Ross Bjork called for an “open forum” with former letterwinners to discuss the future of the program.

Meanwhile, the team has struggled on the field, posting its first 2-3 start since Houston Nutt’s last season with the school in 2011. After a 27-16 loss to Cal, the Rebels were manhandled 66-3 by the Crimson Tide and were down by as much as 38-3 to Auburn last Saturday.

Here’s an updated look at the top five candidates who could be given the task of turning Ole Miss around.

Chip Kelly

Let’s be real when we say this is a long shot. Not only would Chip Kelly need to deal with NCAA sanctions, he’ll more than likely be fielding offers from several major programs which could potentially have head coaching vacancies. One of those schools may be Notre Dame, which could part ways with its own Kelly, Brian Kelly, who’s already seen his Irish drop a heartbreaker to Georgia at home. Now, Notre Dame closes the season on a daunting stretch where it will face five ranked opponents in six games.

On top of that, Ole Miss would be handing the program’s keys to a person who had to serve an 18-month show cause penalty after committing recruiting violations at Oregon. Regardless, Kelly went 46-7 in his time with Oregon, and he never needed a top 10 recruiting class to post that stellar record. That seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered for Ole Miss, which has to compete with Alabama and the SEC West on the recruiting trail.

Mike Bobo

Mike Bobo checks several boxes. He’s very familiar with the SEC, he can coach offense and he can recruit. Bobo spent 14 years coaching under Mark Richt at Georgia, coaching quarterbacks from 2001-2006 before serving as offensive coordinator from 2007-14. In his time guiding the offense, the Bulldogs finished among the top four SEC offenses five times in eight seasons, including each of his last four seasons in Athens before leaving to be the head coach at Colorado State.

Through two-and-a-half seasons under Bobo, the Rams are 18-14. The team is 4-2 so far this season with the losses coming to Alabama and Colorado. His offense is currently one of only 15 FBS teams to average 500 yards per game.

Les Miles

Most people are shooting down the possibility of the former LSU coach making a return to the SEC West to lead Ole Miss. However, there was a report by USA TODAY’s Dan Wolken that Miles was “very interested” in the Ole Miss job before. Wolken’s report actually went as far as to say Miles made his interest in the job known to Ole Miss “money folks.”

The thought is that Miles has an itch to land a job with any Power 5 program, and many of that speculation has placed him in the Big Ten. One can see Miles being motivated to prove himself, and there would be no better place to do that than back in the West with LSU, where he went 114-34 and won a national championship.

Mark Helfrich

Also waiting on the sidelines for his next coaching run is Mark Helfrich, who was fired by Oregon in 2016 after a 4-8 season. Surrendering a 31-0 lead against TCU in the Alamo Bowl the previous season seemed to carry over into that down year, which certainly stains his résumé. Making the odds a little unlikely is the fact that Helfrich doesn’t have any experience coaching in the SEC.

Still, he took the Ducks to a national championship game appearance in his second season in Eugene and is a well-respected offensive mind. Plus, Helfrich at least has experience taking over a program in turmoil. He dealt with the aftermath of Kelly’s tenure at Oregon, which was on probation after his time with the school.

Mario Cristobal

We might as well keep the names from Oregon. However, there’s a big difference with Mario Cristobal, who’s serving as first-year coach Willie Taggart’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach out west. He has experience coaching in the SEC, and he got it at Alabama as an offensive line coach from 2013-16.

There’s no questioning Cristobal’s prowess as a recruiter as he’s very well-respected on the trail. He also has some experience as a head coach, leading Florida International to its only winning records and bowl appearances during his six-year tenure. In back-to-back seasons from 2010-11, the Panthers went 7-6 and 8-5, respectively.

Honorable mentions

Mike Leach, Washington State head coach
Jonathan Smith, Washington offensive coordinator
Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator
Frank Wilson, UTSA head coach

The post 3 months later: A fresh look at the top 5 candidates to replace Hugh Freeze appeared first on SEC Country.

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