The next Ole Miss coach won't have an utter disaster to clean up, but Rebels fans aren't going to be satisfied with just any old hire after a string of disappointments.
Houston Nutt won't coach the Mississippi Rebels beyond the Egg Bowl. Expect Ole Miss to hire a new coach as quickly as possible during bowl season, in order to try and hold together a recruiting class that lags behind the recent Rebels standard and get started on next year.
And, no, Dan Mullen isn't going to leave the only university in the entire state of Mississippi to found a second one elsewhere in the state. But here's a list of names you'll hear.
The same list of coaches that always get listed everywhere: Chris Petersen, Gary Patterson, Urban Meyer, and Jon Gruden will not coach Ole Miss. Archie Manning has connections, but not that many.
Mike Leach: Yes, it's been brought up. Yes, it's been shot down. Leach would take just about any major conference job at this point -- don't be surprised if his book tour shows up in Oxford soon! -- but he might be nearing the point at which he doesn't have to settle. The Arizona job could be a promising opportunity, one where Leach's system would butt up against quite a bit less resistance from both campus old-timers and conference defenses.
Leach would listen if the buttoned-up Rebels want to talk. But it's hard to imagine they'd want to.
Kirby Smart: Nick Saban's defensive coordinator has been the presumed successor to Mark Richt at Georgia for years now. He was reportedly offered a raise to take Florida's DC job last offseason, so it's not hard to believe he's holding out for something. If he really thinks he's got the inside track to the UGA gig once Richt steps down, there's no reason he'd leave Alabama before then. Prince of Texas Will Muschamp left for Florida, but the Georgia job might be two levels better than Ole Miss. Whatever levels mean here.
How big of a hurry is Smart in?
Mark Hudspeth: He succeeded at North Alabama (66-21), he's succeeding at Louisiana-Lafayette (8-2), and he's coached all over the region, from Central Arkansas to Mississippi State. He's known as a solid recruiter, and combining his experience from Alabama to the Ozarks with Ole Miss' resources could be worth a consideration.
Hugh Freeze: The guy from The Blindside, for our newcomers. He's coached in Oxford, knows how to connect with his community, and could be leading Arkansas State to a Sun Belt title in his first year as head coach.
The downside: not a lot of major experience. Before leading the Red Wolves as a record-breaking OC and then as coach, he was coaching NAIA Lambuth. Then again, Lambuth went 20-5 during that span. Then again, Lambuth no longer exists. Probably not Freeze's fault.
Speaking of The Blindside, Freeze is also by far the best-connected potential candidate among some very significant boosters.
Gus Malzahn: Auburn's head-coach-pretty-much turned down Vanderbilt during the last round. The Rebels can offer greater resources, but would likewise mean a long, long road to conference championships. If a mighty $3 million offer to take over Vandy didn't get him out of Auburn, would a similar offer get him to head west? Malzahn was Nutt's offensive coordinator for one year at Arkansas, for whatever that's worth.
If Ole Miss fans got to vote on their next coach, Malzahn would win.
Manny Diaz: The former Mississippi State defensive coordinator, now filling the same role at Texas. He's yet to hold the same position for more than two years in his 14-year coaching career, so why stop now? He's also coached at somewhat-nearby Middle Tennessee and has never coached anywhere but the Southeast. Coaches have taken over their former blood enemies before ... again, see Muschamp.
But would he leave a spot at the best corporation in the industry for lil ole Ole Miss? Mullen made a similar move from Florida, so it's not out of the question.
Sonny Dykes: When Nutt mentioned playing Louisiana Tech during his Monday press conference, a lightbulb went off. Mainly because I misheard what he said. He was asked about who the next coach might be, then said his mind was on La Tech. Should Ole Miss' mind be on La Tech as well?
That would make two straight Bulldogs coaches to jump to the SEC (Derek Dooley, Tennessee). He's mustered a 10-11 record so far, though five of those losses were by a score or less. Almost knocked off Mississippi State this year, too. He's a progressive coach, coming from the tree of Hal Mumme and Leach, but wouldn't bring the same perceived baggage as Leach.
Mike Leach: You'll just keep hearing about him.
Now that we've taken the time to consider all this, Ole Miss will surely hire somebody none of us has ever heard of.
For more on Nutt and Ole Miss, visit Rebels blog Red Cup Rebellion.