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The 5 names to know in the West Virginia coaching search

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The hunt to replace Dana Holgorsen, gone for Houston, is on.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia was notified on Wednesday that Dana Holgorsen was leaving the Mountaineers for Houston, but the school began evaluating potential replacements days earlier, according to sources.

SB Nation can confirm that WVU athletic director Shane Lyons has been making calls to various coaches and administrators to vet two key candidates, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Troy’s Neal Brown, and that WVU has been in contact with Brown.

As of Wednesday evening, Fickell and Brown were considered the frontrunners, but here are five names you’ll hear about:

Luke Fickell

Connected to WVU through school president Gordon Gee (both were at Ohio State at the same time), the Cincinnati coach has resurrected the Bearcats in just two seasons, coaching UC to 11 wins in year two.

But with a roster that loses just 13 seniors and the top signing class in the AAC last season, many people around Fickell feel that he might elect to stay at Cincinnati for another season to bolster his resume for a bigger job than WVU. And just as Tom Herman was able to leverage interest into a bigger contract at Houston after two years rebuilding a top AAC program, Fickell could land a similar deal with the Bearcats for now.

Neal Brown

The Troy head coach has been close to landing a Power 5 gig multiple times over the last two seasons, as he’s rebuilt the Trojans into a Sun Belt power and upset major programs Nebraska and LSU in the process. Brown’s name has already been linked to Louisville, Texas Tech, and Kansas State in this cycle alone.

The Kentucky native is familiar with the region and runs an offense that could seamlessly transition from Holgorsen's.

Butch Jones

The former Tennessee head coach and current Alabama analyst is a former WVU assistant coach and extremely connected in the state. He’s also currently working for Nick Saban, a man with considerable sway in West Virginia (and Lyons worked as deputy AD at Alabama before coming to Morgantown in 2015).

Working in favor of Jones are his SEC recruiting bona fides and overall experience as a head coach at three different FBS schools, including one in the Power 5. Working against him is the freshness of his awful 2017 and firing in Knoxville.

Tony Gibson

The longtime WVU defensive coordinator and West Virginia native is a player favorite. He’s considered a longshot for the head job, and his defenses under Holgorsen ranged from great to bad, but his ties are a big deal to a lot of boosters, who are wary of hiring a coach who sees the far flung Big 12 school as a temporary home.

Rich Rodriguez

The former West Virginia (and Arizona and, yeah, Michigan) head coach just returned to coaching as offensive coordinator for Ole Miss after a year of unemployment. Most everyone in the industry believes RichRod doesn’t have a chance to go home to WVU because of old wounds (specifically his jump to Michigan in 2007 and a legal battle with the school over his buyout).

But Ole Miss kept an eye on Holgorsen’s departure as they finalized their deal with Rodriguez, and there is no buyout in his contract with the Rebels if he leaves immediately for a head coaching position.

So yeah, RichRod basically has no shot, but it’s awesome to remember 2007, isn’t it?