Just a few weeks ago many thought Pat Fitzgerald was untouchable at Northwestern. He went 1-11 last year and his seat was just starting to get warm but most coaches would been fired. Fitzgerald was a legacy at Northwestern and helped the Wildcats find sustained success for most of the 2010s. Now the Wildcats are searching for a new coach. David Braun has been named the interim coach for the 2023 season. Braun will get a chance at a trial run but the Northwestern administration is certainly going to evaluate all of their options following the season. Northwestern has put money into the program and the facilities to help make the job more appealing to candidates.
The biggest question is how good of a job is Northwestern? The Big Ten is about to have an influx in money and the additions of USC and UCLA help make the conference superior to everyone else except the SEC. Northwestern is a still an incredibly difficult place to win. Academic standards will remain a hurdle for any coach who takes the job. Playing in a conference with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and USC lowers the overall ceiling for the job. Would an established head coach actually leave their job? My gut tells me no which is why you will not see Dave Clawson, Jonathan Smith, or other similar coaches on this list. David Braun is also an obvious candidate so this list is assuming he is not offered the job.
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Sherrone Moore (Michigan Offensive Coordinator) – Sherrone Moore has been a consistent name thrown out in connection to the Northwestern job. Moore has been one of the best coaches on the Michigan staff since he joined the Wolverines. He was elevated to offensive coordinator and helped Michigan reach the College Football Playoffs. He is an offensive line coach by trade. His unit won the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in the country in 2021 and 2022. He his a phenomenal recruiter and an excellent eye for talent. Moore is young at just 37 years old. He is in line to be a head coach in the near future and Northwestern might be the right job for him. His familiarity with the Big Ten makes him a great candidate. The question is would Northwestern hire a candidate without any head coaching experience?
Bronco Mendenhall (Former Virginia and BYU Head Coach) – Numerous reports have surfaced over the past year stating Bronco Mendenhall is looking to get back into coaching. Northwestern would be a job with low expectations for success and an opportunity to rebuild a program from scratch. Mendenhall was clear when he left Virginia he was stepping away from football, not retiring. He never stated he hated the direction of college football but instead viewed the changes as new opportunities. In an interview with ESPN, Mendenhall said NIL and the transfer portal were opportunities for coaches and players to further connect and he simply had to learn had to adjust. He is still just 57 years old and has a career win percentage of 63%. Mendenhall would be a great fit for Northwestern if he is ready to return to the sidelines in 2024.
Paul Chryst (Former Wisconsin Head Coach) – Many were surprised when Paul Chryst was fired by Wisconsin in the middle of the season last year. He was also a legacy at Wisconsin and coming off a nine win season in 2021. The Badgers made a change after a rough start to the season. Chyrst went 67-26 (72%) across nine seasons in Madison. His teams were known for stifling defense and an aggressive rushing attack. Chryst registered double digit wins in four seasons and nearly made the College Football Playoffs in 2017. He accepted a job as offensive analyst at Texas following his departure from Wisconsin. Chryst’s head coaching experience in the Big Ten should put him at the top of the list for Northwestern. The Wildcats could take a page out of the Illinois playbook and hire a former successful Badger head coach.
Phil Longo (Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator) – People are not mentioning Phil Longo enough. Longo has been incredibly successful as an offensive coordinator and worked his way up from division three to one of the best offensive coordinators in college football. Longo spent time at Minnesota-Duluth and Southern Illinois in the mid 2000s. He joined Luke Fickell at Wisconsin after leading North Carolina the past few seasons. Longo helped Drake Maye and Sam Howell lead the ACC in total offense across is four seasons. This would not be a splash hire and Longo may look for a bigger job but he is clearly comfortable in the Midwest. Northwestern should at least pick up the phone and see if there is a mutual fit for the program.
Tyson Helton (Western Kentucky Head Coach) – Do I have any inside intel? No. I am simply looking at coaches who could be a potential fit and I believe Tyson Helton would be a coach who could be intrigued by Northwestern. Helton has led Western Kentucky to nine win seasons in three of his four seasons. His team is consistently one of the highest scoring teams in college football. Helton has never coached in the Big Ten but he is not automatically eliminated because of that reason. Northwestern will be seeking a fresh start and bringing someone without familiarity could be a feature the administration would want. Helton’s high powered offense would give Northwestern a niche and possibly make the team more competitive. Not many Big Ten teams can keep up with high powered offenses making Northwestern a consistent threat. Helton is an off the radar candidate but one which should be considered.