This information has been compiled by the Ole Miss Spirit's Ben Garrett and David Johnson
Ole Miss, per sources, is in a position to move pretty quickly to hire its next head coach, though ‘pretty quickly’ is not defined. Of course, the uncertainty of no NCAA resolution to this point looms large. However, we were told Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork, in discussions with potential candidates, will have two contracts drafted in case he landed on a hire before the sanctions are handed down.
The first contract, in scenario one, will be for if the NCAA all but accepts what Ole Miss has already self-imposed. The other, in scenario two, would be in play should additional penalties be added.
Mississippi law restricts contracts to four years in length, but Bjork could, in effect, include language both in the buyout, etc., that ensures the next head coach multi-year security exceeding four years to build the program. In our estimation, there’s a certain group of coaches that are not going to make any kind of a decision towards Ole Miss until the sanctions are known. Conversely, the NCAA uncertainty wouldn’t deter other candidates at this juncture. Bjork certainly has a tough line to toe.
As first reported by RebelGrove.com following the Egg Bowl Thursday night, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula has interest in Ole Miss, a report we can confirm through conversations with sources in coaching, agent and media circles this week. However, it’s unclear if that interest is reciprocated. Shula spent four seasons as the head coach of Alabama from 2003-2006, where he compiled a 26-23 record and twice finished third in the SEC West. If the rumor mill is any indication, it appears the coaches most in play right now (though the search is most certainly not limited to these few and can change at any time) are Willie Taggart, Mike Norvell, Mike Bobo and Dave Doeren. But if nothing else, Shula is another name to at least keep in mind as the search moves forward.
The future of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is among the hottest topics in college football, with widespread rumors Malzahn could be ticketed for Arkansas, especially if the Tigers lose to in-state rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. A source familiar with all things Auburn, however, said this week not to believe the noise, that Malzahn has all leverage with Auburn and is positioning himself for a contract extension, among other things, and that he’s staying put. Basically, he wants security, and Malzahn is sitting in a good place to command what he wants.
Now, the rumors of Malzahn to Arkansas are too strong to ignore, but should Malzahn stay on the Plains, where Arkansas would turn is most assuredly of interest to Ole Miss. If nothing else, Norvell is a top candidate at Ole Miss. But should Arkansas fail in its chase of Malzahn, Norvell would, at the very least, emerge as a viable candidate for the Razorbacks.
Norvell, originally from Texas, went to college at Central Arkansas and has a vacation home in Eureka Springs, Ark. And as we previously reported, Ole Miss appears to be behind Arkansas, and possibly Texas A&M, in Norvell’s pecking order of potential destinations.
Charlie Strong would be a candidate at Arkansas, too. Strong is an interesting case at Ole Miss. He wants the job. But we get the sense he’s behind a few others. Regardless, the direction in which Arkansas moves is something to keep an eye on. Ole Miss needs dominoes to start falling.
From everything we’ve gathered, Taggart can have the job today if he wants it. In his first season as the head coach at Oregon, Taggart is set to lead the Ducks against Oregon State on Saturday. Oregon, with a win, would finish the regular season 7-5 (4-5 Pack-12), after a 4-8 season a year ago.
Taggart wants to get back to the Southeast; that much is clear. Yes, if he had it his way, he’d get one of Florida or Florida State. But it seems Florida has Taggart down its list (Chip Kelly and Scott Frost sit atop the board, while Dan Mullen is more of a candidate there, we’ve heard, than he’s getting credit for) and Florida State isn’t open … yet. Per sources, it still seems as if it’s more likely than not Jimbo Fisher returns to Tallahassee for another season, but there’s also a strong sentiment this is the year he moves. If he does, Taggart would gun for the job.
Basically, a lot has to fall Ole Miss’ way for the Rebels and Taggart to get to a place where a pipe dream becomes a realistic possibility. One agent told us he believes Taggart is Bjork's top choice. We've heard Taggart has some concerns about the optics of leaving Oregon for Ole Miss, though we absolutely know he is intrigued by Ole Miss and that the university can pay him a commanding salary, of which he's well-aware. He’s even weighed whether Tennessee (where he’s also considered a candidate) is a better job than Ole Miss. No matter what, Taggart would likely jump for the right job, but is Ole Miss that job? The future of his A.D., Rob Mullins, is tenuous at best. Mullins, we’ve heard, is a candidate for Auburn following the announced departure of Jay Jacobs. Bottom line: Ole Miss loves Taggart. If he’d say yes, he’d have the job tomorrow. But that’s not where the chase is right now.
Finally, there is Matt Luke. Luke would appear to have strengthened his position Thursday night by leading the Rebels to a win over Mississippi State, but we still believe Bjork is shooting in a different direction. Losses in particular to Cal, Arkansas and Texas A&M still could work against him. He will be granted a formal interview for the job and we believe that could take place as early as Friday.