Since it was announced on December 22nd that former defensive coordinator Kent Baer, along with defensive line coach Andy LaRussa, would be parting ways with the Colorado football program to join Tony Sanchez's staff at UNLV, Buff fans have grown increasingly restless over the ongoing vacancy in one of the most crucial positions on staff.
A myriad number of names have come up in relation to the open defensive coordinator position in Boulder over the past three weeks, some are more fantastical than others and nearly all are speculatory. We've compiled a far from exhaustive list of notable potential candidates and listed their pros, any cons, and the likelihood that they would accept the position if offered. If there are any names I've left out feel free to add them in the comments and argue for who you'd like to see calling the defensive shots next season. Rick George and Mike MacIntyre have played this search fairly close to the vest, but I wouldn't expect this gig to remain unfilled much longer. With just a month left before signing day (and less than a week until the dead period ends) the Buffs are becoming increasingly pressed to make a hire.
Pros: Pendergast has the big-time coordinating experience that you would want, having last worked as defensive coordinator at USC in 2013. Prior to his short stint at USC, he spent three years at Cal, and was the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-2008 . He also, presumably, has west coast recruiting ties and would be an asset in bringing in kids from other PAC states. Most interestingly, he runs a modified 3-4 alignment that's been referred to as the 5-2. Without going too in depth, this defensive scheme relies on speed, essentially trading size up front for athleticism to cover the field horizontally while enabling the secondary to more flexibly cover today's spread offenses. It's supposedly not overly complicated for players to pick up quickly but still lends itself to confusing offensive protections.
Cons: CU doesn't necessarily have the depth and the skill set to run this defense effectively in its current state. The emphasis on recruiting has been on defensive linemen, and rightfully so, while this look calls for more hybrid players, often trading out a down lineman for a more agile linebacker. You'd assume a coach would adjust to his players but I'm not sure the 5-2 scheme is the road to success for CU's current personnel.
The chances Pendergast comes to CU are relatively slim at this point. His name has come up in connection with a number of other jobs, most notably LSU. Those talks have cooled off but he's now risen to the top of the conversation for Washington State's open coordinator position. To date, it seems more likely he'll join Leach's staff, and if Mac and RG truly wanted him they likely would have made it known by now and made a move.
Pros: Seto appears to be the latest hot name to come up on the defensive side of the ball. He's currently the defensive passing game coordinator in Seattle and has obviously excelled in that position. Prior to his time in the NFL he spent 9 years with USC, his alma mater, in various defensive roles culminating in becoming the defensive coordinator in 2009. He would be a fantastic boon for CU's emerging secondary and would be a major asset in recruiting California and the West Coast.
Cons: He only has one year of experience being completely in charge of coordinating a defense and at this point in time I think Colorado needs someone with a few more years under their belt. Additionally, he would not be available until February, which would put a strain on CU's efforts leading up to signing day, but that's a short term problem.
The chances that Seto leaves a job where he's in position to win championships at the highest level to come and build up a defense that's currently at the bottom of the Pac-12 are not too high. I can't see him leaving Pete Carroll's staff right now to take the CU coordinator position. He's a guy who seems very happy with where he's at. If and when he does leave the Seahawks it'll likely be for elsewhere in the NFL, or back to USC.
Pros: Currently the Chiefs linebackers coach, his name has floated around the Internet in connection with a few defensive coordinating positions. Recently the Chiefs barred Washington from interviewing him but he's drawn interest from some other teams as well. He played under Barry Switzer and then took over as head coach at Oklahoma following Switzer's firing. Having been a part of the Sooner heyday he clearly knows what he's doing, would it translate to today's Pac-12?
Cons: It's not likely he would take a college job right now, especially one like CU is offering. He's been coaching in the NFL in various capacities since 2002 and it doesn't seem like he's at a point where he's interested in returning to the college game.
I'd say there's no real chance Gibbs comes to CU, barring some unforeseen development but, he warranted mentioning.
Pros: Clune started as Hawaii's defensive coordinator last January after having worked at Utah State as a linebacking coach for five seasons. He runs a standard 3-4, utilizing large down lineman and undersized yet strong and speedy linebackers. CU's linebackers need some help and Clune has proven himself a fantastic coach of the position. Hawaii's defense was actually fairly stout this season, but was put in too many compromising positions by its lackluster offense.
Cons: He has only worked as a coordinator at Hawaii for one season, and prior to that coordinated defenses at Weber State and Southern Utah. The Buffs also haven't recruited to a 3-4 look. He doesn't quite have the experience I'd be looking for in someone to build up a struggling defense in the nation's best offensive conference. It's a bit of a gamble but I suppose most any hire CU makes will be.
The chances are pretty good that Clune would leave Hawaii for CU or any bigger job. I'm unsure if Mac and RG have actively pursued him but he's a viable up-and-coming candidate and would be a solid hire and a good fit.
Pros: Tenuta has worked as the defensive coordinator at Virginia for two seasons now and has assembled an opportunistic and attacking defense. Scanning Football Outsiders' defensive ratings, the Cavaliers were the team that surprised me the most by continually showing up near the top. They finished ranked 17th in the nation in turnovers, 32nd in scoring defense, and 35th in Havoc rate. (Havoc = tackles for a loss including sacks + forced fumbles + defensed passes including both picks and break-ups / total plays.) For a team that has struggled defensively in recent years and doesn't recruit a ton of blue-chippers, those numbers are pretty impressive.
Cons: All of this defensive magic was done in a significantly weaker Atlantic Coast Conference, offenses in the Pac-12 would clearly present a far greater challenge. He also may not have many, if any, recruiting ties out west.
I haven't seen Tenuta's name mentioned across the Buffalo Interwebs but if he were at all interested in leaving Virginia he could be a very interesting fit in Boulder. He's been coaching defense in some form since 1982 and did spend some time in the old Big 8 and Texas from 1988-1994 with K-State, SMU, and Oklahoma. He also recently coached with Troy Walters at NC State before returning to Charlottesville. It's a major flier, but if he were to leave his alma mater he'd likely stand to increase his paycheck to take on the task of transforming a young, athletic defense playing in a far more challenging conference.
Pros: Yet another USC guy whose name has come up in some corners, Sirmon has done an effective job as USC's linebackers coach and associate defensive head coach. He's also been working as the Trojans' recruiting coordinator. He has the pedigree and the experience working within the Pac-12 and has solid recruiting ties up and down the west coast. Sirmon played linebacker at Oregon and went on to begin his coaching career there.
Cons: Yet another current USC guy. He was on Justin Wilcox's staff at Washington and came with him to Los Angeles. It'd be a slight gamble giving him full control of a defense, but he does know how to coach up linebackers.
If offered the job, I would imagine Sirmon would take it. It would be a substantial pay upgrade and a step up on the career coaching ladder. I'm just not sure RG and Mac are willing to take this much of a leap with the position the program is in now.
Pros: Hobby is a very intriguing name. Currently working as the co-defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach at Clemson, he's turned out some serious defensive talent. Hobby has shown the ability to develop defensive ends, specifically, taking Vic Beasley from a backup role in 2011 to 1st team All-America status in 2013. CU's crop of defensive linemen would give him plenty to work with, and it'd be interesting to see what he could do with a pass rush in the Pac-12.
Cons: Hobby hasn't spent much time out west, he'd likely have to establish new recruiting connections. He's also been working with significantly more raw talent while at Clemson, so he would have to prove his developmental capabilities in Boulder but he's not as giant of a leap as some of the other names that have been mentioned.
It's difficult to say whether Hobby would leave Clemson for Colorado. He probably wouldn't stand to earn more and he has no football history west of the Mississippi. He's in a great spot with Clemson, who are competing essentially with only FSU for conference supremacy and he has a recruiting pipeline filled with talent set up there. I would bet RG and Mac have taken a look at him but if offered I doubt he would come.
Pro: Umm, he comes from a coaching family? He did begin somewhat of a turnaround at Arizona, but never got over the hump. He knows Pac-12 offenses as well, I suppose.
Cons: Quite a few, namely that he's a Stoops brother. OU underachieved immensely this past season and as mentioned above he was never able to get Arizona over the hump. He did beat Oregon however and his defenses weren't the worst in Tucson, but they also weren't that great.
I don't think this option is being seriously considered, I also doubt he'd voluntarily leave OU for a job like the one CU's offering. It was necessary to mention him though.
Pros: Has kept Boise State's defense at a high level following Chris Petersen's departure and, during what was meant to be a relatively down year for the Broncos, helped lead them to a Mountain West title and a Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona. His specialty is in the secondary, as he played defensive back for Boise in the '90s, and he has turned out NFL talent while coaching there.
Cons: Still relatively inexperienced and Pac-12 offenses are a major step above their Mountain West counterparts. His help would be great in the secondary but I think CU's more pressing issues are defensive line and linebacker play, since MacIntyre takes on a lot of the secondary coaching duties himself.
I doubt Yates would be willing to leave his alma mater and the only school he's ever coached at for CU. He's only been DC for a year and will likely get a couple more under his belt before bigger jobs start to come calling. It's also likely that he views CU as a step down from where he is now.
Pros: Hauck has shown he can win, leading Montana to seven conference titles, but he recently bombed out at UNLV, leading to his departure. Prior to his head coaching positions with those two schools he worked with Rick Neuheisel at both Washington and Colorado as a defensive specialist (that's probably a con, but still) so he has Pac-12 experience and is familiar with Boulder. He specialized in coaching linebackers which is certainly a position where the Buffs need to show improvement.
Cons: Hauck struggled in the Mountain West as UNLV's head man. They were never able to get anything going on offense and his defense was often behind the 8-ball. It's been a significant amount of time since he coached in a major conference and his results in the MW are not quite what you're looking for. While he has CU ties I don't think he has the ability to come in and develop a defense that can take on the Pac-12.
I'm not sure what Hauck is currently doing but if he wanted back in to the college game I'd imagine he would take the CU defensive coordinator position if offered. However, I think it's unlikely that offer is coming.
Pros: Steele is another intriguing name that would likely be a great hire. He was previously working as the Clemson defensive coordinator before re-joining the Tide staff as a linebackers coach and a special assistant to Nick Saban, whatever that means. His coaching experience goes back to the early 1980's and he had a short stint with the Carolina Panthers in the mid '90s before returning to the college game. Alabama's linebackers have been a huge part of their success in the Saban era and Steele has shown the ability to develop top flight talent. His defenses have been stout most everywhere he's been, and a linebacker-oriented coach would be a major plus.
Cons: The main question would be, how would he be able to develop the personnel that currently exists at CU? He's also not spent much time in the western half of the country and would need to establish new recruiting connections.
Again, with many of these guys it's impossible to know what their interest would be in jumping into a defensive coordinator position with CU. Most are succeeding in their current roles and coming to Colorado could be seen as a lateral move at best. MacIntyre seems like a fantastic guy to work for so he could be able to sell someone on making a leap and coming to Boulder. However, the chances of that someone being Kevin Steele seem relatively low right now but stranger things have happened.
Pros: English was last seen as head coach of the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Prior to that he was working as the defensive coordinator at Louisville and Michigan under Lloyd Carr. He had some solid success with the Wolverines but was ousted when Rich Rod was hired. English also has plenty of west coast ties, as he graduated from California and coached the defensive backs at both San Diego State and Arizona State before being hired at Michigan.
Cons: I'm not positive what he's been doing since leaving Eastern Michigan, but he's been out of the game for over a year now. He also hasn't coordinated a defense that's faced offenses on the order of Pac-12 outfits. He compiled an 11-46 record with the Eagles and, aside from that, was fired for going on a particularly salty tirade in the locker room. He's got fire, I guess?
Again, who knows what English wants to do next in his football career, or if he's biding his time to let the EMU issues blow over. I would assume someone like him would take the defensive coordinator position at CU if offered. The main question is whether he's seriously being considered for the position.
There are a ton of other possible names out there, these happen to be the ones that continue to come up. Again, post any additional potential candidates in the comments. My money was on Pendergast but I believe we would have known by now if he was the first choice, and I have a hard time believing he'd really rather coach in Pullman. This coordinator search has been one of the quietest I've seen, and that's a good thing. Judging from the time that's passed since Baer's departure, Mike MacIntrye and Rick George are using all available avenues to find the right fit. Either that, or they're being continually turned down. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, here's hoping CU lands someone who can develop this defense and help this team take its critical next steps.