Louisville Football Coaching Search: The Top Candidates To Replace Charlie Strong

Andy Lyons

It's common knowledge around these parts that Tom Jurich always has at least a couple of names in mind should a coaching vacancy suddenly pop up within one of his sports programs. It's equally well-known that Jurich prefers to handle these situations as swiftly as possible.

Equipped with that knowledge, here are the major names that you need to familiarize yourself with in order to keep up with everything that's about to happen starting this morning.

PAT NARDUZZI

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The Michigan State defensive coordinator has recently been the subject of a great deal of buzz, and with good reason. Narduzzi's Spartans ranked second in the nation in total defense this season (behind only Louisville), and held opponents to just 13.2 ppg as Sparty went 13-1 and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. With no ties to U of L, Narduzzi could be reticent to keep any of the remaining staff around, which would obviously have a pretty immediate impact on recruiting. Still, he has all the makings of a superstar coach.

RICH RODRIGUEZ

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Since falling on his face at Michigan, Rodriguez has enjoyed success at Arizona, posting back-to-back eight win seasons and playing a brand of football that the fans in Tucson love. Although there are plenty of people who will tell you that he got a bum deal in Ann Arbor, the NCAA violations, the atrocious record and the controversial departure are all still hanging out there. Rodriguez has done nothing to indicate that he isn't content at Arizona, but if Tom Jurich comes calling, I find it hard to believe he doesn't at least listen.

CHAD MORRIS

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The nation's highest-paid assistant coach, Morris has delighted Clemson fans as the Tigers' offensive coordinator for the past three seasons. He was the National Coordinator of the Year in 2011...but he also was the OC at Tulsa the year before, a place we kind of have some bad history with. I don't think there's any doubt that this would be a crowd-pleaser, especially among the group of fans that has been clamoring for a more exciting (and more ruthless) offense.

DEREK MASON

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Thanks to a couple of Internet reports, Mason was the first "buzz" name on Sunday, even before the Strong news had become official. He oversaw a Stanford defense which ranked 12th in the nation in total defense and won the Pac-12 title for a second straight season in 2013. Mason is young, energetic, and he played four years at Northern Arizona, where Jurich was the athletic director from 1988-1994.

BOBBY PETRINO

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Remember this dude? His re-hiring would be one of the biggest stories in all of sports for obvious reasons, many of them negative. Petrino took this program to unprecedented heights and appears to have a great deal of support from former players as well as a large chunk of fans, but you can't just completely turn a blind eye to the way he left the first time and everything that has happened in his career since then.

If there's a hire made within the next 48 hours or so, I'll be surprised if the name isn't one of the five above. Three other big names - Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain - have made consistent appearances in national stories about potential U of L candidates, but it's my understanding that none of the three are currently considered legitimate targets.

Like I said, I think the five guys mentioned above comprise the pool of coaches most likely to sign on with U of L, but here are a few more that you could hear about:

JAMES FRANKLIN

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The Vanderbilt head coach is drawing interest from just about everyone else in the football world, so it only seems right to at least call. This might not be possible if Jurich wants to move quickly, however, as the domino effect that has already started figures to feature Franklin more than anyone else in this post.

SHAWN WATSON

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Another guy who has created zero controversy during his time at Louisville (insert sarcasm tilda). You may have gotten fed up with the way the offense performed at times this season, but there's no question that the Strong era didn't kick things into gear until Watson replaced Mike Sanford as offensive coordinator midway through 2011.

MATT WELLS

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He's only got one year of head coaching experience under his belt, but it was an awfully successful one, as he led Utah State to nine wins and a victory over nationally-ranked Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. Wells was the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Louisville in 2009, which probably wasn't the best year to hold the position.

PETE LEMBO

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The Ball State head coach has an overall coaching record of 104-48, and led the Cardinals to a 10-2 record this season. He's shown quick and consistent improvement everywhere he's been, although Ball State is his first FBS gig.

JAY GRUDEN

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Because it's a coaching search in the United States of America and a Gruden has to be brought up at least once. Also, ties to Louisville, great offensive mind, etc.

JERRY WAINWRIGHT

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The former DePaul basketball coach has never lost a game as a college football head coach. Coaching searches are about facts, and that my friends is a fact.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There could be someone who comes out of absolutely nowhere to become Louisville's next coach, or there could be a guy who unexpectedly becomes available at some point over the course of the next two weeks. This is just a jumping off point for a search that we know very little about right now.

Get your flight-trackers and your house-shopping eye-witnesses lined up; the fun(?) starts now.

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