Utah State Football: Coaching Search Narrowing Down The Field

Utah State Football: Coaching Search Narrowing Down The Field

Utah State

Utah State Football: Coaching Search Narrowing Down The Field

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Who will be the next USU head football coach?

Aggie fans haven’t had a lot to be excited about this season with the team’s dismal 1-5 record. Most of the games have not been competitive and the offense has been missing in action for most of the season. Even the team’s reliable playmakers seem to have taken a step back from last year and bring little excitement to the table.

The good news is that the head coaching search seems to have narrowed substantially. Most of the top candidates have good to great resumes and they would provide a great boost to next year’s expectations. The Aggies certainly have nowhere to go but up, yet getting the right hire in place is crucial at this juncture.

Without further ado, let’s break down some of the top choices to take over for the Aggies in 2021 via KSL Sports.

Jay Hill

It’s no secret Jay Hill has gotten Weber State to historically overperform the last few seasons. Taking over as head coach for the Wildcats in 2014, Hill started out rough with a 2-10 record, but improved year over year with 6-5, 7-5, and then all double digit win seasons after that. His squads have made the FCS playoffs in all but two of his seasons, including an appearance in the semifinals in 2019.

Hill inherited a program that was in complete disarray and turned it into a verifiable winner. His defenses have gotten consistently better and they’ve put some serious frights into superior programs. They stayed competitive against Cal in 2017 and stayed within a score each of San Diego State and Nevada in 2019.

This would be a great hire for USU. Hill has coached in the state for years and has a lot of connections with different high schools USU likes to recruit. He’s shown the ability to get the most out of his players and coach up a defense to be stifling, hallmarks the Aggies used to carry in their program. If he ends up taking the job, it would be a short drive for him and an easy sell to would-be recruits they would be in great hands with his strong coaching acumen.

Jeff Grimes

This would be another solid choice for the Aggies if it comes to be.

Grimes has a varied and deep catalog of schools he’s coached at, including Boise State, Arizona State, Colorado, LSU, and BYU. His primary focus has been recruiting and coaching offensive linemen and coordinating the running game throughout his various career stops. Taking over the job as BYU’s offensive coordinator in 2018, his offenses have gotten noticeably better each year, which comes as a result of consistency and chemistry amongst his personnel. He not only gets his players to buy in, he gets them to perform above their expectations, all signs of a sturdy coaching philosophy.

If Grimes gets the nod as the next head coach at USU, Grimes would inherit a solid core of offensive linemen to work off of. It would enable him to build an offense opposing defenses will actually respect, something this unit on USU’s team has had in short supply lately. With his varied ties to intermountain west schools, he would most likely be well-prepared to take on some of the more unique recruiting challenges USU has. He’s no stranger to small college towns and he understands the culture of the state, which would bode well for a large number of prospective and returned missionaries USU generally has cycled through the program.

Frank Maile

As the current interim head coach of the Aggies, Maile has been effectively auditioning himself the last few weeks. Though he’s just 1-2 this season leading the team, they’ve looked more competitive and motivated than they ever seemed the first few games with Andersen still in charge. The personnel shortages are gaping and the team production has often not been there, but players genuinely seem to like and respond to coach Maile. If given a chance to be the head man, USU could certainly do a lot worse.

The plus side to hiring Frank Maile is that he’s Aggie all the way through. He was a standout defensive lineman for the Aggies from 2004-2007 and he understands the inner workings of the program better than most candidates could ever hope to know. He fully appreciates and gets what kind of recruits gravitate to USU and can build a program based around those strengths. His immersion with the Poly community would also continue serving as a boon to the program and carry on the recruiting tradition Gary Andersen started back in 2009.

It is unknown what type of coaching staff he would assemble if given the job on a permanent basis, but to Maile’s credit, he doesn’t appear to play favorites with players and he seems willing to make difficult decisions if it means the team gets better. He dismissed Jason Shelley from the team a few weeks ago and even named redshirt freshman Cooper Legas as the QB starter against Wyoming, prior to it getting canceled due to Covid-19 issues. With offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder sidelined due to the illness, Maile made no hesitation in allowing RB coach Dave Schramm to call the offense. The team seemed to play better, too.

The downside to this hire is it isn’t exciting or refreshing. We don’t know how much of Andersen’s staff Maile would retain and it remains uncertain how they would perform in 2021 based off a poor 2020 season. It could certainly work out, but it may create some angst and leave a bad taste in the fanbase’s mouth. It would be deja vu in the worst way to have a national search simply come down to hiring the next guy up in the building a la Tim Duryea for basketball in 2015. If Maile got the job and didn’t pan out for the football  program, it may even leave egg on the face of the athletic director.

Willie Fritz

This would be an odd hire for USU.

Fritz has been coaching at Tulane for five years now. Though his win-loss records have consistently improved, they haven’t seen sizable jumps year over year. In two bowl appearances with the Green Wave, his teams have won both times, however.

Fritz doesn’t have any recruiting ties to the region. He has primarily coached in Texas and the Midwest, and while those are solid recruiting areas for USU historically, it’s unknown how much Fritz would recruit the local schools in Utah.

Aside from an alright if uninspiring record at Tulane, Fritz is on the older side for a head coach. We know from Gary Andersen’s first stint at USU just how much energy it took out of him to build the Aggies into something respectable. USU’s program appears to be in a precipitous spot now that will require intense yet delicate care in order to get back into the winning column. Fritz has shown he can build decent programs, but taking a job like this late in his career does bring into question, fairly or unfairly, how much he has to give to USU.

Would it be more of the same as we’ve seen at Tulane or could he do something special here? At any rate, I’d rather not find out.

Sean Lewis

This appears to be the highest-risk, highest reward type of hire for USU.

On one hand, Lewis is the youngest coach in the FBS. He’s been the head coach at Kent State for the past three seasons, and it has also been his first head coaching gig. In just his second season, he got the Golden Flashes to a bowl game for the first time since 2012. He also made it their first bowl win in school history. I’ll consider forgiving him for getting that bowl win against my beloved Aggies if he ends up getting the job. For a young up and comer, bowl wins are nothing to sneeze at.

Some concerns I think can be rightly raised around Lewis is his experience overall. He only moved up to the college coaching ranks in 2010 and his experience has generally been limited to the Midwest. It’s unknown how much of his recruiting ties would bear fruit in Logan, Utah for a program currently down on its luck. Then again, it’s not easy to recruit in Kent, Ohio either. Against the likes of Ohio, Bowling Green, and Akron, the Golden Flashes have generally lost a lot more of those games than they’ve won historically. To Lewis’ credit, he’s performed much better in rivalry games than his predecessors, except against the Bobcats.

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