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Ten candidates for Duke football's head coaching vacancy

Who is on the short list to succeed David Cutcliffe?
Who is on the short list to succeed David Cutcliffe?

With the David Cutcliffe era officially coming to an end in Durham, the focus now shifts to identifying who the next Duke head coach could be. Here is a list of 10 candidates that athletic director Nina King might have in mind, grouped into two categories. The main qualities we took into account were a potential coach's recruiting chops and ability to produce sustained success. 

Young Power Five assistant

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame defensive coordinator

One of the quickest risers in the coaching industry, Freeman exceled as Luke Fickell’s right-hand man on the defensive side at Cincinnati for four seasons before bolting to the Fighting Irish this past January. Despite it being just his first year at Notre Dame, Freeman’s unit has not skipped a beat, ranking 11th nationally in points allowed per game as the Fighting Irish sit 11-1 and in College Football Playoff Contention. Freeman likely will have better offers on the table, but this is absolutely worth a phone call. 

Dan Lanning, Georgia defensive coordinator

While Lanning gets to coach five stars in the two-deep at every position, the numbers are too staggering for him not to get some head coaching consideration this cycle. Georgia is top-three nationally in total defense, scoring defense and rush defense, and the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of the top seed in the College Football Playoff so long it can take down No. 4 Alabama in Atlanta this weekend. Unsure that he would take the job, as a source told The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman that, similar to Kirby Smart, Lanning is waiting for the right opportunity. 

Joe Rudolph, Wisconsin offensive coordinator

A Wisconsin alum and a mentee of Paul Chryst, Rudolph might be wary of leaving his alma mater, but he still could be an interesting option. He would certainly bring a shift in mentality on the offensive side of the ball after Cutcliffe's spread-oriented approach. A top-20 recruiter according to 247Sports, Rudolph certainly deserves some credit for Wisconsin consistently producing stellar rushing attacks. Also coached at Pittsburgh for three seasons, so he is not totally unfamiliar with the landscape of the ACC.

Tim Banks, Tennessee defensive coordinator

The Volunteers were far from stellar defensively in the regular season, but that is partially due to the mass exodus the program dealt with this past offseason. Prior to his arrival in Knoxville, Tenn., Banks spent five seasons as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach under James Franklin at Penn State, so he has experience at a winning operation. Also considered a high-level recruiter, the former Central Michigan cornerback would at least solve some of the issues plaguing the Blue Devils on the defensive side of the ball. 

Graham Harrell, USC offensive coordinator

He may be more well known for this throw to Michael Crabtree to knock off Colt McCoy and top-ranked Texas in 2008, but the man can coach too. Since moving west in the wake of a stellar tenure calling plays at North Texas, the 36-year-old has been a bright spot for the Trojans despite general struggles that led to head coach Clay Helton getting canned earlier this year. Likely a backup option and someone who might have more of an affinity for the Pac-12 or Big 12, but worth having on this list. 

Current Group of Five head coach

Will Healy, Charlotte

Remember this guy? Healy led the 49ers to a season-opening upset over Duke earlier this year, and boasts the in-state ties and program-building acumen to make it work here. His career record of 27-38 is nothing to build a statue over, but the Tennessee native built Austin Peay from 0-11 to 8-4 in one year and has led Charlotte, which began play at the FCS level in 2013, into an era of respectability. This might be the safest bet in terms of who Nina King hires, especially considering his $755,000 salary. 

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

This would be quite the home run. Chadwell won every national coach of the year award imaginable last year, and the Chanticleers’ 21-3 record over the past two seasons make him the classic hotshot Group of Five coach poised to make the jump. Chadwell’s pistol approach might be unconventional, but it has resulted in the sixth-most points per game in college football this season. With an 89-54 record across North Greenville, Delta State, Charleston Southern and now Coastal Carolina, the 44-year-old is up next.

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

He would be an outside-the-box hire, but the Hawaii native may be looking for a fresh start after 14 seasons leading the Midshipmen. Niumatololo has nine seasons of at least eight wins during his tenure, including an 11-2 mark back in 2019. Plus, Navy’s 6-4 record in bowls and two top 25 finishes under Niumatololo is a level that is difficult to reach at a service academy. He would obviously have to tweak the triple option, but he has already slightly modernized it during his time in Annapolis, Md. A creative option, but one that King could consider.

Bill Clark, UAB

You want a program builder? Well how about someone whose first season at UAB ended with school president Ray L. Watts shutting down the program, only for the team to return to action in 2017 with successive seasons of 8-5, 11-3 and 9-5? Clark has led the Blazers to .500 or better in every season of his tenure, and has won two Conference USA titles since 2018. He was even the Eddie Robinson and Sporting News Coach of the Year back in 2018. Well respected throughout college football, Clark may be ready for this challenge.

Mike Houston, East Carolina

He has 10 years of head coaching experience dating back to his time at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, with a 94-44 record to boot. In his three years with the Pirates, Houston’s bunch has improved in conference play each season, culminating in a 5-3 mark in 2021. Houston also captured an FCS national title at James Madison in 2016, so no shortage of championship pedigree here. Not the flashiest hire in the world, but it would make sense if the Blue Devils went in this direction. 


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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