The search for the next head man of the UTEP football program is in high gear, yet no frontrunners have truly been found. Days ago, rumors swirled that Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz was ready to interview for the job, but apparently that wasn't the case.
Fritz has denied any contact with UTEP, and claims he is solely focused on getting his team ready for their playoff game against Cal-Poly this weekend. That may or may not be the case. After all, it wouldn't be the first time a coach has said he no interest in a job, only to accept the position soon thereafter.
Other, more recent rumors that have come about, claim that former Boise State and Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins "is the man", and the rest is just "formalities". That, is according to ESPN El Paso radio host Steve Kaplowitz, per inside sources.
While the Hawkins rumors could have some truth to them, word has it that Stull was on a plane to New York on Friday. The east coast, is not likely a place that Stull and Hawkins would be meeting. Hawkins may have a lead in this race, but one would have to assume others are still in the running.
Sean Kugler was one name that came up very early in the process, and seemed like a true candidate. After all, it has been said that Stull would like to hire someone he knows. Kugler happened to play for Stull, and also coach at UTEP in the mid to late 90's.
However, the El Paso Times' Bret Bloomquist recently reported that sources within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization have stated the has no interest in the job. Considering his ties to Stull, we can't completely count him out, but at this point, it doesn't seem like Kugler will be coaching UTEP next season.
Another NFL name, and one with ties to the AD, is Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Koetter was the offensive coordinator here at UTEP from 86' to 88', and also filled the same position under Bob Stull at Missouri from 89'-93'.
Again, Koetter is currently the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, a team that just so happens to be 11-1 on the season. The UTEP head coaching gig would likely be well under his pay grade, and more than that, if he were to leave the Falcons, there are likely plenty of others lining up to give the man a job. Still though, his ties to the program keep him as a candidate.
This brings us to another candidate from the ranks of the NFL. Former Philadelphia Eagle defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has expressed interest in the position, and has even been endorsed for the job by Eagle head coach Andy Reid. Reid, of course, was also an assistant under Stull at UTEP and Missouri.
Castillo, could actually be a good fit for the job. His ties to the state of Texas date back to his childhood, and there's no question that his hispanic hertiage would give him an immediate connection with the community. Also, according to CBS' Josh Katzowitz, Castillo was a candidate for the job when it opened up back in 2003.
One name that has been added to the pool a bit more recently, is former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino. Mangino also spent time at Kansas State and Oklahoma, but was responsible for turning the Jayhawks around, taking them all the way to a 12-1 season that included an Orange Bowl win.
His name has also been linked to openings at Colorado and Purdue, however he has asked to be removed as a possible candidate for the Colorado job. And, according to coachingsearch.com, Mangino has expressed interest in the UTEP job.
Of course, we can't forget about current Miner defensive coordinator Andre Patterson. While some haven't been impressed with the job he's done with the UTEP defense, a closer look shows just how much he's improved that unit.
Hiring him, would provide some continuity for the program, and would allow for a smooth transition with current players and recruits. However, I'm just not sure that's what Bob Stull is looking for.
Another name worth mentioning, is current Arizona State assistant Bob Connelly. Connelly spent time under coach Mike Price as an associate head coach, and co-offensive coordinator before bolting for Tempe.
While he isn't necessarily the strongest of candidates on paper, he is well respected by current and former Miners, and I know that he's got a strong interest in the opening. Perhaps a better finish to the 2012 season by the Sun Devils might have given him a great shot at the job.
Also keep in mind current Missouri Tiger offensive coordinator David Yost. He's got indirect ties to Bob Stull, and may just be the quick rising assistant that the program needs.
Other names that should be mentioned include Marty Mornhinweg, (former Lions HC), Paul Petrino (Arkansas OC), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas A&M OC), Les Koenning (Mississippi St. OC), Jay Norvell (Oklahoma CO-OC), Clay Helton (USC Quarterbacks), Neal Brown (Texas Tech OC), and Bob Stitt (Colorado School of Mines HC).
Lastly, and just for the sake of throwing them in there, we'll mention former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, and former Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. Nutt is probably the longest of shots, but the name has been mentioned, and the Chizik possibilities are much the same.
It had been rumored that Stull contacted Chizik soon after his firing from Auburn, but in all reality, the chances of getting the former national championship winning head coach are likely slim to none.
So what can we gather from all of this? Well, the main thing is that we hardly know who the true candidates for the job are. Stull and UTEP officials are staying quiet about this one, so we can't really believe any rumors until there is hard evidence.
But, all things considered, we should be able to cut this list down at least a bit. We'll start by throwing out names that just don't seem like they'll fit. Chizik and Nutt go first, if anything, just for the money that they can likely get elsewhere.
Next, I'm tossing out Stitt. Frankly I just don't see him as a true candidate. He's a great offensive mind, and is known as an innovator, but he seems happy where he's at, and his name just seems to get thrown around every time there's a coaching vacancy.
Also going, is USC quarterbacks coach Clay Helton. It just doesn't seem like a great match. While Helton does have ties to Texas, and Conference USA at that, he doesn't have ties to Stull. In the end, I just don't see it happening.
Norvell and Kingsbury are two others that I just don't see making their way to El Paso. Both have put together impressive resumes, but are likely to hold out for bigger openings, especially Kingsbury.
The next name that goes, is Bob Connelly. Unfortunately, I just don't think its the direction that Bob Stull wants to go in. Again, perhaps if Arizona State were an 10 win team this year, he might get a longer look.
The top of the list for Stull has to include Dirk Koetter. But, I just don't see it happening. Koetter is currently worrying about helping his team win a Super Bowl, and if UTEP is planning on announcing a head coach in the next two or three weeks, it probably won't be Koetter.
While its a bit unfortunate, because he is a great coach that has a love for this city, Andre Patterson is the next name scratched from this list. This community, by their lack of attendance at games, has demanded a change in UTEP football. Hiring from within just doesn't satisfy that change, even though Patterson may be the best man for the job.
After all of this, we're still left with nine potential candidates; Fritz, Hawkins, Mangino, Castillo, Yost, Mornhinweg, Petrino, Koenning, and Brown.
Three of these men, Castillo, Yost, and Morhinweg, have connections to Bob Stull in some way or another. Another two, Mangino and Hawkins, have apparently expressed interested in the job. Also still on the list, is Willie Fritz, if anything just for the rumors of him preparing to interview.
Petrino, Koenning, and Brown, at this point, just seem like names thrown into the mix. Since Mike Price retired, little to nothing has been said about these guys, other than just throwing their names in the hat. Because of that, I'm tossing them out.
And so, after all of this, we're left with a shortlist of six names. Personally, I think Yost may be exactly what this program needs; a fairly young, up and coming assistant of a major program. But, guys like Hawkins, Mangino, and Fritz have all proven they can win. The others, have their ties to Stull.
The truth is, we have no clue who will be the next coach of the Miners. There could be other names out there that haven't been mentioned yet. But, any of the men on this list could likely do a great job. Whoever it winds up being, expect to find out on or before December 18th.