Possible candidates to replace Davis at UNC

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With Butch Davis no longer the head coach at North Carolina, let’s take a look at who could step in on a full-time basis following the 2011 season.

We know that the Tar Heels will employ an interim coach this season — likely an assistant on staff such as newly appointed associate head coach Sam Pittman. That decision will likely be revealed when UNC holds its news conference to further discuss Davis’ dismissal on Thursday morning. And while it’s always a possibility that the interim tag is removed following this season if UNC has a standout year, it’s hard to imagine this program not trying to bring in a bigger name as well as cutting all ties to the previous regime.

So, let’s take a look at who might fit in Chapel Hill.

Gus MalzahnGus Malzahn will be a head coach soon enough. Is UNC a possible landing spot?

Gus Malzahn: At this point, any list of potential head-coaching candidates should begin and end with Malzahn, at least when discussing assistants being ready to get their own head gig. The Auburn offensive coordinator was heavily wooed by Vanderbilt this past offseason but elected to remain on The Plains. Whatever the reason for his bypassing the Commodores — holding out for a better job? — Malzahn remains on the minds of many athletic directors because of the effectiveness of his offense. If the NCAA sanctions aren’t terrible, UNC would be a nice spot for someone getting his first major gig. He could win there early, and the league isn’t the SEC in terms of a rough schedule year after year. While basketball will always be No. 1 in Chapel Hill, Malzahn could go under the radar while winning consistently.

Bud Foster: When will the architect of so many strong Virginia Tech defenses get his big break? He’s not getting any younger, which could be a detriment if the Heels are looking for youth, but he has led the Hokies’ defensive units for over 20 years and should get a shot at being the face of the program. In my opinion, he would have fit in perfectly at Pitt this past offseason.

Troy Calhoun: The Air Force head coach has had numerous offers in the past, but he remains committed to the Falcons. But he’s familiar with the ACC, having served as offensive coordinator at Wake Forest. And the UNC administration might favor bringing in someone who preaches discipline, especially after the chaos that has enveloped the entire campus over the last year.

Kirby Smart: Anyone associated with Nick Saban is a smart guy, and that’s exactly what Smart has proven to be over the years. The Alabama defensive coordinator may get a little help because of his head coach’s own great defensive mind, but Smart has ACC experience as a graduate assistant at Florida State. And if the Tide defense is as strong as advertised this fall, Smart will be a hot commodity.

Randy Shannon: Shannon arguably should have received one more season to see his vision through at Miami, but he was given a pink slip. He obviously knows the ACC, has proven to be a solid recruiter and runs a clean program. He could have been a good fit at Maryland when that job was open, and there’s no reason why UNC shouldn’t give a hard look at Shannon.

One last thought: It’s never going to happen, but how great would it be if Terry Bowden received another chance at big-time college football? The North Alabama head coach would be fun to watch roaming the sidelines in Chapel Hill.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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