Sep 3, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell during the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Nebraska coaching candidates to replace Scott Frost

How desirable the Nebraska football job is will be a point of debate following the firing of Scott Frost on Sunday.

The answer may well be determined by who the Cornhuskers are able to lure to Lincoln, Neb.

Frost was let go after a 1-2 start to the season, including a home loss to Georgia Southern on Saturday. That dropped Frost’s record to 16-31 at his alma mater.

Athletic director Trev Alberts said the search for Frost’s replacement will begin “immediately,” and Nebraska gets a head start on that process.

Five early candidates:

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati head coach
Fickell’s name has surfaced with most every coaching vacancy at a Power 5 program over the past few years. He has turned down every overture thus far but Nebraska could be a compelling option for the Columbus, Ohio native who played for Ohio State.

However, Fickell has already turned down Michigan State and may not be interested in a Big Ten job other than the Buckeyes. He also said no to Notre Dame.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
Campbell has turned the Cyclones into a consistent contender in the Big 12 and, like Fickell, has turned down several opportunities to interview with larger Power 5 programs.

Nebraska has the tradition and the deep pocketbooks that may pique Campbell’s interest level, and leaving Ames now might be more appealing with the future makeup of the Big 12 a major question mark. He has strung together five consecutive winning seasons with the Cyclones.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach
Stoops is fresh off a big victory over Florida and has the Wildcats ranked in the top 20 despite being without his leading rusher to start the season. He has built a very respectable program in the SEC East that has posted a pair of 10-win campaigns in the past six years, but Stoops might see an easier path to sustained success in the Big Ten West.

Stoops, who is 12-3 since the start of last season, did sign an extension through 2028.

Dave Aranda, Baylor head coach
Aranda served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2013-15 before moving on to the same role with LSU from 2016-19. He led the Bears to the Big 12 championship in only his second season and signed an extension through 2029.

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers head coach
Rhule entered the NFL season on the hot seat after compiling a 10-23 record through his first two years. He is a proven program builder at the college level, taking a Temple team that won only two games in his first year to consecutive 10-win seasons just two years later.

Rhule then did the same at Baylor, leading the Bears to an 11-3 record in 2019 and recording 47 total victories as a college head coach. The Bears earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl before Rhule left for the NFL.

Other notable names: Mickey Joseph, Nebraska interim coach; Lance Leipold, Kansas head coach; Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin DC; Urban Meyer, FOX Sports analyst; Bill O’Brien, Alabama OC

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore on the sidelines in the second half against the Denver Broncos at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Jaguars to interview Kellen Moore, Todd Bowles

The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to conduct a virtual interview with Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore late next week, NFL Network reported Sunday.

Also expected to take part in a virtual interview is Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, per the report.

Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson interviewed for the job on Thursday.

Also Sunday, CBS Sports reported that Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke is urging owner Shad Khan to bring in Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien for an interview.

The Jaguars are seeking a replacement for Urban Meyer, who was fired on Dec. 16 due to a disappointing season on the field and a series of embarrassing incidents off of it.

Bowles and O’Brien have NFL head-coaching experience.

Bowles, 58, led the New York Jets from 2015-18, ending his tenure with a 24-40 record and no playoff appearances.

O’Brien, 52, was 52-48 in six-plus seasons (2014-20) with the Houston Texans, fired in 2020 after an 0-4 start. The Texans made the playoffs four times under O’Brien, posting a 2-4 record.

Pederson, 53, reached the playoffs three times in five seasons with the Eagles and posted a 42-37-1 overall record before being fired on Jan. 11, 2021. He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl LII championship.

Moore, 33, became the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach in 2018 and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2019. This season, the Cowboys have the NFL’s top offense, averaging 409.5 yards and 30.5 points per game entering Week 17.

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Jaguars interim coach Darrell Bevell reportedly also are under consideration.

Jacksonville (2-13) brings a seven-game losing streak into Sunday’s game at the New England Patriots (9-6).

–Field Level Media

New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien watches quarterback Bryce Young take a snap during practice. The Alabama Crimson Tide opened practice for the 2021 season as they prepare to defend the 2020 National Championship Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Alabama First Practice

Alabama OC Bill O’Brien returns from COVID-19 isolation

Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien joined the team in the Dallas area for College Football Playoff semifinal preparations on Tuesday after completing an isolation period due to a positive COVID-19 test.

O’Brien was able to fly to Dallas after the SEC adjusted its COVID-19 protocols, similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement on Monday that shortened isolation time from 10 to five days after a positive test.

The positive test results for O’Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone were divulged by Alabama last Wednesday.

O’Brien said he participated in meetings over Zoom, a familiar process from the 2020 regular season when he was the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

“The biggest thing was that Coach Saban made everything normal,” O’Brien told reporters. “It was like I was actually there. I was in every meeting.”

Marrone is expected to rejoin the Crimson Tide prior to the Cotton Bowl, where Alabama faces Cincinnati on Friday in Arlington, Texas.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young certainly was happy to see O’Brien on the practice field on Tuesday. O’Brien also serves as quarterbacks coach.

“That was rough. That was really rough,” Young told reporters. “Not having him in person for an extended period of time, not having him on the field for a few practices, that was tough (to be without) someone like O.B., who is obviously such a great mind and gives us in the quarterback room so much intel.”

Alabama (12-1) ranks fourth nationally in scoring offense (42.5 points per game) and sixth in total offense (495.5 yards per game).

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien walks off the field after a loss to the Minnesota Vikings at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saban interested in Gase, O’Brien for OC role

Nick Saban is reportedly interested in discussing Alabama’s vacant offensive coordinator job with fired NFL head coaches Adam Gase and Bill O’Brien.

According to a report from The Athletic, Gase and O’Brien are “two of the coaches Nick Saban is considering for Alabama’s soon to be vacant offensive coordinator role.”

Gase was a graduate assistant under Saban at LSU. O’Brien, who coached with the New England Patriots before jumping to the college ranks at Penn State and then to the Houston Texans, also has ties to Saban.

Steve Sarkisian serves his final game as offensive coordinator on Jan. 11 in the College Football Playoff national championship game against Ohio State. Sarkisian was hired as the new head coach at Texas.

Offensive coordinator at Alabama has been a springboard job for other coaches, including Lane Kiffin, Doug Nussmeier, Jim McElwain and Major Applewhite.

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) reacts after a play against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texans’ Watt declines to discuss exchange with fired O’Brien

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt reportedly had a heated exchange with Bill O’Brien less than two weeks before Monday’s firing of the head coach and general manager.

ESPN reported that the argument occurred during a practice leading up to the team’s Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver also was part of the incident that has been pinpointed as the moment when O’Brien “lost the team.”

Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, said Wednesday that he is looking forward to a “fresh start.” But he declined to discuss the report of the practice incident.

“I’m not going to talk about what happened at practice or what conversations were had or whatever it may be,” Watt said. “The situation is what the situation is and we … right now have a fresh start and we had a good practice today and we’re looking forward to (playing) Jacksonville.”

The Texans are 0-4 after losing to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. O’Brien was fired the next day with a 52-48 regular-season record. Houston reached the playoffs in four of his six full seasons.

Romeo Crennel is serving as interim coach entering Sunday’s game against the visiting Jaguars.

“When you’re 0-4, obviously things need to change. I mean, it wasn’t working,” said Watt, who is in his 10th season with the Texans. “I appreciate and respect what we had. We won four division titles in six years with Bill and I appreciate that and that time, but obviously this year, we’re 0-4 and stuff wasn’t working.”

Watt said he harbors no ill will toward O’Brien.

“The one thing I’ll say about Bill O’Brien is he always stood up for his players,” Watt said. “… Certainly, he tried to do whatever possible to support his players and give his players the absolute best support. And I truly believe that he always did what he believed was best for this football team. So I don’t have ill will at all.”

Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he appreciated his time playing for O’Brien and is grateful for the things he learned. Watson is in his fourth season with the team after being a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2017.

“I have the (utmost) respect for Coach O’Brien for getting me to Houston, teaching me what he taught me the four years I’ve been here,” Watson said. “The discipline, just everything as a person, getting ready for professional football. He did a lot of amazing things to help me get two Pro Bowls and win the AFC South every year that I’ve played a full year. So I have all the respect for him and the things, but that’s just how the business goes.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien walks off the field after a loss to the Minnesota Vikings at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texans fire head coach, GM O’Brien after 0-4 start

The Houston Texans fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien on Monday.

The Texans started the season 0-4 and are in the running for the top draft pick in the 2021 draft. However, the franchise dealt its 2021 first- and second-round draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in 2019 in a trade that saw offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills go to Houston.

Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair said the team is “moving in a different direction” and promoted assistant head coach Romeo Crennel to interim coach for the rest of the 2020 season.

“On behalf of my family and our entire organization, I want to sincerely thank Bill O’Brien and his family for their impact on our franchise. Bill’s leadership moved our organization forward as he guided us to four AFC South division championships, 52 wins and multiple playoff appearances during his tenure. Bill proved himself as a coach and leader in this league,” McNair said in a news release.

“I spoke with him earlier today and told him we are moving in a different direction. Romeo Crennel will serve as our interim head coach for the remainder of the 2020 season. We have a talented team and I have no doubt our players and staff will rally to make Texans fans proud as we aim to win championships and do great things for the city of Houston.”

As a general manager, O’Brien was taken to task for a series of trades last season and during this past offseason.

O’Brien, 50, was previously offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and head coach at Penn State.

The Texans reached the playoffs in four of his six full seasons and O’Brien was 52-48 in 100 regular-season games as an NFL head coach. Houston went 2-4 in the playoffs.

Due to a fractured relationship with All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans dealt Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for running back David Johnson back in March.

Houston traded former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2019 season after contract negotiations turned sour.

Yet the franchise reportedly is spending a league-high $255 million on its on-field roster in 2020.

McNair brought in Jack Easterby as executive vice president of football operations on Jan. 28 of this year. Easterby is expected to have the strongest voice in locating the team’s next head coach.

Crennel, 73, has head coaching experience with the Cleveland Browns (2005-08) and Kansas City Chiefs (2011-12). He compiled a 24-40 record with the Browns and a 4-15 mark with the Chiefs. Crennel originally joined Houston’s staff as the defensive coordinator in 2014.

–Field Level Media

Sep 14, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien (left) talks with quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Texans ‘working hard’ on extension for Watson

Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said the franchise is “working hard” to complete a contract extension with quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson, a first-round pick in 2017, is officially eligible for a contract extension for the first time. That window opened at the official start of the NFL league year in March.

“Deshaun is a great player, an even better person, and we want him here for a long time,” O’Brien said on Friday. “… I know that we’re working hard. We’re not going to really talk about it in the media, but obviously we feel so strongly about him and the future of him in this offense, in this organization, and we want him here for a long time.”

Watson was drafted 12th overall in 2017, two picks behind Patrick Mahomes, who went to the Kansas City Chiefs.

He’s due to make $4.4 million in 2020, but the tag to keep a prime quarterback has gone up exponentially in the past year.

Russell Wilson of the Seahawks was the highest-paid passer in the NFL at $35 million per season before Mahomes’ monster 10-year deal worth up to $503 million with Kansas City earlier this month.

Watson’s deal could be further impacted as other quarterbacks approach long-term contracts, including Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys. He will play the 2020 season on the franchise tag.

“My situation, and I don’t want to say anything too crazy, is different than his,” Watson told former NFL quarterback Michael Vick. “Signing a deal for 10 years, you know, I have to speak with my agent on that. Sit down and think, ‘What do I want in my career? Where I want to be for a long period of time?’ I love Houston, I love the organization, I love the teammates and all the players, but all that stuff is always changing.”

The Texans confirmed reports in April that preliminary contract talks with Watson’s agent were held. But O’Brien, who is de facto general manager in Houston, wouldn’t address the state of negotiations entering August.

“Respectfully, we’re not going to talk about contracts in the media, but we obviously have stated [that] we have so much belief in Deshaun,” O’Brien said Friday. “We love Deshaun. We want him here for a long time, but we’re not going to negotiate contracts or do anything like that in the media. We’ll keep that between us and Deshaun’s representatives. He’s here, he’s excited and we’re excited about the season.”

–Field Level Media