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Arizona Wildcats coaching search: Who’s next?

Boise State's Chris Petersen ... Arizona fans can dream, can't they? Photo by Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne says he won’t talk about the search for a head football coach until he is ready to make an announcement. In the meantime, everyone else will be speculating.

“In today’s world of instant information, a lot of times there is information that is inaccurate that gets out there. Sometimes, it’s accurate,” Byrne said.

“I want you to know that unless you’re hearing from us, and you’re hearing from me, that will be the only accurate information you can count on.”

Byrne, at the news conference Monday night to announce the dismissal of coach Mike Stoops, didn’t describe his ideal candidate. He didn’t say the new guy had to have head coaching experience, or had to be from the West, or had to be offensive-minded, for example.

At this point, Arizona is a moderately attractive job, certainly better than when Stoops was hired after the 2003 season.

Byrne has shown financial commitment with the addition of a $7 million video board at Arizona Stadium and the moving ahead of plans to renovate the north end zone, which will bring the Wildcats up to code in the Pac-12.

The new Pac-12 media deal — worth $3 billion over 12 years — will put an average of about $21 million per year in each school’s pockets. That’s about an extra $15 million per year for Arizona, which can likely cast a wider financial net, if it chooses, in its coaching search.

“In some ways, yes,” Byrne said. “It gives us the best chance to be competitive from a market standpoint.”

Stoops’ base salary increased to $1.2 million on July 1, with $100,000 increases scheduled each year on July 1. His contract was through Jan. 31, 2014.

OK, on to the speculation. Maybe some you’ve heard of, maybe some you haven’t. Let’s break this into categories:

Current head coaches

Chris Petersen, Boise State — He will be the dream candidate. He and Byrne have a friendship from their days at Oregon in the mid-1990s. Byrne, while the athletic director at Mississippi State, tried to hire Petersen after the 2008 season. Long shot? Yeah. But you have to think Byrne already has made this call to kick the tires.

Kevin Sumlin, Houston — Runs a prolific offense and, of course, has ties to Texas, where Arizona made recruiting inroads under Stoops.

Ron Caragher, San Diego — Jim Harbaugh, version 2.0? Caragher succeeded Harbaugh at USD for the 2007 season and has done well with the Toreros. He spent nine seasons at UCLA and worked for coach Rich Brooks at Kentucky from 2003 to 2006, where his tenure overlapped with an associate AD by the name of Greg Byrne.

Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana — Saw this name mentioned on a message board, and it made some sense. He’s in his first year at Louisiana-Lafayette, which is 5-1 and just knocked off Sun Belt kingpin Troy. He’s young (42), had great success as head coach at lower-division North Alabama (91-22 in nine seasons) and was the passing game coordinator at Mississippi State in 2009 and 2010, giving him a tie to Byrne. Picture this: The Ragin’ Cajuns come to Tucson to play Arizona on Nov. 26 … and Hudspeth just stays for the introductory news conference the next day.

Out-of-work coaches

Mike Leach — The former Texas Tech coach has three former offensive assistants on the Arizona coaching staff. Could be the most seamless of transitions. He’s a proven winner. The allegations of mistreatment of one of his players, Adam James, appear to have been overblown. But the baggage here includes a lawsuit against Texas Tech, and Leach certainly has a reputation for being profane. Is that the right post-Stoops antidote?

Mike Bellotti — The former Oregon coach is 60. Would he think Arizona is the right place for a final go-round?

Rich Rodriguez — Won big at West Virginia and then had a litigious departure for Michigan, where his spread offense failed to take hold. Wrong place, wrong time. Doesn’t mean he can’t coach.

Hot coordinators

Byrne went this route when he hired Dan Mullen off the Florida staff to be the Mississippi State head coach. Let’s just make a list:

*Gus Malzahn, Auburn offensive coordinator
*Jim McElwain, Alabama offensive coordinator
*Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator
*Paul Petrino, Illinois offensive coordinator
*Paul Chryst, Wisconsin offensive coordinator

The alums

Ricky Hunley — Was one of three finalists in 2003 when Stoops was hired. Currently the assistant linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders.

Chuck Cecil — Told us recently that he would love to coach at Arizona someday, although he has his sights set on a return to the NFL … and it’s too big a stretch to see him as the head coach right now.

Rich Ellerson, Army head coach — A Salpointe Catholic grad and a coaching alum of Arizona, Ellerson’s scheming helped create the Desert Swarm defenses of the 1990s and he led Army last season to its first winning record since 1996. He’s in his third season with the Black Knights.

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