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Who Will Be the Next UCF Football Head Coach?

With Terry Mohajir secured as the new AD, UCF looks toward hiring a new football head coach

Mississippi v Auburn
Could Gus Malzahn be wearing black and gold soon?
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Now that the UCF Knights have found their guy in Terry Mohajir to be the next Athletic Director, we turn our attention to the next obvious question: Who will be the next head coach of the football program?

While at Arkansas State, Mohajir developed a track record of hiring offensive-minded coaches. It’s a safe belief to think he will do the same at UCF. He may already have interviewed some potential candidates as he had to do a coaching search this past December after Blake Anderson left Arkansas State for Utah State’s head coaching job. We did a lengthy list back on January 27th on potential candidates without knowing who the AD would be. Based on Mohajir’s history, we can narrow the field. Here is a look at some of the candidates.

Jeff Lebby - Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator

Jeff Lebby was UCF’s quarterbacks coach from 2018-19 before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss
Photo: Brian Murphy

A favorite among fans and players, Jeff Lebby spent two seasons at UCF. In 2018, he was the quarterbacks coach. In 2019, he added offensive coordinator to his resume.

Lebby just signed a new two-year contract at Ole Miss that pays him $1.2M per season, coincidentally after he interviewed for the head coaching position at - guess where - Arkansas State!

Why Lebby would be a good fit

His offensive style would coincide with what UCF is used to, so there would be less adjusting compared to some of the other prospective hires. When Lebby is allowed to call plays, as evidenced this past season at Ole Miss, the offense has shown a larger degree of creativity than during Josh Heupel’s tenure. Plus, it is very likely that Lebby would bring with him UCF Hall of Famer Kevin Smith to be part of the coaching staff.

Why Lebby would not be a good fit

Experience, or the lack of it. Lebby only has two seasons under his belt as an FBS-level offensive coordinator. He might need a little more time before being ready to run an entire program. Also, there are fans and some people inside UCF who have a real problem with Lebby being at Baylor during its multi-year sexual assault scandal. Lebby was named by one assault victim as being aware and not taking sufficient action. He is not a named party in the ongoing Title IX lawsuit related to this incident.

Rhett Lashlee - Miami Offensive Coordinator

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A perennial offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee has been tapping the glass ceiling of head coaching for quite some time.

Lashlee has ties with Mohajir as he was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State in 2012 when Gus Malzahn was head coach during Mohajir’s first year as AD.

Since 2011, Lashlee has been employed as an offensive coordinator somewhere. It started with a year at Samford before that season under Malzahn at A-State. He followed Malzahn to Auburn as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2013-16. He left Auburn for an expanded OC role at UConn for a year before jumping to SMU in 2018. In 2020, he joined Miami’s staff as the OC.

Why Lashlee would be a good fit

Lashlee is all about offense. A two-time Broyles Award finalist for best assistant coach in the country, Lashlee has had the opportunity to work under a number of different coaches and deliver results. While only a few months younger than Lebby, Lashlee has had a faster path up the rungs of the coaching ladder.

Why Lashlee would not be a good fit?

Always a bridesmaid and never a bride. He has been an offensive coordinator somewhere in the FBS each season since getting his first shot with Malzahn at ASU in 2012. Granted, much like offensive coordinators at UCF under Heupel, he did not get free rein of the offense until he left Malzahn’s nest in 2017. One has to wonder why he has yet to crack the head coaching glass ceiling.

Gus Malzahn - Former Auburn Head Coach

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic - Auburn v Washington Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The elder statesman on the list, Gus Malzahn isn’t locked in at a particular program. From 2013-20, Malzahn was the head coach of Auburn. Under his watch, the Tigers won two SEC West Division titles, one conference championship, and peaked with an appearance in the BCS Championship game in 2013, losing to Florida State.

Prior to that, he had a one-year stint at Arkansas State, winning the Sun Belt Conference title. Malzahn has had the pleasure of being on the field for four games against UCF. Three of them came while he was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. UCF went 2-1 against Malzahn, including a victory in the 2007 Conference USA Championship Game. He was the head coach for Auburn when UCF defeated the Tigers in the Peach Bowl to cap a 13-0 undefeated 2017 season.

Malzahn is big on using a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, which would coincide with UCF’s fast-paced offense since the start of 2016. Malzahn had a 66-35 record at Auburn before being let go after the 2020 season. It’s worth noting that upon being fired as Auburn’s coach, his buyout was $21.45 million, the largest buyout in college football history.

Why Malzahn would be a good fit

Experience. Malzahn spent the past eight seasons as Auburn’s head coach with a one-year stint at Arkansas State in 2012. That one season allowed him and Mohajir to interact one-on-one before Auburn hired Malzahn away. He has a track record of running a program against the nation’s elite and while his final season did not go so well, he has posted a winning season and a bowl game appearance in each of his nine seasons as a head coach. Unlike the candidates above, Malzahn would not require any form of a buyout. With no offset provision in his giant buyout from Auburn, he could potentially decide to coach at a cheaper rate.

Why Malzahn would not be a good fit

Being an unemployed head coach, Malzahn is a retread. It’s counter to UCF’s growing culture to bring in older coaches. White did hire Johnny Dawkins, but Malzahn doesn’t seem to be wowing UCF fans like some of the younger coaches do. Would Malzahn take the job seriously enough compared to an up-and-comer?

Phil Longo - North Carolina Offensive Coordinator

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 North Carolina at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As with Lashlee and Lebby, Phil Longo interviewed with Mohajir for the Arkansas State job. Obviously, he didn’t get it, but the fact that he interviewed will help him get a foot in the door on what should be a rather quick process. Unlike Lashlee and Lebby, he does not have a connection with Mohajir or UCF, but that is not a material issue. Also unlike Lashlee and Lebby, Longo has been a head coach before, coaching two seasons at FCS La Salle in 2004 and 2005 before the program shut down a couple of years later when the MAAC discontinued football. Longo broke into the FBS as an offensive coordinator for Matt Luke’s Ole Miss Rebels in 2017. In 2019, he became the offensive coordinator at North Carolina and has been working with star sophomore quarterback Sam Howell.

Prior to Ole Miss, Longo was the offensive coordinator at FCS Sam Houston State and Division II Slippery Rock before that. At each of these schools, the offense had an explosion of output after Longo took over. Longo’s offense is a modified air raid system that can be switched from the traditional pass-heavy style to a more run-oriented style depending on the matchup.

Why Longo would be a good fit

Results. Longo’s offense generates a lot of yardage. Mohajir is an offensive-minded guy, and fans like watching the high-powered offense that UCF has put on the field over the last few years. There wouldn’t be much of a drop-off if Longo took over. He has been working with Sam Howell at North Carolina, which could help transition over to working with Dillon Gabriel at UCF.

Why Longo would not be a good fit?

Again, results. Longo has four years as an FBS offensive coordinator and while his teams generate yards, they have had trouble scoring. In 2017, Ole Miss was 26th in total offense and 42nd in points per game. In 2018, Ole Miss was 18th in yards and 33rd in points per game. In 2019, North Carolina was 31st in total offense and 77th in scoring. Also, from 2017-19, Longo’s teams ranked no higher than 101st in time of possession, which is an issue that has caused defensive problems at UCF. 2020 saw major improvement on all fronts, but was it the start of a pattern or merely an outlier?

Randy Shannon - Interim UCF Head Coach

UCF v South Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

As the defensive coordinator and current interim head coach, Randy Shannon has to be mentioned. His results are polarizing among fans, but he is currently in the building.

From 1991-2010, Shannon coached in the city of Miami. Almost all of that time was spent at his alma mater, the University of Miami, aside from a three-year stint with the Miami Dolphins from 1998-2000. Shannon was the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator when they won the national championship in 2001.

From 2007-10, Shannon was the Hurricanes’ head coach. That tenure eventually came under NCAA fire due to Nevin Shapiro providing a litany of illegal benefits to players and recruits. Shannon was one of the few people around the program who wanted nothing to do with Shapiro, but that specter has followed him. His record at Miami was 28-22. Shannon has not had a full-time head coaching opportunity since. He was the interim head coach at Florida in 2017 before joining UCF the following season when Heupel was hired.

Why Shannon would be a good fit

He’s already here. The fact that he’s on staff as the interim head coach with a guaranteed contract as defensive coordinator for 2021 forces him to be in the equation. His recruiting and reputation in South Florida cannot be understated. Even if he doesn’t get the job, UCF needs to do right by him and allow him to interview for it. You do not want to damage any recruiting relations.

Why Shannon would not be a good fit?

Shannon is a defensive-minded coach, which doesn’t fit the pro-offense philosophy UCF has employed for the past few years, nor does it align with Mohajir’s history of coaching hires. It’s expected that Shannon will stay on as DC for 2021. His salary is $1 million for the season, but his buyout is also $1 million, which basically guarantees the contract. Could Shannon keep the offense rolling like it has over the last few years?