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LSU Tiger Head Coach Name Game: Big 12

A hot shot and a familiar name

NCAA Football: Texas Southern at Baylor Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The search for LSU’s next coach heads east to the Big 12. In the Big 12 you have a conference that will look very different, most definitely in the next decade, likely even sooner.

LSU’s coaching targets in the Big 12 start with the biggest name in the group: Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. At this point Riley’s story is pretty well known: former quarterback under Mike Leach, turned guru OC, and eventually handed the Oklahoma program when Bob Stoops retired. Under Riley, the Sooners have never failed to reach a NY6 Bowl and Riley has posted double digit wins all but one year, which was shortened due to COVID, and he has won the Big 12 in each year he has been the head coach.

His track record with quarterbacks is unmatched, having guided Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and now Caleb Williams to elite levels. Hell even Shane Carden. And while he has made his mark at quarterback he is also an elite recruiter, having loaded up the Sooners with consistent top-10 classes and a consistent haul of high draft picks.

Of course it hasn’t all been perfect. There is legitimate concern that Riley’s success has largely been based on feasting against a mostly mediocre Big 12 teams. All those NY6 Bowl games, Riley is just 1-3 with two of the three being lobsided losses. He also really hasn’t done much as far as the defensive side of the ball.

Another big candidate from the Big 12 is Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. Where Riley is a guru, Campbell is a builder. He has posted just one losing season in Ames, which was his first, through five seasons. His team last year was arguably the best making it to the Big 12 title game and handedly winning the Fiesta Bowl. Campbell is known for finding and developing “his” players that fit what he wants to do at Iowa State, and brining them to high levels. Some of his biggest hits include David Montgomery, Charlie Kolar, Allen Lazard and Breece Hall.

While Campbell has had success developing good players, it seldom reflects in the recruiting rankings. He is known to be a very narrowly tailored in picking players for his program, it’s unclear how that might impact recruiting at LSU’s level. It’s also clear that Campbell has a lot of freedom to run the program as he see’s fit, would he feel that he could have that independence at LSU? Maybe. Maybe not.

Of course, no conversation about Big 12 head coaches could be completed without mentioning former LSU defensive coordinator and current Baylor boss Dave Aranda. No need going over Aranda’s resume through his time with the Tigers. With Baylor, Aranda posted a 2-7 record in his first season, but has the Bears knocking at the top spot in the Big 12 this season.

The biggest plus in Aranda is you know exactly what you’re getting. He has proven success in the SEC and while he isn’t an ace recruiter, knows how to recruit at the SEC level. Combined with the relationships he’s built through his time at LSU and there are far worse candidates than Aranda.

Those aren’t the only interesting names of note in the Big 12. A case for Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy could be made but it doesn’t seem he wants to leave or necessarily be a good fit. Steve Sarkisian at Texas? Probably too early to tell if he has the goods as a head coach. Chris Kleiman at Kansas State probably hasn’t won enough and Lance Leipold is too early to tell at Kansas.

As far as coordinators go, probably the only name worth keeping an eye on is OU DC Alex Grinch. It’s hard to justify hiring a coordinator as a head coach when the results as a coordinator are sonly so-so at best. However, Grinch has been linked to several coaching jobs, is by many accounts a rising star in the coaching circles, and has experience under great offensive coaches such as Riley, Leech and Urban Meyer.