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An early list of coaching candidates for Arizona

Who should Dave Heeke look at for replacing Rich Rodriguez?

Texas A&M v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

With the sudden firing of Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday night, the Arizona Wildcats are now tasked with finding a new head coach.

What makes this search more interesting than those in the past is the timing but also the new early signing period, which saw 16 recruits ink letters of intent with Rodriguez and the current Arizona coaching staff.

So now we turn our attention to names that should or have been brought up as possible replacements for Rodriguez. This is an incomplete, early thoughts list with possible lofty hopes also involved.

Kevin Sumlin

When ASU fired Todd Graham, I thought for sure Sumlin was going to wind up in Tempe. Now there’s a chance he could still make his way from College Station to the Grand Canyon State. Just a little further south now.

There are a couple of things that make Sumlin a best case scenario. Given his history of what he did with Johnny Manziel, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see him inherit someone with the skills of Khalil Tate.

Another super plus to Sumlin is the fact that current Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates was his defensive coordinator at A&M for two years.

Sumlin also had former Arizona quarterback and current UA staffer B.J. Denker on his staff at Texas A&M, so there is some familiarity there, and could result in Denker getting bumped up if there are additional changes to the assistant staff.

His 51-26 career record at Texas A&M would be welcomed in Tucson in a heartbeat.

Lane Kiffin

You want someone who can compete in the Pac-12 South? Look no further than the Lane Train.

The obvious sticking point here is his new ten-year deal at FAU. His original buyout with the Owls was $2.5 million, but a new number has not been confirmed.

Anyways, this would be the best case scenario for entertainment and intrigue.

Mark Helfrich

Personally, I am not a fan of Helfrich and feel that he ran Oregon into the ground. But there is history with Heeke and Helfrich as ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg points out.

Again, this is another case of hiring someone familiar with the conference more than anything. I don’t think this would be a good move for Arizona.

Butch Jones

As long as we’re talking about people with previous ties to Heeke, that leads us to Butch Jones.

Jones was fired by Tennessee this year, but coached under Heeke at Central Michigan from 2007-09. This was a name that I thought at the beginning of the year was a legit contender, but after all the big names that moved on this offseason, and how bad the Vols were, I think Jones is a lot less likely now.

Marcel Yates

Promote from within? It seems like several defensive players would like that. Also Yates is currently the interim head coach.

But the main problem I see with this is that the letter announcing Rodriguez’s dismissal says “Arizona Athletics did become aware of information, both before and during the investigation, which caused it to be concerned with the direction and climate of the football program.” So there may be more people on the chopping block.

Yates doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean past either which came to light towards the end of last season. The NCAA was investigating Yates at Boise and his involvement with a used car dealership.

Keep him as the DC under Sumlin.

Chuck Cecil

Let’s stick on the promoting from within bandwagon with this probable fan favorite.

I’m not a fan of hiring alums just for fun and to make fans happy, but by all accounts Cecil had a tangible impact on the program this year.

Again, I think it’s best for Arizona to go after someone with head coaching experience and not on the current coaching staff.

Joe Salave’a

Okay, this is the only alum that fans should actually want.

Salave’a played at Arizona from 1994-97 before moving on to a career in the NFL that spanned nine seasons.

He then became an assistant college coach, and was the defensive line coach at Arizona in 2011.

In one of the more controversial moves of RichRod’s Arizona takeover, Salave’a was not retained and left for Washington State, where he helped Mike Leach completely change that program.

Now at Oregon, Salave’a is an assistant head coach and defensive line coach under Mario Cristobal. I could also see Oregon DC Jim Leavitt being an option at Arizona.

Brian Knorr

One last internal candidate. Knorr, who is now the Arizona special teams coach, was the head coach at Ohio.

He went 11-35 with the Bobcats.

Les Miles

A crazy guy with success at a school with purple/blue and gold colors with no recruiting ties on the west coast and Michigan history?

Sounds familiar.

Todd Graham

Yes, really.

It’s hard to argue that Graham left ASU better than what he found it. And he’s proven to be successful in the junior college recruiting landscape, something that would really help a school like Arizona.