Boise State lost 17 of 23 games in their first two seasons as an FBS (then Division I-AA) member, 1995 and 1996. Over the next 22 seasons, only one full-time FBS member has lost fewer games than the Broncos, Ohio State. And the Buckeyes played 12 more games over that time, giving Boise State the highest winning percentage (.822) of any team from 1997-2019. On the field, Boise State doesn’t lose. Off the field, they lose a lot. A lot of coaches that is.
Bryan Harsin was introduced as Auburn’s replacement for Gus Malzahn on Tuesday, becoming the fifth straight Boise State to leave for a Power Five job: Houston Nutt for Arkansas after the 1996 season, Dirk Koetter after 2000, Dan Hawkins after 2005, and Chris Petersen after 2013. And Harsin leaves behind a highly attractive Group of Five job that will surely attract strong candidates.
With Harsin out, who might Boise State target as their next head coach?
The move comes at a time of turmoil for an athletics department accustomed to stability. Boise State has sparred with the Mountain West on media deals, flirted with joining the AAC, lost their athletics director Curt Apsey in October, and is facing financial challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Two months after Apsey’s abrupt resignation, Bob Carney remains interim athletics director as the school has yet to hire a replacement.
Each of their last four head coaches had ties to the program prior to being named head coach. More than a dozen potential candidates could follow that trend, including Andy Avalos, Kellen Moore, Jeff Choate, Jeff Grimes, Zak Hill, and Eric Kiesau.
Avalos was an all-conference linebacker for the Broncos from 2001-05 and spent seven years on staff under Chris Petersen and Harsin (2012-18), including the last three as defensive coordinator. Widely viewed as a future FBS head coach, he left for Oregon in 2019 and has done marvelous work with the Ducks’ defense. With an annual salary under $900,000, Avalos is an underpaid, highly respected, and likely available candidate. Moore is a beloved alum who set loads of records during his Heisman finalist career but has no college experience and overseen a mostly mediocre Dallas Cowboys’ offense the last two years.
Jeff Choate and Dan Hawkins are the only two of the six potential candidates not currently coaching at an FBS school. A former Boise assistant (2006-11) who also coached at Utah State, Washington, Washington State, and Florida, Choate has led an incredible rebuild at Montana State and enters the spring season with 19 wins in his last 28 games as head coach.
And three former Boise State coaches to watch: Chris Petersen, Dan Hawkins, and Dirk Koetter. Petersen, especially, seems like a long shot but while announcing his resignation from Washington last year, he said it wasn’t an official retirement.
Outside the Broncos’ orbit, Graham Harrell might make a short list, along with Scottie Hazelton, and Lance Leipold. Harrell interviewed for the UNLV job last year and has been floated as a potential candidate for several other positions in the FBS and NFL. The 35-year-old's coaching stock skyrocketed in three seasons at North Texas, leading him to a seven-figure coordinator job at USC. Hazelton is another Power Five coordinator whose career took off with a Group of Five stop. A former lower-division assistant, Hazelton led Wyoming’s defense from 2017-18, jumped to Kansas State in 2019, and was lured to Michigan State by Mel Tucker.
Other potential candidates to consider: Ricky Rahne, Troy Taylor, Sean Lewis, Chris Creighton, Will Healy, Joe Moorhead, and Willie Fritz.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88.