There was a fair bit of surprise in many corners Sunday when Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt announced he was retiring, including from “shocked” athletic director Blake James. But the conversation quickly turned to potential successors, and there’s one very interesting name in there from a media perspective. As Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald tweeted, there are apparently some former players pushing for ESPN NFL analyst Rex Ryan, and Ryan is “believed to have interest”:
Per source, couple prominent former UM players pushing behind scenes for former Jets coach Rex Ryan to replace Richt. Ryan is believed to have interest, if he's contacted officially. So one of bunch of names to keep in mind.
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) December 30, 2018
On a lot of levels, Ryan would seem to be an unlikely fit. He’s never been a college head coach, and his last stint in the college ranks at all was a month as Kansas State’s defensive coordinator in 1999 before he left to coach the defensive line for the Baltimore Ravens. (Before that, he was Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator in 1998, Cincinnati’s DC from 1996-97, and Morehead State’s DC from 1990-93.) And while he found a lot of success as a NFL defensive coordinator, his record as a head coach at that level isn’t all that impressive; he led the Jets to a pair of AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010, but didn’t win the division either year, and finished with a 46-50 record in New York (2009-2014) before going 15-16 in two seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He hasn’t coached at all since the Bills fired him with one game left in the 2016 season, instead working as an ESPN analyst. Oh, and he’s 56, just two years younger than Richt (although Ryan just turned 56, and Richt will be 59 in February).
But you never know what will happen when the college coaching carousel spins, and Arizona State’s decision to hire ESPN analyst Herm Edwards last offseason might be a bit of a precedent here. Even the Sun Devils’ interest in Edwards was widely panned at the time, as Edwards was then 63, hadn’t coached at any level since 2008, had a 54-74 record as a NFL head coach (including 39-41 with the Jets, similar to Ryan), had never been a college head coach, and hadn’t worked at the college level since 1989 (as San Jose State’s defensive backs coach). And some early Edwards press conferences left many wondering what Arizona State was doing, and if that move was only about AD Ray Anderson being Edwards’ former agent. But Edwards’ first season led to a 7-6 mark, and while that’s not necessarily great (it’s the same record that got Todd Graham fired the previous year), the move is working out far better so far than most had predicted. And two other programs have recently brought in older former coaches who had been doing some work in front of the camera, with North Carolina bringing back ESPN NCAA analyst Mack Brown and Kansas hiring brief ESPN/Fox analyst/actor/commercial star/podcast host Les Miles.
Of course, just because the Edwards move hasn’t totally exploded so far doesn’t mean that every program’s going to hire ESPN NFL analysts with no college head coaching experience. (And it should be noted that hiring an ESPN NFL analyst who hadn’t coached in a long while has worked out less well so far for the Oakland Raiders.) The Hurricanes should have more top-tier options than Arizona State given the program’s history and proximity to recruiting hotbeds, and there are plenty of prominent coaches with Miami ties who might be interested. And the Miami job’s also the biggest one open right now (although there’s another interesting one with Houston axing Major Applewhite and potential further dominoes there, that’s probably not on this level), which should further bolster their ability to pick from a wide candidate pool. So that would make it even more surprising if they went with Ryan instead of a more proven NCAA head coach.
However, it’s also possible to see this being a fit on some levels. Ryan has always been popular with lots of players, and he coached a couple of prominent former Hurricanes (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed) in Baltimore. He’s a big, fiery personality who might be able to find success on the recruiting trail, and that’s going to be a huge part of what Miami needs with their next coach. The Hurricanes also have significant resources, so they could perhaps hire some NCAA-experienced assistants to support Ryan (especially on the offensive side of the ball). And bringing him in would certainly be a splashy move. We’ll see if this goes anywhere; at the moment, Jackson’s report is only that some former players would like Ryan and that he might be interested, not that the Miami administration necessarily is looking at him. But this will definitely be one to keep an eye on.