A week and a half ago former JMU head coach Mike Houston officially left the Dukes to join the East Carolina Pirates. The next day, linebackers coach Warren Belin was named interim head coach, as he and cornerbacks coach Corico Wright set out to shore up the 2019 recruiting class before the early signing period on Wednesday.
Houston took nine former staff members from his James Madison unit to join him at East Carolina, including offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick and defensive coordinator Bob Trott. With the early signing period a week away, let’s look at an updated version of potential replacements of Houston.
Only one in-house name remains
Warren Belin (interim head coach)
The quick work that Belin has exhibited over the last week means a lot to the program, and he should be given some consideration for the permanent position. Him and Wright have been on the road for a week now, making sure that the 2019 verbal-commit class is still interested in playing their collegiate careers in the purple and gold. From the looks of it so far, there hasn’t been a Duke to reopen their recruitment process.
When speaking on his temporary job promotion, JMU Director of Athletics said, “It’s nice to have a coach with presence, who the young men admire and respect.” It seemed unlikely from the start that administration would make an in-house hire, but Belin’s hard work and praise from Bourne and current players should at least keep his name in the hat for the time being.
Removed from this list: Donnie Kirkpatrick & Bob Trott
Two coaches with previous JMU ties
Drew Mehringer (Texas wide receivers coach)
Mehringer made the first list of potential candidates, and it seems as if his case has only continued to grow in the last 10 days. The co-offensive coordinator for the Dukes back in 2014 has made stops at FBS programs in Houston, Rutgers and currently Texas.
While he doesn’t have head-coaching experience, he’s spent two coaching stints under Tom Herman — who has a 38-14 record as a head coach. He’s been around successful programs and even began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with Ohio State, and will continue to be a rising commodity around the college football world whether it continues in the purple and gold or not.
From JMU’s perspective, hiring Mehringer could be a bit of a gamble. Not only does he lack the head-coaching experience that should be desired for a program in a “win-now” mode, but he also was part of the Everett Withers’ coaching staff that didn’t value defense — something that was essential to the Dukes’ success in the last three seasons.
If Bourne and his staff could pair him with an experienced defensive coordinator, much like what Trott was to JMU the last three years, this could be the next stepping stone for a bright future for Mehringer.
John DeFilippo (former Vikings offensive coordinator)
Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but there should be no harm in JMU at least reaching out to DeFilippo, who was fired from the Vikings late Tuesday morning. The former JMU quarterback has yet to hold a head-coaching job, but has worked with six different NFL teams as either the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach or offensive quality control coach.
DeFilippo hasn’t been in the college game since serving as the OC at San Jose State in 2011, but has a long resume despite being just 40 years old. He’s worked with Super Bowl head coaches such as Tom Coughlin and Doug Pederson, as well as the defensive mindsets of Rex Ryan and Mike Zimmer.
While this could be a great hire for JMU, it does seem a little unrealistic given the trajectory of DeFilippo’s career (he was tabbed as a potential NFL head coach before his firing). He was connected to the Dukes in previous head coaching opportunities, and might decide to begin his head-coaching career with a smaller college program in a win-now window.
Note: There have been a number of other candidates floating around with JMU ties, such Maryland o-line coach Bryan Stinespring and Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Drew Cronic. For these two, and any other names from the previous regimes of Mickey Matthews, Withers and Houston, it would be difficult to hire them given the short-lived regimes. Unless there’s someone with the young age and track record of Mehringer, this eventual hire points outside of JMU.
Two CAA coaches that’ve maxed their resources
Curt Cignetti (Elon head coach)
The resume speaks for itself: Cignetti has made the small market of Elon a successful program after coaching in Power Five teams like Alabama, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. If hired, the 57-year-old would bring the necessary experience and clout to continue this stretch of James Madison success.
Additionally, Cignetti could provide an upgrade for JMU’s offense — a unit that steadily declined from the 2016, national-championship season. He knows the CAA, how to win in it and would be given a larger market and social presence that the sub-7,000 student body of Elon can’t provide. Cignetti to JMU could be a home-run hire.
Joe Harasymiak (Maine head coach)
Harasymiak is like a defensive version of Texas’ Mehringer but with the experience of a head coach. Both played college football in the mid-2000s, and both will be the youngest individuals that JMU considers for the job.
The New Jersey native has been with Maine since the 2011 season, and worked his way up to the head-coaching job. In his three full years as the head coach, he’s 18-14 and went 8-3 (7-1 CAA) in the 2018 regular season.
While he should be given hard consideration for the job, there’s one glaring problem: He’s still coaching. Maine upset Weber State on the road last weekend to advance to the FCS semifinals. With the clock ticking on the early signing period, Harasymiak’s success might push him out of contention this time around,
Two outside-the-box candidates
Dan Hunt (Colgate head coach)
For a coach that’s found consistent winning in the Patriot league, Colgate’s Dan Hunt could see the same success at JMU — even within the more-difficult CAA. He operates his programs just as JMU has under Houston with a strong run game and stout defense, and would have to make minimal personnel changes on the field.
Colgate’s season is officially done after being shut out by North Dakota State, and Hunt should consider the move if JMU comes calling. While he’s had two runs to the national quarterfinals in 2015 and 2018, Colgate has limited exposure and a weaker national brand compared to the Dukes. He has a mix of youth and experience, and could be the answer to sustaining JMU’s mantra.
Brian Bohannon (Kennesaw State head coach)
Much like Hunt, the Owls’ first and only head coach in program history has a mix of youth and experience while recent success in creating a winning program. After going 6-5 in his first year back in 2015, Bohannon has had two straight 11-plus win seasons and two trips to the national quarterfinals.
An offensive-minded coach, Bohannon could provide the spark that JMU’s offensive needs while keeping the right defensive mindset that Houston and Trott implemented over the years. In 2018, Bohannon’s group had the third-best total defense (263.7 yards per game) and the seventh-best scoring defense (15.4 points per game) while his offense averaged 454 yards per game.
The Kennesaw State job was his first head-coaching opportunity, and he’s made quick work of making the program a success. Should he want to capitalize off his team’s recent performance and turn it into a pay-raise, JMU could be the right fit and opportunity for him to make the jump.
CORRECTION Dec. 14, 9:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article suggested that Bryan Stinespring was a member of either Mickey Matthews or Everett Withers coaching staffs. However, Stinespring was a former assistant with Mike Houston during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Contact Blake Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.