By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – As Ole Miss continues in its search for a football coach, two coaches believed to be candidates will lead their teams in championship games this weekend.
No. 24 Southern Mississippi and coach Larry Fedora will play for the Conference USA title at No. 7 Houston on Saturday morning. Later in the day, Arkansas State and Hugh Freeze can win the Sun Belt Conference outright by defeating Troy in Jonesboro.
Alabama coach Kirby Smart remains a fixture in the process, though reports have conflicted as whether Smart has or has not been interviewed.
Smart is the only coach among the three most often mentioned as Ole Miss candidates who has no regular-season games remaining. No. 2 Alabama won’t play again until its bowl game, presumably a rematch for the BCS national championship with No. 1 LSU.
A name to enter the mix this week has been West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. There’s no obvious connection to Ole Miss or apparent dissatisfaction from the school with a coach who is 8-3 and in the running for the Big East championship in his first season.
West Virginia has also made conference realignment news. It is hoping to join the Big 12 for the 2012 season, but the date of the Mountaineers’ entry will have to play out in the courts.
Holgorsen coached under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, two men known for spread offenses. He was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State last season. He made a reported $1.4 million at West Virginia this season. The Mountaineers are ranked in the national top 20 in passing, scoring and total offense, but No. 101 in rushing offense.
The search committee, co-chaired by Archie Manning and FedEx VP Mike Glenn, has not released names of candidates publicly or in a private meeting with players on Tuesday.
A process that is nearing a month old began on Nov. 7 when the school announced that Houston Nutt would not return as head coach.
Now the committee is finding more competition for available candidates. Fedora’s name has been mentioned in connection with jobs at North Carolina, Kansas and elsewhere. Freeze, to a lesser extent, is drawing attention as well, specifically from the University of Memphis.