MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — West Virginia’s director of athletics, Wren Baker, is going to be busy next offseason with the likely hiring of head coaches in the school’s top two programs, football and basketball. Baker was clear when Josh Eilert was hired as the team’s interim head coach that he was only the interim and that he would conduct a national search following the season. With the Mountaineers losing two potential starters in Jose Perez and RaeQuan Battle, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Eilert to do enough in one year to show that he’s worthy of a being named the team’s permanent head coach. As unfair as that is, that is the position that Eilert and his staff are currently in. In addition, Neal Brown is back squarely on the hot seat after losing two consecutive games – at Houston and at home against Oklahoma State – and with a 26-28 overall record and a 16-23 record in the Big 12 Conference.
With that said, Baker will almost certainly hire brand new head coaches in football and basketball for the upcoming season. Here are the coaches that I predict that could lead the Mountaineers in 2024. (Remember, it’s very early on in the process and a lot can change in six months):
I believe Wren Baker will be okay with hiring an up-and-coming basketball head coach. In football, he’ll want to focus on a proven winner to remove the stench of Neal Brown, but in basketball, I think he will be willing to take a risk on the right candidate.
I believe that right candidate could be Pat Kelsey, the current head coach at the University of Charleston. Kelsey, 48, has led Charleston to a 48-19 record (.716 winning percentage) over the last two seasons and was just as good at Winthrop in the previous 9 seasons, finishing 186-95 while finishing in first place in the Big South Conference four times. A former point guard at Xavier, he’s a Cincinnati native who coached and learned under Chris Mack, and he has a squeaky clean image, a strong work ethic and a job like West Virginia would be an ideal next step for him. Although he’s not incredibly sexy pick, he would be an outstanding hire.
Other possibilities: Andy Kennedy (flirted with West Virginia during the offseason but chose to remain at UAB), Ben McCollum (has won four of the last 6 Division II national championships and was previously hired by Wren Baker at Northwest Missouri State), Bob Huggins (he desperately wants his job back and will have tremendous support from boosters/donors, despite the school’s displeasure with the way he left the program).
Unlike in basketball, Baker will have to hire an absolute slam dunk to lead the football program and will take no risks here. He needs a proven winner and someone that the entire fanbase can get behind. While that is certainly a difficult task, there are a few head coaches that check all (or most) of the boxes.
Jimbo Fisher checks nearly every box. Look, I realize that he’s struggled to win consistently at Texas A&M over the last couple of years, but he’s in the most difficult conference (SEC) in the nation and the expectations are through the roof in College Station. However, he has won a national championship, he’s a West Virginia native and if he gets fired at Texas A&M, coming home to coach the Mountaineers would be an ideal scenario for him. Fisher, 58, has an incredible 126-47 record as a head coach and is 8-2 in bowl games. He’s likely to be fired at Texas A&M if they don’t turn their season around drastically, and if West Virginia has an opening, it’s hard to think that either party would not gladly make this happen.
Curt Cignetti just might be the safest, easiest choice ever for Wren Baker. He’s 48-8 overall at James Madison in 5 seasons, he’s a former West Virginia quarterback, he’s a West Virginia University graduate, his dad is the former head coach of the Mountaineers, and he’s a former Nick Saban assistant. Cignetti, 62, has James Madison in the Top 25 this season with a 7-0 record and a top university is going to pursue him in the offseason and West Virginia will certainly be interested.
Other possibilities: Tony Gibson (major support from boosters and could win big at West Virginia, but has no Division 1 head coaching experience), Jamey Chadwell (has won everywhere he’s gone, but would he be willing to leave Liberty after only one successful season?), Rich Rodriguez (very divisive choice with the fanbase, but has done very well at Jacksonville State and would likely take a smaller salary to return home).