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Who Should Replace Joey Jones?

By Jim Johnson
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At this point in the process, most names that will be thrown around are simply rumors and hearsay, but here are a few realistic options that deserve a long, hard look.

South Alabama head coach Joey Jones has reportedly turned in his resignation. He will coach the Jaguars in their season finale, at New Mexico State, on December 2nd. After that, the program must replace the man who, quite literally, made it what it is today.

He leaves behind a solid starting point for his successor, especially given that the history of South Alabama football goes back less than a decade. However, with the new early signing period, it’s imperative that AD Dr. Joel Erdmann finds and puts in place the new leadership sooner, rather than later.

At this point in the process, most names that will be thrown around are simply rumors and hearsay, but here are a few realistic options that deserve a long, hard look:

Gene Chizik

The argument for: Chizik won a national championship as the head coach at Auburn, in 2010. After his dismissal, he took a few years off before taking over as defensive coordinator at North Carolina, where the Tar Heels went from 119th in the nation in points allowed the year before his arrival, to 42nd in year one and 43rd, last year.

The argument against: Would he take the job, and, if so, how motivated would he be? Chizik left UNC to spend more time with his family. He took three years off between that job and his stint at Auburn. Where would he have been without Cam Newton? Also, his background is defensive, and, while he does a good job on that side of the ball, defense has not been the problem the past two years. The problems have been on offense and with overall consistency. Chizik isn’t exactly a beacon of hope for either of those.

Verdict: He knows the state of Alabama, has a championship pedigree, and would be a splashy hire. Practically speaking, though, South Alabama may be better suited going after a motivated up and comer. If it was guarantee that he would be totally engaged for the long-term, sure, but there’s just no telling.

John Grass

The argument for: Grass, an Alabama native, has taken Jacksonville State to the FCS playoffs every year since being promoted to head coach, in 2014. He has an offensive background, which, as previously stated, should be important, even if just in the way of invigorating the fan base. Given that he’s spent his whole life in Alabama, even if he is very successful, Grass may stick around for the long haul.

The argument against: Grass has raised the modern profile of an already good program, but he was placed in a very favorable situation. With only four years of head coaching experience, he is still relatively unproven. As far as offensive minds go, there are more effective options out there to truly improve what has been a problem area.

Verdict: Grass, a state of Alabama lifer, has the potential to bring a sort of grounded, long-term consistency to a program still in its relative infancy. He has the offensive background, which, while it shouldn’t be a prerequisite, should be considered a pro. Still, his lack of head coaching experience is mildly concerning. Overall, he feels like a safe choice.

Chris Hatcher

The argument for: Hatcher has been a head coach in college football, although not at the FBS level, since 2000. He won a DII national championship at Valdosta State in the middle aughts. His offense is as effective as it is fun. He has taken Samford to the FCS Playoffs in consecutive seasons.

The argument against: He struggled to maintain consistency at Georgia Southern and Murray State. On the one hand, he appears to have matured as a head coach through those experiences. On the other hand, it’s still a relatively small sample size at Samford.

Verdict: Hatcher is more of a high risk-high reward proposition. If he can’t find a capable quarterback to run his offense, it could get ugly. However, with the right personnel, he could immediately inject some scoring into a team that desperately needs it and with the aesthetic pleasure of his coaching style, he should be able to buy himself some extra leeway with the fan base and boosters. Even if it takes a little while for him to find his footing, things can be fun in the meantime. Hatcher might quietly be the best option, all things considered.

Brent Key

The argument for: Key is the offensive line coach at Alabama. For years now, he has been widely regarded as one of the best in the country at his job, as well as a strong recruiter. A 39 year old Birmingham-native, Key has some rising star potential, and plenty of in-state ties.

The argument against: There’s a reason this would be a sleeper candidate. He has no head coaching experience. There’s also an argument to be made that simply pulling a coordinator from the SEC ranks is more of a superficial move than one of substance.

Verdict: Key could be a very good head coach, but why take the risk on could when there are guys that have been? Just because he’s a great position coach does not make him a great head coach. Plenty of elite head coaches were so-so coordinators, and vice versa. At this point, South Alabama should be vying for guys that have done the job before.

Kevin Sherrer

The argument for: Sherrer was the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator in 2013. He currently serves as the outside linebackers coach at Georgia. In Athens, Sherrer's’ position group has probably been the most consistently productive part of the defense, during his tenure. An Alabama alum, Sherrer has state ties, even aside from his time at South Alabama, and is known as a good recruiter.

The argument against: Similar to Key, Sherrer has not been a head coach. Also, his background is, obviously, on defense, which, again, has not been the problem.

Verdict: Sherrer having been at South Alabama may be a more comfortable option for Jags fans, simply by nature of him being a familiar face. Still, the overarching concerns that were true for Key are true for Sherrer. Just reaching into the SEC for the sake of getting someone from the SEC feels like a dice roll. For South Alabama to take the next step, as a program, it should be offering coaches who have experience doing the job.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP