NORMAN — As OU football’s coaching search enters the weekend without a resolution, the likelihood is the Sooners at least want to speak with a candidate whose team is playing this weekend.
Coaches who have been tied to the search to replace Lincoln Riley are coaching in the championship games of the Big 12, SEC and AAC this weekend.
While Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables continues to be at the top of the names the Sooners appear to be targeting, Baylor coach Dave Aranda, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning have also been mentioned for the job.
Aranda is in his second season coaching Baylor after a successful four-year stint at LSU that wrapped up with a national championship — that included a 63-28 beatdown of OU in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Aranda’s Bears take on Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game beginning at 11 a.m. on ABC.
After a rocky start at Baylor, thanks in large part to the team’s struggles with COVID-19, the Bears have turned things around this season, going 0-2 with wins over Oklahoma, BYU and Iowa State.
Aranda’s defense has been a thorn in the Sooners’ side the last two seasons, holding OU to its two lowest yardage outputs since Lincoln Riley’s arrival in 2015.
OU managed just 260 yards of offense against the Bears this season after 269 a year ago.
While Aranda is known for defense, Baylor’s offensive resurgence this season has pushed the Bears into the title game for the second time in three seasons.
One of the most intriguing names among the possibilities is Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, whose Bulldogs will take on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game at 3 p.m. on CBS.
At 35 years old, Lanning is the youngest of the candidates.
He grew up in the Kansas City area, playing college football at Missouri’s William Jewell College before beginning his coaching career.
Lanning has been with Georgia since 2018, when he joined the Bulldogs as the outside linebackers coach.
After Mel Tucker left to take the Colorado head coaching job after the 2018 season, Lanning was elevated to defensive coordinator as well.
He was a candidate for the Kansas job last offseason before the Jayhawks hired Lance Leipold from Buffalo.
Lanning’s defenses have been dominant during his time in Athens.
The Bulldogs have had the top scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision twice in the last three seasons.
This season, Georgia is allowing just 6.92 points per game and no one has scored more than 17 points against the Bulldogs.
The gap between Georgia and the No. 2 scoring defense — Clemson — is greater than the gap between Clemson and the No. 43 scoring defense this season, California.
Perhaps the least likely of the candidates from Saturday’s games is Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, whose team hosts Houston in the AAC Championship Game at 3 p.m. on ABC.
Fickell’s entire coaching career has been spent in Ohio, mostly at Ohio State, where he started his career as a graduate assistant in 1999 and returned for 15 seasons after spending two years in Akron.
His time with the Buckeyes included spending the 2011 season as the interim coach after Jim Tressel’s resignation. He remained on Urban Meyer’s staff after being passed over for the permanent job, leaving in December 2016 when he was named the head coach at Cincinnati.
Fickell has received plenty of interest from other programs in recent seasons, but so far has resisted the urge to make a move.
With Cincinnati on the cusp of becoming the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff and a move to the Big 12 that figures to help their cause to remain among college football’s highest echelon, would Fickell make the leap now?
A look at potential OU candidates coaching this weekend:
Hometown: Redlands, California
Alma mater: California Lutheran
Playing career: After suffering a series of shoulder injuries in high school, Aranda didn’t play football at Cal Lutheran, instead getting a jump on his coaching career.
Coaching career: Redlands High School JV 1995, Cal Lutheran linebackers 1996-99, Texas Tech graduate assistant 2000-02, Houston linebackers 2003-04, Cal Lutheran defensive coordinator/linebackers 2005-06, Delta State co-defensive coordinator/linebackers 2007, Southern Utah defensive coordinator 2008, Hawaii defensive line 2008-09, Hawaii defensive coordinator 2010-11, Utah State defensive coordinator 2012, Wisconsin defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach 2013-15, LSU assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/linebackers coach 2016-19, Baylor head coach 2020-present.
Record: 12-9 at Baylor
Positives: Aranda has spent time in both the Big 12 and SEC, developing recruiting relationships in both of those regions, as well as in his home state of California. He’s turned Baylor back around quickly after struggles his first season.
Negatives: Aranda only has two seasons experience as a head coach and his personality doesn’t exactly move the needle.
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Alma mater: Ohio State
Playing career: Fickell was a nose guard who started 50 straight games for the Buckeyes. He then signed with the New Orleans Saints but suffered a knee injury and never played in the National Football League.
Coaching career: graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1999, defensive line coach at Akron 2000-01, then spent 15 years on Ohio State staffs, as special teams coach, linebacker coach/co-defensive coordinator and interim head coach, and head coach at Cincinnati 2016-present.
Record: 6-7 as Ohio State’s interim head coach in 2011, between the Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer regimes; 47-14 at Cincinnati.
Positives: Extensive experience at a powerhouse, for vastly-different coaches Tressel and Meyer. Ultra-success as a head coach at Cincinnati.
Negatives: Geographically limited, with his entire life spent living in the state of Ohio, except for the season with the Saints.
Hometown: Richmond, Missouri, just outside Kansas City
Alma mater: William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri, alma mater of Kansas State coaching legend Bill Snyder
Playing career: Linebacker William Jewell, which was in the NAIA when Lanning played from 2004-07.
Coaching career: Park Hill South High School assistant 2008-10, University of Pittsburgh graduate assistant 2011, Arizona State grad assistant 2012, Arizona State recruiting coordinator 2013, Sam Houston State defensive backs coach 2014, Alabama graduate assistant 2015, Memphis linebackers coach 2016-17, Georgia linebackers coach 2018, Georgia defensive coordinator 2019-21.
Positives: Touted as a recruiting whiz and clearly a sharp coach, with Kirby Smart entrusting his defense to Lanning.
Negatives: Limited experience. Lanning has been a coordinator for three years, at a place that already had a stout defensive culture and still has a head coach (Smart) who is a defensive mastermind. Lincoln Riley was 33 when named head coach at OU, but Riley had seven years as a coordinator and had established the offensive culture himself at both East Carolina and OU.
Berry Tramel and Ryan Aber, Staff writers
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Which OU football coaching search candidates are coaching this weekend?