OU coaching search narrows even further

Welcome to the continuing saga of the search for the 25th head coach of University of Oklahoma football.

Well, calling it a saga, may be a stretch given that the official search is now only in its fifth full day, and with the rapidity with which the principal characters keep changing, we really don’t know a lot more than we knew earlier in the week.

What we do know, however, is that what started out as a prospective candidate list of as many as a dozen names has pretty much been whittled down to a trio of likely finalists for the job.

True to form, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione is not letting on as to what individual or individuals he has his sights locked in on or what his plan A, B, and C might be in his urgent search for the next Oklahoma head football coach.

“My benchmark is hiring the best coach for the University of Oklahoma,” Castiglione said at an Oklahoma press conference on Monday. “It always has been and always will be.”

We may not know for sure who the final candidates are, but according to multiple sources, including interim head coach Bob Stoops, it appears the announcement could come over the weekend or possibly carry over to Monday. We also know who no longer is a candidate.

When the news first broke about Lincoln Riley leaving Norman for sunny Southern California, prospective candidate names to replace him starting flying off the shelf. Among those names were Mark Stoops, head coach at Kentucky; Josh Heupel, an Oklahoma alumnus and former offensive coordinator; Lane Kiffin, current head coach at Ole Miss; and a couple of NFL head coaches with Big 12 ties: Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals and formerly head coach at Texas Tech, and Matt Rhule, the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, who was previously head coach at Baylor.

You can scratch all of these names from the list. They’ve either opted out personally or, for whatever reason, are no longer in consideration, if they ever were.

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was also believed to be a hot candidate for the job. In the last 24 hours, his name has reportedly dropped off this list.

The three names that are getting the most buzz as of Friday afternoon are Brent Venables, defensive coordinator at Clemson and formerly DC at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops; Luke Fickell, head coach at Cincinnati; and Dan Lanning, defensive coordinator at Georgia. All are involved in conference championship games this weekend, and two (Fickell and Lanning may go on to even bigger games after that if they win on Saturday).

Fickell would appear to be the bigger fish out of that trio. He has said in the past that Ohio State and Notre Dame would be the two jobs he would be most interested in if he were to leave Cincinnati. The Notre Dame job opened up earlier this week with the news that Brian Kelly had taken the LSU coaching vacancy, but has since been filled with Irish assistant Marcus Freeman, who had been serving at ND defensive coordinator. Ryan Day is solidly in place at Ohio State, so that job isn’t opening anytime soon.

If I were to prioritize the three OU coach candidates who sources are indicating are the three top prospects to land the Oklahoma job, it would be 1) Fickell, 2) Venables, 3) Lanning.

Who knows, though. Joe Castiglione may end up throwing us a curve ball, similar to what Riley did when he deflected the inquiry about the LSU coaching job after the Bedlam game on Saturday only to end up accepting the USC job on Sunday.