During Scott Carr’s media availablity following his announcement as FIU’s Athletic Director, he stated in regards to the Panthers’ head coaching vacancy, “Goal number one is to find the right person, but goal number 1A is to get someone in here as fast as humanly possible.”
The Panthers next head coach will undoubtedly be taking on one of the most challenging roster situations in FBS football.
As of December 7, FIU is tied with Syracuse for having the most amount of scholarship players enter the transfer portal, seeing 13 members of the team depart since mid-November.
Monday night Portal Cup update (scholarship players to portal since 8/1)— NCAA Transfer Portal (@RivalsPortal) December 7, 2021
Syracuse - 13
FSU, Virginia - 11
8 schools - 9
FIU - 13
Arkansas State - 12
UConn, Buffalo -11
UCF - 10
ULM, Rice, Hawaii - 9
Since 2018, the program has struggled to keep scholarship players out of the transfer portal, with 25 players choosing to transfer or leave the program, entering the 2021 season and an additional two (Jakovi Bryant, Katravis Geter Jr.) leaving during the season — prior to the latest exodus.
The roster attrition has left FIU facing the possibility of being under the 85-scholarship maximum — even with the NCAA ruling allowing programs to sign an additional seven players in the current recruiting cycle, due to COVID-19 transfer rules.
With less than eight days until the December signing day period, Carr and FIU President Mark Rosenberg are looking to close in on the naming the fifth head coach in program history. Here are five names to keep an eye on.
Tim Harris Jr.
A name that FIU fans are incredibly familiar with, UCF co-Offensive Coordinator/running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. spent six seasons on the Panthers staff (2015-2020) and was named offensive coordinator entering the ‘21 season, before taking the same role in Orlando.
The Miami native is considered one of the top recruiters on the South Florida region in the nation and as a position coach, has produced several players who have gone on to the next level.
Prior to joining FIU in 2015, Harris Jr. was a well-respected assistant and head coach at Miami’s Booker T. Washington High and was the primary recruiter of current Panthers’ backs Kejon Owens, Flex Joseph and Eric Wilson Jr.
Several former Panthers have publicly advocated for Harris Jr. to be named as FIU’s next head coach and Harris seemingly would immediately garner the respect of the current roster.
Texas A&M tight ends coach James Coley is also a Miami native who has a litany of experience coaching in South Florida at several levels. The 48-year-old Coley coached at Miami High and Miami Norland, spent three seasons as University of Miami offensive coordinator and two seasons as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins.
Most notably on his South Florida resume, Coley was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2007.
Coley has had additional stops at Florida State, LSU and Georgia during his coaching career. The multitude of stops should allow Coley to be able to assemble a well-rounded staff, given the amount of coaching staffs he’s served on.
Like Harris Jr., Coley is also considered an excellent recruiter in South Florida.
Florida A&M Head Coach Willie Simmons has been a fast riser since beginning his head coaching career at Prarie View A&M in 2015.
The 41-year-old Simmons has a 45-21 record, including a 24-10 record over the last three seasons in Tallahasse, which included an extremely rare FCS Playoff berth for an HBCU program.
Simmons has an offensive-minded background, having been a former quarterback at Clemson and serving as running backs coach and later, offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State from 2007-2011 and FCS Alcorn State from 2012-2014.
His experience at HBCU’s could serve as an advantage, given the rebuilding nature of the FIU job in facilities and players.
Appalachian State OC Frank Ponce is another name with Miami and FIU ties. An FIU grad, Ponce spent the first 13 years of his coaching career at the high school ranks in Dade County, most notably as head coach of Miami High from 2004-2006.
He returned to his alma mater as wide receivers coach under Mario Cristobal from 2007-2012, serving on the same staff as Coley in Cristobal’s debut season at FIU. In Ponce’s six seasons as an FBS offensive coordinator, his offenses ranked among the top-30 teams in scoring five times, including this year’s App State team averaging 34.2 points per game.
Per sources with knowledge of the situation, Ponce has made several overtures to former FIU AD Pete Garcia and members of the FIU community about his interest in the head coaching role since 2016.
A darkhorse name to keep an eye on is current Tennessee Volunteers OC Alex Golesh. The 37-year-old doesn’t have any major ties to South Florida or FIU.
However, he served as UCF co-Offensive Coordinator in 2020 under Vols’ HC Josh Heupel — and Carr has familiarity with Golesh.
Golesh began his coaching career as a student assistant at Ohio State in 2004, before earning his first full-time role as Toledo’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator in 2009. He later served as Illinois RC, tight ends coach and running backs coach in 2014, before going to Iowa State as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons.
The Knights’ offense averaged 42.2 points per game in 2020 — ranking eighth among FBS teams and this year’s Tennessee team ranked ninth in the nation, averaging 38.8 per contest.