It may have taken forever for Maryland to get around to firing football coach DJ Durkin in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death, but it didn’t take long at all for speculation about his successor to begin.
The various lists were predictable — successful head coaches at either the Football Championship Subdivision level (Mike Houston of James Madison) or the Group of Five level (Lance Leipold of Buffalo, Scott Satterfield of Appalachian State, Geoff Collins of Temple, Jason Candle of Toledo and Neal Brown of Troy) and coordinators at power schools (Tony Elliott of Clemson and Ryan Day of Ohio State).
At least one website brought up the name of Mike Leach, who has built Washington State into a top 10 team since taking over there in 2012 and who would have taken the Maryland job in 2010 . Leach would no more touch the Maryland job now than he would give up talking about pirates — his non-football obsession.
Mike Locksley, the co-offensive coordinator at Alabama and Maryland’s interim coach for six games in 2015 — he went 1-5 after Randy Edsall was fired — also has been mentioned because of his ties to the Washington area.
All have solid résumés, although Locksley failed miserably as a head coach at New Mexico, and there wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with hiring any of them if they were willing to take on the dumpster fire that is Maryland football right now.
None, however, would be the right hire.
The right hire’s name has yet to be mentioned because he has never been a head coach and he’s not at a Power Five school as a coordinator. But he’s more than ready to be a head coach, and, just as important, he would be willing to take the job.
The name: Ivin Jasper, Navy’s offensive coordinator.
Why Jasper hasn’t gotten the chance to be a head coach is a mystery. He was Navy’s quarterbacks coach under Paul Johnson and become the offensive coordinator when Ken Niumatalolo succeeded Johnson as Navy’s head coach in 2007.
Around Navy he’s known as the quarterback whisperer because he has always had an uncanny knack of finding his quarterback’s strengths and in calling plays that allow the Navy offense to be effective.
If you want to look at this year’s 2-7 record and scoff, go ahead. But until last week the Navy offense had moved the ball just about as well as in the past, even without consistent quarterback play.
When it appeared likely that Niumatalolo was going to leave Navy to take the BYU job three years ago, Jasper was prepared to take over. Navy would have continued to hum the same way it did when Niumatalolo took over for Johnson.
Jasper is bright, honest and highly respected by his players, just like his boss. He’s 48 and more than ready to run his own program.
He would be stepping into a program that has dealt with genuine tragedy and heartache, which is going to be part of the package any new coach is going to have deal with when he takes over.
Jasper knows about heartache. His son Jarren almost died after heart surgery 15 months ago and then spent most of last season waiting for a heart transplant, which he received in February. His father spent most of his nights during the season in the hospital and then showed up for work almost without fail.
“I honestly don’t know how he did it,” Niumatalolo said last winter. “His emotional strength, not to mention his physical stamina throughout the whole thing, was just amazing.”
Maryland needs more than a good football coach; it needs someone with an understanding of real adversity — not third-and-long adversity, real adversity — and genuine character, something sorely lacking in the football program and the athletic department these past few years.
He would take the job. Many of the coaches mentioned probably want nothing to do with coaching Maryland. The job was generally viewed as a career-stopper before the McNair tragedy because the Terrapins live in the Big Ten East — meaning annual games with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — and no matter how much Maryland loyalists may want to believe it, the school can’t build a program that can consistently compete with those powers.
Especially not now.
Going 8-4 in a given year and making a second-tier bowl is a realistic goal with the right coach — not a coach who sanctions the emotional abuse of his players to make them “tougher.”
Maryland people have mentioned Niumatalolo as a possible replacement for Durkin. Not happening. Niumatalolo might have been interested in Maryland eight years ago when Edsall was hired. Back then, Niumatalolo had a daughter playing lacrosse at Maryland and the Terrapins were still in the ACC, where they had a legitimate chance to compete annually.
Since then, he had the opportunity for better jobs than Maryland, at BYU and Arizona. He’s not leaving Annapolis.
But Jasper would because he wants to prove himself, even under arguably the most difficult circumstances that exist in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Of course, there will be many who will say you can’t succeed in the Big Ten running the triple option.
The triple option is a major reason Maryland should hire Jasper. The school has to think out of the box right now. A standard-issue coach with a standard-issue offense isn’t going to get it done in the Big Ten East.
Navy’s triple option has beaten Notre Dame four times since 2007; it also has beaten Houston just after the Cougars had beaten Oklahoma, plus Missouri, Pittsburgh and Virginia in bowl games — to name a few. Coaches always moan about how tough it is to face the triple option because it is so different.
Maryland needs to be different. It needs to be hard to prepare for even if it doesn’t have athletes as good as the powers in the Big Ten. You think Navy’s talent should ever beat Notre Dame? Of course not. But it has done so in the past, most recently in 2016.
It also won’t hurt to have an African American coach. The only time Maryland has had one in football was Locksley’s six-game stint as an interim. Among the candidates mentioned, the only other minority is Elliott.
The last time Maryland got anything right in football was when it hired Ralph Friedgen to coach in 2000. Even then, Boomer Esiason and a number of influential alums had to push Debbie Yow, kicking and screaming, to make the hire.
Damon Evans has done absolutely nothing to deserve the job as athletic director. But he’s got it at the moment. Now is his chance to get something right.
The right move is to hire Ivin Jasper.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.