The college football season is yet to start until August 26 and already, the biggest head coaching opening belongs to Northwestern University following its ongoing hazing allegations. That opening now has two coaches tied to the University of Alabama being mentioned as early heavy favorites to take the reins.
The investigation into hazing claims within the Wildcats’ program officially led to the school firing longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday evening, July 10, first reported by ESPN’s Pete Thamel and Adam Rittenberg.
While David Braun is lined up to be promoted from his defensive coordinator spot to interim head coach, the Wildcats opening already has insiders revealing their list of potential candidates to succeed Fitzgerald. And among the popular choices are two men with past ties to Nick Saban.
Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees Mentioned as Early Contender by Insider
College football insider for The Athletic Bruce Feldman threw the new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator’s name into the early ringer of candidates for the Northwestern opening.
Feldman points out that Rees’s ties to the state of Illinois could win over the Evanston campus. But another integral piece of information on Rees’s resume could catapult the Crimson Tide play caller to the top of Northwestern’s short list of head coaching candidates.
“Another Power 5 OC we think will be on Northwestern’s radar is new Bama offensive coordinator Rees, a Chicago native and a guy who got his coaching start as a Wildcats GA (grad assistant) in 2015,” Feldman wrote.
That means Rees, who graduated from nearby Lake Forest High in Illinois, should have no issue understanding the rigorous academic standards in place at Northwestern, having gotten his coaching start there. He was also at another institution of higher learning near Northwestern.
“Rees knows plenty about what it’s like to work in a high academic program, having quarterbacked and then coached at Notre Dame. That would be a big plus,” Feldman wrote.
Another element that Feldman believes could persuade the Wildcats to lure Rees back over? His youthful state, as he can use his age to help infuse new vigor on campus.
“At 31, Rees is still exceptionally young,” Feldman said. “And his time under Nick Saban only figures to help his career down the road.”
But his chances of rising to the top of the list will be dependent upon how Rees does in his first season working under Saban as OC and quarterbacks coach. He’s taking over for the next past Saban assistant mentioned for the NU opening.
Bill O’Brien Also Called a Contender for Northwestern Gig
While Feldman, surprisingly, didn’t mention O’Brien in his list of candidates and only listed Mike Kafka of the New York Giants as his lone current NFL representative, there are fans who believe the returning New England Patriots assistant O’Brien should be in the mix.
The 53-year-old managed to redeem himself following his departure from the Houston Texans by spending 2021 and 2022 under Saban in Tuscaloosa. But, O’Brien gets mentioned for another reason — the past work he did for another Big 10 university that was embroiled in controversy Penn State.
O’Brien managed to get the Nittany Lions out of their own abyss following the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal and went 15-9 overall in two seasons before jumping back to the NFL in 2014 with Houston. The downside with O’Brien, though, is that he could attract new NFL suitors if he finds a way to improve the Patriots’ offense for the 2023 season.