By Brian Murphy
The five finalists interviewing for Idaho's vacant head-coaching position have at least one thing in common — all five played for or previously coached the Vandals.
The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review has identified the five finalists as Central Washington coach Blaine Bennett, Idaho's interim coach Jason Gesser, San Jose State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, and Wyoming defensive coordinator Chris Tormey.
The job could get a bit more attractive if the Vandals are able to get into a conference. This week's realignment upheaval has created opening in the Sun Belt Conference (run by former WAC Commissioner Karl Benson) and Idaho is considered an option, writes CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.
Here is a statement from Benson:
“While I am disappointed that Middle Tennessee State University and Florida Atlantic University have elected to depart the Sun Belt Conference, the SBC is still very well positioned for the future and I remain very optimistic that the momentum that has been created in the past six months will continue to grow. The continuing 10 members of the SBC are committed to excellence and I am confident that the SBC will take advantage of these latest changes in the landscape. As I have stated many times in the past six months, the SBC will be a major player in the future, especially within its geographic footprint.
"As for future members, there are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC. While we have conducted research on these universities in the past six months, we will now focus on identifying the ones that will be the best “fit” for the conference and the ones that will contribute immediately in achieving our goal of being the best of the FBS conferences that currently do not receive automatic qualification into the BCS.
"The future is still very BRIGHT for the SBC and I look forward to working with the leadership of the SBC in the coming days, weeks and months to continue the growth and development of this outstanding athletic conference.”
Here is a look at each of the caching finalists:
Current job: Head coach at Central Washington (2008-present). Bennett is 41-16 at Central Washington.
Idaho ties: Played quarterback at Idaho from 1983-85; Coached wide receivers at Idaho in 1991
Other college experience: Michigan State, 2006 (assistant head coach, wide receivers); Purdue, 2001-05 (quarterbacks); Western Oregon University, 1995-2000 (head coach); Western Oregon State College, 1992-94 (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks, wide receivers); Cal State Chico, 1990 (offensive coordinator); Washington State, 1988-89 (graduate assistant)
Other playing Experience: Played quarterback at Whitworth College, 1986-87
Education: Washington State University, 1990 -- M.Ed. in Physical Education; Whitworth College, 1988 -- B.S. in Math and Secondary Education
High school: Walla Walla (Washington) High, 1983
Current job: Interim head coach at Idaho (0-4 since replacing Robb Akey). Also serves as team's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator
Idaho ties: Joined staff in 2011 as running backs coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator this season.
Other experience: In 2010, Gesser was the head football coach and associate director of athletics at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash.,
Playing Experience: Played quarterback at Washington State from 1998 to 2002 and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2002; played for the NFL's Tennessee Titans from 2003 to 2005; played for the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampede from 2005 to 2006; played for the Arena Football League's Utah Blaze from 2005 to 2008.
Education: Washington State University, 2003
Current job: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at San Jose State since March.
Idaho ties: Played quarterback at Idaho in the early 2000s. A 2004 graduate, he was a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference quarterback during his playing days. He threw for 6,541 yards and 44 touchdowns in three seasons with the Vandals. He set a then-NCAA record with 657 yards of total offense against Middle Tennessee State in 2001 as a sophomore.
Other experience: Coached at Northern Arizona from 2006 to 2011 in a variety of capacities (wide receivers, running backs, passing game coordinator/quarterbacks, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks); Began his coaching career at University of Redlands in 2005.
Education: Idaho, 2004; Northern Arizona (master's degree in educational leadership)
Hometown: Walla Walla, Wash.
Born: August 6, 1980
Current job: Offensive coordinator at Arkansas (2011-present)
Idaho ties: Coached receivers, running backs and special teams at Idaho, 1992-94.
Other coaching experience: Carroll College, 1990-91 (quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator); Utah State, 1995-97 (receivers, special teams coordinator); Louisville, 1998-99 (offense); Southern Miss, 2000-02 (quarterbacks); Louisville, 2003-06 (offensive coordinator); Atlanta Falcons, 2007 (receivers); Arkansas, 2009 (offensive coordinator); Illinois, 2010 (offensive coordinator).
Playing experience: Four-year starter at quarterback for his father Bobby Petrino, Sr., at Carroll College from 1985-88. He set 16 school records, earned Kodak All-America honors and was named the Football Gazette NAIA Division II Player of the Year as a senior. In Petrino's four seasons, Carroll was 36-6 and won four Frontier Conference titles. He was an was a two-time All-American.
Education: Carroll College (Montana)
Current job: First season as defensive coordinator at Wyoming
Idaho ties: Played linebacker at Idaho from 1974 to 1977, earning All-Big Sky honors in 1976 and 1977 and was named team captain as a senior. ... Went 33-23 in five seasons as Idaho's head coach from 1995 to 1999. Idaho won the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl with Tormey as coach.
Other coaching experience: Washington, 1984-1994 (tight ends, linebackers, secondary, defensive coordinator); Nevada, 2000-03 (head coach); Washington, 2004-08 (linebackers, recruiting coordinator); Hawaii, 2009-10 (safeties, special teams); Washington State, 2011 (linebackers)
Other playing experience: Signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Redskins in 1978.
Education: Education degree from Idaho, 1978