We didn't want to be here, but we're here now once again. Lehigh fans have entered this offseason wondering who might be on the Lehigh Athletic Department's shortlist for the next head football coach of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
I do not know who has applied, or who is under active consideration for the position. However as the biggest Lehigh football follower you know, I have some ideas, ideas I am sharing with you now. (For free!)
I've come up with a list of fifteen possible names, some which I've heard whispered as candidates, others which might be good fits at Lehigh for a variety of reasons. What all of these candidates have in common is that any one of them would be tremendous candidates to be Lehigh's next head football coach.
Let's get to it.
Current Position: Wide Receivers Coach/Passing Game Coordinator, UConn (2022-present)
Resume: Allen, with a long list of qualifications, is well known, as his UConn bio notes. “To find a coach with more experience than John Allen would be a difficult task, and I’m thrilled that he will be joining the UConn football family,” Mora said. “John is an excellent recruiter who knows the commitment it takes to be successful at this level. John’s knowledge of the game and coaching acumen will make an immediate impact on the young men in our program and I know he is going to hit the ground running.”
Area Connection: He's well-traveled and has had stints at Bucknell and Penn State early in his career.
How he fits: UConn was always going to be a tough job for any coach, but Allen's experience has to have been a part of what has made "bowl eligible UConn" a thing in 2022, something few would have predicted last May. For a team that is looking to become "FCS Playoff eligible Lehigh", that holds a lot of appeal.
Analysis: His combination of experience, recruiting, and his presence in "bowl eligible UConn" makes him an interesting name to consider.
Current Position: Head coach, Buford HS (Georgia), 2019-present
Resume: Appling, who got the head-coaching job in 2019 after 15 seasons as a Buford assistant, is the first coach in GHSA history to win three state titles in his first three seasons as a head coach. His team went undefeated in league play but lost in state playoffs this year.
Area Connection: He's a beloved former Lehigh university linebacker who has had tremendous success in the state of Georgia.
How he fits: Appling put in a tremendous amount of time as assistant coach at Buford and it paid off in a huge way through transition (the school physically moved and changed classifications twice). His knowledge of Georgia, a Lehigh recruiting hotbed, is unmatched. He's also a proven winner.
Analysis: Folks seem to think lack of D-I head coaching experience should disqualify candidates, but I don't. Plenty of candidates have gone from high school to Division I head coach. Could Appling come "home" to Lehigh to do it? Would he?
Current Position: Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers/Pass Game Coordinator, 2022-present
Resume: Returning to the East Coast after a successful time at Sam Houston, Archer came back to Delaware this past year and rejuvenated an offense that had flatlined to some degree at Delaware. This season, Delaware returned to the Top 20 offenses in all of FCS, won a first round playoff game, and is still playing.
Area Connection: He lives closer to Lehigh than he does Delaware, and he went to school at Monmouth.
How he fits: Terence is a proven offensive commodity at the FCS level, and his rapid turnaround of Delaware's offense definitely bears notice.
Analysis: Archer's has a fairly interesting resume in that he's got both the track record at the FCS level and also experience with a quick offensive turnaround
Current Position: Assistant Coach (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks), Villanova (2019-present)
Resume: Developer of Villanova QB Daniel Smith, Boden's offenses have been on display against Lehigh now for the last three seasons. Boden helped the Wildcats averaged 30.1 points per game and 380.0 yards of total offense per contest in 2021, while his 2019 offensive unit amassed 37.3 points per game and ranked eighth nationally in scoring.
Area Connection: His "area connection" is in large part from his time at Villanova, where he is a former QB and NJ/PA recruiter. Notably, he's consistently delivered a large number of high-academic recruits to Villanova.
How he fits: Ever looked at Villanova, especially on offense, and thought "that's what Lehigh should be aspiring to these days"? Boden's one of the guys who could actually do that.
Analysis: Bode is one of a surprising number of candidates on my shortlist that don't have a direct link to Lehigh in terms of coaching trees, or even Patriot League experience. That shouldn't matter. Boden is simply really good at what he does, and Lehigh fans have seen this up close.
Resume: Brown, a three-time All-Pro linebacker for the New England Patriots, has been a trusted right-hand man for William and Mary head football coach Mike London in all his stops in Division I football (Richmond, Virginia, Howard, William and Mary). Brown was a standout player at Mississippi Valley State, and there isn't much that he hasn't seen already in his coaching career.
Area Connection: Clark was a key coach for standout DT Bill Murray at William and Mary, where he had 143 tackles, 32.0 TFL, 19.0 sacks 10 blocks, six PBU, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
How he fits: Brown could be one of the best-qualified African-American candidates in the FCS coaching landscape today. His knowledge base is unique and could truly bring a great new perspective to the Patriot League head coaching ranks, all based in successful scholarship FCS recruiting and high academics.
Analysis: As a defensive guy, he probably doesn't fit the presumed mold of "offensive savior" that many Lehigh fans might be expecting. But if I'm Lehigh, I am definitely fielding this phone call, because I think he would be a tremendous head football coach.
Resume: Former head coach at Del Val (D-III). He is the winningest coach in Delaware Valley history with an overall record of 66-24 from 2006-13, including a perfect 10-0 regular season in 2011. At Kutztown, he's never had a losing record. In 2021, KU matched a program single-season record with 11 wins, earned its second PSAC crown and won a NCAA Second Round game, advancing further than any team in its 105 season history has. Clements earned his second straight American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II Region 1 Coach of the Year and PSAC East Coach of the Year that year as well.
Area Connection: Has extensive ties to the area as former Del Val head coach and is a PA resident. He followed Drew Folmar as Kutztown head coach after Folmar left to become Lehigh's offensive coordinator under Andy Coen, and Kutztown didn't miss a beat.
How he fits: Clements is simply a winner, and was allegedly considered in 2018 for the head coaching position at Lehigh. You have to think he would a strong candidate again this time around. His knowledge of PA recruiting would certainly be a huge factor.
Analysis: It feels like Clements has been here before - that's because he has. Everything that's been said about him still applies - he coaches defensive minded teams that win. Eventually he's going to get a Division I head coaching job - it's just a matter of time. Is this the time?
Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach, Richmond (2021-present)
Resume: He's still working in the FCS Playoffs right now coaching QB Reece Udinski, the phenom QB he also coached when he was employed at the same position at VMI. He deserves a huge heap of credit for discovering Reece Udinski, and recruiting him to VMI which as any Division I head coach will tell you is not an easy sell. He's also got coaching in his blood:he is the son of long-time collegiate coach Chris Cosh, who has been a defensive coordinator for eight FBS schools and also served as the Spiders’ defensive coordinator in 2016.
Area Connection: He doesn't have any true ties to the Valley. However, his recruiting of Pennsylvania, notably local product WR Jakob Herres, really bears notice.
How he fits: I am impressed with this young coach in a big way - not only how he recruited Udinski when few others did, and how he developed him into one of the best QBs in FCS. His offense, which depends on Udinski's precision, resembles "Air Lehigh" a lot more than people realize.
Analysis: Cosh's rise has been fast (he's only 30 years old). He's grown up around football and understands how it works. He understands some of the intricacies about recruiting at a high-academic place like Lehigh. I have no doubt he'd adapt fast at Lehigh and do well here.
Current Position: Associate Head Football Coach (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks), Elon (2017-present)
Resume: Drew coached three years at Lehigh as offensive coordinator/QB coach and had great success here. Folmar's Lehigh offense run by QB Nick Shafnisky put up 483.8 yards per game, ranking sixth nationally in total offense in 2016. Lehigh averaged 38.8 points per game to rate ninth nationally. At Elon, he has developed several great QBs, notably QB Davis Cheek.
Area Connection: The first of our candidates who are part of the Lehigh "coaching tree", his offenses ranked in the top 10 in passing efficiency (fifth), passing offense (sixth) and third down conversion percentage (sixth).
How he fits: His success at recruiting and developing QBs is exciting, and he knows Lehigh, The Rivalry, and everything around South Mountain.
Analysis: Folmar returning to South Mountain unquestionably would be a jolt of excitement to the program, and instantly bring back some positive vibes from the "Shafnisky-tossing-aside-the-Lafayette-DB" years of the program. But does he want to return to Bethlehem?
Current Position: Offensive Coordinator/TE Coach, Monmouth (2019-present)
Resume: A former all-conference player for the Hawks and veteran of the Monmouth coaching staff, Jeff Gallo has been a member of Jeff Callahan's staff for the last eighteen years. His offenses have been electric, leading to a pair of Big South titles, FCS Playoff appearances, and an invite to the CAA. RB Jaden Shirden is the leading rusher in all of FCS, and it was under Gallo's offense.
Area Connection: Gallo is a resident of South Jersey, and a graduate of Cherokee High School, but no true Lehigh Valley "connections". To me, however, South Jersey is a pretty "local tie".
How he fits: His resume in terms of offense speaks for itself - so many great Monmouth offensive players have been a part of his teams.
Analysis: You could consider him an out-of-the-box hire, but should you? He hasn't been a part of a Patriot League staff or had to deal with Patriot League rules, and he's not part of the Lehigh head coaching tree. But he's undoubtedly an exciting offensive mind that would generate buzz, and you can point to his development of some great FCS offensive names.
Current Position: Associate Head Coach/Wide Receivers, Wake Forest (2013-present)
Resume: The head football coach at Lehigh under arguably the most dominant stretch of Lehigh football in history, 1998-2000. During that stretch the Mountain Hawks went 32-1 during the regular season and made the playoffs three times, winning iconic games at both Richmond (1998) and Western Illinois (2000). In 1998, Higgins' team was 1st and goal away from upsetting the eventual I-AA National Champions UMass. Oh yeah, he's also been incredibly good at Wake Forest with fellow Lehigh coaching alums Warren Ruggerio and Dave Clawson, too!
Area Connection: Did you not just read he was the head football coach at Lehigh under arguably the most dominant stretch of Lehigh football in history?
How he fits: He fits as a sort of Mack Brown type who can recruit at Lehigh (he's done it before!), and you don't need to make a powerpoint showing him what the Rivalry is.
Analysis: If he comes back to South Mountain, he'll be 67 years old. But he would be a great guy to build the program back again in intangible ways. And if any guy could assemble a great staff, it's Higgins.
Current Position: Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator, South Carolina (2021-present)
Resume: A nominee for this year's Broyles award (given to FBS Assistant Coach of the Year), Lembo has built a great reputation at the FBS level in developing special teams units at Maryland, Rice, Memphis, and now South Carolina. He also was head football coach at Elon and Ball State.
Area Connection: Kevin Higgins isn't the only former Lehigh head football coach in the mix for the Mountain Hawks' job. Pete Lembo, of course, coached Lehigh from 2001-2005 and guided Lehigh to their first home victory in the FCS playoffs. Lehigh's winning records in those five years: 11-1, 8-4, 8-3, 9-3, 8-3.
How he fits: Although the press box has flipped sides since Pete was last head coach, he knows where everything else is and he knows what he's getting into. His expertise in special teams is a much, much bigger asset as a Patriot League head coach than many people realize.
Analysis: Could a Pete Lembo homecoming be forthcoming? I could see it.
Current Position: Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, St. Francis (PA), 2019-present
Resume: A member of the Red Flash coaching staff for eight years, five as defensive coordinator, Pecora seems destined to be a head football coach at some point, and the Red Flash's NEC championship this year (and FCS Playoff bid) might be a logical point to start.
Area Connection: His roots are more in Western PA from Richland High School and Pitt, but it is a hotbed of football talent that Lehigh has had success with in the past.
How he fits: A young up-and-coming coach that just needs the opportunity. He's helped make the Red Flash one of the strongest programs in the NEC. Before Chris Villarreal and he got there, they were one of the toughest places to recruit in all of FCS.
Analysis: At St. Francis (PA), in only his third year as offensive coordinator, the Red Flash leapt to become a Top 20 offense in FCS. That alone should be a ringing endorsement as to what he could bring to the table at Lehigh.
Adam ScheierCurrent Position: Special Teams Coordinator / Tight Ends Coach, Temple (2022-present)
Resume: Scheier is a long-time assistant coach who has climbed up the coaching ranks and spent time on a variety of different coaching staffs. He really grew to prominence with his special teams units under Dave Clawson, and soon afterwards he found himself on the coaching staffs of Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Cliff Klingsbury at Texas Tech, and Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Each step of the way improvements in special teams have followed.
Area Connection: Scheier was a former special teams coach for Lehigh for both Pete Lembo and Andy Coen. He also did double duty on South Mountain, also coaching wide receivers and running backs at different times.
How he fits: He's a direct member of the Lehigh coaching tree with the added bonus of having been around in the world of power college football.
Analysis: He's a Lehigh guy through and through, with a link to not just the Coen and Lembo eras but also to Kevin Higgins via Dave Clawson.
Current Position: Notre Dame-Green Pond High School Head Coach (2017-present)
Resume: He's a Lehigh Valley legend for a myriad of reasons - Pius X football star; Lehigh University star QB from 1997-2000; and hugely successful head football coach at Pius X, and later Notre Dame-Green Pond.
Area Connection: You literally could not pick someone more in tune with the area than Phil Stambaugh. He was one of the "overlooked" FCS players of the area recruited by Kevin Higgins; you could bet there won't be any stone unturned in terms of local football talent.
How he fits: Phil's reputation as a high school coach in the Lehigh Valley is top-notch. He has a very loyal group of fans that would likely be very excited for him to get this opportunity - and this shouldn't be underestimated. His involvement would really engage the local area in a way other hires wouldn't.
Analysis: Like Appling, the argument that a high school coach couldn't step in and coach at Lehigh doesn't hold too much water for me, as long as they can get the job done. He's clearly done that at ND-GP..
Current Position: Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator/TE Coach, Princeton (2016-present)
Resume: Willis has had a meteoric coaching rise at Princeton. A former Tiger offensive lineman, in the span of five seasons he went from the youngest position coach in the Ivy League to Assistant Head Coach and offensive coordinator. Lehigh fans have seen up close and personal what Willis' offenses have been able to do over the years against the Mountain Hawks- 29-17. 32-0, and (shudder) 66-0.
Area Connection: Princeton is by definition a "local tie", but also very encouraging is that he is one of Bob Surace's key recruiters in New Jersey, i.e. Princeton's (and Lafayette's and Lehigh's) backyard. He's originally from Rutherford, New Jersey.
How he fits: You can't argue Willis' outstanding success at Princeton. Not only would he bring his recruiting savvy, he may also bring some of Princeton's dynamic offensive style to Lehigh as well, revitalizing the offense.
Analysis: He's risen to every challenge given to him at Princeton, and it would be hugely exciting to see what he could bring to the table. Is he willing to leave a lucrative spot at Princeton to do it, and would Lehigh be serious enough to make an offer for him to seriously think about it?