Former Oregon quarterback Chris Miller and Ashland High head coach Charlie Hall are among four finalists still in the running to become the next head football coach at Southern Oregon University, the school announced Tuesday.
Miller, Hall, former Oregon Tech coach Craig Howard and former SOU defensive coordinator Stacy Collins will visit the SOU campus next week for a final gauntlet of interviews. The visits will be all-day affairs, with Miller coming Monday, Hall Tuesday, Howard Thursday and Collins Friday.
SOU athletic director Matt Sayre expects to make a final decision by the end of the month, but said he won't offer the job until after the Frontier Conference decides whether or not to add the Raiders as a football-only member, during a meeting Feb. 7-8 in Billings, Mont.
"I think in the end, it's going to be the guy that the kids respond to most and we feel has the passion and the pop that we need in our program," Sayre said.
The "kids" are 10 current Raiders, including quarterback Mike McDonald and running back Brandon Baldwin, who will meet with each candidate next week and participate in mock lessons. The candidates also will meet with a host of other SOU representatives, including the 10-member search committee that helped select the finalists from an initial group of 115 applicants.
"We're obviously honored by the number of applicants that we had and the quality, and these (four) we feel are really the cream of the crop," Sayre said.
Though Sayre said there's no favorite, Miller and Hall clearly have an edge in name recognition across the Rogue Valley.
Miller was a first-team All-Pacific-10 quarterback for the Oregon Ducks in 1985 and '86 before embarking on a 10-year NFL career that included a Pro Bowl appearance as a member of the Atlanta Falcons in '92. He's played under such NFL fixtures as Mike Shannahan, Mike Martz and June Jones, and for the past two years has been the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
Hall was named the NCAA Division I-FCS (formerly I-AA) offensive coordinator of the year at Northern Arizona before returning to his Ashland roots — he graduated from SOU in 1983 and was the Raiders' offensive coordinator in '96 and '97 — to take over the Grizzlies in '05. Here, Hall has spearheaded an AHS resurgence, leading the Grizzlies to two conference championships and three state playoff berths.
"They're all coming in really equal right now," Sayre said. "Now, you kind of set everything aside and see how they do in person and how the kids respond to them."
To that end, Miller, who's also spent nine years as a high school coach, including five as a successful head coach at South Eugene High, may have a little star power on his side.
"At first, I was a bit surprised," Sayre said of receiving Miller's application. "I was wondering why a guy who's making $250,000 in the NFL would be interested in our job, and our committee hit him right up front with that question. "… I can tell you that his interest is very sincere. He's interested in locating himself in a place where he can have an impact as the head coach."
Miller said SOU could be a force, both in the NAIA and eventually as an NCAA Division II member, and wants the opportunity to prove it.
"I enjoy what I'm doing with the Cardinals and I'm very lucky and blessed to be working for a good man in (Cardinals head coach) Ken Whisenhunt, but the Southern Oregon job excited me just in the fact that I love a challenge," he said. "Southern Oregon has struggled the last several years and I'd love the challenge and the opportunity to turn the program around, and I believe one of my callings in life is working with young men, helping to mold them into high character individuals."
With 36 years of coaching experience, Howard is far and away the most experienced man still in the running, and the only one with head coaching experience at the college level. His career, which began at Roseburg High in '74, includes stops at Oregon Tech, Portland State (defensive coordinator) and Jesuit High (head coach), and he's currently the head coach at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla.
"This is a job that I always wanted as a kid growing up," Howard said. "I played at Linfield College. Small college football is what I love. You play because you love the game, not because your daddy wanted you there. Their passion for football is great.
"Florida football is important and I enjoy it — I wouldn't go back to Oregon unless it was for something like this. To me, it's not like a stepping stone job. It's a destination job."
Collins is the youngest of the four finalists. Since graduating from Western Oregon in '98, he's been the defensive coordinator at three colleges, including SOU in '07.
Collins has been a positions coach and special teams coordinator at Central Washington since '08.
"I think the Rogue Valley area is just phenomenal," Collins said. "For me, it's an opportunity to come back home "… to a program that is an absolute gold mine."
The Raiders are looking to replace former head coach Steve Helminiak, who guided the Raiders to a 15-32 record in five years at the helm, including 3-7 in his final season.