Ute Athletic Director Dr. Chris Hill stepped up his search for a new football coach last week, interviewing candidates in person and whittling down the list of applicants.
Although Hill refuses to release the names of candidates, sources say those most often mentioned in connection with the job opening are Arizona assistant head coach Ron McBride, Washington assistant Keith Gilbertson, Cal State-Fullerton head coach Gene Murphy, Oregon State head coach Dave Kragthorpe, Ohio State assistant head coach Jim Colletto and Atlanta Flacons interim head coach Jim Hanifan.Three of the above candidates - Murphy, McBride and Gilbertson - have talked in person to Hill and another is expected to meet with him soon.
Hill was in Denver for WAC meetings last week and, according to one source, interviewed Portland State head coach Pokey Allen, New Orleans Saints' defensive line coach John Pease (and a former Ute assistant) and Gilbertson. Murphy reportedly has also been interviewed by Hill.
Allen and Murphy are finalists for the coaching vacancy at UNLV.
Although both Hanifan and Kragthorpe are in their late 50s, they appear to be under consideration. Kragthorpe has steadfastly told reporters he has no comment, but he hasn't denied interest in the position. Officials at Oregon State have confirmed that Utah has requested permission to speak to Kragthorpe about the job, and a source at a Portland newspaper said Saturday that Kragthorpe had talked to Utah officials by phone.
Kragthorpe could not be reached for comment.
One source, who asked not to be identified, said Hill has contacted Hanifan - a former Ute assistant - about the job, but Hanifan is still tied up with NFL games. Hill, the source said, has offered to fly to Atlanta to conduct an interview.
Gilbertson, a former Idaho head coach, confirmed Friday night that he talked with Hill in Denver during last week. "I'm interested, sure," said Gilbertson.
Gilbertson said a rumor that has followed him since he left Idaho after three years as head coach - that he didn't want to be a head coach anymore - was false. "The thing (rumor) when I left Idaho never came from my lips," said Gilbertson. "I don't know who started the rumor, but it's not right. I just wasn't interested in being head coach at Idaho anymore."
Gilbertson, who coached such standout quarterbacks as Ken Hobart and John Friesz, said he felt he had accomplished all he could at Idaho, and that he had always wanted to coach at Washington.
The leading candidate is still probably McBride, who served under three coaches at Utah. He confirmed in a Deseret News story last week that he has already talked with Hill about the post. McBride has a strong base of support in Salt Lake, and a proven record of recruiting in the West and Midwest.
Such candidates as Chicago Bears' assistant Steve Kazor, San Francisco 49ers assistant Lynn Stiles and San Diego Chargers' assistant Ted Tollner are long shots.
Kazor said Friday that he hasn't had phone messages returned by Hill.
Sources say Hill hopes to interview others this week.