Arizona State junior quarterback Brock Osweiler and a number of his teammates are scheduled to meet with Vice President for Athletics Lisa Love Thursday in support of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone for the program's head coaching vacancy according to team sources.
Love told reporters earlier this week that she met with the team Sunday to discuss the decision to relieve coach Dennis Erickson, and would speak with a leadership group of players in the near future for their impressions.
Osweiler and his teammates will tell Love during the meetings, the sources said, that Mazzone is qualified and prepared to lead the Sun Devils into next season and beyond due to the offense's significant improvement over the last two years and his ability to address some of the issues that derailed ASU's 2011 season.
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"The only thing I'll say is that I felt like we were on the verge of big things here and it's so close," Mazzone said. "I've been to nine different schools and really think the potential of this place is special and would like to see things through with Brock, who has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country next year. Whether or not that's possible as the offensive coordinator or something else I don't know and will obviously depend on what happens [with the coaching search]."
Mazzone's candidacy, at least initially, appears to be a longshot one.
The Sun Devils are primarily targeting Houston coach Kevin Sumlin for the position, according to sources close to Sumlin and directly familiar with ASU's plan, and also interested in Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
Ironically, Sumlin and Fedora are scheduled to face off in this weekend's Conference USA Championship Game. Houston, 12-0 and ranked No. 8 in the most recent BCS poll, is representing the South Division, while 10-2 Southern Miss won the East Division outright.
If ASU is unable to retain either Sumlin or Fedora, or others who emerge as very desirable candidates, its process could become less certain and possibly allow for Mazzone to garner an interview, a school source said.
Mazzone, 54, was hired by Erickson following the 2009 season to work with the Sun Devils' quarterbacks and update their offense, which had struggled for two seasons in a row after a successful campaign in Erickson's first season in Tempe.
For the first time in school history, the Sun Devils had a 3,500 yard passer (Osweiler), 1,000 yard rusher (junior Cameron Marshall) and 1,000 yard receiver (senior Gerell Robinson) in 2011, with Marshall tying a school record for rushing touchdowns in a season and Osweiler throwing for the second-most yards in a season.
In Mazzone's two seasons, the Sun Devils dramatically increased their offensive production across the board, including by 33 percent in points per game, 37 percent in rushing yards per game, 31 percent in passing yards per game and 26 percent in total yards.
ASU's problems in the final month of the season -- when it lost four straight games to end the regular season 6-6 after a 6-2 start -- were primarily on defense and, according to numerous program insiders, more attributable to cultural and leadership issues than talent or offensive scheme.
As a result, Mazzone could become an intriguing candidate if the process unfolds with ASU unable to secure a bigger name hire, most likely a current successful Division I head coach.
In the event ASU eventually looks to select a candidate out of a pool of high profile college or pro coordinators with an absence of head coaching experience, Mazzone would have some clear logistical advantages. No only is he intimately familiar with ASU's personnel and the preferred choice of many returning players on the offense, he's been heavily involved in the assembling of a recruiting class that has received widespread recognition in recruiting circles this year.
As a result, Mazzone would stand a reasonable chance of not only keeping the class largely together -- particularly as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Broussard would likely be asked to stay on -- but improving it with other high profile recruits, most notably top running back target D.J. Foster.
Mazzone would also come much cheaper -- likely as much as $1.5 million cheaper -- than prominent candidates such as Sumlin, which would enable ASU to spend substantially more money on a high profile defensive coordinator and well-regarded recruiters to fill out other roles.
Historically, ASU has struggled to maintain assistant coaching talent due at least in part to financial considerations, with top Erickson recruiter Matt Lubick leaving for Duke following the 2009 season, and local recruiter Dan Cozzetto leaving for Washington following the 2008 season.