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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Stretch run might come soon as Beavers AD Barnes gets in needed hiring mode

CORVALLIS — Around Oregon State, lips are pressed tight as sheetrock to a wall when the subject turns to the football coaching search.

Here is what I know, or think I know, about the situation …

• Athletic director Scott Barnes says he already has conducted interviews with potential candidates to replace the departed Gary Andersen. He won't say which, or how many, coaches with whom he has met.BARNES

• Barnes says he feels "very confident" a hire will be made prior to the Dec. 20 letter-of-intent signing date. But he won't say how much prior.

A hire a few days, or even a week, before the signing date may not be soon enough to secure the 13 prep prospects who have given verbal commitments to the staffs of Andersen and interim coach Cory Hall.

A coach ideally would be in place as soon as possible — as early as next week — in order to give recruits the time to become familiar with the new coach and decide if they want to stick with the commitment or move on. Also, to give the new coach a chance to pick up some additional recruits. You can't afford to lose even one recruiting class these days.

One source, however, says Oregon State is "several weeks" away from naming a coach.

• One thing is for sure. This is the most important decision of Barnes' career as an athletic administrator.

The competition in the Northwest is fierce. Washington and Washington State are nationally ranked and in the running for the Pac-12 North championship. Oregon is bowl-bound and seems on the rise under first-year coach Willie Taggart.

The Beavers can't afford to fall behind any further in the Northwest, with ticket sales lagging and fan interest down during a discouraging 2017 campaign.

• The new coach won't be former LSU coach Les Miles. Neither will be Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, who isn't interested in the job and has not been contacted by OSU of search-firm officials about it.

Mendenhall, 51, is a former Oregon State player and assistant coach who coached Brigham Young to a 99-43 record and 11 straight bowl appearances before heading to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers, who had four straight losing seasons prior, went 2-10 in Bronco's first season and are 6-5 this season.

Mendenhall leaving for Oregon State "would come as a shock to me," a source around the Virginia program tells me. "Every inclination he has given here is he is pretty happy and wants to see this thing through. He turned it around pretty significantly, and he wants to build onto it."

The new coach won't be Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach June Jones, who had serious interest. It's likely not going to be Dennis Erickson, who also would have interest and has a group of Beaver backers lobbying for him to get the job.

The man who electrified Beaver Nation in the late 1990s and took the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl crown in 2001 chose to leave Utah's program following last season after four years as an assistant to Kyle Whittingham. He spent the fall helping his son, Bryce, coach a high school team in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. While at Utah, Erickson recruited a number of players out of Florida, including quarterback Tyler Huntley.

Age is a factor, as it should be. But Erickson — who has never had health issues and is a very spry 70 — could stay four or five years and set the table for his successor.

• I believe at least three candidates have been interviewed — Hall and offensive coordinators Beau Baldwin from California and Jonathan Smith from Washington.

Hall isn't going to get the job, though Barnes has indicated he'll do what he can to influence the new coach to keep Hall on the OSU staff.

Smith, 39, never has been a head coach but has had an impressive run with Chris Peterson at UW and Boise State.

Baldwin, 45, was 85-32 in nine years as a head coach at Eastern Washington. His teams made the FCS playoffs six times, winning the national championship in 2010, and beat Washington State and Oregon State. The Eagles were ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense in 2014 and averaged 42 points in 2016.

Barnes and Baldwin worked together from 2003-05 at Eastern Washington — when Barnes was AD and Baldwin was O-coordinator.

During a media session last week, Baldwin was asked about rumors that he had already interviewed with Oregon State.

"Mmm, interesting," he replied. "That's funny. Those are exactly what they are — rumors."

But I think they're well-founded.

If I were a betting man, that's where my money would go.

It may be that Baldwin will be a candidate for other jobs, including UCLA. If that's the case, he may choose to go elsewhere.

Even so, if there is a Tuesday press conference in Corvallis announcing Baldwin's hire, I won't be shocked.

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