OU assistant hasn't been contacted

It sounds like phone tag, but the dance between new Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross and Bo Pelini continues. On Friday Gross said Pelini, Oklahoma's co-defensive coordinator, is a candidate to be the Orange's next head coach "by default."

But Pelini said Sunday that Gross, who is in Miami finishing up his duties as an associate AD for Southern California, hasn't contacted him about the opening.

"I've heard a lot of speculation," Pelini said. "It's very flattering to have your name involved with a job like that, but I'm thinking about USC and only USC right now."

Gross said late last week he is moving fast to find a replacement for Paul Pasqualoni, fired Wednesday in the wake of an embarrassing 51-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl.

"There have been a lot of phone conversations," Gross told the Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. "It's a regular process and I'm still in the evaluation stages, but I am evaluating fast. I know who the candidates are, let's put it that way."

But Gross told the Post-Standard he has not met with Pelini or any other candidate for the job, and that any talk hinting that a deal is near completion is premature and simply untrue.

Pelini verified that Thursday night and refused to discuss the rumors connecting him to the job again Friday.

Said Gross to the Post-Standard: "I'm aware of Bo Pelini. A lot of people are saying some really nice things about him. By default he would need to be a candidate."

Pelini's résumé includes being the interim coach last season at Nebraska. The 37-year-old is a protege of Pete Carroll, the former coach of the New England Patriots and current coach at Souther California, which is preparing to face Oklahoma for the national championship at the Orange Bowl on Tuesday.

Carroll was hired at USC while Gross was an associate AD there in 2001. The Post Standard reported Carroll endorsed Pelini for the Nebraska job last year and the Pittsburgh job last month and also reportedly recommended him to Gross for the Syracuse job.

There are other candidates, and at least one prominent alumnae is pushing the Orange in another direction.

Former Syracuse standout and current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is backing Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, the Post-Standard reported. Rogers coached McNabb at Syracuse as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before leaving in 1999 to become offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

And McNabb has some clout. He sits on Syracuse's board of trustees and has contributed money for facilities upgrades at his alma mater.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.