Don Nehlen of West Virginia and John Cooper of Arizona State are reported to be the finalists for the vacant Ohio State football coaching position.
Reports in Phoenix and Columbus newspapers identified the finalists and said that Ohio State would conduct final interviews Tuesday for the job left vacant by the Nov. 16 firing of Earle Bruce.
Nehlen, 51, and Cooper, 50, are coaching in bowl games. West Virginia meets Oklahoma State Friday in the Sun Bowl, and Arizona State meets Air Force in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim on Dec. 30.
Even as Arizona State Athletic Director Charles Harris was telling a reporter in his office Tuesday that Cooper was not leaving, a source in the athletic department said Cooper was being interviewed by Ohio State representatives in the Phoenix area.
Harris said he had not been asked by Ohio State officials for permission to discuss the job with Cooper.
Earlier this week, West Virginia Athletic Director Fred Schaus said he had given Ohio State officials permission to discuss the job with Nehlen.
Cooper had no comment Tuesday. He is in the first year of a five-year contract that stipulates he may not leave for an National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division I-A job that offers a contract equal to or less than the number of years in which he is currently signed. It is a complicated way of holding Cooper to a long-term contract by forcing another school to sign Cooper to more than five years.
Neither contract length nor money appear to be a problem in Ohio State's search for a coach.
Cooper has a base salary of $96,600 plus a bonus for going to the Rose Bowl, but he has some incentive to leave. Cooper has never been consulted regarding the use of Sun Devil Stadium for a pro football franchise, an eventuality that could erode ASU's fan support. In 11 years at Tulsa and Arizona State, Cooper is 80-41-2.
Nehlen, a native of Canton, Ohio, is 106-69-5 in 17 years at Bowling Green and West Virginia.