By Corey Long – @CoreyLong
Updated Feb. 2, 2022.
Follow @walterfootball for updates.
Feb. 2 Update
Hawaii hires Timmy Chang as head football coach Grade B-
Hawaii makes the right hire, but takes the wrong road to get there, hence a bit of drop in the grade. Chang was one of the top players to come through the program, and he put the state of Hawaii on the map as a place for quarterbacks as the predecessor for Jeremiah Masoli, Tua Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota. Chang has been an assistant in college football for nearly a decade, spending the last five seasons at Nevada.
Chang, 40, will give Hawaii some identity and stability. He knows the lay of the islands, and he was a standout at St. Louis, the dominant high school football program in the state. I think he’ll be able to battle the Pac-12 schools for the top kids in Hawaii and bring some of the pride back to a team that seemed to be lost in recent years.
Unfortunately, the hiring was messy, with the job originally being offered to former Hawaii coach June Jones with Chang holding a “head coach in waiting” sort of position on the staff. Jones decided not to take a 2-year contract and publicly chided Hawaii for offering it to him. At the end of the day, Chang should have been the hire from the start and eventually the brass at Hawaii got there.
Jan. 18 Update
Todd Graham resigns as head football coach Grade: A
There are coaches who burn bridges and ones who destroy the bridge, the land and a few neighborhoods. Graham seems to be part of the latter. How bad was it in Hawaii? His own son entered the transfer portal. How bad was it in Hawaii? The state Senate held a 3-HOUR session on how bad he was for the growth of the program and how much players and parents of players hated him. The negative press this received and the 20-plus kids who entered the portal didn’t stop athletic director David Matlin from defending Graham, but eventually clearer heads prevailed and the 57-year-old coach walked away.
Graham has always been a relatively successful coach, but he has integrity issues. He had 1-year stops at Rice and Pittsburgh, leaving both schools amid a cloud of criticism and controversy. Graham has a 106-72 record across five programs with five 10-win seasons and only four seasons under .500 in 15 years. He might get another shot based on his record, but Graham has a personality that isn’t conducive to stability.
Dec. 13 Update
Oregon hires Georgia DC Dan Lanning as next head coach Grade: B
This job, vacated for nearly a week, had all kinds of rumors attached, with the juiciest of the bunch being former Oregon coach Chip Kelly leaving UCLA to return to the school. But despite Kelly and California coach Justin Wilcox dominating the rumor mill, it is Lanning, 35, who got the call, and I think he was the right choice.
Lanning has been a lot of places despite such a short career, spending time spent at Pittsburgh, Sam Houston State, Alabama, Arizona State and Georgia. He’s been a major part of Georgia’s national recruiting initiative and took the lead on some of the Bulldogs’ big recent signees like cornerback Kelee Ringo, who is from Scottsdale, Arizona. That’s important because Oregon must take a much more aggressive approach to recruiting nationally and picking their spots with what top-end kids to pursue. Lanning’s SEC ties should also help in the short run because Oregon will have to work the transfer portal to satisfy some roster issues in the short term. In time, however, I think Lanning will prove to be a very good head coach, and I applaud the Oregon decision makers for their patience with the search and making the best possible hire.
Clemson OC Tony Elliott will take over at Virginia Grade: A-
Elliott, 42, has seen his named mentioned for many jobs over the past 3-4 years, and he finally decided to settle on one that’s also in the ACC and in familiar territory for him as a recruiter. I can ask 10 different people and get 10 different opinions on the difficulty of the Virginia job. Some people tell me it’s a potential hidden giant with natural recruiting inroads from the D.C.-Md.-Va. (DMV) area that can extend north into Pennsylvania and south into the Carolinas. Others tell me it’s a job with a clear ceiling but reasonable expectations. The same source said that previous coach Bronco Mendenhall finished his run at Virginia a shade under .500 (36-38), but he was never pressured or put on the “hot seat”.
That sort of patience might’ve been what really sold Elliott on the job, because Virginia is going to be a bit a build. The Cavaliers are more like Wake Forest than Miami, and Elliott will have to build a roster and make sure players are developed for sustainable success down the road. His ties with the ACC and the recruiting area should pay off some earlier dividends in overhauling the roster.
Texas A&M DC Elko is the next guy at Duke Grade: B
I was hoping Duke would entertain the idea of hiring Mississippi State wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. for the job, but Elko is a hell of a hire and one who I am very excited about. Elko, 44, is one of the top defensive coaches in the game, and I believe he’ll bring some good offensive guys to his staff with what he’s observed working under Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher in recent years.
Duke is a tough place to win, but previous coach David Cutcliffe proved that there is a working process to keep the Blue Devils competitive for stretches at a time. Currently, Duke is among the worst teams in the nation, so Elko will have a bit of a blank slate to work with. He’ll need a few years to build a roster to his liking.
Nevada snags Oregon co-DC Ken Wilson for head coaching job Grade: C
Ask some around Nevada and people will suggest that Wilson’s ascension to the head job at the school is long overdue. Wilson, 57, spent 13 years as an assistant with the Wolf Pack until moving to the Pac-12 in the past decade. He is known as a solid defensive coach and recruiter, but Nevada is known for its offense and has rarely hired a head coach with defense on his resume.
Wilson is going to have to guy a good offensive coordinator on his staff who will take the reins on that side of the ball. This is a hire that could work, and Wilson is clearly deserving, but it doesn’t feel like a slam dunk.
Mike MacIntyre is Florida International’s choice for head coach Grade: D
Florida International had several intriguing choices, mostly young assistants with deep ties to the area like Central Florida co-offensive coordinator Tim Harris Jr., Appalachian State offensive coordinator Frank Ponce or Penn State running backs coach JaJuan Seider. But even when faced with exciting options, Florida International has a history of disappointing, and new AD Scott Carr continued that tradition with the hiring of MacIntyre, who will leave his post of defensive coordinator at Memphis.
Now, it’s not that MacIntyre, 56, has a 48-65 career record with stops at San Jose State and Colorado. He did admirable jobs at both stops even though the records aren’t anything to scream about. It’s that he has no recruiting ties or history in the south Florida area where Florida International expects to get 80-90 percent of its roster. MacIntyre’s hiring was universally panned by local high school coaches and former players, who were hoping Florida International would bring in a guy who had real ties to the community. Instead, he will be viewed as a re-tread. I just don’t see MacIntyre gaining a ton of support from the local high schools, and without that support, he’s not going to succeed.
Dec. 6 Update
Miami fires head coach Manny Diaz Grade: B-
There are two parts to this, so I’ll hit them one at a time. Diaz, 47, was dismissed from Miami after compiling a 21-15 record over three seasons. He was hired at Miami just days after taking the head coaching job at Temple, and Miami’s hiring seemed a little desperate at the time, so it’s not a shock that this didn’t work out. I thought Diaz was a decent, not great, recruiter who did an excellent job in the transfer portal and put together a nice core of freshmen to build around for the future. But the decision makers didn’t believe he can be trusted to win with this talented group of young players.
The fact is Diaz was a goner when Miami fired athletic director Blake James. The school should have fired Diaz too, but the decision makers waited and dragged this out way too far. Diaz was seeing reports of his eventual ouster while he was recruiting. It is shameful the way Miami treated Diaz. I don’t think the coaching move is bad, hence the grade, but the way it was executed deserves a big, fat ‘F’. Diaz will get another opportunity. He is a smart coach with a good mind, but I think he needs to be a little more mature and stoic on the sidelines in the future.
Mario Cristobal jumps from Oregon to Miami Grade: B
There was only one name on the list for Miami: Cristobal. The former Hurricanes offensive lineman was part of two National Championship teams at Miami (1989, 1991), and he is expected to bring a championship presence back to Coral Gables. Cristobal, 50, was a former assistant at Miami from 2003-06 and has head-coaching stops at Florida International and Oregon, where he compiled a record of 62-60 and two Pac-12 championships and a win in the 2019 Rose Bowl.
Cristobal, 51, is Miami born and bred. He went to Columbus High School and has recruited Dade County at every stop he’s been in coaching. He is a very good recruiter, although I’m not ready to call him elite yet. I expect Cristobal will quickly get Miami’s recruiting in shape and fill the roster with a lot of talented players. He walks into a very good situation with a core of talented young players like quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, running back Jaylon Knighton and defensive back James Williams. Cristobal also brings a level of credibility to a program that has a reputation for not investing in resources at the level it should. How Cristobal puts together his staff will be interesting to see. He has been widely criticized as an in-game coach who fails to adjust. Losing two blowouts to Utah in a 3-week span didn’t help that reputation.
Colorado State takes Jay Norvell from Nevada Grade: A-
I think this is the perfect hire. Norvell, 58, is exactly what Colorado State needs after going through a disastrous period with former head Steve Addazio. The Rams’ offense, which was one of the most unproductive and boring offenses in the nation, will get a jolt with Norvell running the Air Raid system and slinging the ball around the yard. It was important for Colorado State to bring in a coach with a positive personality who can produce results.
Norvell led Nevada to four straight winning seasons and is familiar with recruiting in the Mountain West. It might take Norvell a season to cleanse the Colorado State program, but I do believe he can take the Rams to the top of the Mountain West conference over time.
Oklahoma tabs Clemson DC Brent Venables as next head coach Grade: B
Venables, 50, returns to Oklahoma, where he was defensive coordinator from 1999-2011, after spending the last 10 seasons as Clemson’s defensive coordinator. In a world of constant coaching movement, Venables is an exception, having spent his 29 years in coaching at three programs – Kansas State, Oklahoma and Clemson. It was going to take a certain kind of job to get Venables to leave Clemson, and Oklahoma was it. He would only consider leaving Clemson for a head coaching job if he felt like the program was committed to winning championships.
Venables will have lot of allies in Norman and an alumni/booster base that has fond memories of him during his first stint with the Sooners. He will be tasked with improving a defense that has struggled for much of the past 10 years as the Big XII became known as an offense-heavy conference. Venables is the type of coach who can get the defensive line talents who has eluded Oklahoma for the past several years. This will not be an easy job, especially with the Sooners moving into the SEC shortly. Venables’ first task will be to get a top-level offensive coordinator on the staff, one who will get quarterback Caleb Williams excited. Both Ole Miss OC Jeff Lebby and recently fired Carolina Panthers OC Joe Brady are at the top of the wish list.
Notre Dame officially names Marcus Freeman head coach Grade: B-
Freeman, 35, is proof that life happens fast, and you never truly know when you’re going to get “the call”. At this time last year, Freeman was still at Cincinnati and preparing for a New Year’s bowl game against Georgia. He wasn’t hired at Notre Dame until January, when he was named defensive coordinator.
Freeman clearly made a major impact on the players and decision makers of the program in less than a year, because he was named head coach at Notre Dame. The football program’s official twitter account released a video of Freeman being introduced to the players, which was a touching moment. Freeman and Tommy Rees, who was retained as offensive coordinator, are now the new young faces of the program. It’s a bold move for Notre Dame, and it’s one that I hope one that the school is committed to.
The first staff who Freeman hires will be a very important one. He will need the right mix of experience, youth, development and recruiters in that group. Freeman is being thrown in the fire right away, but I believe with the right support around him, he will prove a lot of people right.
Kentucky DC Sumrall takes over at Troy Grade: A-
For the second straight hire, Troy goes with an assistant from the SEC ranks. This time it’s Kentucky defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall. Sumrall, 39, was part of Neal Brown’s staff at Troy from 2015-2017 and is from Huntsville, Alabama, around three-and-a-half hours north of Troy on Interstate 65.
When Troy fired Chip Lindsey, the reasoning was clear – those in the program believe it should be a perennial powerhouse within the Sun Belt. It’s there where the Trojans have recently taken a back seat to La.-Lafayette, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina. But fortunes change quickly, and Troy has very good resources and a desire to win big at its level within the Group of Five programs.
Sumrall was part of one of the most successful stretches in the history of Troy football. Troy athletic director Brent Jones is banking on that history repeating itself under Sumrall.
Kevin Kelley resigns from Presbyterian after one season Grade: C-
This is disappointing because I really wanted to see what Kelley, 52, could do after a recruiting class and an opportunity to get more talent out of the transfer portal. Kelley became known nationally as the high school coach who didn’t punt, always went for two-point conversions, and always did onside kicks. He often explained the math behind his decisions and said that it gave the team a decided advantage in possessions. He promised he would bring his style to Presbyterian, a non-scholarship FCS program, and he did.
The Blue Hose only punted 13 times this year and led the nation in passing. They did lose nine straight games, but they were never boring, and I enjoyed watching their games each week on ESPN . Kelley only said he was leaving to pursue other football opportunities. Who knows what that entails, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of Kelley’s style in college football.
Dec. 3 Update
Marcus Freeman, Tommy Rees will stay with Notre Dame Grade: A
Ok, there still hasn’t been an official word on Freeman’s next position with Notre Dame or if he’s been offered the head coaching job, so there will be a different grade for Freeman separately as the new head coach when it’s officially announced. But as of now Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator Freeman, 35, and offensive coordinator Rees, 29, have agreed to stay with the program and turned down money believe to be north of $2.5 million to join Brian Kelly’s staff at LSU.
Both coaches are rising stars in the industry. Freeman could very well be Notre Dame’s next head coach, and Rees is likely to be on the short list for several major jobs in the next couple of years. Both coaches should be able to keep Notre Dame’s recruiting class mostly intact with the Early Signing Period coming up. There are still some questions to be answered, but Notre Dame took a huge step toward stability by keep Freeman and Rees in the fold.
Bronco Mendenhall resigns from Virginia Grade: C-
Big loss here for the Cavaliers because Mendenhall, 55, was a very good fit and a steady hand for a program that is searching for their place in the ACC pecking order. Mendenhall didn’t have the level of success that he achieved in 11 seasons at BYU, but he did take the Cavaliers to an Orange Bowl in 2019. He also understood the balance between athletics and academics that the school wanted, and he respected it.
Virginia isn’t going to be a national championship program in my lifetime, but it is good enough to win more than it loses in most seasons. Mendenhall says he was burned out, and after 17 years of running major college football programs I can understand that. Virginia is a good job and there should be a good pool of coaches to choose from. I am curious to see where this goes next, but sad to see a decent man like Mendenhall leave the sidelines.
Colorado State fires Steve Addazio Grade: A
Addazio, 62, got hired at Colorado State because the school stupidly asked Urban Meyer to provide a list of candidates. Naturally, he convinced the Rams to hire his buddy Addazio, who has left a trail of regret and hard feelings at every stop he’s been at as a head coach. It’s not that Addazio’s record is bad; with his 4-12 mark at Colorado State, he’s 61-67 over his three stops. It’s just that people absolutely hate him, his style of leadership and are happy when he’s gone. Colorado State waited a couple of days to officially fire Addazio because his buyout price dropped by $2 million.
The program has a brand-new stadium that drew such small crowds this season I thought there were still COVID-19 restrictions. Colorado State’s hope was that a flashy new stadium and a flashy new coach would get the Big XII’s attention. That didn’t happen, and now the program is in all kinds of financial despair. That’s another story for another day. The Rams’ visions of Power Five football may never come to fruition, but we’ll never know until they hire a winning football coach.
Akron hires Oregon OC Joe Moorhead Grade: B
This is an interesting move for Moorhead, 48, and part of me wonders if he didn’t think there were going to be too many coaching openings left and took what was available. Would Moorhead have been candidate for Virginia or Colorado State? Possibly, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that Moorhead is no stranger to Akron or MAC football after taking on several different roles with the program from ’04-’08, including a 2-year stint as the offensive coordinator. Moorhead has also been an FBS head coach, going 14-12 at Mississippi State in 2018-19.
Akron has struggled for most of the decade except for a couple of seasons under former head coach Terry Bowden. Bowden’s replacement, Tom Arth, was miserable, going 3-24 in two-plus seasons. The facilities at Akron are among the nicest in the conference, and the right guy can win there. With Moorhead’s connections from his time in the SEC and Pac-12, he might be able to get some good transfers in and turn the program around quickly.
Dec. 1 Update
Virginia Tech hires Penn State DC Brent Pry Grade: C
Pry, 51, returns to Virginia Tech, where he served as a graduate assistant on Frank Beamer’s staff from 1995-97. Since his early days in Blacksburg, Pry has taken a variety of assistant jobs at Memphis, Georgia Southern and La.-Lafayette, among others. But he has primarily been James Franklin’s right-hand man on defense for the past 10 years are so. Pry is considered one of the best linebacker coaches in the game and has extended that reputation to having some strong defenses at Penn State.
I was a little surprised with this hire because I thought Virginia Tech was going to go with an offensive guy, but Pry has some institutional knowledge and went to high school in Virginia, so he probably knows his way around the Commonwealth. At the end of the day, Virginia Tech found a coach it believes will help the Hokies get back to their identity as a team that plays tough defense and special teams.
Rich Rodriguez will be the coach at Jacksonville State Grade: B-
Jacksonville State got on the map this year by beating Florida State in Week 2. The Gamecocks are heading to FBS in 2023 and will be a member of Conference USA. Rodriguez, 58, has worked to rebuild his coaching career with recent stops at Ole Miss and La.-Monroe and is now back running a program for the first time in four years. About 15 years ago, Rodriguez was one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football and his offenses were a major catalyst behind West Virginia going 32-5 from 2005-2007 with three straight BCS Bowl appearances. He left West Virginia for Michigan, and he was a terrible fit on all levels with Wolverines, finishing 15-22 in three seasons. Rodriguez found his footing again at Arizona and took the Wildcats to a Fiesta Bowl in 2014 – an accomplishment that looks much greater in hindsight – and had a respectable 43-35 record over six seasons. His offense is going to help the Jacksonville State Gamecocks get some good players out of the transfer portal, and while I think his days of coaching Power Five are over, Rodriguez’s team might be fun to watch at this level.
Nov. 30 Update
Brian Kelly to leave Notre Dame for LSU Grade: A-
If Lincoln Riley was truly LSU’s first choice, then Kelly, 60, is a hell of a back-up plan. Kelly is one of the great coaches in college football. He has won at all levels over 31 seasons as a head coach and holds the all-time wins record at Notre Dame. He arguably took the Fighting Irish through their best stretch in the modern era, going 54-9 and making two College Football Playoff appearances over the past five years. Before Kelly got to Notre Dame, he led Cincinnati to s 34-6 record over three years and made back-to-back appearances in BCS Bowls. Kelly also won two Division II National Championships with Grand Valley State in 2002 and 2003.
The bottom line is Brian Kelly is a winner, a proven winner, and he truly believes LSU provides a better chance at winning a national title than Notre Dame. He should know because he’s been close at Notre Dame three times, and each time, he saw his teams overmatched and overpowered by programs from the southeast. Rather than continue to fight ’em, he’s decided to join ’em.
Washington tabs Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer for head coaching job Grade: B-
DeBoer, 47, isn’t a sexy hire, and to be honest it’s not one of the choices I would have guessed at for Washington when the school fired Jimmy Lake after just 13 games. My choices would’ve been to reach out to BYU’s Kelani Sitake first and then Iowa State’s Matt Campbell after that.
But DeBoer has had quite the coaching resume. He put together a dominant 5-year run at NAIA Sioux Falls, where he went 67-3 with three NAIA championships. DeBoer left Sioux Falls to start a run as an assistant for several programs – FCS Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Indiana. DeBoer spent 2019 as the offensive coordinator at Indiana before getting the head coaching job at Fresno State, where he went 12-6 over two seasons, which included a 9-3 year in 2021. It’s a bit of a risky hire for the Huskies, but DeBoer has a winning background and could turn out to be a good one.
Temple fires head coach Rod Carey after three seasons Grade: B
Timing is everything, and it was just poor timing for Carey, 50, who went to Temple in hopes of using it as a springboard job to the Power Five, like his previous four predecessors did. But instead, Carey, who came to the school after compiling a respectable 52-30 record at Northern Illinois, just couldn’t get much done in the way of recruiting and Temple decided to cut bait after going 12-20 over three seasons – 4-15 in the final two seasons. I wonder if Carey can revitalize his career in his old stomping grounds around MAC/Big Ten country, but winning in Philadelphia was never as easy at Matt Ruhle made it look. It was the right move for the Owls because thehy did not look like a team that was going to get better in 2022.
Nov. 29 Update
USC lures Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma Grade: A
Surprise! For weeks, Riley has been linked to the LSU opening, with people closely associated with the Tigers convinced he was coming to Baton Rouge. Oklahoma people, however, were publicly saying they did not believe Riley would leave Oklahoma for LSU. Well, those Oklahoma people were right; he’s leaving Oklahoma for Hollywood instead.
This could be a major power shift in college football. USC has been looking for the right coach since Pete Carroll left to go to Seattle Seahawks after the 2009 season. Riley, 38, is instant credibility for the program. He went 55-10 at Oklahoma, earning four Big XII titles, making three College Football Playoff appearances and coaching Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Riley is a dynamic personality who should fit in well in a city that loves the limelight and loves winners. As good as Riley was at Oklahoma, I believe he saw a ceiling there, and the Sooners just weren’t going to ever have the talent on defense to compete with the top SEC teams. With Oklahoma moving to the SEC in a couple of years, that problem was going to be magnified. Now he’s out of that rat race and in the Pac-12 where he’ll be able to own the state of California in recruiting. The USC administration is going all-in on Riley and expect to compete to titles very soon.
Florida makes Billy Napier next head coach Grade: B
Napier, 42, has been biding his time at La.-Lafayette for a few years and waiting for the right opportunity. Florida has everything you need to win a championship, from financial resources to a fertile recruiting area that Napier needs to hit hard. The expectation is that Napier will be announced Monday and hit the ground running to try to salvage a Florida recruiting class that was disappointing under previous coach Dan Mullen and had suffered even more de-commitments since Mullen was let go last week.
But Napier announced that he will coach La.-Lafayette this weekend in the Sun Belt Championship game. That’s a curious decision and a bit of a mistake in my opinion with the Early Signing Period three weeks away. Napier has plenty of familiarity with recruiting in the state of Florida from his time at Clemson from 2006-2010, when he served as tight ends coach, quarterback coach, recruiting coordinator and eventually the offensive coordinator. He was also the tight ends coach at Florida State in 2013 for about two weeks before taking the wide receivers job at Alabama.
Napier was 39-12 at La.-Lafayette, picking up a Sun Belt title in 2020 and three Sun Belt West division titles, so he’s done about all he can do there. The demands are high at Florida and being good just isn’t good enough. The Gators want elite football teams that can win championships. Napier is going to build an infrastructure at Florida built around recruiting, and he’ll have the money and support staff he needs. It’s all about getting the players and winning the big games.
David Cutcliffe and Duke agree to part ways Grade: C
Cutcliffe did some great things at Duke over 14 seasons. He led the Blue Devils to a 10-win season and ACC Coastal Division title in 2013 and went through a stretch of five winning seasons over six years from 2013 to 2018. Cutcliffe, 67, took the Blue Devils to six bowl games, winning three, and had a top-25 finish in 2013.
Cutcliffe is a great coach, with a great mind for offense and coaching quarterbacks. Duke is a very tough place to win in football. Most of the support and booster bucks go to the basketball program, which is a global brand. Blue Devils football has struggled in the past three seasons, going 10-25 and failing to keep up with recruiting. It was time to go in a different direction because Cutcliffe had done all he could there. It’s hard to see Cutcliffe taking over a program at his age, but I think there will be a huge market for him in as a quarterbacks coach and possibly offensive coordinator if he wants to continue coaching.
Bob Stoops will coach Sooners in bowl game Grade: B
It’s been a tough day for Boomer Sooner nation, but when that program needs a lift, Bob Stoops is there to provide it. Stoops, 61, will come out of retirement to be the interim coach for the Sooners in their upcoming bowl game. The recent College Hall of Fame inductee is not expected to stay on past the bowl game, but there could be another one on the way … maybe his younger brother Mark? We’ll see.
Bob Stoops was 190-48 at Oklahoma and won a national title in 2000. He has 10 Big XII titles and was named Walter Camp Coach of the Year in both 2000 and 2003 and has 11 Top-10 finishes. Right now, he’s just going to be the guiding hand for Oklahoma as the program searches for a replacement to Lincoln Riley. Stoops is an Oklahoma guy through and through, and all three of his children currently attend the school. Oklahoma (10-2) has an outside chance at a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
Sonny Dykes is next up at TCU Grade: B-
This won’t be the most imaginative hire, and it might not be one that TCU people were hoping for, but I think Dykes, 52, is a much improved coach from the one who struggled at California for four seasons in the mid-2010s. For starters, he’s put a much greater emphasis on recruiting, and he had the best-rated class in the American Conference, slightly better than 12-0 Cincinnati, at the time of his announced departure. Since then, that class has broken up a little, but the expectation is the two biggest recruits – No. 13 wide receiver Jordan Hudson and No. 13 safety Chase Biddle could end up in TCU’s class. Dykes found his footing coaching in Texas and did a good job building up SMU as top-end team in the American. He’s needs to build on what he did there and continue to raise his game heading into a Big XII program.
SMU grabs Rhett Lashlee for head football job Grade: B
Lashlee, 38, returns to Dallas, where he was the offensive coordinator at SMU in 2018 and 2019. He moved to Miami and really helped revolutionize the Hurricanes’ offense in his two seasons down in Coral Gables. Lashlee is as ready to take the next step forward as any other assistant coach in the country. SMU has had a bit of a revival in the past few years and has successfully branded itself as a piece of the Dallas culture. I think Lashlee will be able to get a lot of good offensive players there because his work with quarterbacks and offenses is unquestionably good. He takes over a good foundation that Sonny Dykes built – a foundation that Lashlee was a big part of. Lashlee has a great rapport with players and the connections to do a good job recruiting in Texas. I think this hire is a big winner.
Jerry Kill will take over at New Mexico State Grade: A-
Kill, 60, is one of the true good guys in college football, and it was nice to see him on the sidelines again as the interim coach at TCU after Gary Patterson’s departure from the program a few weeks ago. Kill is one of those coaches who truly worked his way up the ladder from his days at Division II Saginaw Valley State to FCS Southern Illinois to MAC Northern Illinois and eventually Minnesota, where he coached from 2011-15.
Unfortunately, Kill had health issues and suffered from several seizures while at Minnesota and eventually decided to leave the job and focus on the root of his health issues. Kill has a career record of 154-101 and 54-47 at FBS programs. New Mexico State is a program that has never really made a dent in college football. The Aggies have just two winning seasons this century – a 7-5 season under Tony Samuel in 2002 and a 7-6 season in 2017 under Doug Martin that included a win in the Arizona Bowl. Kill might be a guy who can build a positive culture and get the Aggies on a better track.
Washington State names Jake Dickert head coach Grade: B
If there was any doubt that Dickert, 38, was going to have the interim label removed, it was answered with Washington State’s 40-13 win over Washington in the Apple Cup. It was important for the Cougars to keep some level of stability after Nick Rolovich and three assistants were fired for refusing to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate. Dickert, the defensive coordinator and the highest ranking of the six assistants who stayed at Washington State, led the Cougars to a 3-2 record in his five games as the interim to finish with a respectable 7-5 season. Now, the questions have been removed and the program knows it will continue to move forward with Dickert and try to build on this season and the upcoming bowl appearance.
Skip Holtz out at Louisiana Tech Grade: C-
Holtz, 57, had a nice run at Louisiana Tech with a 64-50 record and six consecutive winning seasons from 2014-2019 with seven bowl appearances (6-1 record). There is talk that Holtz is ready for another opportunity and will try to find a job with a Power Five program. It’s hard to say if that ship has passed yet, but Holtz has had a pretty good run as a head coach, with a 152-121 career record that includes stops at Connecticut, East Carolina, South Florida and Louisiana Tech. We’ll keep an eye out to see if Holtz lands at another spot this offseason.
Nov. 22 Update
Florida, Dan Mullen agree to part ways Grade: B-
One year ago, Dan Mullen had the Gators at 8-1 and in a spot to make the playoff. He was 29-6 with Florida at that stage, but then things started going downhill. Mullen went 5-10 in his final 15 games at the program, and a 24-23 overtime loss to Missouri on Saturday seemed to be the end of the line. It is a dramatic turn of events for Mullen, who will certainly find his way back to a sideline next season if he wants.
The bottom line is Mullen and the Gators fanbase never seemed to really be on the same page. I think there was a belief that the program had a certain ceiling with Mullen and that ceiling wasn’t a national or conference championship. And as a recruiter Mullen took a ton criticism, especially in comparison to what the other top programs in the SEC were doing. The losses – the Gators have lost five of their last seven – and the recruiting stumbles were too much for the fan base to take, while the criticism was too much for Mullen to deal with. With Florida now open, it joins USC and LSU as the biggest jobs in the industry, and all the hot names are going to be on the board for what should be an entertaining job search.
Nov. 18 Update
Virginia Tech and Justin Fuente mutually agree to part ways Grade: C-
I expect there will be some turnover with head coaching jobs in the ACC this offseason given how that situations at Syracuse, Miami and Georgia Tech are looking very shaky. Fuente, 45, was also a name that made some hot-seat lists, but I didn’t expect anything to happen here until next season. Overall, I think Virginia Tech pulled the plug on Fuente a little too early, and I’m not sure if the coaching landscape is going to work in the administration’s favor.
Fuente went 43-31 at Virginia Tech after the school poached him from Memphis. He went 19-8 in his first two seasons, with a Coastal Division title in 2016, but the Hokies were 24-23 in the final three-plus seasons. That area of mediocrity was one that the decision makers at Virginia Tech believed Fuente could not get them out of. Replacing a school legend like Frank Beamer was a tough situation for Fuente. In many instances, replacing a ledgend comes down a school not ready to hear a different voice or a different way of doing things. Virginia Tech isn’t a bad job, but it isn’t the job it was 20, or even 10 years, ago. The chances of the program stumbling into a generational talent and cultural icon like Michael Vick is highly unlikely, but every coach at the school is going to be compared to that era. Given such a comparison, Fuente couldn’t measure up.
Nov. 16 Update
Washington fires head coach Jimmy Lake Grade: D-
At a certain point, you wonder why African American coaches even bother trying to petition for jobs in FBS college football if they aren’t going to get even the impression of a fair opportunity. Lake was fired after 13 games, which was part of a COVID-19 season and nine games of this season. This isn’t to say Lake was off to a good start – after going to 3-1 in the short COVID-19 season, Washington was 4-6 in 2021 and had a bad loss to FCS Montana to begin the season. Lake made some questionable staff hires, none worse than offensive coordinator John Donovan, which probably contributed to Lake’s demise. Lake also was suspended this past Saturday after a sideline altercation with a player. The school later claimed that there was one in 2019, before he was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, so take that report with a grain of salt.
Washington is a very good job, and there are a lot of talented football players in the state. The Huskies are one of two Pac-12 teams to make the College Football Playoff, losing to Alabama in the 2016 semifinals. Lake deserved more time – 13 games is ridiculous -, but the move has been made and the job is going to be a good one for the right candidate.
Florida International head coach Butch Davis will not return for 2022 season Grade: C
No surprise here, as Florida International posted the head coaching job a few weeks ago. Davis is 69 and his contract expires at the end of the year, and he’s been very frustrated with the Florida International athletic department and administration. After announcing he wouldn’t return, Davis accused the university of “sabotaging” the program and said the school is using outdated shoulder pads and has all but eliminated the recruiting budget.
Davis started out well, going 8-5 and 9-4 in his first two seasons, but the Panthers have lost 14 of their last 15. Florida International is also in search of an athletic director after firing Pete Garcia, so the school probably can’t make a hire any time soon. It’s not a destination job, but it’s a job with a favorable location and there will be interest from some good assistants that like to recruit in Florida.
Connecticut hires Jim L. Mora to be next head coach Grade: C
Sadly, I was hoping this was the older Jim Mora, because the press conferences would be epic. Unfortunately, it’s his son, who isn’t a bad coach or anything, but I’m curious about the fit and if Mora can recruit in the areas Connecticut needs to draw players from, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Most of Mora’s experience in both the NFL and college football has been on the West coast. He was at UCLA for six seasons and had a respectable 46-30 record with a top-10 finish in 2014 and two 10-win seasons.
Connecticut has nice facilities, and it’s a place that people have won at before. With the right staff hires and a major upgrade in talent, the Huskies might be able to carve out a place for them in college football’s middle class. We’ll see what happens.
Nov. 11 Update
Texas Tech hires Joey McGuire as head footbal coach Grade: C
This is an interesting move. Despite tossing out names like Hugh Freeze and Art Briles, Texas Tech went the assistant route, taking McGuire, 51, who was the associate head coach and outside linebackers coach at Baylor. Before joining Baylor under Matt Rhule’s staff in 2017, McGuire was one of the best high school coaches in Texas. He led Cedar Hill High School to a 141-42 record and three state championships over 14 seasons. He was highly regarded assistant at Baylor and was an important bridge of stability between Rhule’s departure to the NFL and Dave Aranda taking over the head coaching job.
This isn’t a sexy hire by any stretch, but I like the idea of Texas Tech making the hire now, one month before the Early Signing Period, and letting McGuire focus on recruiting and roster management while interim coach Sonny Cumbie deals with the current on-field product. McGuire’s high school ties should be very helpful in recruiting. With his lack of experience in college, just five years, it will be interesting to see how McGuire builds his staff.
Nebraska retains head coach Scott Frost; he fires offensive staff Grade: C
Frost was willing to do whatever it took to keep his job, and that meant taking a pay cut to return for the 2022 season. He also had to fire offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, offensive line coach Greg Austin, running backs coach Ryan Held and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco. A new offensive staff, preferably one with an offensive coordinator that will take over play-calling duties, is a good start. Frost’s staff has often been overmatched in the Big Ten, leading to a lot of late-game errors and close losses.
As for Frost himself, he’s 15-27 at Nebraska in three-plus seasons. It’s unlikely Nebraska, currently at 3-6, will make a bowl this year. In most cases, that should be the end of a coach at a storied program like Nebraska. But Frost is a native son and former player, much like Athletic Director Trev Alberts. The two men feel like they have a vision for the program that will bring success. That remains to be seen, but I can almost guarantee that if the Cornhuskers fail to have a winning season in 2022, it will be the final nail for Frost.
Nov. 9 Update
DC Grantham, OL Hevesy fired from Gators staff Grade: B
Florida, a top-15 preseason team, had arguably its most embarrassing performance under head coach Dan Mullen in a 40-17 loss to South Carolina on Saturday night. The Gators were 20-point favorites in the game but looked overmatched all night. Mullen has felt the ire of Florida fans all season despite a 33-14 record at the school over three-plus seasons.
Rumors swirled quickly that changes would be made after Saturday night’s effort, and it happened Sunday when defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach Jon Hevesy were fired. Mullen is very loyal to his staff, so these moves feel like they were forced upon him rather than things he thought he needed to do. The head coach isn’t off the hot seat yet and I would not be shocked if we re-visit the coaching situation at Florida when December comes.
Grantham’s defenses struggled over the past two seasons, and poor efforts against LSU, Kentucky and South Carolina have just infuriated the Gators’ fan base there. Hevesy was also the Gators’ run-game coordinator, and their running game has been quite underwhelming despite some talented backs on the roster. Both coaches have a long history with Mullen. Hevesy and Mullen have worked together since their days in Bowling Green on Urban Meyer’s staff in 2001. Grantham had been with Mullen since 2017 and turned down at least two NFL offers to stay with the Gators.
Florida has a lot of financial resources – Hevesy made over $600K and Grantham made $1.8M – and will have a lot of interest from top assistants around the country.
Akron fires head coach Tom Arth Grade: C
This move was done last week after the Zips lost to Ball State, 31-25, Tuesday. Arth, 40, had a very successful run at John Carroll, going 40-8 at the Division II program with three playoff appearances. He went to FCS Chattanooga and was 9-13 in two seasons before being offered the Akron job. Arth was 3-24 in two-plus seasons at Akron, going 0-12 in 2019 and 2-7 this season. The Zips only had two wins against FBS programs under Arth, and oddly enough, both were against conference opponent Bowling Green.
Anyway, Akron is one of the worst jobs in college football and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to have less than five years to try to establish some sort of recruiting pipelines and consistency at a program like that. With that said, Arth also might have been overmatched given his struggles to win at the FCS level. I probably would have given him one more year.
UMass fires head coach Walt Bell Grade: A-
Bell, who was an offensive coordinator at Florida State and Maryland, went 2-23 in two-plus seasons at UMass, notching wins against Akron and UConn during his tenure. If Akron is one of the worst jobs in college football, UMass might be the absolute worst, and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to have less than five seasons at a job like this before judging them.
But I will make a bit of an exception here because I think Belt was an awful hire to start with, hence the higher grade. The general belief is that he left Florida State before he was going to get fired and UMass was desperate to hire someone to replace Mark Whipple but didn’t have the funds to attract even the bigger names in the FCS who were willing to make the jump.
Bell, 37, should land on his feet as an offensive assistant somewhere and rebuild his coaching profile. UMass probably needs to drop down to FCS and join one of the conferences in that region. The move to FBS has been a disaster.
Nov. 4 Update
Clay Helton named Georgia Southern head coach Grade: D-
Huh? Well, if the goal of this hire was to surprise me … Mission accomplished. You could have given me a thousand guesses to who Georgia Southern would hire and Helton would have never been a consideration. Helton, 49, was constantly on the hot seat in his six-plus seasons at USC before the inconsistency and failure to recruit to the program’s standard caught up to him. Helton’s record of 46-24 will tell you he had some success as at USC. He led the Trojans to a 10-3 record, a Rose Bowl win and a top-five finish in 2016, and an 11-3 record and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl in 2017.
Unfortunately for Helton, he’s just extremely underwhelming and wasn’t the type of coach USC needed to reach a championship level. His fit at Georgia Southern is curious at best. He hasn’t coached in Southeast since his days at Memphis and has no noticeable ties to Georgia. Georgia Southern is a program where over 90 percent of the roster is from the Peach State.
The Eagles have a long identity of being a midline-option team, and the original thought was that the brass wanted to get back to that unique style. Helton has never coached that style of offense, and I would assume he’ll want to do more of the pro-Style/spread/air raid type of stuff that was being implemented at USC. I guess this COULD work, which is why I didn’t give an ‘F’ grade, but don’t ask me how. I think this is a terrible fit and all parties will regret this in about 12 months.
Nov. 1 Update
TCU head coach Gary Patterson resigns immediately Grade: B-
One of the most storied runs in college football coaching came to a sudden end Sunday night when Patterson, 61, decided to immediately resign his post at TCU. Looking at Patterson on the sidelines earlier this season, he didn’t seem well. I hope he’s not sick, but I do think years of coaching have taken a toll and he is ready to retire. So I can’t say I’m surprised, but I thought he would finish the season.
Jerry Kill will take over in the interim because the TCU administration has to figure out the new direction after almost 22 seasons with Patterson. The direction under Patterson proved to be very fruitful over the past 21 years. He had 11 seasons in which TCU won 10 or more games and achieved seven top-10 finishes. Patterson’s Horned Frogs went 13-0 in 2010, won the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin and finished second overall.
By that point, Patterson had one of the most consistent winning programs in the country and was on everyone’s short list for major job openings. But Patterson stayed and led TCU from the Mountain West into the Big XII. After some early stumbles in 2012 and 2013, TCU went 12-1, won the Peach Bowl over Ole Miss and finished thrd in the nation. Patterson would have 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes in 2015 and 2017.
TCU has struggled to reach those heights over the past few seasons, Patterson was 21-22 in the past three-plus seasons, and the Horned Frogs are currently 3-5 and unlikely to reach a bowl game. It’s a rather subdued ending for what was a spectacular run that put TCU football on the map. Patterson will finish his career with a 181-79 record, all at TCU. Now with jobs at Texas Tech and TCU both open, I expect the programs to look at the same candidates. Sonny Dykes at SMU, Jeff Traylor at UTSA, former Baylor coach Art Briles and Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles are going to be the names you hear. Don’t be surprised if former Houston and Texas coach Tom Herman is also in the mix.
Oct. 26 Update
Texas Tech fires head coach Matt Wells Grade: C
This one is interesting. Wells was a round peg/square hole fit at Texas Tech from the word “go,” and a lot of fans didn’t want him there despite the decent job he did at Utah State, going 44-34 with a couple of 10-win seasons over six seasons. Texas Tech is one of those jobs where being “Texas” is a big part of the gig, and Wells wasn’t “Texas” enough for the fan base. Firing him while he’s having his best season with the Red Raiders and had them on the cusp of bowl eligibility is curious, but again there’s always another reason.
Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie will take over in the interim, and at first, I thought Wells might’ve been the loser in a power battle with Cumbie, a former Texas Tech quarterback who is VERY “Texas”. But a little more research gives me the impression that Wells was fired because Texas Tech believes there will be better options in the offseason.
The first two names batted around for job opening were SMU’s Sonny Dykes and UTSA’s Jeff Traylor, both having great seasons at their respective programs. But the name that seems to have Texas Tech most excited is ‘Briles’, be it former Baylor coach Art Briles or his 38-year-old son, Kendal Briles, who is currently the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. I think the younger Briles is ready to be a head coach ,and Texas Tech would be a fit that could work for him. Either way, Wells wasn’t the right guy for this job. He’s a good coach and will likely land another gig among Group of Five schools in the next 2-3 years, but he was never going to be accepted by Texas Tech and a 13-17 in two-plus seasons didn’t help his cause.
Oct. 19 Update
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron will not return after the 2021 season Grade: B-
Life can come at you fast in the SEC. Orgeron, 60, had the hottest coaching seat in college football, and not even an exciting 49-42 win over No. 20 Florida on Saturday could have saved him. The word is that LSU and Orgeron starting discussions on a separation agreement after the Tigers’ loss at Kentucky last year. LSU is a disappointing 4-3 this season and is just 9-8 since winning the national championship in 2019.
Orgeron, who was born in Larose, Louisiana, was the state’s favorite son not too long ago, and his overall ascension at LSU is somewhat of a fairy tale. Unfortunately for Orgeron, his fairy tale started to end shortly after the Tigers’ 42-24 win over Clemson in the 2019 College Football Playoff Final. Orgeron was more “CEO” type of head coach that season. He handled a lot of the logistics and player issues while allowing offensive coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to run the on-field product. It worked well, as Joe Burrow won a Heisman Trophy and LSU had one of the most dominating runs in college football history.
After the 2019 season, Brady left to join Matt Rhule’s staff with the Carolina Panthers and Aranda replaced Rhule as the head coach of Baylor. Orgeron brought in new coordinators in 2020 and 2021, but it didn’t work and the frustrations in the fanbase grew with every disappointing effort. Orgeron is 49-17 at LSU. Part of his agreement is that he will collect a $17.8 million buyout and won’t take a head coaching job in the SEC for the next 18 months. Orgeron is one of the best defensive line coaches in college football, and it’s likely he will end up on a staff in that role for 2022.
Washington State dismisses head coach Nick Rolovich Grade: C
Anyone who thinks college football coaches are above the rules should not include the state of Washington in that assessment. Rolovich, 42, and four of his assistants were fired with cause Monday after failing to meet the deadline and comply with a mandate that all state employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber were the other four fired.
Rolovich was not only a state employee, but the highest-paid one in the state with a salary of over $3 million. His firing comes at a time when the Cougars had won three straight games, and they are playing their best football of the season for the second-year coach. Rolovich was 5-6 in one-and-a-half seasons with Washington State.
Don’t expect me to get political here, because that’s not my thing. Once Rolovich accepted the job and the paycheck that comes with it he was expected to follow the rules like any state employee. Obviously when he signed his contract in January of 2020, there was no COVID-19 pandemic and no reason to think this would have come up.
I have no problem with Rolovich’s refusal to get vaccinated. That’s his right and not my business. He understood the rules and subsequently chose his fate. Oddly enough, Rolovich said in August that he would comply with the mandate, but later changed his mind and filed for a “religious exemption”, which was denied in a blind evaluation process Monday.
My only criticism is I don’t understand how Washington State AD Pat Chun let it get this far. There should have been an agreement before the season to get this done or he should have been dismissed then. The players are the ones who suffer the most because they’ve lost half their on-field coaches. It’s a difficult situation, and one that I feel could have been avoided with some real communication before the season began. The for-cause firing means Rolovich and the four assistants will not be paid anymore. I would assume lawsuits will follow, and this one could get a little messy.
Rolovich, who has a 33-33 record in six seasons as a head coach at Hawaii and Washington State, has an uncertain future and a limited market in coaching as we continue to deal with a pandemic.
Sept. 29 Update
Georgia Southern fires head coach Chad Lunsford Grade: D
Man, I don’t like this one. I don’t like the idea of Group of Five schools replacing good, solid coaches who have won at the school, gotten to the postseason consistently and understand the culture and identity of the program. Lunsford, 44, was 28-20 at Georgia Southern and has a great reverence for the school and the history of the program. He was an assistant coach from 2003-2005 and again from 2013-2017, coaching nearly every position on the offense. After Tyson Summers was dismissed in 2017, Lunsford became the interim coach and eventually elevated to full-time head coach. Georgia Southern had seasons of 10-3, 7-6 and 8-5 under Lunsford and notched wins in the 2018 Camellia Bowl and the 2020 New Orleans Bowl. The Eagles started 1-3 this season, losing to Florida Atlantic, Arkansas and La.-Lafayette.
Georgia Southern’s new-ish athletic director Jared Benko has worked at several different SEC programs and presumably didn’t like Georgia Southern’s standing in the Sun Belt while programs like Appalachian State, La.-Lafayette and Coastal Carolina have all been in the top 25 over the past 4-5 seasons. Lunsford, by his own admission, felt like his job was on the line and might’ve been told he needed to beat La.-Lafayette to keep it. The Eagles played tough but lost 28-20. Lunsford is now gone, and quarterbacks coach Kevin Whitley will be the interim coach. Barring an eight-game win streak, Whitley will not be elevated, so it’s on Benko to prove he has someone who can do better than what Lunsford was producing.
Sept. 15 Updates
USC fires head coach Clay Helton Grade: D
I don’t know whether Clay Helton is a bad football coach. His record at USC (46-24) would tell you that he’s all right, but with Helton, the bad moments were so much more memorable than the good. Additionally, the fact that he was never going to be the guy to take USC anywhere significant meant that the program was just spinning its wheels with him at the front. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise that a 42-28 home loss to 17.5-point underdog Stanford on Saturday proved to be the final straw for Helton just two games into the 2021 season.
Helton wasn’t expected to be long for this job. He was an assistant with the Trojans and resigned when Steve Sarkisian was hired only to come back as the interim coach with Sarkisian was suspended and eventually dismissed. From go, it seems like Helton was temporary fix, but then he won the Rose Bowl in 2016 and had an 11-3 season in 2017. From there, Helton would go just 19-14 over his final three-plus seasons. That was just not good enough to get a vote of confidence from the Trojans faithful. Helton will coach elsewhere. He’s from a coaching family. His father, Kim, was the former head coach of Houston in the 1990s, and his brother, Tyson, is the current head coach at Western Kentucky.
Where does USC go now? For the rest of the season, it’ll be Donte Williams as the interim coach. Williams, 39, is the Trojans’ defensive backs coach. I don’t get the feeling Williams going to be considered for the full-time job regardless of what he does over the next 10 games. USC is probably going to go with someone who has head coaching experience. Former Washington head coach Chris Petersen comes to mind, as does current Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and Penn State coach James Franklin. If the Trojans decide to go with a top assistant, there’s Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott out there. Either way, Helton’s dismissal leads to the first major job opening in college football – just nine days into the 2021 season.
Sept. 8 Update
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall resigns immediately, the day after announcing retirement Grade: F
What a terrible end to a terrible stint of coaching. Edsall, 63, is likely done with being a head coach at the FBS level after posting a 6-32 record in his second stint with Connecticut. He convinced the university administration not to play football in 2020 because of the pandemic, and it would give him a chance to have a full season of training, practices and conditioning to prepare for 2021. When the Huskies returned to the field in 2021, they were smacked around by Fresno State, 45-0, in Week Zero and suffered a humiliating 38-28 loss to Holy Cross last Saturday. Even before these last two losses, it was clear that whatever magic Edsall had in his first stint with Connecticut wasn’t there the second time around.
Edsall was the Huskies’ coach from 1997-2010 and led the program from Division I-AA to an FBS power conference – the Big East. The Huskies achieved a top-15 ranking during a week in 2007, beat Notre Dame in a double-OT game in 2009 and won the Big East in 2010, which gave them the right to play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Edsall left the Huskies for Maryland in 2011 and went 22-34 in four-plus seasons with the Terrapins, making bowl games in 2013 and 2014. Connecticut brought him back in 2017 hoping to get the program back on track in the American Conference, but he didn’t have the talent on the roster and struggled in recruiting. The school left the American for FBS independence in 2020, but the Huskies didn’t play.
Despite being the winningest coach in Huskies history (80-102), Edsall was widely criticized for the way he left the program in 2010, and the Connecticut administration was criticized for bringing him back and allowing him to skirt the nepotism rule to hire his son. The hard feelings between the fan base and Edsall never recovered, and many thought he should’ve been dismissed after the 2019 season. Even with a year off to build the program and add another recruiting class, Edsall’s teams showed no signs of improvement. He announced he would retire at the end of the season after the Holy Cross loss, but a day later, it was announced that Edsall’s would leave immediately and hand over the reins to defensive coordinator Lou Spanos for the rest of the season.
July 15 Update
Ohio coach Frank Solich steps down, will be replaced by OC Tim Albin Grade: B
Solich, 76, the winningest coach in the history of the Mid-American Conference, announced he will step down from his head coaching post at Ohio immediately to focus on health issues. It’s a quiet ending to one of the great, underappreciated coaching careers of college football. Solich was a standout running back for Nebraska in the ’60s and returned to the school in 1979, where he would be an assistant under Tom Osborne for 19 years, spending most of that time as the running backs coach. When Osborne retired, Solich took over reins and went 58-19 in six seasons. Solich’s teams had great success, going 12-1 in 1999 and finishing No. 2 in the coaches’ poll. In 2001, the Huskers started 11-0 and eventually played Miami in the BCS Championship Game, losing 37-14.
Nebraska decided to go in a different direction and hired Bill Callahan, which was a bad mistake. Solich arrived at Ohio in 2005 and led the Bobcats to 11 bowl games and four MAC East Division titles over 16 seasons. He had six seasons with nine or more wins and finished 115-82. Solich spent most of those years running a throwback option-style offense and continuing to win games with teams that execute and play hard. Albin was with Solich for 20 years and all 16 seasons at Ohio. Having that kind of continuity should keep the Ohio football team performing at a consistent level. Albin has built the program with Solich and understands all the inner workings. That familiarity will prove to be invaluable. Albin, however, will still have tough shoes to fill.
May 7 Update
Kansas hires Lance Leipold as head football coach Grade: B
New Kansas athletic director Travis Goff had a hard decision to make when hiring a new football coach nearly two months after Les Miles was relieved of his duties. With the pickings rather slim for a job where winning seasons are hard to come by, Goff gave Leipold a 6-year, $16.5 million contract to leave Buffalo for the Jayhawks. Leipold’s salary is the lowest in the Big XII, but it’s a massive raise from the $630K he was paid to coach the Bulls in the Mid-American Conference.
Leipold, 56, has been a big winner at his previous two stops. He won six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater over eight seasons, breaking the stranglehold that Mount Union once had on D3. He went 15-0 five times with the Warhawks, and after his sixth title in 2014, Leipold took over at Buffalo. He was two-time MAC Coach of the Year at Buffalo. The Bulls went 24-9 over his final three seasons, putting up a 10-win season in 2018 and picking up two East Division titles (2018, 2020). His teams at Buffalo and Wisconsin-Whitewater were known for physical line play and strong running attacks.
Kansas is a tough place to win and is arguably the toughest job in the nation. Fans seemed to think Miles had the Jayhawks going in a positive direction, but they were 3-18 over his two seasons there, so it was likely more wishful thinking than anything. The Jayhawks’ last winning season was in 2008 under Mark Mangino. The program hasn’t had a season better than 3-9 since 2009. Since then, Turner Gill, who was also hired from Buffalo, Charlie Weis, David Beaty and Miles have all tried and failed with Kansas. Will Leipold be different? His history tells us he might. None of the aforementioned coaches won as much at the college level as Leipold has. He needs support from the administration through what will likely be a very rough first season, and he’ll need to catch some breaks and win some recruiting battles. It won’t be easy, but Leipold is going to give it his best shot.
March 9 Update
Kansas, Les Miles mutually agree to part ways Grade: C
There was no other choice here. Once the USA Today story about Miles’ role in rampant sexual harassment issues as LSU came out, it was just a matter of time before Miles, 67, was going to see the end of his coaching career come through a cloud of misconduct. It was pretty damning to see that LSU AD Joe Alleva believed that the school had cause to fire Miles back in 2013 because of his behavior.
Kansas just couldn’t afford to keep Miles and deal with the backlash. And there’s no future for Les Miles in coaching. He won’t be part of the Nick Saban coaching rehabilitation program in Alabama. Liberty University won’t look to him to replace Hugh Freeze. He’s officially done. Miles leaves after going 3-18 in two seasons at Kansas, over half as many losses as the “Mad Hatter” had at LSU in 12 seasons.
It’s hard to tell where Kansas goes from here. With spring ball gearing up, Jayhawks AD Jeff Long will have to make a quick promotion and then decide how he wants the football program to look moving forward. The Jayhawks haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2009. Kansas has hired up-and-coming coaches from the Group of Five, former NFL offensive coordinators, and former hot-name assistants from the Power Five … nothing has worked for this program. Much like Indiana found Tom Allen, Kansas needs someone who can just bring energy and positive vibes to the football program. There’s no excuse for the Jayhawks to be so good at basketball and so bad at football. The right guy is out there, and Long has to find him. Les Miles wasn’t that guy.
Feb. 16 Update
Central Florida hires Gus Malzahn as head football coach Grade: A
Central Florida, the best non-Power Five job on the market, landed the best coach on the open market. And to think that I’ve read pieces from some dolts who are questioning this hire. Questioning one of the, I believe three, coaches who own three wins over Nick Saban in the SEC? A coach who has a 77-38 record in nine seasons, eight at Auburn? Malzahn won an SEC title in 2013 and came within a Jameis Winston-to-Kelvin Benjamin pass of winning a national title for the Tigers. After eight seasons, Auburn’s eternal inferiority complex came to the surface and the university fired Malzahn. I thought Tennessee should’ve rushed to hire Malzahn, but that school instead hired Central Florida Athletic Director Danny White, who brought Josh Heupel with him to be the Volunteers’ football coach. Now, Central Florida gets Malzahn. I think the Knights won out big time with this change.
The questions about Malzahn are about his commitment to the program. But it’s a silly concern because the other Central Florida favorites, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, were probably looking at the Central Florida job as a great springboard, much like Scott Frost and Heupel did. Malzahn is 55. He’s spent 12 of those years in the SEC as a head coach or an offensive coordinator, so he’s been there and done that. He was also on the field on New Year’s Day in 2018 when Central Florida finished a 12-0 season with a Peach Bowl win over Auburn. He saw first-hand what Central Florida was capable of.
Malzahn wants to win. He can win at Central Florida. He loves to recruit in the state of Florida – something Heupel wasn’t as excited about -, and he’s going to get great Florida athletes to play at Central Florida. Maybe he does want to spend his later years coaching living in Orlando and trying to build a Group of Five power. Maybe he will win 85-90 percent of his games at Central Florida and leave after three years. So what? If he’s leaving, that means he won big. And Central Florida wants to win big.
At the end of the day, the Knights needed a football coach and they got a great one who has won a lot of big games in his career and recruited a lot of NFL-bound talent. I think Central Florida’s football program won big with this hire.
Jan. 28 Update
Tennessee hires Josh Heupel as head football coach Grade: B
Tennessee hired Central Florida athletic director Danny White last week, so this move can’t be considered too much of a shock. Heupel put together a gaudy 28-8 record in three seasons at Central Florida, although Knights fans will point out that he went 12-1 in 2018 with a team that was almost a full holdover from the 13-0 squad that Scott Frost coached in 2017. Still, Heupel won plenty of games and even though some of the shine on his star – and the Central Florida program – has dimmed in the past two years, I believe Heupel’s ability to evaluate at the quarterback position and generate offense will keep his teams on the positive sign of the ledger.
This isn’t a real sexy hire. Heupel isn’t the most charismatic guy and doesn’t have this presence about him that makes you think “championship coach”. But the Tennessee job just isn’t that appealing right now with potential sanctions hanging over the program’s head and a fanbase that has become increasingly impatient. If anything, Heupel will bring more structure and organization to a program that was going completely off the rails under Jeremy Pruitt. Heupel and White are comfortable with each other, and White will give Heupel the time to build the program in the way that he wants. All things considered Tennessee could’ve done a lot worse.
Jan. 19 Update
Tennessee fires head football coach Jeremy Pruitt Grade: A
It’s plain and simple: you get caught cheating; you lose your job. After an investigation into potential recruiting irregularities, Pruitt, 46, was fired with cause by Tennessee. Departing with him is inside linebackers’ coach Brian Niedermeyer, outside linebackers’ coach Shelton Felton and seven members of the recruiting office support staff.
Pruitt arrived at Tennessee three seasons ago after very successful stints as a defensive coordinator at Florida State, Alabama and Georgia. He was part of championship staffs at Florida State and Alabama. Pruitt was known as one of the best recruiters in the nation, and Tennessee hoped that Pruitt could bring tons of talent and victories to Knoxville.
Pruitt went 5-7 in 2018 and failed to lead the Volunteers to a bowl after losing to Vanderbilt during the final week of the season. The 2019 season started 2-5 with losses to Georgia State and BYU among others, but Tennessee finished with a six-game winning streak and a comeback victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl. The pandemic season of 2020 saw the Volunteers go back to 3-7 and without a bowl for the second time in three years.
Pruitt often appeared overmatched and unorganized as a head coach. He has a lot of strengths, but running a program highlighted his weaknesses. Without an investigation, Pruitt was likely looking at a make-or-break season in 2021 and I thought it would be hard for him to get another big-time job. Now with recruiting violations hanging over his head, Pruitt might be untouchable for a while.
Tennessee had no choice. The school couldn’t afford to support Pruitt while facing potential sanctions. A firing with cause voids the contract and eliminates the need for a program to honor a buyout. Athletic Director and former Volunteers football coach Phil Fulmer also resigned and will presumably allow his successor to hire the next football coach. Recently hired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will take over the Tennessee program in the interim.
Jan. 18 Update
Marshall hires Alabama running backs coach Charles Huff as head football coach Grade: B
Marshall chose Huff, 37, out of three finalists – Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert and Louisville offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford were the other finalists. Huff is a fresh face on the coaching scene, and I think there’s a huge hope among young assistants in college football that this hire works out.
Huff played college football at Hampton from 2001 to 2005 and went immediately into coaching from there. He coached the offensive line, the tight ends and the special teams at Tennessee State and also spent time at Maryland. Huff was then the assistant running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. After that, he spent four seasons at Penn State as a running backs/special teams’ coach from 2014-2017, eventually ending up as a running backs coach and assistant head coach at Alabama in 2019.
Huff will follow Doc Holliday, who went 85-54 at Marshall and was named Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2020. Marshall is a job that you can win at – many coaches have done it before – but it’s not an easy job. Recruiting and managing personalities are a challenge. Huff is considered one of the best recruiters in college football, but Marshall can be a tricky place to recruit. Huff should have the opportunity to win plenty of games with the Thundering Herd. I expect he’ll do well.
Jan. 15 Updates
Boise State hires Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos as head football coach Grade: B
After having a nice run with Bryan Harsin, the decision-makers at Boise State decided to stick with similar plan and find someone young, energetic and with great familiarity with the program. Avalos, 39, checks off those boxes. He played at Boise State in the early 2000s under Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins before coming back as an assistant under Chris Petersen and Harsin from 2012 to 2018. Avalos coached the defensive line and linebackers for Boise State before being eventually promoted to defensive coordinator in 2016. He coached two the program’s highest-drafted players – DeMarcus Lawrence and Leighton Vander Esch – and is known as an excellent evaluator of talent.
These are some big shoes for Avalos. Since 1999, Boise State has had 17 seasons of 10 or more wins and is now a consistent top-25 program. Avalos was suiting up for the Broncos during the first part of that run, and now he’ll be asked to keep the ball rolling. He is a sharp defensive mind, and the Broncos should continue to be very tough on that side of the ball. Avalos will need to find an offensive coordinator who can match his knowledge and success for that side of the ball. Overall, I think this is a very solid hire and one that should work out for Boise State.
Marshall fires football coach Doc Holliday Grade: D
Technically, Marshall opted not to renew Holliday’s contract after going 7-3 and being named Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2020. Holliday, 63, spent 11 seasons at Marshall, going 85-54 overall and 6-2 in bowl games. Holliday’s high mark with the Thundering Herd came from 2013-2015, when they went 33-8, including a 13-1 season in 2014 and a Top-25 finish.
Marshall isn’t an easy job. Despite relaxed academics, the program isn’t the first destination for most recruits, and Holliday generally did an excellent job of landing kids who couldn’t qualify at many other schools. Keeping that sort of a locker room together and focused is a very underappreciated job.
There are rumors that the West Virginia governor Jim Justice and former Marshall coach Bobby Pruett pulled a power play here. Those rumors have been disputed, but Justice isn’t shy about wielding his power in the state when it comes to sports. He tried to get rid of Holliday in 2017 as well.
Holliday is probably not going to get another head coaching job, but he’s still a good recruiter, especially in Florida. Any school looking to land good players from the Sunshine State might take a good look at him.
Jan. 4 Updates
Texas fires head football coach Tom Herman Grade: C
Herman, 45, won’t have to be a lame duck in 2021 after all. This split was easy to see come. Texas wasn’t happy with him, publicly courting Urban Meyer this season, and after the former Florida and Ohio State coach decided he wasn’t interested, the Texas administration waited until after the early-signing period and a victory in the Alamo Bowl to fire Herman anyway. This isn’t to say Herman made a great case for staying. Four years in with one Big XII title game appearance, no titles and an average of four losses a season just wasn’t going to sit well with a title-hungry fanbase like Texas. He did, however, have a 4-0 record in bowls.
Herman’s downfall generally came in recruiting. There was a failure to get some elite players on defense and a true top-end running back until Bijan Robinson signed in the 2020 class. Robinson looks like he’ll live up his billing out of a high school, but that wasn’t enough to save Herman. Texas needs to find an identity on the field. It wasn’t a physical team that ran the ball effectively, but the pieces didn’t always fit. Not all of this is Herman’s fault. Texas, like Auburn, has an alumni and booster base full of people who are convinced they know more than the coaches do and have made it hell on them to operate the program. That’s part of the reason why I hoped Meyer took the job – he would’ve shown them his three rings and told them to get out of his face.
Texas hires Steve Sarkisian as head football coach Grade: B-
Let’s be honest. Sarkisian, 46, isn’t Texas’ first choice. The power brokers were very public in their courtship of Urban Meyer, but the former Florida and Ohio State head coach appears more interested in NFL opportunities. Sarkisian has a career record of 47-35 from stints with Washington and USC. We really didn’t get a fair chance to see what Sarkisian would’ve done with the Trojans because of his personal issues. Five years later, we’ll get the chance to see Sarkisian lead a heritage program.
Sarkisian’s biggest strength is his ability to get a top-flight quarterback in the program. There’s plenty of evidence to support that Tua Tagovailoa was going to go to USC and eventually ended up at Alabama because he was tipped off that Sarkisian was going to be on the Crimson Tide’s staff as an analyst. Sarkisian was also a big reason why class of 2020 top quarterback prospect Bryce Young flipped to Alabama from USC.
This isn’t a home-run hire by any stretch. Sarkisian might have graduated from the Nick Saban coaching rehabilitation program at the top of the class, but as a head coach, he’s still a question mark and doesn’t even have the track record of the guy he’s replacing, Tom Herman. That being said Sarkisian could be the right guy if he can carry the knowledge he’s accumulated as part of the Alabama machine and bring it with him to Austin.
Recruiting has to be the centerpiece of the push at Texas, and Sarkisian has to sell the powers that be that there is a big football world outside of Texas and a lot of elite talent resides there. Sarkisian has to convince them that Texas has to chase the same players who Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State chase. That will mean recruiting more in Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina while being more selective about the in-state talent in Texas. Longhorns recruiting has always been a little incestuous and needs to be more evaluation based. Sarkisian has watched the recruiting process at Alabama, and if he can execute something similar with the Longhorns, maybe they got the right man.
Dec. 29 Updates
Arizona hires Jedd Fisch as head football coach Grade: C-
It feels like Arizona should be a better job than it is. Fisch, 44, has bounced back and forth between college and professional assistant jobs since he landing a graduate assistant role with Florida back in the late ’90s. His most recent college stints were at Miami and Michigan as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator, and he’ll be taking the Wildcats job after a year as the quarterbacks coach for the New England Patriots.
This will be Fisch’s 13th different team – college and pro – in 21 years of coaching. His longest stint was a 4-year go as an offensive analyst with the Baltimore Ravens in the mid-2000s. He hasn’t been anywhere in college long enough to establish himself as a recruiter or a good evaluator and developer of talent. I’d give this a lower grade if it were a different program, but I think Arizona is throwing a dart at the board and hoping it’s a bullseye. Fisch’s success will have a lot to do with the staff he hires. There are already reports that he’s looking at former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown for the same spot at Arizona. I think that’s a good start.
La.-Monroe hires Terry Bowden as head football coach Grade: D
Huh? As my good friend said, “… they should’ve hired Bobby, even if he’s 93.” It’s not that I think Terry Bowden, 64, is a terrible coach or anything. He’s okay, I guess. But what benefit is he going to bring a program like La.-Monroe? Since joining FBS football in 1994 the Warhawks have had one winning season, when they went 8-5 in 2012 under Todd Berry, and four other seasons at .500 (6-6).
Terry Bowden’s last head coaching stint was a 7-year run at Akron from 2012-2018 in which he went 35-52, posting an 8-5 season in 2015 with a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a 7-7 season in 2017 with a loss in the Boca Raton bowl. Maybe in four years, Bowden can get La.-Monroe to a bowl. But his success at La.-Monroe might be best judged if he can in some way improve the infrastructure of the school. He has spent the last two seasons at Clemson as a graduate assistant. Maybe he can bring some of the things he saw at Clemson with him to La.-Monroe and look at this as a job that he wants to leave in a better place than he found it. We’ll see. But on the surface, this looks like one of the most uninspiring hires of the season.
Dec. 23 Updates
Illinois hires Bret Bielema as head football coach Grade: B
I’m probably going to be a little higher on Bielema, 50, than most pundits, but the “B” grade comes with the assumption we’re getting more of the Bielema who went 68-24 at Wisconsin and led the Badgers to three Rose Bowls and three top-10 finishes over seven years. Bielema then inexplicably left Wisconsin for Arkansas. He was alright in Fayetteville, mostly thanks to some good years from running back Alex Collins. The Razorbacks were above .500 in three of the five seasons Bielema coached there, but they were 11-29 against SEC competition.
Where Bielema should be a good fit for Illinois is his ability to recruit in the Midwest. Illinois isn’t a dead-end job. It might not be a top job in the Big Ten, but it’s a place where coaches have won in the past. If Bielema is motivated to get back to winning, he can recruit the offensive linemen and running backs to Illinois who will make his pro-style offensive successful. Bielema emphasizes a strong weight program and being the biggest, strongest team on the field. I think Bielema is motivated to prove some doubters wrong, and I’d be willing to bet on him turning the Illini around.
Vanderbilt hires Clark Lea as head football coach Grade: B
Vanderbilt is a hard job, arguably the hardest to win at in the Power Five. So, for the Commodores to grab Lea, 38, the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame is a pretty nice get. But Lea offers more than just a good resume. He is a Vanderbilt graduate and was a fullback on the football team in the early 2000s. With everyone seemingly going after offensive minds, Lea is a defensive guy who coached linebackers at Wake Forest, Bowling Green, UCLA and Notre Dame before he was promoted to defensive coordinator for the Fightin’ Irish.
Lea will walk into Vanderbilt will some knowledge of the challenge ahead of him. His experience recruiting at Notre Dame will help him identify players who can compete in the SEC, but also deal with Vanderbilt’s rigorous academic standards. It’s a tough job for a first-time head coach, but Lea seems to understand the difficulties and comes in with a plan to get the Commodores to a competitive place.
Auburn hires Bryan Harsin as head football coach Grade: B-
Harsin, 44, has been one of the most successful coaches in college football. He has gone 76-24 over eight seasons, with five 10-win seasons, a Sun Belt Championship at Arkansas State in 2013, three Mountain West Championships at Boise State – 2014, 2017 and 2019 – and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2014. This relatively low grade isn’t about Harsin’s credentials, which are impressive to say the least. But let’s be honest. Harsin wasn’t Auburn’s first choice, and the list of coaches who turned down the Tigers said more about the job and season than the coach who was inevitably chosen.
Auburn flirted with Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, UAB coach Bill Clark, La.-Lafayette coach Billy Napier, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, among others. The general consensus is that the incoming head coach would not have control over his staff outside of a couple of positions. For most coaches, that caveat would be a non-starter, but in Harsin, the Auburn power brokers found a willing participant.
On the good side, Harsin is an excellent coach and tremendous evaluator of talent. I don’t think Auburn recruiting will lose a lot of steam, and furthermore, I believe Harsin can put a more consistent product on the field, especially on offense, where former head coach Gus Malzahn could be great one week and frustrating the next week. Auburn fans probably have mixed emotions about this hire, but the job isn’t as appealing as it should be thanks in part to the people around the program and their desire to control things. With that being the case, Harsin is a good hire, I just hope the decision-makers trust him to make the right decisions regarding the football program.
Dec. 14 Updates
Auburn fires head coach Gus Malzahn Grade: C-
Malzahn, 55, is the latest victim of Auburn’s inferiority complex to Alabama. Don’t get me wrong, Malzahn is far from perfect and can be maddeningly frustrating at times, but in a college football world where Nick Saban dominates, Malzahn went 3-5 in Iron Bowl games. There are only two other coaches in the SEC who got three wins against Saban – Steve Spurrier and Les Miles. And Spurrier got two of his wins against Saban while the latter was coaching at LSU.
My point is being the second-best team in a college football-crazy state isn’t easy, and somehow Malzahn found success. He was the offensive coordinator for Auburn’s 2010 BCS Championship team and led the Tigers to the 2013 BCS Championship Game in his first year. He made New Year’ Six bowl games in 2016 and 2017 and the SEC Championship Game twice – 2013 and 2017.
Malzahn will finish 68-35 in eight seasons at Auburn and will certainly have the opportunity to jump back into coaching immediately, although I expect he’ll take a year off unless there’s something out there he really likes. I gave this a C- grade because Malzahn is probably a top-15 coach and a heck of a recruiter. He kept Auburn in the mix during a time when the rival school is enjoying unprecedented success. Malzahn, much like Tommy Tubervillle, Terry Bowden and Pat Dye before him, is being fired because Auburn football isn’t the brand that Alabama is. There isn’t a coach who can make Auburn’s brand as big as Alabama’s, but that won’t stop their big-money boosters from trying to find one.
Illinois fires head coach Lovie Smith Grade: A-
Smith, 62, is one of my favorite people in coaching. He can be funny; he’s very knowledgeable; and he will always deserve credit for leading the Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as the quarterback. But I don’t think Smith’s heart was ever in coaching for Illinois. It wasn’t a great job when he took it, and he wasn’t the guy to make it better.
He went 17-39 at Illinois, with the 2019 season being a nice outlier because the Fighting Illini went to the Redbox Bowl and a lost to finish 6-7. Outside of that, there wasn’t much to speak of with Illinois football. The Fighting Illini haven’t had a winning season since Ron Zook in 2011, and they fired Zook after going 7-6 with a win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to hire Tim Beckman, who didn’t win anything and was fired after a university investigation found he mishandled player injuries. Sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson resigns; hires Butch Jones as head coach Grade: B
This was a tough situation, as Arkansas State did not want to lose a solid coach like Anderson, 51, who led the Red Wolves to six straight bowl games and two Sun Belt conference championships. Anderson received national headlines as his wife, Wendy, was battling breast cancer. Wendy Anderson passed away on August 20, 2019. Last year, in one of the most uplifting moments of the 2019 college football season, Arkansas State traveled to Georgia and the Bulldogs fans shed their normal red-and-black garb for pink in support of Anderson and his wife. Arkansas State finished 4-7 this season, its first losing season under Anderson, and the coach decided to resign and take the job at Utah State. I’ll have more on that move in the next headline.
Jones, 52, is the latest graduate of the Nick Saban coaching rehabilitation program to get back into the head coaching game, joining Lane Kiffin, Mario Cristobal, Mike Locksley and eventually Steve Sarkisian. And this is a good hire. Jones isn’t an elite coach and probably doesn’t deserve another big job right now, but he can win at Arkansas State and he’s won more than he’s lost everywhere he’s gone, even Tennessee. Can he flip Arkansas State into another job at a Power Five school? Maybe. But even if he doesn’t, I think Jones will keep Arkansas State among the top teams in the Sun Belt.
Utah State hires Blake Anderson as head coach Grade: B
Anderson, 51, is a great coach who has had a ton of success at Arkansas State. This move appears lateral on the surface, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Anderson is still grieving the loss of his wife, Wendy, who died from breast cancer in August of 2019, and he might just feel like he needs a new location and a fresh start. The Arkansas State community has been hugely supportive of Anderson from the announcement that his wife had breast cancer through her passing, but the coach might’ve felt it was better to move on.
Utah State isn’t a sexy job, but it’s pretty similar to Arkansas State and plenty of coaches have won there. The Aggies have enjoyed four seasons of nine or more wins since 2012, and Anderson is capable of taking them back to that level of success. He’ll have to navigate some tough waters through no fault of his own, however, as the Utah State president reportedly made some critical statements of current interim coach Frank Maile that insinuated the 38-year-old wasn’t a cultural fit at the school based on his Mormon religion. Those statements angered the players to the point of where they decided to boycott their final game of the season.
In the statement issued by the players, they said that they do not hold Anderson responsible for any of this and look forward to meeting their new coach. Anderson went 51-37 in seven seasons at Arkansas State with bowl appearances in his first six seasons and two Sun Belt championships.
Arizona fires head coach Kevin Sumlin Grade: B
I was surprised when Sumlin, 56, took the job with Arizona. He didn’t have any history in the Pac-12 and wasn’t known as a guy who recruited the west coast in general. I remember telling someone else in the business that I was surprised Sumlin took the job instead of going to TV for a year and waiting, and then that person reminded me that black head coaches usually don’t have the luxury of taking a season off in college football. Point taken, but the Arizona job was a bad fit.
Arizona probably never wanted to fire Rich Rodriguez, but did it after he was accused of sexually harassing his former administrative assistant. Rodriguez finished better than .500 in five of his six seasons and seemed to leave the roster in decent shape, so Sumlin was tasked with a “win-now” job despite not having familiarity with the roster. Those usually never end well.
Sumlin never found his footing in Arizona on the field or in recruiting. Added to the fact that the Sun Devils look like they could be building something under Herm Edwards, Sumlin didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.
South Alabama fires head coach Steve Campbell; hires Kane Wommack as head coach Grade: B
Campbell, 54, was another situation of a good, sensible hire that didn’t work out. He had a record of 147-65 in 17 seasons as a head coach in junior college, Division II and the FCS. He won national championships in Division II with Delta State in 2000 and in junior college with Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2007. He has been around the Sun Belt area his entire life and knew the lay of the land. Campbell, however, couldn’t recruit the talent necessary to get South Alabama to a more competitive level.
Wommack, 33, comes in as the defensive coordinator from Indiana. He has spent a lot of his coaching career around the Gulf Coast states and should be familiar with the recruiting areas. I think it was good for South Alabama to go with a young, fresh face who can bring a new perspective to a program that has underachieved despite having very good facilities and one of the more attractive setups in the Sun Belt.
La.-Monroe fires head coach Matt Viator Grade: B
Viator, 57, did five seasons with the Warhawks and finished 19-39, recording one .500 season – 6-6 – in 2018 – and zero bowl appearances. He generally kept the Warhawks competitive for his first four seasons, but they finished 0-10 in 2020 and did not hold a lead during a second of competition over the entire season.
This was a hire who should’ve worked out better. Viator was a Louisiana guy and never held a football job outside the state. He had great success at FCS McNeese State, taking the Cowboys to five FCS Playoffs and going 78-33 over 10 seasons. His teams at La.-Monroe weren’t bad prior to 2020 and came incredibly close to upsetting Florida State and rival Louisiana last year. Close losses defined much of Viator’s tenure at La.-Monroe until things went completely south in 2020. Sometimes the right move just doesn’t work out. Viator was a good hire and the right hire, it just didn’t work, and La.-Monroe is right to move on.
Dec. 7 Update
South Carolina hires Shane Beamer as head football coach Grade: C
Beamer, 43, son of legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, will be taking his first head coaching job, joining the Gamecocks more than 10 years after he was an assistant with the program under Steve Spurrier. He has no previous experience as a head coach or a coordinator, which makes this a curious hire. Obviously, some people – many people – are going to point to nepotism because Beamer has far less experience than some of the other reported candidates, such as Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield, Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and Louisiana head coach Billy Napier.
There’s no question that Beamer doesn’t have their qualifications, but he’s learned under some great coaches like Spurrier, Kirby Smart, Lincoln Riley and George O’Leary. Beamer is an excellent recruiter and extremely popular with players. As a position coach, he has a long history of successfully developing players under his wing. These things all have to mean something. The makeup of Beamer’s staff is going to be interesting. Is he going to try to bring in a former head coach – like the recently fired Derek Mason – to bring some head coaching experience on his staff?
This hire leads to more questions than answers. Beamer has some positives, especially as a recruiter, and he’s been part of some very good staffs. Is South Carolina the right place for a rookie head coach? That is hard to say. The last head coach South Carolina hired with no previous head coaching experience was Brad Scott in the mid-1990s. Scott went 23-32-1 over five seasons. The expectations with this job aren’t horrible, but it’s a tough position for a first-time head coach given a perennial powerhouse like Clemson sitting two hours west.
Dec. 3 Update
Southern Miss names Will Hall next head football coach Grade: A-
I wasn’t sure where Southern Miss would turn after losing two head coaches in about two-thirds of a season. I thought the school might try to go the route Tulane went with Willie Fritz and take a veteran lower-division coach who was looking for an FBS job that needed some work and time. Southern Miss went to Tulane, but grabbed Hall, 40, the Green Wave’s offensive coordinator. Hall has been a head coach in Division II at West Alabama and West Georgia. He compiled a 56-20 record over six seasons between both programs and made the Division II playoffs four times and the Division II semifinals at West Georgia in 2014 and 2015.
This is a great hire in my opinion. Hall is from Armory, Mississippi and has spent most of his 22-year career as a player and a coach around the Gulf Coast area. He’s been an assistant in FBS football for three seasons, spending a year each at La.-Lafayette, Memphis and Tulane respectively. He’s familiar with the Southern Miss program, the landscape, the recruiting pockets and the challenges. Southern Miss is hardly a dead-end job, but Hall comes in understanding that it’s not going to be walk in the park and the program is financially strapped and will have to cut some corners in terms of amenities.
I have high hopes that Hall can get the players and has the pedigree to put Southern Miss in the mix in Conference-USA and make the a consistent bowl team.
Nov. 30 Update
Vanderbilt fires head coach Derek Mason Grade: B-
If Vanderbilt isn’t the toughest job in Power Five football, it must be among the most difficult three. In a conference where the perception is that anything goes and every program will do whatever it takes to win, the Commodores ask their football coaches to cut no corners and do it honestly. Mason will finish 27-55 over six-plus seasons.
James Franklin had good success at Vanderbilt from 2011-2013, going 25-14 and putting up consecutive 9-4 seasons. But Vanderbilt also had a very publicized rape/sexual assault case featuring five football players at the end of Franklin’s tenure, and that’s not how the school administration wants to do business. I can’t blame them for that.
Mason did things the right way. He recruited players who passed the tough academic standards and ran a clean program. At times the Commodores showed a lot of fight, and from 2016-2018, they went 17-21 and made two bowl appearances. But a 3-9 season in 2019 put Mason on the hot seat, and Vanderbilt lost its first eight games this season, with the 41-0 loss to Missouri on Saturday being the end of the line.
To the credit of the Vanderbilt administration, they aren’t a demanding bunch. They gave Mason seven seasons and seemed perfectly content with being around .500. He got a fair chance and couldn’t consistently hit the 5-6-win mark. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, 58, will be the interim coach. He might end up being the guy. If not, there’s going to be a slim list of candidates who can execute what Vanderbilt wants. As for Mason, he’s likely going to be a defensive coordinator again, possibly staying in the SEC.
Nov. 17 Update
South Carolina fires head coach Will Muschamp Grade: B
This is tough because Will Muschamp is one of the good guys in big-name college football. He treats people well, regardless of whether they are an intern receptionist in the football office or the President of the University, and is well-respected and liked by his players and peers. It just hasn’t worked out for Muschamp as a head coach. Not everyone is built to be a head coach, and Muschamp stands to be one of the highest-paid defensive coordinators in college football for a long time, so there’s no need to feel sorry for him.
Muschamp was the defensive coordinator under Nick Saban for LSU’s BCS Championship team in 2003. He went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins for a year before jumping back into college with defensive coordinator stints at Auburn and Texas. Muschamp was named the head coach at Florida in 2011 and went 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl berth in 2012. The Gators dropped to 4-8 in 2013, which included an embarrassing loss to Georgia Southern. Muschamp stayed for another year, going 6-6, as his success at cleaning up the Gators program off the field didn’t match the results on the field.
After one year as the defensive coordinator at Auburn, Muschamp was named head coach at South Carolina. In 2017, the Gamecocks finished 9-4 with a win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. It was Muschamp’s only bowl win at South Carolina. He went 19-26 over his other three seasons at South Carolina. This season, it’s been the defense, his calling card, that hass struggled the mostm giving up 52 points against LSU, 48 points against Texas A&M and 59 points in Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss.
At the young age of 49 I think Muschamp’s head coaching days might be over. He is a good man in a sport filled with so many shysters, so it would be nice for a someone like Muschamp to be a winner. But he’s had two of the better jobs in college football and he’s struggled to win, it’s hard to justify giving him a third job and expecting better results. Like I said he’ll be a coveted defensive coordinator on the market and will likely command over $2 million annually.
As for South Carolina, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will be the interim coordinator and he might have a shot at keeping the job if he can yield positive results in the Gamecocks’ final three games. He and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson should be able to keep the recruiting class together as long as they are retained. South Carolina has a commitment from Class of 2022 quarterback Gunnar Stockton, ranked as the third-best 2022 quarterback prospect in the nation. Stockton is a potential program changer and whomever South Carolina hires will make keeping him a top priority.
Nov. 9 Update
Utah State fires head coach Gary Andersen Grade: B
Gary Andersen had a very nice run at Utah State from 2009-2012. He built a program over four years and went 26-24 with an 11-2 season and a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2012. From there, Andersen was hired at Wisconsin to replace Bret Bielema. He went 9-4 in his first year with the Badgers and led them to the Big Ten Championship game in 2014, where Wisconsin lost to the eventual champions Ohio State.
Andersen then decided to abruptly leave Wisconsin after two seasons to take the head coaching job at Oregon State. He cited some issues with athletic director Barry Alvarez, who can be a little overbearing, and he was frustrated that the admission standards at Wisconsin were slightly higher than some of their Big Ten competitors that he lost recruits to. I understand that level of frustration, but Wisconsin is one of those jobs that you can almost pencil in for 9-10 wins a season and the fan base is cool with it. It’s a good job with lower expectations than Michigan or Ohio State.
Andersen was a horrible failure at Oregon State, going 7-23 in two-and-a-half seasons before getting fired. He returned as an assistant at Utah State and eventually get a second stint with the Aggies when Matt Wells left for Texas Tech. Utah State went 7-6 in 2019 with a loss in the Frisco Bowl, but the Aggies have started 0-3 in 2020, with three blowout losses ending Andersen’s fate.
Andersen is 14-32 since leaving Wisconsin, and I have to assume he has some regret over that because it’s likely he’d still be coaching the Badgers today for twice of what his salary was in 2013. Leaving Wisconsin didn’t work out for Bielema, and it didn’t work out for Andersen – don’t expect current Badgers coach Paul Chryst to go anywhere anytime soon. Sometimes you just can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
As for Utah State, the Aggies have had a pretty nice run as a quality mid-major program under Andersen and Wells since 2009. The current interim coach, Frank Malie, has been with the program since he played there from 2004-2007 and might be ready to take over the program full time. If the administration decides to go outside the family, there are a lot of quality FCS coaches in that region who might be ready to level up. Jeff Choate at Montana State would be a good fit in my opinion, and he was an assistant at Utah State in the early 2000s.
Oct. 29 Update
Interim head coach Scotty Walden resigns; Tim Billings named interim coach Grade: Whaaat?!
Raise your hand if you want to be the head coach at the Southern Mississippi football program. First, Jay Hopson resigned after the opener with the school administration citing the time for the program to move on in a different direction. Walden, 30, got the interim job and went 1-3 over the past four games. Rather than continue to be evaluated for the full-time job, Walden decided to take the head coaching job at FCS program Austin Peay immediately. This leavings Billings, 53, a veteran coach who has been coaching for three decades and joined the Southern Mississippi staff in 2016 to coach linebackers.
Austin Peay has had some more recent success in the FCS. Will Healy won eight games in 2017 and took the head coaching job at Charlotte in 2019. Mark Hudspeth lead the Governors to an 11-win season and the FCS Quarterfinals in 2019 before resigning for personal reasons after the season. Clearly, Walden thinks Austin Peay offers him better upside than Southern Miss. It’s definitely an indictment on the Golden Eagles program to have a head coach voluntarily leave for a lower-level job rather than stay and be evaluated for a full-time head coaching spot in the FBS.
The Southern Miss administration says they will have a full-time coach in place by the end of November. Who knows how that will go? The job is one of the lowest paying jobs in the nation, with the head coach making about half of what the average coordinator makes in the SEC or ACC and less than most of the position coaches, so the job applicants are going to have to comes from Group of Five or FCS programs. It’s a hard job, but the fan base is demanding and ran Hopson off despite having a 28-23 record over four-plus seasons. Despite the negatives, Southern Miss has a good football history and is located in the heart of the talent rich Sun Belt area of the southeast with opportunities to recruit in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
Tulane gives Willie Fritz a 7-year contract extension Grade: A
Fritz, 60, has been a head coach since he took over at Blinn (Texas) Junior College in 1993. He won two NJCAA national championships there before going to Central Missouri in 1997, where he was 97-47 over 13 seasons. In 2010, he took over at Sam Houston State and went 40-15 over four seasons, leading the Bearkats to the FCS Championship Game in 2011 and 2012.
Fritz got his shot in FBS football in 2014 when he went to Georgia Southern and won the Sun Belt conference in his first year. He went 17-7 in two seasons with the Eagles before taking over at Tulane in 2016. In 2016 and 2017, Tulane finished under .500, making for only the second and third losing seasons of Fritz’s career. His team went 7-6 with a win in the Cure Bowl in 2018 and 7-6 with a win in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2019 – the first consecutive winning seasons for the Green Wave since Shaun King was the quarterback in 1997 and 1998 under head coach Tommy Bowden.
Fritz is probably at an age where a move to a Power Five program is looking less likely, but he’s a great fit for Tulane. He’s won everywhere he’s coached and should consistently have the Green Wave in the top half of the American Athletic Conference. The administration at Tulane is solidly behind Fritz, who appears committed to finishing his coaching career in New Orleans.
Jay Hopson resigns from Southern Miss; Scotty Walden named interim coach Grade: C-
This is a weird one. Hopson, 51, finished 28-23 at Southern Miss. He didn’t have a losing season and went to a bowl game three out of the four seasons he was the head coach. He resigned shortly after a 31-21 loss to South Alabama in the season opener on September 3.
Hopson is a Mississippi guy through and through. He played at Ole Miss and was a defensive assistant and defensive coordinator at Southern Miss on two separate occasions before getting a head coaching job at Alcorn State in 2012. He went 32-17 at Alcorn State and won the SWAC East Division in 2014 and 2015. When Hopson got the Southern Miss job in 2016, I thought he would be a lifer unless Ole Miss or Mississippi State came calling.
Hopson kept Southern Miss competitive and above .500, but not much better. There have been signs of struggle. Including the 2020 opener, the Golden Eagles have lost four straight, all by significant margins. Three of the team’s best players – DE Jacques Turner, LB Racheem Both and WR Jaylond Adams – left the team before the start of the season. It sounds like a situation where Hopson figured it was better to leave now and turn things over to a new voice before they get worse.
Walden, 30, will be the youngest FBS coach in the nation. Southern Miss has no money, so Walden has a real good shot at this job for the long term. The school can’t afford much more than a young assistant at this point. Hopson was making $500K, which is basically minimum wage for a head coach at the FBS level.
Colorado hires Karl Dorrell as head football coach Grade: C-
Well, Colorado needed a coach and had to go down a little on its list to find one after Steve Sarkisian and Eric Bienemy both said no, thanks. Dorrell, 56, went 35-28 at UCLA from 2003-2007. He wasn’t great at UCLA, and for whatever reason Bruins fans were trying to get him out from the moment he got in there, but he did have a 10-win season in 2005 and made a bowl game in all five seasons in Westwood.
For Colorado, a program with two winning seasons and three bowl appearances since 2005, you better believe that fan base will take five straight bowl appearances, even if from an uninspired hire. The fact is the Colorado job isn’t a good job and isn’t a job for a young coach who is looking for their first big opportunity. Bienemy would’ve been a moron for taking it and completely eliminating himself from future NFL consideration. Dorrell, who has spent the majority of his coaching career as an NFL assistant since his dismissal at UCLA, might bring some stability for a program that’s on its third head coach in 15 months.
Michigan State Hires Mel Tucker as head football coach Grade: B-
I hear a lot of people panning this hire, and I really want to say what I think the real issue is, but I’m not going to dive into that right now. Mel Tucker was the coach at Colorado for a year, abd the Buffaloes went 5-7 and were pretty much what they have been for the past decade – a below-average bottom-feeding Pac-12 team that’s had two winning seasons and three bowl appearances since 2005. I was shocked Tucker said no to Michigan State the first time, but after Matt Campbell and Luke Fickell also turned down the job the Michigan State brass decided to circle back to Tucker and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
So what if Tucker is making $5.4 million/year? What does it matter to YOU? He went from a dead-end situation at Colorado to much more comfortable situation at Michigan State and got a massive raise. So what if Drew Pearson is mad? He would’ve done the same thing.
Tucker has a history in the Midwest. He’s familiar with how things are done at Michigan State from his time there as a graduate assistant and his relationship with Dantonio and Nick Saban. Tucker was also an assistant coach at Ohio State under Jim Tressel when the Buckeyes won a national title in 2002. I believe Tucker has the midwest connections in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, plus in the southeast in Georgia to get the players back in the program who Mark Dantonio was struggling to pull in over the past few recruiting classes, and if Tucker can do that, then the Spartans will always be competitive, plus they have shown the ability to pull off a great season every now and then.
Texas A&M hires James Coley as tight ends coach Grade: A-
Coley and Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher reunite after several years together at Florida State in which they built much of the nucleus of the Seminoles’ 2013 national title team before Coley left to become the offensive coordinator and primary play caller at Miami. Fisher tried to hire Coley when he took the Texas A&M job in 2017, but Coley decided to go to stay at Georgia, where he took the wide receivers coaching job in 2016 and eventually moved to coaching quarterbacks. Coley was, in many ways, the fall guy for Georgia’s struggling offense in 2019. He needs to rehabilitate his coaching reputation a little, and getting back with Fisher is probably the best way for him to do that.
Coley is a dynamic recruiter, arguably among the top-10 recruiting coaches in the nation. With LSU losing a lot of talent and coaches, Alabama breaking in a new quarterback and Auburn replacing a ton of defensive talent, the timing is right for Coley and Fisher to see if they can turn back the clock and do for Texas A&M what they did for the Seminoles.
USC hires Todd Orlando as defensive coordinator Grade: C-
This is another uninspired hire by USC. Orlando has been a well-traveled defensive coordinator for the past 15 years, making stops at Connecticut, Florida International, Utah State, Houston and Texas. He started well with eah program and usually produced a top-25 defense early before fading in the following years because of a failure to recruit young talent. Orlando’s defenses have generally been tough against the run, not so much against the pass, and they rely on being aggressive and causing turnovers. After a good start in 2016 and 2017, Orlando saw the weaknesses in his defenses at Texas start to get exposed. The Longhorns’ scoring defense was 27.5 in 2019 and struggled to get off the field on third downs.
USC’s defense will attack in 2020 and will be aggressive for better or worse. And despite Orlando’s inconsistent stats as a defensive coordinator, he’s well regarded as a position coach with linebackers. With Clay Helton on an annual hot seat, his options were probably limited. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Orlando as a “one and done” coach at USC.
Syracuse hires Sterlin Gilbert as offensive coordinator Grade: D
If this follows suit, Gilbert won’t be there very long. This is Gilbert’s seventh job since 2012, and he comes to Syracuse from McNeese State, where he was head coach for a year and led the Cowboys to a 7-5 record. Gilbert is probably best known for his short stint with Texas in Charlie Strong’s final year as the Longhorns’ head coach. Strong took Gilbert with him to South Florida, where Gilbert clearly didn’t know what he was doing with Quinton Flowers for much of his first year with the Bulls and the offense looked lost and overmatched in his second year at South Florida without Flowers to bail him out.
Before Gilbert’s recent stint, he carpetbagged under Syracuse head coach Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, so there’s clearly a lot of familiarity there. But Gilbert has generally failed in this position and has yet to prove that he’s worthy of this opportunity at a Power Five program.
Hawaii hires Todd Graham as head coach Grade: B
I can’t argue with this hiring. Graham has taken a few years off since being forced out at Arizona State after six seasons. Graham was generally been a .500 or better coach for the 12 seasons he was at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State (95-61 overall record). Graham has only had two seasons in which his teams did not qualify for a bowl.
Graham is going to implement a high-octane offense, keeping Hawaii with its identity, and he has a very impressive coaching tree, which means that the administration at Hawaii is likely willing to invent a lot more money in the coaching staff than in years past. For the most part the Mountain West has been Boise State’s playground, but Hawaii is serious about competing and getting back in the top 25. This is a good hire, and I feel bullish on Graham’s chances of success there.
LSU hires Bo Pelini as defensive coordinator Grade: A-
Pelini is making taking his second whirl at the LSU defensive coordinator job. His first stint was successful, as he was part of Tigers staff that won the BCS Championship in 2007. He took the head coaching job at Nebraska and won nine or more games in each of his seven seasons but was relieved of his job because the Cornhuskers athletic director at the time, Shawn Eichorst, said Pelini “hadn’t won the games that mattered the most”. Nebraska is 28-33 since Pelini’s departure and has struggled to win games period, much less any that matter.
Pelini moved on to take the head coaching job at Youngstown State and outside of a 12-4 season in 2016 when the Penguins lost in the FCS Championship game, Pelini has struggled, going 21-24 with no other FCS playoff appearances. As a defensive coach, however, it’s hard to argue with Pelini’s success. He has a Super Bowl ring as a defensive backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers and has been linebackers coach in the NFL with the Packers and Patriots. He was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma in 2004 when the Sooners made the BCS championship game and lost to USC. With so much attention focused on what Ed Oregon is going to do with the offense after the departure of Joe Brady, he needed a defensive coordinator who could handle business on his own so he could continue to act as a CEO. Pelini is that guy.
Baylor hires Dave Aranda as head football coach Grade: B-
The inventory is kind of low at this point so for Baylor to pull Aranda from his defensive coordinator post at LSU is not a bad get. And Aranda, who looked to be out of the running for a head coaching job in 2020 after being passed up at UNLV, gets as Power 5 job with much of the roster Matt Ruhle built coming back for another season. In a conference known for a lot of offense, Aranda brings a hard-defensive background and a lot of success on that side of the ball from his time at LSU and Wisconsin. The good news is Baylor lead the Big XII in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways so his focus to keeping teams out of the end zone won’t fall on deaf ears. Aranda, to his credit, says he’ll be focused on recruiting and staff hires and has already decided to give up the play calling on defense to new defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, who are hired from the same position at Louisiana-Lafayette. Aranda isn’t necessarily known as an ace recruiter, but he understands how important the recruiting aspect is a team’s success and will surround himself with guys that can deliver the goods. Baylor hasn’t been an easy job in the past, but the past decade has seen the Bears go from highs to lows to highs again, so it is possible to win big there.
Georgia hires Todd Monken as offensive coordinator Grade: B
Monkey will replace James Coley, who will stay with the program in another capacity. This likely also signals that head coach Kirby Smart will take a step back this season as I doubt Monken would have taken the job without full autonomy with the offense, especially after he spent last year in Cleveland watching Freddie Kitchens ruin a potential offense with his ineptitude. Coley didn’t have that as Smart wanted to keep things under control with limited risks in the passing game despite having an experienced starter like Jake Fromm at quarterback. Monken will throw the ball down the field and figure out ways the utilize transfer quarterback Jamie Newman. With Georgia bringing in a slew of young talent on offense it could be exciting times in Athens. It’ll be curious to see what the future holds for Coley, who probably should’ve been more aggressive in finding a head coaching job this past season.
Ohio State hires Kerry Coombs as defensive coordinator Grade: A-
This hire is a little interesting to me and maybe a bit concerning that Day either didn’t feel comfortable going outside of his coaching circle or wasn’t interested in promoting a fresh face. Coombs, 58, returns to Ohio State after spending the last couple of years as a co-defensive coordinator under Mike Vrabel with the Tennessee Titans. He will be the only defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes in 2020 with last year’s co-defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, losing that title and the guy he shared duties with, Jeff Hafley, leaving to take the Boston College head coaching job. Coombs was the cornerbacks coach for Ohio State under Urban Meyer and will coach the secondary again. This isn’t to say Coombs won’t be good at Ohio State again, he’s a hell of a coach and highly regarded by former players in college and the pros. I was just hoping to see a new “hot” coaching prospect get this opportunity.
Missouri State hires Bobby Petrino as head football coach Grade: LOL
Ok, the grade has less to do with Petrino’s coaching acumen than it is about Missouri State’s desperate plea to become relevant. Apparently, Petrino and former Baylor coach Art Briles were the finalists. When you get past the negatives around Petrino and his general lack of integrity, you will find a hell of a football coach who has won everywhere he’s been and compiled a 119-56 record with stops at Louisville, Arkansas and Western Kentucky.
Petrino is highly regarded as an offensive mind with the ability to develop quarterbacks including former Heisman winner and likely 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. Missouri State has been a rudderless program to say the least, as Petrino will replace Dave Steckel, who went 13-42 in five seasons. There’s no doubt that Petrino, 58, is taking the job with the hopes of one final run on the FBS level and hopefully at a Power Five program. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of that happening either, because there’s always a program out there desperate enough to win that it will hire anyone. Enjoy it while it lasts, Missouri State.
Oregon hires Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator Grade: A-
This should work out on both ends. Moorhead was fired from Mississippi State a couple of weeks ago for reasons that seemed more cosmetic than anything. I believe Moorhead has a good chance of getting another head coaching job in the next couple of seasons, so holding a high-profile assistant job at a program that’s trying to compete for a championship is a good career move.
Moorhead will have some work to do as Oregon will have to replace some parts, none more important than quarterback Justin Herbert. But Moorhead showed the ability to recruit at Penn State and Mississippi State. Moreover, the offense he and James Franklin built at Penn State in four seasons was very impressive, led to back-to-back 11-win seasons and a Fiesta Bowl win to cap the 2017 season. There’s a reason to believe that Moorhead, who has mostly coached quarterbacks and wide receivers, and Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach, will complement each other well on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Washington State hires Nick Rolovich as head football coach Grade: B
The Cougars made a smart hire and decided to stick to their offensive identity by bringing in Rolovich from Hawaii. Rolovich, a former quarterback, is going to bring over his version of the air raid offense and keep the high-volume passing attack that Mike Leach had in the program for the past decade. Rolovich had a 28-27 record in four years at Hawaii and bounced back from a rough 3-9 season in 2017 to go 8-6 and 10-5 in his final two years with the Rainbow Warriors. Rolovich is a solid recruiter and did a good job of getting players from California to the islands. It’ll be a little tougher to get those players to Pullman, but I think he’ll do well enough to keep Washington State competitive in the Pac-12 and eligible for bowl games on an annual basis.
Mississippi State hires Mike Leach to become head football coach Grade: A
I give Mississippi State credit here for going all in. I would’ve put money on hiring Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, but the administration wanted to make a splash and keep the program in the headlines. Leach might not be any better of a cultural fit than previous coach Joe Moorhead was, but he’ll certainly generate attention.
From a football standpoint, Mississippi State isn’t in the class of the SEC West powers Alabama, Auburn and LSU, but Leach will be able to attract much better talent to Starkville than he could get at Washington State. The Bulldogs always have pretty good talent in the trenches, and that will make an old offensive line coach like Leach very happy. He will also have better access to the top quarterbacks in the Southeast, many of whom would love to be part of his offense. Can the Air Raid work at Mississippi State and in the SEC in general? Why wouldn’t it? LSU and Alabama have both gone to more pass-happy offenses in the past couple of years and their successes speak for themselves.
Mississippi State will never be destination central for a college football coach. Starkville just isn’t as attractive of a stop as many of the other programs in the region, and for Mississippi State to pull a coach from another Power Five program with a 139-90 record and 12 seasons of eight or more wins is a major coup and should be a day of celebration for Bulldog fans.
San Diego State head coach Rocky Long retires, replaced by assistant Brady Hoke Grade: B-
Word is that Long, 70, was interested in doing another year or two at San Diego State but refused to make staff changes that were being pushed by the administration. The Aztecs were not an exciting team to watch offensively – take it from someone who wagered on them often -, but Long squeezed every bit of success he could out of each one of his teams. San Diego State was 10-3 in 2019 and an impressive 81-38 over nine seasons with three Mountain West titles and nine bowl appearances.
Long, who was 65-69 at New Mexico, which is much more impressive than it looks given New Mexico has won just 37 games total in the 12 seasons since Long left, could be done as a head coach. Reportedly, he is still interested in coaching and would be willing to do it as a defensive coordinator. Hoke was Long’s top assistant and previous head coach at San Diego State in 2009 and 2010, going 13-12 before taking the job at Michigan. This move makes the transition smooth, although Hoke will likely have to make changes on offense to appease an administration that doesn’t want one of the bottom-20 scoring offenses in college football.
Mississippi State fires head coach Joe Moorhead Grade: D
The fit was strange from the beginning to be honest. Moorhead, a coach who has had all his success in the Northeast, was always going to be a bit of a strange bird in the Deep South. He was given a vote of confidence after the Bulldogs’ 21-20 win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and reiterated during his post-game press conference that he was in full control of the program and “you’ll have to drag my yankee ass out of here.”
Moorhead was 14-12 in his two seasons at Mississippi State. That’s not worth throwing a parade over, but it is Mississippi State we’re talking about here, not Alabama. The fan base had been less than enamored with Moorhead from the start for no other reason than he isn’t Dan Mullen. Mullen is probably the greatest football coach in the program’s history … at least the program they remember. Anyone will have a tough time matching his success there, and Moorhead never really had a chance.
There have been rumblings about concerns within the program. Player suspensions for various reasons were becoming a regular occurrence and starting quarterback Garrett Shrader had to miss the Music City Bowl after a fight during a practice left him too injured to play. Mississippi State lost that game to Louisville, 38-28, and it’s shameful to think that had he won that game we wouldn’t be here today – I mean seriously, you’re judging a coach’s tenure on the Music City Bowl?. But expectations were completely out of whack and Mississippi State fires only the second coach to leave the school with a winning record since 1956.
Mississippi State isn’t an easy job by any stretch. Alabama, Auburn and LSU are on the schedule annually, making the likelihood of fewer than three losses during any given season a rarity. Moorhead, who went 8-5 and 6-7 in his two seasons, might not have been Mullen, but he was going to keep Mississippi State bowl eligible most years and had just pulled in a recruiting class just outside of the top 20. For starters, the Mississippi State administration should allow those players who signed to be released from their letters of intent if they choose. And then good luck finding a coach who is willing to take on the challenge of winning in Starkville at the rate that Mullen did. The recent history of programs like Arkansas, Nebraska and Tennessee tell me that this could be a struggle for Mississippi State.
Ole Miss hires D.J. Durkin as defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Grade: Disgraceful and Embarrassing
I can admit I was on the Lane Train when he was hired by Ole Miss. I think he earned the opportunity to step back up to the plate in “big-time” college football and get another swing. But Durkin shouldn’t be on his or anyone else’s team. Accidents happen, I can accept that. Some accidents have tragic results. But Jordan McNair’s death at Maryland under Durkin still doesn’t feel like a tragic accident and it’s certainly not one that Durkin has been accountable for in the past two years.
Whether Durkin is a good coach or not shouldn’t make a difference here because many of the players he coached at Maryland believed he was responsible for their teammate’s death and when he was re-instated after a joke of an investigation by the Maryland administration, the players decided enough was enough. They didn’t believe he was sorry or that he cared about that. That should say it all.
Some people will say that Durkin deserves a second chance, but where’s McNair’s second chance? Would you let Durkin coach your son? How would you react to him stepping into your house to recruit your son and telling you he is going to care about him?
The constant joke about football in the SEC is that the schools will do ANYTHING to win. I don’t think that’s always fair. I do believe there are many honorable administrators and coaches in the conference. This hire, howevewr, shows me that joke is accurate when it comes to Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss football.
UNLV hires Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo Grade: A-
When the UNLV job opened, I said that the UNLV leadership there would be wise to find a coach with Pac-12 ties who could hit the transfer portal and help the program’s roster improve quickly. But even I must I admit I was very surprised at hearing that Arroyo and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda were top candidates for the job.
Arroyo’s hire is a huge home run for a struggling program like UNLV that some suggested should’ve considered moving on from football. Arroyo has coached on staffs under Jeff Tedford, Todd Monken, Lovie Smith – with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -, Mike Gundy and Mario Cristobal. That’s a solid group of guys to learn from and have them trust in his abilities. There’s a lot of work to be done at UNLV, but Arroyo will have $30-40 million brand new football building to work from.
Florida Atlantic hires former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart Grade: B
This seemed like a pretty simple, easy transition. Taggart, 43, will be on his fifth head coaching job and fourth since the end of the 2016 season. I get the feeling he’ll hang out at Florida Atlantic for a few seasons and stop moving around for a while. Taggart struggled at Florida State, going 9-12 in his short tenure. He is certainly to blame for his record, but Florida State was probably a much bigger turnaround than most people anticipated.
For the first time, Taggart actually steps into a good situation. Lane Kiffin won two conference championships in the past three seasons at Florida Atlantic, which should have a good handful of returning starters coming back next year. Taggart remains a high-level recruiter with deep in-state ties. He has proven he can win at this level, and it was a good move for Florida Atlantic to attract another head coach with experience to the job.
Colorado State hires former Boston College head coach Steve Addazio Grade: HUH?
For a few days, Tony Alford was the name being floated around, and it made sense for a coach with extensive experience and an alumnus to help Colorado State open a new stadium and try to bring the program back to prominence. Instead, Addazio is quite the curveball and a huge question mark.
Addazio was a good fit for Boston College as a tough northeast guy, who liked tough football, and Boston College was always a program known for tough, physical players. Colorado State is a much different culture, and I don’t believe Addazio has ever recruited west of the Mississippi. Colorado State Athletic Director Joe Parker said that he had integrity at the top of his list for the program’s next football coach. Then he asked Urban Meyer to assist him with the coaching search. If that isn’t a mixed message, I don’t know what is. Anyway, back to Addazio, this is a strange hire and one that it might take a while for the locals to get behind.
South Florida hires Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott Grade: C
I’m always a little weary of offensive coordinators who either don’t coach the quarterbacks or don’t call plays. Scott did neither at Clemson – Tony Elliott is the program’s quarterbacks coach and primary play caller -, so that’s the strike. But Scott is an excellent recruiter and frankly in the American Conference, it’s usually the team with the best athletes wins because the programs all run the same stuff – outside of Navy.
As long as Scott can get talent in South Florida, he’ll win. Jim Leavitt got talent at South Florida and won, and Willie Taggart got talent at South Florida and won. Skip Holtz and Charlie Strong didn’t get talent to go to South Florida and both lost. It seems pretty simple. Since Scott doesn’t coach quarterbacks, he would be wise to keep former NFL quarterback Shaun King on staff at South Florida. King, who has been both quarterbacks and running backs coach at South Florida, has been the program’s best and most loyal staffer for the past five years.
Old Dominion hires Penn State Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne Grade A-
Now, I LOVE this hire. I was very critical of Old Dominion and the way things transpired with outgoing coach Bobby Wilder, but I think the same group hit a grand slam with Rahne. An offensive coordinator who coaches quarterbacks and actually handles the offense from a major Power Five program down to an upstart mid-major is a heck of a coup. But more than that, I watched a lot of Vanderbilt and Penn State football when Rahne was the offensive coordinator and I love his scheme. He is also an excellent recruiter and does well pulling kids from that beltway area where Old Dominion is going to need to get recruits. I believe this is a perfect fit and Old Dominion will be able to recruit and rebuild under Rahne.
Auburn hires former Arkansas coach Chad Morris as OC Grade A-
Someone said that the SEC is like Hotel California – “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. Of the three major hires done by SEC programs recently, this was probably the best because Morris has been super successful in this position with Clemson. Gus Malzahn calls the plays, which might not change, but Morris has the capability of calling plays and contributing more to the game plan and more out on the recruiting trail. Auburn is good landing spot for Morris, who will need to rehab his name before getting another head coaching job.
Georgia hires former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke as OL/Associate Head Coach Grade B
Luke is an offensive lineman by trade and has plenty of experience coaching the position, so he’ll be fine in this role replacing Sam Pittman, who took the head coaching job at Arkansas. Luke will be losing some top talent off that line at Georgia, but Pittman recruited what was considered the best offensive line class in the nation in 2019 and is headed toward that same distinction in 2020. The good thing is Luke has some familiarity with the signees recruiting because they all had offers from Ole Miss . That should help in his effort to retain all of them and get a start on 2021 prospects.
South Carolina hires former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator Grade: B
When Bobo took the Colorado State job, it was expected he’d return to the SEC eventually, but most of us thought it would be as a head coach. Instead, he left Colorado State after five seasons and will help Will Muschamp. Bobo had 15 years as an assistant in the SEC, all at Georgia, and 13 years as an on-field assistant. South Carolina has a promising quarterback in Ryan Hilinski and a top quarterback recruit in the 2020 class – Luke Doty – plus lots of good, young talent. If Bobo can turn the Gamecocks’ offense around quickly, he’ll be on someone’s list to be a head coach in 2021.
Florida State hires Memphis coach Mike Norvell. Grade: D
This is a split grade. The hire of Norvell is a C, nothing great, nothing bad. Norvell was on the list of coaches who was deserving of a Power Five opportunity. The coaching search done by Florida State is a pure F because the school fired Willie Taggart in early November with the hopes of hiring former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops or an established coach from another Power Five program. Florida State failed at the search if those were the criteria. It is as simple as that. Much like I thought Miami made a mistake by hiring Manny Diaz instead of putting all its chips on the table and going after Mario Cristobal, I believe Florida State should’ve went harder after Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck or Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, who is a former Florida State defensive coordinator. When USC decided to retain Clay Helton, Florida State was the biggest job on the market, and after a month of other coaches getting contract extensions and sending letters to boosters begging for an additional “one-time” 20% raise on their contributions, the idea wasn’t to hire Mike Norvell.
As a coach, Norvell brings a lot of good things to the table, but he’s unproven as a roster builder, and in college football, you’re only as good as the talent on the field. He has 10 days to salvage an once top-10 recruiting class that has been on a downward spiral since Taggart was fired. Norvell doesn’t have to win big right away, but Florida State can’t afford to throw away the 2020 season either, not with rival Florida settled into 10 wins per year under Dan Mullen and conference rival Clemson playing the championships annually. Florida State fans have been on the outside looking in for a few years now and patience isn’t long in Tallahassee.
Arkansas hires Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman Grade: B-
The Razorbacks went swinging for the fences again with overtures to Mike Leach, Lane Kiffin and, depending on who you ask, Josh Heupel from Central Florida. Leach got an extension to stay at Washington State; Kiffin took the Ole Miss job; and Heupel isn’t ready to leave Disney World yet. But Pittman isn’t a bad fall-back candidate, and Arkansas could’ve done a lot worse than one of the top recruiting and assistant coaches in the SEC. Pittman has recruited some very good players to Georgia and some of the most impressive offensive line classes of all time. Believe me, when I say Arkansas was eyeing some of those prospects and hopes a few will jump ship to play under Pittman at Arkansas. The bottom line is the Razorbacks have an identity of big offensive lines and strong smash-mouth football. They got away from that with Chad Morris, and it was a disaster. Pittman has the coaching makeup to help Arkansas get back to its style of football.
Missouri hires Appalachian State coach Eli Drinkwitz Grade: B
You look at the tree of coaches Drinkwitz has learned under: Malzahn, Chiziki and Harsin. Drinkwitz was with Gus Malzahn at Springdale High School and went to Auburn to become the offensive quality control coach for Gene Chizik on Auburn’s national championship team of 2010. Drinkwitz then took an on-field coaching position with Malzahn again at Arkansas State and staed there for the transition to Bryan Harsin. Drinkwitz then went with Harsin to Boise State as the offensive coordinator before coming back east and working as the offensive coordinator at N.C. State for a successful run. Wherever Drinkwitz goes, he wins, and that included his 12-1 season at Appalachian State which saw wins over North Carolina and South Carolina. It’s certainly fair to say that Drinkwitz was a bit of a carpetbagger at Appalachian State as Scott Satterfield left him a great situation, but so far Drinkwitz’s pattern is to make good situations even better. Missouri is a tough gig, but it’s not impossible to win or recruit there. I think the Tigers needed a new look and a different perspective in the program, and Drinkwitz will provide that along with a lot of experience despite his 36 years of age.
Ole Miss hires Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin Grade: B
The Lane Train is back in the SEC baby! I give the Ole Miss Rebels credit for one thing: They don’t care about outside noise or perception. They want to win; they want to be in the discussion; and they are willing to take the risk to get there and they don’t care what you think about it. And I think this is a perfect match because Kiffin is going to give the Rebels all the red meat they want. He’s going to talk trash about Nick Saban; he’s going to recruit the top players; and he’s going to be the subject of rumors about his personal life because he’s single these days.
Finally, the Rebels got a true rebel to lead their football program. Kiffin’s brother, Chris Kiffin, was accused of NCAA violations while at Ole Miss and had a show-cause penalty imposed on him by the NCAA in 2017. Yet the powers that be at Ole Miss STILL hired Lane Kiffin. And once you get beyond the smoke, this is a good hire. Lane Kiffin might’ve gotten too much too quickly earlier in his career, and he took a lot of lumps. But he’s a much better coach now than he was 10 years ago. He rebuilt his career as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, and he stayed at Florida Atlantic two years longer than most people thought he would and won two C-USA titles. As a fan, I’m excited to see Lane Kiffin back in the SEC and eager to see what kind of impact he’ll make. And mark your calendars because Ole Miss plays at Tennessee in 2021. Oh, boy.
Jeff Tedford steps down from Fresno State due to health reasons. Grade: UGH!
This stinks. Tedford has been a great college coach who really looked like he was in a happy place at Fresno State, his alma mater, and was ready to settle in and coach the Bulldogs until his retirement. Unfortunately, Tedford will have a second heart procedure and it looks like his coaching days might be over. Tedford returned to college in 2017 and led Fresno to 10-4 and 12-2 records before slipping back and going 4-8 this year with a pretty young team. A good coach and a good man; on a personal level, I just hope he’s healthy and has many years ahead of him, maybe in an athletic director role or something off the field.
USC decides to retain Clay Helton Grade: D
And the roller coaster will continue for another year. Helton didn’t do a bad job this season at USC, but he’s still viewed as a placeholder for a fanbase that doesn’t want him. For most of the season, it was thought that barring double-digit wins and a division title, Helton was a goner and Urban Meyer would be his replacement. With the recent hiring of athletic director Mike Bohn, it was expected Bohn was going to make a change. But the Trojans had a decent season and Helton, along with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, did a great job of handling injuries at the quarterback position and building around promising freshman Kedon Slovis. It was enough to get another year, but Helton should look at this as a lifeline rather than a vote of confidence. The Trojans fanbase believe he’s under-qualified for the job, and in the recruiting circles, USC’s class is on the back half of recruiting classes in the Pac-12 – a terrible position to be for a program that routinely lands top-10 classes. Helton will have to deal with another year of questions and speculation, and it’s going to be difficult for him to establish stability at USC with all that outside noise.
Mike Bobo agrees to deal, steps down from Colorado State Grade: C
Bobo had marginal success at Colorado State, going to bowl games in his first three seasons with matching 7-6 records. The Rams went 3-9 last season and 4-8 in 2019. Colorado State was thought to be a stepping stone for Bobo, much like it was for his predecessor Jim McElwain, who went from Colorado State to Florida. Bobo didn’t have the same success as McElwain and will take about $1.8 million in a buyout to leave and seek other opportunities. Bobo is expected to be a prime candidate for an offensive coordinator position at an SEC program and could also be in play for the Arkansas job despite his 28-35 overall record. Before going to Colorado State, Bobo coached for 14 years at Georgia, where he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He also played for the Bulldogs in the mid-’90s.
Chris Petersen will step down from Washington after the bowl game and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will become the Huskies’ new head coach Grade: A-
Petersen is a proven winner. He won 10 or more games in seven of eight seasons at Boise State, going 92-12 and winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and 2010. He left Boise State after the 2013 season to go to Washington, and in six seasons, he led the Huskies to a playoff semifinal appearance in 2016 and 10-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, going 54-26 overall with two Pac-12 championships. The word around Petersen’s resignation is that he’ll have an official advisory role at Washington and wants a little time to re-charge. If Petersen decides to return to coaching in 2021, he would probably be the top coach on the market.
Lake is one of the more highly regarded coordinators in the nation. He turned down Willie Taggart to become the defensive coordinator at Florida State in 2018, and the general belief was that his next job would be a head coaching job somewhere. It should be a smooth transition with Lake taking over for Petersen after spending several years as his primary assistant. Lake is a product of the area. He played college football at Eastern Washington and has coached in the state for 12 years. He also has NFL experience as a defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions.
Bobby Wilder resigns from Old Dominion Grade: D
This is a situation of a program and top-level decision makers failing a coach instead of a coach failing a program. Old Dominion, a program 11 years old, moved up too fast and is now stuck in FBS purgatory with no sign of escaping anytime soon. Wilder has been the program’s only coach. He took the reins in 2007 and spent the first two years on the trail to prepare for the first season in 2009. Old Dominion was successful in the FCS, going 9-2 and 8-3 as a provisional independent and then making the FCS playoffs in 2011 and 2012 as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Old Dominion began its transition to the FBS in 2013 and became a member of Conference USA in 2014. The Monarchs went 10-3 in 2016 with a senior-laden roster, but it’s the program’s only winning season in six years of FBS. In 2019, Old Dominion went 1-11. The Monarchs should still be in the FCS developing a great rivalry with nearby James Madison University and competing for FCS championships. The program wasn’t ready for the FBS, and the talent pool isn’t deep enough for Old Dominion to rely on in-state recruiting to stay competitive. Wilder, who went 77-56 at ODU, had decided he would resign if things didn’t improve from 2018 when the Monarchs went 4-8. He kept his word, but the Monarchs’ struggles are not his fault.
Ole Miss fires head coach Matt Luke Grade: D for Dirty
Man, college football can be a dirty business. Luke walked into a pretty tough situation, taking over for disgraced former head coach Hugh Freeze and shouldering the responsibility of navigating the program through NCAA sanctions that included scholarship reductions and a postseason ban. Luke got the Rebels to 6-6 in the 2017 season, but with their postseason ban extended to the 2018 season, they lost numerous players to immediate transfers, including quarterback Shea Patterson to Michigan, safety Deontay Anderson to Houston, wide receiver Tre Nixon to Central Florida, wide receiver Van Jefferson to Florida, and offensive lineman Jack DeFoor to Georgia Tech. Ole Miss went 5-7 in 2018 and 4-8 in 2019.
The end of 2019 was a loss to Mississippi State when Ole Miss missed an extra point after wide receiver Elijah Moore drew a 15-yard penalty for a touchdown celebration. It seemed like Luke would get another year with a decent recruiting class coming in to build around freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, but it wasn’t to be.
Boston College fires head coach Steve Addazio Grade: B-
Addazio was very consistent at Boston College, but never got the Eagles past the seven-win plateau. An offensive line guy by trade, Addazio’s teams at Boston College were big, physical and tough. They were competitive and rarely got blown out. But he needed to win a few more games and losses to programs like Kansas and a struggling Florida State team seemed a little more inexcusable than other years. There’s no question about what Addazio stood for – he is a good man who ran a clean, respectable program and his players competed hard for him every week. But his ceiling at Boston College was clear.
Addazio should be highly coveted as an offensive line coach by any program. Boston College isn’t located in a college football-crazy environment, but the school has such rich history and plenty of success in the past to sell to a coach eager for an opportunity at a Power Five school.
South Florida fires head coach Charlie Strong Grade: B
When Strong took the South Florida job in 2017, he walked into one of the best situations in the country. Former head coach Willie Taggart had completely flipped the roster, and the Bulls were coming off of 8-5 and 11-2 seasons with the majority of the roster returning. The expectations were that South Florida could go undefeated and make a New Year’s Six Bowl. The Bulls started 7-0 in 2017 before losing to Houston at home and Central Florida in the season finale. Even though the Bulls recovered to win the Birmingham Bowl and finish 10-2, the roster was going to have holes the following season.
Despite that, South Florida started 7-0 in 2018 as well before dropping the final six games. The six-game losing streak took a lot of the shine off of Strong’s tenure at South Florida, and the 49-0 loss to Wisconsin to open the 2019 season felt like the beginning of the end.
UTSA fires head coach Frank Wilson Grade: D
This doesn’t seem to be a great move because Wilson has secured the best recruiting classes in Conference USA over the past two seasons and would’ve likely had an opportunity for a comeback with those players being juniors and redshirt sophomores now. Wilson had a couple of six-win seasons there coaching teams heavy with upperclassmen. After the 2017 season, he had to flip the roster, and by all accounts, he did in prepping for a hopeful run at the C-USA title in 2020 and 2021. Wilson will be highly coveted as an assistant. UTSA pays pretty well for C-USA jobs, so the program will definitely get someone hungry for an opportunity.
Rutgers hires Greg Schiano to be its next head coach Grade: A-
This is called winning a power struggle, and it might spell the beginning of the end for Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs. Word traveled over the summer that Schiano had left a job as defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots to get back to New Jersey and be close to the Rutgers program knowing that Chris Ash, who was the Rutgers head coach at the time, was on the hot seat. Ash got fired midway through the season, and from that point on, it seemed like a reunion with Schiano was going to happen.
Last week, word leaked that Hobbs couldn’t get a deal done with Schiano, outraging the Rutgers community. Hobbs took it on the chin from newspaper columnists, boosters and even Rutgers ambassador Eric LeGrande. By the end of the week, reports were that Hobbs and Schiano were negotiating again, and early Sunday morning it was reported that Schiano had signed an 8-year, $32-million contract to return to Rutgers. Credit Schiano for being savvy enough to plead his case through the media and a community that wanted him back.
On the football side, Schiano brings credibility. He led Rutgers to a 68-67 record in 11 seasons from 2001-11 and six bowl games in his final seven years. He understands the program; he understands the challenges; and he gives Rutgers the best chance to get competitive in the Big Ten.
Things will be a little different his second time around though as Schiano used satellite camps and heavy advertising in Florida to assist with his recruitment. Satellite camps are much more limited and regulated now, so he’ll have to be creative to maintain recruiting in roads in Florida. But he has always recruited New Jersey and Pennsylvania well, plus his time as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State opened more doors for him. Schiano will bring Rutgers much-needed direction and focus.
Missouri fires head coach Barry Odom Grade: C
There had been all kinds of rumors swirling around that Odom was on a hot seat, but it was hard to believe after he had an 7-6 season in 2017 and improved to 8-5 in 2018. The transfer of quarterback Kelly Bryant should’ve kept the Tigers in the eight-win range in 2019, but Bryant dealt with injuries for most of the season and the Tigers had a five-game losing streak. It was Odom’s third five-game losing streak during his tenure at Missouri.
For Missouri to make this move right now, the power brokers have to feel like they have a plan in place. Central Florida head coach Josh Heupel seems like a popular name to throw around, but with all the success Heupel has had in two seasons at Central Florida, he might not want to leave. It’s a good situation for him where he makes a lot of money. The general belief is the right coach can keep Missouri in the mix in the SEC. The fact that the Tigers have won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014 supports that statement.
Bob Davie and New Mexico agree to part ways Grade: B
This decision seems somewhat mutual. Davie is 63 and missed a couple of games early in the season with medical issues, so it’s possible that the former Notre Dame coach is ready for retirement or at least a return to the TV booth, where things are much less stressful. Davie’s best run at New Mexico came with back-to-back winning seasons in 2015 and 2016. The Lobos went 16-10 during those two seasons and won the 2016 New Mexico Bowl, the second bowl win in the program’s history – and surprisingly Davie’s only bowl win as a head coach. Davie’s overall record at New Mexico was 35-63 in eight seasons. That’s not good, but he took a program that was completely destroyed by Mike Locksley and will leave it a lot better than he found it.
New Mexico should be in the top half of mid-major programs, but the Lobos administration proved to be its own worst enemy when they ran out Rocky Long after the 2008 season. In 10 seasons at New Mexico (1999-2008), Long went 65-69 with six .500 or better seasons and five bowl appearances. Long was forced to resign, and Locksley was hired with the expectation he would take New Mexico to the next level with his abilities as a recruiter. Instead Locksley was a disaster, going 2-26 in less than three seasons. Long took over San Diego State in 2011 and has gone 79-38 with the Aztecs over nine seasons. Whoever is making the next decision for New Mexico has to find a coach who is comfortable recruiting in Texas but can also land players through alternative means like the transfer portal.
UNLV fires Tony Sanchez after five seasons Grade: B
This goes in the folder of “worth a try, but failed”. Sanchez was a great high school coach at local Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman, where he went 85-5 and won state championships all six seasons. Sanchez was also the driving force behind convincing the Fertitta brothers – former owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship – to invest in a new football complex for the UNLV program, with the $35-million Fertitta Football Complex opening last month. Sanchez, who went 19-40 in five seasons, left the program far better than he found it, and years from now, his moves to secure the foundation may have his tenure looked back upon fondly. The new coach will have major upgraded facilities and the Raiders moving into the city next year. While Sanchez struggled with the on-field production, he gave the program an identity that the next coach can capitalize on.
BYU signs head coach Kalani Sitake to a 3-year extension Grade: A-
After breaking down Nebraska’s extension to Scott Frost, which didn’t make much sense, I now come to BYU extending Sitake, which makes too much sense. Terms were not disclosed for the extension, but it covers Sitake at BYU until the 2023 season.
Let’s start out with the obvious – BYU is a hard place to recruit to and have success at because of the demands placed on the student athletes, the school’s commitment to the LDS honor code, and finding the kids who can thrive in that culture and understand it. That’s why the Cougars have only had four coaches since 1972. For 11 seasons, BYU had found the perfect guy in Bronco Mendenhall; he checked off all the boxes and accumulated a 99-43 record from 2005-2015. When Mendenhall left to coach Virginia, BYU went hard after Naval Academy coach Ken Niumatalolo, but he decided to stay with the Midshipmen.
Sitake, a former BYU standout at fullback in the early 2000s, understands the culture. With the Cougars already committed to going to the Hawaii Bowl, he will have taken BYU to bowls in three of his first four seasons. BYU plays an independent schedule, and it’s not an easy one to navigate, but the Cougars beat Tennessee on the road and beat USC and Boise State at home this year.
It’s a tough roster to navigate too. Sitake might recruit prospects who will have to do 2-year LDS missions before enrolling or he might lose to current player on the roster to a mission, which stunts development and could create tough depth issues on the roster. So when BYU finds a coach who can navigate through all of these things and win football games, the school have an obligation to keep them. My feeling is Sitake, 44, will be running BYU’s football program for a long time.
Nebraska gives Scott Frost a 2-year extension Grade: Eh?
I guess I can see what Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos is doing with this. He just saw Willie Taggart and Chad Morris get fired from Florida State and Arkansas respectively before the end of two years. Taggart had a better win-loss record at Florida State than Frost has at Nebraska over the same sample size and both signed similar contracts. Still, I don’t agree with firing coaches after two years without off-the-field cause, and in Taggart’s and Morris’ cases, they probably didn’t get the necessary resources to have the chance to succeed in the first place.
Frost came to Nebraska after going 19-7 at Central Florida in two seasons, including a 13-0 season in 2017 with a victory in the Peach Bowl. I had the opinion at the time that the move was a mistake by Frost. He had a lot of parts returning for him to repeat an undefeated feat at Central Florida and Nebraska wasn’t left in a good situation by previous coach Mike Riley. The expectations for Frost, who is from Wood River, Nebraska, and quarterbacked the Cornhuskers to a share of the 1997 National Championship, would be out of control. After all Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, who went 67-27 in eight seasons (2007-2014) because he didn’t win enough to satisfy them. Well, Frost has struggled at Nebraska as expected. He lost his first six games in 2018, but the Cornhuskers won four of their final six to make people believe that in Frost’s second year, they would be looking at a bowl and possible challenging in for the Big Ten West. Instead, they are 4-6 – 2-5 in Big Ten – and will need to beat Maryland and Iowa to get to a bowl. That is not impossible, but it is not the Year 2 that fans were hoping for.
By extending Frost’s contract – originally a 7-year deal for $35 million -, Moos is telling recruits that he’s committed to Frost for at least two more years. I have no doubt that Frost made the suggestion that recruiting targets were openly wondering if Frost was going to be at Nebraska past this season. This extension assures that of happening. Whether it’s the right decision or not remains to be seen, but at least it sure keep Frost’s recruiting efforts intact for the current class of prospects.
Arkansas fires head coach Chad Morris Grade: A
Last week, I thought Florida State might’ve pulled the plug on Willie Taggart too early. If anything, Taggart had proven with two previous stops that he wins in his third season. On the flip side, Arkansas probably jumped on Morris a little too early and should’ve looked elsewhere or kept Bret Bielema if this was the program’s best option to replace him.
Morris came to Arkansas from SMU, where he was hired after a successful run as an offensive coordinator at Clemson. At SMU, Morris went 14-22 in three seasons, finishing 7-5 in his third season. Arkansas hired Morris hoping his long-time experience as a successful high school coach in Texas combined with his three seasons at SMU would help the Razorbacks on the recruiting trail in and around the Lone Star state. And yes, Morris is quite a good recruiter, definitely about average. His recruiting class at Arkansas was around the top 25. But the on-field product was bad. Morris went 2-10 in his first year. That’s understandable. And the Razorbacks were competitive in losses to Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU. But it seemed like the Razorbacks regressed in Year 2, and they lost their last four games under Morris by a combined score of 198-60. They were 0-14 in SEC games under Morris, which is bad enough, but the end truly came on Saturday when Sun Belt program Western Kentucky, led by Arkansas transfer quarterback Ty Storey, beat the Razorbacks 45-19.
After Saturday’s game, Morris’ game-day coaching and his staff’s ability to develop players came into question. It had to end. Morris couldn’t capably coach another game at Arkansas after that debacle. Morris leaves with a 4-18 record, with his wins coming against Eastern Illinois, Tulsa, Portland State and Colorado State. It’s hard to see Morris getting another head coaching job for a while; his tenure at Arkansas was that much of a disaster. I do believe his connections in Texas and his success at Clemson will put him in line for another coordinator job down the road.
Florida State fires head coach Willie Taggart Grade: B-
And just like that, the first major domino of the 2019-20 College Football coaching carousel has fallen. Florida State dismissed Taggart a day after a 27-10 loss to Miami and with a 9-12 record over 21 games. There’s little question that Taggart inherited a bad situation from Jimbo Fisher on the field with some of the worst personnel at key positions and off the field with a staggeringly low APR. Fisher bowed out 11 games into the 2017 season, going 5-6 and taking a $75 million contract from Texas A&M. The Seminoles finished 7-6 that season but went 5-7 in Taggart’s first year and are currently 4-5, needing a win this weekend against Boston College to avoid missing a bowl for the second consecutive year. The Florida State football program is at a major crossroads. Fisher left for money, but also because he was frustrated about the program’s decision makers being a little deliberate in keeping up with the facility upgrades happening at the top programs like Clemson and Alabama. Fisher’s frustration led to complacency in his final season after winning 10 or more games in six of his first seven seasons, with a BCS Championship in 2013. With the hiring of Taggart, the Florida State decision makers assumed the job wasn’t a rebuild, but a reload. Well, now the facts are out there. Florida State is every bit as bad as its record on the field. The Seminoles don’t have quality personnel at key areas. The recruiting misses at quarterback and offensive line are 4-5 years deep now. The next head coach has to understand it’s going to be a full rebuild and should not set expectations too high too early. Taggart was a convenient and frequent target for fans, local media and national media. And it was becoming evident that while he wasn’t responsible for the mess in Tallahassee, he didn’t have the right answers to fix it as quickly as the Seminoles faithful wanted.
Defensive line coach Odell Haggins was named interim coach for the second time in three years. Haggins, a former Seminoles All-American and veteran coach on the staff is considered the steward of the program. His goal will be to galvanize the current roster to play hard for the rest of the season and try to get to a bowl game. Haggins isn’t expected to be a candidate for the head coaching position, and it’s not certain that he’d would even want the position. But there are many advocates for him around the program. Otherwise the top names for the job will be Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle and Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. Taggart will get a significant buyout – around $18 million – and will likely land somewhere in 2021 season. His record isn’t completely indicative of his skills as a coach. He took over programs at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon that were coming off of historically bad seasons and turned them into bowl teams. Whoever decides to take the job at Florida State will have major work to do but will still have the brand of an historical powerhouse.
Arizona fires DC Marcel Yates, promotes analyst Chuck Cecil Grade: B
Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t hire Yates; he inherited him from Rich Rodriguez’s staff, and it was a bad mix from the start. The Wildcats haven’t exactly been known for great defenses over the past few years, but this year, they are historically bad, ranking 118th in points allowed – 35.0 PPG – and 119th in yards allowed – 469.9 YPG. Without looking at the Wildcats’ roster, I’m going to assume they have better talent than what the numbers show. Arizona made a decent run on defense during the middle of the season, giving up 14 points to Texas Tech and 17 to UCLA, but in the past four games, Arizona has yielded 163 points for an average of nearly 41 points per game. A team can’t win like that, and giving up 41 points to a struggling outfit like Stanford this past weekend was all Sumlin could take. Cecil, a former 8-year NFL pro who spent 15 years coaching in the NFL, primarily with teams coached by Jeff Fisher. Cecil was the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans in 2009-10, and he’ll be a different voice for a defensive unit that’s struggled. Whether or not this is a permanent switch remains to be seen. The Wildcats are 4-4 and need to go to a bowl after finishing 5-7 last season. If the Wildcats can’t win two of their final four, Sumlin will be on the hot seat as well.
Kansas fires offensive coordinator Les Koenning, promotes analyst Brent Dearmon Grade: B
This could be a higher grade if head coach Les Miles allows Dearmon do his thing, but I’m not going to fully buy in into I see that Miles fully buys in. Koenning was Miles’ second offensive coordinator since he took the Kansas job because his original hire, Chip Lindsey, only lasted a month before taking a head coaching job at Troy. Koenning appeared to be more of a communicator than a coordinator, and, as it has been pointed out in local outlets or by anyone who watched Kansas this season, Koenning was often deferring to Miles for the final call. Kansas’ offense under Koenning was anything but consistent. The Jayhawks were doing RPO stuff at times and spread concepts at times. Eventually, they settled into Miles’ comfort zone – power running and, unsurprisingly, that conservative approach didn’t work in the wide-open Big XII. The Jayhawks were last in the conference in scoring offense at 22.8 PPG. Dearmon is considered one of the most well-versed coaches in the RPO concepts. He wrote a book on the offense, and his Twitter account often had cool videos explaining play-calling and how to manipulate defenses. If Miles allows Dearmon to be the coach he’s capable of being, this should be a great hire. Dearmon has been to Auburn and Arkansas Tech and took a head coaching job in 2018 at NAIA Bethel University, where his team averaged 55 points per game. This is a hire that might not pay dividends immediately; but it could be one that helps the Jayhawks secure some more explosive offensive talent on the recruiting trail at the end of this cycle and in the 2021 class.
Rutgers fires head coach Chris Ash Grade A-
I’d give Rutgers an ‘A’ for this if they had done it in December. Instead, the school let Ash continue to toil around with no sign of improvement on the horizon and two more shutout losses in Big Ten play. Ash was, by all accounts, a disastrous hire who will leave with an 8-31 record and losing his last three games by a combined score of 112-16. Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty was also shown the door, and tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile will be the interim coach for the remainder of the season. It would be easier to write what went right with the Ash hire, which was basically nothing, than to list the many ways it wasn’t ever going to work out. Jerry Carino from the Asbury Park Press wrote a scathing column painting Ash as a know-it-all who thought he was too good for the job and a complete failure at getting anyone on his side. By all accounts, Rutgers is going to hop in the time machine and try to hire Greg Schiano. Schiano went 68-67 at Rutgers over 11 years, and he’s a New Jersey guy who seemed to understand and embrace the unique challenge that building a football program at Rutgers entails. His first go around was aided by satellite camps – Rutgers had many in the state of Florida – and used it as a great recruiting tool. If not Schiano, I could see Al Golden being an interesting hire. He re-built the Temple program and then went to Miami, where he was 32-25 despite dealing with all kinds of NCAA sanctions during his time there. As for Ash, the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, another position or coordinator job will probably be waiting for him during the 2020 coaching carousel, but he’ll have to learn from this experience if he ever wants another opportunity as a head coach.
Florida State hires Jim Leavitt as “quality control analyst”: Grade B
When Willie Taggart was hired by Florida State from Oregon, he wanted to bring along coordinators Mario Cristobal and Jim Leavitt with him. Cristobal was promoted by Oregon to be the head coach in 2018 and Leavitt, the defensive coordinator, was given a big raise to stay with the Ducks. Leavitt was released from Oregon after the 2018 season and given a $2.5 million buyout. He was around the Florida State program in the spring and presumably had input on helping the Seminoles’ implement a new 3-4 defensive scheme. The program posted a position for a “quality control analyst” on Monday, and on Wednesday evening, Bruce Feldman from The Athletic announced that Leavitt was taking the job. It is hard to tell what Leavitt can and can’t do in this analyst role, but this feels like the beginning of the end for current Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett. Florida State’s offensive is averaging 38 points and over 500 yards per game, but the defense is among the worst in the nation. Leavitt’s presence in the program should help with game planning and execution if nothing else. It would be a surprise if Leavitt wasn’t eventually the defensive coordinator at Florida State whether it happens this season or after the season.
Here are list the grades for the FBS head coaching hires going into the 2019 season.
Louisville hires Scott Satterfield: A Grade
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this hire. Satterfield won 40 games in his final four seasons at Appalachian State, and he’s the type of strong-character coach who Louisville needs after selling itself out to Bobby Petrino. That situation was bound to go poorly the second time around, which it did. Satterfield, however, will provide a nice fresh start. He’ll recruit good, hard-working players, and they will win for him. 2019 might be a transitional year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Satterfield has Louisville pushing double-digit wins by 2020.
Kansas hires Les Miles: A- Grade
For a bottom-feeding program like Kansas to get a coach like Miles, who has a BCS championship to his name and won 77 percent of his games at LSU (114-34) is nothing short of a coup. Now, this move fulfills the needs of two desperate parties. Kansas AD Jeff Long needed a coach who could bring legitimately credibility to the program, and Miles wanted a job with a Power 5 program. Miles’ old-school offense with multiple tight ends and a fullback might be a little outdated for the Big XII, or any conference that plays football, but he’ll get some talented players, and they will fight for him. If he can get Kansas to a 7-5 season, he’ll be a hero.
Georgia Tech hires Geoff Collins: A- Grade
Collins will have to overhaul much of the roster, which was filled with position players and linemen who are built to fit the triple option that former coach Paul Johnson employed, so the first couple of years might be a little rough. But Collins is a good coach who evaluates talent well and has attention to detail. He also understands that there’s a LOT of football talent around the Atlanta metropolitan area, and he wants to get some of them in his program. Collins might not be a dynamic personality, but he is a solid football coach who can raise Georgia Tech’s profile a level.
West Virginia hires Neal Brown: A- Grade
If the Mountaineers are to make a challenge at the top of the Big XII, they need to do a better job of managing and closing games. Former coach Dana Holgorsen was horrible at this aspect of coaching. Brown jumped on the scene as a hot prospect after Troy upset LSU in 2017. He decided to go through an entire class at Troy and won 31 games in the past three seasons. One thing that impressed me about Brown’s teams at Troy was their play in the fourth quarter. They kept slim leads and showed great awareness of the clock and situational football. That quality could help the Mountaineers reverse many of those close losses they had under Holgorsen.
Kansas State hires Chris Klieman: A- Grade
A well-connected friend of mine wondered why Klieman would leave an FCS powerhouse for a program that it’s harder to recruit at and a team that his former team probably could have lined up and beaten last year. Klieman has been part of seven national titles this decade at North Dakota State and went a ridiculous 57-4 in his four years as the head coach. Kansas State isn’t an easy place to win. There has only been one coach who managed to do it, Bill Snyder, and he stayed for as long as possibly could. To replace him with a coach who knows how to win in a state/region that isn’t exactly crawling with talent is a home run for the Wildcats.
Ohio State hires Ryan Day: B Grade
The 39-year-old Day looks like he could be in Columbus for a while, and he already had a nice introduction to the head coaching position when he was named interim coach to start the 2018 season when Urban Meyer was suspended for his failure to act on the transgressions of former wide receiver coach Zach Smith. Right away, Day seemed like he was comfortable, and the players responded positively to him as the head of the program. Time will tell if Day can have anywhere near the success that Meyer did at Ohio State – 83-9 in seven years-, but it was the right time for the Buckeyes to make the move.
Texas Tech hires Matt Wells: B Grade
It’s hard to imagine it being easy to win at Utah State, but Wells managed 44 of them in six seasons, with five bowl appearances and two 10-win seasons. Wells also got good players to Utah State, whether it was finding recruiting gems late in the recruiting cycle or getting bouncebacks from junior colleges or Power 5 programs. Getting players to Texas Tech should prove to be easier. Moreover, he’s offensive minded, but his Utah State teams played with a toughness on defense that I appreciated as a fan. He’s going to try to slow down some these Big XII offenses rather than just rely on outscoring them.
Appalachian State hires Eli Drinkwitz: B Grade
This a solid replacement for Appalachian State after losing a quality head coach like Scott Satterfield. Drinkwitz has a lot of star potential, and he ran an excellent offense at N.C. State. To get a top-level in-state assistant from a Power 5 conference is quite the coup for the brass at Appalachian State, and it speaks to what coaches around the Southeast region think of the opportunity presented to them at the Sun Belt school. Drinkwitz has good coaching lineage, having been part of successful programs at Arkansas State and Boise State as well.
East Carolina hires Mike Houston: B Grade
Houston, a North Carolina native, had an interesting December to say the least. While finishing his tenure at James Madison, he was courted for the job at Charlotte. He apparently agreed to take the job at Charlotte, but backed out when the East Carolina and Appalachian State jobs opened. Eventually, East Carolina won this in-state tug of war, and as long as he can pull the Pirates out their recent skid, no one will care if he burned a bridge or two to get there. All that being said, Houston is a very successful coach who has won everywhere he has been and even managed to snag an FCS championship in the era of North Dakota State dominance.
Colorado hires Mel Tucker: B Grade
Tucker, with a decade of NFL experience and defensive coordinator stints at Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia under his belt, had been waiting for a Power 5 opportunity and got one with Colorado. In a coaching world of fancy, up-tempo, offensive guys, Tucker is a guy who has produced defenses that routinely stay in the top 20. Colorado is still trying to recapture the days when the program had some juice in college football. Tucker is a guy who is going to build a roster the right way and put teams on the field that place a premium on physicality.
Maryland hires Mike Locksley: B- Grade
I’m torn here. I think Locksley is an A-plus assistant coach and an A-plus recruiter. His deep roots in the Beltway should pay off big dividends at Maryland. That being said, he was a disaster at New Mexico on and off the field. He did, however, graduate from the Nick Saban school of rehabilitating coaches, so he has earned a second chance. Locksley doesn’t walk into a terrible situation, and give some credit to former offensive coordinator and interim head coach Matt Canada for weathering the storm that former coach D.J. Durkin caused during his short, but tumultuous, tenure. Locksley will get the players; if he can get them to perform and learn from his previous mistakes, Maryland will be better for it.
Troy hires Chip Lindsey: B- Grade
Lindsey, who was the offensive coordinator at Auburn for two past two seasons, was probably smart to get off the Plains while he could because who knows how the hot-cold relationship between the Auburn faithful and head coach Gus Malzahn will run from year to year. Lindsey is an Alabama native who played football at North Alabama in the early ’90s and has spent all but a few of his 22 years coaching around the state. His familiarity with the state should allow the Trojans to land some gems in recruiting. The Trojans had three consecutive 10-win seasons under Neal Brown, so Lindsey will need to hit the ground running.
Miami hires Manny Diaz: C Grade
This reeks a little bit of panic and a situation in which the powers to be at Miami were caught napping when Mark Richt retired. Diaz, who had left his defensive coordinator position at Miami to take the head coaching job at Temple 18 days prior, is familiar with the program and recruiting in the talent-laden neighborhoods of South Florida. But so was Randy Shannon, and that didn’t turn out well. Shannon, like Diaz, was also a long-time defensive coordinator at Miami before he was promoted. Diaz is saying all of the right things, but so did Shannon. I believe the Hurricanes should have done whatever they could to get Mario Cristobal from Oregon and let Diaz cut his teeth at Temple, but that might have proven to be a tough task. This grade would be lower if I didn’t buy into to Diaz’s plan just a little. He’s a good salesman. He’s trying to bring back the “old Miami” but he’ll need more than a good pitch because Russell Maryland, Ed Reed and Michael Irvin ain’t walking through that door.
Liberty hires Hugh Freeze: C Grade
Well to Liberty’s credit, the program clearly doesn’t give a damn about outside perception. If you get past Freeze’s many scandals and transgressions – and, oh boy, there are a LOT of them -, he is an exciting coach who has shown a knack for recruiting – let’s not get into details. Liberty wants to make athletics a priority and move up on the college football food chain. Freeze can win ball games; he hasn’t always done it honestly, and he might want to invest in a burner phone, but he does win. And for Liberty, winning is everything.
North Carolina hires Mack Brown: C Grade
Well, anything was going to be an improvement from the disaster that Larry Fedora was, but is Brown really the right person for this job at this time? Some will point to his age – 67 -, but I’m not worried about that. Brown was a GREAT coach for a long time. He won 10 or more games 11 times from 1996 to 2009 at North Carolina and Texas. No one was more consistent than Brown in the 2000s. But how does that play with recruits who were eight years old when he was last on a big stage? And his last four years at Texas were a product of burn out and lazy recruiting. It’s a risky hire for a program that has the potential of North Carolina.
Houston hires Dana Holgorsen: C- Grade
Holgorsen was going to get run out of West Virginia sooner or later, so he smartly took a pretty fat contract to go to Houston and be the highest-paid coach in the “Group of Five” conferences. Holgorsen has been all around Texas; he was previously the offensive coordinator at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and spent time at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. The offense will be fun to watch and will put up a lot of points. But Holgorsen’s teams at West Virginia had an issue closing out games. Houston, which is used to being in the discussion for top “Group of Five” team, might be taking a step back.
Utah State hires Gary Andersen: C- Grade
You always wonder about a guy who’ll leave a great situation in Wisconsin to go to Oregon State, where he proceeded to go 7-23 over two-and-a-half seasons before resigning. At least Andersen decided to go full circle with the reset button, heading back to a place where he was 26-24 as head coach from 2009-2012. It’s clear Andersen, a Utah native from Salt Lake City, is comfortable in that region, and hopefully, his comfort will bring success again.
Central Michigan hires Jim McElwain: D Grade
McElwain isn’t a bad coach by any stretch, but what’s his motivation at this point? He had one of the best jobs in the nation at Florida and lost it because he struggled with handling the pressure of a smothering fan base and possibly lied about receiving death threats. He was Michigan’s wide receivers coach last year, but did anyone notice it? Utah State might’ve have been a better fit for McElwain, while I thought Central Michigan should have went a different route and got someone who might have brought a little more excitement with him to campus.
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