2019 College Football Hiring Grades

By Corey Long – @CoreyLong
Follow @walterfootball for updates.

I’ll 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 Miles’ old-school offense with multiple tight ends and a fullback might be a little outdated for the Big XII, or any conference that plays football, but he’ll get some talented players, and they will fight for him.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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