21 January 2014

2014 College Football Coaching Carousel: Grading the Hires

While the coaching carousel may not have been as cranking as it was last year, when 30 programs brought in new head coaches, it still was active this offseason with 19 coaches finding new jobs. And as always, some high-profile programs changed hands, including perhaps the most high-profile in the sport. Here's my breakdowns for each hire.

Arkansas State - Blake Anderson (North Carolina offensive coordinator)
Excluding interim coaches, Anderson is the fourth Red Wolves head coach in four years. But the lack of stability has actually been a boon for the program as each coach (Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and most recently Bryan Harsin) has upgraded while the team has won three bowl games in a row. Anderson is just another in a line of talented offensive coaches to come to ASU and while the team took a slight step back under Harsin, he should help let the good times roll.
Grade: B+

Army - Jeff Monken (Georgia Southern head coach)
Rich Ellerson seemed like a great fit at West Point but things started to fall apart after winning the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl as the losing streak to Navy reached ten years plus. Like Ellerson, Monken comes in an experienced and successful FCS coach who won a lot of games in Statesboro, including beating Florida in the finale of a relatively disappointing 2013. Monken also importantly is a veteran option coach, but again so was Ellerson. All in all, I think it's a quality hire, but I felt the same way in December 2008.
Grade: B

Boise State - Bryan Harsin (Arkansas State head coach)
Harsin is a Boise guy through and through. He's was born and grew up there, started at quarterback for the Broncos in the late 1990's and was a highly regarded assistant for ten years. Sure, Arkansas State took a slight step back during his sole year in town, but Harsin makes a ton of sense for the Broncos going forward and he will bring some continuity that has helped the team win consistently for the last decade-plus.
Grade: A-

Bowling Green - Dino Babers (Eastern Illinois head coach)
The MAC has become known for high-flying offenses and this Art Briles protege promises to bring just that to the defending conference champions. Babers is a veteran assistant that has been just about all over the country, and he did really good work in his two years with the Panthers, getting to the FCS tournament both times and going to the quarterfinals this past year. A pretty good hire that should help keep the Falcons contenders in the MAC going forward.
Grade: B+

Eastern Michigan - Chris Creighton (Drake head coach)
I'm not sure if anybody can consistently win at a program that probably should move down to the FCS, the fan support is not there at all, the facilities are not good and the program is in the shadow (and then some) of Michigan. That said, bringing in a guy like Creighton may be about as good they could do. Creighton, a veteran of some small Midwest schools before taking over the Drake job, did solid work with the Bulldogs in going 42-22 but he does a tough hill to climb in Ypsilanti.
Grade: B

Florida Atlantic - Charlie Patridge (Arkansas assistant head coach/defensive line coach)
The Carl Pelini hire ended up being a disaster as he was a bad fit from the start, did not do a good job in the recruiting spheres (a big problem at a school like this), and resigned after being caught engaging in illegal drug use with an assistant. Given the plethora of talent available in the state, the Owls should at least be a consistent contender but while Partridge has reportedly done a much better job than his predecessor in engaging with the local media and working the recruiting trail but save for being a South Florida native, he is a Midwest guy that has no coordinating experience.
Grade: C

Georgia Southern - Willie Fritz (Sam Houston State head coach)
This was a critical hire for the Eagles as they are moving up to the FBS and the Sun Belt beginning this year. While Fritz may seem like an odd fit considering his coaching career to this point has centered on Kansas, Missouri and most notably Texas, the guy can coach. He was very successful in his four years at Sam Houston State, going 40-14 with back-to-back FCS title game appearances in 2011 and 2012. And also, while he does not run the traditional triple option attack that the program has become known for, he does utilize a unique triple option pistol attack that he has found to be very successful. Plus, who doesn't love somebody named Fritz?
Grade: B+

Louisville - Bobby Petrino (Western Kentucky head coach)
Can I see why Louisville decided to bring Petrino back despite all his obvious baggage? Sure. Nobody has ever denied that he is a hell of a coach, he has been extremely successful everywhere he has gone (well, except for that NFL gig). After all, he took the Cardinals to new heights during his initial four years with the program. But even still, I don't see it. Louisville knows what else Petrino brings to the table, the infamous meeting with Auburn officials in 2003 to possibly replace Tommy Tuberville, who was still coaching, his disgraceful exit from the Falcons with three games remaining in the 2007 season, and where do we start with his firing from Arkansas? The lying and the cover-up? The adulterous affair with someone he had hired with school money? Petrino says he's a changed man, and that $10 million buyout looms large, but who is buying it anymore?
Grade: D+

Miami (OH) - Chuck Martin (Notre Dame offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)
Since the late Terry Hoeppner left Oxford for Indiana after 2004 after going 48-25 in six years, the RedHawks have gone 36-74 with only two winning seasons. Therefore, it's key that this Brian Kelly protege gets this program back on their feet. Martin is one of the rare coaches that has worked as both an offensive and defensive coordinator and has been successful as both, particularly his two years at Notre Dame even with a revolving door at quarterback. Martin was also dominant as a coach as Grand Valley State went an incredible 74-7 in seven years with a pair of titles. The guy can coach and thus he is a very good hire for Miami.
Grade: A-

Penn State - James Franklin (Vanderbilt head coach)
For the second straight time, Penn State appears to have hit another home run hire in snagging Franklin to replace Bill O'Brien, who departed for the NFL. Franklin is intense, but there is no denying the incredible amount of success he had at Vanderbilt. Sure, a 24-15 record in three years may not be mind-blowing, especially considering he does not have that many marquee victories, but it's a big deal for a program like Vandy which is consistently at the bottom of only the finest conference in the land. The 'Dores had only been to four bowl games ever when Franklin took the job, and ever consecutively. Franklin went three years in a row, and doubled the program's bowl victory total. And given his experience on the East Coast and well as being a native Pennsylvanian, Franklin is an excellent fit and he should help the program win even with the ongoing NCAA sanctions. However, and while I don't think it should have prevented him from getting this job like folks like Dennis Dodd, the fact that four of his players were kicked off the team for raping an unconscious woman had to have been acknowledged by the institution, and I believe it has.
Grade: A

Texas - Charlie Strong (Louisville head coach)
As I mentioned in the open, the biggest job in the nation changed hands with the Mack Brown retirement. Something I take a little bit of umbrage too is the statement some made that Texas could have done better than Strong, because if so, who? Nick Saban was not walking through that door. Art Briles was not walking through that door. Strong is a heck of a football coach, is a strong defensive mind and did excellent work at Louisville. Not to mention that he handled the Red McCombs situation very well. Sure he may not a guy comfortable with the spotlight, but if the guy can coach, who cares?
Grade: A

UAB - Bill Clark (Jacksonville State head coach)
Garrick McGee was not fired, rather he left to become the offensive coordinator at Louisville under his mentor Bobby Petrino. Now while McGee was on thin ice after a disappointing 5-19 run during his first two years in Birmingham, but it is not too often you see FBS coaches leaving head coaching jobs to become a coordinator somewhere else. That shows how tough of a job UAB is, after all they are a very distant third in their own state, they play in a dilapidated (and unsafe) off-campus stadium, have no fan support and little history. Fortunately, they found a solid coach very similar with the Yellowhammer State. Clark is a veteran Alabama high school coach, did solid work as the defensive coordinator at South Alabama and led Jacksonville State to their best season in program history in 2013. He has a dificult job in front of him, but he is a rock-solid fit for UAB.
Grade: B+

UConn - Bob Diaco (Notre Dame defensive coordinator)
After Randy Edsall's prompt and hasty departure for Maryland after the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, the Huskies missed an opportunity to take advantage of the foundation Edsall has built in Storrs and hired a retread in Paul Pasqualoni, who took the program backwards before it all fell apart in 2013. Diaco is a really good hire and can be the guy to build the program back up. He may have spent the vast majority of his coaching career in the Midwest, but the energetic New Jersey native did tremendous work with the defenses at Cincinnati and especially at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly. The guy is a hell of a coach and may just be what the doctor ordered for Connecticut.
Grade: A

USC - Steve Sarkisian (Washington head coach)
I was not that impressed with the Sarkisian hire. Yes, he did bring back Washington from the disaster the program was after the Rick Neuheisel scandal in 2003 and is very familiar with the University Park turf from his work as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator during the Pete Carroll glory days. But this is not an inspiring hire, however. It seemed like Sarkisian could not get Washington further over the hump, and this his final couple of years were relative disappointments. Plus, it's another move to connect themselves with the Pete Carroll tree, just like it did with the ill-fated Lane Kiffin hire. I think the Trojans could have used a fresh voice, and I don't think "Sark" is it.
Grade: B-

Vanderbilt - Derek Mason (Stanford defensive coordinator)
It would be key for Vanderbilt to make a strong hire to build upon the progress that James Franklin made before he left for State College, and with the finalists of Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Mason, there was not a bad decision to be made. Mason has become one of the finest defensive coordinators in America with his tenure on the Farm, and his success in defending spread offenses (cough, Oregon, cough) has helped him develop that reputation, and is key as the SEC begins to more and more in that direction. Not to mention that Mason has key experience working at a school with high academic standards.
Grade: A-

Wake Forest - Dave Clawson (Bowling Green head coach)
Jim Grobe did a really good job during his 13 years at Winston-Salem, although his surprising resignation came after what he described as a disappointing amount of close losses and how the club had missed his expectations. Wake did a good job in getting a guy like Clawson who, save for the one year as Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2008, has been successful every where he has worked. He helped to build up programs at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green while also keeping high academic standards, a must at Wake Forest. Clawson's most recent job, engineering the beatdown of Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship, was very impressive and he has said he likes to adjust his schemes for the personnel, not the other way around.
Grade: A-

Washington - Chris Petersen (Boise State head coach)
It's not fair to compare Peterson to his predecessors Dirk Koetter, who was generally disappointing at Arizona State, and especially Dan Hawkins, who was a disaster at Colorado. After all, while both coaches were very successful on the blue turf, Petersen was dominant, only losing 12 games in eight years and winning the legendary 2010 Fiesta Bowl. At Boise State, which is a pretty darn hard place to recruit. Now after having to mine the Pacific Northwest for hidden gems, now he moves to a program on the rise again with awesome facilities and a fanbase hungry for a return to big time football. This is a beautiful fit.
Grade: A

Western Kentucky - Jeff Brohm (Western Kentucky assistant head coach/offensive coordinator)
When hiring Bobby Petrino, the school knew that they were not going to be able to keep him for long and thus they did not panic when he left for Louisville and made a sound hire from within. Brohm is a talented offensive coach that has worked for several years under Petrino. He knows the system and will help the club maintain continuity going forward.
Grade: B

Wyoming - Craig Bohl (North Dakota State head coach)
The folks at Wyoming probably pulled off the coup of the year in luring Bohl to Laramie. The job that Bohl did in his decade in Fargo was excellent, bringing it up from Division II to the FCS and within a few years building a dynasty. No school in Division I has had a better record than the Bison have had since the start of the 2011 season, as they have gone an incredible 43-2 with three straight championships. Now Wyoming is a tough job, but you can win there and I have more than a feeling that Bohl will.
Grade: A

Cover photo via ESPN

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