04 December 2015

2016 College Football Coaching Carousel: Grading the Hires

(Miami Herald)
The 2016 college football coaching carousel kicked off early and even as the regular season has not finished yet, a good number of those jobs have already been filled. Those jobs include some of the sport's true blue bloods as well as a number of underachieving Power 5 schools as well as many mid-majors.

Continue reading for my analysis of all coaching hires, to be updated when further vacancies are filled.

Ball State - Mike Neu (New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach)
Ball State Cardinals (2015 - Pres)Pete Lembo resigned late in December after a disappointing 3-9 season to become an assistant at Maryland so Ball State got into the coaching search late in the game but even then, this is an odd fit. Neu is a Ball State graduate but he only has a couple seasons of coaching experience in college. And, with his all of his seasons coaching in arena football and in the NFL, he has never coached outside of the south save for when he was a graduate assistant at Ball State twenty years ago. Not sure how much better Ball State could have done but this really isn't an impressive hire by any stretch.
Grade: D+

Bowling Green - Mike Jinks (Texas Tech associate head coach/running backs coach)
The Falcons were going to struggle to find a coach as good as Dino Babers to replace him and I'm just not sure about Jinks. Jinks should be able to maintain the highly-prolific spread offense that Babers utilized to great success given his background working with spreads at Texas Tech and as a Texas high school coach, but Jinks only has been a college coach for three years. He has also never coached outside the state of Texas. I've heard good things about him but I'm not sold on this hire.
Grade: C-

BYU - Kalani Sitake (Oregon State defensive coordinator)
Brigham Young Cougars (2015 - Pres)BYU is always limited in their coaching searches because their coach has to be a member of the LDS Church and this is an important hire considering that their conference independence is a liability in a College Football Playoff world. That said, this is a pretty solid hire. Sitake is the first LaVell Edwards player to coach the Cougars so he already has a built-in familiarity with the program. He also has coached exclusively out west, with stops at Eastern Arizona, Southern Utah, Utah and Oregon State, and he has been a well-respected defensive coach over the past few years. Without luring Ken Niumatalolo to town, Sitake may be as good of a coach that they were going to get.
Grade: B

East Carolina - Scottie Montgomery (Duke offensive coordinator)
East Carolina Pirates (2014 - Pres)Firing Ruffin McNeill was a pretty dumb and unnecessary move considering he was beloved by the fanbase and won plenty of games but alas. Montgomery is probably a downgrade and may have an uphill climb to get the support of the fanbase after the unpopular firing. Montgomery, save for a few years coaching with the Steelers, has only coached in the Tar Heel state and his offenses were a factor behind the resurgence that Duke has had on the gridiron. But will he be able to keep up the success that McNeill, an alum, had?
Grade: C+

Georgia - Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator)
Georgia Bulldogs (1964 - Pres)As I always say, you better make sure that when you fire a coach that his replacement is an improvement. I like Smart a lot and think he can be a pretty good, but will he ultimately be an improvement over time than Mark Richt, who won a ton of games in Athens. Bringing in a Nick Saban disciple for an interconference rival makes sense given how much he has dominated his conference, but it also is a risk to hire a coach without head coaching experience for a job like this. It didn't work for Florida with Will Muschamp, but it did work with Richt. Smart will win games, but can he get that elusive title?
Grade: B

Georgia Southern - Tyson Summers (Colorado State defensive coordinator)
Georgia Southern Eagles (2004 - Pres)The last time that Georgia Southern hired a defensive coordinator as their head coach, it was a disaster as Brian VanGorder dumped the option and went 3-8 before resigning back in 2006. Summers wisely appears avoid to falling into that trap as he appears to be keeping their option offensive scheme intact. Prior to this past season in Fort Collins, Summers has spent his entire career coaching in the Southeast and spent a season at GSU back in 2006. He's also a southern Georgian native and he has coached some pretty good defenses in the past few years. All in all, a fine hire.
Grade: B

Hawaii - Nick Rolovich (Nevada offensive coordinator)
Hawaii Warriors (1998 - Pres)Even with some success this millennium, Hawaii is one of the toughest jobs in the country thanks to its geographic isolation, bad facilities and no money. With all of that in mind, somebody like Rolovich with extensive experience with the program as both a player and as a coach makes sense. Rolovich has a good reputation as an offensive coach during his time calling the plays both on the islands and at Nevada and should return the Rainbow Warriors to the offensive schemes that June Jones had so much success with.
Grade: B

Illinois - Lovie Smith (formerly Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach)
In retrospect, having Bill Cubit as essentially a glorified interim head coach with only a two year contract wasn't a particularly tenable idea and probably was gonna hurt recruiting. After deciding to part with Cubit in early March, there weren't a ton of options available and so they ended up with the former Bears and Buccaneers head coach. Smith shouldn't have been fired by Tampa Bay and isn't a bad head coach, but he also hasn't coached in college in two decades. But given the circumstances, not the worst hire possible.
Grade: C

Iowa State - Matt Campbell (Toledo head coach)
Iowa State Cyclones (2008 - Pres)Iowa State is one of the tougher Power Five jobs and is a job that is historically tough to win at consistently, and for them to land a coach the caliber of Campbell speaks to how aggressively they moved to bring him in. Campbell is only 36 but he won consistently at Toledo while having strong offenses in his unique style that blends pro-style and spread concepts. For a job such as this, a guy like Campbell may be the best guy they could have gotten.
Grade: A

Louisiana-Monroe - Matt Viator (McNeese State head coach)
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (2006 - Pres)This may just be about as good of a hire as ULM could have made. Viator has only ever coached in the state of Louisiana, coaching high school for over a decade before serving as an assistant and then as the head coach at McNeese State. He also won a lot of games with the Cowboys after becoming the head coach, winning the Southland Conference four times and making the FCS Playoffs five times. Viator's resume of winning and his experience coaching in the Pelican State make him an ideal fit for the Warhawks.
Grade: A-

Maryland - D.J. Durkin (Michigan defensive coordinator)
Maryland Terrapins (2012 - Pres)With its Under Armour backing and its desires to be an Oregon of the east of sorts, it was thought that Maryland was going to go towards a coach with an offensive background. Durkin is obviously not that but what he is is a pretty good coach. He has led some terrific defenses first at Florida and then at Michigan and he also is a very good recruiter. His defenses should be able to compete in the Big Ten but who he hires to run his offense will be important.
Grade: B+

Memphis - Mike Norvell (Arizona State offensive coordinator)
Memphis Tigers (1994 - Pres)After Barry Odom got the Missouri job, Memphis moved quickly to snatch the young Todd Graham protegee. Norvell has coached under Todd Graham since 2007 and has developed a reputation of being one of the sharper offensive minds in the country thanks to the exciting style of play that the Sun Devils employ. Norvell wasn't seen as being on Memphis's radar but he does share some similarities with his predecessor and I think he'll be able to build on Justin Fuente's foundation.
Grade: B+

Miami (FL) - Mark Richt (formerly Georgia head coach)
Miami Hurricanes (1972 - Pres)Richt didn't deserve to be fired by Georgia but he makes perfect sense for his alma mater. Miami is not the job it once was for a variety of reasons (frugality of the administration, bad stadium situation, lack of recruiting dominance in its backyard) but it still is a job that you can a ton of ballgames at. Richt won plenty of games at Georgia and is a terrific recruiter, plus he should make for a much better fit in Coral Gables than Al Golden did.
Grade: A

Minnesota - Tracy Claeys (Minnesota interim head coach)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (1986 - Pres)Claeys got promoted to the interim job when Jerry Kill retired due to health issues, and then got the full job earlier this month. He has been a loyal lieutenant to Kill for years, is respected as a quality defensive coach and is adored by his players. Having an interim athletic director also has to factor in as well, and who doesn't love continuity? But I didn't see the need to rush to promote Claeys instead of at least going through the motions of a coaching search.
Grade: C

Missouri - Barry Odom (Missouri defensive coordinator)
Missouri Tigers (1986 - Pres)Odom will be a popular choice both with the players and with the fanbase as he is a COMO native and a Mizzou grad with has spent much of his coaching years with the Tigers. He is a very good defensive coach and will maintain some continuity but given how putrid Missouri was offensively this season, I think it would have made more sense to have hired an offensive-minded coach like Sonny Dykes, Mike Bobo or David Yost. Also, I think that Odom was going to get the Memphis job had he not gotten promoted made an impact on this decision.
Grade: C+

North Texas - Seth Littrell (North Carolina assistant head coach for offensive)
North Texas Mean Green (2005 - Pres)The Mean Green were once the dominant program in the Sun Belt but they have had only one winning season since 2004 and they really fell apart this season with a 1-11 record. But there is just so much talent in the state of Texas that could allow a program like this to get back on their feet relatively quickly. Littrell is an Oklahoma native, an OU graduate and a former assistant at Kansas and Texas Tech so he has some experience coaching in the region. He also has had a hand in one of the finest offenses in the country at UNC and his spread looks like those favored by so many high schools in the Lone Star State.
Grade: B

Rutgers - Chris Ash (Ohio State defensive coordinator)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1995 - 2000)To me, this is the very definition of a 'meh' hire. Ash is a well-respected defensive coach and he has led some pretty good defense during his two years in Columbus, plus he has worked all over the Big Ten geographic footprint which is key because Rutgers is still, unbelievably, in the Big Ten. But I'm not a huge fan of this hire as I find it to be relatively underwhelming. I know a lot of people didn't want to bring back Greg Schiano but he was the only guy that has ever been able to win in Piscataway and is a terrific college coach.
Grade: C

South Carolina - Will Muschamp (Auburn defensive coordinator)
South Carolina Gamecocks (1983 - Pres)I'm not surprised that Muschamp got another crack at a head coaching job, but I am surprised that it came just one year after getting fired at Florida and that it came after Muschamp's defense at Auburn was not good at all this season. Given that South Carolina had such an early start to the coaching search after Steve Spurrier resigned in October, it is a little disappointing to see them circle around a coach that couldn't get it done at Florida as recently as a season ago. And how do we know that Muschamp has changed?
Grade: D+

Southern Miss - Jay Hopson (Alcorn State head coach)
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2015 - Pres)With Todd Monken's late departure to the NFL, Southern Miss was left scrambling for a new coach but in the end, they found a good one. Hopson, who became the first white coach in the SWAC when he was hired at Alcorn State, took a perennial loser and after going 4-7 in his first season, has gone 28-10 in his last three seasons. Hopson has extensive coaching experience in the region, including two different stints at Southern Miss under former head coach Jeff Bower. It's a good fit and should help the Golden Eagles continue to win like they did under Monken.
Grade: A-

Syracuse - Dino Babers (Bowling Green head coach)
Syracuse Orange (1992 - 2003)This may just be my favorite hire so far and frankly, I was thinking that Babers would have held out for a better job but Syracuse was able to pull off a real coup here. Babers is a little older than some of the other hot coaching candidates at 54 and he has coached at a lot of places over the last three decades but whether it was at Eastern Illinois or at Bowling Green, all he has done is won. His offenses have been tremendously successful and his very fast-paced scheme should be able to put up plenty of points indoors at the Carrier Dome.
Grade: A

Texas State - Everett Withers (James Madison head coach)
Texas State Bobcats (2003 - Pres)The Bobcats didn't have a ton of options when Dennis Franchione retired earlier this month but they pulled off a shocker in luring Withers to San Marcos. Withers comes to town after a very successful two-year stint at James Madison in which he went 18-7 and before was that a pretty well-regarded defensive coach at both the collegiate and NFL levels (including that one season as the interim coach at North Carolina in 2011). Withers hasn't coached in Texas since 2000 but this should be a solid fit and I don't think Texas State could have done any better.
Grade: A-

Toledo - Jason Candle (Toledo offensive coordinator)
It appeared as if Candle was going to be following Matt Campbell to Ames but instead, he will be replacing Campbell. Of course, Campbell was a young offensive coordinator replacing Tim Beckman and so Toledo is hoping lightning will strike twice. Candle has been on the Toledo coaching since 2009 after a number of years at D-III powerhouse Mount Union. The offense has been key to Toledo's recent success and promoting Candle should only allow that to continue.
Grade: B+

Tulane - Willie Fritz (Georgia Southern head coach)
Tulane Green Wave (2014 - Pres)If Tulane is a better job than Georgia Southern, it's not better by that much considering how hard it has been historically to win there. Therefore, this is a very good hire for the Green Wave. Fritz is certainly well-traveled and is already in his mid-50's, but all the guy has done in his various coaching stops (JuCo Blinn, D-II Central Missouri, FCS Sam Houston and then Georgia Southern) has won and won a lot. He also has experience in the geographic region (although not in Louisiana) and most importantly, he has shown an ability to adapt his schemes to his personnel. Who doesn't love that?
Grade: A

UCF - Scott Frost (Oregon offensive coordinator)
Central Florida Knights (2007 - 2011)George O'Leary did a solid job building up this program but it spectacularly burned to the ground this season with a winless season. However, UCF is rightly to be considered a sort of sleeping giant thanks to a fertile recruiting base and very good facilities. Frost hasn't been coaching for very long but he has earned raves for his work in leading the Oregon offense the last few seasons as it has been one of the top groups in the country. He also is regarded to be a strong recruiter and his style of offense should not only put fans in seats but should fit in very well in the American.
Grade: A-

USC - Clay Helton (USC interim head coach)
Southern California Trojans (1993 - Pres)Helton has done a nice job in taking over as the interim coach from Steve Sarkisian and unlike the previous interim coach, Ed Orgeron, he beat UCLA. He has a good reputation and is a good coach but I don't get what the rush is to give Helton the full job. USC is an elite job and one that should be able to land a big-name coach and yet embattled AD Pat Haden, who is suffering from some health issues, didn't appear to go through the motions. Again, I don't see what the rush was here and as Pat Forde notes, it's another case of USC going with somebody familiar.
Grade: C

UTSA - Frank Wilson (LSU running backs coach)
Texas-SA Roadrunners (2008 - Pres)Larry Coker did a commendable job getting the UTSA program off of the ground but it was time to make a move in order to take the program to the next level. Wilson's only head coaching experience came at the high school level but UTSA is hiring Wilson because he is one of the elite recruiters in college football.Wilson has been highly regarded as a recruiter for many years and has also coached many a fine running back in Baton Rouge. Considering he doesn't have any college head coaching or coordinating experience there certainly is an element of risk, but UTSA probably couldn't have done much better in the end.
Grade: B+

Virginia - Broncos Mendenhall (BYU head coach)
Virginia Cavaliers (1994 - Pres)This hire really took me by surprise, particularly as to why Mendenhall would make what is frankly a lateral move at best and since that Mendenhall has never coached east of Ruston, Louisiana. That said, it is hard to see a school like Virginia hiring a better coach than Mendenhall. Mendenhall helped to restore a BYU program that had fallen under Gary Crowton and has never had a losing season. BYU is not an easy place to recruit at and that should give him an idea of how to recruit at an elite academic school. He should be able to make Virginia a consistent bowl team.
Grade: A-

Virginia Tech Hokies (2000 - Pres)Virginia Tech - Justin Fuente (Memphis head coach)
The Hokies moved quickly on their man and thus they were able to land one of the top coaching prospects this offseason. Fuente has no connections to neither the school nor the region but the guy simply knows how to coach. After all, Memphis was a program that won five games in the three years before Fuente came to town, and he had them winning ten games in his third season. Fuente should be able to bring some pop to this offense and there should be some continuity as he was able to keep defensive coordinator Bud Foster and associate head coach Shane Beamer in Blacksburg.
Grade: A

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