13 December 2016

2017 College Football Coaching Carousel: Grading the hires

(Miami Herald)
The coaching carousel in the world of college football never seems to stop spinning and this year, we got started even earlier than normal. Some of the sport's marquee programs have made a change at the head coaching position and we have seen some big names return to head coaching gigs.

How have the 17 programs that have brought in new head coaches done with their hires? Here is my analysis for each and every one.

Baylor - Matt Rhule (Temple head coach)
Baylor Bears (2005 - Pres)Frankly, I was surprised to see Rhule take this job. Yes, the facilities are much improved and it's a Power 5 job that will pay Rhule very well but this will be a tough climb. The stink of the campus sexual assault scandal is still in the air and as a result, recruiting has absolutely ground to a halt and as of now, they have only one prospect in their 2017 class. But questioning Rhule's decision aside, this is a good hire. After all, winning at a program like Temple is far from easy and he just won ten games in back to back seasons.
Grade: B+

Cal - Justin Wilcox (Wisconsin defensive coordinator)
California Golden Bears (1992 - Pres)The Sonny Dykes situation didn't seem built to last for him in Berkeley and he got canned earlier this month. They are going in a completely different direction altogether in hiring a coach with a defensive background in Wilcox, and there aren't many defensive coaches better than him as he has coached strong defenses everywhere he has gone. He brings some youthful enthusiasm and recruiting ability but Cal is a really tough place to coach at and to win at. But any sort of defensive improvement should mean dividends.
Grade: B

Cincinnati - Luke Fickell (Ohio State co-defensive coordinator)
Cincinnati Bearcats (2006 - Pres)Hiring an Ohio State defensive coordinator has worked before for Cincinnati in Mark Dantonio and it should work again with Fickell. Fickell has built a strong reputation as a defensive coach and especially as a developer of talent which is key for a program like this as well as his relationships across the state. He deserves a chance as a head coach after that tough season as the interim coach after Jim Tressel's firing in 2010 and this feels like a good fit.
Grade: A-

Connecticut - Randy Edsall (Detroit Lions director of football research)
UConn Huskies (2013 - Pres)It's back to the future for the Huskies and I'm not necessarily solid that that's a good idea. First off, the odd Bob Diaco firing and the rush to hire Edsall didn't seem necessary. Edsall did do a very nice job in his lengthy first stint at UConn and it isn't an easy job but it's not as if he set the world on fire then before his miserable stint at Maryland. He never has been a great recruiter nor has he ever coached exciting offensive teams (which was the biggest flaw during Diaco's tenure). Edsall should be able to get the Huskies back to bowl games consistently but one cannot expect much more than that.
Grade: C

FIU - Butch Davis (ESPN analyst)
FIU  Panthers (2009 - Pres)We know about Davis' baggage, especially considering how his last coaching gig concluded at North Carolina, and he also isn't the youngest coach around. However, we also all know that Davis knows how to build programs, he knows how to recruit and above all else, he knows how to coach. Of all the guys that you want to build a program in South Florida, he is either at or near the top of list and quite frankly if he isn't able to build a winner with the Golden Panthers, I'm not sure who can.
Grade: A

Florida Atlantic - Lane Kiffin (Alabama offensive coordinator)
Florida Atlantic Owls (2005 - Pres)When your rival makes a big splash with a hire (see above), it's hard not to follow suit and that's what happened here. Kiffin comes with his fair share of baggage thanks to messy departures from the Raiders, Tennessee and USC and his head coaching record isn't that great. That said, I think this is a coup for a school still trying to grow their football program. Kiffin is still only 41, he's a strong recruiter and is a pretty good offensive playcaller as he has shown in various stops. I think working under Nick Saban will only help him with regards to his maturity and now those intrastate recruiting battles are going to be wild.
Grade: A-

Fresno State - Jeff Tedford (Washington offensive consultant)
Fresno State Bulldogs (2006 - Pres)Tedford did a nice job overall at Californa, becoming the winningest coach in school history in the process, is a known tutor of quarterbacks and is a Fresno State grad to boot. That said, this hire may be a little more underwhelming than some might think. The performance of his teams noticeably slid after Aaron Rodgers left for the NFL as did the recruiting and the quarterback play was inconsistent until Tedford got canned four years ago. But his connections and experience coaching in the state doesn't hurt for a program that has really slid in Fresno State.
Grade: B-

Georgia State - Shawn Elliott (South Carolina offensive line coach)
Georgia State Panthers (2014 - Pres)Georgia State has only won 17 games since the program launched in 2010 and even after making their first bowl game a year ago, there's still quite a ways to go as they fell back to Earth in 2016. Now as they begin play in a new stadium, you may know it as Turner Field, they've got a new coach. Elliott has coach for many years in the southeast and did solid work coaching the offensive line in Columbia. He may have only gone 1-5 as the interim coach last year after Steve Spurrier's resignation but that was a tough spot with a team that wasn't very good. He's got the recruiting connections and should be able to draw prospects to Atlanta.
Grade: B

Houston - Major Applewhite (Houston offensive coordinator)
Houston Cougars (2012 - Pres)It was thought that Lane Kiffin was all but set to get this job but apparently, it fell apart at the last minute and the Cougars decided to stay in-house for continuity. Applewhite's name is well known statewide after his time as the starting quarterback at Texas and he has had a very nice career as an assistant and as a playcaller since he was hired by Todd Graham at Rice in 2006. The pressure is on Applewhite to keep up the success that the program had under Tom Herman but he should be able to recruit at a high level to Houston.
Grade: B+

Indiana - Tom Allen (Indiana defensive coordinator)
Indiana Hoosiers (2002 - Pres)The firing of Kevin Wilson took a lot of people by surprise and then when it came out that Wilson was out of his mind, it made a little more sense. They moved very quickly in announcing Allen's promotion and while I don't love the idea of not going through a coaching search, Allen is a solid coach. After all in his only season in Bloomington, he helped one of the nation's worst defenses into one of the better ones and played a key role in the Hoosiers getting back to a bowl. He only has two years of coordinator experience but I do think it's a good fit.
Grade: B

LSU - Ed Orgeron (LSU interim coach)
LSU Tigers (2002 - Pres)I wrote about this hire a couple of weeks ago and you can get the idea of what I think about this hire based off of the title. Simply put, you can't tell me that he's a better coach than Les Miles is with his track record, including that failed stint at Ole Miss. There is no question that he's a great recruiter and he'll bring plenty of energy to the job but if your goal is to compete for national championships and to beat Alabama, I don't believe he'll be that guy.
Grade: C-

Minnesota - P.J. Fleck (Western Michigan head coach)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (1986 - Pres)After royally botching the whole player boycott situation, Tracy Claeys effectively had to go and it was a decision made easier by his small contract buyout and the fact that the athletic director didn't hire him. The decision is then made all the better that the program was able to land a coach the caliber of Fleck, who surprisingly had not been scooped up already. Fleck took a reeling MAC program at Western Michigan and through some really impressive recuiting and his famous energy, got them to a New Year's Six bowl game in his fourth year. He should make for a strong fit in Minneapolis and this is, frankly, a steal for the Golden Gophers.
Grade: A

Nevada - Jay Norvell (Arizona State receivers coach/passing game coordinator)
Nevada Wolf Pack (2008 - Pres)Nevada is not the easiest place to coach considering the low athletic revenues there and Brian Polian was ultimately unable to build off of what Chris Ault built. Norvell has coached a lot of places before getting his first head coaching gig and he comes with the reputation of being a sound offensive mind and a very good recruiter, critical at a tough place to recruit like Reno. Given that he has worked as an assistant at both UCLA and Texas, he should try to make recruiting both states a priority. It's nice to see Norvell finally getting a shot at a coaching gig and this could work out well for both him and the Wolfpack.
Grade: B+

Oregon - Willie Taggart (South Florida head coach)
Oregon Ducks (1999 - Pres)Taggart is only 40 years old and he has already proven himself as a winner at two stops. He led his alma mater Western Kentucky to their first two winning seasons as well as their first bowl game and then ultimately turned the tide at South Florida in going 18-7 in his last two seasons before departing for Eugene. Now he doesn't have a great deal of experience in coaching out west save for three seasons coaching the running backs at Stanford (including Toby Gerhart) but in a unique coaching environment in Eugene, Taggart's energy and enthusiasm should propel him to success with the Ducks.
Grade: A-

Purdue - Jeff Brohm (Western Kentucky head coach)
Purdue Boilermakers (2012 - Pres)There seemed to be a push for Purdue to hire Les Miles and while I get the rationale behind that, I think this is a better hire. When Purdue was last a consistent bowl contender, it was under a high-flying offensive attack under an innovative coach in Joe Tiller and I think going with that same kind of thinking makes sense. Brohm built a reputation of being a good offensive tutor even before he took the reins at his alma mater and then he proved it with Brandon Doughty these past two seasons and Mike White this year. At the very least, Brohm should be able to make the Boilermakers watchable once again.
Grade: A-

San Jose State - Brent Brennan (Oregon State receivers coach)
San Jose State Spartans (2013 - Pres)Brennan does have extensive ties to San Jose State as he was an assistant under Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre from 2005-2010 and he has got some solid recruiting connections in the Bay Area, which is critical for this job. He also did a nice job coaching the wideouts in Corvallis and that Pac-12 experience won't hurt. But he also has never been a playcaller as far as I'm aware of and I generally don't love seeing position coaches making the jump to a head coaching gig. This is not an easy job and I'm not fully sure that he may be the right guy to get the Spartans to consistent bowl appearances.
Grade: C

South Florida - Charlie Strong (former Texas head coach)
South Florida Bulls (2003 - Pres)It didn't work out at Texas for Strong but he should excel here with the Bulls in a more hospitable environment for a coach. Strong is a strong recruiter and he proved at Louisville that he knows how to coach. With his strong recruiting connections in the Sunshine State going back to his time as an assistant at Florida and elsewhere in the southeast, he should be able to get prospects to USF and to continue the winning ways that Willie Taggart has established there. Even after his messy time in Austin, this is a great hire for South Florida.
Grade: A

Temple - Geoff Collins (Florida defensive coordinator)
Temple Owls (1996 - Pres)We have come a long way from when Temple was hideous on the gridiron and got kicked out of the Big East, and the biggest sign of that was Matt Rhule finishing off the first back-to-back ten win seasons with a convincing upset win over Navy in the AAC title game. Collins doesn't have the same connection to the Owls that Rhule has and has never been a head coach before but he has earned himself a reputation as a really good defensive coach. His defenses have been excellent during his two years in Gainesville and before that, his Mississippi State defenses were really good. Collins also brings an infectious energy that allows him to recruit well and that will be key in Philadelphia.
Grade: B+

Texas - Tom Herman (Houston head coach)
Texas Longhorns (1961 - Pres)Like with LSU, I've already written about this hire but unlike with LSU, I love this hire. At the very least, Herman will seem to have the organizational support that Charlie Strong never received but there are a lot of reasons here for Longhorn fans to be excited. Herman has deep Texas roots, he's a tremendous recruiter and his offensive scheme has been quite successful wherever he's gone. It's going to take some work to get Texas back to the top but I think they found the guy that may be able to get it.
Grade: A

Western Kentucky - Mike Sanford (Notre Dame offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (1999 - Pres)Sanford feels like a solid fit. He has coached in Bowling Green before as he coached quarterbacks in 2010 under Willie Taggart but what makes Sanford an ideal hire for a school like Western Kentucky is his reputation as a quarterback guru. The Hilltoppers have been driven by quarterback play ever since Taggart left for South Florida and Bobby Petrino took over in 2013. If Sanford can continue to get strong play from the WKU quarterbacks going forward, they should remain one of the top programs in Conference USA.
Grade: A-

Western Michigan - Tim Lester (Purdue quarterbacks coach)
Western Michigan Broncos (2016 - Pres)Whoever the Broncos were going to replace was going to have some tough oars to replace consinder how P.J. Fleck took this program to new heights before departing for Minnesota. Lester, a former Western Michigan quarterback, should be a solid fit nonetheless. He's had an interesting coaching resume including a successful head coaching stint at Division III Elmurst College and he is well regarded as a solid quarterback tutor. He may not have the name of a Les Miles but this seems like a quality hire as the Broncos hope to remain atop the MAC.
Grade: B

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