The end of the football season is a very sad time to those who practically worship the sport like myself, but it does give us valuable time to reflect on everything we witnessed and start looking forward to the future. One such topic that comes up at this point in time is coaching changes. Twenty seven college teams changed head coaches in preparation for the 2012 season, calling for the need of a ranking of these new coaches. That’s exactly what I’ve provided in this article, which is a bit long but it’s very detailed for each coach. Please keep in mind that this list does NOT rank the coaches according to their ability, but rather how well the new coach fits in with the college and how good the coach is compared to his predecessor and the other candidates for the job.
27. Tony Levine, Houston – Levine, who was formerly the Cougars’ special teams and tight end coach, must have had an outstanding interview with those involved in the hiring, because there were three candidates with a better résumé on the team’s coaching staff alone–Kliff Kingsbury, now at Texas A&M, Jason Phillips, now at SMU, and Brian Stewart, now at Maryland, meaning that there were also a ton of coaches outside of the program that were more impressive as well. I’m not saying that Levine can’t lead Houston to double-digit wins, but what I am saying is that this might be the case of a college sticking with their interim coach and it backfiring.
26. Todd Graham, Arizona State – Graham has a proven track record as a head coach, compiling a 49-29 record in six seasons as a head coach, but there’s just one problem: he’s a sleazeball. Graham has held three head coaching positions in those six years as a head coach, and each time his exit has been less-than-classy. Graham’s exit from Pittsburgh, one in which he addressed his players only via text message, puts Arizona State in a position even worse than they were when the “June Jones to Arizona State” story publicly fell apart once the school literally pulled the offer from Jones and his agent. Todd Graham might make the Sun Devils contenders in the PAC-12 South, but it’s just a matter of time before a bigger name calls him up and lures him away.
25. Kyle Flood, Rutgers – Just like Levine at Houston, this might be a case where a school panicked once its head coach bolted and just promoted the man they had previously named “interim head coach”. Rutgers had more of a reason to be panicked than Houston because Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach on January 26th, just six days before National Signing Day. While Flood’s hire does ensure that the school should be able to keep any assistants that doesn’t follow Schiano to the NFL and that the recruits that have committed will more than likely be playing with the same schemes, I believe a Big East school like Rutgers could have hired a bigger name.
24. Bob Davie, New Mexico – The Lobos program has been a disaster since Rocky Long resigned after the 2008 season, managing to win just 2 games in the three-year tenure of Mike Locksley. Now leading the Lobos is Bob Davie, the former head coach at Notre Dame. While it is very hard to sell any coach on taking over a program as deficit in talent as New Mexico currently is, hiring a coach that hasn’t been on the sidelines in eleven years probably won’t excite many recruits. The game of football has changed in so many aspects in the time that Davie has been out of coaching, and although he has kept up-to-date with the game thanks to his job at ESPN, he could find out rather quickly that the climb back to the top in the Mountain West just might be out of his capability.
23. Matt Campbell, Toledo – The last of the head coaches on this list who were given the interim tag at some point this season, Campbell’s hire isn’t at #23 because I think he will fail at Toledo; I expect the Rockets to contend for the MAC West title in 2012 just like they have consistently during the Tim Beckman era. Campbell is so low on this list because has very little experience in coaching given the fact that he holds the position as a head coach. Only 32 years old, Campbell has just eight years of coaching under his belt, meaning that we will probably see some growing pains from time to time in 2012 for Toledo.
22. Curtis Johnson, Tulane – You can’t blame Tulane for hiring a relative unknown for this job, because no one really wants to be the head coach of the Green Wave at this point in time. Johnson has a nice background as a coach and has ties to Louisiana thanks to spending the last six seasons with the New Orleans Saints. It’s imperative that Johnson uses every connection he has in the Bayou State because turning around this Tulane team won’t be easy by any means.
21. Norm Chow, Hawaii – Chow, the former Utah offensive coordinator who is best known for his time running USC’s offense, has been revered as one of the brightest offensive minds in the game for quite some time, but the results haven’t been very spectacular over the last few years, as Chow’s offense at UCLA in 2010 ranked 107th and this year’s Utah squad finished 110th out of 120 teams . Chow has been a career assistant and it’s quite possible that the Hawaii football program, which has traditionally struggled to be consistent winners, might have hired a big name that has passed his prime.
20. Charlie Weis, Kansas – Most wouldn’t have assumed that Weis would have landed a head coaching gig after coaching a Florida offense that hasn’t been this bad since the pre-Spurrier days, but that’s exactly what happened when the Jayhawks brought in the former Notre Dame head coach to try and revitalize the program. Weis’s success working with NFL quarterbacks definitely helps in recruiting, but it still seems like Weis is better fit as a coach in the National Football League. Kansas is not an easy place to win, so Weis and his staff (which has many of the coaches from his days in South Bend) will have to work extremely hard to become contenders in the Big 12.
19. Charley Molnar, UMass – UMass is set to join the Mid-American Conference this July, which means that the hiring of former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar needs mentioning in this article. Molnar had been a part of Fighting Irish head coach Chip Kelly’s coaching staff since his days at Central Michigan, and while he has never held a head coaching position before, his connection with Kelly definitely makes it seem as though he has a chance to be a good head coach. The Minutemen will participate in a MAC Conference that is for the most part up in the air, so it’s entirely feasible that Molnar’s first team at UMass has a commendable amount of success.
18. Terry Bowden, Akron – Bowden, much like Bob Davie at New Mexico, is a former FBS head coach who is getting another shot at playing with some of the best football teams in the country. Bowden, who spent six seasons as the head coach at Auburn in the ’90s and posted a 29-10 record at North Alabama over the last three seasons, has a preexisting relationship with the Zips, as he spent the 1986 season with the team as an assistant under former Notre Dame head coach Gerry Faust. A Bowden coaching outside of the South doesn’t seem very natural, but Bowden has shown that he can be quite successful as a coach and may turn heads at a school that many consider has the best facilities in the Mid-American Conference.
17. Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic – Pelini was part of a Nebraska Cornhuskers’ coaching staff that rebuilt a program and a defense that had been the laughingstock of the Big 12, and now he gets the chance to step out of the shadow of little brother Bo and take over his own program. Pelini, who has never held a coaching position in the Sunshine State, now must rebuild a team that former head coach Howard Schnellenberger literally built from the ground up and had experienced some success with before the Owls went 1-11 in his last season. Pelini has worked wonders with defenses before, so don’t count out Florida Atlantic from making some noticeable strides under his leadership in the coming years.
16. Jim L. Mora, UCLA – Brought in to replace Rick Neuheisel, Mora returns to coaching after a two year hiatus following his firing as Seattle Seahawks head coach. While he hasn’t coached in college football since spending one season as a graduate assistant at the University of Washington in 1984, Mora’s first recruiting class as UCLA head coach (26 commitments) has people buzzing about the Bruins. It will take a lot to top Lane Kiffin and USC as the premier college football program of Los Angeles, but the strides that Mora and his assistants have made so far makes it clear that it isn’t an impossible task by any means.
15. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – Freeze, who spent one season as Arkansas State head coach and is best known as Michael Oher’s high school coach at Briarcrest High School in Memphis, returns to Ole Miss, where he was the tight end coach and recruiting coordinator during the Ed Orgeron era in Oxford. The Rebels need to compete with the LSUs and Alabamas that make up the SEC West, and although it definitely won’t happen for at least two more years, Freeze’s recruiting expertise means that the team should have the talent to at the very least compete with the best the SEC has to offer, something that they found themselves without over the last few seasons.
14. Bill O’Brien, Penn State – Replacing a legend like the late Joe Paterno is a very difficult task, but it looks as though the Nittany Lions hired a capable coach in O’Brien. O’Brien, who has fourteen years of experience coaching in college with stops at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Duke, is still juggling the roles of Penn State head coach and New England Patriots offensive coordinator, as the Patriots will take on the Giants this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. Working under future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick was impressive enough, but a Super Bowl ring would definitely help O’Brien lure in elite recruits in order to maintain the success and strength that Paterno’s teams almost always possessed.
13. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss – It’s always a great idea to work alongside a living legend if you want to land a head coaching job again, and that’s exactly what Johnson did by becoming South Carolina’s defensive coordinator back in 2008, signing on to be an assistant than none other than the Ol Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier. Johnson’s defenses at South Carolina were always very good, and the play of game-changers like Melvin Ingram and Jadaveon Clowney last season didn’t nothing but help his prospects. Although Johnson’s 17-28 record as a head coach (spent three seasons as Furman head coach and one season as Gardner-Webb head coach) doesn’t exactly excite anyone, Johnson is stepping into an excellent situation at Southern Miss, where the Eagles are fresh off their first C-USA championship since 2003. As long as Johnson can maintain the level of success that Larry Fedora made his calling card at Southern Miss, you can expect the Golden Eagles to be contenders in the C-USA year after year.
12. Justin Fuente, Memphis – It was just a matter of time before Fuente landed a head coaching job, and now the former TCU offensive coordinator is in charge of a Memphis Tigers team that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2007. The Tigers football team is miles behind the basketball program at this point in time, and although it probably will not catch Josh Pastner’s crew any time soon, it appears that Fuente is capable of at least making Memphis a .500 team year in and year out.
11. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – FBS football has different levels of schools, and having tremendous success at a non-BCS school usually guarantees you a spot with the big boys. This is the case of Sumlin, who went 35-17 in four years at Houston and led the Cougars to a 12-1 mark in 2011. An A&M assistant near the end of the R.C. Slocum era in College Station, Sumlin has the tremendous task of helping Texas A&M compete in the SEC West, a no-holds-barred division in which a finish in the top three would be a notable accomplishment. The Aggies are going to have growing pains the few few seasons in the SEC, but I think that Kevin Sumlin is a good enough coach that the team will eventually find a groove and be competitive.
10. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State – Everyone that has looked at DeRuyter since his days at Air Force knew that it was a matter of when, not if, he would become a head coach. While his run as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M didn’t end as well as one would have hoped (The Aggies blew 5 double-digit leads in their six losses and almost made it seven in their bowl game against Northwestern), it sure didn’t help the perception that he is capable of being a head coach. Fresno State was one of the hottest non-AQ teams in the country at one point during Pat Hill’s time there, and no one should be surprised if they close the gap of the Boise States of the world now that they have DeRuyter.
9. Tim Beckman, Illinois – Illinois finally pulled the plug on Ron Zook, and now Beckman comes in after going 21-16 as Toledo Rockets had coach. I consider Beckman an underrated head coach, and I actually thought he would be a serious candidate for the Ohio State head coaching job once Jim Tressel resigned (Beckman two seasons as Buckeyes CB coach). The Fighting Illini don’t have a very rich tradition when it comes to winning, and being in the Leaders division with the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State doesn’t help the situation either. However, I think Beckman has what it takes to put Illinois over the top, just as long as the fan base gives him time to get things settled and get his players into the fold.
8. Jim McElwain, Colorado State – It’s never a bad idea to hire an assistant from a team that has one two national championships in the last three years, and that’s exactly what Colorado State did by luring former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to Fort Collins. McElwain, who has a lot of experience coaching out west thanks to tenures at Fresno State and with the Oakland Raiders, never garnered much attention because of the Crimson Tide’s offense’s tendency to do just enough to get the job done, but he did run an offense that developed two of the best running backs that college football this decade. Nick Saban is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the nation; McElwain’s hire will be a interesting test to see if a Saban assistant can take what he has learned and make it work as a head coach elsewhere.
7. Garrick McGee, UAB – A former quarterback at Arizona State and Oklahoma, McGee comes to UAB after spending the last three years with Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, holding the position as offensive coordinator for the last two. The Razorbacks had excellent passing games during McGee’s run with the team, developing two NFL-caliber quarterbacks in Ryan Mallett and current starter Tyler Wilson. The Blazers didn’t have any success with the last SEC offensive coordinator that they hired to run the show (Neil Callaway from Georgia, who posted a 21-51 record as head coach. UAB has only been playing football since the 1995, and during that time have made just one bowl game. I fully expect McGee to bring a winning and hard-working attitude to the Blazers program, and I believe the team will make at least one bowl game in the first three years he is head coach.
6. Paul Chryst, Pitt – The Pitt Panthers received a blessing in disguise when head coach Todd Graham headed west for Arizona State, opening up the head coaching job for the third time in a little over a year. In comes former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, a coach who really appears the exact opposite of Graham in the fact that he is very loyal. Chryst spent the last seven seasons as Badgers offensive coordinator, and during that time the Badgers four seasons of ten wins or more and won the inaugural Big Ten Championship game in 2011. The Panthers will be venturing into unknown territory in 2014, when it moves to the ACC Coastal division, where it will play Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, and Duke every year. By the time the team makes this transition, I predict that Chryst will have won at least one Big East championship, which will be made a bit easier thanks to Backyard Brawl rival West Virginia bolting for the Big 12 at a currently undisclosed point in time.
5. Larry Fedora, North Carolina – Fedora and Kevin Sumlin faced off in the C-USA Championship game, one in which the underdog Golden Eagles pulled off the big upset by beating the previously undefeated Houston Cougars; now both head coaches have moved on to bigger schools. Fedora is taking over a North Carolina program that was marred in controversy thanks to the involvement of sports agents with Tar Heel players, which cost the team 16 victories from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Fedora, who spent time at Florida and Oklahoma State as offensive coordinator before posting a 34-19 record at Southern Miss, is a driven head coach that fits the salesman-type coaching aspect to a tee, which will definitely come into play when it comes to recruiting. The Tar Heels were consistently 8-5 during Butch Davis’s time as head coach, finishing no better than third in the ACC Coastal division; I expect Fedora to help North Carolina reach unprecedented heights in football during his time with the team, which will include their first ever ACC Championship game appearance.
4. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona – Say what you will about the RichRod experiement in Ann Arbor, but the failures of Rodriguez at a program that wasn’t exactly willing to make huge changes doesn’t take away from the huge success he had at West Virginia, his alma mater. The Mountaineers went 60-26 in his seven seasons as head coach and were a game away from playing for the National Championship in 2007 (rival Pitt beat WV 13-9), showing that Rodriguez can make some noise when given the proper time and players. The Wildcats are far behind the top tier of the PAC 12, but I believe that the school will turn some heads in the upcoming years thanks to the hiring of Rodriguez.
3. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State – If you would have told me a year ago that Guz Malzahn would be head coach at Arkansas State, I would have undoubtedly laughed in your face. Malzahn lands his first head coaching position one year after he was part of an Auburn Tigers squad that included Heisman winner Cam Newton and won the school’s first national title since 1957, and although it isn’t as big a job as he interviewed for last season (which included Vanderbilt and Maryland), it has the potential to be a springboard to a very good job. The Red Wolves had their best season in school history in 2011 with Hugh Freeze as head coach, and it looks like their main competition in conference play next season will be Florida International. Now holding the keys to his own program, time will tell if Malzahn learns from what didn’t work at Auburn in 2011 and if he’s a smooth enough talker to convince talented recruits to take their talent to Jonesboro.
2. Mike Leach, Washington State – Disgraced by ESPN thanks to the Adam James scandal—which certainly looks to have been smudged thanks to ESPN’s relationship with Craig James—some feared that we would never see this pirate-loving head coach roam the sidelines again. Thankfully, Washington State took a huge gamble and hired the former Texas Tech head coach to rebuild a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2003. Leach is the type of coach that says what he thinks and doesn’t care what the consequences are, and although the hire might limit the number of times we see his face on the ESPN family of networks, it will definitely be worth it. I fully expect Leach to turn Washington State into legitimate contenders in the PAC-12 North, but it definitely won’t happen overnight. Just be patient, Wazzu fans, because the future is coming and it looks bright.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State – I can see that the rankings 27 thru 2 being debatable, but there’s no argument against the Buckeyes bringing in Meyer to take over the reigns being the best hire in college football. Meyer has won literally everywhere he has been a head coach, as he has never posted a losing season and holds his 8-5 mark in his last year at Florida as his worst record in a season. Say what you will about his departure from Florida, but it’s clear that he is among the top two or three head coaches in all of college football. Meyer fits the Big Ten mold of coaching perfectly, and has already made a killing in recruiting in such a brief time on the job. Ineligible to make a bowl game this upcoming season, I expect the Buckeyes to play spoiler against some of their conference rivals that are in play for a shot at the crystal ball, adding to the list of coaches that are already annoyed with Meyer. Meyer was one of the men responsible for the SEC’s recent dominance when it comes to the national championship game; he could very well prove to be the man that puts an end to that illustrious streak of big wins for the boys down south.