Thursday, October 1, 2020

Grading the 2018 College Football Coaching Hires

The calendar has turned to August which means that college football kicks off this month and we couldn’t be more excited (ok we could, but that comes a few minutes before the first kickoff.)  With the season rapidly approaching it’s time to take a look at all of the coaching changes that were made during this past offseason and give them a grade.

Some of them were great hires, some of them were awful hires, and some of them were just meh hires.  Which ones were which you ask?  Scroll ahead to find out.  Schools will be listed in alphabetical order and a grade for each hire will be issued along with a reasoning for that grade.  And remember: if your school’s hire gets a bad grade, it’s because I clearly hate your team and if a school you don’t like got a good grade, it’s only because I’m a homer for that team.

College Football coaching hires

College Football

Arizona

Old Coach: Rich Rodriguez

New Coach: Kevin Sumlin

Grade: A

Reasoning: Rich Rod only had one really good year with the Wildcats (2014 where he went 10-4, played for a Pac-12 title and went to the Fiesta Bowl) and had fallen apart since then going 7-6, 3-9 and then 7-6 again.  That decline, coupled with sexual harassment allegations filed against him by a former staffer, left Arizona with no choice but to make a change.  In steps Kevin Sumlin, who many feel was unfairly run out of Texas A&M on a rail.

Sumlin has won 86 games as a head coach at Houston and Texas A&M and worked with a couple of excellent QBs in his time, namely Case Keenum (who was at Houston for what felt like a decade) and Johnny Manziel at A&M, who he turned into a Heisman Trophy winner.  At Arizona, he gets to work his magic with human highlight reel Khalil Tate.  Home run hire by the Wildcats.

 

Arizona State

Old Coach: Todd Graham

New Coach: Herm Edwards

Grade: F

Reasoning: Just around the corner from Kevin Sumlin’s new digs in Tucson sits Arizona State and their philosophy has already proven to be disastrous.  The Sun Devils ran out one of the most successful coaches in program history in Graham who amassed a record of 46-32 and went to five bowl games in his six years in charge and put together back to back 10 win seasons in 2013 and 2014.

In comes Herm Edwards, who has never coached at the college level and who hasn’t coached at any level since 2008 when he went 2-14 with the Kansas City Chiefs (In his eight total seasons in the NFL he posted a 54-74 record and never won a playoff game).

It’s been one goof after another with Edwards and it’s not too far off base to say that they very easily could be the laughing stock of college football, whether it’s Edwards not knowing ASU’s mascot in his introductory press conference and going on a bizarre rant about the Devil, to having a hilariously bad National Signing Day.

At one point they were ranked dead last in the conference and ranked behind a number of Group of 5 teams which he explained by saying how different it was from the NFL that players choose you, to being picked to finish last in the Pac-12, to teaching his players the font and width of the numbers on the field. 

Their schedule is also going to cause problems, with games against Michigan State, San Diego State, Washington, Stanford, USC, Utah, UCLA, Oregon and Arizona.  Things could get very ugly very quickly in Tempe.

 

Arkansas

Old Coach: Bret Bielema

New Coach: Chad Morris

Grade: C

Reasoning: Despite a large portion of the Arkansas fan base believing that Bielema was a better coach in Fayetteville than Bobby Petrino was (sheer lunacy), the results on the field never really materialized and he had to go with a record of just 29-34 (for comparison Petrino’s record was 34-17). 

Now, Chad Morris wasn’t really the Hogs first choice for the job as they had been heavily linked to pursuing Lane Kiffin at FAU, Mike Leach at Washington State and Mike Norvell at Memphis.  But they whiffed on all of those potential hires for whatever reason and eventually landed on Morris.  Morris isn’t a bad coach and he might be very good in the long run.

He was the offensive coordinator at Clemson for three years before taking the head coaching job in 2015 at an absolute dumpster fire of an SMU program.  In his three seasons there he took them from 2-10 his first season to 5-7 and then 7-5 and a berth in the Frisco Bowl (he left for Fayetteville before the bowl game). 

One thing that does give pause though is that he does have a losing record of 14-22 as a head coach and his hire of John Chavis to be his defensive coordinator, given that Morris runs an up-tempo offense which will put Chavis’ defense on the field a lot more than he’d like.  For now, we’ll all just have to take a wait and see approach on this hire.

 

Coastal Carolina

Old Coach: Jamey Chadwell

New Coach: Joe Moglia

Grade: B

Reasoning: This one is a bit of a unique situation.  Coastal Carolina made the jump from FCS to FBS last year.  During their last five seasons in FCS, Moglia was their head coach but stepped down before the 2017 season for medical reasons.  Offensive coordinator Jamey Chadwell served as head coach in Moglia’s absence and subsequently stepped down when Moglia announced that he would be returning to coach the Chanticleers. 

Moglia went 51-15 with Coastal Carolina at the FCS level but Chadwell had more difficulty in their first year at the FBS level, going 3-9.  Moglia has proven he can win games with the Chanticleers but it remains to be seen if he can do it in the Sun Belt.

 

Florida

Old Coach: Jim McElwain

New Coach: Dan Mullen

Grade: B

Reasoning: For as much as we like to think of Florida as an all-time great powerhouse program, there’s only ever really been two head coaches with any kind of sustained, consistent success: Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.  Other coaches have had flashes but eventually they all fall apart.  Ron Zook never won more than eight games in a season.  Will Muschamp won 11 games and went to the Sugar Bowl in his second season but then went 4-8 and 6-5.

Most recently Jim McElwain went to back to back SEC Championship games in his first two seasons and then bottomed out last year and got the boot.  Dan Mullen arrives in Gainesville, having spent the last nine seasons as the head coach at Mississippi State, and having been the offensive coordinator for the Gators for the four years before that. 

Mullen is widely considered something of a QB guru.  Going back to his days with Urban Meyer at Utah he put Alex Smith into the NFL, then turned Tim Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and then launched Dak Prescott onto the scene at Mississippi State. 

And if the last six or seven years have taught Florida fans anything, it’s that they need a coach who can run an offense and get good play from the quarterback position.  Mullen would seem to be the solution to that problem.

 

Florida State

Old Coach: Jimbo Fisher

New Coach: Willie Taggart

Grade: C

Reasoning: The grade for this hire would have been worse if Jimbo Fisher had been fired or pushed out instead of leaving on his own.  Fisher is the second greatest coach in FSU history.  In eight seasons in Tallahassee he won 83 games, three ACC Championships (and an additional ACC Atlantic Division Championship), two Orange Bowls and of course the 2013 National Championship.  But he left the Noles in December (more on that later) and has been replaced by Willie Taggart.  Now, Taggart is very well thought of among the media.

Perhaps it’s because of his track record of taking teams that are terrible and making them not as terrible: doing so with Western Kentucky from 2010-2012, then with USF from 2013-2016 and then most recently with Oregon in 2017.  But his overall record stands at 47-50, he has never won or even played for a conference championship and he has never won a bowl game. 

He will have more talent that he’s ever had at Florida State but I’m not sold on this being the smash hire that everybody else seems to think it is because not only has he never won at a super high level anywhere, he’s never been anywhere long enough to prove that he can do it.

 

Georgia Southern

Old Coach: Tyson Summers

New Coach: Chad Lunsford

Grade: D

Reasoning: I always find it funny when teams fire a coach because a change needs to be made and then just hire somebody from the previous coach’s staff to take his place.  What really changes when that happens?  Very little.  But that’s the route that Georgia Southern decided to go.  Georgia Southern joined the FBS ranks in 2014 after a number of very successful years at the FCS level.  Their first two years in FBS were almost as good, posting a 9-3 record in 2014 and a 9-4 record in 2015 before then-head coach Willie Fritz left to take the Tulane job.

In stepped Tyson Summers and he was a disaster from the get go.  He went 5-7 in his inaugural season and then followed that up with an 0-6 start to the 2017 season before being fired and replace by Chad Lunsford.  Things didn’t get much better under Lunsford as the Eagles went just 2-4 the rest of the way but that didn’t stop them from making him the full time head coach.  Hires from within seldom work as well as people hope and this will be another case of that not working out.

 

Kent State

Old Coach: Paul Haynes

New Coach: Sean Lewis

Grade: B

Reasoning: This grade is not so much based on how well Sean Lewis may or may not do, but more based on that Kent State finally got smart and fired Paul Haynes who was just awful for the entirety of his five year tenure (he was 14-45 and never won more than four games in a season).  Lewis does have potential: he’s in his early 30’s and is familiar with the MAC having been on staffs at Akron and Bowling Green in the past.  Most recently he was the offensive coordinator at Syracuse.  There’s nowhere to go but up for Kent State and Lewis might just be the man to take them there.

 

Mississippi State

Old Coach: Dan Mullen

New Coach: Joe Moorhead

Grade: A

Reasoning: It’s always tough to be the guy who follows one of the best coaches in the history of the program, but that’s the spot Joe Moorhead finds himself in.  However, he should be more than up for the challenge.  Moorhead is not without head coaching experience.  Granted it was at the FCS level with Fordham but he posted a 38-13 record there before taking the offensive coordinator job at Penn State.

He performed marvelously in that capacity as the Nittany Lions offense proved nearly unstoppable for two years with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley executing Moorhead’s offense to perfection.  He has already done a great job on the recruiting trail as even as recently as June, he had Mississippi State with the #6 class for 2019 (just behind Notre Dame and Oklahoma and just ahead of Georgia and LSU).  It may not happen in year one for Moorhead, but by year two or year three watch out for the Bulldogs.

 

Nebraska

Old Coach: Mike Riley

New Coach: Scott Frost

Grade: A

Reasoning: Get rid of a bad coach?  Check.  Hire a really good new coach?  Check.  Hire a coach who used to play for your program?  Check.  Scott Frost might be the man to make Nebraska fans dare to dream of getting back to the promised land.  It cannot be overstated how good of a job he did in just two years at UCF.  In 2015 UCF went 0-12.  In 2016 Scott Frost showed up and got them back to a measure of respectability, going 6-7 and getting to a bowl game.

In 2017 UCF surpassed all expectations to go 13-0, win the American Athletic Conference and go on to win the Peach Bowl.  The task at Nebraska is much different however.  This is a program that has a glorious past, but has fallen on hard times, especially under Mike Riley who had two losing seasons in three years in Lincoln.  Not only does Frost have to deal with much bigger expectations, he has to do it in a conference with teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.  But he didn’t oversee the most dramatic turnaround in college football by accident.  He knows how to win games and this is a slam dunk hire.

 

Ole Miss

Old Coach: Hugh Freeze

New Coach: Matt Luke

Grade: D

Reasoning: This is another unique situation so bear with me.  Yes, Hugh Freeze was fired before the start of the 2017 season and yes Matt Luke coached every game of the 2017 season for the Rebels.  But he had the interim tag for all of that year and didn’t officially become the full time head coach until this offseason, hence the hire being on this list.  In any case, the Rebels could have done so much better.  Names that got bandied about for the job ranged from Lane Kiffin, to Mike Norvell, to Les Miles, to Bobby Petrino, to Charlie Strong, to Mike Leach.

Now a lot of that was probably just silly season rumors but Ole Miss didn’t even try to get any of them.  Instead they did what so many other teams do and fail at: hire the guy you already have.  Ole Miss went 6-6 with Luke at the helm last year and I don’t see them getting any better any time soon.  They’ve got a dynamic QB and a scary good receiving corps, but they can’t run the ball at all and they can’t play defense any better (their best defensive outing last year was giving up 23 points to UT-Martin). 

They got into dogfights against teams from the Sun Belt and the FCS last year.  They also got absolutely humiliated by teams like Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  Bad hire no matter how you look at it.

Oregon

Old Coach: Willie Taggart

New Coach: Mario Cristobal

Grade: D

Reasoning: An ok coach left town after doing an ok rebuilding job and in his place is a bad coach who has spent the last six years as an offensive line coach.  Why the athletic department at Oregon thought replacing Taggart with Cristobal was a good idea, I’ll never know.  In his six seasons as the head coach at FIU (from 2007-2012) he went 27-47 and never won more than eight games in a season.  And that was in south Florida where he was comfortable recruiting.  Now he’s in the Pacific Northwest and the access to Florida talent is going to be severely limited.

Oregon State

Old Coach: Gary Andersen

New Coach: Jonathan Smith

Grade: B

Reasoning: Despite having success at Utah State and Wisconsin, Gary Andersen just never got it going at Oregon State and resigned in the middle of last season.  Smith is very familiar with Oregon State having been a four year starting QB for the Beavers and then serving as a graduate assistant on the staff for two seasons.  So you can make the argument that he knows what it’s going to take to start winning football games again in Corvallis.  More recently he’s come from the Chris Petersen coaching tree, serving as the QB coach at Boise State in 2012 and 2013 and then the offensive coordinator at Washington from 2014 to 2017.

 

Rice

Old Coach: David Bailiff

New Coach: Mike Bloomgren

Grade: D

Reasoning:  David Bailiff looked like he had it rolling at Rice for a minute, going to three straight bowl games from 2012 to 2014 and even winning a conference title in 2013.  But it all went rapidly downhill after that and a change had to be made.  Mike Bloomgren arrives in Houston having spent the last seven seasons as the offensive line coach at Stanford. 

He’s never been a head coach at any level, and he hasn’t been anything other than a position coach at the FBS level (though he was the offensive coordinator for Delta State from 2005-2006).  With a name like Bloomgren it almost feels like the best fit for him is an NFL defensive coordinator gig, but alas that’s not the case.  Things had gotten bad under Bailiff but I don’t see how they get better under an offensive line coach.

 

SMU

Old Coach: Chad Morris

New Coach: Sonny Dykes

Grade: B

Reasoning: SMU had fallen on some hard times but things should be looking up.  Chad Morris left the program in much better shape than he found it in and hiring Dykes to replace him was about as good as the Mustangs could hope for.  Dykes is a Texas native and has two previous FBS head coaching gigs.  He was solid at Louisiana Tech for three seasons (going 5-7, 8-5, and 9-3) before going west to take the Cal job. 

It looked like he had a program rebuild on track as he went from 1-11 to 5-7 to 8-5 but then regressed to 5-7 in 2016 and was fired.  However, he coached SMU in their appearance in the Frisco Bowl last year and his up-tempo philosophy and the talent still available to him should make the Mustangs an entertaining watch this year.

 

South Alabama

Old Coach: Joey Jones

New Coach: Steve Campbell

Grade: C

Reasoning: This is one of those meh hires.  Joey Jones guided South Alabama from FCS to FBS and didn’t do a horrible job.  They joined FBS for the 2012 season and managed to make it to two bowl games in six seasons.  But with efforts underway to try to build an on-campus stadium a change had to be made to try to breathe some real excitement into the program. 

Steve Campbell comes to South Alabama with a very good pedigree at the lower levels of college football but has never had a head coaching job this big and hasn’t even been on the staff at an FBS school since 2003 (when he was the offensive line coach at Mississippi State). 

He did win the Division II National Championship at Delta State in 2000 and over the last four years has posted a 33-15 record at Central Arkansas, but FBS is a big step up and the Jaguars schedule does him no favors this year with games against Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Appalachian State and Arkansas State.

 

Tennessee

Old Coach: Butch Jones

New Coach: Jeremy Pruitt

Grade: B

Reasoning: Getting rid of Butch Jones was paramount as he had lost the fan base, was starting to lag on the recruiting trail, and most importantly wasn’t winning enough games.  Jeremy Pruitt has already set about, as every new coach does, trying to “change the culture” by doing little things like getting rid of playing music at practice and so on. 

Pruitt has never been a head coach but has served on staff under some big time head coaches at big time programs: he was the defensive coordinator under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State in 2013, he was the defensive coordinator under Mark Richt at Georgia from 2014-2015 and he was the defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2016-2017.  He’s been around the SEC for the last four years so he knows the landscape the he has to navigate with the Vols.  The question is, can he deal with and deliver on the outrageously high expectations of Tennessee fans?

 

Texas A&M

Old Coach: Kevin Sumlin

New Coach: Jimbo Fisher

Grade: A

Reasoning: If you’re going to get rid of a very successful coach, you better make sure than his replacement is even better.  That’s exactly what Texas A&M did.  Kevin Sumlin was run out of town despite winning 51 games for the Aggies.  He’s at Arizona now and Jimbo Fisher is running the show in College Station.  It didn’t come cheap however as not only did they have to pay an insane buyout to Sumlin but they also gave Jimbo a guaranteed $75 million contract. 

Fisher has earned that kind of money though: winning a national championship, 3 conference titles and 83 games in 7 years at Florida State.  But expectations are high in College Station and Fisher will need to start delivering soon.  But there’s no reason why he can’t compete and even be the best team in the SEC within a year or two.

 

UCF
Old Coach: Scott Frost

New Coach: Josh Heupel

Grade: B

Reasoning: It’s going to be incredibly difficult to replace Scott Frost after engineered one of the most drastic turnarounds in college football by taking an 0-12 team and turning them into a 13-0 team in just two seasons.  But Josh Heupel should be up to the task. 

He’s never been a head coach before but he’s no stranger to being on staff at FBS schools, having been a TE coach at Arizona, an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, an associate head coach at Utah State and most recently the offensive coordinator for a blistering Missouri offense.  He’s got plenty of talent to work with and a fired up fan base.  He may not have keep them at the elite level they were at last year, but he should still win plenty of games in Orlando.

 

UCLA

Old Coach: Jim Mora

New Coach: Chip Kelly

Grade: A

Reasoning: Jim Mora was decent for the Bruins for his first four seasons in LA.  He won a Pac-12 South Division title in his first year, went to four straight bowl games and even put together back to back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014.  But 2016 and 2017 were not good, especially considering that his QB was first round NFL draft pick Josh Rosen. 

In comes Chip Kelly whose reputation is a little sullied after departing the college game for the NFL.  Kelly never got it rolling with the Philadelphia Eagles and was a disaster with the San Francisco 49’ers, but that should not diminish what he was able to accomplish in his time in the college ranks.  In his four seasons at Oregon he posted a 46-7 record, won three Pac-12 titles, played for a national title in 2010, and won a Rose Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl. 

A huge plus for UCLA is Kelly’s ability to recruit California, which he did exceptionally well in Eugene.  It may take a year or two, but UCLA is about to be a force to be reckoned with.

 

UL-Lafayette

Old Coach: Mark Hudspeth

New Coach: Billy Napier

Grade: C

Reasoning: The Cajuns had been in all kinds of trouble with the NCAA under Hudspeth, having to vacate a total of 22 wins from 2011 to 2014.  Then they just didn’t win enough games, with three straight losing seasons from 2015 to 2017.  No coach in the country (expect Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly) can survive poor on field performance coupled with NCAA issues.  So Hudspeth was fired and in his place comes Billy Napier. 

This is Napier’s first head coaching job and while he was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State in 2017 (before our pal Herm Edwards ran him out of town) that was his first and only season as a coordinator.  Prior to that he had been the WR coach at Alabama and the QB coach at Colorado State.  No head coaching experience and very little coordinator experience at a school with NCAA issues.  What could go wrong?

 

UTEP

Old Coach: Sean Kugler

New Coach: Dana Dimel

Grade: C

Reasoning: Kugler never really got the train rolling in El Paso.  His record was 18-36 and he only went to one bowl game so after an 0-5 start to 2017 Kugler resigned, to be temporarily replaced by the infamous Mike Price (who Kugler ironically replaced in 2013).  But keeping Mike Price around at his age with his baggage wasn’t really feasible for the Miners so they hired Dana Dimel. 

What UTEP has going for them with Dimel is that he does have previous head coaching experience at the FBS level: going 22-13 with Wyoming from 1997 to 1999 and then an awful 8-26 stint with Houston from 2000-2002.  He’s spent the last nine seasons on Bill Snyder’s staff at Kansas State in various capacities ranging from TE coach, to RB coach to offensive coordinator.  It’s not a sexy hire, but it’s a stable hire and UTEP should be able to at least do better than the 0-12 mark of last season.

For more college football, visit the dedicated college sports section here. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook for news and analysis right to your timeline.

Lawrence Dockery
I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember so covering sports seemed like a no-brainer. I've written for a variety of sites and still put out content for World Soccer Talk and Soccer Referee USA. I did commentary for CBHS sports in Memphis, TN my senior year of high school (August 2011-May 2012) and did two years of color commentary for Lafayette High School Football (2014 & 2015) in Oxford, MS. I also spent two years as the host of the Hotty Toddy Hotline (August 2016-May 2018). I've also been a soccer referee since October of 2006 and am currently a Grade 8. Find me on Twitter @ldock93.

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