Saturday, June 7, 2014

Grading the 2014 New Hires

There were 20 coaching changes after or during the 2013 season, far fewer than maybe there should have been. As part of our build up to the 2014 season, we take a look at the new coaches for each FBS school, and grade them out as we see them. Prepare yourselves, because I'm sure I will offend someone's better sensibilities with the hires I don't like.

Arkansas State
New Coach: Blake Anderson
Anderson will be the 5th coach at ASU in five seasons. That is a rotating door unlike anything I have seen in my rather extensive college football experience. Anderson is a former coordinator from North Carolina, and is looking for his own ship to run and build. Unlike his predecessors, he may just stay a while, which is exactly what ASU needs for some much needed continuity. Anderson is a bit of unknown, but was still a nice hire for a team that needs a long term coach for an identity.
Grade: B+

New Coach: Jeff Monken
Monken is an interesting choice after parting ways with Rich Ellerson. What Monken brings is system continuity, as Army seems stuck 30 years in the past by leaning on the power option as they do. Fortunately for the West Point administration, there are a few people kicking around who still understand the offense, and Monken is one of them, having coached the triple option at Georgia Southern. While Monken never let the Eagles slip too far, GSU also was not exactly a dominating force in the SoCon. He did have that win over Florida...
Grade: B

Boise State
New Coach: Bryan Harsin
When you lose an icon like Chris Petersen, you have to go for continuity, and choose someone who understands what works in Boise. They got that guy in Harsin, who they yanked away from Arkansas State after just one season. Harsin understands the logistics of moving the Boise program forward from his time working under Petersen there, so expect few, if any changes. Harsin also proved he could win as a head guy at ASU, so winning is also something that likely won't change.
Grade: A-

Bowling Green
New Coach: Dino Babers
Babers was a star assistant at Baylor, and turned Eastern Illinois from doormat to contender in the Ohio Valley Conference. Babers is a rising star, and will turn the Falcons into an instant contender in the MAC, especially with some transition happening at Northern Illinois. Babers will amp up the offense, and turn the energy way up. Babers may move on in a couple of seasons, but his stay will be extremely exciting.
Grade: A

New Coach: Bob Diaco
I felt that the Huskies needed to go for the stars when it came to hiring a coach. There was a huge list I had published of guys who I felt would have fit perfectly. Bob Diaco wasn't on that list. I'm not going to trash Diaco as a coach, as he did coordinate the defense on the 2012 Notre Dame squad that got blown out in the title game, but Diaco to me is far from the best fit here. He may prove me wrong, but one has to wonder why Pat Narduzzi backed away from this job like it had rabies.
Grade: C

Eastern Michigan
New Coach: Chris Creighton
In my pre-season Hot Seat article, I called New Mexico State one of the worst jobs in the country. I mean it, but welcome to the absolute worst job in the country, Chris Creighton! Creighton has had some success, but all on a very low level, and getting a head coach from Drake was the best that EMU could hope for. If Ron English maxed out at six wins (two against FCS schools) in a season, I'm not sure how much better Creighton could do. And hey, when the inept administration fires you, they can always rely on the old "he called his players bad names" card, rather than the old stand by of "dude, you just sucked ass".
Grade: D-

Florida Atlantic
New Coach: Charlie Partridge
When you need to completely save public face from firing a coach who you claim was indulging in drugs on the job, and the entire program is in a state of disarray, you fire away for the best possible option. That guy wasn't a line coach from a sub .500 team that was recovering from a mess of their own, but that's what yet another inept athletic department did in hiring Partridge. Again, I hate to pile on Partridge here, but good God, the people who actually wanted this stinking mess of a job were actually numerous. And many of them had better credentials, and had better long term prospects. This could be a mess, but then again, it already is.
Grade: F

Georgia Southern
New Coach: Willie Fritz
Jeff Monken took off for the Army job, rather than hang in to lead GSU through their FBS transition. When the Eagles had to find a new leader, they got a solid pick in Fritz, who built Sam Houston State into a national FCS power. Fritz is a solid guy, and a great coach who hasn't seen a losing record since 2006, and is a perfect fit for someone leading a program during a transitionary period. This is a home run hire all they way. Maybe Eastern Michigan and Florida Atlantic should take a look at what GSU did and take notes.
Grade: A+

New Coach: Bobby Petrino
Petrino is a cat with nine lives, let me tell you. When Charlie Strong bolted for Texas, a thankless position from hell, rather than lead Louisville into a potential for a dominant run in ACC play, what was old became new again. Petrino returns home to the school he spurned for a failed NFL run after his own issues at Arkansas had him coaching Western Kentucky as a reclamation product. He spent all of a...wait for it...single year of penance for his misdeeds, and Louisville rang him up. Petrino really is a solid coach, just keep him away from motorcycles and co-eds.
Grade: B

U Mass
New Coach: Mark Whipple
The entire program is in a state of flux, as they are getting kicked out of the MAC after this season. With a clear path needed, they returned to their glory days and hired Mark Whipple, a long time NFL and college assistant who has known a great deal of success, especially during his earlier turn at U Mass. Charlie Molnar was a disaster for the Minutemen, so going old school and hiring Whipple was definitely a showing that the administration has it somewhat together and wants to win.
Grade: A+

Miami (Ohio)
New Coach: Chuck Martin
Martin finally lands on his feet as a head coach after about three years of being mentioned for numerous jobs around the country. Martin was the name only OC at Notre Dame, but Brian Kelly ran the offense, which is weird being that Martin is a defensive guy. Martin has done absolutely nothing that proves to me that he will be a quality head coach, and he is diving head first into one of the bigger messes in the nation. Again, there were better candidates, and I think that Miami got fooled by a label.
Grade: D

Penn State
New Coach: James Franklin
Franklin was an amazing fit at Vanderbilt. Finding any success in Nashville is something to take great pride in. This is a solid hire for the Nittany Lions, but there is a problem here that is systemic of the job itself. Bill O'Brien struggled against the Paternoites that still litter the landscape at Penn State. Not that his arm needed twisting to head back to the NFL to run the Texans, but that fact definitely played a big part in his decision to leave after doing an amazing job leading the school to stability after the Sandusky scandal. If some of the morons that seem to still be living off of the essence of Paterno can leave Franklin alone to do his job, he should be great. I'm just not sure they can.
Grade: A

New Coach: Charlie Strong
Texas is both one of the absolute best jobs in the country, and simultaneously one of the worst. There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in the Austin camp, and too many outside influences try to force their will on the way the program flows. You couldn't even get more than two people to agree on how to deal with firing Mack Brown, or even find anyone to agree that he should have been fired. This leads one to believe that their isn't a clear leadership direction at Texas, and this is the mess that Charlie Strong inherits. Strong is an amazing coach, no doubt. What remains to be seen is how long his will holds out when he starts getting yanked around by all of the ridiculous personalities that tend to hover around this currently semi-dormant program. Good coach, maybe not the right job, and remember, several A list coaches told Texas thanks, but no thanks, mostly for the reasons listed.
Grade: A-

New Coach: Bill Clark
As horrible as the New Mexico State and Eastern Michigan jobs are concerned, UAB is right up there with them. Garrick McGee bolted not for another head coaching job, but to run the offense under Bobby Petrino at Louisville. Yikes! Clark is a storied high school coach who has only ever been the head guy for one season (Jacksonville State). As horrid as McGee was here, Clark may not stand to be much better. Gus Malzahn aside, the only other recent high school coach coaching at an FBS program isn't exactly killing it (Bill Blankenship, Tulsa). Considering that the administration is acting almost as if they could give a damn less about football, the facilities are just absolutely awful, and the stadium situation has UAB playing in a cavernous place with all of the atmosphere of a rock quarry. Fan support is abysmal, and without full bore administrative support, Clark has been set up to fail. Not that he likely wouldn't do that all on his own.
Grade: F

New Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Because sticking with the Carroll coaching tree worked so well with the Lane Kiffin hire, the Trojans head back to the well with the hire of Sarkisian away from Washington. Yeah, Sarkisian had that amazing win cap at eight in any given year at Washington, a program which technically should have been a major player, so my expectations for his success at USC is...more of the same. Apparently USC is enjoying an era of mediocrity, because this hire had all of the innovativeness of vanilla ice cream. Maybe if Sarkisian fails to get the Trojans back to the top of the food chain, Pat Haden should go out the door with him.
Grade: C

New Coach: Derek Mason
Mason coached a defense at Stanford that had true NFL grit. He may have some startup issues, as recruiting thinned out when James Franklin left for Penn State, but Mason is no joke. The only thing missing is head coaching experience here. Mason may make Vanderbilt fans very happy, just remain patient while he rebuilds the recruiting base. Mason may just end up being one of the best coaches in the SEC when all is said and done. Remember, Vanderbilt and Stanford are both academic first kinds of schools, so Mason also understands this philosophy, and wins around it.
Grade: A+

Wake Forest
New Coach: Dave Clawson
Clawson comes over to the Deacons after a surprise run saw him lead Bowling Green to the MAC title in 2013. Clawson, before that momentous event, was highly average at BGSU. This may have been an average hire at best, and Wake needed a huge home run. One thing to lean on, however, is that Clawson successfully coached in this region, and won solidly at Richmond before. I'm really on the fence with this hire. It could work, but it may not.
Grade: C

New Coach: Chris Petersen
How can you fail when you hire a guy who has been recruited for virtually every single job that has opened within the last five years? Petersen was a mid major master at Boise State, and we all know this. All we don't know is how will this transition to a power conference school that has largely underperformed for 20 years go? We will soon find out, and we will all enjoy the ride that this will be.
Grade: A++

Western Kentucky
New Coach: Jeff Brohm
Petrino was a short timer from the day he started, but Jeff Brohm may stick around and give WKU some stability. Brohm has been mentioned as a prospect for the coaching game for a while now, and I am happy for him to get a job where the program is already on the rise. Brohm understands the state of Kentucky, and could tap a deep well of local prospects in the south. I have high hopes here.
Grade: A

New Coach: Craig Bohl
Bohl has been one of the more dominant coaches on any level at North Dakota State, where he built a title winning machine on the FCS level. The Dave Christensen hire ended up being a disaster for the Cowboys, but Bohl will bring a winning mentality to a school where the administration has know nothing but upheaval for the last year or so. As a former Nebraska assistant, and coach at NDSU, Bohl clearly understands the region, and he has to know what I do, and that is that Wyoming can clearly become a winning program. This hire, for me, is a massive hit.
Grade: A++

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2014 Preview

As we head into the summer season, there's no time like the present to take a look at which coaches in college football will be feeling the heat in 2014. Several coaches survived the firing squad last fall, but many of those who skated by last fall won't be so lucky this season. Let's see who makes the list this time around:

Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Calhoun isn't a bad coach. He's done some nice things at the academy, but the real truth is that the program is trending downward in a hurry. Year eight of the Calhoun era should be a make or break season. Expectations are that the Falcons will finish at about .500 in 2014, but if they Finish with 9 losses or more, Calhoun's overall record falls below .500. Something else to note... Air Force hasn't won a league title in 29 years.

Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Nobody is saying that Bielema is going to get canned after just his second season in Fayettville, but believe me, the heat is on for him in year two after a season that was an abject disaster. Bielema walked into a chainsaw taking this job on the heels of the disastrous end to the Bobby Petrino era and the mistake that was the one year John L. Smith disaster. That being said, he will need another year to get the Hogs close to returning to their winning ways of old. However, I have seem few guarantees that those days are anywhere close. Unlike many of the coaches on this list, at least Bielema has a major weapon in the form of Alex Collins on offense.

Dan Enos, Central Michigan
Enos has gone just 19-20 in four seasons at CMU. He has not shown a propensity of moving up by beating anyone of note in or out of conference play. This is seriously his make or break season, as the Chippewas play seven games at home, have nine returning starters on offense, and six on defense. If that experience cannot get CMU to seven wins or more this season, with the skill he has on the roster, then Enos will be a dead pooler by season's end. That is a guarantee.

Will Muschamp, Florida
Most folks in Gator nation wanted Muschamp to end up as Gator bait over the winter. It did not happen. There are about seven million reasons why that didn't happen, but the number may not mean a damned thing in 2014 of Florida doesn't show serious improvement on both sides of the football. That loss to Georgia Southern last fall was a massive embarrassment, and Muschamp doesn't have the chips in his corner that come with a shining personality that can talk your way out of a bad year or two. Most people (fans and media alike) are not fans of his, and if Muschamp doesn't lead the Gators to at least a serious shot at the SEC East Divisional title this season, he may be shown the door.

Ron Turner, Florida International
There were several people who felt that Turner was a mistake hire and wanted him gone after just one season. That would have been a bit hasty, but who can blame them when his overall record in college is just 42-70. I wasn't a fan of the Turner hire at FIU, and obviously, others felt the same way. Turner's 1-11 season in year one bought him zero goodwill, so another repeat of that, especially with nine returning starters on offense coming back, may get him an early axe.

Mark Richt, Georgia
Richt is perennially on the hot seat at Georgia, but really and truly, his teams have underachieved more than overachieved during his tenure. The Bulldogs lost five games last season, and that was with Aaron Murray at QB until his season ending injury late in that season. Murray isn't walking through that door anymore, and the replacements aren't up to his ability yet. Todd Gurley will have the load squarely on his shoulders, and he'll be running behind a rebuilt line. There could be some grumbling in Athens this fall.

Trent Miles, Georgia State
Miles has never known a great deal of success as a head coach on the FCS level, and the Panthers went 0-12 in his first season in 2013. Miles doesn't have a stocked cupboard in 2014, and has only five returning starters in 2014 on offense. With an overall coaching record of 20-48, it would stand to reason to believe that Miles won't be lasting long at this post.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
After consecutive seven win seasons, Tech fans are expecting more in 2014. The staff remained intact (which is a surprise), and recruiting has stepped up, but how much can we expect of the Jackets this fall? They have to win close games, and find a way to beat Georgia. Tech had the Bulldogs on the ropes before blowing the game and losing in double OT. Losses like that are bad for business, and the fan base is starting to have some demands. Johnson has to turn a corner in year seven in Atlanta.

Norm Chow, Hawaii
Chow is 4-20 in his first two seasons at UH, and his tenure has been largely a disaster of epic proportions. Sure, they lost several close games last fall, but they finished 1-11, and went winless in conference play last fall, and Rainbow fans aren't used to this kind of thing. The schedule won't provide any early favors this season, and another repeat will show Chow an exit to retirement earlier than expected.

Tim Beckman, Illinois
Beckman was on his way out late last season, but managed to pull it together just enough to save his position with the Illini at the 11th hour. Beckman will be under immense pressure to turn it around this fall, and it's to be expected that Illinois must win at least six games in 2014 to keep Beckman in his job.

Paul Rhoades, Iowa State
Coming off of a 3-9 season, Rhoades is now just 27-36 while entering his 6th season at the helm of the Cyclones. ISU breaks in a new QB, and welcomes OC Mark Mangino, but will it be enough to get the Cyclones in the upper division of the Big 12? If you look at the schedule, I'm thinking not, as they could be 0-6 through mid October. That may be enough to get Rhoades his walking papers.

Charlie Weis, Kansas
Weis had access to more talent at Notre Dame, and barely got by, which got him ousted. Kansas has never really been what I would call a football hotbed, and so even though he has landed several very decent transfers, The high water mark was three wins. Weis is just 4-20 in two seasons, and will need to push at least .500 this season. I don't see where those six wins will come from.

Randy Edsell, Maryland
Edsell turned a bit of a corner by winning seven games in 2013, but the stakes are a little bit higher, as the Terps move into the Big 10 to try and "increase their profile". If you can't win regularly in the ACC, then how will they win bigger in the Big 10? I don't see it. Edsell is 13-24 in three seasons, so 2014 may be make or break for him.

Justin Fuentes, Memphis
Memphis actually took a step back in year two under Fuentes in 2013, falling to three wins from four in year one. He is 7-17 in two seasons, and it's that year three thing where it's time to show major progression. I believe that Fuentes may be in over his head at a program who hasn't won a conference title since 1971 (Missouri Valley).

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mullen is likely not in real trouble, having compiled a 36-28 record in five seasons. The real issue is that at some point, I have to wonder when winning six or seven wins won't be enough anymore. Missouri and Texas A&M have far surpassed MSU in their own conference, as has South Carolina. It's kind of sad when you think about it in those terms.

Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie is building at New Mexico, and they are moving upward. There is more depth than ever right now, and the team could move up from three wins to five or six this season. That's great, but a fall back would be terrible. If Davie can keep this train moving in the right direction, even to just five wins, than we aren't having this conversation anymore.

Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Martin has never been a great coach. He has a career record of 31-63, and let's face it...the only reason he has the job is that he was the only one who wanted it after DeWayne Walker left. This is probably one of the two worst jobs in the country. Martin went 2-10 in his first season, and changed a ton of staff after the season. If it doesn't pan out, there isn't any other place to look but at the top. Moving to the Sun Belt won't help much.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina
I have never been overly impressed by Fedora, who has never stayed anywhere long enough to get a good feel about. With several major losses as far as personnel is concerned, and a tough schedule, it could be a six win season again. That's not enough to make me dump all over UNC, but they should be better than this. I give him two years before I really turn up my heat dial.

Mike Riley, Oregon State
Riley has been ok in tour two in Corvallis, but talent is diving, and after Sean Mannion loses Brandin Cooks, does he have other talent to make up for his loss? Does a lacking running game improve enough to help settle the difference? Can the Beavers make a mark in the ultra competitive Pac-12 North? Riley has his hands full, and he may not be able to push this team as hard as they need to be pushed.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Flood has not matched the success of Greg Schiano, and moving to the Big 10 may be a massive mistake for the overmatched Knights. Rutgers could barely scrape by in the Big East/AAC, so what makes them think that they could have a place of supremecy in a much tougher conference? Flood has a ton to prove, and not much time to prove it.

June Jones, SMU
I really felt that Jones could have been on the way out after last fall, but a strong finish held the wolves at bay. SMU absolutely needs a push in 2014, and they may have some talent at QB, despite the loss of the massively overrated Garrett Gilbert. They will have to slow down the offense to succeed, but the offense was only sped up to help Gilbert. Jones is just 36-41 at SMU, and the fan base was really grumbling last fall. Time to put up or get out.

Larry Blakeney, Troy
Blakeney has been at Troy forever, but the program has grown stale on his watch. Blakeney has an overall record of 175-104-1 record in 23 seasons, but he has obviously forgotten how to coach a team that plays defense. All everything QB Corey Robinson is also gone. How do you recover from that? I don't know, but this ship is sinking, and new blood is needed.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
I've never been a fan of this hire, and if Tulsa can't win more than three games in 2014, than Blankenship will be under .500. 2013 was abysmal at Tulsa, and if there isn't a serious turnaround in 2014, Blankenship may not survive.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Hauck hasn't had a winning season at UNLV, and now the Rebels have lost bowl eligibility due to APR issues. Academics is what you do. You should never fail to reach postseason play over academics at a university in this country, and it's Hauck's cross to bare, as is the loss of Caleb Herring and Tim Cornett. It may be a difficult year in the desert.

Mike London, Virginia
London should be gone already. Simple as that. Virginia has been horrible, and the schedule doesn't allow for much better in 2014. I'm just shocked that he got 2014.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer is slipping. He has been at Tech forever, but it's time to pass the torch. Players aren't responding, and the talent level isn't what it should be, as evidenced by the blowout loss in the Sun Bowl. The QBs weren't good in the spring, so the Hokies offense has no answers heading into fall camp.

Dana Holgorson, West Virginia
Remember when he was going to build WVU into a power in the rebuilt Big 12? Hasn't happened, and isn't going to happen this season either. WVU looks like a mess right now, and I don't see a clear path moving forward.