A weeklong grade book for the offseason coaching hires. Previously: Grading the Up-and-Comers. … Grading the Climbers. Today: New head coaches coming from formative years in the NFL.
CURTIS JOHNSON • Tulane
Age: 50 Alma Mater: Idaho.
Replacing: Bob Toledo, who went out last October as the tenth of Tulane's eleven head coaches over the last 60 years to leave with a losing record, a victim list that includes a young Mack Brown. (The only exception: Tommy Bowden, who arrived with innovative offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez in 1997, turned in what must be the most improbable undefeated season in NCAA history in 1998 and booked the first seat on the first plane to Clemson before the bowl game.) Toledo turned in his resignation on the heels of a 44-7 loss to UTEP that marked the Green Wave's fourth consecutive defeat and brought Toledo's overall record in New Orleans to 15-40 in four-and-a-half years; the Green Wave went on to lose six straight after that to finish 2-10.
Previously On: Johnson spent a decade bouncing around various Western campuses (Idaho, San Diego State, SMU, California) before landing on Butch Davis' staff at Miami in 1996, where he'd go on to coach three soon-to-be household names — Andre Johnson, Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne — and pick up a national championship ring as the Hurricanes' wide receivers coach. From there, he caught on as receivers coach with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the same year Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans as a free agent, and has spent the last six years riding the wave (no pun intended) of one of the most prolific passing games in NFL history.
[ Related: Grading the up-and-coming coaches ]
Best Resumé Line: Johnson has been associated with a lot of big names, none of them bigger than fellow New Orleanians/future Hall-of-Famers Marshall Faulk and Ed Reed, both of whom Johnson is credited with recruiting to San Diego State and Miami, respectively. The simple fact that he's a Big Easy native and knows how to find and connect with local players could open up recruiting channels that Tulane has never exploited before.
Biggest Drawback: At six different stops over 25 years, Johnson has only held one title: Wide receivers coach. He has no experience as a head coach or coordinator.
Grade B: Johnson has national championship and Super Bowl rings, he can recruit New Orleans and he knows full well that the Tulane job is a Bermuda Triangle for head coaches. He also comes aboard just as the university is making a genuine commitment to football for the first time in ages in the form of a new, $60 million on-campus stadium expected to take the Green Wave out of the echoing canyon that is the Superdome by the fall of 2014. Thirty-thousand mostly filled seats in the Garden District is a dramatically better scenario than 50,000 empty seats downtown, and if Johnson can hang on that long, his prospects will be significantly less hopeless.
BILL O'BRIEN • Penn State
Read More »from Meet the New Boss: Grading the Professionals
Age: 42 Alma Mater: Brown.
Replacing: Joe Paterno, whose unmatched, 46-year tenure at Penn State needs no introduction. In five decades on the job, JoePa set Division I records for wins (409) and bowl games (37), as well as 29 consensus All-Americans, 22 top-10 finishes, five undefeated seasons, three Big Ten championships and two national championships, while also cultivating a reputation as the embodiment of building an elite program while maintaining an emphasis on education, community and fidelity to NCAA rules. His controversial ouster and subsequent death of lung cancer in a span of three months has left deep scars that will probably remain visible throughout O'Brien's tenure and beyond.