Wed Jan 20 11:19am EST
Grading the season's head-coaching hires.
• Notre Dame: Brian Kelly.
As protracted and embarrassing as Charlie Weis' final untergang was in South Bend, ND did pull off the most efficient -- and successful -- coaching transition in the country. The Irish let Weis go on Nov. 30, and 10 days later they were introducing the hottest name on the market as their new top guy. Kelly's coaching bona fides are fairly unassailable: He won two national championships at Division II Grand Valley State, a conference title at formerly moribund Central Michigan and back-to-back Big East crowns during a 34-6 run at Cincinnati that included the first top-25, top-20 and top-10 finishes in school history in consecutive seasons.
Kelly also maintained a 75 percent graduation rate in his final year in Cincinnati, which surely endeared him to image-conscious ND admins. He broke some hearts (and a few eggs) in Cincy by bailing before the Bearcats' date with Florida in the Sugar Bowl, but that's the only aspect of the process that might be worth quibbling over. Grade: A
• Cincinnati: Butch Jones
It worked like gangbusters the first time, so when it came time to replace Kelly, the Bearcats went right back to the Central Michigan well. Jones steered Kelly's ship into even richer waters at CMU, delivering a 27-13 record and two MAC titles in three years while helping groom quarterback Dan LeFevour into one of the most prolific players in NCAA history. The only knock on Jones is that he, too, might be a bit of a flight risk: In 2007, he was reportedly flirting with a return to the top spot in West Virginia, where he coached wide receivers under Rich Rodriguez, after just one year at Central Michigan. Grade: A-
• South Florida: Skip Holtz
Holtz will forever be known as Lou's son, but he has achieved enough to be considered a success in his own right -- first by leading Connecticut to a conference title in its penultimate year in Division I-AA in the late nineties, and more recently by reviving an East Carolina program that had flatlined under John Thompson. From those depths, the Pirates have rebounded under Holtz to four straight bowl bids and back-to-back Conference USA titles, introducing the football world to budding NFL superstar Chris Johnson along the way. Considering USF waited until Jan. 8 to unload his embattled predecessor, Jim Leavitt -- and that Leavitt apparently still doesn't plan on going anywhere -- Lou's boy is a pretty good get. Grade: B+
• Texas Tech: Tommy Tuberville
There was never any doubt that Tuberville, still relatively young (55) and coming off a solid 85-40 run at Auburn, was going to get back into the game at some point. His wealth of experience and relatively steady hand will be a relief to a Tech program still reeling from Mike Leach's acrimonious exit, but it remains to be seen just how much he intends to maintain the Leachian wide-open passing attack that came to symbolize the Red Raiders to the rest of the nation. Publicly, Tubs has vowed to continue the "Air Raid" tradition that put Tech on the map, even going so far as to add a spread-happy offensive coordinator from Troy to the staff. But we remember how that worked out for him last time. Grade: B
• Kansas: Turner Gill
Anxious to put Mark Mangino's embarrassing, Great Santini-esque "motivational" tactics behind them, the Jayhawks quickly snapped up Gill, an overall class act who's responsible for the only signs of life (and the only winning season) at perennial bottom dweller Buffalo since the Bulls moved up to Division I-A in 1999. This hire would've been a lot sexier, though, if it had gone down a year earlier, when the Bulls were coming off an improbable MAC title run and Gill's name was so hot that Charles Barkley went on ESPN to accuse his alma mater of racism when Auburn passed on Gill to hire Gene Chizik. There was considerably less buzz this winter after the Bulls regressed to 5-7. Grade: B
• Tennessee: Derek Dooley
Tennessee deserves to be graded on a bit of a curve here, as the Vols had to scramble to fill a late-breaking void when Lane Kiffin was abruptly swept away by USC. It's not easy attracting someone willing to salvage a disintegrating recruiting class less than three weeks before signing day and willing to retain several of Kiffin's (expensive) assistants, which was reportedly the main sticking point between UT and ex-offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe before athletic director Mike Hamilton settled on Dooley.
The Vols ended up with an up-and-comer with a famous pedigree (Derek's dad is Georgia legend Vince Dooley) and a reputation as both a smart administrator and an ace recruiter. They're also stuck with their fifth choice, a guy with only three years of head-coaching experience and a 17-20 record in the WAC. Then again, that's still better than Lane Kiffin's career record when he arrived in Knoxville in December 2008. As a matter of fact, it's better than Kiffin's record after his only season at UT, too, so maybe we should just call it even. Grade: C
Louisiana-Monroe: Todd Berry
Elite coaches are not exactly clamoring to be interviewed in Monroe, La., but one still wonders how much the Warhawks actually care about their football program if they're willing to hire Berry, whose only stint as a I-A head coach was a 5-36 disaster at Army from 2000-03. Berry was fired halfway through the '03 season, in which the Black Knights went on to become the first 0-13 tea in college football history; he's remembered in West Point mainly for his poor relationships with academy alumni, who suspected him of ditching Army's option-based offense for a pro-style scheme to position himself for a better job.
Berry's predecessor at Monroe, Charlie Weatherbie, actually led the Warhawks to their only two non-losing seasons since moving up from I-AA in 1994, managing to come in at 6-6 in 2007 and 2009, and posted a winning record in Sun Belt play in four of his six seasons. ULM evidently expects more from its program than it' has achieved at any point since moving out of the Southland Conference, but there's little evidence that Berry is the man to accomplish it. Grade: F