February 14, 2011
A weeklong grade book for the offseason coaching hires. Today: Established head coaches moving up the career ladder at more prominent jobs.
• Jerry Kill (Minnesota)
Coming from: Northern Illinois, fresh off matching the school record for wins in a season (10), broken in Kill's absence with the Huskies' blowout win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Replacing: Tim Brewster, who became first coaching casualty of 2010 in the midst of a 1-6 start that brought his record in Minneapolis to 15-30 in three-and-a-half years, with losses along the way at the hands of Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic, North Dakota, South Dakota and, yes, Northern Illinois.
Most Impressive Resumé Line: Besides being named "Kill," he's been a consistent winner at all four stops in 17 seasons as a head coach: Only one of Kill's teams in that span (Southern Illinois in 2005) failed to at least match the record of the team before it, and even the '05 Salukis earned a share of the Gateway Conference championship and the third of five straight trips to the I-AA/FCS playoffs.
Biggest Drawback: Kill's three-year stint at NIU was his first foray onto the I-A/FBS stage after more than 25 years winding throughout the lower levels, but at 50, he's hardly an up-and-comer. He's also faced some persistent health issues over the last five years, .
Key Intangible(s): Sets a new, daunting standard for head coaches who closely resemble the school mascot.
Grade: A–. There aren't many coaches on the market with a career record (127-73) more than 50 games over .500, even if the vast majority of the wins came in small-college obscurity. Assuming the Gophers aren't going to be challenging for Big Ten titles under pretty much any circumstances (last Rose Bowl: 1961, the longest drought in the conference), Kill is a steady presence that can give them a solid string of bowl games and the occasional run at something bigger, without the wholesale collapses that bookended the Brewster era.
• TODD GRAHAM (Pittsburgh)
Coming from: Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricane won at least 10 games and a share of the Conference USA West title in three of Graham's four seasons.
Replacing: Mike Haywood, who lasted 17 days on the job before being fired over a felony domestic assault charge on New Year's Eve. On the heels of five lackluster years under Dave Wannstedt, the bar couldn't be much lower.
Most Impressive Resumé Line: In addition to the division titles, Graham's winning teams at Tulsa also led the nation in total offense twice (2007-08) and finished in the top six in both total and scoring offense three times, in 2007-08 and 2010.
Biggest Drawback: Graham's background is on defense – Tulsa's outsized success on offense in 2007-08 was largely attributed to his co-offensive coordinators, Gus Malzahn and Herb Hand. The Hurricane defense never finished higher than 74th nationally in Graham's four seasons, and twice finished in the bottom twenty.
Key Intangible(s): Has never been arrested.
Grade: B+. Graham's record speaks for itself: His only team at Rice rebounded from a 1-10 flop to end a 45-year bowl drought in 2006; his first two teams at Tulsa both played for the C-USA championship in 2007-08; after a 5-6 mulligan in 2009, his last team at UT upset Notre Dame to kickstart a seven-game winning streak to close the season, and averaged upwards of 500 yards and 40 points per game without Malzahn or Hand on staff. Under the circumstances, the Panthers weren't going to do much better in a search that began abruptly in January.
• PETE LEMBO (Ball State)
Coming from: Elon, a small, church-affiliated school in North Carolina, where Lembo led seven wins over ranked FCS teams in five seasons and took the Phoenix to the I-AA/FCS playoffs for the first time.
Replacing: Stan Parrish, who went 6-19 over two seasons in his first head coaching gig since leading Kansas State into infamy as the nation's most hopeless program in the late eighties.
Most Impressive Resumé Line: Before raising Elon from the ashes, Lembo earned a national coach of the year nod in 2001, his first year as a head coach, for leading Lehigh to a perfect regular season and the quarterfinals of the national playoffs. He took the Mountain Hawks back to the playoffs in 2004.
Biggest Drawback: Has no experience in any capacity above the I-AA/FCS level.
Key Intangible(s): Considers Ball State a significant step up.
Grade: B+. Even Ball State fans aren't that jazzed about a balding, bespectacled guy they'd never heard of before he was handed the keys to their ailing program. But Lembo only has one losing season in nine years as a head coach (his first season at Elon, in which the Phoenix improved from 3-8 in 2005 to 5-6) and has the best career winning percentage (.687) by a mile of any new coach with previous experience hired this offseason.
• AL GOLDEN (Miami)
Coming from: Temple, black hole in which Golden was able to bring some light in the form of the school's first back-to-back winning seasons in 30 years.
Replacing: Randy Shannon, whose substantial improvements to the Hurricanes' academic and criminal records were easily overshadowed by his team's clear step back last year in a make-or-break campaign.
Most Impressive Resumé Line: Did we mention back-to-back winning seasons at Temple? The year before Golden's arrival, the Owls were 0-11 in 2005 and had just been booted from the Big East for a solid decade of all-purpose futility. Golden won almost as many games (17) in his last two seasons in Philly as his predecessor, Bobby Wallace, won in eight (19).
Biggest Drawback: Has a losing record in limited experience as a head coach (27-34 over five years), and only two of those wins came against teams that finished with a winning record – Navy in 2009 and BCS-bound UConn last September.
Key Intangible(s): Comes from square-jawed roots under mentors Tom O'Brien, Joe Paterno (as a player and coach) and Al Groh, and reportedly has players "fired up" by Golden's hands-on emphasis on discipline.
Grade: B. Considering he was perpetually floated as a possible replacement for Joe Paterno at his alma mater, it's not like Miami went out on a limb for a neophyte – at least Golden comes with experience as a head coach, unlike the 'Canes' last two hires, Shannon and Larry Coker. But they're clearly more interested in striking, uh, gold with an up-and-comer hitting the prime of his career than in a more accomplished resumé.
• BRADY HOKE (Michigan)
Coming from: San Diego State, fresh from the Aztecs' first winning season in more than a decade in Hoke's second year.
Replacing: Rich Rodriguez, a competent profession who found himself in a wrong place/wrong time situation with the deck stacked against him from day one or a ham-fisted sadist who systematically detonated the century-old pillars of Michigan Football, depending on your perspective. Whatever the baby steps the Wolverines were taking over the course of Rich Rod's tenure, they were effectively negated by the catastrophic ending.
Most Impressive Resumé Line: It took a while, but Hoke finally broke through at Ball State with a 12-0 regular season in 2008, his sixth season in Muncie, and quickly raised SDSU from the embarrassment of the Chuck Long era. But his advocates in Michigan seem at least as impressed by his stint as defensive line coach on Lloyd Carr's staff from 1995-2002, and on the Wolverines' 1997 national championship team, in particular.
Biggest Drawback: Also has a losing record as a head coach: 47-50 over eight years, with three winning seasons to five that finished sub-.500.
Key Intangible(s): Has a connection to the pre-Rodriguez era, is known and liked in Michigan circles, more or less openly lobbied for the job and said he'd walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor if necessary. Says all the right things to establish himself as the anti-Rodriguez.
Grade: B–. The Wolverines should be significantly better this fall, regardless of the coach: They get back a huge number of starters. a star quarterback and a defense that must improve as a matter of statistical inevitability. But (successes notwithstanding) Hoke doesn't have many skins on the wall for a job of this caliber and comes across as something of a sentimental, "family" hire, which will only sustain warm feelings among the faithful until the ball is snapped.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.