7 new coaches who have been busts so far this college football season

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (bartenders are standing by to pour drown-your-sorrows beers in Madison):

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So, you thought the new hire was going to be The Answer. You thought he was going to fix everything that plagued the program. You thought the next level of prosperity was on the way, after getting rid of the irredeemable loser who preceded the new guy.

Guess what? You’re wrong.

At least wrong for now. It doesn’t mean you’ll still be wrong three months from now, or a year from now, or two-three-four years from now. But the flying start everyone hopes for after a coaching change isn’t happening — and it’s not happening all over this great land of ours. There has been an epidemic of bad beginnings by new coaches.

The Dash breaks down the biggest busts to date:

Willie Taggart (18), Florida State.

Record: 1-2, and outscored 54-10 by FBS competition.

Did the last guy start 1-2: No. Jimbo Fisher started 2-1.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Not enough. The Seminoles won a national title five years ago, and now are virtually unrecognizable. Although they slid to 7-6 last season, that was largely attributed to the season-ending injury to quarterback Deondre Francois in the opening game. Taggart has a healthy Francois, and the offense is still utterly inept. The problems are most pronounced on the offensive line, which has nearly gotten Francois killed and opened few holes in the running game.

Worst-case scenario: 1-11, and the great darkness is upon Tallahassee.

Best-case scenario: 4-8. Even that feels overly optimistic.

Should we panic: By all means.

Florida State coach Willie Taggart looks at the scoreboard during his team’s 30-7 loss to Syracuse. (AP)
Florida State coach Willie Taggart looks at the scoreboard during his team’s 30-7 loss to Syracuse. (AP)

Chad Morris (19), Arkansas.

Record: 1-2, with a come-from-ahead loss to Colorado State and a blowout loss to North Texas.

Did the last guy start 1-2: No. Bret Bielema started 3-0.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: A fair amount. The Razorbacks were in decline under Bret Bielema, from a modest high point of 8-5 in 2015 to 7-6 in ’16 to 4-8 last year. But this year’s team seemed to have just about everything but an experienced quarterback. They certainly haven’t found the answer there, playing four QBs thus far and watching them combine to throw eight interceptions.

Worst-case scenario: 1-11, with a succession of hide-your-eyes beatdowns in SEC West play.

Best-case scenario: 4-8, with a succession of hide-your-eyes beatdowns in SEC West play and the usual freakishly weird victory over Mississippi.

Should we panic: Probably. Either that or go back and re-litigate the thought process that led to hiring a guy with a 14-23 record in the American Athletic Conference.

Scott Frost (20), Nebraska. Record: 0-2. When the highlight to date is the storm-caused cancellation of the Akron game, it’s not good.

Did the last guy start 0-2: No. Mike Riley started 1-1. No Nebraska team has started 0-2 since 1957.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Definitely valid. The Cornhuskers slid to 4-8 last year, and it was a really bad 4-8. The defense had collapsed, and the offense was without a quarterback. And yet Nebraska fans believed the days of losing to mid-major opponents were over. Judging from his post-Troy comment Saturday, Frost is at the ground-level point of coaching attitude: “If anyone doesn’t want to stay on board this ride with us, let me know now and we can get off.”

Worst-case scenario: 0-11. If you can start 0-2 with both games at home, you can lose them all.

Best-case scenario: 5-6. The good news is that the rest of the Big Ten — especially the West — is also a huge disappointment. Plenty of winnable games remaining.

Should we panic: Not in terms of careening toward a complete program implosion. But if you thought Frost was going to conjure up the Tom Osborne days, it’s probably best to remember that Nebraska hasn’t lost fewer than four games in a season since 2003 — the year the school decided to fire Frank Solich.

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Kevin Sumlin (21), Arizona. Record: 1-2. The one win might be the worst part — the Wildcats were tied with winless FCS opponent Southern Utah at halftime Saturday before pulling away. Losing to BYU doesn’t look as bad now that the Cougars have also won at Wisconsin.

Did the last guy start 1-2: No. Rich Rodriguez started 3-0.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Not a lot. Arizona wasn’t exactly threatening to go to the Rose Bowl last year, but the Wildcats were 7-6 and Sumlin inherited a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback and nine starters on defense. Pretty much everyone on this list stepped into tougher circumstances.

Worst-case scenario: 1-11. Even the Oregon State game Saturday in Corvallis is losable. Arizona’s one road performance to date was a disaster.

Best-case scenario: 5-7. The Pac-12 South, much like the Big Ten West, is rife with bad teams.

Should we panic: Give it a week, to see if the second half against Southern Utah was a turnaround or just the byproduct of lousy competition. If Arizona loses in Corvallis, feel free to panic.

Chip Kelly (22), UCLA. Record: 0-3. With home losses to Cincinnati and Fresno State, it’s the worst UCLA start since 1971.

Did the last guy start 0-3: No. Jim Mora started 3-0.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Plenty. UCLA was 10-15 the past two years and lost the only two accomplished players on last year’s offense to the NFL in quarterback Josh Rosen and tackle Kolton Miller. What was left does not fit Kelly’s system at all, so a first-season struggle was expected.

Worst-case scenario: 0-12. Not likely, but hey …

Best-case scenario: 3-9. Even with a few opportunities against fellow Pac-12 South dreck, the Bruins’ crossover opponents from the North are a combined 11-1.

Should we panic: Not really. But when your team is doing this during a game, it’s OK to panic a little.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on from the sidelines during the Bruins’ embarrassing 38-14 loss to Fresno State on Saturday. (Getty)
UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on from the sidelines during the Bruins’ embarrassing 38-14 loss to Fresno State on Saturday. (Getty)

Dan Mullen (23), Florida. Record: 2-1. The loss was the only one the Gators have had against Kentucky since 1986. And it happened at home.

Did the last guy start 2-1: No. Jim McElwain started 3-0. Including a win over Kentucky.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Some. This team has a lot of experience. McElwain failed to fix Florida’s glaring quarterback problem, which then became Mullen’s quarterback problem. Thing is, Feleipe Franks was recruited by pretty much everyone and was ranked the No. 3 quarterback in the 2016 class by Rivals.com. He was either overrated, or his coaches haven’t gotten the most out of him.

Worst-case scenario: 4-8. Even in that bleak outlook, closing against Idaho and Florida State should mean two victories to end on.

Best-case scenario: 9-3. Maybe Kentucky (3-0) is pretty good. And the SEC East is not the SEC West.

Should we panic: No. If the season ends with a loss to FSU, then panic.

Sonny Dykes (24), Southern Methodist. Record: 0-3. Decisive losses to TCU and Michigan were not unexpected. An opening thumping from North Texas was a jolt, especially when the score was 36-0 after three quarters.

Did the last guy start 0-3: No. Chad Morris (now floundering at Arkansas, see above) started 1-2.

How much can we blame the last guy for handing off a pile of hot garbage: Dykes is the only member of the Stink List that isn’t replacing a fired coach, which would lead to a presumption that the program was in good shape. Except SMU really didn’t accomplish much of anything under Morris. Still, he did leave Dykes a 3,500-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a lot of defensive experience. This wasn’t a complete pile of garbage by any stretch.

Worst-case scenario: 1-11, with a win over Houston Baptist on Sept. 29 as the high point. Even Connecticut (on the road in November) is theoretically losable.

Best-case scenario: 6-6 and a random December bowl bid.

Should we panic: SMU fans should be too beaten down over the past 30 years to bother panicking about bad football.


It’s not bad news everywhere. The Dash salutes six guys who are off to solid-or-better starts:

Joe Moorhead (25), Mississippi State. He’s 3-0, which was the expectation. But the manner in which the Bulldogs have reached 3-0 probably exceeds most outlooks. Dominating Kansas State on the road is the highlight to date. MSU is outgaining its opponents by 4.47 yards per play, which might be the widest margin in the country thus far.

Jimbo Fisher (26), Texas A&M. He’s being blamed by all the Florida State fans for leaving both a Christmas tree on the curb and an allegedly lousy product behind in Tallahassee. He’s simultaneously being hailed for invigorating the allegedly lousy product left behind by Sumlin. That’s life on the coaching carousel. Fisher is 2-1 with an offense rolling up numbers even the Johnny Manziel-era Aggies couldn’t match — so far. It all gets very real Saturday when A&M leaves College Station for the first time and goes to (gulp) Alabama.

Mario Cristobal (27), Oregon. The Ducks are 3-0 and Justin Herbert is still healthy, which has everyone feeling better in Eugene after seasons of 4-8 and 7-6 the last two years. But the schedule has been a cakewalk so far: Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State, combined record 2-7. The next four games are against Pac-12 North rivals, which will say much more about where Oregon stands.

Herm Edwards (28), Arizona State. The surprise euphoria of beating Michigan State was tempered by the subsequent (and somewhat controversial) loss to San Diego State, leaving the Sun Devils about where they should be at 2-1. Two games of stout run defense were followed by an utter shredding at the hands of the Aztecs, who ran for 311 yards. At the very least, the program has not immediately regressed the way some feared when Edwards was surprisingly hired.

Josh Heupel (29), UCF. Scott Frost is winless without McKenzie Milton, and Milton is undefeated without Frost. That also means Heupel has started his head-coaching career undefeated, with easy wins over UConn and South Carolina State followed by a canceled game against North Carolina. Heupel has kept the UCF offensive machine rolling at almost the exact same rate as last year; the challenge will be maintaining that rate as the competition (theoretically) gets tougher.

Sean Lewis (30), Kent State. In the opener at Illinois, the Golden Flashes came close to notching their first victory ever over a Big Ten opponent. Kent State led 17-3 and was tied in the fourth quarter before the Illini scored the winning touchdown. For a program that has gone 14-45 over the past five years to come that close is an encouraging sign.

Your new coach neither stinks nor smells great yet: Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee; Jonathan Smith, Oregon State; Mike Bloomgren, Rice; Dana Dimel, UTEP; Billy Napier Louisiana-Lafayette; Steve Campbell, South Alabama.

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