Forde-Yard Dash: Coaching hires gone right, wrong and somewhere in between

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Busch Light sold separately for sad binge drinking in Ames):

[More Dash: 10 key developments | October games | NCAA on the clock]

THIRD QUARTER

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With the inevitable but abrupt firing of Chris Ash at Rutgers on Sunday, the coaching carousel has lurched into action. There will be more activity in the weeks to come.

The Ash-Rutgers marriage, undertaken in 2016, was never a strong one. The demands of that job didn’t match what he brought to the table as an assistant coach at Ohio State. But it went even worse than expected, with Ash winning just eight of his 40 games on the job and taking a 16-game losing streak to Power Five opponents into unemployment. The only thing worse than the hire was the ludicrous contract extension Ash was given in 2017, which did nothing other than guarantee a higher buyout for the school when the time came.

Let’s take a look at some other hires made around the same time, and how they’ve turned out so far:

GOOD HIRES GONE WRONG

Justin Fuente (21), Virginia Tech. Record at Tech: 27-17. ACC record: 15-12.

Fuente had done the borderline impossible, building a winner at Memphis, and several Power Five schools were interested in him when Virginia Tech closed the deal behind the scenes in November 2015. But as chronicled by colleague Pete Thamel, Fuente’s tenure in Blacksburg has unexpectedly spiraled from promising to the brink of disaster.

The Hokies have gone from 10-4 to 9-4 to 6-7 to an ugly 2-2 this year, and have lost six of their past seven ACC games (at a time when the ACC is quite weak). There were plenty of transfers last year after the program’s first losing season in three decades, and reports of poor team chemistry and morale. Tech players guaranteed an improved attitude for this season, and the return of a veteran defense lifted hopes for a bounce-back season. But if anything, the on-field performance has gotten worse in 2019, bottoming out Saturday in a 45-10 loss to Duke — Tech’s worst home defeat since 1974.

Charlie Strong (22), South Florida. Record at USF: 18-11. AAC record: 9-8.

Strong was a coach on the rebound after being fired at Texas, and this looked like the perfect landing spot for a guy who had great success at Louisville and who was among the most connected recruiters in the state of Florida. Everything was fine — better than fine — for a season and a half. And since then it’s been a debacle.

Strong’s USF record his first 19 games: 17-2, rising as high as No. 17 in the polls. His record since: 1-9. Eight of those nine losses have been by double digits. The only win was over FCS South Carolina State. Against FBS competition this season, the Bulls have been outscored 111-31. Last year, South Florida became the first team to start a season 7-0 and finish 7-6. This season has been worse. If the Bulls don’t win at Connecticut on Saturday, they may not win again this year.

South Florida Bulls head coach Charlie Strong looks on during a college football game. (Getty)
South Florida Bulls head coach Charlie Strong looks on during a college football game. (Getty)

QUESTIONABLE HIRES GONE RIGHT

Bronco Mendenhall (23), Virginia. Record at Virginia: 20-23. ACC record: 10-16.

In the commonwealth of Virginia, Fuente and Mendenhall have performed the gridiron version of the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Fuente sprinted to a fast start but has lost his way, while Mendenhall has resolutely made progress. He seemed like a strange fit after coming from BYU and spending his entire coaching career in the West, but the Cavaliers keep getting better on his watch.

Toss out his 2-10 debut season, rebuilding in the wake of the Mike London Era, and the record looks much better. He’s 18-12 since then, 4-1 this year, and this team might well earn the Cavaliers their first ACC Coastal Division title. Along the way, Mendenhall would be well-advised to beat Virginia Tech for the first time since he came to Charlottesville.

Ed Orgeron (24), LSU. Record at LSU: 29-9. SEC record: 16-7.

At the time he was upgraded from interim coach to full-time boss in the wake of a Jimbo Fisher rejection, this seemed like an Accent Hire. He talked like a local, let’s give him the job. Just because Coach O was of the bayou, by the bayou and for the bayou, that didn’t guarantee he’d be a success. Especially given his track record in three lousy years as the head coach at Mississippi.

But he’s had a good run that has the chance to get much better. Last year, LSU won 10 games for the first time since 2013. That included a New Year’s Six bowl bid and a victory over undefeated Central Florida. This year, powered by fresh offensive innovation, LSU might finally have a team that can threaten Alabama after eight straight losses.

Matt Rhule (25), Baylor. Record at Baylor: 12-17. Big 12 record: 6-13.

Much of the time, geographic fit is overrated — but even with that in mind, this was an odd one.

Rhule was about as Texas as clam chowder when he was hired to repair the disaster in Waco. He’s a New York native and Penn State alum who had spent all but one year in his football career on the East Coast. And even for the coaches who know the terrain, the recruiting can be vicious in Texas.

Turns out, he was just what Baylor needed. Since a 1-11 transition season, Rhule has gone 11-6. That includes a 4-0 start this year, highlighted by an upset of Iowa State on Saturday. The school announced Sunday that it had extended Rhule’s contract to 2027. Maybe they’ll add clam chowder to the menu at George’s, the big hangout near campus in Waco.

COOKIE-CUTTER HIRES GONE WRONG

Mike Bobo (26), Colorado State. Record at CSU: 25-31. Mountain West record: 17-17.

Bobo was hired to be Jim McElwain 2.0 — an SEC offensive coordinator who could continue Mac’s 32-17 run from 2012-14. It hasn’t happened. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Rams slipped to 3-9 as Bob dealt with health issues. This season has started no better — CSU is 1-4, with the lone victory over FCS Western Illinois. With a two-year-old stadium to fill, there seems to be a high likelihood of change coming to Fort Collins.

Randy Edsall (27), Connecticut. Record at UConn the second time around: 5-23. AAC record: 2-15.

Since Edsall took the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, UConn’s past three hires have been disasters — Paul Pasqualoni, Bob Diaco and Randy Edsall 2.0. A ninth straight losing season seems a lock at this point, because this UConn team is nearly as bad as last year’s 1-11 tire fire. Coaches on the rebound from being fired are always a risk, and coaches on the rebound from getting fired returning to their old school all the more so. Edsall 2.0 hasn’t beaten an FBS team since mid-2017. The “good” news is that UConn is taking the air out of the football program by moving back to the Big East, which means nobody in the Nutmeg State has to pretend to care what happens on the gridiron.

UNIMAGINATIVE HIRES GONE WRONG

Clay Helton (28), USC. Record at USC: 35-19. Pac-12 record: 25-12.

This was an interim promotion that allowed the Trojans to stay in their eternal comfort zone, never looking outside to elevate the program to where it once was and always should be at the top of the Pac-12. Without personal savior Sam Darnold as his starting quarterback, Helton’s record is 9-11. At a place where 9-11 is never good enough. USC probably won’t move on Helton yet, but a loss at Notre Dame to start 3-3 could put the writing on the wall. If it’s not there already.

Clay Helton of the USC Trojans looks on from the sidelines during a game. (Getty)
Clay Helton of the USC Trojans looks on from the sidelines during a game. (Getty)

Will Muschamp (29), South Carolina. Record at South Carolina: 24-20. SEC record: 13-14.

Somehow, the school convinced itself that Muschamp would succeed in the same division of the same conference where he previously failed — and failed at a program with much greater natural advantages than South Carolina. He hasn’t been terrible as coach of the Gamecocks, but he also hasn’t hit the high points of predecessor Steve Spurrier. And he hasn’t come close to beating rival Clemson. With a prohibitive buyout, Muschamp will probably get a fifth year in 2020. But a team he proclaimed to be his best in Columbia could wind up with a losing record.

Kalani Sitake (30), BYU. Record at BYU: 22-22.

He was a BYU player and a Mormon to boot, so what could go wrong? Well, a few things. Life as an independent isn’t easy, but it probably shouldn’t be as hard as Sitake has made it look the past two-plus seasons. He’s hit some high points — a stunning win at Wisconsin last year, plus victories over USC, Tennessee and Arizona. But there have been losses to East Carolina, UMass, Northern Illinois, and now Toledo last Saturday. BYU’s two wins this season have both come in overtime, and the victory at Tennessee was a certified miracle. The Cougars aren’t too far from being 0-5 at this point.

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