Grading the first-year college football coaches

Mike Huguenin

The coaching carousel is spinning furiously this offseason – there have been 25 new hires and more are on the way – and it's not as if last year had a slow offseason.

There were 22 changes made after last season (that doesn't include interim coaches named during the summer at North Carolina and Ohio State), and the new guys had wildly varying results. Thirteen led their teams to bowl, including two whose squads will play in BCS games. But there also were four new coaches whose teams won three or fewer games, and one of those squads had won nine games last season.

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Here's a look at how we have graded the 22 first-year coaches; they are listed alphabetically by school.

Grade: A

Arkansas State, Hugh Freeze

Record: 10-2
Buzz: Freeze's hiring was surprising in a way; he had been the Red Wolves' offensive coordinator in 2010, and after Steve Roberts was fired as coach after the '10 season, Freeze was promoted to replace Roberts. The move paid off in a big way, for the school and for Freeze. The Red Wolves won the Sun Belt title for the first time since 2005, and Freeze parlayed his team's success into the coaching job at Ole Miss, where he once had been an assistant. Arkansas State led the Sun Belt in total offense and total defense; the only other school to lead its conference in both categories was Boise State in the Mountain West.

Louisiana-Lafayette, Mark Hudspeth

Record: 9-4
Buzz: Hudspeth had been wide receiver coach at Mississippi State, and he took a team picked to finish last in the nine-team Sun Belt and instead led them to nine wins. ULL won the New Orleans Bowl last week on a last-play field goal; it was the Ragin' Cajuns' first bowl appearance. ULL made huge strides offensively this season despite breaking in a new starting quarterback and having a true freshman at tailback.

Michigan, Brady Hoke

Record: 10-2
Buzz: Hoke left San Diego State and arrived at a Michigan program that had a full cupboard on offense. But the defense had been atrocious, and Hoke made a masterful hire at defensive coordinator when he snagged Greg Mattison away from the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. The Wolverines' offense isn't as good as it was last season, but the defense made huge strides – and that improvement is why the Wolverines are in their first BCS bowl since the 2006 season. Hoke is a good fit at Michigan, and assuming his recruits pan out, the Wolverines will be back among the Big Ten's elite for the foreseeable future.

Northern Illinois, Dave Doeren

Record: 10-3
Buzz: Doeren came into a good situation and made it even better, leading the Huskies to their first MAC title since 1983. Though Doeren had been defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, NIU's offense led the way. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was a shrewd hire by Doeren, and his unit was prolific all season. The defense, on the other hand, was poor and ranked 84th nationally. That said, just two starters were back on that side of the ball, and given Doeren's background and that eight defensive starters will return next season, NIU's defense may be able to carry the offense in 2012.

Stanford, David Shaw

Record: 11-1
Buzz: There were more than a few skeptics when Stanford officials promoted the mild-mannered Shaw from his offensive coordinator role to coach when fiery Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers. While Shaw had been OC, he was not the play-caller, and critics of the promotion wondered if he was ready for the leap in responsibilities. Going by the on-field results, Shaw was ready. For the second season in a row, the Cardinal's only regular-season loss was to Oregon, and for the most part, Stanford mowed down foes. The offense actually was better this season, though the defense wasn't quite as effective. Stanford is in its second consecutive BCS bowl, but a third in a row is unlikely because of all the star power the Cardinal seems likely to lose on offense.

Temple, Steve Addazio

Record: 9-4
Buzz: Addazio took over a veteran team from Al Golden, who went to Miami, and kept the Owls on the same path. They won the New Mexico Bowl last weekend with a rout of Wyoming, which was just the second bowl win in school history and the first since 1979. Addazio and his staff ramped up the offense, and the defense remained stingy. Addazio is known as a good recruiter, especially in the Northeast, and he has a chance to keep Temple among the best teams in the MAC. The big concern for next season is rebuilding the offensive line, which loses four starters.

Vanderbilt, James Franklin

Record: 6-6
Buzz: Franklin has been relentlessly positive since being named coach, and while some scoffed, Franklin – and his players – believed. The result is just the fifth bowl in school history and only the second postseason appearance in the past 30 years. Franklin is fiery on the sideline – and can be the same with the media (remember his reaction after Tennessee beat his Commodores and Vols coach Derek Dooley crowed about it?) – and his players fed off his intensity and enthusiasm. The offense still has a ways to go, but the 2012 recruiting class looks as if it will be surprisingly strong. If the Commodores can follow up with another bowl appearance next season, the question becomes whether Vandy can keep Franklin when bigger programs come calling.

Grade: B+

West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen

Record: 9-3
Buzz: Holgorsen was supposed to spend this season as WVU's coach-in-waiting, but the behavior of former coach Bill Stewart led to Holgorsen getting the job a year early. While WVU's offense probably wasn't as sharp as Holgorsen wanted or expected, it did lift WVU to a portion of the Big East title, and the Mountaineers snagged the league's BCS bid through a tiebreaker. And a BCS bid in a coach's first season makes for a solid debut. Issues with the line caused the most offensive problems, but even with those, the offense generally scored more than enough to overcome a defense that suffered through some lapses because of roster turnover from last season. Improving the rushing attack almost certainly will be Holgorsen's goal for his second season.

Grade: B

Ball State, Pete Lembo

Record: 6-6
Buzz: Lembo is the only coach on this list who came from a FCS program ( Elon), and he and his staff did well enough to get Ball State bowl-eligible, though the Cardinals weren't selected to play in a bowl. The defense was atrocious, but the offense made enough strides that Ball State was in the hunt for the MAC West title until late November. Ball State started just five seniors in the regular-season finale, so Lembo looks to be at the controls of a program trending up.

North Texas, Dan McCarney

Record: 5-7
Buzz: The record isn't all that impressive until you consider that the Mean Green hadn't won more than three games in a season since 2004 and had won a total of six in the previous three seasons combined. McCarney is a former head coach ( Iowa State) who wasn't overwhelmed by anything he saw on the field this season. The Mean Green focused more on fundamentals this season and it paid off with a big drop in turnovers. Becoming stronger defensively will be McCarney's focus in the future; as a former defensive line coach at Florida and Iowa, that is right up his alley.

San Diego State, Rocky Long

Record: 8-5
Buzz: Long was promoted from defensive coordinator when Hoke left for Michigan, and he guided the Aztecs to their second bowl appearance in a row. The season ended with a loss in the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana-Lafayette. It was just the seventh bowl appearance in school history. The defense was a disappointment this season, and it had better make big strides in the offseason because it seems likely that personnel losses on offense will hurt that unit.

Tulsa, Bill Blankenship

Record: 8-4
Buzz: Blankenship had been Tulsa's running backs coach and didn't have to change all that much. The offense wasn't as good as it was in 2010, but the defense took some small steps and got better. All four losses came to teams in the top 25 – Boise State, Houston, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. A truer test of Blankenship as a head coach will come next season, as Tulsa loses nine starters off this season's team and will have a rebuilt offensive line and a new quarterback.

Grade: C

Connecticut, Paul Pasqualoni

Record: 5-7
Buzz: UConn went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, and while no one was expecting back-to-back BCS appearances, the Huskies still didn't make much of a mark in a weak Big East. The highlight was an upset of Rutgers, which kept the Scarlet Knights from sharing the league title. UConn's pass defense was horrendous, and the offense struggled to move the ball consistently against almost everyone.

Kent State, Darrell Hazell

Record: 5-7
Buzz: The Golden Flashes had the same record this season as they did in 2010, and the defense again far outplayed the offense. But after a 1-6 start, there were signs of life in the second half of the season, enough that Kent State could've become bowl-eligible if it had won its regular-season finale. Hazell, who had been wide receiver coach at Ohio State, has to find a way to ramp up the offense, which was held to 16 or fewer points seven times.

Miami, Al Golden

Record: 6-6
Buzz: Golden, who had been coach at Temple, deserves credit for keeping the Hurricanes focused after the Nevin Shapiro scandal broke. That said, the 'Canes underachieved relative to their talent level; they shouldn't have lost to Maryland or Boston College, though that UM already had self-imposed a bowl ban likely led to the lackluster performance against a bad BC team. The offense bogged down late in the season and the defense had problems with consistency. Golden's future success at Miami will be directly tied to what the NCAA decides to do about the Shapiro scandal.

Pittsburgh, Todd Graham

Record: 6-6
Buzz: Graham had been coach at Tulsa, and he lasted less than a year as the Panthers' coach, leaving last week for the coaching job at Arizona State. He and his staff installed new schemes on both sides of the ball, but the players, especially those on offense, had trouble grasping the new styles of play. It was especially apparent on offense, where QB Tino Sunseri was ill-suited to run Graham's version of the spread. Pitt may have been more impressive in some of its losses ( Notre Dame, Cincinnati, West Virginia) than in any of its wins. Pitt won one fewer game in the regular season this fall than in 2010 and is playing in the same bowl (BBVA Compass) as it did last season.

Grade: C-

Florida, Will Muschamp

Record: 6-6
Buzz: The Gators haven't had a losing record since 1979, but unless they beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, that streak goes by the boards. Offensive injuries hurt, but so did a startling lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. And while you can blame former coach Urban Meyer for the perceived talent shortcomings, it's up to Muschamp and his assistants – highly paid assistants – to overcome that with schemes and strategies. That didn't happen. Florida didn't beat any FBS team with a winning record. Muschamp, who had been defensive coordinator at Texas, lost his offensive coordinator when Charlie Weis became coach at Kansas.

Grade: D

Colorado, Jon Embree

Record: 3-10
Buzz: The move from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 certainly didn't pay off in terms of the won-loss record. The lone high point of the season came in the finale, when the Buffs stunned Utah and kept the Utes out of the Pac-12 South title picture. The defense was horrible; the Buffs gave up at least 31 points in 10 games and at least 40 in six. The rush offense wasn't much and the Buffs were held to 17 or fewer points eight times. Embree and his staff have to find some offensive playmakers quickly.

Indiana, Kevin Wilson

Record: 1-11
Buzz: Not much was expected of the Hoosiers, but they still were quite bad. The only win came against an FCS program, and there were losses to teams from the MAC and Sun Belt, neither of whom had a winning record. One positive for Wilson, who had been offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, is that 12 underclassmen, including five true freshmen, started in the regular-season finale. There is room for growth. But how soon will it manifest itself?

Miami (Ohio), Don Treadwell

Record: 4-8
Buzz: The RedHawks were one of the nation's biggest surprises in 2010, which included the MAC title and a bowl victory. But they were one of the biggest disappointments in 2011. They had 17 starters back but never recovered from an 0-4 start. Treadwell had been offensive coordinator at Michigan State, but his rushing attack at Miami was atrocious, ranking last nationally. That put too much pressure on the passing attack, and when that sputtered, the defense wore down.

Minnesota, Jerry Kill

Record: 3-9
Buzz: This is another team that went into the season with low expectations; unfortunately for the Gophers, they lived up to their preseason billing, including a home loss to New Mexico State – which had lost 19 in a row to Big Six opponents before upsetting Minnesota. There also was a loss to a FCS team, albeit one that has advanced to the FCS final ( North Dakota State). Kill suffered an on-field seizure in the final minute of the New Mexico State loss, and his health was a recurring topic for the rest of the season. The Gophers did show some sporadic signs of life, including upsets of Iowa and Illinois. Overall, though, the offense couldn't move the ball and the defense forced a nation's-low nine turnovers.

Grade: F

Maryland, Randy Edsall

Record: 2-10
Buzz: Edsall can coach; he proved it by taking Connecticut to the BCS last season. The Edsall era at Maryland got off to a good start, with an entertaining league victory over Miami in the opener. But it went downhill quickly. The only other win came against an FCS program (albeit one that went to the playoffs), and players have transferred out in droves. A team that went 9-4 and challenged for the ACC title in 2010 was the worst team in the league in 2011. There was no offensive identity, and the defense – Edsall's specialty – was a sieve. This recruiting cycle is vital for Edsall's long-term viability at Maryland.

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