Grading college football's coaching hires

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Now that Wisconsin has a new Badger boss, the college football coaching carousel is grinding to a merciful stop.

It has been a busy winter for job changes. Again.

Last year there were 28 openings at FBS schools. You’d think that high number would slow down the pace the following year, but only a little. Right now the number stands at 26. Since 2010, nearly half of FBS has turned over.

That means schools are more impatient than ever for results, and coaches are more willing than ever to pick up and leave in search of a bigger payday or brighter spotlight. College football has never been more of a bottom-line business than it is right now.

With 24 of the 26 FBS jobs now filled, this seems like a good time to categorize and grade the hires – with the large caveat that none of us really knows how these will work out.


These schools all made surprise hires of coaches who were arguably overqualified for the job:

Arkansas: Bret Bielema.

Last stop: Wisconsin, where he guided the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls and had the highest winning percentage (.739) of any coach since the mid-1920s.

Why leave: More money, bigger challenge, better facilities, less shadow from athletic director and program patriarch Barry Alvarez.

Grade: A. Proven winner in a quality conference who knows what it’s like to succeed against programs with more advantages. Only issue is whether Bielema can acclimate to the South, particularly from a recruiting perspective. He has to prove he can match up with Nick Saban, Les Miles and Kevin Sumlin on National Signing Day and on game day.

Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville.

Last stop: Texas Tech, where he was 20-17 in three seasons after a very good 10-year run at Auburn.

Why leave: Tuberville was never in love with Lubbock, and when his third season there went south – four losses in the last five games, plus a very public confrontation with an assistant on the sidelines – it was time to go. Instead of going into next fall on the hot seat at Tech, he’s welcomed as a potential hero in Cincinnati. However, he’s no hero to the recruits he jilted mid-meal in Lubbock.

[Also: Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech exit parodied by Taiwanese animation]

Grade: A. Tuberville gives Cincinnati something it has never had in football: a coach who already was a proven commodity on a high level before setting foot on campus. Now the only concern for the Bearcats is whether the 58-year-old Tuberville is interested in on-the-job retirement, or whether he still has the fire that made him a success at two spots in the SEC.

Western Kentucky: Bobby Petrino.

Last stop: Purgatory. Petrino sat out 2012 after being fired at Arkansas for a sordid scandal that involved putting his mistress on the football payroll.

Why leave: Petrino had no choice in leaving and nowhere to go, being turned down by a number of higher-profile jobs.

Grade: B. There is no way WKU could ever get a coach with Petrino’s resume (a 75-26 record and six seasons of nine or more victories in eight as a head coach) unless he came with baggage. Well, Petrino has more baggage than the cargo hold of a 767. But this is a second-chance society, and he also presents WKU with a chance to win big and win immediately – the Hilltoppers open against Kentucky and Tennessee next year and figure to have a chance to win both. If that happens, we’ll see how long it takes the Disingenuous Drifter to slither out of town to another job.


These schools hired an up-and-comer, betting that the acumen demonstrated at a lower level will carry over to a bigger fishbowl. Sometimes it works (Brian Kelly springs immediately to mind). Sometimes it doesn’t (Turner Gill, anyone?).

Auburn, Gus Malzahn.

Last stop: Arkansas State, for one brief but blissful season. Malzahn went 9-3 and won the Sun Belt, coming on the heels of Hugh Freeze’s 10-3 season there in 2011.

Why leave: Malzahn is an Arkansas native who took a pay cut to leave his offensive coordinator role at Auburn after the 2010 season. Yet even though the Auburn job comes with plenty of warning lights flashing – including an ongoing NCAA investigation – this was close to a no-brainer move for Malzahn.

Grade: B-plus. One season as a head coach is a small body of work, but Auburn folks know what Malzahn brings to the table from his days calling plays for Cam Newton & Co. He’s a great offensive mind who should be OK with a good staff around him. The biggest challenge could be winning in recruiting.

Boston College: Steve Addazio.

Last stop: Temple, where Addazio went 13-11 in two seasons following Al Golden’s building project at a perennial bottom feeder.

Why leave: Temple is nobody’s idea of a destination job, and the Big East is nobody’s idea of a destination league.

[Also: Heisman winner Johnny Manziel has a special present for Megan Fox]

Grade: C-plus. Addazio was a trusted Urban Meyer lieutenant at Florida who had an excellent first season at Temple, going 9-4. But after a competitive 3-2 start this season the bottom fell out – the Owls suffered five blowout losses in their last six games, only beating Army. That slide raises some question about whether Addazio was simply riding Golden’s momentum (and players, notably Bernard Pierce) in 2011.

California: Sonny Dykes.

Last stop: Louisiana Tech, where Dykes won 17 games the past two seasons, the most anyone has won there in a two-year span since 1984-85.

Why leave: Tech won nine games and still was not one of 70 teams selected for a bowl this year. While part of that was self-inflicted due to administrative failure, it also reinforces where the school sits in the college football universe. If someone else calls, you go.

Grade: A. Dykes brings a fast-paced, pass-centric offense to the Pac-12, where the Bears are looking for something to counter-program the smashmouth powerhouse across the Bay at Stanford. This could work out really well, if Dykes reacquaints himself with West Coast recruiting after spending 16 of his 19 years as a coach in Texas or the South. He did spend three seasons with Mike Stoops at Arizona, which should help.

Colorado: Mike MacIntyre.

Last stop: San Jose State, where the Spartans’ 10 wins this season equaled their best since 1940.

Why leave: Last time the school had consecutive winning seasons was 1991-92. So if you have a chance to upgrade after one good year, you do it.

Grade: A-minus. This is who Colorado should have targeted from the beginning of its search, instead of sadly stalking Butch Jones while he buffed his nails and waited for something better to come along. After seven straight losing seasons and with the program in turmoil, the Buffaloes did not enter this hiring process in a position of strength – but they got a guy who looks like the right fit.

North Carolina State: Dave Doeren.

Last stop: Northern Illinois, which Doeren left before the players’ sweat had dried after winning the Mid-American Conference championship game to go 12-1.

Why leave: Senior-laden NIU was running out of Jerry Kill’s players, and it’s not a program that reloads automatically. After two straight great seasons, the time was right.

Grade: B-plus. If Bielema had left Wisconsin a few days earlier, his former assistant Doeren might have had the Badgers job. As it is he has an ACC top-four job. N.C. State simply has to hope that two very good MAC seasons with mostly someone else’s players is an accurate indicator that Doeren is the real deal.

[Also: Notre Dame DT returning for senior season as gift to his mom]

Purdue: Darrell Hazell.

Last stop: Kent State, where Hazell led the Golden Flashes to a school-record 11 victories.

Why leave: MAC to Big Ten is a time-honored progression in the Midwest.

Grade: B. This may turn out to be an A-plus, but for now Hazell only has two years of head-coaching track record and led a Kent State team loaded with upperclassmen he didn’t recruit. Have to wait and see if he’s a program builder.

San Jose State: Ron Caragher.

Last stop: FCS San Diego, where Caragher was 44-22 in six seasons. (Side note: if you think big-time conference geography is nuts, get a load of the Pioneer Football League, which counts San Diego as one of its members. The league includes teams from the states of California, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Florida.)

Why leave: If you want to coach serious football, you leave San Diego.

Grade: B. San Jose is clearly betting on the Torero-to-Bay-Area lightning striking twice, since that’s the school Jim Harbaugh started at before going to Stanford. It’s a sizeable jump from non-scholarship FCS football to any FBS program, but modest San Jose State isn’t exactly like going to Alabama.

South Florida: Willie Taggart.

Last stop: Western Kentucky, where the Hilltoppers have gone 14-10 the past two years after a 4-32 quagmire the previous three seasons. WKU will play in its first bowl game Dec. 26th.

Why leave: Even with the Big East in flux, USF is a better job than WKU – especially for a Florida native like Taggart.

Grade: A-minus. He’s a former Harbaugh assistant with plenty of charisma and a working knowledge of the local recruiting turf. Several people in the profession think Taggart is a future star.

Tennessee: Butch Jones.

Last stop: Cincinnati, where Jones was 23-14 in three seasons riding the coattails of program builder Brian Kelly.

[Also: Paralyzed Tulane safety Devon Walker heading home from rehab for the holidays]

Why leave: Jones was going somewhere, whether it was Colorado or Tennessee – and given the straits Cincinnati now finds itself in with the implosion of the Big East, his timing was excellent. Nobody can blame him for leaving.

Grade: B-plus. Reality check for Tennessee fans who believe Butch Jones is beneath them: your program has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for two weeks in the last five years. You’re six games below .500 in that time. Tennessee has great tradition and a great following and will regain competitiveness sooner rather than later, but this belief that America’s most proven and attractive coaches are going to come running to Rocky Top is delusional. Get a grip.

Wisconsin: Gary Andersen.

Last stop: Utah State, where Andersen led the Aggies to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1978-79. This year’s team won a school-record 11 games, including just its second bowl victory.

Why leave: When the Big Ten calls and you’re at Utah State, you pack your bags. The unfortunate aspect is that Andersen and the school issued an announcement at the end of November saying he was staying. He now joins the long list of coaches who only lie about jobs when their lips are moving.

[Related: Gary Andersen leaves Utah State to become Wisconsin's next coach]

Grade: B-plus. If you know how bad Utah State was when Andersen arrived, you know how impressive his work was there. The Aggies had an 11-year streak of losing seasons prior to Andersen, and had gone six straight without winning more than three games. Going 26-24 there in four years is like going 38-12 in a lot of other places. But it’s a big jump up to the Big Ten; we’ll see how he handles it.


Coach who had success at one level and failed at a higher level, now relocating back into his prior comfort zone:

Louisiana Tech: Skip Holtz.

Last stop: South Florida, where he was fired with a 16-21 record in three seasons. After an initial 8-5 season, Holtz went 5-7 and then 3-9.

Why leave: He was asked to.

Grade: C. Louisiana Tech obviously liked Holtz’s 38-27 record in five seasons at Conference-USA East Carolina, but the swan dive at USF is a concern. Holtz won only four of his last 20 games at USF, and was 2-12 in league play – and that wasn’t a super-tough league.


Ten schools have made hires who have no prior head-coaching experience, betting that young assistant coaches are ready to turn around a struggling program or maintain one that had a successful coach poached. Some may be the next stars in the profession – Nick Saban had to start somewhere, right? But some also will be the next misplaced career assistant who couldn’t handle the extra duties that come with being the boss – the Ed Orgeon Principle, you might say.

Arkansas State: Bryan Harsin.

Last stop: Offensive coordinator at Texas, and before that Boise State.

Why leave: Not for the money, since Harsin was making a hefty $675,000 at Texas and prior ASU coach Malzahn was reportedly making $850,000 in Jonesboro. After several years of working under two of the top coaches in the game in Mack Brown and Chris Petersen, Harsin must have felt it was time to take the head-coaching leap.

[Also: Walk-on guard leads shorthanded to Butler to OT upset of Indiana]

Grade: Incomplete. He inherits a program that has had recent success, though as the third coach in three years concerns about recruiting attrition are legitimate. But Harsin has a good rep and should have a chance to win right away – just don’t expect him to stay much longer than the last two guys if he does.

Idaho: Paul Petrino.

Last stop: Offensive coordinator at Arkansas.

Why leave: Staff was fired at Arkansas, and although Petrino could have easily gotten another assistant job – perhaps with brother Bobby at WKU – this was a chance to head his own program in a part of the country where the Montana native grew up.

Grade: Incomplete. Petrino has a sharp offensive mind, but he’s also been part of fired staffs at his last two stops – Arkansas and Illinois. Idaho is one of the worst FBS programs in America, so it cannot be overly choosey.

Kent State: Paul Haynes, Ohio State assistant, ark assistant last year, former player at Kent State;

Last stop: Arkansas, where he was defensive coordinator. (Interesting that both the OC and DC from an absolutely disastrous Arkansas season have gotten head-coaching jobs.)

Why leave: He wasn’t going back to Fayetteville, that’s for sure. The former Kent State defensive back is returning to his alma mater, and as a former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State he knows the recruiting area very well.

Grade: Incomplete. Will need a good staff around him, plus some immediate hits on the recruiting trail because Kent State is losing a lot of seniors in key places.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops.

Last stop: Florida State defensive coordinator.

Why leave: Abandoning a perennial winner in favor of a perennial loser in a perennial meat-grinder conference is dicey, but the allure of being a head coach is strong.

Grade: Incomplete. Nobody knows whether he’ll be more Bob or Mike as a head coach. He’s putting together an interesting staff of young assistants, many with ties to Kentucky that may enhance their loyalty and enthusiasm.

Northern Illinois: Rod Carey.

Last stop: Offensive coordinator’s office at NIU.

Why leave: He didn’t leave, just moved down the hall.

Grade: Incomplete. Carey has done fine work with record-setting quarterback Jordan Lynch, who will be back next year. And the continuity of keeping the job in-house should help – if he’s up to the task.

Southern Mississippi: Todd Monken.

Last stop: Offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

Why leave: Last year’s 0-12 train wreck aside, Southern Miss is a solid starter job. And at age 46, it’s time to step out on his own.

[Also: Catholic Seven officially part with Big East leaving wake of uncertainty]

Grade: Incomplete. Monken is the next no-huddle spread offensive mind off the Stillwater launching pad, following Larry Fedora and Dana Holgorsen. If he has their initial success, he’ll be fine.

Temple: Matt Rhule.

Last stop: New York Giants, where he worked with the offensive line.

Why leave: With just one season in New York, he likely still had a lot of time to put in the climb the NFL ladder. This was a natural move back to the college level, where he’d worked the previous 13 years.

Grade: Incomplete. He’s a former Temple offensive coordinator under Golden, so his knowledge of the program (during good times and bad) will be a major asset. Rhule was passed over for the job two years ago when it went to Addazio.

Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury.

Last stop: Offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, where he worked with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Why leave: Chance to be the boss at his alma mater. Slam dunk.

Grade: Incomplete. Kingsbury comes with a glowing reputation as one of the next great minds in the no-huddle spread pipeline. But at 33, he’s really young.

UTEP: Sean Kugler.

Last stop: Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach – where, to be frank, the line has been a problem in recent years.

Why leave: He’s a former UTEP player under current athletic director Bob Stull, so he knows what he’s getting into.

Grade: Incomplete. Kugler does have college coaching experience before going to the NFL, so he should know how to recruit and deal with teenagers. And the NFL experience should also get the attention of current Miners and prospective recruits.

Western Michigan: P.J. Fleck.

Why leave: Fleck had followed Greg Schiano from Rutgers to the NFL, but here came an opportunity to be a head coach at the tender age of 32. He jumped at it.

Grade: Incomplete. Might be the most inexperienced head coach in the country, with just six years as a full-time coach – none of them as a coordinator. Needless to say, some older voices on the staff would be prudent. At least Fleck knows the league, having played and coached at Northern Illinois.


That would be Florida International and Utah State, two schools that haven’t gotten around to hiring anyone yet. The Aggies have an excuse, since they just lost Andersen on Tuesday. FIU, which shockingly canned Mario Cristobal in early December, still hasn’t made a move.

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