Another crazy offseason featuring the unexpected movements and motions of the coaching carousel is winding down, which gives us the chance to examine the hires that have been made at the FBS level. In all, twenty teams, including new Sun Belt member Georgia Southern, were part of the coaching transactions that occurred, providing for some great stories across the country.
Honestly, as long as I’ve been writing a recap of the coaching changes (which is going on five years now), I’m not sure if I have ever seen so many solid head coaching hires. Colleges are desperate to make the right decision on the man who leads their football teams due to the financial impact it will have, and it sure looks like almost all of the coaches that were hired are very qualified and capable of providing the leadership needed for a winning program.
Before we hit the rankings, it’s time for my annual disclaimer: this list does not rank head coaches according to how good of a head coach I think they are. For example, Head Coach #5 may be the best head coach on the entire list, but his fit with the school and/or the other coaches that were in play but ultimately declined the offer prevented him from being #1. It’s also important to point out that the quality of the new head coach relative to the school that hired him is a pivotal part of my ranking; if a smaller college lands a big fish, you can bet it will hit my top 5, but the same move at the likes of USC or Texas would not necessarily be such a big hit.
Well, I think that’s enough explanation. Here are my rankings of the twenty FBS coaching changes:
20. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky – It sure looks like Brohm came to Bowling Green knowing that Petrino was destined to head elsewhere, and after just one season it’s the former Louisville quarterback’s team to lead. Brohm has had his fair share of success as an assistant under Petrino at Louisville, but his stints without the former Arkansas head coach were not very impressive: in his four seasons on the staffs at Florida Atlantic, Illinois, and UAB, the teams combined for a 21-28 record overall. Brohm’s familiarity with the program certainly helps and should lessen the growing pains of Petrino bolting, but the Hilltoppers will have to learn the hard way whether or not Brohm has learned some of mentor’s old tricks.
19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan – Eastern Michigan could never turn the corner with Ron English leading the program, which meant it was time for someone new to have a shot. Enter Creighton, a former quarterback at Kenyon (OH) who has slowly worked his way up the coaching ladder from NAIA to Division III and then to FCS, where he posted a 42-22 record as the head coach of the Drake Bulldogs. The Eagles are hungry for some success (no bowl game since 1987) and desperate to keep up in a MAC West division that holds some of the best darkhorse teams in the country, which makes it clear that the task the forty-four year old is taking on in Ypsilanti will not produce overnight success.
18. Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic – A longtime assistant for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas, Partridge’s experience recruiting the Sunshine State makes him a really good fit for the Owls. Florida Atlantic looked prepared to take the next step with Carl Pelini last season, but instead his off-the-field issues cost him the chance to lead the program. The Owls looked really good at the end of the season (won their last four games), and the verbal commitment of four-star running back Jordan Scarlett for the 2015 class sure makes the future look bright in Boca Raton.
17. Bill Clark, UAB – The Blazers program has never been able to assert itself as a contender in the C-USA, but that status may change with the hiring of Clark. The defensive coordinator at South Alabama for five seasons, Clark comes to Birmingham after one year at Jacksonville State, where the Gamecocks went 11-4 and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. Clark has a tremendous amount of experience coaching at the high school level in Alabama, which means he is sure to have connections throughout the state. UAB has been noted by many to have inferior facilities compared to their competition, which explains their struggles at the FBS level; allow Clark to recruit along with supplying significant improvements, and we could see UAB finally make some noise.
16. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State – Anderson’s offenses at North Carolina were very underrated, especially his first in 2012 that set more than thirty-five school records. Anderson takes on the task of walking into a program that has had four different head coaches over the past four seasons and continuing the winning tradition that these head coaches set. Barring something crazy occurring, it looks like Anderson will be the first person to hit Statesboro and stay there for quite some time.
15. Mark Whipple, Massachusetts – The Minutemen are hoping the second time is the charm with Whipple, who was 49-26 as UMass head coach from 1998 to 2003 when the team played at the I-AA level. Fast-forward to 2014, and the Minutemen are reeling from their move to the MAC, which has brought them nothing but a numerous losses and startling attendance woes. Can the veteran coach be the one to turn the tide and lead the Minutemen to their first taste of MACtion satisfaction?
14. Chuck Martin, Miami (OH) – A longtime assistant under Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State, Martin had a great amount of success replacing Kelly as the Lakers head coach in 2004, posting a 74-7 record over the course of six seasons before leaving his post to become Kelly’s offensive coordinator in South Bend. Martin now faces the challenge of reviving a Redhawks program that gave the football world Big Ben Roethlisberger and was once atop the MAC year after year but has been struggling in recent years, including going 0-12 last season. Miami, Ohio is heralded as “The Cradle of Coaches” due to the likes of Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, and Bo Schembechler pacing its sidelines over the years; can Martin make Miami contenders again and join this list of notable coaches?
13. Bryan Harsin, Boise State – Harsin was the heir apparent to Chris Petersen (see below) due to both his playing experience with the Broncos (QB from 1995 to 1999) and his time as an assistant (spent nine seasons working under head coaches Dan Hawkins and Petersen). Harsin is still relatively young at thirty-seven years old, but his ties to the Boise State program and the success he had at Arkansas State–albeit in just one season–sure makes it seem as if the Broncos are in capable hands.
12. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest – Once upon a time, Clawson was the Tennessee offensive coordinator and presumed head coach-in-waiting for Phillip Fulmer before a 5-7 record cost Fulmer his job and sent Clawson packing after just one season. Instead of hanging his head, wondering what went wrong, the former Richmond Spiders head man went to work at Bowling Green, where he revitalized the program and led the Falcons to three bowl games in five seasons. Clawson saved his best work for 2013, a season in which Bowling Green went 10-4 and won the MAC Championship for the first time since 1992. Clawson now has the tough task of taking over a Wake Forest program that must play and recruit against Florida State and Clemson year after year, a tough task for a private school with just over 4,000 students. Former Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren found out the hard way last season that the transition from MAC to ACC is not an easy one (the Wolfpack went 3-9), and it sure looks like the road will not be any smoother for Clawson’s gang.
11. Bob Diaco, Connecticut – The winner of the 2012 Frank Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in FBS, Diaco’s Fighting Irish defense was the catalyst for the team’s success two seasons ago, which saw Notre Dame go 12-1 and play for the national championship. At forty years old, Diaco is among the young faces of college football, and if he is able to rebuild UConn and lead them to success in a weaker American Athletic Conference over the next few seasons, he could very well wind up with the head coaching job at Iowa, his alma mater, once Kirk Ferentz calls it a career.
10. Dino Babers, Bowling Green – Coaches leaving for bigger jobs is quite commonplace for college football, but no matter when it happens the college being left behind is always put in the offensive. Bowling Green handled the situation perfectly, bringing in Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers to pick up where Dave Clawson left off. Babers, who has twenty-eight years of assistant coaching experience with stops at the likes of Arizona, Texas A&M, UCLA, and Baylor, did not stay long with the Panthers but made his stint memorable, posting a 19-7 record with two straight playoff appearances. The Panthers program was fresh off of back-to-back 2-9 seasons prior to Babers’ hire, so it will be exciting to watch what he can do with the talented Falcons’ roster.
9. Jeff Monken, Army – The Black Knights have been unable to sustain themselves in football for quite some time, and although Rich Ellerson did lead the team to a bowl game in 2010, it was not enough to bring in back to West Point. In to replace him is Monken, a former Navy assistant under Paul Johnson who posted a 38-16 record as the head coach at Georgia Southern, which included a 26-20 win over the Florida Gators in The Swamp this past November. Monken’s experience running the triple-option was certainly critical in the hiring process, and although his ties to the Naval Academy may not sit well with some, his hiring may be the very move that helps Army snap the Minutemen’s twelve-game winning streak in this storied rivalry.
8. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt reached heights it never had before with James Franklin, but after three seasons he opted to take his talents north (see below). Commodores athletic director David Williams had a tough task in replacing Franklin, but he made an excellent hire in Mason, who has spent the last four seasons at Stanford, serving as the defensive coordinator for three. Vanderbilt and Stanford compare favorably in terms of their academic standard as well as with the recruiting difficulties that follow, which should ease Mason’s move and help in bringing more ‘Dores to the program. Vandy looks poised to create “The Stanford of the East”, and although we may see some growing pains considering who the Commodores must face in the SEC, I think the sky is the limit for Mason in Nashville.
7. Steve Sarkisian, USC – Lane Kiffin’s dramatic firing at LAX in late September started the longest coaching searches of the season, one that ultimately ended with the former Washington Huskies head coach landing in L.A. Some scoffed at the hiring, but Sarkisian did a fantastic job in Seattle, taking over a Huskies program that went 0-12 in 2008 and soon built them into contenders in the PAC-12 North, going 34-30 with three bowl appearances in five seasons. Is Sarkisian a grand slam hire for the glamorous Trojans? No, but his experience winning at USC (spent four seasons as an assistant coach under Pete Carroll) and his knowledge of what it takes to win in the PAC-12 will help USC return to the top of the conference before too long.
6. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern – Georgia Southern was probably hoping that the transition from FCS to Sun Belt would not be too tough, but Jeff Monken’s exit for Army changed those plans. In to replace Monken is Fritz, who is fresh off a three-year run at Sam Houston State in which the Bearkats went 40-14 and played for the FCS Championship in 2011 and 2012, losing to the North Dakota State Bison both times. Fritz had a great amount of success in the Lonestar State, but it will be quite the challenge to 1) decide if the Eagles will stick with the triple-option that has garnered them so much success 2) recruit against the likes of Georgia and Georgia Tech, and 3) compete in a Sun Belt Conference that is not going to bat an eye at GSU’s FCS success.
5. Charlie Strong, Texas – The two biggest jobs that opened during this edition of silly season were in Los Angeles and Austin, and both jobs were filled by men that were not considered the top candidates but are still well-respected head coaches. One of the top assistant coaches in the Southeastern Conference for eight years with stints at South Carolina and Florida, Strong’s chance to lead his own team was long overdue when Louisville finally hired him in December of 2009. Strong rewarded the Cardinals for taking a chance on him, leading the Cardinals to a 37-15 record over the course of four seasons, with the last being a 12-1 campaign. Most worry that Strong’s less-than-enthusiastic view of the media will hurt him in such a prestigious position, but if Longhorn Nation gives him time to get his systems rolling, I’m confident that the Longhorn Network will gladly show highlights from the team’s victories over running his great press conferences.
4. Craig Bohl, Wyoming – Wyoming is viewed by many as one of the toughest jobs in all of FBS football, so to land a head coach that has won the last three FCS titles at North Dakota State is the equivalent of hitting two grand slams in one inning. Bohl’s stint as Bison head coach was very impressive, as the team went 104-32 in eleven seasons and posted a 43-2 record over the last three years. Bohl has his work cut out for him in Laramie, and although some very successful FCS coaches have failed to turn the Cowboys into contenders (anyone remember Joe Glenn?), a respectable run at Wyoming may set him up with a shot to lead the Nebraska Cornhuskers, where he played defensive back from 1977 to 1980.
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville – Petrino’s rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-and-now-to-riches-again story has been well-documented, and even though we all admit he’s a sleezeball, no one can deny that he is a sleezeball that wins games. Now with three different stints as a head coach on the FBS level (Louisville, Arkansas, and Western Kentucky), Petrino holds an 83-30 record and was on the verge of having the Razorbacks poised for a national title run when his motorcycle slid off the highway, leading to the Neck Brace Gate that engulfed Fayetteville. Opponents of the Cardinals will definitely criticize Petrino’s morals and use his constant movements against him in recruiting, but the Cardinals’ success on the field will leave the damage done to be very minimal. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich showed a lot of guts in hiring the man who formerly stabbed him in the back by bolting for the Atlanta Falcons, and it will be intriguing to see if Petrino rewards him with winning seasons and a long tenure or decides to bolt once again.
2. Chris Petersen, Washington – Chris Petersen was on every athletic director’s wish list for the last eight seasons, but it looked like he would stay put for another year after he passed on the USC job. Next thing you know, the Huskies scoop in and hire the forty-nine year old, rocking the college football world. Petersen’s run with the Broncos is legendary: a 92-12 record, seven seasons of ten wins or more, and a 43-42 victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl in a game that many consider one of the greatest college football games ever. The Huskies were good under the lead of Steve Sarkisian but never could turn the corner; can Petersen help Washington leap up to Oregon’s level, or will he experience what his Boise State predecessor Dan Hawkins did at Colorado?
1. James Franklin, Penn State – Franklin simply did what no one has done in the modern era at Vanderbilt: Win. The Commodores had a confident swagger under Franklin’s leadership, going 24-15 over three seasons with two bowl victories (Vanderbilt had one bowl win in the school’s history before his arrival). Last season’s accomplishments were extraordinary for the Commodores, as they beat Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia in the same season for the first time ever, with the win over the Vols being their first in back-to-back seasons since 1925-1926! Franklin also used Vanderbilt’s strict academic standards to his advantage in recruiting, practically challenging the players that were interested in the Commodores to match what the school required of them to do. Now Franklin, a native of Langhorne, Pennsylvania and graduate of East Stroudsburg College in east Pennsylvania, has the opportunity to take what he knows about coaching to the Big Ten, where his biggest challenge will be Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions may not be playing with a loaded gun right off the bat with Franklin due to the sanctions handed down by the NCAA (including scholarship restrictions and a bowl ban through 2015), but once the smoke completely clears, you can bet that Franklin and his coaching staff–which hosts a great deal of coaches with Northeast connections–will have Penn State competing for both conference and national championships.
Disagree with my rankings? Leave a comment and tell us who you think was misplaced!