College football’s annual coaching carousel stretched out so far this season that I waited an entire month later than last year to write this column. Now that Cal has wrapped up its surprise January, I feel reasonably certain I’m safe.
All in all, 21 FBS schools have announced new coaches since late November, though just eight of them in the Power 5 conferences. Fair warning: It’s going to seem like I’m a generous grader. Not usually. I just liked most of this year’s hires.
Note: If you want to go back and grade my own performance coming up with these grades, here are links to the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 editions. (I apparently skipped 2015.)
Hired Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm.
This feels like an almost-perfect marriage. Brohm spent the past four seasons about 300 miles south on I-65 churning out innovative, record-setting offenses. Now, he returns to the Big Ten (where he was formerly an assistant at Illinois) to rejuvenate a program that desperately needs something to get excited about. He’ll be causing defensive coordinators fits within a couple of years.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Hired Houston coach Tom Herman.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion for months that if Texas fired Charlie Strong, Herman would land in Austin. He earned universal praise first as a national championship offensive coordinator at Ohio State and then a head coach whose Group of 5 school beat Florida State, Oklahoma and Louisville (twice) over a two-season span. He inherits a talented roster at Texas and could win big fast.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
Hired Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck.
Who would have predicted two months ago that Minnesota of all schools would land this year’s hot mid-major coach. The 36-year-old Fleck — who literally trademarked “Row the Boat” — is unconventional to say the least. It will be interesting to see how his act plays in a power conference. But his work in Kalamazoo was remarkable. If nothing else, he’ll lend the Gophers a healthy dose of personality.
Associated PressJim Mone
Hired former Texas coach Charlie Strong.
The former Louisville coach and national championship defensive coordinator didn’t forget how to coach during his three years in Austin. It just didn’t work out. He’s back in familiar territory at a place he can recruit and win.
Hired Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
The fast-rising staff has prior experience at WKU and should continue its recent winning tradition.
Promoted interim coach Ed Orgeron.
Many feel like LSU “settled” for Orgeron after whiffing on Herman and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. If so, it’s not a bad Plan C. The native Louisianan was seemingly born for this job. He’s gained valuable experience at USC and LSU since his last, mostly disastrous SEC stint at Ole Miss nearly a decade ago. Coach O’s passion, leadership and recruiting abilities should help LSU get back in the SEC title hunt.
San Jose State
Hired Oregon State receivers coach Brent Brennan.
The San Jose native and former Spartans assistant returns home after gaining valuable experience under Mike Riley and Gary Andersen.
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Hired USF coach Willie Taggart.
Oregon is replacing “Win the Day” with “Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind.” The Jim Harbaugh disciple will remake a program that recently lost its way into a physical team like Washington and Stanford. And he won big his last two years at USF with a spread offense that should excite Ducks fans. His tenure is off to a rocky start, though, after dangerously grueling workouts sent three players to the hospital.
Hired Temple coach Matt Rhule.
This is a hard one to grade. The 41-year-old Rhule did a phenomenal job in leading Temple to consecutive 10-win seasons. But he’s walking into a scandal-torn program that’s going to need a near-complete rebuild. I’m not as concerned as some with his lack of Texas ties. But his plan to transform Baylor from the distinct Art Briles system to, in his words, “the NFL team of the Big 12,” is ambitious to say the least.
The guy can coach some defense. He showed that at Mississippi State before Florida. His blue-collar mentality seems like a good fit with that program.
Getty ImagesEd Zurga
Hired former Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
Five years later, Tedford doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his run at Cal. Though it did end badly. Fresno makes sense for the 55-year-old and vice versa.
US PRESSWIRERuss Isabella
Promoted defensive coordinator Tom Allen.
AD Fred Glass declined to conduct a national search upon abruptly parting ways with Kevin Wilson, opting instead to stay in-house. Allen had only been on Wilson’s staff for a year, but is an Indiana native and former high school coach there. He’d previously worked under Hugh Freeze and Willie Taggart. It’s the farthest thing from a flashy hire, but probably a smart fit for IU.
Hired back former coach Randy Edsall.
It’s not like UConn is an overly attractive job. It’s bringing back the lone coach to have success there since the Huskies moved up to FBS. Try to forget that rocky Maryland tenure.
Promoted offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
After watching three straight coaches leave for greener pastures, Houston opted for continuity over, say, Les Miles. Applewhite is fine but doesn’t move the needle.
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Hired South Carolina assistant Shawn Elliott.
He got good experience running a program as interim coach following Steve Spurrier’s 2015 midseason retirement.
I’ve got nothing against Wilcox, a fine defensive coach with a wealth of experience (Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, USC). It’s a bit baffling why Cal thinks firing Sonny Dykes and replacing him with a relative unknown who will reportedly be the lowest-paid coach in the Pac-12 will energize its fan base. To Wilcox’s credit, he made a great OC hire in Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin.
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Hired Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
It makes sense from a pure geographic standpoint. Fickell can recruit Ohio. What we don’t know is if he’ll become a better manager than he was as the Buckeyes’ interim coach in 2011.
Hired Arizona State assistant Jay Norvell.
The 31-year assistant finally gets to lead his own program. Hiring Jeff Casteel as his DC was a good get.
USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
Hired former star QB Tim Lester.
Succeeding Fleck coming off 13-1 would not be easy for anyone, much less a guy with just six years’ experience as an FBS assistant.
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Hired former North Carolina coach Butch Davis.
Sure, hire a guy whose Miami glory years occurred nearly two decades ago and had a major NCAA recruiting scandal on his watch last time around. What's the worst that could happen?
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Hired Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Sure, hire Lane Kiffin. What could possibly go wrong?