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Which new coaches are ready to soar?

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Rich Cirminiello

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Barring any 11th-hour surprises, the annual reshuffling of the nation’s 120 head coaches is just about complete. Flush with the usual drama of replacing a staff, the process created a handful of unexpected openings and some high-profile searches at traditional powers Michigan, Miami and Florida.

Every new hire arrives with cause for celebration ... and concern. It'll be years before anyone truly knows which athletic directors flourished during this cycle of new hires and which flopped, meaning all 21 newbies begin their careers on relatively equal footing.

Arkansas State

New coach: Hugh Freeze.
Last seen: Coordinating the Arkansas State offense.
Former coach: Steve Roberts.
Reason to like the hire: In his first year as Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator, Freeze had an instant impact, guiding the team to nine school records. His up-tempo spread attack produced almost 5,000 total yards and was a huge reason why QB Ryan Aplin was such a success in his debut as a full-timer. Best known for being Michael Oher’s high school coach in the “The Blind Side”, he’s a solid recruiter, a must to get talented kids to Jonesboro.

Reason to question the hire: The biggest concern is experience, especially in an improving Sun Belt Conference. Freeze is best known for his success as a Tennessee high school coach, and the only time he was a college head coach, it was at tiny Lambuth University of the NAIA. Taking over an Arkansas State team that last had a winning season in 1995 presents a unique challenge.

Ball State

New coach: Pete Lembo.
Last seen: Coaching Elon.
Former coach: Stan Parrish.
Reason to like the hire: Ball State went out and hired a young and proven head coach, no small achievement for this school. Lembo had just one losing season in 10 years at Lehigh and Elon, winning the Eddie Robinson Award in 2001 and Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 2007. A stickler to details and fundamentals, he and his staff have shown a knack for talent evaluation and developing young players. Cardinal fans are going to like his passing attack.
Reason to question the hire: For those looking for a little more of a splash in Muncie, Lembo was a letdown. More important, he has no connection to the region or the Mid-American Conference, having spent his career on the eastern seaboard and beneath the FBS level. It’s going to take a while before he gets to know area high school coaches and gets up to speed with his new surroundings.

Colorado

New coach: Jon Embree.
Last seen: Coaching the Washington Redskins tight ends.
Former coach: Dan Hawkins.
Reason to like the hire: With Embree comes a link to the past and a high-character former Buffalo star with a passion to return to his alma mater. His arrival will be particularly well received by the Colorado pass-catchers, like TE Ryan Deehan and receivers Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons. He’s already added former Buff legends Eric Bieniemy and Darian Hagan to the staff, all of which will play well to the fan base.
Reason to question the hire: If Embree didn’t have such strong ties to the program, does he get this job? Is he even on the short list? Having never even been an offensive coordinator at the college or pro level, this hire has the feel of a significant reach, especially as the program prepares to join the Pac-12. Maybe Embree is a budding star of the coaching ranks. Or maybe he’ll be overwhelmed by the promotion. After the five-year debacle with Dan Hawkins at the helm, Colorado couldn’t afford this degree of risk.

Connecticut

New coach: Paul Pasqualoni.
Last seen: Coordinating the Dallas Cowboys offense.
Former coach: Randy Edsall.
Reason to like the hire: In Pasqualoni, the Huskies landed a veteran of the Big East and a native of the state. He has long-time ties to the region that’ll pay dividends on the recruiting trail. As the head coach at Syracuse for 14 seasons, he went 107-59-1, won six bowl games and finished ranked seven times. His no-nonsense, conservative approach isn’t that different than Edsall, which should make for a smoother transition for the holdovers.
Reason to question the hire: Can you say retread? Hiring a 61-year-old who hasn’t been a head coach in almost seven years hardly seems like an innovative step forward for the program. Pasqualoni’s best days were more than a decade ago, going 16-20 in his final three seasons in Upstate New York. His offenses grew stale and, Donovan McNabb aside, he struggled to develop quarterbacks, two problems that have also plagued Connecticut. A safe hire is not what the Huskies needed just days after representing the league in the Fiesta Bowl.

Florida

New coach: Will Muschamp.
Last seen: Coordinating the Texas defense.
Former coach: Urban Meyer.
Reason to like the hire: The Gators pried Muschamp out of Austin, replacing one intense and successful young coach with another one. Nationally respected as one of the college game’s top defensive assistants, he’s also a crackerjack recruiter, which is always a plus in ultra-competitive SEC country. He’s coached in a ton of big games at LSU, Auburn and Texas, and possesses the required energy that Meyer was missing toward the end of his tenure. He’s one of the rising stars within this profession.
Reason to question the hire: It’s Florida. Shouldn’t one of the nation’s premier programs be hiring a head coach who actually has head coaching experience? There are plenty of terrific coordinators who are unable to handle the added pressure and responsibility of being the man in charge, so there is an element of risk here. Plus, it’s not as if Muschamp is following in the footsteps of just any coach. Meyer won two national championships in the past five years.

Indiana

New coach: Kevin Wilson.
Last seen: Coordinating the Oklahoma offense.
Former coach: Bill Lynch.
Reason to like the hire: The Hoosiers got serious with this decision, roping in an ideal fit for a struggling program. Wilson spent the past nine seasons coordinating Bob Stoops’ high-octane offenses in Norman, coaching in six different BCS bowls and three national championship games. He knows what it takes to be successful on a national scale, but also knows the Midwest rather well. Prior to going to Oklahoma, he was an assistant at Northwestern and Miami University, building relationships in Illinois and Ohio.
Reason to question the hire: For nearly a decade, Wilson has been surrounded by some of the game’s best talent, facilities and co-workers. At Oklahoma, a Big 12 championship was a minimum goal each year. How will the coach handle being at a basketball school that last had a share of a league title in 1967? Players of the caliber of Adrian Peterson and Sam Bradford don’t routinely call Bloomington home, which will force him to alter his pitch and patience level.

Kent State

New coach: Darrell Hazell.
Last seen: Coaching Ohio State wide receivers.
Former coach: Doug Martin.
Reason to like the hire: In October, blue-chip Cincinnati Colerain RB Trayion Durham committed to become a Wisconsin Badger. In January, he shifted lanes and gave a verbal to Kent State. That’s a microcosm why Golden Flashes’ fans ought to be excited about this hire. He brings a youthful energy and an ability to recruit to a program pining for a jolt. Having spent seven years in Columbus, he knows the state and he knows the recipe for winning, learning from Jim Tressel.
Reason to question the hire: It’s always going to be a little unnerving when an assistant makes the leap from the head of wide receivers to head coach for the first time. Hazell didn’t have a ton of responsibility at Ohio State, which is about to change dramatically. Only time will tell how he handles the myriad new job requirements landing on his desk. With far less talent than he’s accustomed to, it’s going to take time before he has a realistic shot of turning things around.

Louisiana-Lafayette

New coach: Mark Hudspeth.
Last seen: Coaching Mississippi State wide receivers.
Former coach: Rickey Bustle.
Reason to like the hire: Hudspeth was on the staff of an offense that put up more points than any Bulldog team in the past decade. As the passing game coordinator, he had a positive impact on QB Chris Relf, who threw three touchdown passes in each of his last two games, both wins. Best of all, this won’t be his first gig as a head coach. He led North Alabama for seven seasons, going 66-21, with a pair of Gulf South Conference championships and five playoff appearances.
Reason to question the hire: Yeah, Hudspeth was on staff, but it’s not as if he was even the offensive coordinator in Starkville. And for all of his success in Florence, it did happen in Division II, which won’t be confused with an improving Sun Belt Conference. At North Alabama, he had a habit of getting the Lions close, but was unable to win the big game and bring a title home.

Maryland

New coach: Randy Edsall.
Last seen: Coaching Connecticut.
Former coach: Ralph Friedgen.
Reason to like the hire: Edsall has quietly become one of the game’s top coaches, annually coaching up kids that major schools turned away. He was brilliant in Storrs, deftly guiding the Huskies out of Div. I-AA and into the Big East in 2004. Despite lacking top-tier talent, his programs always surprised, winning at least eight games in six of the past eight years and representing the league in the Fiesta Bowl earlier this month. He’s a teacher and a developer of athletes, a couple of important skills to make it at Maryland.

New Maryland coach Randy Edsall

Randy Edsall left UConn to become the new coach at Maryland.

Mitchell Layton

Reason to question the hire: If it’s true that the Terps wished to make the kind of splash that resonated at the turnstiles, Edsall might be an odd fit. Sure, he’s won, but with a bland formula that often spawns yawns. For fans convinced that Mike Leach was headed east, this move was a disappointment that’s going to take time to sell to the base. Edsall has struggled to develop quarterbacks, and his offenses can be stale and unimaginative.

Miami

New coach: Al Golden.
Last seen: Coaching Temple.
Former coach:Randy Shannon.
Reason to like the hire: If Golden can turn around dormant Temple, there's no telling what he can accomplish with Miami's talent and tradition. One of the most upwardly mobile and sought after young coaches at the college level, he turned dust into gold in Philadelphia. One of the worst FBS programs when he arrived, the Owls went 17-8 over the past two seasons and bowled in 2009 for an unimaginable turnaround. No stranger to the ACC, he was Virginia’s defensive coordinator from 2001-05.
Reason to question the hire: To some extent, it’s splitting hairs, but Golden has no ties to the 'Canes and has spent his career, both as a player and a coach, in a different region of the country. It's going to take time before he gains recruiting traction, which is less of an issue for rivals Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp. While his defenses were outstanding, his offenses at Temple were a problem.

Miami U.

New coach: Don Treadwell.
Last seen: Coordinating the Michigan State offense.
Former coach: Mike Haywood.
Reason to like the hire: For Treadwell, this is a return to his roots, where he was a four-year starting receiver and a captain with the RedHawks. He’s been a coordinator at four different schools, learning from the likes of Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio along the way. A Broyles Award contender in 2010, he did a terrific job on the sidelines after Dantonio suffered a heart attack on Sept.8. His offenses are balanced, averaging 29 points a game in each of the past two years.
Reason to question the hire: Treadwell’s offenses have been more steady than spectacular, bordering on vanilla at times. Unlike two years ago, when Haywood took over, he’s getting this job at a more challenging time. The RedHawks were one of last year’s biggest surprises, winning 10 games and shocking Northern Illinois for the MAC crown. Now that the program has tasted success again, anything less will be a lot harder to tolerate.

Michigan

New coach: Brady Hoke.
Last seen: Coaching San Diego State.
Former coach: Rich Rodriguez.
Reason to like the hire: The Wolverines are getting back to basics with a throwback of sorts. Hoke loves Ann Arbor, spending eight seasons as an assistant under Lloyd Carr, and will bring a much-needed attitude of physicality back to Michigan. More than just the right personality fit, he’s building an impressive resume and a knack for maximizing his players’ skills. If he can turn around also-rans such as Ball State and San Diego State, the sky will be the limit at a powerhouse program with infinitely more resources.

New University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke

Brady Hoke didn't appear to be Michigan's first choice.

Gregory Shamus

Reason to question the hire: By all accounts, Hoke was the third choice of AD Dave Brandon, behind Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles. While turning around the Cardinals and Aztecs is impressive, how much pressure is there in Muncie and San Diego? Hoke will be well-received, but the locals are grumpy and impatient after losing seven consecutive to Ohio State and becoming a Big 10 punchline. Whatever honeymoon period the coach receives, it won’t be very long.

Minnesota

New coach: Jerry Kill.
Last seen: Coaching Northern Illinois.
Former coach: Tim Brewster.
Reason to like the hire: Just because you don’t know the name, doesn’t mean this guy can’t coach. In fact, he’s become a far more anonymous version of Brian Kelly, winning no matter where he puts down stakes. Whether it’s been Saginaw Valley State, Southern Illinois, or Northern Illinois, he’s won and left the program in better shape than when he arrived. He demands high character and maximum effort, on the field and in the classroom, which is sure to resonate with frustrated Gopher fans.
Reason to question the hire: The one knock on Kill is that he seems to take his teams only so far before hitting a wall. His Salukis went to the playoffs five consecutive years, but never made it beyond the semifinal round. In DeKalb, he lost both bowl games and was shocked by Miami University in December’s MAC title game. He’s also had some serious health issues, including kidney cancer in 2005, that have arisen the past few years.

North Texas

Head Coach: Dan McCarney.
Last seen: Coaching Florida's defensive line.
Former coach: Todd Dodge.
Reason to like the hire: If you’re the Mean Green, you have to be ecstatic about attracting a coach who spent more than a decade in the Big 12. While McCarney did more losing than winning at Iowa State, he turned the Cyclones around, bringing them to half of their 10 bowl games. He’s a defensive coach, mentoring the Florida D-line the past three years, who’s headed to a school that’s in dire need of a new attitude on that side of the ball.
Reason to question the hire: Does McCarney still have it? It’s been almost five years since he’s been a head coach, and his last couple of Cyclone teams were running out of gas. At 57 and after spending the past three seasons surrounded by SEC players and SEC atmospheres, it’s fair to wonder if he has the drive and patience to resurrect a flailing program in Denton, Tex.

Northern Illinois

New coach: Dave Doeren.
Last seen: Coordinating the Wisconsin defense.
Former coach: Jerry Kill.
Reason to like the hire: One of the bright, young coaches of the Big Ten, Doeren was the leader of a Badger D that was stout throughout his tenure. In a short period of time, he’s earned the respect of his players and fellow coaches with a no-nonsense, disciplined approach. He has boundless energy for the game and his kids, and a level of intensity that’ll resonate from the locker room to the fan base.
Reason to question the hire: While everyone tends to gravitate toward a youthful coach, Doeren won’t celebrate his 40th birthday until this December. That makes him one of the greenest head men in America. And while he has experience, he’s yet to be the man in charge. Doeren inherits a deep and talented Northern Illinois squad, so he’ll be expected to hit the ground running.

Pittsburgh

New coach: Todd Graham.
Last seen: Coaching Tulsa.
Former coach: Dave Wannstedt/Mike Haywood.

Reason to like the hire: It was an odd path getting to this point, but Graham might end up making it a worthwhile endeavor. The fourth man in just more than a month to be called Panther head or interim coach, he’s the one most likely to ignite a moribund offense. Though a defensive coach, he leaned on high-powered offenses to deliver four winning and three 10-win seasons in five years at Rice and Tulsa. He’ll be a fresh departure from the stoic and often predictable Wannstedt.

Reason to question the hire: At this pivotal time for Pitt football, is a Conference USA coach with no league titles really the answer? Graham’s a good coach, but he has absolutely no ties to Western Pennsylvania, which will hinder recruiting in the short term. Plus, his defenses lacked muscle and physicality, partly due to the caliber of players, but still something that’ll have to be addressed now that the Big East is home.

San Diego State

New coach: Rocky Long.
Last seen: Coordinating the San Diego State defense.
Former coach: Brady Hoke.
Reason to like the hire: As devastating as it was to lose Hoke, the Aztecs made about as good a recovery as could be expected. They stayed in-house with Long, who did a nice job with the defense during the past two seasons. Last year’s squad was no lower than third in the league in sacks, tackles for loss, and pass efficiency defense. Best of all, he’s no novice to the job or the Mountain West Conference, coaching New Mexico for 11 seasons and leading the Lobos to five bowl games. Since he left, the program has gone 2-22.
Reason to question the hire: When Long resigned from New Mexico at the end of 2008, he cited personal doubts as to whether he could elevate the program further. Love the honesty, but a little concerned about the self-doubt and introspection. It takes a special person to produce results on the Mesa, and as steady as Long was in Albuquerque, he’s probably not the transformational figure San Diego State requires.

Stanford

New coach: David Shaw.
Last seen: Coordinating the Stanford offense.
Former coach: Jim Harbaugh.
Reason to like the hire: With one signature, Stanford addressed both short-term and long-term objectives on the sidelines. For 2011, All-American QB Andrew Luck gets to play his junior year with one of his mentors, a coach who helped engineer the Cardinal’s record-breaking success on offense. Long-term, it has a young alum who understands and embraces the university’s quest for excellence in athletics and academics. For Shaw, unlike his former boss, this is clearly a destination job.

Reason to question the hire: Didn’t Harbaugh build the program to a point where a proven winner would be available? The obvious concern about Shaw is that he’s only 38 and his experience is still predictably limited. What happens now that the face of the coaching staff is working on Sundays? Winning seven games and going to some second-rate bowl game is suddenly unacceptable, especially as long as Luck is still on the Farm.

Temple

New coach: Steve Addazio.
Last seen: Coordinating the Florida offense.
Former coach: Al Golden.
Reason to like the hire: Philadelphia is going to love the outspoken Addazio, and that’ll be a must in order to maintain some semblance of interest from a decidedly pro sports town. He has a fiery and passionate personality that is tailor-made for the Northeast. A master motivator, he’s recruited this region in the past and has maintained relationships at the high school level. Temple landed a coach who spent the past six years in Gainesville, so he’s not lacking in big-game experience.
Reason to question the hire: Florida fans couldn’t run Addazio out of town fast enough. As the offensive coordinator the past two seasons, his units were vilified for being predictable and not maximizing the skills of all of those Gator athletes. His in-game adjustments were questionable, and the 2010 version ranked an unthinkable 82nd in the country. The Owls have had their own issues on this side of the ball, so the coach better fill out his staff wisely.

Tulsa

New coach: Bill Blankenship.
Last seen: Coaching the Tulsa running backs, receivers, and special teams.
Former coach: Todd Graham.
Reason to like the hire: The Hurricane hired from within, maintaining a level of continuity on the sidelines. Not only has Blankenship been on staff during the most recent successful four-year run, but he was also a Tulsa quarterback from 1975-79. At this stage of his career, he’s not looking to job hop. A hall of fame high school coach in the state of Oklahoma after two decades of service, he’ll use those ties to help bolster the roster in his new endeavor.
Reason to question the hire: Blankenship has never held a head coaching position above the high school level. Heck, he’s never been a coordinator in the college ranks. It’s the safest choice, but is it the best one to maintain the program’s quest to be the best of Conference USA West? There is an undertone of discontent around Tulsa that the school might have opted for convenience in order to replace Graham.

Vanderbilt

New coach: James Franklin.
Last seen: Coordinating the Maryland offense.
Former coach: Robbie Caldwell.
Reason to like the hire: As the coach-in-waiting at Maryland, Franklin had far more responsibility and exposure than your garden-variety offensive coordinator. He brings a youthful energy and new ideas on offense to a program that’s been seeking a fresh outlook for decades. His reputation as an accomplished recruiter will be particularly important when trying to lure kids to the SEC’s bottom-feeder.
Reason to question the hire: No one knew Franklin better than Maryland, so why was he allowed to escape when a replacement for Ralph Friedgen was needed? Obviously, the Terps felt as if they could do better by looking outside the program. Yes, Franklin excels in recruiting, but neither he nor his staff has a lot of experience trolling the south. In fact, the coach has never held a job in this part of the country, another hurdle to improving the talent in Nashville.

Tagged: Arkansas State, Stanford, Colorado

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