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Inside the coaching changes

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Pete Fiutak

   
 

No one hires a coach thinking he'll be fired or will quickly move on to bigger and better things, but outside of a very, very select, Barry Alvarez-like few, that's the fate of every new coaching hire.

Did anyone think the Rich Neuheisel era at UCLA would be such a dud? Who could've seen what a disaster the seemingly perfect marriage of Dan Hawkins and Colorado was going to be?

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And Joe Paterno was fired.

But on the flip side, no one knew who Bret Bielema was before Alvarez picked his successor; few had any clue who Bob Stoops was before he made Oklahoma special again; and many USC fans went ballistic after a failed pro coach like Pete Carroll was brought aboard.

For good and mostly for bad, college football head coaches are too often the faces and spokesmen for their respective schools, so the hiring of a new head man is about more than just finding a guy who can teach others how to block and tackle; it's about making a statement.

With that in mind, here are the expectations for all 24 football programs starting 2012 with a new coach, and for those who have made their hire, the prediction for how it'll end.

But that's simple. The coach will almost certainly be fired or he'll take a better job. The 24 schools below would prefer the latter.

Akron

Out With The Old … Rob Ianello
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: The program went from bad to worse in the two years under Ianello and hasn’t had a winning season since the 2005 MAC championship campaign. It doesn’t take a huge offense to succeed in the MAC East, but the Zips need an attack that can do something for an offense that finished 118th in the nation in scoring. The new head coach doesn’t need to win the MAC title on a regular basis, but he needs to make Akron competitive again.

Arizona

Out With The Old … Mike Stoops
… In With The New: Rich Rodriguez

Expectations: Under Rodriguez, Arizona needs to be in the Pac-12 South hunt on a regular basis. Considering Arizona State and UCLA are in rebuilding mode, USC is still coming off its NCAA issues, and Colorado and Utah aren’t exactly superpowers, the time is now for Arizona to turn a corner, and RichRod is the one to do it. There were problems from Day One at Michigan, but this was the season Rodriguez was building toward and Brady Hoke benefitted, taking the team to a 10-2 record and a BCS game. Rodriguez’s offense will work right away for Arizona, but he needs the defense to be night-and-day better than it was in Ann Arbor.

Prediction: It’ll be a rebirth. There was scorched earth at West Virginia and Michigan, but Rodriguez will put together the offense to give the Pac-12 South a world of problems.

Arizona State

Out With The Old … Dennis Erickson
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: After Joe Paterno was fired, Erickson – along with Nick Saban – was one of just two active head coaches with multiple national titles. ASU keeps trying to find the right fit to take the program to another level, but no one has been able to find the formula to blend all the athletic talent that flows through Tempe with the production needed to be consistently great. ASU has been looking at offensive head coaches like June Jones and Kevin Sumlin – with neither one taking the gig – but it might need a strong defensive mind to bring back the success of the 1990s under Bill Snyder.

Arkansas State

Out With The Old … Hugh Freeze
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: All Freeze did was step in and take Arkansas State to its greatest football season in school history. Now, Red Wolf fans are going to be expecting 10-2 production on a regular basis. The school has been in the mix for Sun Belt titles throughout the years, and the new coach has to get it done on a consistent basis. However, anyone of substance might be a rental.

Colorado State

Out With The Old … Steve Fairchild
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: There’s this idea that Colorado State just needs a little bit of tweaking to get back to the years when Sonny Lubick made the program the star of the mid-majors, but Lubick couldn’t sustain the success and Fairchild couldn’t make the team as physical and tough as he wanted and was canned after his third straight three-win season. The goal is to find a head coach who can create enough of a buzz to get a bigger conference interested, and that will only come by beating up the leftovers in the Mountain West.

Florida Atlantic

Out With The Old … Howard Schnellenberger
… In With The New: Carl Pelini

Expectations: FAU ran out of steam as Schnellenberger got to the end of his terrific run. He built the football program himself, made it a Sun Belt power for a few years, and then got lapped by the rest of the league and closed out fielding the worst team in college football. Pelini is a Pelini, and like his brother - Nebraska head coach, Bo - the intensity and fire will be there from Day One. If nothing else, the Owls are going to come out hitting right away and should quickly have one of the league’s best defenses. In the Sun Belt, it’s not hard to go from worst-to-first in a heartbeat, and Pelini will demand nothing less than an immediate improvement.

Prediction: Three years. It’ll be a rough first season, a good second year, a great third year, and then Pelini will take a next-step job up the chain.

Fresno State

Out With The Old … Pat Hill
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: Pat Hill was Fresno State football. He might not have put the program on the map – that was done by his predecessor, Jim Sweeney – but he gave it a national profile. The Bulldogs were fearless and productive, never afraid to take on any challenge in any stadium. The problem was they stopped winning those big games just as Boise State became something special and stole all the thunder. Hill’s teams were mired in mediocrity over the last few years and bottomed out in a 4-9 campaign. The next head coach has to bring something fresh as FSU makes the move into the Mountain West, and he has to bring Hill’s swagger and confidence, but with the wins to back it up.

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Hawaii

Out With The Old … Greg McMackin
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: It takes something a bit quirky and out-of-the-norm to lead Hawaii. It takes a head coach who’s willing to be unconventional, and it takes one who can work with no budget, poor facilities, and can embrace the positives of the situation and the players available while owning one of college football’s best home-field advantages. McMackin wasn’t bad, and no one’s expecting BCS appearances on a regular basis, but Hawaii football has to be fun, the offense has to be special, and a bowl game every year is a must.

Houston

Out With The Old … Kevin Sumlin
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: After all the success under Art Briles and then Sumlin, nothing less than a smart, offensive-minded head coach will do. The expectations have been set: score lots of points, put up big numbers and compete for conference titles on a consistent basis. With a move to the Big East coming, the new head coach has to be able to take what Briles and Sumlin started and do more. Those two succeeded against relatively light schedules, and now the competition level is being ramped up.

Illinois

Out With The Old … Ron Zook
… In With The New: Tim Beckman

Expectations: Illinois football is desperate for anyone to care about Illinois football. It’s a basketball school with a mediocre basketball program, and even with the success of the football team earlier in the year, there wasn’t a ton of excitement. Beckman isn’t a wow name that’ll get the fan base fired up, but he has the energy and the fire of Ron Zook and the Xs and Os ability to put together the type of offense the program is used to. His teams will put up numbers, but no one will get into the Illini until the winning seasons come on a regular basis. On the plus side, with Penn State in trouble, the Leaders division is suddenly easier.

Prediction: Enough success to hang around for a while. Beckman needs to show right away he can recruit the talent that Zook brought in, while doing a better job at coaching them. Illinois will be just good enough to make winning seasons the norm, but it’ll be third in the Leaders pecking order behind Ohio State and Wisconsin for the near future.

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Kansas

Out With The Old … Turner Gill
… In With The New: Charlie Weis

Expectations: Be interesting. Kansas got a taste of what it’s like with a good football team to go along with the basketball success, but when the Mark Mangino era went south, it went in a hurry. Turner Gill was the Bucky Dent of college football coaches – hitting one improbable home run with Buffalo when everything went right – and he couldn’t get the offense moving in two years. The hope will be for Weis to bring a decided schematic advantage to Lawrence and hope he can find the fire to prove to the world he can be a good college head football coach.

Prediction: Four years. Weis will do just enough in his first few years to give Jayhawk fans hope, and then the team will hit a hard ceiling. Weis isn’t a top-shelf recruiter, he doesn’t like to glad-hand the alumni, and he didn’t exactly do anything with all the talent at his disposal at Florida this season.

Memphis

Out With The Old … Larry Porter
… In With The New: Justin Fuente

Expectations: There was a time when Memphis football wasn’t awful, but the team was among the worst in the country over the last two years under Larry Porter. The hope is for some of the TCU success to rub off with Fuente, an out-of-the-blue hire from Gary Patterson’s staff. The running game should be solid, but Fuente is as green as they come as a head-coaching option.

Prediction: The offense will work. Fuente did a great job as the TCU quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator over the last few years, making Andy Dalton a star and helping Casey Pachall hit the ground running this year. It’s not going to be quick turnaround, but he’ll do better than the 3-21 record under Porter.

New Mexico

Out With The Old … Mike Locksley
… In With The New: Bob Davie

Expectations: Be solid again. New Mexico turned into a nice, consistently above-average program under Rocky Long, but he was canned because there weren’t any steps forward. After the disastrous Mike Locksley era – one of the worst coaching stints in recent college football history – Davie should reestablish some order. He should be able to make the Lobos a player in the Mountain West within two years.

Prediction: It’ll work. New Mexico isn’t going to be a superpower, but Davie, who wasn’t awful with Notre Dame, will instantly make the Lobo defense better and will get the ground game working from Day One.

North Carolina

Out With The Old … Butch Davis
… In With The New: Larry Fedora

Expectations: Here’s the problem; even with all the sins committed under Butch Davis, the program was still just this this close to rocking at an elite level. Yeah, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, but if the Tar Heels didn’t lose so many star players to suspension last year, they would’ve been considered true national title contenders. Even with the NCAA issues still to deal with, Fedora has to recruit at a high level and he has to produce more than he did at Southern Miss. North Carolina is a basketball school, but Davis was right; it can also be tremendous at football, too.

Prediction: Three years. Fedora will be good, but North Carolina is looking for great. Remember, it’s not like Fedora did much with Southern Miss until this year, and while the hope is that he’ll rebuild the program to a high level, the Coastal is improving and it’ll be tough to make a quick move up.

Ohio State

Out With The Old … Luke Fickell
… In With The New: Urban Meyer

Expectations: National title or bust. Meyer is one of the premier coaches in all of sports in one of the premier jobs in all of sports. Because of his résumé, and because Ohio State – NCAA issues and all – is used to being in the BCS championship chase on a yearly basis, Meyer’s tenure will be a failure if he doesn’t hold up at least one crystal football. It might not seem fair, and it might not seem right, but a place like Ohio State doesn’t get a coach like Meyer to consistently win the Leaders division.

Prediction: Ohio State will play for the national title twice under Meyer – and lose. Don’t assume the Big Ten title is a foregone conclusion with Michigan starting to explode under Brady Hoke and with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska not going away. However, Meyer will get everyone he wants on the recruiting trail and his teams will do enough to get to the big game a few times.

Ole Miss

Out With The Old … Houston Nutt
… In With The New: Hugh Freeze

Expectations: Primarily known as Michael Oher’s high school coach, Freeze proved to be more than was shown in “The Blind Side” by taking Arkansas State to a special season. The former offensive coordinator was the right man for the ASU job, and now Ole Miss is hoping it has the next big coaching star. The program wants to be among the big boys – it doesn’t have a bunch of patience for mediocrity - but it’s in the same division as Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas and isn’t going to beat all four of those teams on a regular basis. The Ole Miss head coach can’t lose to Mississippi State and he has to occasionally beat the big boys. It’s a tough situation to walk into, but Freeze has the offensive mind and the enthusiasm to give it a good run.

Prediction: Four years. There’s only so much anyone can do in a division with Nick Saban, Les Miles, Bobby Petrino and Gene Chizik. Ask Dan Mullen at Mississippi State what life is like being a smart, talented head coach trying to climb the SEC West mountain.

Penn State

Out With The Old … Joe Paterno
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: Surprisingly, some still think it’s business as usual for the program. Considering the FBI, the Department of Education and every top cop in Pennsylvania is on the task – to go along with almost certain NCAA and Big Ten sanctions – no one with any sort of a big name or decent résumé will want anything to do with the job until he knows what the status is. Unless it’s someone who wants to take on the impossible task and has an impeccable name – like a Tony Dungy-type – Penn State will have to take what it can get. In terms of public perception, starting from scratch with someone without any ties to Joe Paterno in any way would be a positive.

Southern Miss

Out With The Old … Larry Fedora
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: Win the Conference USA title. Defections are starting to gut the league and Southern Miss is a good enough program to get looks from bigger, better conferences with a few more big seasons. The new head coach will be expected to keep up the team’s winning tradition by combining the defensive production under Jeff Bower with the offensive performances under Larry Fedora. Anything less than a winning season at USM is a disaster, and anyone who steps in will have to win big right away.

Texas A&M

Out With The Old … Mike Sherman
… In With The New: Kevin Sumlin

Expectations: Sumlin might seem like the right fit after serving as an assistant with the Aggies a decade ago, and he might have been one of the hot names in the mix, but he hasn’t exactly won anything. His teams put up huge numbers and the offenses were fantastic, but the Cougars should’ve won the 2009 Conference USA title, and didn’t, and they blew their chance at the BCS with a home loss to Southern Miss in this year’s championship game. Texas A&M is known for being the program that can’t get from Point B to Point C, and now it has a coach who hasn’t proven he can get a team over the top. A&M might be the biggest name program that can’t achieve powerhouse status, and Aggie fans aren’t going to accept anything less than being one of the stars of the SEC.

Prediction: Three years. Texas A&M isn’t going to be better than Alabama, LSU, Arkansas or Auburn in the SEC West over the next three seasons, and while it might be possible to come up with a big season and finish in the division’s top three, it’s going to be a fight. The patience isn’t going to be there.

Toledo

Out With The Old … Tim Beckman
… In With The New: JOB STILL OPEN

Expectations: Beckman turned the Rockets back around. Toledo had gone from being a MAC powerhouse to an also-ran by the end of the Tom Amstutz era, and Beckman came in and stopped the slide with a terrific offense and a fun team. This is a stepping-stone job that should be attractive to any coordinator looking to make a big move up the ladder in a hurry, but he has to produce. At Toledo, the MAC title game is always the reasonable goal.

Tulane

Out With The Old … Bob Toledo
… In With The New: Curtis Johnson

Expectations: Before Hurricane Katrina, Tulane had a solid Conference USA program, but football was one of the last things the school has been focused on in the rebuilding project the city is still undergoing. Bob Toledo was supposed to bring in a big-time offense, but it never happened and the Green Wave is now on an eight-season losing streak. The expectations aren’t exactly sky-high for Tulane, but putting together a winning season isn’t asking for the world.

Prediction: Mild success. The hope is for Johnson to do for Tulane what he was able to come up with for the New Orleans Saints’ receiving corps, but Green Wave fans were hoping for big things from Toledo, too. Tulane will be more entertaining and more competitive, but the jury is out on whether a first-time head coach like Johnson can perform a miracle in a tough spot.

UAB

Out With The Old … Neil Callaway
… In With The New: Garrick McGee

Expectations: Relatively high. McGee is a rising star after a successful run as the Arkansas offensive coordinator, and while no one’s expecting miracles at UAB, McGee has the respect and the recommendations to expect to shine right away. It’s all relative, and if the Blazers can suddenly get the offense moving under McGee’s reign, and if he can come up with the first winning season since 2004, he’ll have succeeded.

Prediction: Three years. He’ll make the offense work, UAB will have one great year and then he’ll be off to a bigger-name gig.

UCLA

Out With The Old … Rick Neuheisel
… In With The New: Jim Mora, Jr.

Expectations: Tempered. There was talk about Mora being the third or even fourth choice for the job, but he has the NFL experience, the youthful energy, and the fire to show the world that he shouldn’t have been canned at Atlanta. UCLA is hoping to get the next Pete Carroll – another enthusiastic pro coach who was better suited to the college game – but remember, USC fans weren’t exactly jumping for joy when Carroll was first hired. Mora isn’t an out-of-the-box choice, and he’s saying all the right “sleeping giant” type of things every UCLA head man has to say, but he needs to win immediately. Rick Neuheisel brought in just enough decent recruits to form a decent base, and if Mora has any success whatsoever – meaning an offense that consistently works and more than six wins in his first year – the excitement will be through the roof.

Prediction: It’ll be a home run if given a little bit of time. The negative recruiting against Mora will be easy – some will say he’s looking to make a big run to get a shot at going back to the NFL. But Mora is looking to make a program his to own, and this might be it. He has the right personality, the talent, and the ability to grow into a whale of a college coach, and while he isn’t going to be Carroll – no one can be – and USC will still rule the roost in the South, the program will be far stronger in two years.

Washington State

Out With The Old … Paul Wulff
… In With The New: Mike Leach

Expectations: Get ready for the fireworks. Washington State might not ever win the Pac-12 North – Texas Tech never played for a Big 12 title under Leach’s reign – and it might not be able to get by Oregon every year, but here come the fireworks. There’s an opening for a No. 2 team in the division, and Wazzu might be it if Leach can immediately work his magic and restore the Mike Price/Dennis Erickson tradition of high-octane offenses. Along the way, Leach will ruffle more than a few feathers and his arrival will make the Cougars a must-watch on a weekly basis.

Prediction: Three years. The turnaround will start immediately, things will start to rock in Year Two, Wazzu will contend for the Pac-12 title in Year Three, and then it’ll be off to a bigger job that can handle Leach’s ego and offensive coaching talent.

Tagged: Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Arkansas State, Toledo, Ohio, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Arkansas, Texas Christian, Hawaii, Texas A&M, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Tulane, UAB, Memphis, New Mexico, Curtis Johnson, Mike Price

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