Travis: Louisville made college football’s best hire by getting Bobby Petrino
We’re two weeks from a southern holiday — national signing day — and we’ve finally ended our annual offseason game of college football head-coaching dominoes.
Seven schools from the nation’s five major conferences hired new coaches.
We won’t know how those coaches will do at their new jobs for two years — three at the most — but we can already rank them.
Why? Because you can rank anything.
In two years, if I’m right, none of you will even remember this column. But if I’m wrong, you’ll be emailing me for years.
This is what makes the prediction business so much fun. So here’s how I’d rank those seven hires with a specific grade in parentheses.
1. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (A+)
To judge by some of the moralists in the sports media, you’d think Petrino chained the doors of a church and lit it on fire during Christmas Eve service.
Instead, he cheated on his wife with a younger blonde employee and lied about it. Or, as they call this in New York City, Washington, D.C., Hollywood and many of the places of employment in the sporting industry where people claimed to be so offended by Petrino’s actions, he went to work.
Petrino will win big again at Louisville. That’s a guarantee.
How many of these other hires are absolutely guaranteed to win big at their new jobs? None.
That’s why Petrino is the best hire of the offseason.
His talents far exceed his problems. So long as that’s the case, he’ll always be employed in America today.
Appearing on our 3HL show here in Nashville, Petrino said that looking back he wishes he’d never left Louisville. I think he means it.
Plus, you can sometimes rank a hire by the reaction of your most hated rival. When news broke that Louisville had hired Petrino, Kentucky football fans — yes, they exist — simply looked to the heavens and said, "Why does God hate Kentucky football so much?"
Enjoy the college football playoff, Louisville fans — Petrino will take you there.
2. James Frankin, Penn State (A)
Penn State couldn’t have done any better with the available coaching candidates for its job. They hired a Pennsylvania native with tremendous recruiting connections in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. Instead of battling Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida for top recruits, Franklin will be battling just Ohio State.
And he’ll win a ton of those battles.
Franklin will finish with a top five recruiting class in 2015, reinvigorate a program still coming to grips with an awful scandal and has a good chance to win his first five games of 2014.
Suffice it to say that Penn State is a huge winner here.
3. Chris Petersen, Washington (A)
Remember when Petersen was the Moby Dick of college coaching searches, the great white whale who no one could seem to land?
Well, the Huskies finally caught him. And I feel like, if anything, most people just shrugged.
Washington is one of three programs that I think ended up with a better coach than the one it lost. Louisville, Penn State and Washington all got better at the top.
In eight years Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State. He’ll win big at Washington, too.
Much bigger than Sarkisian did for sure.
4. Charlie Strong, Texas (B)
The nation’s best job attracted a good coach, I’m just not sure Texas got a good fit.
If things don’t go well for Strong early in his tenure, then the Longhorn Network and the media attention could become a massive distraction for Charlie. You’re not just a coach at Texas, you’re a politician. How much is Strong going to like that aspect of his new job?
Then again, winning cures everything.
If Strong wins 10 or more games his first season and keeps things rolling after that, no one will quibble with his off-the-field responsibilities and persona.
But what if he doesn’t win big early? And how much do we really know about Strong as a head coach? He went 7-6 in each of his first two seasons at Louisville and then caught fire with Teddy Bridgewater, going 23-3 these past two seasons.
But when you break down his past two seasons at Louisville, Strong beat only one top 25 team — Florida in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Otherwise the Louisville schedule was awful.
Is Strong going to arrive at Texas and be better than Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and Baylor’s Art Briles?
I have my doubts.
5. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (B-)
Mason said all the right things in his introductory press conference at Vanderbilt, but it’s impossible to rank any coordinator, no matter how successful, that highly as a new hire.
The reason? Being a head coach is a whole new ballgame.
It’s impossible to know how any coordinator will take to the new gig, especially one who has never coached in the SEC before.
I trust David Williams — the last three coaches he wanted to hire at Vandy were Charlie Strong, Gus Malzahn and James Franklin — but the evidence to rank this hire that highly just isn’t there yet.
6. Steve Sarkisian, USC (C)
Given a chance to strike off in a new direction and bring fresh blood to the nation’s top West Coast job, USC elected to stay safe and bring back another former Pete Carroll assistant.
Sarkisian was unimpressive in five seasons as Washington coach, tallying a 34-29 overall mark.
Every season was totally mediocre, with never more than eight wins and at least four Pac-12 losses each year.
For comparison’s sake, Lane Kiffin, the coach USC fired to end up hiring Sarkisian, went 28-15 in just over three years at USC.
Now you can say that illustrates the difference between the quality of the two jobs, but talk to Pac-12 people and they’ll tell you that Washingon is the third-best job in the conference after USC and Oregon.
So what gives?
USC, one of the top 10 jobs in the country, is still trying to recapture the glory of the Carroll regime.
7. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest (C-)
Anyone who lived through the Clawson era at Tennessee isn’t going to rank this hire very highly.
Clawson has been a head coach for a long time now and he’s 90-80 overall.
In Clawson’s defense, he’s rebuilt every job and left on a high note, but he’s coming off a 32-31 mark at Bowling Green.
Plus, Clawson’s replacing Jim Grobe, a guy who won an ACC title.
Of course, eight of Grobe’s 13 years the Demon Deacons finished with a losing record.
And he was still considered a good coach.
Good luck, Dave.