Twenty-one FBS schools have changed head coaches since the end of the regular season, and over and over again, in talking to various people both in the sport as well as those who cover it, one word seemed to pop up more than any other when some of the new choices were announced: Strange.
More than I can remember in any recent year, a majority of the latest head-coaching hires at BCS-conference schools left more than a few of us scratching our heads. It probably explains why my coaching carousel report card this year bears noticeably lower grades across the board than this same column a year ago.
It could be that those doing the hiring are more insightful or more visionary than we mere mortals who follow college football. Or it could be that a lot of people are being paid a lot of money to make colossally misguided decisions. Whatever the case, we won't know one way or the other until several years down the road. In the meantime ...
Indiana (Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma offensive coordinator): A
Wilson represents the best of all worlds for the long-dormant Hoosiers. He brings the experience of having spent the past nine years working for a perennial BCS contender. He has Big Ten and Midwest familiarity from his time at Northwestern and Miami (Ohio). And he's an acclaimed offensive coordinator who will maximize Indiana's underrated skill talent.
Stanford (David Shaw, offensive coordinator): A
Given the success of Jim Harbaugh's program and the return of star quarterback Andrew Luck, it makes perfect sense for the Cardinal to promote from within. Plus, Shaw is a Cardinal alum who's far less likely to jump to a higher-profile job like Harbaugh. It's a bit risky only in that Shaw is only 38 and the school probably could have landed someone with more experience, but he seems well prepared.
Michigan (Brady Hoke, San Diego State head coach): A-
While Jim Harbaugh would have been an A+, Hoke is very much what Michigan needs in the wake of the polarizing Rich Rodriguez era: An old-school Midwesterner with ties to the program (he served on Lloyd Carr's staff for eight years) who happens to have impressive credentials. Anyone that can win 12 games at Ball State and make San Diego State relevant again knows how to build a program.
Miami (Al Golden, Temple head coach): B+
You would think a school with five national titles could land a bigger name, but nevertheless, Golden has the makings of a potential star. What he accomplished at Temple was nothing short of miraculous. The program was an abomination, both on the field and off, upon his arrival; four years later, the Owls were in a bowl game. Look for him to tap into his East Coast recruiting well.
Florida (Will Muschamp, Texas defensive coordinator: B*
Jeremy Foley wasted no time following Urban Meyer's resignation going out and landing one of the hottest young names in the biz. Muschamp fits a similar profile to former Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops at the time Oklahoma hired him. He knows how to recruit and motivate.
(* -- The B grade got downgraded from a B+ after Muschamp's bizarre hiring of Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator.)
Minnesota (Jerry Kill, Northern Illinois head coach): B
If any program could have desperately used a big-splash hire to energize the fan base, it's Minnesota, and AD Joel Maturi all but promised as much. Thus, the letdown when he announced the unglamorous Kill. That being said, Kill was a perennial I-AA playoff coach and took NIU to three straight bowls. He'll turn the Gophers into a consistent bowl team as well.
Vanderbilt (James Franklin, Maryland offensive coordinator): B
Vandy made no effort to hide its pursuit of renowned Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, leaving Franklin dangling for several days. Once hired, though, Franklin showed tremendous enthusiasm for what will be a daunting challenge. It's hard to gauge much from his time at Maryland, but the school's previous administration thought highly enough of him to name him Ralph Friedgen's head coach in waiting.
Connecticut (Paul Pasqualoni, former Syracuse head coach): B-
I'm not as down on this hire as some. Pasqualoni had a successful 14-year run at Syracuse, where he went 73-34 in Big East play. He's extremely connected throughout the Northeast, which is essential at a school like UConn. The downside, of course, is that he's 62 and seven years removed from college coaching. His hiring is essentially an admission that the program has a ceiling.
Maryland (Randy Edsall, Connecticut head coach): C+
Edsall is a good coach, but he doesn't seem to remotely fit AD Kevin Anderson's stated intent to bring in a guy (cough, cough, Mike Leach) who would help fill the stands. Edsall, fresh off taking the 8-4 Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl, seems no more accomplished than the man he replaced, Ralph Friedgen. However, he's unlikely to bomb. He'll win games. It's less certain he'll contend for conference titles.
Pittsburgh (Todd Graham, Tulsa head coach): C
Forced to scramble after having to fire original choice Mike Haywood, Pitt didn't have a lot of attractive options. Graham may well have made the biggest possible splash what with his high-powered offenses and three 10-win seasons at Tulsa. But the first two of those came with Gus Malzahn as his coordinator, the latter with Malzahn disciple Chad Morris. Without either, the Hurricane went 5-7 in 2009.
Colorado (Jon Embree, Redskins tight end coach): D
Cash-strapped CU, rejected by the likes of Mike Bellotti, decided to reconnect with its past by bringing in former star and assistant Embree, overlooking the fact he's never been even a college offensive coordinator. Nor has his new offensive coordinator, former Buffs star Eric Bienemy. Another CU great, new defensive line coach Kanavis McGhee, most recently coached at Gannon (Pa.) University. Good luck with that.
Best of the rest
Kent State (Darrell Hazell): Jim Tressel's receivers coach since 2004 has recruited and developed numerous NFL players and is an ideal fit at the Northeast Ohio school.
Miami of Ohio (Don Treadwell): Michigan State's offensive coordinator spent seven years under Mark Dantonio and filled in admirably as interim coach following his boss's heart attack last year.
North Texas (Dan McCarney): It's a coup for the Sun Belt school to get a guy that spent 13 years as a BCS-conference head coach (at Iowa State) and spent three years on Urban Meyer's staff.
San Diego State (Rocky Long): The former New Mexico coach knows the Mountain West well (he went to five bowls in 10 years) and played a big part in Hoke's success as defensive coordinator.
Temple (Steve Addazio): Florida fans will laugh, but before his undistinguished stint as Meyer's offensive coordinator, the Connecticut native was widely respected in Northeast circles