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Grading out the new coaching hires

From late November through early January, while most of the college football world was busy debating/analyzing/ruing the LSU-Alabama national title game, 25 FBS schools that came nowhere near contending for that or any other championship last season went about hiring new coaches.

Needless to say, the 2011-12 coaching carousel contained far more drama than that season-ending 21-0 debacle.

From the inevitable (Urban Meyer taking over at Ohio State) to the unbelievable (Kansas hiring Charlie Weis), it's again time to assess which schools made the best and worst hires of the offseason -- and this year I'm looking beyond just the head coaches.

Washington State (Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach): A+

AD Bill Moos looked past the controversy surrounding Leach's bizarre 2009 ouster in Lubbock and focused more on his 84-43 record and 10 straight bowl trips. The quirky offensive mind is a perfect fit in remote Pullman and already has the quarterbacks (rising senior Jeff Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday) he needs to lead the dormant Cougars to their first postseason berth in nine years.

Ohio State (Urban Meyer, former Florida head coach): A

The two-time BCS champion returns to his home state and former employer, one of the few schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line with the cachet to pile up on the type of elite defensive players that keyed his 65-15 tenure at Florida. Meyer's one obvious red flag is the burnout/family issues that prompted his early "retirement," but all indications are he's re-energized after a one-year hiatus.

Arizona (Rich Rodriguez, former Michigan head coach): A-

AD Greg Byrne knew exactly who he wanted, pouncing early (Nov. 21) in naming Mike Stoops' replacement. While Rodriguez's three-year tenure in Ann Arbor did not end well, the pressure is much lower in tradition-starved Tucson. He's reunited the majority of his staff from West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to two BCS bowls. Arizona is still waiting on its first.

Pittsburgh (Paul Chryst, Wisconsin offensive coordinator): A-

On the third try, Pitt got it right. The soft-spoken Madison native had a tremendous impact on the Badgers, particularly their quarterbacks, a sore spot for the Panthers the past several years. His smash-mouth approach fits well in the Steel City, and it helps that he's bringing renowned offensive line coach Bob Bostad with him.

North Carolina (Larry Fedora, Southern Miss head coach): B+

Whoever got this job faced the looming specter of rebuilding amid forthcoming NCAA sanctions. But Fedora had an impressive run at Southern Miss, going 34-19 and beating the big boys for several notable recruits over his four years. He's worked under the likes of Grant Teaff, Fisher DeBerry and Mike Gundy and while primarily of an offensive background, produced aggressive defenses at Southern Miss.

Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin, Houston head coach): B

Multiple schools sought the 47-year-old, who led the Cougars to two Conference USA division titles and a 12-1 regular-season record in 2011. He's unquestionably a polished head coach. The concern here is that Sumlin appears set on running much the same wide-open passing offense he did at Houston in the defensive-dominated SEC.

Illinois (Tim Beckman, Toledo head coach): B

Beckman, a Berea, Ohio, native, knows the Midwest and the Big Ten (he coached at Ohio State under Jim Tressel). The 46-year-old went 14-2 in the MAC the past two seasons, reaching the conference title game in 2011. He shows promise, though his head-coaching experience is limited to three seasons in the MAC.

Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State head coach): B-

Given its limited resources, Ole Miss was unlikely to land a big name. It did the next-best thing, hiring a hot mid-major coach (Freeze led long-suffering Arkansas State to a 10-win season) with ties to Ole Miss. He's an Oxford native who spent three seasons as an assistant there under Ed Orgeron. But it's an admittedly risky hire; Freeze is only a few years removed from coaching an NAIA school.

Penn State (Bill O'Brien, New England Patriots offensive coordinator): C

Given Penn State's tarnished stature, it probably couldn't have done better. While O'Brien is known primarily for coaching Tom Brady, he's spent the bulk of his career in college. Unfortunately, that part of his resume consists primarily of three largely forgettable stints as an ACC offensive coordinator (at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke). It's a big leap to succeeding Joe Paterno.

UCLA (Jim L. Mora, former Seattle Seahawks head coach): D

After striking out with Chris Petersen, Al Golden and Sumlin, AD Dan Guerrero turned to an unemployed NFL lifer. Mora has assembled a nice staff and will likely make initial waves in recruiting, but history does not bode well for NFL-bred coaches. UCLA hopes Mora will become its Pete Carroll, but odds are much higher he emulates Bill Callahan, Charlie Weis, Chan Gailey, Mike Sherman ...

Arizona State (Todd Graham, Pittsburgh head coach): D

Forget the unseemly way he exited Pitt. Why exactly is Graham is a hot commodity to begin with? It's certainly not due to his one 6-6 Big East season. He had three 10-win seasons at Tulsa, but much of the credit belongs to respected offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris. His one season without either, he went 5-7. But perhaps his fourth dream job in six years will be the one.

Kansas (Charlie Weis, Florida offensive coordinator): F

Congratulations, AD Sheahon Zenger, you made your big splash. Surely a coach who led Notre Dame to its worst season in school history (3-9 in 2007), oversaw a miserable Florida offense last season and has demonstrated little ability to develop young players will be a smashing success. Even if by some miracle Kansas soars under his watch, Weis will be back in the NFL shortly thereafter.

Akron (Terry Bowden): Bowden, who went 29-9 in three seasons at North Alabama after a decade in coaching exile, is overqualified for the gig.

Arkansas State (Gus Malzahn): The Sun Belt school scored a coup in landing Auburn's renowned offensive guru, even if it winds up being a short stay.

Colorado State (Jim McElwain): Alabama's offensive coordinator the past four years spent much of his career in the West and is well prepared to be a head coach.

Hawaii (Norm Chow): At long last, the 65-year-old lifelong assistant gets his chance to lead a program, and he'll do so in his native state.

Houston (Tony Levine): Houston made a wise move to promote its 39-year-old assistant head coach, even before he led the Cougars in their TicketCity Bowl rout of Penn State.

Tulane (Curtis Johnson): The New Orleans native was a renowned recruiter at Miami under Butch Davis and Larry Coker and coached Drew Brees' receivers with the Saints.

Jeff Casteel, Arizona (defense): Defense was the bane of Rodriguez's existence at Michigan. It was critical he reunite with his highly effective former West Virginia coordinator.

Vic Koenning, North Carolina (defense): One of the best in the biz, Koenning helped Illinois' defense improve from No. 91 to No. 7 nationally during his two years in Champaign.

Mike Locksley, Maryland (offense): The trouble-plagued ex-New Mexico coach is controversial but an unquestioned D.C. recruiting whiz. He gives Randy Edsall a much-needed spark.

Brent Pease, Florida (offense): The former Boise State coordinator should prove more adaptable than Weis while still emphasizing the type of physical offense Will Muschamp desires.

Mark Snyder, Texas A&M (defense): The former Marshall head coach and Ohio State coordinator takes on the challenge of upgrading the Aggies' D to SEC quality.

Mike Stoops, Oklahoma (defense): Bob's brother returns to Norman, where he produced some of the nation's most dominant units from 1999-2003. The Sooners needed him.

Brian VanGorder, Auburn (defense): Gene Chizik upgraded from Ted Roof (now at Penn State) to the recent Atlanta Falcons coordinator, Mark Richt's original coordinator at Georgia.

Tosh Lupoi, Washington (defensive line): Steve Sarkisian sent shock waves through the Pac-12 by luring away Cal's ace recruiter, considered the best on the West Coast.

Mickey Marotti, Ohio State (strength and conditioning): Urban Meyer dubbed his former Florida right-hand man as "more important than a coordinator or a line coach."

Jonathan Smith, Boise State (quarterbacks): Petersen tabbed the former Oregon State standout and Montana offensive coordinator to help mold Kellen Moore's successor.

Note: Several major-conference programs (West Virginia, Clemson, Iowa and Utah among them) still have open coordinator positions to fill.

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