Grading college football's coaching hires
Purdue: Jeff Brohm. Grade: A
Brohm’s hire was a terrific move by the Boilermakers, who’d very much like to make some noise in the Big Ten. Brohm arrives at Purdue after three consecutive winning seasons at Western Kentucky, including Conference USA titles in 2015 and ’16. He’s familiar with the region (he’s from Louisville, and worked as an assistant at Illinois). Hailed as an offensive innovator, Brohm guided his teams to an average of 44.6 points and 526.2 yards of offense per game over three years with the Hilltoppers.
San Jose State: Brent Brennan. Grade: A
This is far from an easy job, so hiring someone who was there when the Spartans were good (Brennan worked under former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre) was key. Brennan gained valuable experience under Oregon State coaches Mike Riley and Gary Andersen, and he coached multiple All-America receivers. His youth and energy will be a huge asset on the recruiting trail.
Texas: Tom Herman. Grade: A-minus
He was the hottest name on the market, and the biggest school got its guy. Nicknamed the Quarterback Whisperer after navigating Ohio State’s trio of talented signal callers in 2014, Herman led Houston to a few big-time upsets over his two years. Now he’s stepping into a locker room full of talent in Austin. Herman underwhelmed on National Signing Day though, as Texas finished No. 28 nationally according to Scout.com’s 2017 team rankings.
Minnesota: P.J. Fleck. Grade: B-plus
If Tom Herman was the hottest name on the coaching carousel, Fleck was second. But it wasn’t until Minnesota’s job opened up late that the Western Michigan coach, the only one in the Group of Five to lead his team to an undefeated regular season in 2016, got his shot in the Power 5. Fleck oozes enthusiasm (about football, rowing the boat, life and cotton, among other things), and he’ll be able to connect with kids on the recruiting trail.
Western Kentucky: Mike Sanford. Grade: B-plus
Considered one of the bright young offensive minds in college football, the former Notre Dame offensive coordinator has previous coaching experience at Western Kentucky, which is a plus in recruiting. In South Bend he tutored Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer, who finished his career with a variety of Notre Dame records. Sanford’s attack averaged 466.4 yards of total offense in 2015, the most for Notre Dame since 2005.
LSU: Ed Orgeron. Grade: B-plus
The native Louisianan made no secret about wanting this job—and the others he’d been an interim for—and he finally got it. Even if he wasn’t LSU’s first (or second) choice, he’s a good one. Orgeron’s a different coach than he was when he got the Ole Miss job in 2005, and—key for LSU—he’s a coach that appreciates offense. His passion will appeal to recruits and fans. Orgeron will get the Tigers to challenge Alabama for the SEC title sooner rather than later.
Cal: Justin Wilcox. Grade: B-plus
Wilcox is young, energetic and will connect with recruits. He’s considered one of the best defensive coaches—don’t focus on what happened at USC; think instead about Wisconsin, Boise State and Washington. And he made a terrific hire in plucking Beau Baldwin from Eastern Washington to run Cal’s offense. The roster is not built for what he wants to run (or for playing defense in general), but Wilcox has a clear plan of attack despite being hired so late in the process.
Fresno State: Jeff Tedford. Grade: B-plus
Tedford’s tenure at Cal ended poorly, but it’s clear after the last few years that his run there was impressive. He left Berkeley as the winningest coach in Cal history (82 wins) and went to seven consecutive bowl games. All of that makes him an appealing hire, plus the fact that he’s a Fresno State alum with longtime recruiting ties. The move made sense for all parties involved.
Nevada: Jay Norvell. Grade: B-plus
He’s got experience in the college football national championship game and the Super Bowl, and he’s has coached at 11 combined college and NFL programs throughout his 31-year career. Norvell is, to say the least, experienced—and he has recruiting ties everywhere. Bringing on Jeff Casteel as his defensive coordinator (you might know him as the guy who coached Scooby Wright) was a hiring coup.
Indiana: Tom Allen. Grade: B
This opening came out of nowhere, and as a result, Indiana decided to promote from within instead of conducting a national search. Allen had only been on the Hoosiers’ staff one season, but he led one of the best defensive turnarounds in the country in 2016. He has worked for respected coaches Willie Taggart and Huge Freeze, and he’s also a former high school coach in Indiana and a native of the state.
Georgia State: Shawn Elliott. Grade: B
Elliott has experience as a head coach from acting as South Carolina’s interim in the wake of Steve Spurrier’s retirement. He was part of three consecutive 11-win seasons with the Gamecocks, coaching the offensive line and serving as the run game coordinator. Georgia State fans will like that he flat out knows how to win: In 20 seasons as a Division I assistant, Elliott was part of 19 winning seasons.
Cincinnati: Luke Fickell. Grade: B
Recruiting-wise, this was a no-brainer because the ex-Ohio State linebackers coach can obviously recruit Ohio. The former Buckeyes interim head coach (back in 2011) won two national championships as an assistant at Ohio State, most recently in 2014 under head coach Urban Meyer.
Oregon: Willie Taggart. Grade: B-minus
He reportedly wasn’t Oregon’s first, second or third choice, but Taggart’s enthusiasm has been a hit in Eugene. The unofficial third Harbaugh brother has been well-received on the recruiting trail, despite two major PR headaches in Taggart’s first couple weeks: First, three players were hospitalized following off-season workouts, and then co-offensive coordinator David Reaves was arrested and charged with drunk driving. Taggart rebounded by signing the country’s 17th-best class and second-best in the Pac-12.
Baylor: Matt Rhule. Grade: B-minus
Initially a puzzling hire considering his lack of Texas ties, Rhule was bombarded with questions about a scandal he didn’t create, answering the inquires with grace. That was good. So was salvaging a recruiting class that on life support when he was hired. But Baylor’s good PR was brief, when Rhule’s strength and conditioning coach was recently busted in a prostitution sting and subsequently fired.
UConn: Randy Edsall. Grade: B-minus
This hire was kinda weird and yet, it makes sense. Edsall had a lot of success with the Huskies the first time around, from 1999–2010, including a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2010. He went 74–70 over 12 seasons before moving to Maryland, where he struggled mightily. But Edsall knows how to win in the Northeast and should help the Huskies get back to respectability.
Temple: Geoff Collins. Grade: C-plus
Collins spent the last two seasons helping Florida win back-to-back SEC East division championships. He worked as a defensive coordinator at two SEC schools, first at Mississippi State and then at Florida, where in 2015 the Gators’ defense ranked eighth nationally. He’ll immediately bring a tough defense to Temple, a program on the rise.
Houston: Major Applewhite. Grade: C
The Cougars are tired of being a stepping stone, so they opted to promote from within instead of hiring another hot name who will undoubtedly skip off for more money after a couple of successful seasons. This seemed like a solid hire, though Houston’s 34–10 drubbing at the hands of San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl makes you wonder what the Cougars will look like on offense in 2017.
Western Michigan: Tim Lester. Grade: C-minus
It would be hard for anyone to follow P.J. Fleck’s act, but it’s probably going to be especially difficult for someone who has only six years of coaching experience as an FBS assistant. Lester has most recently worked at Purdue and Syracuse, both times as the quarterbacks coach. But hey, at least he’s a Western Michigan alum.
FIU: Butch Davis. Grade: D
Yeah, Butch Davis had a tremendous run of success at Miami … nearly 20 years ago. He was also in charge at North Carolina fairly recently (2007–10), where an NCAA investigation ultimately led to his dismissal. He’s also been out of college coaching for seven years, which does not bode well for recruiting.
FAU: Lane Kiffin. Grade: F
Kiffin is considered one of the best offensive minds and playcallers in college football. And that’s where the positives end (they’re also up for debate after Alabama’s College Football Playoff game against Washington). One of his first acts as head coach was to hire Kendal Briles, the son of Art Briles and a member of the Baylor staff still embroiled in the massive sexual assault scandal. Still not convinced this was a terrible hire? Read Pete Thamel’s recent feature on Kiffin.