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Grading the new coaching hires


On Nov. 9, Memphis coach Tommy West became the first casualty of the 2009-10 coaching carousel. On his way out, he delivered an unusual and impassioned rant about the state of the Tigers' program. "We've got to help this football program, or do away with it," he pleaded.

Ten weeks and 21 coaching changes later, two schools (East Carolina and Louisiana Tech) still have vacancies to fill, and West's soliloquy now seems fairly normal compared with some of the wacky events since. Three coaches (Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and USF's Jim Leavitt) were ousted over alleged misconduct toward players. One coach (Cincinnati's Brian Kelly) bolted on the eve of his team's BCS appearance, another (Tennessee's Lane Kiffin) caused a near-riot over his exit.

And oh, by the way, a Hall of Fame coach (Bobby Bowden of Florida State) was forced out and one of the sport's current giants (Urban Meyer of Florida) resigned for about 18 hours.

At the risk of jinxing things, it seems like sanity has finally been restored and the sport will soon return to working order. Here's my report card for the major programs that hired new coaches.

Louisville (Charlie Strong, Florida defensive coordinator): A+

Strong's call to the head coaching ranks was long overdue, and Louisville is a great fit. While the Cardinals had a great run of high-powered offenses under John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino, Strong, a renowned defensive whiz, could prove a great equalizer in the Big East, where there are so few top-level defenses. He should be able to recruit well and turn things around in a hurry.

Notre Dame (Brian Kelly, Cincinnati head coach): A

It seems like the most ideal match imaginable, with the school landing its first choice (for once). Kelly is Irish-Catholic, charismatic, a proven winner and practitioner of a brand of offense that's both exciting and simpler than Charlie Weis' NFL schemes. If Notre Dame fails to return to glory this time, Domers will have a hard time claiming the school hired the wrong guy.

Kansas (Turner Gill, Buffalo head coach): A

The former Nebraska star returns to the Big 12, where he will now go head-to-head with the Huskers. What Gill pulled off at Buffalo -- taking over the worst program in Division I-A, bar none, and leading it to a MAC title three years later -- is one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the past decade. And his ties to the Heartland should help elevate Kansas' recruiting profile.

Cincinnati (Butch Jones, Central Michigan head coach): A-

The formula worked once already. Cincinnati AD Mike Thomas replaced Kelly with the guy who replaced him at CMU three years earlier. Jones, 42, a longtime Kelly protégé who also worked under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, won two MAC titles in three years and has all the makings of a star. The only possible downside: He, too, will likely move upward if successful.

USF (Skip Holtz, East Carolina head coach). A-

It's puzzling why Holtz didn't land a major-conference gig sooner. He took over a program that went 3-22 prior to his arrival and wound up winning consecutive Conference USA titles while beating non-conference teams like West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boise State. The lone red flag: The last time he worked at a BCS-conference school (South Carolina), he got demoted.

Kentucky (Joker Phillips, UK offensive coordinator): B+

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Retired coach Rich Brooks named Phillips, 46, his successor two years ago, and the move proved prophetic. The Wildcats are enjoying a rare era of stability (four straight bowl trips), and Phillips' ascension assures continuity from the Brooks era. The Kentucky native has already helped elevate the program's talent level. Now he gets the chance to lead those players.

Texas Tech (Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn head coach): B

Props to Tech for landing a high-profile name to help ease the sting of the Leach fiasco. Tuberville's recruiting ability and defensive prowess could help the Red Raiders reach the next level. My one concern: Tubs seems intent on maintaining an "Air Raid" offense, with which he has little experience and will be working with unfamiliar assistants -- much like his downfall at Auburn.

Virginia (Mike London, Richmond head coach): B

I'll admit, I'm not that familiar with London, but on paper there's a lot to like. The 49-year-old has spent most of his life in Virginia, engineered dominant Cavaliers defenses in two seasons (2006 and '07) as a coordinator under Al Groh and won an FCS national title in his first year with the Spiders. He took over a loaded team at Richmond and will be walking into a rebuilding situation.

Florida State (Jimbo Fisher, FSU offensive coordinator): B-

Mind you, this move was decided two years ago, and FSU desperately needed Bowden to go ahead and pass the torch -- but I'm not fully convinced he's the right guy for the job. We know Fisher can develop quarterbacks (JaMarcus Russell, Christian Ponder). And he's recruiting like mad (FSU could land a top 10 class). But is he qualified to be a program CEO? Time will tell.

Tennessee (Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech head coach): C

It's no secret Tennessee whiffed on several more qualified candidates, most notably Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. It settled instead for a 17-20 WAC coach who happens to be the son of an SEC coaching legend. Dooley has the pedigree. He spent six years working for Nick Saban and helped win a BCS title. But he's also an entirely unproven commodity who went 4-8 last season.

USC (Lane Kiffin, Tennessee head coach): D

In an attempt to replicate the Pete Carroll era, USC hired an immature 34-year-old who's gone 12-21 as a head coach. Football insiders seem to respect Kiffin, but it says something when the new coach's biggest calling card is the assistants (his father, defensive coordinator Monte, and defensive line coach/recruiting czar Ed Orgeron) that came with him. It feels desperate and shortsighted.

Akron (Rob Ianello): Weis' recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame, Ianello has a diverse background (Arizona, Wisconsin) and chaired the AFCA's assistant coaches committee.

Marshall (Doc Holliday): The longtime West Virginia assistant and South Florida recruiting titan could turn the Thundering Herd back into a player for the first time since Byron Leftwich left.

Memphis (Larry Porter): You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to be at Memphis, but this eight-year LesMiles assistant, 37, was once a star running back for the Tigers.

San Jose State (Mike MacIntyre): MacIntyre, 44, has largely flown under the radar while gaining extensive experience as an assistant with Georgia, Ole Miss, Duke and the Dallas Cowboys.

UNLV (Bobby Hauck): UNLV has traditionally been a dead-end job, but Hauck, who went 80-17 in seven seasons as Montana's head coach, is as suited as anyone to reverse the trend.

NOTE: East Carolina and Louisiana Tech hires still pending.