April 24, 2018

Grading the College Football Coaching Carousel

There are few things I love more than the silly season of college football. The twists, turns, rumors, and fabrications of the coaching carousel far outweigh the action that occurs on the field. What if I told you back in August of 2017 that Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma would make the college football playoff? Right. You wouldn’t have batted an eye. Sure, Georgia is a nice surprise this season, but that’s it as far as any real drama is concerned.

Now, pretend back in August that I would have told you that Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, Oregon, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Arkansas, Arizona State, and UCLA (among others) would need new coaches at the end of the season. Now that’s excitement. That’s drama.

I’m a college football coaching carousel junkie. I love the rumors, the weirdos that post flight tracking information, and sites like FootballScoop that report the dirt based off of what they’re hearing from inside the industry. Even better is the armchair AD-ing that comes with job openings, hypothesizing about best fits or terrible decisions yet to come. It is quite literally my favorite part of college football.  Once the dominoes start falling, all hell usually breaks loose.

That was never more true than this year. Starting with Jim McElwain being fired at Florida all the way back on October 29th, many of the sport’s heavy hitters started pulling the trigger on firing their coaches. This resulted in the craziest damn college football coaching carousel in recent memory.

Now, with the most dysfunctional search of all time over (I’m looking at you, Tennessee), I think it’s time to take stock of who went where and how some of these schools made out with their new hires. Every coach wins the press conference (well, except maybe Herm Edwards) and inspires hope within the fan base (hopefully), but how do these hires grade out? Which schools fared the best and who simply pissed it down their leg?

I’m here to take a look at the Power 5 schools (sorry Kent State) that have changed coaches this season.  Let’s see how incompetent everyone was this year:

Florida

Old coach: Jim McElwain

New coach: Dan Mullen

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What Dan Mullen did at Mississippi State was truly amazing. By developing quarterbacks, Mullen was able to take Mississippi State to heights the school had previously never experienced. Now, he goes back to Gainesville where he was the offensive coordinator the last time the Gators won a championship. There’s no reason to suggest that he won’t be able to develop an offense there as well, fixing Florida’s biggest problem since the days of Urban Meyer. Hard to beat this hire.

Grade: A

Tennessee

Old coach: Butch Jones

New coach: Jeremy Pruitt

In the most screwed up coaching search of all time, it appears that Tennessee might have made out alright. Pruitt has no head coaching experience on any level, but he has been a part of three national championships with Alabama and Florida State.  Other Nick Saban proteges (outside of Kirby Smart) haven’t worked out that well in the SEC, but, considering the way Tennessee started this search, this could have ended much worse.

Grade: C

UCLA

Old coach: Jim Mora

New coach: Chip Kelly

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Chip was the great white whale of the coach search world this year. After flaming out in the NFL and being out of coaching entirely this year, Kelly briefly flirted with Florida before some booster ponied up $12 million to fire Mora and move in on Kelly. UCLA is a great fit, as Kelly won’t have to travel much for recruiting (which he generally loathes), and he won’t have SEC-level pressure on him to hit the rubber chicken circuit with boosters and such in Los Angeles.  Here’s hoping he can pick up right where he left off at Oregon.

Grade: A

Nebraska

Old coach: Mike Riley

New coach: Scott Frost

I wrote a few weeks ago that Nebraska had no choice but to hire Scott Frost.  In one of the most efficient coaching searches of the year, AD Bill Moos did exactly that. As a Nebraska fan, it’s hard not to be excited about this Frost hire.  After taking UCF from 0-12 to 12-0, he is this year’s winner of the Home Depot Coach of the Year.  If he can perform a similar turnaround at Nebraska, he’ll have a statue outside of Memorial Stadium.

Grade: A

Arkansas

Old coach: Bret Bielema

New coach: Chad Morris

I’m a big Chad Morris fan. I can see why some might be underwhelmed with this hire, but I think the former SMU head coach and Clemson OC is going to do great things at Arkansas. Here’s why: He can recruit Texas, a near necessity at Arkansas. He’s also an offensive whiz and just so happens to run the style of offense that can give teams like Alabama fits. Is he going to win a national championship at Arkansas. Probably not, but he inherited a roster at SMU that was really and truly awful. A couple of years later, they’re 7-5. There’s a reason Morris is going into the Texas Hall of Fame this year and was the nation’s highest paid assistant a few years ago. The guy’s a ball coach, and I’m excited to see what he can do at Arkansas.

Grade: B+

Ole Miss

Old coach: Matt Luke (interim)

New coach: Matt Luke

In the wake of the Hugh Freeze escort scandal and looming NCAA sanctions for a variety of issues, Ole Miss named Matt Luke interim coach back in July. In November, they pulled the interim tag and made Luke’s position as the head man permanent. Luke is an Ole Miss guy, having played there over 20 years ago and coaching there on and off over the last 15 years. The NCAA sanctions had to play a part in this decision, as they can count on Luke being a loyal soldier (if not a top head coach) through the scholarship reductions and bowl ban.

Grade:C-

Florida State

Old coach: Jimbo Fisher

New coach:  Willie Taggart

Late in the college football season, it seemed inevitable that Jimbo Fisher would leave Florida State. Someday, the falling out of that relationship will fully come to light, but, in the present, it became clear that things had become untenable. Fisher left for Texas A&M (and a boat load of cash), but FSU had been doing their due diligence already. Taggart is from Florida and, prior to coaching Oregon, had been at South Florida. The downside to this hire is clear, though: Taggart is a job hopper. He was only at Oregon one year. Also, in a nifty stat, he has had teams qualify for bowl games four times, but he’s only actually coached in those bowl games one time. Since, ya know, he usually leaves after a successful season. That said, he can recruit. He has shown the ability to build a program, if not maintain it. It seems like this job will be different, and he’ll want to stick around. But who knows?

Grade: B

Mississippi State

Old coach: Dan Mullen

New coach: Joe Moorhead

Talk about replacing one offensive whiz with another. Moorhead rescued Penn State from the offensive nightmare of 2015 by putting together a nearly unstoppable run/pass option based offense the last two years. Before that, he was the head coach at Fordham. The guy is an impressive interview and a truly unique offensive mind. My only qualm with this hire is his complete lack of experience in the South. He was born in Pittsburgh and has coached at Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Akron, UConn, Fordham, and Penn State.  That’s a long damn way from Starkville, Mississippi.  Still, I’m betting on Moorhead to figure out a way to win.

Grade: B

Oregon State

Old coach: Gary Anderson

New coach: Jonathan Smith

When Gary Anderson resigned mid-season from the Oregon State job, it was a shocking turn of events. Then, Oregon State hires a guy named Jonathan Smith that I have never even heard of. Apparently, he’s a former Beaver quarterback turned Chris Peterson disciple. This is a hard job, even for an established coach. I’m wishing Smith well, but it’s hard to see this one turning out all that great.

Grade: C-

Texas A&M

Old coach: Kevin Sumlin

New coach: Jimbo Fisher

Most of the talk about Fisher taking this job will be about the contract (10 years, $75 million). That’s unfortunate because the Aggies got a truly great coach. Fisher is one of only four active coaches to have won a national title (Saban, Meyer, Dabo). That’s a pretty good list to be on. Most challenging for Fisher is going to be the move from the Atlantic Division of the ACC to the SEC West. Nick Saban is still around, and Gus Malzahn is no slouch either.  Neither are the newly hired coaches in the division (see above) for that matter. However, Fisher seems like a guy that will be newly invigorated by a new opportunity at a new school that is undoubtedly hungry to win. A&M saw the guy they wanted, and they got him.  When he’s one of the top 10 coaches in the country, it’s hard to find fault with that.

Grade: A

Arizona State

Old coach: Todd Graham

New coach: Herm Edwards

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If Fisher leaving Florida State voluntarily was the most surprising coaching decision of 2017, then Arizona State hiring Herm Edwards has to be the most surprising administrative decision of this coaching carousel.  Arizona State AD Ray Anderson used to be Edwards’ agent when Herm was coaching in the NFL, which is really strange.  He also hasn’t been on a sideline since 2008, and that was in the NFL.  In the most ridiculous news from this whole ordeal, Arizona State retained all of the assistants from the previous Todd Graham regime.  Seriously.  So, to recap, they fired Graham, kept the assistants, and hired Herm as the equivalent of an NFL general manager.  That’s straight from the university press release.  Read this:

“The department’s New Leadership Model will be similar to an NFL approach using a general manager structure. It’s a collaborative approach to managing the ASU football program that includes sport and administrative divisions, which will operate as distinct, but collective units focused on elevating all aspects of Sun Devil Football.”

That is lunacy.  God bless you, Sun Devils.  You’re going to need it.

Grade: F

 

While that wraps up this round of coaching carousel grades, the Oregon job is still open.  With any luck, that sets off another round of dominoes.  If it does, you can be sure that I’ll be back here assessing the damage.

Agree with my assessments above? Think I’m an idiot?  Drop me a line in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @bloggingthebig.

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell 26 Articles
Staff Writer

Jason grew up in Iowa but couldn't bring himself to like Iowa or Iowa State. Instead, he married a Cornhusker. Jason has taught junior high, high school, and college English but is now a stay-at-home dad to three kids. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of reality shows and 1990s professional wrestling.

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