Every school celebrates a new coaching hire, but some deserve more kudos than others. It’s time to pass out grades for the coaching carousel so far, as a handful of Power 5 and Group of 5 jobs remain unfilled (we’ll get to those later).
Not every job or search is the same, so these grades are based on the type of coach certain schools can realistically attract, how well the coach fits the school and how quickly the coach can generate success.
It’s coaching report card time, so take a look or shield your eyes, depending on where your allegiance lies.
Out: Jim Mora
An underachieving, underfunded program upped its game in a big way, first by paying Mora a lot of money to go away, then by landing Kelly, the most coveted free agent of the cycle. Kelly brings a 46-7 record with three Pac-12 titles to a UCLA program that last won the league in 1998. While Kelly and his offense might lack the novelty factor he had at Oregon, he has advantages in Westwood that he didn’t enjoy in Eugene, namely the local recruiting base. Athletic director Dan Guerrero and his team hit a grand slam here.
Out: Mike Riley
In: Scott Frost
Bill Moos delivered. The athletic director brought in to replace Shawn Eichorst had one job (find a football coach) and, in essence, one candidate to hire in Frost. Nebraska landed the hottest candidate in the Group of 5 and a coach who has recruited all over the country and understands what goes into making Nebraska great. He engineered a major turnaround at UCF, although to be fair, the Knights’ 0-12 season in 2015 is a clear outlier for a program that reached the Fiesta Bowl two years before bottoming out. Frost has only been a head coach for two seasons but understands what it takes to lead and the fishbowl he enters at his alma mater.
There was an over-the-top element to Texas A&M’s hiring of Fisher, with a market-shattering 10-year, $75 million deal and a king’s welcome, including a maroon carpet and trumpets at the airport. But that’s Texas A&M, a program flush with money and extravagance but not national titles. It’s why athletic director Scott Woodward brings in a coach who has won at the highest level and knows that anything less is unacceptable. The concerns here are an incredibly lengthy deal for a coach who hasn’t built on his lone national title and just had the most disappointing season of his career. Still, Texas A&M has everything in place to win without the winning, and after sensing Fisher’s uneasiness at Florida State — a place where you can win titles — Woodward capitalized.
Out: Jim McElwain
In: Dan Mullen
After talks with Chip Kelly and Scott Frost, Florida made the smart, sensible hire in Mullen, who understands the program, the league and, most importantly, how to develop quarterbacks. Mullen needs to win in Gainesville, but he also needs to entertain, and his track record with quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald suggests it will happen sooner than later. While he didn’t win division or league titles at Mississippi State, he elevated the program to historic heights and also has helped deliver championships as a former Gators offensive coordinator.
Out: Dan Mullen
In: Joe Moorhead
Athletic director John Cohen made a smart hire on so many levels, not least of which is what Moorhead can do in 2018. Mullen leaves him arguably his most talented team, headlined by Fitzgerald, who should flourish in Moorhead’s offense upon returning from injury, much like Trace McSorley did at Penn State. Moorhead is charismatic and down to earth, and will connect well with Mississippi State fans even though he’s not from the area. He’s a foreigner in SEC territory and hasn’t been an FBS head coach, which pose mini concerns, but I’m expecting “Moor Cowbell” and more wins in Starkville.
Out: Jimbo Fisher
In: Willie Taggart
Taggart fits much of Florida State’s criteria. He’s a young, offensive-minded coach from the state who can recruit at an extremely high level (just watch South Florida play) in a very competitive area. His roots with the Harbaugh family (he played for Jack and and coached for Jim) don’t hurt, either, and he has turned around programs in bad shape. He also genuinely wants to be at Florida State and shouldn’t gripe about what the program lacks like Fisher did at the end. The concerns are that he found himself on the hot seat early in the 2015 season, boasts a 47-50 career record and only one season leading a Power 5 program. The expectations in Tallahassee are clear: ACC and national titles. Taggart must prove he can deliver them.
Out: Gary Andersen
In: Jonathan Smith
Sometimes schools fall into the familiarity trap rather than making the best hire. This isn’t one of those cases, as Oregon State needs someone who understands its unique challenges and what it takes to win in Corvallis. Smith won big as a former Beavers quarterback and loves Corvallis. He also benefits from learning under Chris Petersen both at Boise State and Washington. Oregon State ideally wanted someone with head-coaching experience, which Smith lacks, but this could end up being a sneaky good hire to get the program on track after a rough few seasons.
Out: David Bailiff
In: Mike Bloomgren
Bloomgren’s stock never blew up for Power 5 jobs like I thought it would, but he’s a smart, accomplished coach who understands how to recruit to an academically demanding program. Rice should immediately get better along both lines, and Bloomgren will incorporate technology and analytics to help give the Owls an edge. The success of programs like Stanford, Northwestern and Duke shows it can be done. Bloomgren must do it in the Group of 5, which isn’t easy but possible.
Out: Butch Jones
In: Jeremy Pruitt
A meandering and messy search gets a failing grade, and it became clear after the Greg Schiano debacle that Tennessee wouldn’t ace this hire. Pruitt could work out well, as he has spent time at three programs — Florida State, Georgia and now Alabama — that strive for national titles. Florida State’s defense hasn’t been the same since he left, and Alabama’s hasn’t dropped off since he arrived. There will be a learning curve for a first-time college coach, always a concern at a program like Tennessee, but Pruitt is an excellent recruiter and a strong personality who will demand a lot from the Vols’ players.
Out: Bret Bielema
In: Chad Morris
As I wrote Wednesday, you have to try to ignore the record with Morris. He’s a sharp offensive mind with virtually unparalleled connections in the Texas high school scene, which will spur Arkansas’ recruiting efforts. Still, he should have won more than seven games this season, and while SMU had its challenges when he arrived, it wasn’t a complete wasteland. Morris could become an A-plus hire eventually, but right now it’s a wait-and-see deal with him.
Out: Scott Frost
In: Josh Heupel
This hire seemed to come out of nowhere, but it makes sense given Heupel’s offense and the similarities to the scheme UCF used with Frost. Heupel becomes a first-time head coach at one of the more coveted FBS jobs outside the top tier of the Power 5. He certainly revived his career the past two seasons after being fired by Oklahoma, his alma mater, in January 2015. UCF could have landed someone with head-coaching experience – the school briefly targeted Kevin Sumlin – or more in-demand Power 5 coordinators, but the program is in place to succeed for years to come.
Out: Sean Kugler
In: Dana Dimel
This is among the toughest FBS jobs and needs a unique vision to foster success. Perhaps Dimel’s experience provides a boost, but I thought UTEP needed to go younger (Dimel is 55) and different with this hire. Dimel went 8-28 in his last head-coaching stop at Houston. He has recruited Texas and knows the landscape, which should help, as should his offensive expertise. But it will be an uphill climb.
Out: Tyson Summers
In: Chad Lunsford
Lunsford went 2-4 as interim coach after Summers’ firing, although the team finally showed a pulse under his leadership. Georgia Southern is a unique job and one that has lost prestige in recent years, but a strong outside candidate like Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon or Army offensive coordinator Brent Davis might have been a more inspiring choice after the team’s recent struggles.
Out: Hugh Freeze
In: Matt Luke
This is a situation where I understand the motivation behind the hire but still wonder if Ole Miss could have done much better. The sanctions were coming and seemed likely to be bad. Luke did a solid job under tough circumstances this season. The players love him and he loves Ole Miss. Yet this still feels like an emotional decision after an Egg Bowl win against a rival that lost it star quarterback. Ole Miss considered sitting Power 5 coaches but opted for one of its own, who isn’t on anyone else’s radar. Luke might be a bridge coach during a stormy few years, but must prove he’s the long-term answer in Oxford.
Out: Todd Graham
In: Herm Edwards
Maybe it works. Maybe Ray Anderson has outsmarted us all with this hire. Edwards certainly will bring Arizona State media attention and, most likely, upgrade the program’s recruiting. But the oddness of this entire process, culminating with Anderson hiring his buddy, who hasn’t coached college football since 1989 and was 20 games under .500 as an NFL coach, doesn’t inspire much confidence. Maybe the staff continuity keeps ASU at a respectable level, but the Sun Devils just finished second in a division that will get better with Chip Kelly in it.