Grading College Football’s New Coach Hires

There’ll be 18 new head coaches—at least—in college football in 2017. Which schools nailed their openings and who’ll be dipping back into the market three years from now?

While every new hire is being touted as some kind of transformational figure on each respective campus, history teaches that a handful of these first-year coaches will already be pressed firmly on the hot seat two or three years from now. Looking out to 2020, we’ve graded each head coaching newcomer based on his ability to either elevate a sagging program, maintain a certain level of success or use a Group of Five campus as a stepping to a Power Five opportunity.

18. San Jose State

Buh-bye … Ron Caragher
Hello … Brent Brennan

He got the job because … the Spartans were eager to bring him back to San Jose. Brennan was a member of two Spartan staffs, those of Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre, where he earned a reputation not only as a coach but also as a recruiter. He knows firsthand the challenges of winning at the school, and his energy can only help bring more attention to a program struggling for an identity around Silicon Valley.

There’s cause for concern because … he’s never held a position with nearly this much responsibility. Brennan has spent most of his 20-year career as a wide receiver coach, handling Oregon State’s outside pass-catchers this past season. While the Spartans brought him back to his roots for good reason, this is going to be a distinct step up in expectations and duties that could require an adjustment period of a couple of years.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C

17. Georgia State

Buh-bye … Trent Miles
Hello … Shawn Elliott

He got the job because … he and Panther AD Charlie Cobb have ties to Appalachian State, so there’s a familiarity in place. Elliott has learned from a pair of legends, Jerry Moore and Steve Spurrier, and Cobb believes he’ll bring the necessary energy and personality to recruit the talent-rich Atlanta area.

There’s cause for concern because … Elliott has never risen higher than co-offensive coordinator, though he did serve as South Carolina’s interim head coach, going 1-5 in 2015 after Spurrier abruptly retired. Georgia State is one of the toughest gigs in the FBS, so a lack of experience at building from the bottom up could sidetrack a coach.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

16. Nevada

Buh-bye … Brian Polian
Hello … Jay Norvell

He got the job because … he’s spent more than three decades at major programs, learning from accomplished coaches, such as Hayden Fry, Barry Alvarez and Bob Stoops. Norvell is an experienced teacher and mentor of offensive personnel, which is especially important in Reno, where the offense has been the catalyst whenever the Pack has been successful.

There’s cause for concern because … Nevada is the only program that saw Norvell as a hot coaching candidate. That doesn’t mean he won’t be successful, but he’s had a somewhat unremarkable career, especially of late. Norvell has been with three different programs over the last three years and was stripped of his play-calling duties after Sterlin Gilbert was hired at Texas.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

15. Houston

Buh-bye … Tom Herman
Hello … Major Applewhite

He got the job because … he intimately knows the region and provides a smooth transition for a program that isn’t in need of a cultural overhaul. In fact, Applewhite gives the Cougars their best chance of maintaining continuity, especially on offense, where he was Herman’s coordinator over the past two seasons.

There’s cause for concern because … he wasn’t Houston’s top choice. Or possibly its second choice. The Cougars want to be considered a Power Five-caliber program, but they’ve regressed where it matters most. Was any school taking Applewhite’s temperature when it looked as if Houston might be targeting Les Miles or Lane Kiffin? Doubtful.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

14. Cincinnati

Buh-bye … Tommy Tuberville
Hello … Luke Fickell

He got the job because … he played in Ohio and has spent his entire coaching career in Ohio. Fickell is an Ohioan to his very core, which will benefit the Bearcats on the recruiting trail. The 43-year-old has learned from a pair of legendary coaches, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, and served as Ohio State’s interim head coach in 2011.

There’s cause for concern because … Fickell’s one season as the interim coach in Columbus didn’t fully prepare him to rebuild a Bearcat program that had lost its way in recent years under Tubby. Cincinnati’s last three hires had prior experience as a head coach, so Fickell represents a new direction for the administration.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

13. Florida International

Buh-bye … Ron Turner
Hello … Butch Davis

He got the job because … he’s a coach’s coach, with a wealth of experience in the NFL, in college and specifically in South Florida. Davis knows how to assess talent, both coaching and players, and his connections will quickly lead to an overall upgrade in personnel at FIU. He’s 65, so no worries about him using the Panthers as a bridge to bigger and better.

There’s cause for concern because … he’s 65. Does Davis still possess the necessary drive and energy to recruit and elevate one of the FBS’ worst programs? He hasn’t been on the sidelines in more than six years, since being fired by North Carolina. And his heyday as a head coach occurred almost two decades ago at Miami.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

12. Temple

Buh-bye … Matt Rhule
Hello … Geoff Collins

He got the job because … he’ll maintain the lofty defensive standard that’s been established in Philadelphia over recent years. The Owls are coming off their best back-to-back seasons in school history, largely because of a physical brand of football that began on D. In the SEC, Collins carved out a reputation for being a rising defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida. Affectionately dubbed the “Minister of Mayhem,” his enthusiasm will be warmly received at Temple.

There’s cause for concern because … he has absolutely no ties to the region, having spent his entire career in the South. After coaching in the SEC the past six seasons, this move to Philly and the American Athletic Conference will be a culture shock, to say the least. And unlike previous Temple head coaches, Collins takes over a team that’s been winning at a high level and will be expected to continue doing so, despite the fourth regime change in the past decade.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

11. Fresno State

Buh-bye … Tim DeRuyter
Hello … Jeff Tedford

He got the job because … he made the most sense. Tedford is a former Fresno State player and assistant who has already proven once that he can breathe life into a sagging West Coast team. Remember, he inherited a 1-10 Cal squad from Tom Holmoe in 2002 and then promptly guided the Bears to eight straight winning seasons.

There’s cause for concern because … Tedford has lost something off his coaching fastball this decade. The back end of his Cal tenure, both on the field and in the classroom, was troubling, and he hasn’t been on a college sideline in four years. While only 55, Tedford has also suffered heart issues in recent years.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

10. Indiana

Buh-bye … Kevin Wilson
Hello … Tom Allen

He got the job because … he made a great first impression in Bloomington, to both players and administrators. The Hoosiers took a quantum leap on defense in Allen’s debut as the coordinator, yielding 10 fewer points and 130 fewer yards per game than in 2015. The hiring was immediately celebrated by the kids, particularly important in the aftermath of allegations of player mistreatment.

There’s cause for concern because … the book is still out on Allen. Indiana likes him, but this marriage is still very much in the honeymoon stage. He’s been on staff for less than a year, has no prior college head coaching experience and still has a lot to learn about navigating life in the Big Ten.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B