New Faces, New Places: Ranking the Latest College Football Head Coaching Hires

Despite Northern Illinois’ search for a head football coach, the coaching carousel across the country has begun to slow down now that it’s mid-January.

Here are our new faces, new places tier rankings of head coaches who have been hired this offseason — with consideration given to each school, its conference, the potential candidate pool and what each coach has previously accomplished.

 

The future is bright

Each of the following schools hired away another FBS school’s head coach. Perhaps with West Virginia as the only potential exception given that the Mountaineers were ranked in the top 10 last season and won 10 games as recently as 2016, each school should be better off under its newly hired coach.

 

Dana Holgorsen, Houston

Houston hired away a Big 12 coach following a season in which he had his team in the mix for the Big 12 Championship Game. He returns to Houston, where he was the offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009, and he has a strong offensive track record that should make the Cougars perennial contenders for the AAC Championship.

Holgorsen spent eight seasons at West Virginia, which can be a long time for a coach and a school, so maybe this offseason made sense for a fresh start. Luckily for him, he’ll get it in one of the most talent-rich states at a program that has had two 13-win seasons this decade.

 

Neal Brown, West Virginia

It only took two seasons for Brown to not only end Troy’s five-year bowl drought, but the Trojans also cracked the AP Top 25 Poll and won 10 games. Troy went 10-3 or 11-2 with a bowl win in each of his final three seasons with the school, making it only a matter of time until he was hired by a bigger program.

The Trojans won at Nebraska last season, at No. 25 LSU in 2017 and they only lost by a touchdown at eventual national champion Clemson in 2016.

Brown spent three seasons as Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the early 2010s and the Red Raiders finished in the top 25 in scoring offense each season, so he’s familiar with the conference and has proven that his offenses can keep pace in the Big 12.

 

Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Scott Satterfield built Appalachian State into an absolute winner. After the Mountaineers, then playing in the FCS, went 4-8 in his first season as head coach in 2013, they moved to the Sun Belt and began their ascension. Satterfield was 47-16 in his next five seasons at Appalachian State as the program won at least 10 games in three of the last four seasons.

Appalachian State finished last season ranked No. 11 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings – one spot behind Washington and one spot ahead of LSU – with the country’s No. 36 offense and No. 10 defense.

Louisville, for comparison, finished No. 111 nationally.

Appalachian State finished the previous seasons ranked No. 18, No. 40 and No. 40, which is an incredible sign of growth and improvement for a program that finished its full transition to the FBS in 2015.

 

Matt Wells, Texas Tech

Wells took Utah State bowling five times in his six seasons in Logan, Utah, including last season, when the Aggies finished 11-2 with a win in the New Mexico Bowl. Utah State finished the season ranked No. 19 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, 23 spots ahead of Texas Tech.

The Aggies finished one place ahead of the Red Raiders in 2017, so Texas Tech has hired a coach who led a team that the advanced metrics said was better in the last two years, despite playing in the Mountain West.

There might also finally be some defense played in Lubbock.

Just look at the difference in Utah State’s defensive ranking in the S&P+ rankings compared to Texas Tech in the last four years:

Utah State: 28, 42, 46, 35

Texas Tech: 87, 88, 125, 124

 

Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

After 11 years under Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech will have a new face on the sideline and that’s former Temple coach Geoff Collins, who will move away from the Yellow Jackets’ previous triple-option offense to something more modern. That could lead to a challenging transition, considering that all of the team’s returning offensive players were recruited to Atlanta to run the triple-option, but Collins’ 15-10 record at Temple should offer some confidence.

After an inconsistent four-year stretch that saw Georgia Tech go 3-9, 9-4, 5-6 and 7-6 following its 11-3 campaign in 2014, maybe change isn’t a bad thing.

Temple finished last season ranked No. 47 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings and the Owls’ defense ranked 75 spots better than that of the Yellow Jackets. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Florida and Mississippi State, so he has connections to the South and experience coaching in the SEC, which certainly can’t hurt.

 

Rod Carey, Temple

Former Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey will look to continue the success of Temple’s football program, which went 10-4 in the last two seasons of Matt Rhule’s tenure and maintained bowl eligibility under Geoff Collins. Carey posted a 52-30 record at NIU, including 12- and 11-win seasons to start his tenure, but he was also 0-6 in bowl games.

Similar to Temple, Northern Illinois has been led by its defense in recent years. The Huskies ranked 21st in defense and 114th in offense last season, one year after being ranked 14th in defense and 104th in offense.

Carey will likely have to recruit at a higher level after his last four recruiting classes at Northern Illinois ranked 4th, 7th, 6th and 3rd in the MAC, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

 

First-time head coaches we expect to succeed after internal promotions

Yes, we know that Miami Coach Manny Diaz was briefly the head coach at Temple, which will make a great bar trivia question someday. But he and Ohio State Coach Ryan Day served as coordinators at their respective schools last season and now take over two of the biggest brands in the sport.

Neither has been a full-time FBS head coach, but we think both will be very successful.

 

Ryan Day, Ohio State

OK, technically this isn’t a new face at a new place as former Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day was promoted to head coach after the Rose Bowl. Day will start his head coaching career at a school with a fan base that has annual expectations of Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff appearances, which could make his career if the Buckeyes live up to them — or break it if there’s a drop-off from Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus.

The Buckeyes went 3-0 last season when Day was the tam’s interim head coach, but we’ll have to wait until next season to see how Day fares as a first-time, full-time head coach.

Ohio State currently has the No. 12 recruiting class for 2019, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, which is a drop-off from the Buckeyes’ No. 2-ranked class last year, but they’ll still have one of the most talented rosters in the country. If Georgia transfer Justin Fields is eligible to play next season, Ohio State may not miss a beat during the transition from Urban Meyer to Day.

 

Manny Diaz, Miami

The hiring process for former Miami coach Mark Richt’s successor was abnormal with Diaz being named Temple’s head coach in mid-December only for him to take the Miami job once Richt retired later in the month. But if his impact as head coach is similar to his impact as the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator, then this is a great hire.

Miami’s defense ranked 11th, 22nd and 13th in the last three seasons, respectively, in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings after taking over a unit that ranked 52nd nationally in 2015.

During one-year stops at Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech, his defenses ranked 38th and 35th, respectively, so at the very least, Miami fans can expect a strong defense in the Diaz era.

Now the key is improving a Miami offense that ranked 77th nationally last season. Diaz hired former Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos to be his offensive coordinator.

Diaz is a Miami, Florida, native, he attended school at Florida State and has spent most of his career in the South, so he should be able to recruit at a high level in some of the country’s most talent-rich states.

 

A proven winner, but let’s wait and see

Three of the five coaches in this category didn’t finish the last season in their last year as an FBS head coach and a fourth resigned about a month before the start of a season. So despite success, including national championships, conference titles and wins over Alabama, there are also reasons to be skeptical of coaches in this category for various reasons ranging from the difficulty of the job to age to a lack of offensive innovation. The ceiling could be worth the hire but there could also be a considerable gap to the floor.

 

Les Miles, Kansas

Miles last coached in 2016 at LSU, where he won the 2007 National Championship Game with the Tigers. It’s a big-name hire for one of the worst Power Five football programs in the country. Since Kansas hired Charlie Weis in 2012, the Jayhawks have won 13 games – the same number LSU won in 2011 when it played in the BCS National Championship.

So this will potentially be uncharted waters for Miles. Even a repeat of his four-win season in his first year ever as a head coach at Oklahoma State in 2001 would be Kansas’ best season in 10 years.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miles, known for his old-school, run-heavy offenses, tries to keep pace with the high-scoring competition in the Big 12. Miles is still searching for an offensive coordinator after Chip Lindsey, the former Auburn offensive coordinator who briefly held the same position at Kansas this winter, was hired to be the head coach of Troy.

 

Mack Brown, North Carolina

Brown, 67, will return to the sideline after last coaching in 2013 with Texas. He led the Longhorns to the 2005 BCS National Championship and has won more than 230 games over 29 years as an FBS head coach.

Now he’ll return to North Carolina, where he coached from 1988 to 1997, improving from a 1-10 record in each of his first two seasons to lead the Tar Heels to three 10-win seasons. North Carolina is in a rough spot coming off of 2-9 and 3-9 seasons, but maybe Mack can get the Tar Heels back to being perennial bowl contenders in an ACC that was down in 2018.

 

Jim McElwain, Central Michigan

The former Florida head coach who most recently coached wide receivers at Michigan has another head coaching job, this time at Central Michigan. The Chippewas are coming off of a 1-11 season, but they made a bowl game in each of the previous four seasons, so it’s possible for McElwain to have success in Mount Pleasant.

He has done well at each of his past two stops – Florida and Colorado State – as he led the former to consecutive SEC Championship games before he and the school mutually parted ways during the 2017 season. Colorado State improved from 4-8 to 8-5 to 10-3 under McElwain in his three seasons with the Rams.

Using McElwain’s most recent full seasons as a head coach as a guide, his teams were elite defensively, but below average on offense. Florida’s defense was ranked No. 7 and No. 4 in 2015 and 2016, respectively, in the S&P+ rankings with an offense that ranked outside of the top 70.

McElwain has earned Coach of the Year honors in the SEC and Mountain West with four bowl appearances in his six seasons as a head coach so it’s reasonable to believe that he’ll get the Chippewas back to bowl eligibility, at the very least.

 

Gary Andersen, Utah State

During the last season of Gary Andersen’s previous stop at Utah State, the Aggies went 11-2 with a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and they finished No. 16 in the final 2012 AP Top 25 Poll.

So he has already proven he can win – and win big – at the school.

Even though he went just 7-23 at Oregon State and resigned midseason during his third year with the Beavers (which is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12), he led Wisconsin to nine and 10-win seasons in consecutive years in 2013 and 2014.

 

Hugh Freeze, Liberty

It didn’t take long for Freeze, the former Ole Miss head coach whose tenure with the Rebels resulted in NCAA recruiting violations and his resignation after it was revealed that he had made calls to an escort service on his university-issued phone, to get another chance. That’s largely because Ole Miss had on-field success under Freeze, who went 39-25 in five seasons at the school, including a 10-3 2015 season that was capped off by a Sugar Bowl win.

Ole Miss also defeated Alabama in back-to-back seasons under Freeze.

After a one-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA, Freeze will be back on the sideline at the FBS level at Liberty, which went 6-6 last year in its first season as an independent.

 

A quality hire

For the most part, these two coaches have mostly been career assistants and both are coming off of successful runs with two of the best programs in the SEC. If you’re helping Nick Saban and Kirby Smart win games, it makes sense other Power Five schools would want to hire you to be their head coach.

 

Mike Locksley, Maryland

Former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will get another chance as an FBS coach despite having a 3-31 career record as a head coach at New Mexico and an interim head coach at Maryland. He returned to the Terrapins in a full-time capacity this offseason after helping the Crimson Tide reach the College Football Playoff National Championship.

He won the Broyles Award last season, an award that’s given annually to the best assistant coach in the country.

Maryland is in a tough spot playing in the Big Ten East with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, and the Terrapins also play Syracuse and Temple as part of their non-conference schedule next season. Locksley’s track record as a head coach isn’t great, but after three years on Alabama’s staff, he may be better suited to be a successful head coach this time around.

 

Mel Tucker, Colorado

Colorado hired former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for his first-ever college head coaching job. Tucker was briefly the interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 and has coached at Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU, plus the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns.

Under Tucker’s direction, Georgia’s defense ranked 15th, 11th and 35th in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, which suggests the Buffaloes should be able to improve on their 68th-ranked defense last season.

Tucker hired Jay Johnson, a former Georgia offensive quality control analyst, as Colorado’s offensive coordinator.

 

We think they can make the jump

These are successful former FCS head coaches who won at the highest level or a successful former offensive coordinator for a Power Five school. We’re not predicting 10-win seasons across the board in Year 1 but these hires should age well when we look back in three or four years.

 

Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Under the direction of Klieman, North Dakota State won four FCS national championships in five seasons and the Bison beat Iowa and Iowa State on the road. Hiring an FCS coach may not be a sexy hire, but Klieman’s teams at North Dakota State were nothing short of dominant with a 69-6 record in the last five seasons.

You could make a case that Klieman’s North Dakota State team would’ve beaten Kansas State in 2018 after the Wildcats finished the season ranked No. 93 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings.

 

Jake Spavital, Texas State

Spavital, the former West Virginia offensive coordinator, will become an FBS coach for the first time after working with Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier for the last two seasons. The Bobcats have won only two or three games for the last four seasons, so Spavital has his work cut out for him, even if he comes from a strong offensive background.

 

Mike Houston, East Carolina

East Carolina hired former James Madison coach Mike Houston, who won the FCS National Championship in his first season with the Dukes in 2016, to try to jump-start the Pirates. East Carolina has gone 3-9 in each of the last three seasons, while Houston had a 37-6 record at James Madison.

Before that, he was the head coach at The Citadel and Division II Lenoir-Rhyne.

Houston should be familiar with the region after his time coaching in North Carolina and now it’s a matter of whether he can translate his postseason success at the FCS level to the AAC against the likes of UCF, Cincinnati and Houston.

 

Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State

Former NC State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz will replace Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State. He orchestrated a top-25 offense with the Wolfpack in each of the last two seasons.

He’ll inherit a Mountaineers program that has averaged just over 10 wins per season over the course of the last four, which means he’ll have talent on his roster in Year 1, but also the expectations that come with four consecutive bowl wins.

 

The jury’s out

This group includes coaches who are making the jump to the FBS ranks after being an FCS head coach and former Power Five coordinators whose offenses were arguably underwhelming. Each is a first-time FBS head coach, and they aren’t taking over at historic football powers.

 

Chip Lindsey, Troy

Lindsey was hired by new Kansas coach Les Miles to be the Jayhawks’ offensive coordinator, but then he took the Troy job. He spent the last two seasons as Auburn’s offensive coordinator and led the Tigers to a 35th offensive efficiency ranking last season and 34th in 2017. He was previously the offensive coordinator at Arizona State and Southern Miss.

 

Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky

Helton served as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator last season under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt and now he’ll be a first-year coach himself. The Volunteers ranked 64th in the S&P+ rankings last season.

He spent the previous two years as USC’s quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator, when the Trojans had New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

Helton played quarterback at Houston, and he comes from a coaching family — he’s the brother of USC coach Clay Helton and the son of former NFL and college coach Kim Helton.

Jeff Brohm showed it’s possible to win double-digit games in a season at Western Kentucky, and now Helton will try to do the same after Western Kentucky went 3-9 last season.

 

Walt Bell, UMass

Bell was Florida State’s offensive coordinator last season, when the Seminoles ranked 110th in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings. Before that, he spent two years in the same role at Maryland, which ranked 113th and 86th offensively in those two years.

He’ll be a first-time head coach at a program that hasn’t won more than four games since returning to the FBS level in 2012.

 

Will Healy, Charlotte

Charlotte dipped into the FCS ranks to hire former Austin Peay coach Will Healy, who spent the last three seasons as the Governors’ head coach. Austin Peay went 13-21 during Healy’s tenure after an 0-11 season in 2016.

He assembled some of the best recruiting classes in the FCS while coaching at Chattanooga, and he carried that success on the recruiting trail over to Austin Peay. He was named the OVC Coach of the Year in 2017 and now he’ll look to bring that success to Charlotte, which is searching for its first bowl appearance since joining the FBS in 2015.

 

Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green

Bowling Green hired Scot Loeffler, a former offensive coordinator with ACC and SEC experience. He spent the last three seasons as Boston College’s offensive coordinator, following stops at Virginia Tech, Auburn and Temple in the same role.

The Eagles’ offense improved under Loeffler, but it still ranked in the bottom quarter of FBS teams nationally in terms of efficiency as it climbed from 124th in 2016 to 95th last season.

His offenses at Virginia Tech were slightly better: 72nd, 94th and 71st.

Bowling Green has fallen off from the 10-4 seasons it had in the final years under Dino Babers in 2015 and Dave Clawson in 2013. The Falcons haven’t won more than four games in any of the last three seasons.

 

Tom Arth, Akron

Akron hired former Chattanooga coach Tom Arth from the FCS ranks after the Mocs went 6-5 last season. He previously served as the head coach at John Carroll (DIII), where he compiled a 40-8 record over four seasons.

At 37, Arth is just 11 years removed from his professional playing career as a quarterback in the Arena Football League. The Zips went 4-8 last season under Terry Bowden after a 7-7 record in 2017.