Ranking The New College Football Coaching Hires


It was a crazy year for coaching changes with plenty of big jobs being filled. Which new coaching hires will work out the best? We rank them from top to bottom.


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A year after the coaching carousel spun with far less velocity, churning out a mere 15 new head coaches in 2014, the number has risen dramatically this winter. It’s almost doubled, in fact. And while conventional wisdom suggests that ADs are after the game’s hottest offensive alchemists, more defensive coordinators have been promoted than offensive coordinators during a current cycle that has yet to reach its conclusion. Interim coaches have also fared rather well, with USC’s Clay Helton, Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys and Illinois’ Bill Cubit being promoted before the end of the year.

While every hire is being hailed as a game-changer on each respective campus, history shows that within two or three years some of these first-year coaches will already be on the hot seat … or worse. Looking ahead to 2019, we’ve graded each hire through the glass of a crystal ball.

1. Virginia Tech

Out With the Old … Frank Beamer
In With the New … Justin Fuente
He Got the Job Because … he was an absolute perfect hire for a Va Tech program pining for a new direction. Fuente was the architect of Memphis’ improbable rise to relevancy, and his work with quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch will be timely for the perennially feeble Hokie attack. With Fuente working with the offense and Bud Foster overseeing the D, Tech might finally be in good hands on the sidelines.
There’s cause for concern because … it’s never easy replacing a legend. It’s one thing to coach up Memphis in relative anonymity. It’s another thing entirely to succeed Frank Beamer and be expected to return Virginia Tech to ACC contention alongside the likes of Clemson and Florida State.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … A+

2. Miami

Out With the Old … Al Golden
In With the New … Mark Richt
He Got the Job Because … he’s still one of the top 15 or 20 coaches in college football, despite how things ended in Athens. Richt brings an accomplished resume and name recognition to his alma mater, which will help in recruiting both players and assistant coaches.
There’s cause for concern because … it’s been a long time since Richt was able to truly maximize the talent he had at Georgia. And this Miami job will be tougher in many respects than the one he left behind. Plus, Richt was noticeably fried at the end of his Bulldog tenure.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … A

 

3. Tulane

Out With the Old … Curtis Johnson
In With the New … Willie Fritz
He Got the Job Because … he wins, like, everywhere he goes. In Fritz, Tulane got exactly what it needed, a guy who owns the secret sauce for winning games. He’s 154-69 all-time at Central Missouri, Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern, successfully guiding the Eagles from the FCS to the FBS the last two years.
There’s cause for concern because … Tulane has been a coach-killer for almost two decades, even with its improved facilities. Fritz is outstanding, and his diverse offense will confound American defenses, but could be derailed by the tougher competition and an institution still learning what’s needed to be a winner.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

4. Syracuse

Out With the Old … Scott Shafer
In With the New … Dino Babers
He Got the Job Because … he’s an absolutely perfect guy to energize the program and the fan base. The Orange is pining for some fresh energy and excitement, which it’ll get from Babers, whose high-powered offenses led to a 37-16 mark in four years at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.
There’s cause for concern because … Florida State and Clemson weren’t on the Panther or Falcon schedule. Playing in the ACC Atlantic will be a whole new challenge for Babers. And since he only spent two years at each of his last two jobs, no one knows for certain if he’s capable of engineering the rebuilding that’s necessary at Syracuse.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

5. UCF

Out With the Old … George O’Leary
In With the New … Scott Frost
He Got the Job Because … at the age of 40, the former Oregon offensive coordinator is an emerging star. Frost has learned from some of the best coaches in the game, and his offensive ingenuity will quickly restore the excitement at UCF. His playbook plus Sunshine State recruits equals a ton of possibilities in Orlando.
There’s cause for concern because … he’s not only a first-time head coach, but he also has no ties to the state of Florida. If Frost is going to maximize the talent pool in his new home state, he’ll need to learn the high school terrain in a hurry and hire a staff with connections to the area.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

6. Georgia

Out With the Old … Mark Richt
In With the New … Kirby Smart
He Got the Job Because … he’s been one of the most successful and sought-after coordinators of the past five years, Nick Saban’s right-hand man in Tuscaloosa. Smart is only 40 years old, and as an SEC veteran and Bulldog alum he understands the expectation level in Athens.
There’s cause for concern because … plenty of great coordinators struggle as the head guy. This is a tough gig for Smart, who replaces a popular coach shoved out after winning nearly three-quarters of his games. Will Georgia regret locking into one candidate without broadening its search?
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

 

7. Virginia

Out With the Old … Mike London
In With the New … Bronco Mendenhall
He Got the Job Because … he’s a proven coach with a proven track record. The Cavaliers needed a guy with a deep enough resume to assume the challenge of elevating this program. And Mendenhall won 99 games and had five Top 25 finishes in 11 years at BYU … all before his 50th birthday.
There’s cause for concern because … he’s about to enter an entirely new reality. Mendenhall not only has no ties to the East Coast, but he’s also spent the last five seasons coaching an independent program that he struggled to lead over the hump. He’s facing a steep learning curve in Charlottesville as an ACC coach.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

8. Iowa State

Out With the Old … Paul Rhoads
In With the New … Matt Campbell
He Got the Job Because … he’s a rising star in coaching circles whose Midwestern roots and work ethic ought to sell well in Ames. The Cyclones couldn’t possibly have done better than Campbell, who already has 35 career FBS wins at the age of 36.
There’s cause for concern because … Iowa State has a knack for humbling even crackerjack coaches. This is one of the toughest jobs in the Power Five conferences, and it’s not as if the Rockets even won a MAC West Division crown in four years under Campbell.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

9. Memphis

Out With the Old … Justin Fuente
In With the New … Mike Norvell
He Got the Job Because … he just might be the next Fuente for the Tigers. Like his predecessor when he took this job, the 34-year-old Norvell is a rapid riser in the profession, with the offensive know-how to keep Memphis humming, even if QB Paxton Lynch leaves for the NFL.
There’s cause for concern because … Fuente is a very tough act to follow. He put the Tigers on the map the past two seasons, and now it’s up to a young newcomer with no recent ties to the region or head coaching chops to prevent a slide back to mediocrity.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

10. Toledo

Out With the Old … Matt Campbell
In With the New … Jason Candle
He Got the Job Because … no one else made more sense. As the offensive coordinator since 2012, Candle has been an integral part of the Rockets’ success. Plus, at just 36, with a Boca Raton Bowl win already under his belt, he’s capable of becoming the next Campbell for Toledo.
There’s cause for concern because … he’s never been a head coach before, and he’s replacing a guy considered to be a shooting star in the profession. Sure, it’s a bit of a nitpick, but there’s no telling how Candle will handle the rigors of being the guy on an every day basis.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B+

11. Missouri

Out With the Old … Gary Pinkel
In With the New … Barry Odom
He Got the Job Because … he’s a quintessential Mizzou man, having both played and coached at the program. At just 38, Odom is also a heckuva defensive coach, who can really bloom in this position while ensuring that the Tigers remain a pipeline of defensive playmakers to the NFL.
There’s cause for concern because … the SEC is a rugged place to land your first head coaching job. Pinkel leaves behind enormous shoes to be filled after helping turn the Tigers into East Division contenders, sans the recruiting territory of the league’s premier programs.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B

12. Maryland

Out With the Old … Randy Edsall
In With the New … D.J. Durkin
He Got the Job Because … he’s one of the best defensive minds in college football, despite only being 37. Durkin has also leaned alongside two of the country’s premier head coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, while at Bowling Green, Stanford, Florida and Michigan.
There’s cause for concern because … the Terps were banking on a splashier hire, someone with the proven track record to compete in a Big Ten East flush in elite coaches. This was supposed to be the move that ignited Maryland, but it instead got a young coordinator with no head coaching experience.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B

13. Louisiana-Monroe

Out With the Old … Todd Berry
In With the New … Matt Viator
He Got the Job Because … he’s a proven winner, he’s in his prime and he’s a lifelong Louisianan. The 52-year-old Viator won 77 games and four conference titles at McNeese State, and his close ties to the state’s high schools will immediately benefit the Warhawks.
There’s cause for concern because … the transition from FCS to FBS, where Viator has never coached, can often be a rocky one. Plus, he could be in for a bit of a culture shock after spending 10 years on the same campus, his alma mater.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B

14. BYU

Out With the Old … Bronco Mendenhall
In With the New … Kalani Sitake
He Got the Job Because … he’s a young and energetic former Cougar who represents a link to the LaVell Edwards era. Sitake was an accomplished defensive coordinator at rival Utah, and his knowledge of BYU’s natural recruiting terrain will be immensely helpful to the program’s future.
There’s cause for concern because … he wasn’t the program’s first choice, a distinction belonging to Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. Sitake is making a leap from defensive coordinator to first-time head coach at a high-profile program, and must surround himself with the right offensive staff.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B

15. North Texas

Out With the Old … Dan McCarney
In With the New … Seth Littrell
He Got the Job Because … the Mean Green recognized the need to spice up the offense to succeed in Conference USA. Littrell has had his hand in high-powered attacks wherever he’s been, and his ties to the Southwest should help North Texas upgrade its overall pool of talent.
There’s cause for concern because … an up-tempo guy could become demoralized by the lengthy rebuilding process that awaits in Denton. It’ll be a challenging transition for Littrell who almost won an ACC title at Carolina in 2015, but is now in charge of arguably last season’s worst FBS team.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B

16. USC

Out With the Old … Steve Sarkisian
In With the New … Clay Helton
He Got the Job Because … he brings stability to a program that desperately needs it. In the aftermath of the Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian eras, AD Pat Haden was looking to promote the adult in the room. And Helton did enough in his eight-game audition, including beating UCLA to win the Pac-12 South, to have his interim tag removed.
There’s cause for concern because … the Trojans took the safe approach. A program of this caliber should be swinging for the fences, conducting a national search that provokes interest from the best leaders in the industry. Instead, USC remained in-house—again—in a bland move the program could regret in a few years.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B-

17. South Carolina

Out With the Old … Steve Spurrier
In With the New … Will Muschamp
He Got the Job Because … he’s a veteran of the SEC wars and a terrific defensive coach. The Gamecocks landed a former Georgia defensive back who’s been a coordinator at LSU and Auburn, and was the Florida head coach for four years, finishing in the top 10 in 2012.
There’s cause for concern because … his tenure in Gainesville ended really, really poorly. Muschamp went 10-13 in his final two seasons with the Gators, often looking overmatched by the gig. And following Spurrier at a school with less talent than Florida is going to be an even tougher assignment.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B-

18. Rutgers

Out With the Old … Kyle Flood
In With the New … Chris Ash
He Got the Job Because … he’s a young up-and-comer who’s already coached in a lot of important games in his brief career. Best of all, Ash just completed an apprenticeship under Urban Meyer at Ohio State and now has a much better understanding of the Big Ten terrain.
There’s cause for concern because … a more seasoned coach would have been better equipped to clean up the mess that is Scarlet Knight athletics. Ash takes over a program that was in disarray a year ago, and his limited experience in New Jersey will impact his ability to keep recruits from fleeing the state.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B-

19. East Carolina

Out With the Old … Ruffin McNeill
In With the New … Scottie Montgomery
He Got the Job Because … he’s a fast riser in the business and a full two decades younger than his predecessor. Montgomery was well-regarded by David Cutcliffe for his offensive acumen, and as a native North Carolinian he has a good base of local recruiting knowledge.
There’s cause for concern because … he has no head coaching experience, yet is replacing a man who won 42 games, including 10 in 2013, in six seasons with the Pirates. At just 37, Montgomery is about to put the green in Greenville.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B-

20. Minnesota

Out With the Old … Jerry Kill
In With the New … Tracy Claeys
He Got the Job Because … he’s the closest thing to having Kill back in charge, an extension of the former Gopher coach. Claeys had been with Kill for the better part of two decades, twice filling in for him on an interim basis, so this is a win for Minnesotans seeking stability and continuity.
There’s cause for concern because … he’s essentially Kill light and not the kind of assistant whose agent was being flooded with calls from inquisitive ADs. While Claeys performed well in Kill’s stead in 2013, he struggled down the stretch this time around by losing four of the final five regular season games.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … B-

21. Georgia Southern

Out With the Old … Willie Fritz
In With the New … Tyson Summers
He Got the Job Because … he’s a born and bred Georgian who’s spent most of his career recruiting the state. For a program aspiring to someday play in a New Year’s Six bowl game, it really liked that Summers was the defensive coordinator of the UCF team that beat Baylor in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
There’s cause for concern because … at face value this looks like a steep drop-off from Fritz. Summers has no head coaching experience, and there are concerns that he might deviate from an option-based attack that’s been the cornerstone of the program’s recent success.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … C

22. Bowling Green

Out With the Old … Dino Babers
In With the New … Mike Jinks
He Got the Job Because … his wide-open offensive philosophy makes for a nice bridge to the two-year Babers era. Jinks comes from Texas Tech, which has the secret sauce for lighting up scoreboards, plus he’ll create a pipeline from Texas to the MAC.
There’s cause for concern because … he has no experience outside of the Lone Star State, a curious hire for an Ohio school. And most of Jinks’ 20-year coaching career has been at the high school level, only spending the last three years in Lubbock with Kliff Kingsbury.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … C

23. Hawaii

Out With the Old … Norm Chow
In With the New … Nick Rolovich
He Got the Job Because … as a former Warrior player and coach, he’s intimately familiar with the program’s unique challenges and obstacles to success. Considering the current financial state of Hawaii athletics, the department was fortunate to bring back one of its own.
There’s cause for concern because … Hawaii’s non-football problems may have been better served by someone with previous head coaching experience. At just 36 years old, Rolovich is liable to get overwhelmed by the task of cleaning up Chow’s mess.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … C

24. Illinois

Out With the Old … Tim Beckman
In With the New … Bill Cubit
He Got the Job Because … no other candidate knows the personnel better. Cubit served as the interim head coach in 2015, going 5-7, and then earned a halfhearted two-year deal when the Illini administration chose to kick the can down the road rather than make a permanent decision.
There’s cause for concern because … the entire athletic department is a mess. It’s not the fault of Cubit, a ham-and-egger with a career mark around .500. But with a new AD and school president on their way, the coach could be little more than a placeholder until Illinois gets its act together.
In 2019, this hire will be graded … D

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