Grading the coaching hires
Published on Aug. 22, 2012, at 10:05 a.m. Eastern.
Updated on Aug. 24 at 7:35 p.m. Eastern
By Brian Edwards
With Week 1 just a week away, it’s time to grade the new head-coaching hires across the country. We do so in no particular order…
Urban Meyer: (Ohio State) – (By the way, I called this one the day Meyer resigned for a second time at Florida. Granted, I was off by a year but didn’t know about Tressel’s looming woes at the time.) When it comes to recruiting and motivating, Urban Meyer is as good as any coach in America, including Nick Saban. However, in his insatiable drive to build a dynasty at Florida, Meyer lost his way, his health and nearly his family. Was one season away enough to recharge the batteries? Will the drive to bring the Buckeyes back from NCAA sanctions eat him up like the grind of the SEC did? Only time will tell. But there’s no doubt that Ohio St. made a great choice. I’m not sure how the Bucks will fare this year but I expect them to be perennial national-title contenders starting in 2014, possibly 2013. Grading the hire: A+
Mike Leach: (Washington St.) – If you can win in Lubbock and Pullman, you have to go down as one of the top-20 (or better) coaches in college football history. My guess is that Leach will do just that. How Maryland botched this hire last year is beyond me! Whatever the case, Wazzu is the benefactor as it somehow lands one of the best offensive minds in all of football. With one of the Pac-12’s best WRs in Marquess Wilson (82 catches for 1,388 yards and 12 TDs in 2011) and a solid veteran QB in Jeff Tuel, nobody should be surprised if Leach has the Cougars in their first bowl game since 2003 in his first year. Grading the hire: A+
Kevin Sumlin: (Texas A&M) – I’ve seen many new head coaches get eaten up by the bright lights and glare of SEC Media Days. Sumlin handled the press with poise, composure and intellect in Birmingham. How does that translate to success on Saturdays? I have no clue, but I was impressed nonetheless. Sumlin engineered a high-octane passing attack at Houston, helping the Cougars to a 13-1 record last year and a 10-4 mark in 2009. He’ll be breaking in a new quarterback this fall in College Station and the Aggies will be entering a brutal league, so Sumlin will get high marks if he can get A&M to a bowl game. With prep players in Texas now able to stay home and play in the SEC, the Aggies should thrive on the recruiting trail. Before his first snap as Texas A&M’s head coach, Sumlin looks like the right man to lead this program to success in the future. Grading the hire: B+
Hugh Freeze: His rise to stardom has been rapid, going from a high school coach in 2004 to the head man at an SEC school less than a decade later. Freeze was Ed Orgeron’s recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss from 2005-2007 when the school landed future NFL players like Michael Oher, Greg Hardy, Peria Jerry, Mike Wallace and Dexter McCluster. Freeze became just the 14th FBS coach to win 10 games in his first season last year at Arkansas St. He has a Herculean task in Oxford and it will certainly take time, but the 42-year-old Freeze, who is a native Mississippian, appears to be a good fit with the Rebels. Grading the hire: B
Tim Beckman: The former Toledo coach inherits a decent situation with Illinois bringing back seven starters on each side of the ball. I won’t pretend as if I watched all 13 of the Rockets’ games last year, but I saw enough to sour on this hire. Beckman inexplicably left all three timeouts in his pocket of a 63-60 home loss to No. Illinois when the Huskies were bleeding the clock in the final minute of the game-winning drive. Also, we saw Beckman and his staff flock to State College like vultures in a feeding frenzy. (Our stance on ‘recruiting’ PSU players is that it’s only ok if they reach out to you.) Perhaps Beckman will change my mind on him in time, but I’m not a fan for now. Grading the hire: D
Ellis Johnson: (Southern Miss) – Talk about winning over the home folks at the intro presser! Question: Coach Johnson, do you have the type of energy needed at the age of 60 to take on this job? Answer: “I’ve had no complaints [about my energy] from (his wife) Caroline.” Johnson has been one of the main reasons for South Carolina’s success the last four years, running defenses that have produced NFL players galore. This is Johnson’s third run as a head coach after tours at Gardner-Webb and The Citadel. He tabbed veteran HC Tommy West as his d-coordinator and former Louisiana HC Ricky Bustler to run the offense. Grading the hire: B
Bill O’Brien: (Penn State) – The former Patriots offensive coordinator knew he was walking into a tough situation, but there’s no way he had any clue it would be this bad. And there’s no way O’Brien takes the job if he thought the penalties would be anywhere in the neighborhood of four years of no postseason and crippling scholarship reductions. Nevertheless, that’s where the Nittany Lions are today and you have to commend the manner in which O’Brien has gone about his business since the unprecedented sanctions were announced. My thinking is that he may stick it out if he can keep this solid 2013 recruiting class together. But if he doesn’t, this space certainly won’t judge him negatively. Obviously, he faces more challenges than any HC in America over the next 4-5 years. Grading the hire: B+
Larry Fedora: I think the former So. Miss head coach is an ideal fit in Chapel Hill. His pedigree as an offensive coordinator is extremely impressive, leading Florida to the SEC’s top offense when Chris Leak was a sophomore in 2004. Then he got high marks for his work at Oklahoma St. under Mike Gundy before taking the job in Hattiesburg. In his first taste of a head-coaching gig, Fedora led the Golden Eagles to four consecutive bowl games and one Conference USA title. Fedora should have a solid UNC team starting this year. Grading the hire: A-
Bob Davie: (New Mexico) – I guess they’re trying to compete for the worst back-to-back hires in NCAA history. Mike Locksley had quite a run in Albuquerque, going 1-11 twice before getting fired while winless in 2011. Along the way, Locksley was accused of sexually harassing a secretary and assaulting an assistant coach. The final straw was giving the keys to his SUV to a recruit (a blatant NCAA violation) who got into a wreck and was charged with DWI. Now the Lobos turn to Davie, who had a disastrous four-year tenure at Notre Dame before spending a decade in the TV booth chafin’ football fans every Saturday. This should be comical but let’s hope Davie sticks around at least four years to prevent him from getting another broadcasting job. Grading the hire: F
Todd Graham (Arizona St.) – Introducing the new version of Bobby Petrino, Todd Graham, who held three jobs from January of 2011 to January of 2012. He’s now bolted on Rice and Pitt after just one year on the job. Therefore, Graham better have success at ASU, which was poised to hire June Jones before that deal fell apart at the last minute. Graham has his work cut out for him in Tempe, but you can win at this program. He’s gone the JUCO route to try to fix things quick. Grading the hire: C
Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) – R-Rod enjoyed nothing but success in offensive-coordinator roles at Tulane and Clemson under Tommy Bowden before accepting his dream job at West Virginia. He had the Mountaineers one game away from playing for the national title before losing to Pitt at home as 28 ½-point favorites in 2007. Then Rodriguez made a horrible decision. One year after turning down the Alabama job, he accepted the gig at Michigan, which was a terrible fit from the beginning. R-Rod tried to change everything at the history-rich program and failed miserably. In three years, the Wolverines limped to an atrocious 15-22 record before sending R-Rod packing via pink slip. He has taken a year off and now moves West to Arizona to replace Mike Stoops. Will his spread offense turn magical again in Tucson, or will the West Va. native with mountain roots flame out in the desert? Grading the hire: B
Charlie Weis (Kansas) – The former Notre Dame head coach gets another shot at a school that’s had zero success over the last several decades other than a nice run under Mark Mangino. Although injuries to senior QB John Brantley were the crust of Florida’s offensive struggles last year, you couldn’t help but slightly point a finger at Weis for such anemic production. Unless he changes my mind at KU, I’ve decided that Weis is an excellent o-coordinator but a mediocre head coach. Grading the hire: D+
Norm Chow (Hawaii) – When Chow was running prolific offenses at USC early in Pete Carroll’s dynastic roll, it seemed he was poised to get a head-coaching job every off-season. Yet no offers came and then it appeared as if Chow’s late career was going to consist of bouncing around from one job to the next. Finally, the Honolulu-born Chow has his first head-coaching job after 39 years as an assistant in college and the NFL. Things will be tougher for the Warriors moving into the Mountain West this year, but I think they have a solid coach for the next half-dozen years. Grading the hire: B
Tony Levine: (Houston) – Kevin Sumlin won 36 games in four years at Houston despite losing his top two QBs in a 5-7 campaign in 2010. Therefore, Levine has big shoes to fill and the school’s all-time leading passer (Case Keenum) to replace. He led the Cougars to a 30-14 win over Penn St. at the TicketCity Bowl. Levine’s background is as a special-teams coordinator in the NFL and college ranks. He’s been at Houston since 2008 and was the assistant HC the last two seasons. Levine will benefit from that injury-plagued 2010 campaign because third-year sophomore QB David Piland, who redshirted upon Keenum’s return last season, is back after throwing 24 TD passes as a true freshman. Grading the hire: C
Kyle Flood (Rutgers) – First of all, let’s state with authority that RU should hurry up and build a statue in honor of Greg Schiano, who turned this program from the nation’s worst to a perennial Big East contender that went to six bowl games the last seven years. Flood has a monumental task replacing Schiano, who spent 11 years with the Scarlet Knights before taking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job. Flood has been at RU since 2007, serving as co-offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010. His first team has a chance to win the league and possibly improve on last season’s 9-win total. From a gambling standpoint, look to back Rutgers as a double-digit road underdog at Arkansas on Sept. 22 IF – and only IF – the Razorbacks upset Alabama the week before to make this a classic letdown spot for the Hogs. Grading the hire: C+
Paul Chryst: (Pittsburgh) – The former Wisconsin o-coordinator has been directing dynamite offenses at Camp Randall since 2005. Most of those units were based on a power running game with talented backs working behind mammoth offensive lines. However, Chryst showed us what he could do through the air with a QB he trusted (Russell Wilson) last year. He inherits a fragile group of players at Pitt that have had five different head coaches in the last 15 games. Dave Wannstedt and Mike Haywood got fired, Todd Graham bolted after a year, while Phil Bennett and Keith Patterson coached one bowl game apiece in interim roles. With all that said, the Panthers have a better-than-decent chance in the Big East this year, especially if RB Ray Graham can return to 100 percent after tearing his ACL in late October. Grading the hire: B+
Other notable new head coaches include Gus Malzahn (Arkansas St.), Terry Bowden (Akron), Jim McElwain (Colorado St.) and Garrick McGee (UAB).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Georgia St. head coach Bill Curry, who will turn 70 in October, has announced that he’ll retire at the end of the 2012 season. Curry previously coached at Kentucky, Alabama and Ga. Tech.
–Because of their ties to the Arkansas program, Malzahn and McGee could be one-and-doners at their new schools if the Hogs come calling following the 2012 campaign.
–Guess who else is on Akron’s campus these days besides Bowden, the former coach at Auburn? Well, there’s fundraiser Jim Tressel of Ohio St. fame and Bowden’s top assistant, Chuck Amato, the former HC at N.C. St. who worked under Terry’s Daddy for so many years at FSU.
–Trivia: I noted how Keenum is the all-time leading passer at Houston now. There are several quality candidates for second and third in passing for the Cougars. Who are they? Answer: 2nd: Kevin Kolb; 3rd: David Klingler. Since Phil Steele’s magazine only goes three-deep with this stat, we’re left to assume that Andre Ware is fourth.