Coaching carousel winners and losers: Grading every 2017 college football hire
From Chip Kelly to Billy Napier, did these schools and coaches make the right calls this silly season?
It wasn't the most active silly season. Not even close.
Only 20 schools changed coaches. Ah, but 12 of them reside in the Power Five, and among those 12 were some of the most prestigious jobs in the land ... and some of the biggest upheaval -- ahem, Tennessee. Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, UCLA and the Vols have accounted for 14 national championships. The last time the Gators and Noles were open in the same year was 1959.
All of it in a rush to get ready for the first Early Signing Period, which begins on Wednesday.
Here are the winners and losers from this year's coaching carousel along with grades for each hire.
UCLA / Chip Kelly: The Bruins broke out of their fiscally conservative shell and hired one of the best names on the board. The first analyst hired out of an ESPN studio this silly season is the college gold standard with a 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon. Grade: A+
Jimmy Sexton, agent: The super agent to the super coaches probably had the best silly season of his career. Sexton negotiated contracts for a reported combined total of $300 million. Oregon's Willie Taggart got $30 million from Florida State despite a 47-50 career record. Gus Malzahn got the love he wanted from Auburn in the form a new seven-year, $49 million deal. Dan Mullen got $36 million from Florida. Jimbo Fisher broke the bank at Texas A&M. Grade: A+
Texas A&M / Jimbo Fisher: He's set for life -- financially. But one of the nation's top five coaches knowingly inherited the cement ceiling that goes along with coaching against Nick Saban in the SEC West. The Aggies haven't won the conference in 20 years and just fired their winningest coach (Kevin Sumlin) in that span. Jimbo has until the ESP on Dec. 20 to recruit talent-rich Texas where Tom Herman, Gary Patterson, Lincoln Riley and -- frankly -- Saban already have a significant head start. Grade: A
Florida / Dan Mullen: These two couldn't be happier with one another. Mississippi State's former coach was welcomed home as Florida's former offensive coordinator with two national championship rings. It all worked out in the end. Grade: A
Nebraska / Scott Frost: The Huskers changed athletic directors, then perhaps changed the direction of their program getting their native son. Encouraging sign: Literally hundreds of former Huskers turned up at the press conference to show their support. Does it get any more feel-good than that? Nebraska has needed a direction for years. Tom Osborne's former national championship quarterback will provide it. Grade: B+
Mississippi State / Joe Moorhead: The Bulldogs swapped Mullen for a new Mullen -- the talented Penn State coordinator. Moorhead has a championship pedigree having already coached Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley in the 2016 Big Ten title season. Who'd have ever thought Mississippi State would be really, really happy with Fordham's former head coach? Grade: B
UTEP / Dana Dimel: Kansas State's former offensive coordinator got out from underneath the thumb of Bill Snyder. The FBS's only winless team in 2017 (0-12) got an experienced play caller and former head coach (Wyoming). That's a win any way you look at it. Grade: B
Oregon State / Jonathan Smith: Considering what's gone on lately, a former Beavers quarterback (and Washington OC) is a definite upgrade. Throw in Mike Riley as assistant head coach in his third go-around with the Beavs, and things are looking up. Riley posted the last two back-to-back seasons at Oregon State in 2012 and 2013. Grade: B-
SMU / Sonny Dykes: Think of a younger June Jones. Dykes knows the program, the state and its recruiting. After serving a year as a TCU analyst, Sonny is almost a seamless transition after Chad Morris. He should be able to capitalize on only the fourth winning season since the death penalty. Grade: B-
Jeremy Pruitt: If Alabama's defensive coordinator had been hired four weeks ago when the job first came open, this hire would be rated higher. Does that make sense? Pruitt is something like a seventh choice after the program almost burned to the ground. That makes it easier to focus on Pruitt never having been a coach and the more than fickle Tennessee fans and administration. Grade: C+
Louisiana / Billy Napier: The NFL plan took a hit at Arizona State now that both coordinators are gone. Napier had just been promoted to associate head coach 10 days ago. Now he's at his starter job at ULL. A good decision considering how fast he's risen from Alabama receivers coach to ASU OC to a new life in the Sun Belt. A cynic might say Napier has a better chance of his star rising in Lafayette, Louisiana, than Arizona State. Grade: C+
UCF / Josh Heupel: The former Oklahoma quarterback and offensive coordinator had a nice second half of the season at Missouri. If that qualifies one to inherit the nation's best Group of Five program, so be it. Grade: C
Arkansas / Chad Morris: Can Clemson's former offensive coordinator turn around the Hogs? I'm not sure he turned around SMU. If Arkansas wanted to hire an up-and-coming Clemson OC, it should have gotten Tony Elliott. Grade: C
Ole Miss / Matt Luke: Credit to him for keeping the Rebels focused when they had nothing for which to play this season. As an interim, Luke should get for a credit 6-6 season with a win over Mississippi State. The roster will be depleted after the NCAA investigation, so better to allow Luke to ride out the bad times. Grade: C
Florida State / Willie Taggart: FSU's first coach ever with a losing record, Taggart made Oregon a steppingstone job. Now he takes over a loaded roster in Tallahassee. Taggart's career has had an upward arc, but FSU isn't less pressurized Western Kentucky, South Florida or even Oregon. Nothing against Willie, but I can't get over the fact FSU lost one of top coaches in the game. Grade: C
Oregon / Mario Cristobal: Sources say AD Rob Mullens wanted to save a top-10 recruiting class by promoting Cristobal, his offensive coordinator. We love Mario (27-47 at FIU), but sacrificing short-term gain for long-term certainty is dicey. Changing coaches always impacts a recruiting class. That's another way of suggesting Kevin Sumlin might have been a more certain upgrade. Grade: C
Rice / Mike Bloomgren: I know next to nothing about Stanford's former offensive line coach. But anyone good enough to build one of the game's most punishing O-lines is good enough for me. Some guy named Lane Kiffin just won 10 games in Conference USA after FAU had won a total of nine the previous three years. Rice has won nine the previous three seasons in CUSA, so why not? Grade: C-
Georgia Southern / Chad Lunsford: His resume is stocked -- director of scouting and player personnel for Gene Chizik at Auburn; receivers coach, tight ends coach, recruiting coordinator, special teams coordinator at Georgia Southern. Grade: C-
Jim McElwain: How many coaches with 23-12 career records and back-to-back division titles at a top national program in a Power Five conference get fired? McElwain basically ran himself out of town with the seemingly unsubstantiated death threat allegations and now doesn't have a job in 2017. Grade: D
Kent State / Sean Lewis: Syracuse's former quarterbacks coach and co-OC is jumping into something -- either a bottomless pit or a great opportunity. Two coaches in the history of the program have stayed more than four years. This is a starter job for most. Ask Hall of Famer Don James (1971-74). Grade: D
Arizona State: We're not blaming Herm Edwards because, but there is innovative and then there is off the reservation. A program that has finished in the top 15 five times in the last 39 years expects to there every year with a new NFL approach. Good luck. Grade: D-
Tennessee: No matter what happens with Pruitt (see above), the school has damaged its brand going forward. When chosen hire Greg Schiano and now-former AD John Currie were run out of town, it reflected the worst about the unchecked "power" of social media, the South's football culture and knee-jerk fans. Someday, Tennessee has to realize what it is -- perhaps the SEC's sixth-best program. Grade: F
Kevin Sumlin: It defies belief that somebody didn't hire Texas A&M's former coach. In this edition of the carousel, only Kelly, Frost and Fisher have better career winning percentages than Sumlin (.666). Grade: F
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