Coaching carousel winners and losers: Grading every 2018 college football hire and beyond
From Les Miles and Mack Brown to Ryan Day and Manny Diaz, who won and who lost?
Compared to last silly season, 2018 was a breeze. There were 21 coaching changes, only one more than all of last year. There were changes at only nine Power Five schools compared to 12 in 2017.
Senior citizenship had its privileges with Mack Brown and Les Miles back in the game. Offensive coaches continue to be favored. Urban Meyer continues to retire. As such, Ohio State was the only blueblood to make a change. The biggest news out of the West Coast is that USC stayed put.
Every school involved once again responded to Wednesday's early signing day. All the changes were buttoned up before then.
Here are the winners and losers from this year's coaching carousel along with grades for each hire and a bonus set of winners and losers at the bottom.
|Ryan Day||A||Understand that Ohio State football is bigger than any Ohio State coach. So when Urban Meyer was replaced with a 39-year-old with no full-time head coaching experience, that made perfect sense. Buckeyes officials who watched Meyer (and Zach Smith) drag the program into the quicksand are many of the same ones who thankfully saw something in Day. It became clear as the season went on Day was being groomed to replace Meyer. I knew Day was the next coach at Ohio State after the TCU game in September; there was a calm after Day's third game as interim coach … and some trepidation that Meyer was moving back in to take over.|
|Les Miles||A||Both sides go into this relationship with their eyes wide open. Athletic director Jeff Long wanted to create a splash. Les wanted a job. It's really as simple as that. Yeah, Kansas stinks, but not for long. Long created that splash landing a national championship coach. At 64, Miles understands the ask is 6-6 (bowl eligibility). That's a lot different than the expectations at LSU. There is already buzz around Kansas. Recruits should follow.|
|Manny Diaz||A||The only surprise is that it took Diaz, 44, this long to become a head coach. A defensive wizard, Miami's former coordinator will keep the momentum going that Geoff Collins established.|
|Hugh Freeze||A||If the question is: 'What is the quickest way for Liberty to join a conference and play for championships?' then Hugh Freeze is the answer. Despite his moral shortcomings, the dude can call a hell of an offense and has beaten Nick Saban twice. Just like Miles at Kansas, Freeze will create buzz and get the Flames on "SportsCenter." You'll have to ignore the euphemisms. Freeze continues to say he "dishonored" and "inconvenienced" his wife. C'mon, dude. You left Ole Miss after lawyer Tom Mars discovered you were calling an escort service. Oh yeah, and there are major violations at Ole Miss. "Whatever the cynics might say, it makes perfect sense that Liberty would be willing to give Hugh a second chance," Mars told CBS Sports.|
|Jake Spavital||A||"Spav" has coached Johnny Manziel, Kyler Murray and Will Grier at Texas A&M and West Virginia. That's two Heisman Trophy winners and the Mountaineers No. 3 career passer. Texas State remains off the college football radar. The Bobcats were 122nd in total offense. That will change in a hurry under Spavital.|
|Mel Tucker||B+||It's strange that a couple of former Georgia coordinators are separated by 44 miles in the state of Colorado. Joining Mike Bobo (at Colorado State) is Tucker, who has been on the cusp of a Power Five job for years. To get to Boulder, he spent 10 years in the NFL, one year with Nick Saban and three with Kirby Smart. There might be some slight disappointment Colorado didn't land a sitting head coach, but Tucker is the closest thing to it. CU has chosen to defensive with the hire, which is a statement in the offense-happy Pac-12.|
|Matt Wells||B+||Red Raiders everywhere were hoping for a more well-rounded coach. They may have gotten it in Wells. Kliff Kingsbury not only couldn't coach defense but couldn't find anyone who could for his staff on a consistent basis. Wells is well-respected having led Utah State to five bowl games. His defenses finished in the top three in the Mountain West in four of his six seasons.|
|Mike Locksley||B+||Nick Saban's career car wash unit produced another success story. From the staff that gave us Mario Cristobal, Steve Sarkisian, Lane Kiffin, Billy Napier and others, Locksley is the latest assistant to rehab his career in Tuscaloosa. Bama's former co-offensive coordinator will forever be known as the guy calling the plays in Tua Tagovailoa's first season. We should never forget Locks allegedly punched an assistant at New Mexico or was sued by a former executive assistant for sexual harassment. (That matter has been resolved.) But we should also remember everyone gets a second chance. Bottom line: Locksley is one hell of a recruiter and play caller. He has deep roots at Maryland and was the winner of the Broyles Award (top assistant).|
|Eli Drinkwitz||B+||Solid hire. Drinkwitz, 35, has a national championship ring from Auburn in 2010. He then followed Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State. There is nothing on his resume to suggest the Mountaineers won't keep dominating the Sun Belt. NC State's offense got better in each of Drinkwitz's three seasons as coordinator. In 2018, the Wolfpack had the second-best offense to Clemson in the ACC.|
|Scott Satterfield||B||Tom Jurich, Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino did their best lately to burn Louisville athletics to the ground. Satterfield was the next-best choice after Purdue's Jeff Brohm turned down Louisville. He is considered a top-flight up-and-comer who was mentioned in almost every coaching search east of the Mississippi. Appalachian State won three straight Sun Belt titles under Satterfield.|
|Geoff Collins||B||The former Temple coach and Florida DC got a seven-year deal from Georgia Tech. He'll need that long to clear out a roster full of Paul Johnson's option running backs, quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Three of Johnson's starting offensive linemen weighed less than 285 pounds. Ouch. Techsters everywhere will love Collins. He'll deliver having coached under George O'Leary and Chan Gailey.|
|Will Healy||B||I met Healy in January at the College Football Playoff National Championship. He was literally making the rounds chatting up sports writers to get his name out there. It worked. Healy is well-known in the industry having taken Austin Peay from a 1-45 four-year run to 8-4 in 2017.|
|Mack Brown||B-||Mack is one of my favorites. He deserves another shot at 67. But is it just me, or did AD Bubba Cunningham paint himself in a corner by not seriously considering anyone else? Brown has a history with UNC, but with Clemson taking off and leaving the rest of the ACC behind, shouldn't that be the No. 1 consideration? Five years from now, UNC will probably be better off, but will it be any closer to Clemson?|
|Jim McElwain||B-||There is no discernible connection to the Chips for a guy who has a home in Montana and had his greatest success at Colorado State. Mac did spend a season as Michigan's receivers coach as well as three seasons at Michigan State.|
Jury is still out
|Mike Houston||C+||The results on FCS coaches moving up to FBS are mixed. The hope here is that Houston (coming from FCS powerhouse James Madison) is better than Mike London (a failure at Virginia after coming up from Richmond). The Pirates have a long way to go in a top-heavy AAC.|
|Chris Klieman||C+||See above for Klieman. The difference here is North Dakota State's coach is replacing one of the best college coaches of all-time (Bill Snyder). Much will be expected. It is somewhat concerning that Klieman runs a pro style in the wide-open Big 12. Klieman better be able to get a quarterback -- today -- with Texas and Oklahoma set to dominate the league for years. In his favor, Klieman has been recruiting three-stars and winning championships in Fargo. That's basically the Snyder philosophy.|
|Tyson Helton||C||Clay Helton's youngest brother gets his first shot as a head coach. Tyson coached quarterbacks at USC in 2016-17 and Tennessee last season. In his only season as the Vols' play caller and quarterbacks coach, they were 96th in passing and 122nd in total offense.|
|Walt Bell||C||I'm not the only one who doesn't know much about Bell. He reached his highest profile taking over play-calling duties late in Florida State's season. At 34, Bell is the nation's second-youngest coach.|
|Tom Arth||C||The Zips had tired of Terry Bowden. I'm not sure that Tennessee-Chattanooga's former coach is the answer. Art was 9-13 in two seasons with the Mocs after going 40-8 at Division III John Carroll. Why did Akron tire of Bowden, again?|
|Scot Loeffler||C-||Urban Meyer set the tone at Bowling Green in the early 2000s as a fun, offensive factor in the MAC. Mike Jinks just about killed that vibe. A long-time assistant, Loeffler gets his shot after coming over as Boston College's OC.|
|Gary Andersen||F||The Aggies replaced one of the top, rising coaches (Wells) with a retread. Not only is Andersen a retread, he's walked out on Wisconsin and Oregon State. Somehow, Utah State hired back a coach who was only 26-24 in his first go-round with the Aggies before leaving in 2012. In a 30-year coaching career, Andersen has stayed at one place (Utah) longer than four years. In those 30 years, he's been at 10 different schools. Utah somehow hired him three different times. Career record: 57-61. Good luck, Aggies.|
More winners and losers
Winner -- Purdue retaining Jeff Brohm: Loyalty, what a concept. That's what Brohm showed when turning down his alma mater (Louisville) for arguably a worse program. In two seasons, Brohm is only one game above .500 (13-12). He is a combined 2-4 against Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern in the Big Ten West. There's a lot of work to be done but the future is bright. Purdue got lucky.
Winner -- USC for hiring Kliff Kingsbury: As long as everyone agrees Kingsbury, the new offensive coordinator, is a coach-in-waiting for Clay Helton, then this is a net win for USC. Texas Tech's former coach looks like a perfect match in the development of rising sophomore quarterback J.T. Daniels. Kingsbury inherits him and a talented set of receivers. Pac-12 titles have been won with that combination alone.
Loser -- USC for retaining Clay Helton: Athletic director Lynn Swann showed his inexperience in retaining Helton. In making the announcement Swann revealed a general lack of knowledge of his constituents and USC football. It's safe to say a larger portion of fans wanted Helton out -- not that fans should be guiding or even influencing hiring policy, but those are the people buying tickets. In the statement, Swann basically said every part of the program was "deficient," but he was still retaining Helton. Swann has now tied his fate to that of Helton. If the Trojans tank in 2019, Swann might find himself out of work, too.
Loser -- Rutgers for retaining Chris Ash: The Scarlet Knights retained Ash despite his 1-11 season and a 7-29 record in four seasons. In this age of impatience, it doesn't make sense. Ash is a good coach and fine man, but let's be honest: He is still the coach because Rutgers couldn't afford his $10 million buyout. The athletic department is upside down financially since joining the Big Ten. The school has borrowed heavily from Rutgers' internal bank hoping for a bridge to 2021 when the school gets its first full share in rights fee money from the Big Ten. Ash is only part of the problem.
Loser -- Pac-12: For so many reasons, but let's consider its current commitment to football. The league continued its ongoing streak of 15 straight years without a national championship. Everything from its officials to its spending have been called into question. But if Meyer was a free agent, which he technically is at the moment, how many Pac-12 schools have the money and/or desire to hire one of the best coaches in the game? We're talking at least $8 million in salary a year, but we're also talking about some sort of guaranteed success in exchange for that money. The possibilities: USC? Washington? Maybe Oregon? That's about it.
To put it in sharper focus: Since November 2017, half of the league has changed coaches (UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State and Colorado). None of those teams seriously considered Jeff Tedford, who just finished 12-2 at Fresno State. That's the most wins in the program's 50-year FBS history from a coach who has 12 years' experience in the Pac-10 (11 as a head coach) and tutored Aaron Rodgers.
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