College football first-year coach grades: Florida's Dan Mullen gets an 'A,' UCLA's Chip Kelly does not

The 2018 regular season is in the books, and several first-year coaches made their first impressions on the college football world. From Chip Kelly at UCLA to Scott Frost at Nebraska and everywhere in between, coaches laid the groundwork for the future of their respective programs throughout the fall. 

Some were successful, and others were not. Some led their teams to bowl games, and others fell just short. But the process is still ongoing, potentially with better days on the horizon for some. Others could be a flash in the pan at their programs with the bottom set to fall out by the time Year 2 rolls around next summer. 

Let's grade the first-year coaches from 2018 based solely on their performance this season.

Power Five

TeamCoachRecordAnalysisGrade
Kevin Sumlin5-7Sumlin came in with a superstar in quarterback Khalil Tate, laid several eggs early, blew a rivalry game to Arizona State and missed a bowl.D
Herm Edwards7-5The experiment paid off better than expected, including wins over Michigan State and Utah, and it ended with a bowl berth.B+
Chad Morris2-10A winless conference record, blowout home loss to North Texas and no hope for the future doesn't sit well with Hog fans.D-
Dan Mullen9-3The Gators spent the majority of the season in the top 20, topped LSU in a rivalry game and will likely finish in the top 10 with a New Year's Six bowl bid. Not bad, Mr. Mullen.A
Willie Taggart5-7The 36-year bowl streak ended, the Seminoles led the nation in penalties, and they were disjointed from the jump.F
Joe Moorhead8-4A veteran team with a top-tier defense and dynamic quarterback had great moments, despite not contending for the SEC WestB+
Scott Frost4-8Six straight losses to open the season didn't exactly sit well, but the Cornhuskers came on strong late to finish 4-2 and give fans hope.B
Mario Cristobal8-4The Ducks had the talent to contend for the Pac-12 North, but bad losses to Stanford and Arizona were head-scratchers.B-
Jonathan Smith2-10Only one of the Beavers' wins was over an FBS program, but it was a 28-point comebackD-
Jeremy Pruitt5-7There were bright moments, like the win at Auburn, and awful ones like losing to Missouri and Vanderbilt to close out the season. Baby steps and patience, Vols fansC+
Jimbo Fisher8-4The record isn't much different than Kevin Sumlin's at A&M, but topping LSU (in seven overtimes), playing Clemson close and finishing strong is a good startA-
Chip Kelly3-9Closing strong with a win over rival USC was great, but that record in the Pac-12 South is unacceptableC

Group of Five

Group of Five
TeamCoachRecordAnalysisGrade
Chad Lunsford9-3A nine-win season in his first full year after the Tyson Summers debacle is a sign that the glory days of Georgia Southern football could be backA-
Sean Lewis2-10Kent State fired Paul Haynes and Lewis produced the same record. That has to change.D
Billy Napier7-5Napier started 1-3 but found his way to the Sun Belt Championship Game this weekend. Not a bad start.B
Mike Bloomgren2-11The Owls didn't notch an FBS win until the final weekend over Old Dominion , 27-13. But what a win it was for Rice .D+
Sonny Dykes5-7The Mustangs had legitimate AAC West title hopes into late November ... and then missed a bowl. What a wild ride for Dykes.B-
Steve Campbell3-9The Jags gave up 38 or more points eight times in 2018. With the recruiting base, that needs to change ASAP.D+
Josh Heupel11-0Heupel picked up right where Scott Frost left off; he has the Knights in the CFP and New Year's Six hunt and kept the program as the most prominent Group of Five team in the country.A+
Dana Dimel1-11The Miners spent the majority of the year at or near the bottom of the CBS Sports 129 ... but did find a way to beat Rice.D-

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke was not included since he coached a full season in 2017 as the interim coach of the Rebels.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories