The 2021 college football season is almost in the books, which means it's time to hand out grades for all of the first-year head coaches. Last offseason's coaching carousel provided us plenty of intrigue heading into this season, including Steve Sarkisian's move to Texas, Bryan Harsin's decision to leave Boise State for Auburn and Josh Heupel's jump up from UCF to Tennessee.
The Group of Five level had plenty of turnover as well, including the return of Butch Jones to the head coaching ranks at Arkansas State and Blake Anderson's journey from Arkansas State to Utah State.
There were 18 coaching changes overall that took place from mid-October all the way through the end of spring. Let's break all of them down and hand out some grades.
|Jedd Fisch||1-11||Six of Arizona's 11 losses were by double-digits, and for the most part, the Wildcats were the punchline to a very bad joke. Fisch was a disaster in his first year in Tucson, but it's not like we expected much.||D-|
|Bryan Harsin||6-6||The four-game losing streak, which included a loss to South Carolina and meltdown against Mississippi State, was unacceptable. Other than the first 58 minutes vs. Alabama -- and even that didn't end well -- Auburn's season was as pedestrian as they come.||D+|
|Bret Bielema||5-7||Wins over Penn State and Minnesota, the former of which was of the nine-overtime variety, were nice and the losses to Virginia and Wisconsin were the only real blowouts. The bottom line is that Illinois looked competitive most of the time, which is a decent foundation on which to build. ||B|
|Lance Leipold||2-10||Leipold's 2-10 record was par for the course at Kansas, but the Jayhawks did top Texas for their first road conference win since 2008. A glimmer of hope is something that Kansas fans haven't had in a long time.||B-|
|Shane Beamer||6-6||The Gamecocks destroyed Florida, handled Auburn and made a bowl game in a season that began with Beamer bringing graduate assistant coach Zeb Noland back onto the roster to start at quarterback. It was a tremendous debut for the first-time head coach.||A|
|Josh Heupel||7-5||It's been a long time since hope was felt on Rocky Top, but that's exactly what Heupel provided in Year 1. The offense was dynamic with quarterback Hendon Hooker. The Vols played rival Alabama close and a bowl berth is an unexpected reward for a championship-starved fanbase.||A-|
|Steve Sarkisian||5-7||Texas is back ... to being below .500 for the first time since the Charlie Strong era. What's more, Sarkisian's Longhorns lost to Kansas at home in the middle of a historic six-game losing streak. What an abject disaster in Austin.||F|
|Clark Lea||2-10||Lea went winless in conference play in his first season with the Commodores, and one of his two wins came over lowly UConn. The bar isn't very high in Nashville, but he was nowhere close to reaching it. The road win at Colorado State was fun, though.||D+|
|Butch Jones||2-10||This was Arkansas State's second sub-.500 season since 2010. Its only FBS win was a three-point victory over Louisiana-Monroe . Yikes.||F|
|Andy Avalos||7-5||Boise State demands national relevance, but that didn't happen in Avalos' first season. Still, emphatic wins over BYU , Fresno State and Utah State set a solid foundation for the first-time head coach to build upon.||C+|
|Maurice Linguist||4-8||The Bulls expect MAC relevancy, but Linguist didn't provide that in Year 1. Granted, he took over late in the offseason and didn't get a chance to truly set the foundation of his vision of the program. But bowl games are the expectation for the Bulls.||C|
|Terry Bowden||4-8||Bowden's return to the sideline didn't go well, but a win over Liberty was a nice treat in an otherwise mediocre season. The Warhawks lost five straight games to close out the season, including the finale to rival and Sun Belt powerhouse Louisiana .||C-|
|Charles Huff||7-6||Six of Marshall's wins came by double digits and the Thundering Herd earned a bid to the New Orleans Bowl. Not bad for a first-time head coach at a tradition-rich Group of Five program.||B+|
|Tim Albin||3-9||Albin took over in June after Frank Solich's retirement, which is not the ideal time to attempt a turnaround. What's more, the Bobcats only played three games in 2020 due to COVID-19 interruptions. Albin deserves a mulligan, so he'll get a "C" since they did have back-to-back wins in early November.||C|
|Kane Wommack||5-7||Blowout wins over Georgia Southern and Arkansas State were fun, but four straight losses to close out the season left a sour taste in Jaguars fans' mouths.||D+|
|Will Hall||3-9||The Golden Eagles suffered an eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season and weren't competitive in most of those games. However, the massive injury issues that occurred throughout the season lessen the sting a bit. Back-to-back wins over Louisiana Tech and FIU at least give fans hope.||C-|
|Gus Malzahn||8-4||The Knights were never factors in the AAC race, which is not up to the standards set by Scott Frost and Josh Heupel. Sure, the injury to quarterback Dillon Gabriel didn't help, but the inconsistency that they showed is concerning. Marked improvement in Malzahn's second season needs to happen.||C+|
|Blake Anderson||11-3||The Aggies dominated San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game and topped Oregon State in the LA Bowl. It was Utah State's fourth double-digit win season since 2012, which tells you exactly what kind of standard there is in Logan.||A-|
Several first-year coaches have bowl games ahead of them, which could send them into the offseason with momentum or stuck in neutral. For all of their sakes, a normal offseason with time to develop their rosters and further establish a culture would be incredibly helpful moving forward.