NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt

The 2019-20 college football hiring cycle included 24 coaching changes, but circumstances both on the field and off the field have trimmed the group noticeably as some of those hires prepare for Year 4 in 2023. 

As we gather to grade the three-year tenures of the coaches from this cycle, we must first note the ones who won't be included in the process. Four of the coaches were fired before Year 3 (2022), thus getting an incomplete grade. Kalen DeBoer did not make it to Year 3 at Fresno State because he was hired away by Washington to replace Jimmy Lake, who was among the coaches fired before Year 3. The tragic death of Mike Leach takes another coach off the list from this 2019-20 cycle, and four more coaches who did start the 2022 season have been fired and won't be leading their program for 2023. 

So, in total, just 14 of the 24 coaches in this hiring cycle have even made it to the point of preparing for a Year 4. 

While the clock has been speeding up for coaches to deliver instant results in recent years, it's worth noting that no one in this cycle was afforded a typical offseason in the first months after they were hired. The COVID-19 pandemic left the coaching hires of this cycle stuck behind a web camera trying to build relationships virtually. Preseason camps were rushed and impacted significantly by social distancing efforts, while the season itself was disjointed and limited in scope.  

Still, programs demand results once a coach is a couple years into his tenure, and there are examples from this class of being able to meet and even exceed expectations. Conference championships, New Year's Six bids and double-digit win seasons have all been accomplished by this group, so let's get into the details with some grades. 

Power Five
Sam Pittman19-17While the highlight is a nine-win season and top-25 finish in 2021, Pittman has yet to record a winning record in SEC play. This season, the Razorbacks started ranked in the top 20 and reached No. 10 in the country, but then lost 5 of 7 including a home loss to Liberty. Injuries were a major issue during that stretch, and the margins on some of the team's defeats in 2022 were slim -- of Arkansas' six losses, four were by three points or less -- but transfer portal exits and coaching staff turnover have ramped up the pressure on Pittman heading into Year 4. Thank goodness KJ Jefferson is back for another year.B-
Dave Aranda20-16The improvement from 2-7 in Year 1 to winning the Big 12 in Year 2 was evidence that Aranda, here in his first-ever head coaching gig, had the chops to make it work at the Power Five level. In 2022, the team took a step back from the level of championship contention, but it was not a return to the bottom of the conference by any means. Baylor won three times on the road (Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma) and finished tied for fifth in the conference standings. If there's any grumblings about Baylor right now, it's mostly because the team finished with three straight regular season losses and dropped the bowl game to Air Force. We're not going to let recency bias influence our grade too much here.B+
Jeff Hafley15-20Hafley could have two bowl appearances, but both were canceled due to COVID-19. That said, I'm not sure having those bowl games played impacts the overall grade for Hafley too much; the focus for criticism lies in the team's performance against conference competition in the last two seasons. Boston College is just 4-12 in ACC play since the start of 2021 and finishied dead last in the ACC Atlantic in 2022. So as the ACC moves to a division-less world in 2023, where will Boston College end up? The Eagles avoid Clemson on the schedule for the first time since joining the ACC, but given the team's place in the conference pecking order, there are very few easy wins right now for a coach that needs a better finish in the standings.C
Karl Dorrell8-15Sitting undefeated at the end of November 2020, albeit at 4-0, earned the Buffs a national ranking and Dorrell some attention. Dorrell was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year and the outlook was bright, but two things happened in succession that immediately reversed all of that positive momentum. First was a 4-8 season that brought doubt to the celebration of Colorado's 2020 success. Then, an exodus to the transfer portal, and inability to pick up roster wins in the portal, contributed to a serious doubt in the direction of the program. Motivations for Deion Sanders' hire include the desire to boost the talent acquisition operation in Boulder, which is one area where the previous regime fell short.F
Mike Norvell18-16Norvell recorded eight wins in his first two seasons combined, then caught fire with 10 wins in Year 3 and finished solo second place in the ACC Atlantic with a No. 11 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll. He's still sub-.500 in league play overall, but the success of 2022 has set new expectations for the future. Norvell utilized the transfer portal to create instant impact for the roster in 2021 and 2022. If Florida State delivers on those raised expectations in the fall, we could see it pay off in the 2024 recruiting cycle.B
Mel Tucker18-14The 11-2 season in 2021, Peach Bowl win and top-10 finish is doing a lot of work for this profile as Tucker was 2-5 in the COVID-shortened year and 5-7 this past season. He is 2-1 against Michigan, which means a little bit more considering the rivalry and Wolverines' status at the moment, but also has three losses to Ohio State by 29 points (2022), 49 points (2021) and 40 points (2020). Tucker picked up one of his most important roster additions through the transfer portal with running back Kenneth Walker III, but there's a question -- not dissimilar from the position of Mike Norvell at Florida State -- of whether reliance on the portal is a feature of the coach's first years on the job or a key piece of the long-term plan for success. Tucker's got the chops to be successful at a proud program like Michigan State, but Year 4 will be a pivot point for determining whether the success of 2021 was a breakthrough or an outlier for the Spartans. B-
Lane Kiffin23-13Kiffin is 14-11 in SEC play, and only Nick Saban has more SEC wins over the last three seasons among coaches in the SEC West. There's frustration for how the 2022 season finished with five losses in the final six games. Having Kiffin linked to the Auburn coaching search throughout the losing streak didn't help, either, but he's backed up his commitment to the program with work in the winter transfer portal window that includes stockpiling the 2023 quarterback room with blue-chip talent.B+
Eli Drinkwitz17-19Missouri has earned three straight bowl bids and finished in the top four of the SEC East every season that Drinkwitz has served. He has also delivered enough recruiting wins, and some of the 2022 losses include strong performances against good teams. Half of the Tigers' regular season losses came to teams who went on to play in New Years' Six bowl games, including a four-point defeat to eventual national champion Georgia. It was a feisty team in 2022 and forecasts as a competitive program moving forward.C+
Greg Schiano12-22Schiano holds a special place among the Rutgers community, so there will be a different perspective there that may or may not fall in line with our analysis. But in the wake of 2021, it is hard to assign a positive grade to a tenure that's included wins in just six of its 26 conference games and just finished the year on a five-game losing streak with those losses coming by an average of 30.8 points per game. Wins are going to be hard to come by at Rutgers given its current position in the Big Ten East, but competitiveness is a reasonable expectation ... and this was not a competitive team coming down the stretch in 2021.C-
Group of Five
Shawn Clark26-13Clark has put in work at his alma mater with the highlight being a 10-win season and Sun Belt Championship Game appearance in 2021. Last season was disappointing for a program that has maintained a championship-contending standard for much of its Sun Belt tenure, but even in that campaign, Clark delivered a road win against Texas A&M and an epic home victory against eventual conference champion Troy in a September to remember for fans in Boone, North Carolina.B
Willie Taggart15-18FAU went 11-11 in conference play and saw major changes to the coaching staff each offseason under Taggart while never making a move to threaten in Conference USA. Lane Kiffin won two conference titles in a three-year run with the Owls, setting an expectation for conference title contention at the very least. When Taggart failed to meet that bar, the program moved on and eventually hired Tom Herman to lead the Owls into the school's American Athletic Conference future.F
Ryan Silverfield21-16Silverfield has gotten the Tigers bowl-eligible in all three seasons, but there's been a notable step back from the level of conference championship contention that he experienced as an assistant under Mike Norvell. With some questions swirling at the end of 2022, Silverfield got a vote of confidence from the administration as he leads Memphis into the new era as an American Athletic Conference member. Now that Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are gone, there are open spots at the top of the league that Memphis will be expected to fill. A sub-.500 record in conference play (11-13) won't cut it anymore.C
Danny Gonzales7-24It's been a struggle for Gonzales, a former Lobos player and Albuquerque native, to get things rolling at New Mexico, and the on-field results took a step back in Year 3. New Mexico won two conference games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, went 1-7 in conference play in 2021 and then 0-8 in 2022. Hired in the wake of a stint as Arizona State's defensive coordinator, it's the offense that has become the Lobos' biggest issue. New Mexico ranked No. 130 nationally in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game, and No. 131 in total offense in both yards per game (228.1) and yards per play (3.94).D
Ricky Rahne9-16We are still going to count Rahne as a Year 3 coach even though ODU did not participate in the 2020 season. Whatever work was done in that year without games was apparently valuable as the Monarchs returned to play in 2021 with a campaign that ended in the program's second-ever bowl bid. 2022 looked like it was off to a strong start with ODU picking up wins against Virginia Tech and Coastal Carolina in the first six games, but six straight losses to close the regular season made for a disappointing start to the program's Sun Belt era.C
Brady Hoke36-24Things appear to be moving according to plan for the Aztecs, who have maintained their identity through the coaching change and finished in the top two of the Western Division in the Mountain West in each of the two full seasons that Hoke has been back as head coach. He's got a 23-15 record overall against Mountain West opponents and already delivered a 12-win season in 2021 that included a division title and a ranking (No. 25) in the final AP Top 25. A four-point loss on the road at Fresno State and a 13-3 defeat to Air Force kept the Aztecs from being in conference title contention again, but the program remains one of the most consistent in the conference.A-
Marcus Arroyo7-23Taken as a whole, the 7-23 showing through Year 3 does make for a decent case for UNLV to move on from Arroyo, but his dismissal did come in the wake of his best campaign yet with a team that, when healthy, was competitive with some of the top teams in the Mountain West. Maybe if the seven-point loss to eventual conference champion Fresno State or the four-point loss at San Diego State had flipped the other way, making the Rebels bowl eligible, then Arroyo would be coaching in 2023. As it stands, however, the administration made a decision to move on from the long-time offensive assistant in favor of hiring Arkansas defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom to lead the program.F
Jeff Scott4-26The Bulls recorded just one (1) win against an FBS opponent in the last three seasons, and while there were moments of excitement for USF fans in the 2022 campaign during narrow losses at Florida and Cincinnati, this was a team that failed to be consistently competitive. With the American Athletic Conference undergoing a massive change heading into 2023, the school needed a reboot and hired Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh to lead the Bulls into the new era.F
Jeff Traylor30-10This is the coach who has achieved the most of any one in this cycle. It's not just the 30 wins and two conference championships, but the fact that he's accomplished all this at a program that just entered Division I competition in 2011. Traylor is responsible for the only conference championships in UTSA football history and three of the program's four bowl appearances. As UTSA makes its move to the American Athletic Conference, it does so with the expectations that it can continue that level of championship contention despite the level up in competition. A