Friday Five: First-year college football coaches poised for instant success in 2019 season
These five coaches are the most likely to experience immediate success at their new jobs
As is the case every year, when the 2019 college football season begins in only 6.5 months (if there are any typos in this story they were caused by my tears hitting the keyboard as I cried about how long the offseason is), there will be plenty of old coaches in new places. In this week's Friday Five, I'm ranking the coaches who will most likely get off to a quick start at their new gigs.
I'm not ranking the "best hires" or the coaches that will be the most successful at their new jobs in the long run. I'm merely writing about the coaches who I believe will find themselves in the best situations for immediate success; that doesn't mean they'll be guaranteed to sustain it. Just look at one of the schools that will have a new coach this year. Manny Diaz did not make the top five for this week's list as he takes over at Miami, but look at how things went for his predecessor. Miami hired Mark Richt before the 2016 season and he won 19 games in his first two years, including the first Coastal Division title in program history (since joining the ACC in 2004). Things were looking up! Until it all started crumbling down during a 2018 season that saw the Hurricanes go 7-6, which led to Richt's ouster and the school handing the keys to Diaz.
Let's get rankin'.
5. Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois: Hammock, who's spent the last five seasons coaching running backs for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, has never been a head coach before at any level. He hasn't coached at the college level since 2013, when he was the assistant head coach and running backs coach at Wisconsin.. While there are a lot of unknowns about Hammock, he's jumping into a good situation at Northern Illinois.
The Huskies won the MAC in 2018, and even if they lose some key players like defensive end Sutton Smith, a lot of their overall production will return in 2019. Plus, in a conference that's known to see teams go up and down quite a bit, the Huskies have been one of the steadiest programs in the MAC, even through coaching changes. The program has won the MAC four times since 2011 under two different coaches. Under Jerry Kill in 2010, the Huskies went 10-3 on the season but lost 26-21 to Miami (OH) in the conference title game. This is a program that's shown an ability to win in the MAC under different regimes, so I wouldn't be shocked to see the Huskies competing for its eighth MAC West title since 2010 under its fourth coach in that span.
4. Jake Spavital, Texas State: Texas State has only been an FBS program since 2012, and it hasn't experienced a ton of success in that time. Between the 2013-14 seasons, the Bobcats went 13-11, and that's been the peak of the program. In the four seasons since, the Bobcats are 10-38. Even if he didn't turn it into enough wins to keep his job, Everett Whithers did land the top recruiting class in the Sun Belt in 2017, and those players are now upperclassmen. Spavital may be inheriting a team that only went 3-9 last season, but it's a team with talent and experience.
Given Spavital's experience on the offensive side of the ball and his ability to score points, it's not crazy to think a Bobcats team that couldn't score 20 points per game last season can take a big step forward on offense. In a Sun Belt Conference with a lot of coaching turnover this winter, that alone could help the Bobcats improve by three wins alone.
3. Chris Klieman, Kansas State: There are a lot of skeptics amongst Kansas State fans regarding the Klieman hire. The move was widely applauded by media folk such as myself, but fans are somewhat hesitant about turning the program over to a coach who has spent one season on the FBS level (and at rival Kansas, no less). What Klieman has plenty of experience doing, however, is winning football games. He inherited a juggernaut at North Dakota State from Craig Bohl, and the program didn't skip a beat as he won four FCS titles in five years with a semifinal appearance in 2016.
Klieman is walking into a situation at Kansas State that he should be pleased with. The Wildcats were only 5-7 last year and 3-6 in the Big 12, but a lot of their key players were young. Quarterback Skylar Thompson was a sophomore, four of its five leading receivers return, as do seven of the team's 10 leading tacklers. While Dalton Risner is a significant loss on the offensive line, the team will still have a veteran unit there as well in 2019. This is a team poised to take a step forward in a Big 12 conference that should provide plenty of wiggle room next season.
2. Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State: Not surprisingly, coaches that take over programs where the previous coach left for a bigger job are usually the ones who find themselves to be in the better spots. That's the case here. I don't know if Drinkwitz will have the same kind of longterm success that Scott Satterfield had at Appalachian State, but he's moving into a house that doesn't need many renovations.
The Mountaineers went 11-2 last season and have won 41 games in the previous four seasons. While there are some critical defections on defense that need to be replaced, just about every skill position player on offense will be back in 2019. So Drinkwitz, who has spent his entire coaching career on the offensive side of the ball, will have plenty to work with. There's plenty of reason to believe that Appalachian State will still be competing for the Sun Belt title in his first year.
1. Ryan Day, Ohio State: When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, he inherited a team that had gone 6-7 the year before he arrived and he ended up going 12-0. Day will not improve this team by six wins in 2019 because, well, it's impossible to do that with the Buckeyes coming off a 13-1 season. But that's precisely the reason he's at No. 1 on this list.
Day has never been a full-time head coach before, but if you were to take your pick of first-time gigs, I can't imagine there are many more appealing spots than a program that has won 86 games over the last seven years and has one of the most talented rosters in the country. Sure, Day needs to replace a Heisman-finalist QB in Dwayne Haskins, but he has Justin Fields to replace him with. Considering that Day is the only first-year coach taking over a team capable of winning a national title in 2019, there was never any other choice for No. 1 on this list.
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