NCAAF

College Football: Coaching Carousel

Arizona State

In: Herm Edwards  Out: Todd Graham

The situation at Arizona State is interesting. The program seems to have unrealistically expectations. Athletic Director Ray Anderson went as far as to say that year in and year out, he expects the Sun Devils to finish top three in the Pac 12 and top fifteen nationally. Their previous coach Todd Graham went 28-12 is his first three seasons in a competitive Pac 12 conference that includes USC, UCLA, Washington, and Stanford etc. The firing of coach Graham was a bit perplexing given that his team overachieved this year relative to expectations, finishing 7-5. Arizona State has gone 95-60 during Graham’s tenure and is on their way to their fifth bowl game in six years. Apparently that was not enough to satisfy the administration at Arizona State. At any rate, they have a new big name coach in Herm Edwards. Many are questioning the fit, noting that Edwards is more of a motivator than an Xs and Os guy. Additionally, it does not seem to be the best situation for Edwards to step into, because of the unrealistically high expectations. The real question is whether he is familiar enough with the college game and the rigors of running an NCAA power five program; being that he has no experience as a head coach the collegiate level. Nevertheless, Edwards is a big name coach and famous face that will help in the living room. I expect Herm to recruit very well on the west coast. If given the time to get his guys in there, we could be looking at a talented Arizona State team a few years down the line.

Arkansas

In: Chad Morris Out: Brett Bielema

I don’t know whether Chad Morris will be a success at Arkanas, but I do know that I’ll miss seeing Brett Bielema’s big ole’ belly on the sideline every weekend. Throughout his career at Wisconsin, Bielema proved to be a very capable coach. His failure at Arkansas  illustrates a point that I’ve been beating to death: it is extremely difficult to win in the SEC West. And I don’t know that Chad Morris will have any easier of a time doing so. Morris is an offensive mind best known for his stint as Clemson’s offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2014. Morris is credited for revitalizing Clemson’s offense during that time period. Eventually, SMU took notice and hired the former coordinator as head coach. Morris has energized the Mustang’s offense injecting a lethal passing attack with quarterback Ben Hicks, and receivers, Cortland Sutton and Trey Quinn. However, this high volume offense hasn’t exactly translated to victory for SMU.  At 7-5 this year’s team has come a long from a 1-11 season in 2014 before Morris took over. Nevertheless, a 14-22 record as a head coach won’t exactly inspire confidence in Razorback fans. I would guess Arkansas will be in for another long season next year.

Florida

In: Dan Mullen Out: Jim McElwain

The Gators may have missed out on Chip Kelly, but they should feel very comfortable with their new coaching hire Dan Mullen. Mullen returns to Gainesville after making his name as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Gators under head coach Urban Meyer.  Mullen’s first go around at Florid was filled with success, and so was his tenure as head coach of Mississippi State. Prior to Mullen’s arrival in Starkville, the Bulldogs had only seven bowl wins out of thirteen appearances in program history. Remarkably, Mullen’s nine seasons at Mississippi state consisted of five bowl victories and eight bowl appearances (one of which will be played against Louisville later this year without Mullen). But this hires makes sense for the Gators, not just because of Mullen’s success, but also because of the fit. Since Tim Tebow left Gainesville for the NFL in 2010, the Gators have yet to find a suitable starting quarterback (except Will Grier pre-scandal). Mullen has a ton of experience and an amazing track record molding young quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Dak Presoctt, and Nick Fitzgerald. The defense is stacked with talent, and certainly is not problem for the Florida. Their quarterback play was so atrocious at times this season that defensive scores were the only thing keeping the team in the game. If Mullen can yet again successfully develop a quarterback, the Gators will be prepped for success. Sure he may have been Florida’s second choice. But if the man running your program is talked about as potentially the second best coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban, i think you’ll be okay.

Florida State

In: Willie Taggart Out: Jimbo Fisher

I can’t fathom why Jimbo Fisher would want out of Florida State.  With the talent at Florida State, the Seminoles are virtually guaranteed to be one one of the top 3 teams in the ACC, and a national championship contender year in and year out.  His 2017 roster was touted as one of the most talented in the country preseason. If not for an unfortunate injury to Deandre Francois, who knows, we might be watching the Seminoles play on New Years Day. Instead, after a disappointing season, Fisher decided he would rather try his luck in the toughest conference in America, the SEC West. His departure made way for new hire, Willie Taggart. Taggart has been relatively successful as a head coach but isn’t exactly a huge name get. His first and only year at Oregon was up and down as the Ducks finished the regular season with a 7-5 record. However, it is important to note that the Ducks looked good early in the season and went 6-1 with starting quarterback Justin Herbert at the helm (and 1-4 without him). Before he signed on at Florida State, he also put together a top 10 recruiting class for Oregon. A recruiting record like this will bode for the ‘Noles when Coach Taggart returns home to Florida. Prior to his tenure in Eugene, Taggart had great success at South Florida, leading Quinton Flowers and the Bulls to a 10-2 record and an AAC championship. If I were a Florida State I certainly be bothered by Fisher leaving the in the lurch. Nevertheless, with the abundance of talent both on the team in the state, and given Taggart’s recruiting record, the program seems to be in capable hands.

Mississippi State

In: Joe Moorhead Out: Dan Mullen

Pray for Stingray Steve. The bulldogs will no doubt be very upset to have lost coach Dan Mullen to Florida. Mullen was the most successful coach in program history, leading the bulldogs to winning records in 7 of his 9 seasons and 5 bowls wins. That is no small feat in the SEC West. Mullen was an offensive mind with a knack for developing young quarterbacks. Fortunately new hire Joe Moorhead is an offensive quarterback with a similar knack for jumpstarting offenses. As both a former OC and QB coach, Moorhead for Mullen is a like for like switch. Moorhead is relatively unknown, but his two seasons at Penn State as an offensive  coordinator were prolific. In 2016, Penn State averaged 432.6 yards of offensive per game and returned to national prominence, narrowly losing a Rose Bowl shootout to USC.  Prior to his time at Penn State, Moorhead was a successful head coach at Fordham. During his four years as coach, Moorhead lead the Rams to a 38-13 record in the FCS. But the SEC West is an entirely different animal. His success at Penn State as a coordinator bodes well for an offense that will return quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and and running back Aeris Williams. But i’ll reserve judgment on Coach Moorhead until he actually a coaches an FBS game.

Ole Miss

In: Matt Luke Out: Hugh Freeze/ Matt Luke

Interim coach Matt Luke acquitted himself relatively well in his first season with the Rebels. Sanctions are coming for Ole Miss, so this job was by no means an enticing prospect for other potential candidates. A number of players are even rumored to be considering transferring (ahem… Shea Patterson), as a result. Hiring Coach Luke full time was ostensibly the only decision Mississippi could make, but I do believe it was the right one. The Rebels finished 6-6 in a tough SEC West conference, but at times looked far more formidable than their record would indicate, particularly on offense. An injury to star quarterback Shea Patterson somewhat derailed their season, but Jordan Ta’amu stepped in to fill the void quite nicely. According to reports, Luke is very well liked by his players, and keeping him provides the program with some level of continuity. With a lot of talent returning on the offensive side of the ball, the Rebels may be able to manage another decent season with Luke at the helm. Which is a lot more than was expected when the program’s sanctions were first announced. Ole Miss fans may have big hoping for a big name hire, but for now this seems like the best move Ole Miss could make.

Nebraska

Nebraska is still feeling the repercussions from firing Bo Pelini. Pelini won a lot of  games during his tenure, but those wins weren’t enough to satisfy a delusional fanbase. Nebraska for some reason believes itself to still be a top tier program. In reality, none of the nation’s best recruits want to come to Lincoln. Gone are the days when Nebraska was a perennial powerhouse program. They simply cannot expect to win the Big Ten year in and year out with teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin in their way. Yet still boosters and alumni cling to their history and expect national championships. It was this type of thinking lead them to fire Coach Pelini in 2014 despite an impressive 67-27 record. It is also why they’ve been left with an egg on their faces and a 4-8 record this year . Former Oregon State head coach, Mike Riley did manage a 9-4 record in 2016. Nevertheless, with a 12-14 conference record and 19-19 overall record in three seasons, he simply wasn’t getting the job done for the Cornhuskers. On the bright side, Nebraska was able to ink one of the most promising young coaches in college football in Scott Frost. Remarkably, coach Frost lead a UCF team that was winless in 2015, to an undefeated record and conference championship in 2017.  Frost is Lincoln born and bred, and returns to the school both having played quarterback for the Huskers in 1995-97, and having served on the coaching staff as graduate assistant in 2002. The coach’s combination of a successful track record and deep ties to the program should have the Nebraska feeling positive about the direction of their program .  But returning Nebraska to national prominence is a tough ask, and it remains to be seen whether Coach Frost is will be up for the task.

In: Scott Frost Out: Mike Riley

Oregon

In: Mario Cristobal Out: Willie Taggart

This hire is all about continuity. The players supposedly love him, and Cristobal staying in charge should help the Ducks retain most of the highly ranked recruiting class Willie Taggart assembled. Cristobal also had considerable success as an offensive line coach for Alabama from 2013 to 2016. However, his track record as a head coach is far less impressive. In six seasons at FIU, Cristobal managed only a 27-47 record. That is certainly cause for concern. The one positive Ducks fans can look to is that star quarterback, Justin Herbert will be returning to run the offense next year. The Duck’s were 6-1 this season with Herbert as the starter. Similarly, despite the fact that Royce Freeman will be leaving for the NFL, the ducks will also return a stable of talented running backs. Carryovers from Taggart’s recruiting should have this program in decent shape for years to come. I am just not sold that Cristobal is the man to lead these players.

Oregon State

In: Jonathan Smith Out: Gary Andersen

After two successful seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach, many in Corvallis felt upbeat Gary Andersen’s hiring. Surely a big ten coach with a 19-7 record would have the beavers on the up and up. I for one was shocked he would leave Wisconsin for Oregon State in the first place. Ultimately, this proved to be the wrong decision for all parties. Andersen’s time in Corvallis was a nightmare, culminating in his dismissal after a 7-23 record in 2 and a half seasons. The Beavers will now turn to Jonathan Smith to lead their team. Smith has had great success over the past two years as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for Washington. The huskies boasted one of the conference’s best passing and rushing attacks with quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. But can this offensive specialist right the ship for a team who’s defense was one of the worst in the conference? That will be the question.

Tennessee

In: Jeremy Pruitt Out: Butch Jones

The story of this this year’s coaching carousel is undoubtedly the saga of Tennessee’s search for Butch Jones’ replacement. Like Nebraska, Tennessee fans and boosters desperately cling to their history and expect the Vols to be in the national championship picture every year. Tennessee fans are extremely passionate about their football team and deserve a program that reflects that level of devotion. However, both the school’s and the fanbase’s handling of Greg Schiano was an embarrassment. What was even more embarrassing was the wave of coaches that rejected the Tennessee job in the afermath of Greg Schiano’s hiring falling through. A laundry list of coaches, including John Gruden, Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren, all passed on the opportunity. This saga illustrated the delusional nature of the Tennessee fan base. Few people want to walk in to a situation where there are unreasonably high expectations for a job that is at most the 7th best in the SEC.  For some reason, Tennessee does not seem to get that. That being said, despite having to resort to their 6th or 7th choice, Tennessee ended up pulling off a solid hire. Jeremy Pruitt’s career as a defensive coach has been filled with nothing but success. While a defensive coordinator for Florida State, his defense ranked number one in scoring defense,  and ranked third in total defense, as the Seminoles won the national championship in 2013. The following year, as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, his defense finished 17th nationally in total defense. But his 2015 season with the Bulldogs was even more impressive. Georgia finished the season ranked seventh nationally in total defense, and led the nation in fewest passing yards allowed per game. Nick Saban and Alabama took notice of this success, hiring Pruitt after Kirby Smart’s departure. Under his guidance, Alabama would field a defense regarded by many as perhaps the best in school history. His 2016 defensive unit led the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense, and was ranked second in total defense.  This success continued into the 2017 season as Alabama’s defense again proved to be the best in the country.  Alabama is currently ranked first in both yards and points allowed. Although he has no experience as a head coach, his pedigree as a defensive coordinator is undeniable. Despite the circus show that was the Tennessee coaching rumor mill, I do believe the Vols got a good one in Coach Pruitt. A defense ranked 10th out of 14 in the SEC in yards per game could certainly make use of his expertise. Whether or not he can jumpstart a stagnant offense ranked last in the conference will be the question. Being that Pruitt made his bones as a defensive coordinator, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Texas A&M

In: Jimbo Fisher Out: Kevin Sumlin

Kevin Sumlin had been on the hot seat since the Aggies’ loss to UCLA to start the season. A&M higher ups had grown frustrated with the fact that Sumlin wasn’t able to maintain the momentum of the Johnny Manziel era, and had expected the coach to elevate the program to new heights. Other than the UCLA, Texas A&M pretty much won every game they were supposed to win. Yet with all the money poured into the program over the past few years, 7-5 simply is not good enough. Therefore, Coach Sumlin’s axing was never a surprise. But never did I expect Jimbo Fisher would be a viable candidate to replace him. I simply cannot understand why Fisher would ever leave Florida State for Texas A&M. Texas A&M has wealthy boosters, a ton of oil money, and lofty expectations for their football program. But the Aggies will have to play Alabama, Auburn, and LSU every year in the West, not to mention the East and non-conference opponents. Don’t look now but Jimbo Fisher’s team will have to play Clemson week 2. With a schedule this tough you can basically pencil four losses in already, no matter who’s coaching. That being said, Fisher is obviously a great hire for Texas A&M. His track record at Florida State speaks for itself, with a 83-23 record and a national championship to his name. Texas A&M should no doubt be happy about the direction of their program. I just wouldn’t expect the results to come immediately if at all.

UCLA

In: Chip Kelly Out: Jim Mora

The most exciting news to break, in regards to this year’s coaching carousel, is Chip Kelly’s return to the college football landscape. After unsuccessful stints in the NFL, Kelly is back where he belongs: the PAC 12. College football fans will remember how prolific Oregon’s offense was under his tutelage. In his four seasons as a head coach in Eugene, the Ducks went 46-7 and made it to a national championship. This was chiefly  due the high power offensive system he implemented. And while the same system was in large part a failure in the NFL, the style is tailor made for the PAC 12. The conference is characterized by lots of offense and little defense. Ironically, this has been UCLA’s calling card in recent years. Josh Rosen likely won’t return for his senior season but i’m having wet dreams imagining the havoc these two would reek on the conference. Either way this is clearly a great hire for UCLA. Chip Kelly knows how to play, recruit, and win in the PAC 12 and I’d expect him to continue doing so.

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