Coaching Changes: How Will the New HC’s Fare in 2011?
From 2005-’08 I published an article titled Coaching Changes in my College Football Preview magazine. Each year I try to make the magazine a little bit bigger and a little bit better but we’re capped out at 328 pages so Coaching Changes does not appear in my 2011 magazine. We have had a lot of requests for this article and since the website has an unlimited amount of room, PhilSteele.com is a great vehicle to continue publishing this article and I will do so each year.
There is something to be said for coaching stability as it usually takes a couple of years for a new head coach to get a program going. They usually have their best success when they have a team full of their own recruits and their offensive and defensive systems have been in place for a couple of years. The first few years can be rough on a new head coach as they inherit players who now have to learn new schemes on both offense and defense and he has to learn the players strengths and weaknesses. Pete Carroll won two straight National Titles but in his first year the Trojans opened up at 2-5 and finished at just 6-6 after the bowl. Tommy Tuberville’s first team at Auburn was just 5-6 but in his 6th season they were a perfect 13-0. Nick Saban’s first LSU team started off 3-3 and finished 8-4 but in his 4th year they won a share of the National Title. In Bob Stoops’ first year at Oklahoma, the Sooners were just 7-5, including a bowl loss to Mississippi. Since then, they have won a National Title and played in seven Big 12 Championship games. Les Miles went 4-7 in his first year at Oklahoma St followed by 3 winning years. Jim Tressel was just 7-5 his first year but won a National Title in his second. Kirk Ferentz was a combined 4-19 his first two seasons but the Hawkeyes have now been to six Jan bowls. Pat Hill’s first two Fresno St teams went a combined 11-12 but since then have had 11 winning years. Finally Woody Hayes won just 4 games in his first season at Ohio St.
The reason I bring up these examples is twofold: first it shows that Athletic Directors should have a little more patience before firing a head coach for a losing season. Secondly, I wanted to point out that there are individual unit rankings in the lower right hand corner on each of the conference pages. You will notice that I have FIRST year coaching staffs graded lower than you would normally expect.
What sparked this article a few years back was Ole Miss’ dumping of David Cutcliffe just one year after the Rebels shared the SEC West Title with LSU. They were the only team that had been bowl eligible 7 straight years prior to that rare losing season. Then after the firing, from 2005-2007, the Rebels went just 3-21 in SEC play.
Let me go over some programs that stuck with coaches for much longer than expected, through many losing seasons but have ultimately been rewarded. The best example is Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer had successive years of 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 6-5, 5-6 and 2-8-1 to start his tenure. Amazingly, Virginia Tech stuck with him. Can you imagine another program that would stick with a head coach through a streak like that? Beamer has done an amazing job building his program including having one of the best strength training programs in the country. They are now a National Title contender on a yearly basis and simply won the ACC Title in their inaugural year in the conference despite being picked 7th in the preseason ACC poll. Joe Novak started out 1-10, 0-11, 2-9 and 5-6 his first 4 years at Northern Illinois and once again, they opted to stick with him and were rewarded with 7 consecutive winning seasons from 2000-’06. Darrell Dickey was DONE at North Texas. His first 3 teams went 3-8, 2-9 and 3-8 and in 2001 they opened the season 0-5. Their AD was under HEAVY pressure to get rid of Dickey not just at the end of the season but RIGHT THEN so they could have some hope. They rebounded to win an amazing 26 consecutive SBC games (including the final 5 in 2001)! They went to four bowls with 4 league titles. Navy’s Paul Johnson went 2-10 in his first year but the Mids went to five straight bowls winning 8, 10, 8, 9 and 8 games in those seasons. Rocky Long inherited a New Mexico team that went 9-4 in Dennis Franchione’s last season and his first squad went just 3-9. Two more losing seasons followed but they stuck with him and the team had 7 consecutive years of bowl eligibility. When Barry Alvarez took over at Wisconsin, he went 1-10 in his first year and followed that up with two more losing seasons. The Badgers simply went to 11 bowl games in his tenure and he retired with an amazing three Rose Bowl wins under his belt. Dan McCarney of Iowa St had his team go 3-8, 2-9, 1-10, 3-8 and 4-7 his first FIVE years. Can you imagine an AD in today’s climate sticking with this guy? The Cyclones then went to 5 bowl games in McCarney’s last 7 years from 2000-’06. Then the new AD let McCarney go and they have went just 17-32 since! Bill Snyder went 1-10 at Kansas St in his first year and had 3 losing seasons his first 4 years but they stuck with him and he rewarded them with 11 straight bowl appearances, making them a National Title contender. Kentucky fans weren’t too thrilled when Rich Brooks was hired in 2003 and he inherited a team that had just 68 scholarship players. The Brooks era began with 3 losing seasons (9-25) but he rebounded to lead Kentucky to four straight bowl berths in the tough SEC. As you can see, sometimes patience is a virtue.
OK let’s take a look at the Baylor situation. Constant head coaching changes are a bad thing. The coach inherits another coach’s recruits and many times they not only don’t fit his system but they signed with the school because of the other coaching staff. Many times personality or disciplinary conflicts arise and many players leave a program after the coaching change, leaving a team short on scholarships. I call this section “Baylored” because that school provides the most prominent example of how constant head coaching changes can hurt a program. Let’s go back to 1996. Baylor had 5 out of 6 winning years despite facing their tough SWC foes on a weekly basis. They were 7-5 in 1994 and 7-4 in 1995 and the amazing part was that HC Chuck Reedy was bringing in recruiting classes on par with teams like Texas and Texas A&M, even finishing ahead of the big boys some years! In this day and age a winning record for a Big 12 team would make them a perennial bowl team. In 1996 they had a nightmare season as the team was besieged by injuries and also dropped some close games like a 28-24 loss to Oklahoma, a 28-23 loss to Texas and a triple OT loss 49-42 to Missouri (those type of losses would look pretty good currently). They still finished 4-7 and clearly, if not for the injuries, could have had a winning season. Amazingly Baylor FIRED Coach Reedy! They have played THIRTEEN years of football since and have topped three wins in a season just 5 TIMES in that span! First they brought in Dave Roberts in 1997 then after two losing seasons fired him! They brought in Kevin Steele and gave him 4 years before the axe fell. As mentioned with constant coaching changes, keeping the full complement of scholarship players has been a problem. Baylor has a record of 18-102 in the Big 12 and some years have been outgained by an avg of over 200 ypg in league play. Guy Morriss is the latest firing at Baylor as he had a 5-6 season in ’05 (4-1 start) and was given 5 years but continued the “Baylored” tradition. That may change though with the recent success of Art Briles who led Baylor to their first bowl game since 1994 last year.
They do not run the option in the NFL so this category strictly applies to the college game. I have said many times over the last few years that it takes 3-4 years for an option team to successfully move to a pass offense. Why does such a switch take so long? A college team is basically built from 5 different recruiting classes with the classes from 3, 4 and 5 years ago being the most important. A college coach who runs an option offense can be very successful in the college game. To be a success he must be able to bring in big, powerful run blocking offensive linemen who are known more for power than pass blocking. His choice of WR’s is generally not made on the guy that will make the most catches but the one who may be the best downfield blocker. The QB’s in an option offense are valued more for their mobility than for their passing accuracy. When a coach comes in and tries to move to a pro style passing offense or a pure passing offense, he finds himself ill-equipped to do so. He needs fleet pass catching WR’s, QB’s who are known for their accurate passing and a solid pass blocking line. By the time a coach recruits those types of players and the starters spots are taken by those type of recruits, it is usually at least two years down the road and possibly 3 or 4. Two big name schools recently went through the switch and their struggles bear out what a difficult transition it can be.
Notre Dame was a run based attack under Lou Holtz with option style QB’s and continued in the same vein after his departure. When Ty Willingham took over he inherited a team that avg’d 102 ypg passing the previous year hitting 50% with a 4-11 ratio. The top 2 QB’s combined to throw for just 1,071 yards but had 893 gross yards rushing. While ND did win their first 8 games under Willingham, it was hardly due to offensive prowess. They had just 11 FD’s and 203 TOTAL yards on offense in a win over Purdue. Later they had 10 FD’s and 185 TOTAL yards on offense in a win vs Pitt. That offense averaged just 313 ypg with the QB’s hitting 50.4%. The next season they brought in a pure passing QB, Brady Quinn. Quinn however was a freshmen and the offense was just in its second year so he was not yet surrounded by the O-line and receivers which you need in a West Coast offense. He threw for 1,831 yards but only completed 47.3% with a 9-15 ratio. The third year of the offense showed solid improvement as you would expect. Quinn upped the totals to 2,586 yards passing, improved to 54.1% completions and had a 17-10 ratio. In 2005, with all 11 offensive starters back and in the 4th year of the switch, Charlie Weis stepped into a great situation and Quinn exploded with 3,919 yards passing (64.9%) with a 32-7 ratio. There were no Jeff Samardzija-types on the roster in Willingham’s first year but thanks to his recruiting, the team was much better equipped to run the pro offense under Weis. In 2006 with 3 solid receiving options, Quinn had 3,426 yards passing (61.9%) with a 37-7 ratio.
When Nebraska hired Bill Callahan he stunned the Husker faithful by announcing that he was ditching the option offense and converting to a pro style pass attack. Some said it was about time and thought he would have immediate success. The 2003 NU team was a solid 10-3. I did not make a lot of friends in Lincoln when the next year in my magazine I picked Iowa St, who had finished 2-10 the previous year to finish AHEAD of Nebraska in the Big 12 North! Joe Dailey threw for 2,025 yards which was the most at that school since Dave Humm way back in 1972. Unfortunately, he completed just 49.4% of his passes with a 17-19 ratio and the Huskers had their first losing season since 1961! Now, let’s not pin the whole thing on Dailey. He was recruited as an option QB and had OL’s in front of him that were recruited for run blocking who were just learning the pass blocking schemes. He also did not have a fleet of pass catching WR’s like most passing schools have. Callahan looked to speed up the system so he went the JUCO route (something ND did not do). He brought in PS#18JC QB Zac Taylor (no freshman QB growing pains), JC WR’s and OL’s. Despite bringing in JUCO’s, the offense did not take off right away. In the first two games vs IA foes in the 2nd year of the offense, they avg’d 104 ypg passing with just 45% completions. The unit got better as the season went on and Taylor threw for 392 yards generating 30 points vs Colorado in the season finale. For the season NU still completed just 53.8% and only increased their passing yards by 37 ypg. In 2006 they improved to 244 ypg passing and 59.4% completions and topped that in 2007 with 324 ypg pass (61.5%).
In 2008, Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverine offense would undergo some major changes over the next couple of years as they were moving from a pro style attack under Lloyd Carr to the spread option offense. In his first year the Wolverines lost Chad Henne who was a 4-year starter and UM’s career leading passer and backup Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas. Also Rodriguez’ offense called for smaller quicker OL which is something Michigan was not known for since before Bo Schembechler. The Wolverines had 40 straight winning seasons and had gone to 33 consecutive bowls, both of which were the NCAA’s longest streaks but the Wolverines stunningly went 3-9 and were -112 ypg in Big Ten play in ‘08 with a unit stocked with pocket passers. 2 mobile true frosh battled for the job in ’09. Tate Forcier threw for 2,050 (59%, 13-10) while Denard Robinson threw for 188 (45%, 2-4) and was the #3 rusher (351, 5.1) and Michigan improved to 5-7. Last year Robinson won the job and was the frontrunner for the Heisman at midseason. After 5 games, Robinson had the top 3 performances in program history becoming the first player to be named Walter Camp offensive POW for 2 straight weeks. He also became the first FBS QB to run for 200 and pass for 200 in the same game twice in a season and the Wolverines made a bowl game. While the Wolverine offense improved significantly in the Rodriguez era from 20.3 ppg in ’08 to 29.5 ppg in ’09 to 32.8 ppg LY, it was the defense that led to his demise.
SOME TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
Following a legend is never easy. Vince Lombardi had an incredible run with the Green Bay Packers but after 4 straight NFL titles, stepped down. Phil Bengston was the unlucky guy who took over a team where anything less than an NFL title would be considered a weak season. Unfortunately he not only failed to bring home a championship but suffered 2 losing seasons in 3 years before being fired after going 6-8 in 1970. Ron Zook had the misfortune of being the guy who took over for Steve Spurrier at Florida. A few days after taking the job www.fireronzook.com got started and anything less than an undefeated season and National Title was construed as a failure. Here are a few other coaches that stepped into tough spots. Dennis Franchione left TCU after a great 10-2 season to take the job at Alabama. At Ohio Jim Grobe had one of the best seasons at the school in recent memory in 2000 going 7-4 and contending for the MAC Title. He left for the ACC and Brian Knorr inherited raised expectations and was let go after 4 losing seasons. Tommy Bowden led Tulane to a 12-0 season in 1998 with 16 returning starters. He left for Clemson and Chris Scelfo inherited a rebuilding squad and had nowhere to go but down in his first year. They went just 3-8 but he did guide them to two winning seasons.
Some coaches have stepped into this type of tough situation and thrived. Urban Meyer led Utah to a super 12-0 season and left for Florida. His assistant Kyle Whittingham has guided the Utes to 6 winning seasons including a 13-0 #2 finish in 2008. Mike Price led Wash St to their first ever back-to-back 10-win seasons in the school’s history before bolting for Alabama. Longtime assistant Bill Doba took over and led them to ANOTHER 10-win season and a Holiday Bowl win over #5 Texas. Dirk Koetter left Boise St after a 10-2 season, their best ever, and while Dan Hawkins’ first squad “only” went 8-4, he did a remarkable job there going 45-7 in the next 4 years before moving on to Colorado. In 2006 Chris Petersen, who had been the longtime OC at Boise St, stepped in and as I forecasted in my 2006 magazine, took the team to a BCS bowl berth and an undefeated season after their win vs Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
There are just some coaching openings that have early success written all over them. In 2004 for example I pointed out many times in the magazine that UTEP’s Mike Price was stepping into a great spot. Gary Nord took over at UTEP and guided the team to an 8-4 record and a rare bowl in his first year. He opted to build the program the right way by getting away from bringing in JUCO’s and he not only signed almost all freshmen but redshirted most of them, building the team’s depth. He suffered through 3 losing seasons but had put all of his eggs in the basket of the 2004 season, as he knew he would have success with a deep and veteran squad. Unfortunately they fired him so Mike Price took over a team that was -15 in turnovers the previous year and was just 2-11. When a new head coach comes into some early season success it gives a losing team new found confidence. They then buy into the new coach’s program more quickly. UTEP went on to their 1st back-to-back winning seasons since ’87-’88 and benefited thanks to Nord biting the bullet and taking those redshirts. Keith Burns was doing the same thing at Tulsa and also did not catch many breaks his last few years as his team was hit hard by injuries. His final team had just 9 seniors and naturally new head coach Steve Kragthorpe inherited a team with the most returning starters in the WAC (17). Some early season success had them more confident and the team rewarded the new guy going from 1-11 to 8-4 and a bowl berth. Urban Meyer took over a Utah team that was one of the most snakebitten teams in the NCAA in 2002. Between 2000-2002, Utah was among the MWC leaders in ypg vs conference foes and in 2000 and 2002 finished with losing seasons overall despite outgaining and outscoring their opponents on the year. In 2002 they had FIVE losses by 8 pts or less! The talent was there and when Meyer achieved some early season success, the team started gaining confidence and won those close games that had escaped his predecessor Ron McBride. Just two years later they were undefeated. There were 12 new coaches in 2005 and few success stories besides the heavily publicized hires of Charlie Weis, Florida’s Urban Meyer and LSU’s Les Miles. Bronco Mendenhall took over a snakebitten BYU team that had 3 close losses and outgained league foes by 54.6 ypg, 2nd best in the MWC in ’04, taking them to a bowl in ’05. Meanwhile, Bill Cubit of W Michigan, took a 1-10 team to a 7-4 record becoming bowl eligible.
TYPICAL 1ST YEAR HEAD COACH
When looking over the list of new coaches this year, I decided to add a new category to my repertoire titled “Typical 1st-Year Head Coach”. Typically when a HC takes over, there is a learning curve in the 1st year. The HC has to learn the player’s strengths and weaknesses and the players must learn new schemes on both sides of the ball. Generally with these circumstances, the team is not as experienced as they seem to be as many of the returning starters could lose their jobs under the new regime. These coaches in the near future will be achieving some success but the outlook in the first year is not as good.
Now let’s take a look at some of this year’s head coaching changes and I will put them into some of the categories listed above. Keep in mind many of this year’s new guys will go through the typical 1st years that I described previously.
2011 NEW COACHES
RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME:
The last 6 years I have had 41 coaches mentioned in this section. 32 of the 41 (78%) have improved their teams records (3 had same record). In 2006, Chris Petersen of Boise St took over a 9-4 team and guided them to a perfect 13-0 and a BCS bowl win. In 2007 Dennis Erickson took a 7-6 ASU squad to an 8-0 start and #6 in the country. In 2008, Houston Nutt took a 3-8 Ole Miss squad to a Cotton Bowl victory. Bo Pelini of Nebraska took over a 5-7 Husker squad and guided them to a tie for the Big 12 North Title. Coach Jerry Kill of Northern Illinois inherited a 2-10 squad and guided them to a bowl. Two years ago, I went a perfect 9 for 9 as every coach I listed guided their team to a better record. Gene Chizik took over a 5-7 Auburn team and led the Tigers to a 8-5 record including a New Year’s Day bowl win. Dabo Swinney inherited a 7-6 Clemson team and guided them to 9 wins and a division title as the Tigers made their first appearance in the ACC Title game. Steve Sarkisian did a great job at Washington in his first year as he took over a team that was just 0-12 in ’08 and led them to 5 wins. Also Bill Snyder in his second stint at Kansas St nearly led the Wildcats to a division title. Last year Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly were placed here and both had successful seasons guiding their teams to the most wins their respective schools have had in several years.
HUGH FREEZE, ARKANSAS ST
Freeze inherits 13 returning starters with almost all the skill position players back. They also have the 2nd best DL in the SBC and one of my 9 sets of power ratings calls for 10 wins with 6 projecting a winning season. Since Freeze was here LY they will not go through all the growing pains a 1st year HC usually experiences and should top LY’s 4-win total.
DAN McCARNEY, NORTH TEXAS
Dan McCarney steps into a solid situation as LY’s squad was much better than its final record of 3-9 as NT was just -26.5 ypg in SBC play. They also had 37 sts lost to injury and 2 net close losses and my main set of power ratings calls for bowl eligibility and 5 SBC wins. This year they open the brand new Mean Green Stadium which will have the fans more excited and the new turf should cut down on injuries while McCarney was a great hire at HC.
TODD GRAHAM, PITTSBURGH
Pitt did have 2 net close losses last year and has 4 Big East home games (8 HG’s overall). Todd Graham steps into a great situation with 13 ret st’rs. Graham piloted my Most Improved Team in the country last year (Tulsa) and they went from 5-7 to 10-3. Pitt has my #1 rated D in the Big East and their offense will be much more potent in Graham’s system. I pick Pitt for the Big East Title and a BCS bowl berth.
TYPICAL 1ST-YEAR HEAD COACH
Last year was my first year for typical 1st-year head coaches and I went a solid 5-1 with my selections. Mike MacIntyre, Bobby Hauck, Rob Ianello, Larry Porter and Doc Holliday all went thru first year struggles as I predicted. The only coach to exceed my expectations was Charlie Strong and I did mention that I was very bullish on the hire but did not expect him to lead the Cardinals to a bowl game after a 4-8 season in ’09.
PETE LEMBO, BALL ST
HC Pete Lembo led Elon to their first ever FCS playoff berth in ’09. The Cardinals have 17 ret st’rs and had 2 net close losses LY. Ball St was better than their final record LY which means with just 16 lett lost and 53 ret (77%), they should be stronger, however, with the coaching change and tough non-conf schedule (3 BCS & bowl winning Army), it may not show in the final record.
JON EMBREE, COLORADO
HC Jon Embree was a CU asst for 10 seasons (’93-’02) under Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett. Most recently he was an NFL TE cch for KC (’06-’08) and WAS (’09). The Buffs do have 16 ret st’rs and join a new league in the Pac-12. CU had 2 net close losses last year but draw both Stanford and Oregon from the North and have five Pac-12 away games. With a new HC and a tough Pac-12 schedule not to mention difficult non-conf games vs Cal (previously scheduled and will not count in conf standings), Ohio St and Hawaii, the Buffs will not match 2010′s five win total and this looks like a rebuilding year.
WILL MUSCHAMP, FLORIDA
I almost put Muschamp in the Tough Shoes to Fill Category because of Urban Meyer’s great success at Florida with 2 national titles. However, the Gators clearly underachieved last year at 8-5 and UF’s +42.2 ypg was the best mark of the SEC East schools. They do have just 3 SEC HG’s, play South Carolina and Georgia away from home and pull the top two teams (Bama & LSU) out of the West. With a new HC who has no previous HC exp and just 10 ret st’rs, UF may have a tough time topping last year’s 8 wins.
DARRELL HAZELL, KENT ST
HC Darrell Hazell inherits 14 returning starters and he said he was surprised how good the talent level was that he inherited. They have my #3 rated O-line in the MAC and #1 D-line! Former HC Doug Martin did not have much luck on his side in his 7 years and Hazell has an underrated team that could get to their first bowl since 1972 but they were 5-7 last year and they have to play at Alabama, Kansas St, Ohio, Northern Illinois and Temple and should finish similar to where they were last year.
MARK HUDSPETH, LOUISIANA
Mark Hudspeth spent 7 yrs as a DII HC at North Alabama finishing with a record of 66-21. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the program as 5,215 attended the spring game and they should catch more breaks this year. However new HC’s must learn the players strengths and weaknesses and players must learn new schemes. That has me calling for a 2nd straight losing season.
JERRY KILL, MINNESOTA
Kill won as many games in TCF Bank Stadium LY (1) as former HC Brewster and interim HC Horton did combined! He did compare the rebuilding job here to that of S Illinois where he opened 1-11 and 4-8 before going 50-14 over his last 5 years. Minny does have the smallest football budget in the Big Ten ($9.25 mill, #1 OSU $32.3 mill) but could have the most improved D in the country! Even though two of my 9 sets of power ratings call for a winning year, I will call for a 3rd straight losing season in a transition year.
JAMES FRANKLIN, VANDERBILT
VU is one of the toughest HC jobs in football with high academic standards in the best conf in the NCAA. Franklin does inherit a veteran team with 19 ret st’rs (tied for #1 FBS). While Vandy is the #12 team in the SEC and is going through a coaching change, the non-conf schedule is manageable and they could top LY’s 2 win total and I like the job Franklin is doing on the recruiting front which gives Commodore fans hope for the future.
TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
The last 6 years I have had 21 coaches listed in this category. Three coaches in 2005 had their teams go from a combined 25-11 (69%) in 2004 to 15-19 (44%) in 2005. In 2007 four coaches were in the box and 3 had weaker records including Tim Brewster at Minnesota who took over a bowl squad and went 1-11. The one coach that improved his team’s record went from 10-3 to 11-3. In ‘08 I had 4 coaches listed in the box and of the 4 coaches, only one (Steve Fairchild, Colorado St) managed to improve his team’s record but keep in mind the Rams were coming off a 3-9 season. Last year I had 4 coaches in this article and between the 4 of them of them including Butch Jones, Ruffin McNeill, Joker Phillips and Dan Enos took over teams with a combined record of 40-14 (74.1%) in ’09 and went 19-31 (3%) last year.
PAUL PASQUALONI, CONNECTICUT
Paul Pasqualoni was the Syracuse HC for 14Y (’91-’04) taking them to 9 bowls. However he inherits a UC team that was perhaps the most fortunate team in the country LY. UC was 2nd worst in the BE at -86.1 ypg in conf play but with smoke and mirrors, finished in a 3 way tie for 1st in the Big East at 5-2. This year they do have 16 ret st’rs but were +12 in TO’s last year. Because they face my #90 schedule they have a shot at matching LY’s win total but will not get the breaks they did LY and will not go to a BCS game.
RANDY EDSALL, MARYLAND
Edsall always gets the most out of his teams and last year won the BE and was in the Fiesta Bowl with a team that was -86 ypg in conference play! He is a 1st year coach here and must learn the players strengths and weaknesses while most of his opposing coaches are all well established with their teams. Keep in mind while former Terp coach Ralph Friedgen had recent struggles he was named ACC COY last year. Maryland is capable of getting back to the post season but won’t match last year’s 9 win total.
DON TREADWELL, MIAMI, OH
Miami is known as the “Cradle of Coaches” with Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler having coached here. Don Treadwell returns to his alma mater where he was captain of his FB team and coached RB’s (’92) and WR’s (’93). LY MU had a dream season as they became the first team in MAC history to go from 1-7 to 7-1 in MAC play and the first team in NCAA history to go from double digit losses to DD wins. MU went from -24 in TO’s to +11 and benefitted from an amazing +6 net close wins. While they have 17 ret st’rs (tied for 2nd most MAC) from the defending MAC Champ tm and are the media preseason favorite to win the East. I do not think they will have as good of fortune as LY because of a tougher schedule and won’t come close to LY’s 10 win total.
DAVE DOEREN, NORTHERN ILLINOIS
There are some signs pointing down this year for the Huskies as they were +11 in TO’s LY, had only 8 sts lost to injury and their off ypp was 11. They do return perhaps the MAC’s best QB in Chandler Harnish and their entire O-line. This was by far the best team in the MAC LY but go through a coaching change and have just 2 st’rs back on defense. They also play Kansas, Wisconsin and Toledo away from home and while it will be a good year, they will not match LY’s 11 win total.
LUKE FICKELL, OHIO STATE
Fickell is the epitome of Tough Shoes to Fill this year not only trying to replace ultra-successful Jim Tressel who led the Buckeyes to 12 wins last year but also having to deal with the off-the-field issues including QB Pryor declaring for the Draft. The Buckeyes will be without RB Herron, WR Posey, DE Thomas and LT Adams for the first 5 games. Those suspensions plus the fact that OSU was +15 in TO’s in ’10, benefitted from 2 net close wins, only had 7 sts lost to injury and had an off ypp of 11.6, have them pointed down. On the positive side their +164 ypg was by far the league’s best with their fellow co-champs Mich St at +39.9 ypg and Wisc +80.5 ypg. While I still feel they have a great shot at a 7th straight Big Ten Title they will not match LY’s 12 wins.
DAVID SHAW, STANFORD
Last year Stanford finished #4 their 6th ever Top Ten finish (1940, ’51, ’70, ’71 & ’92) and 2nd highest in team history (#2 in ’40). SU was +13 in TO’s LY, had 2 net close wins and an offensive ypp of 11.7. They also have just 11 ret st’rs this year and go from the battle tested coaching legacy of Harbaugh to a 1st yr HC. They do have QB Luck back and their road schedule has just one bowl team from ’10 on it (7-6 Ariz). Two of my 9 sets of power ratings call for an unbeaten yr but with the loss of Harbaugh, and just 11 st’rs back they will not match LY’s 12 win total.
BILL BLAKENSHIP, TULSA
Tough situation for Blakenship as he was named the HC less than 3 wks before signing day. He has never been a college HC or coor and after spending 22 yrs coaching in the Okla HS system, joined Tulsa in ’07. Last year Tulsa was my #1 Most Improved Team and managed to double their win total and it could have been even better. In the opening game vs EC, they led 49-45 and EC got a 33 yd Hail Mary pass on the final play. Tulsa had another tough loss vs SMU when they had 2 FG’s blocked and missed an open td pass losing by 3. The only other loss came vs Okla St and after Tulsa beat Hawaii 62-35 in the bowl, they finished #24 in the final AP poll. They were +17 in TO’s and had 2 net close wins. Tulsa’s non-conf slate is brutal with 3 preseason Top TEN teams (Okla, Okla St and Boise). Even with the coaching change, the Golden Hurricane have just 13 lettermen lost and 3 of my 9 sets of power ratings calls them CUSA’s best team but with the tough schedule I do not seeing them matching LY’s success.
In 2005 the whole reason for me to write this article was the ridiculous firing of coach Cutcliffe at Mississippi where he had done a GREAT job. I think it may be decades before you see Ole Miss bowl eligible for 5 straight years and go to 5 bowls in a 6-year stretch like they did under Cutcliffe. In 2007, I had Rice and Idaho listed here due to constant coaching changes. Idaho went from 4-8 to 1-11 and Rice went from a bowl game to 3-9. In ‘08 I put Southern Miss here as Larry Fedora had one of 5 teams in the NCAA that had 14 straight winning years. The Golden Eagles opened 2-6 and it appeared that a losing season was a given but rebounded to win their final 5 games of the year and match their 2007 record of 7-6. Two years ago I had Frank Spaziani here as the Eagles went from 11 wins in ’07 to 9 wins in ’08 and followed that up with 8 wins last year. Last year Derek Dooley was placed here with Tennessee having their 3rd coach in three years and the Vols dropped to 6-7 despite the fact that I think Dooley is a very good hire. No one got placed here this year.
In 2007 I created this category. Some new coaches have conflicting things working for them and it is tough to toss them into any one category above. Of the six I tossed in this category in ‘08, three had miserable seasons for their schools (Texas A&M, UCLA, Washington St) and W Virginia was disappointing. Baylor and Georgia Tech, however, had more success than most thought they would. In ‘09 I had 7 coaches here and like ’08, they had mixed results. Eastern Michigan, and Miami, Oh had miserable seasons while Iowa St and Wyoming had better seasons than expected. Last year’s group also had mixed results with Robbie Caldwell, and Lane Kiffin being placed in there.
AL GOLDEN, MIAMI, FL
Let me say that before the recent scandal broke last week, I had Al Golden in the Right Place, Right Time category as the Hurricanes have clearly underachieved the last couple of years. They were +107.1 ypg which was the best mark in the league in ’10 and were -8 in TO’s. However, a lot will depend on how many players will be suspended and for how long those suspensions last if the NCAA finds truth in the recent scandal so Golden gets placed here.
EVERETT WITHERS, NORTH CAROLINA
Similar to Golden, Withers inherits a team under scandal that underachieved last year. While Withers has no prior HC experience this North Carolina team did battle through the suspensions last year to get to 8-5 and are used to the outside negativity. With the change happening so close to the open of fall camp, there are more questions than answers right now and I could see UNC going either way.
ROCKY LONG, SAN DIEGO ST
Long is well versed in MWC football as he was previously the HC at New Mexico from 1998-’08 where he took the Lobos to bowls in 5 of his last 7 seasons and was the DC here the L/2 years. SDSt lost their 2 star WR’s and have just 5 st’rs back on defense. The Aztecs did have the nation’s 6th largest attendance increase LY and could have been 13-0 (4 losses by a comb 15 pts). While not as strong as LY’s squad they do only have 3 MWC road games and I will call for a winning season and a 2nd straight bowl game and I have great respect for Long but it will be tough matching LY’s 8 wins.
DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA
I would have put this in the Right Place, Right Time category for next year but with the turmoil that occurred this summer with Holgorsen taking over a year early and the fact they go from 9 ret starters on defense to just 4, losing 7 players from the D that were either 1st or 2nd Tm Big East, I put him here. WV’s +116.7 ypg was best in the league and only a fumble at the 1 vs Conn kept them from being the outright Big East Champs. In the L9Y WV has finished either 1 or 2 in the Big East and they have a shot at the Big East Title with a high-flying offense but their defense could hold them back.
STEVE ADDAZIO, TEMPLE
Temple on paper appeared to be the best team in the MAC last year. Despite an 8-4 record and a win over the Big East champ, Temple did not get invited to a bowl! Temple did benefit from 3 net close wins and only had 4 sts lost to injury. They lost Golden to Miami, Fl and their 12 returning starters rank in the bottom 4 of the MAC. However, Addazio steps into a good situation as Temple could easily have been the MAC champs each of the last 2 years had Pierce not been injured and they are deeper at RB in 2011. They should have been in a bowl last year and will get back to the post season this year.
KEVIN WILSON, INDIANA
I put Wilson here because they are switching to a new style of offense. The Hoosiers were -83.4 ypg (2nd worst) but improved their record overall for the 3rd straight season to 5-7 last year. Now they break in a first time HC and have just 12 st’rs and 67.6% lettermen returning. I will call for an end to that one game improvement winning trend with a weaker record in a rebuilding year but look out for Indiana in the near future as they have just signed one of the best QB’s in the country and after a couple of tough years, Wilson could breakthrough.
BRADY HOKE, MICHIGAN
Brady Hoke would like to run a pro-style attack but inherits Rich Rod’s spread personnel. The main problem with UM LY was their D (451 ypg, 35.2 ppg) but they will be vastly improved on that side of the ball under DC Mattison, their 4th DC in 5 yrs. They are not as exp’d as the 16 ret st’rs would indicate as they are undergoing a big shift in schemes once again. It should be another fast start for UM but Nov is tough and they are at least a year away from being the Michigan of old and QB Denard Robinson will come nowhere near last year’s incredible 1702 rush yds (6.6) with him taking snaps under center 70% of the time.