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There’ll be 18 new head coaches—at least—in college football in 2017. Which schools nailed their openings and who’ll be dipping back into the market three years from now?


While every new hire is being touted as some kind of transformational figure on each respective campus, history teaches that a handful of these first-year coaches will already be pressed firmly on the hot seat two or three years from now. Looking out to 2020, we’ve graded each head coaching newcomer based on his ability to either elevate a sagging program, maintain a certain level of success or use a Group of Five campus as a stepping to a Power Five opportunity.

18. San Jose State

Buh-bye … Ron Caragher
Hello … Brent Brennan

He got the job because … the Spartans were eager to bring him back to San Jose. Brennan was a member of two Spartan staffs, those of Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre, where he earned a reputation not only as a coach but also as a recruiter. He knows firsthand the challenges of winning at the school, and his energy can only help bring more attention to a program struggling for an identity around Silicon Valley.

There’s cause for concern because … he’s never held a position with nearly this much responsibility. Brennan has spent most of his 20-year career as a wide receiver coach, handling Oregon State’s outside pass-catchers this past season. While the Spartans brought him back to his roots for good reason, this is going to be a distinct step up in expectations and duties that could require an adjustment period of a couple of years.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C

17. Georgia State

Buh-bye … Trent Miles
Hello … Shawn Elliott

He got the job because … he and Panther AD Charlie Cobb have ties to Appalachian State, so there’s a familiarity in place. Elliott has learned from a pair of legends, Jerry Moore and Steve Spurrier, and Cobb believes he’ll bring the necessary energy and personality to recruit the talent-rich Atlanta area.

There’s cause for concern because … Elliott has never risen higher than co-offensive coordinator, though he did serve as South Carolina’s interim head coach, going 1-5 in 2015 after Spurrier abruptly retired. Georgia State is one of the toughest gigs in the FBS, so a lack of experience at building from the bottom up could sidetrack a coach.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

16. Nevada

Buh-bye … Brian Polian
Hello … Jay Norvell

He got the job because … he’s spent more than three decades at major programs, learning from accomplished coaches, such as Hayden Fry, Barry Alvarez and Bob Stoops. Norvell is an experienced teacher and mentor of offensive personnel, which is especially important in Reno, where the offense has been the catalyst whenever the Pack has been successful.

There’s cause for concern because … Nevada is the only program that saw Norvell as a hot coaching candidate. That doesn’t mean he won’t be successful, but he’s had a somewhat unremarkable career, especially of late. Norvell has been with three different programs over the last three years and was stripped of his play-calling duties after Sterlin Gilbert was hired at Texas.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

15. Houston

Buh-bye … Tom Herman
Hello … Major Applewhite

He got the job because … he intimately knows the region and provides a smooth transition for a program that isn’t in need of a cultural overhaul. In fact, Applewhite gives the Cougars their best chance of maintaining continuity, especially on offense, where he was Herman’s coordinator over the past two seasons.

There’s cause for concern because … he wasn’t Houston’s top choice. Or possibly its second choice. The Cougars want to be considered a Power Five-caliber program, but they’ve regressed where it matters most. Was any school taking Applewhite’s temperature when it looked as if Houston might be targeting Les Miles or Lane Kiffin? Doubtful.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … C+

14. Cincinnati

Buh-bye … Tommy Tuberville
Hello … Luke Fickell

He got the job because … he played in Ohio and has spent his entire coaching career in Ohio. Fickell is an Ohioan to his very core, which will benefit the Bearcats on the recruiting trail. The 43-year-old has learned from a pair of legendary coaches, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, and served as Ohio State’s interim head coach in 2011.

There’s cause for concern because … Fickell’s one season as the interim coach in Columbus didn’t fully prepare him to rebuild a Bearcat program that had lost its way in recent years under Tubby. Cincinnati’s last three hires had prior experience as a head coach, so Fickell represents a new direction for the administration.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

13. Florida International

Buh-bye … Ron Turner
Hello … Butch Davis

He got the job because … he’s a coach’s coach, with a wealth of experience in the NFL, in college and specifically in South Florida. Davis knows how to assess talent, both coaching and players, and his connections will quickly lead to an overall upgrade in personnel at FIU. He’s 65, so no worries about him using the Panthers as a bridge to bigger and better.

There’s cause for concern because … he’s 65. Does Davis still possess the necessary drive and energy to recruit and elevate one of the FBS’ worst programs? He hasn’t been on the sidelines in more than six years, since being fired by North Carolina. And his heyday as a head coach occurred almost two decades ago at Miami.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

12. Temple

Buh-bye … Matt Rhule
Hello … Geoff Collins

He got the job because … he’ll maintain the lofty defensive standard that’s been established in Philadelphia over recent years. The Owls are coming off their best back-to-back seasons in school history, largely because of a physical brand of football that began on D. In the SEC, Collins carved out a reputation for being a rising defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida. Affectionately dubbed the “Minister of Mayhem,” his enthusiasm will be warmly received at Temple.

There’s cause for concern because … he has absolutely no ties to the region, having spent his entire career in the South. After coaching in the SEC the past six seasons, this move to Philly and the American Athletic Conference will be a culture shock, to say the least. And unlike previous Temple head coaches, Collins takes over a team that’s been winning at a high level and will be expected to continue doing so, despite the fourth regime change in the past decade.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

11. Fresno State

Buh-bye … Tim DeRuyter
Hello … Jeff Tedford

He got the job because … he made the most sense. Tedford is a former Fresno State player and assistant who has already proven once that he can breathe life into a sagging West Coast team. Remember, he inherited a 1-10 Cal squad from Tom Holmoe in 2002 and then promptly guided the Bears to eight straight winning seasons.

There’s cause for concern because … Tedford has lost something off his coaching fastball this decade. The back end of his Cal tenure, both on the field and in the classroom, was troubling, and he hasn’t been on a college sideline in four years. While only 55, Tedford has also suffered heart issues in recent years.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B-

10. Indiana

Buh-bye … Kevin Wilson
Hello … Tom Allen

He got the job because … he made a great first impression in Bloomington, to both players and administrators. The Hoosiers took a quantum leap on defense in Allen’s debut as the coordinator, yielding 10 fewer points and 130 fewer yards per game than in 2015. The hiring was immediately celebrated by the kids, particularly important in the aftermath of allegations of player mistreatment.

There’s cause for concern because … the book is still out on Allen. Indiana likes him, but this marriage is still very much in the honeymoon stage. He’s been on staff for less than a year, has no prior college head coaching experience and still has a lot to learn about navigating life in the Big Ten.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B

Grading College Football's New Coach Hires (cont.)

9. LSU

Buh-bye … Les Miles
Hello … Ed Orgeron

He got the job because … he was the safest hire after AD Joe Alleva failed to secure his top choices for a second consecutive year. Orgeron is very well liked, inside the locker room and around the community, which will help maintain the procession of blue-chippers to Baton Rouge. He’s learned a lot during short-term gigs with USC and LSU since going 10-25 and being fired by Ole Miss in 2007.

There’s cause for concern because … LSU is too mighty a program to have to settle. Sure, Orgeron earning his dream job has that Hallmark Channel warmth to it, but no one knows for certain if his unique brand of magic will continue once an interim assignment has ended. To catch Alabama, the Tigers needed a bigger splash that would have come from the addition of Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B

8. Florida Atlantic

Buh-bye … Charlie Partridge
Hello … Lane Kiffin

He got the job because … he brings instant credibility and notoriety to a school buried deep in the shadows of just about every other Sunshine State program. Kiffin is better prepared to be a head coach again after doing a three-year apprenticeship under Nick Saban, and his offensive acumen will quickly benefit a team that last averaged 30 points a game in 2007.

There’s cause for concern because … Kiffin is an acquired taste who’ll still shoot his mouth off at inopportune times, and has been fired from two of his three head coaching jobs. FAU is a stepping stone for every coach, and Kiffin will be contacting realtors at the first hint of interest from a bigger program, so the administration better have a backup plan in place.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B

7. Purdue

Buh-bye … Darrell Hazell
Hello … Jeff Brohm

He got the job because … he won 30 games in three years at Western Kentucky, including back-to-back Conference USA championships. Brohm’s Hilltopper offenses were among the most potent in the country, and his track record of developing prolific passers will benefit a Boilermaker team that’s struggled at the position for the better part of the past decade.

There’s cause for concern because … offensive punch alone won’t be enough to thrive in an improving Big Ten. A high-flying attack might be sufficient to simply outgun most opponents in Conference USA. But Brohm will need to develop his defense and pull off occasional Signing Day upsets to elevate Purdue out of its protracted football funk.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B

6. Connecticut

Buh-bye … Bob Diaco
Hello … Randy Edsall

He got the job because … he invented the secret sauce on how to beat the odds in Storrs. Edsall not only spent a dozen years as the Huskies’ head coach, but he won at least eight games in each of his final four seasons and consistently turned two-star recruits into NFL-caliber players. UConn knows exactly what it’s getting here, and that’s a good thing for the program moving forward.

There’s cause for concern because … it’s been all downhill ever since the Huskies earned a berth in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl opposite Oklahoma. Edsall bolted the day after losing to the Sooners, leaving a trail of bitter Husky fans in his wake, and then failed as the Maryland coach. He has fences to mend, wounds to heal and opinions to change as his UConn revival begins.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B+

5. Baylor

Buh-bye … Jim Grobe
Hello … Matt Rhule

He got the job because … he proved to be one of the nation’s top young coaches after piloting Temple to its first-ever back-to-back 10-win seasons, capped by the school’s first league championship since 1967. Plus, Rhule is clean and provides a fresh face to a program desperately looking to turn the page after this past offseason of abject chaos and scandal.

There’s cause for concern because … Rhule has spent one season outside the Eastern time zone, and that was at UCLA in 2001. His lack of familiarity with Texas and the Big 12 could be early impediments to success on Signing Day. And his conservative offensive philosophy won’t initially mesh with the talent or the playbook that’s been in place in Waco since Art Briles was hired in 2008.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B+

4. Western Kentucky

Buh-bye … Jeff Brohm
Hello … Mike Sanford

He got the job because … the Hilltoppers recognized he’s one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. Just 34, Sanford has already coached under Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw and Brian Kelly. And for a time, there’s was a buzz that he could someday be the heir to Kelly in South Bend. The coach’s son still might, because the last three Western Kentucky coaches are now helming Power Five teams, and Sanford has similar upside potential.

There’s cause for concern because … he’s just 34, and it’s not as if anyone on the 2016 ND staff had a promotion-worthy campaign last fall. With youth comes excitement and energy, sure. But it can also bring inexperience and a steep learning curve, and Sanford is taking over a team that now expects to compete for—and win—Conference USA titles.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B+

3. South Florida

Buh-bye … Willie Taggart
Hello … Charlie Strong

He got the job because … he’s a much better fit in Tampa than he was in Austin. Strong and Texas was an odd marriage from the outset, especially for a coach who tends to dislike the spotlight and the media crush. With the Bulls, he can get back to focusing on being a teacher, with the Sunshine State ties to keep USF among the deepest and most talented American rosters.

There’s cause for concern because … he did an undeniably disappointing job with the Longhorns. True, Strong inherited a mess from Mack Brown, but three years should have been enough time to at least show progress at one of the country’s premier programs. He lost seven games each season, his teams routinely making the kinds of mistakes that should have been cleaned up during the offseason and game prep.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B+

2. Oregon

Buh-bye … Mark Helfrich
Hello … Willie Taggart

He got the job because … he’s one of the young superstars of the coaching ranks and a much-needed infusion of infectious energy in Eugene. Taggart has now turned around two programs, Western Kentucky and South Florida, and he’s still just 40 years old. He’s a natural recruiter, a necessity in a state that produces very little topflight talent.

There’s cause for concern because … Taggart’s deepest ties are in Florida not on the West Coast, so he’ll need to do a lot of meeting and greeting, especially in California. This also represents a major step up in weight class from Conference USA and the American, and anything less than Pac-12 contention will be deemed unacceptable by Oregon and the Eugene community.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as a … B+

1. Texas

Buh-bye … Charlie Strong
Hello … Tom Herman

He got the job because … he’s rightfully considered one of the hottest coaches in America. Herman is this year’s Justin Fuente, the young, offensive-minded leader who’s going to keep getting better at his craft. Herman was instrumental in Ohio State’s 2014 national championship, and he engineered upsets of Oklahoma and Florida State while leading Houston. He’s also the right guy to take over as QB Shane Buechele’s mentor.

There’s cause for concern because … Herman only has two years of head coaching experience, light for a school of this prominence and booster meddling. He’ll be facing the most scrutiny and the most pressure of his life, which could stifle him as an offensive innovator. Plus, for all of the hype surrounding Herman, his underachieving 2016 Cougars went 9-3 in a year that began with talk of playoff contention.

In 2020, this hire will be graded as an … A

MORE: 20 Biggest Storylines From 2016 College Football Season

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