Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches After Week 8

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Mark Helfrich deserves high marks for his performance.

Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches After Week 8

With eight weeks of the 2013 college football season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the new coaches and how they have performed so far this year.

While every coach wants to win big in his first season, it’s just not possible with some programs. Roster turnover, change in schemes, coaching transition and a lack of talent are four reasons most programs struggle in the first year under a new coach.

And in looking at the 31 new hires for 2013, it’s clear this is not shaping up to be a banner season for first-year coaches.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen are the top-four hires after eight weeks of the season. Helfrich and Kingsbury are unbeaten, while Malzahn’s only loss came at LSU, and Andersen has defeats to Arizona State and Ohio State.

After those four names, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey are the next in the rankings, while Tennessee’s Butch Jones is rising after an upset win over South Carolina.

Athlon Sports will grade all of the new coaches at the end of the year, but for now, here’s a look at how all 31 new hires have performed so far in 2013.
Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2013 After Week 8

RankCoachTeamGradeAnalysis
1Gus Malzahn

(6-1)

 

A+

Auburn went 3-9 and was largely uncompetitive in SEC action last season. Malzahn has made a huge difference this year, as the Tigers have already won six games and could be 9-1 heading into rivalry contests against Georgia and Alabama. Auburn’s offense is one of the most improved units in the nation, averaging 35.9 points a game after mustering only 18.7 per contest in 2012. Malzahn inherited some nice talent, but he’s done a good job of blending the returning core with his up-tempo offense, along with breaking in a new quarterback in Nick Marshall. Auburn’s defense ranks 12th in yards allowed the SEC, but this unit has generated 19 sacks and is holding opponents to just 22 points a game.
2Kliff Kingsbury

(7-0)

A+

The former Red Raider quarterback has returned to Lubbock, guiding Texas Tech to a 7-0 record and top-10 ranking in the first release of the BCS standings. Even though Kingsbury had no head coaching experience prior to this season, the 34-year-old head coach was the perfect hire for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ schedule will get tougher, starting on Saturday with a date at Oklahoma. But with Kingsbury (one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the nation), Texas Tech will be in the Big 12 title mix.
3Mark Helfrich

(7-0)

A+

Chip who? The Ducks haven’t missed a beat with Helfrich in control, cruising to a 7-0 mark and spot among the top-three teams in the nation. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the frontrunner to win the Heisman, and the offense has scored at least 40 points in every game in 2013. The biggest test of Helfrich’s tenure will come on Nov. 7, as Oregon travels to Stanford in a game that should decide the Pac-12 North champion. 
4Gary Andersen

(5-2)

A

Andersen inherited a program coming off three consecutive Rose Bowls, and the Badgers haven’t missed a beat under his watch. Wisconsin opened the year with blowout wins over UMass and Tennessee Tech and was robbed of a chance to win by poor officiating in the loss to Arizona State. The Badgers handled Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue in Big Ten play and only lost by seven to Ohio State. If Wisconsin wins out, Andersen’s first season could result in a BCS bowl.
5Steve Addazio

(3-3)

A

Addazio inherited a team that won just six games from 2011-12, but the Eagles have showed marked improvement in his first season. Boston College lost by only 14 to Florida State and by 10 to Clemson, and with a favorable schedule, the Eagles should make their first bowl appearance since the 2010 season. Addazio inherited a solid core of talent on offense, and running back Andre Williams ranks fifth nationally with an average of 139.7 yards per game. 
6Rod Carey

(7-0)

A

Carey stepped into a situation built for success, as the Huskies returned 10 starters – including standout quarterback Jordan Lynch – from last year’s team that finished 12-2 and played in the Orange Bowl. Northern Illinois is back in the mix for a BCS bowl once again, beating Iowa and Purdue in route to a 7-0 start. 
7Butch Jones

(4-3)

B+

Even though Tennessee’s record is just 4-3, there are plenty of signs the program is on the right track. The Volunteers took Georgia to overtime on Oct. 5 and followed up that performance with an upset victory over South Carolina last Saturday. Tennessee’s offense is starting to show some signs of life, and the Volunteers rank second in the SEC with a +4 in turnover margin. The upcoming schedule isn’t easy, but Tennessee should play in a bowl this year.
8Mike MacIntyre

(3-3)

B+

Colorado was downright awful last year. The Buffaloes lost to Sacramento State and had four defeats by 40 points or more. MacIntyre has made a big difference, as the Buffaloes have already won three games, which nearly exceeds the total this program had from 2011-12 (four). A bowl could be too much to ask for, but Colorado should be more competitive against its Pac-12 opponents than it was last season. 
9Bobby Petrino

(4-3)

B

Petrino’s first season at Western Kentucky started with a win over Kentucky, but the Hilltoppers lost their next two games, including a turnover-filled 52-20 defeat at Tennessee. Western Kentucky is 3-1 in its last four games and should be favored in its final five contests. After what transpired at Arkansas, a quiet start to the season isn’t a bad thing for Petrino.
10Tommy Tuberville

(5-2)

B

Tuberville was a nice catch for Cincinnati after Butch Jones left for Tennessee, and the veteran coach has the Bearcats positioned to finish with at least eight wins for the eighth time in nine seasons. Losing to Illinois and South Florida was surprising, but Cincinnati will likely be favored against SMU, Houston and Memphis, with games against Rutgers and Louisville presenting the biggest challenge the rest of the season. Tuberville’s first year with the Bearcats hasn’t received much national attention, but Cincinnati is quietly on its way to its seventh bowl game in eight years. 
11Matt Wells

(4-4)

B-

With quarterback Chuckie Keeton lost for the season, it’s hard to give Wells a complete grade for his work through eight games. When Keeton was in the lineup, Utah State lost by four points to Utah and by three to USC, beat San Jose State by 28 points and Air Force by 32. With four winnable games to finish the year, Wells’ first season would be a success if he gets Utah State back to the postseason for the third consecutive year. 
12Bryan Harsin

(3-4)

B-

Considering Harsin is Arkansas State’s fourth head coach in four seasons, some transition time is needed for the former Texas offensive coordinator. The Red Wolves won 20 games from 2011-12, but with four losses, the best this team can do is 9-4 – assuming it wins a bowl game. Arkansas State’s wins came against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Troy and Idaho, and its losses against Auburn, Missouri and UL Lafayette are nothing to be ashamed about. Ranking Harsin this high might be a bit generous, but then again, there aren’t many coaches behind him worthy of a promotion on this list.
13Bret Bielema

(3-5)

C

This is probably a little high for Bielema, but it’s not a particularly deep year for success among first-year coaches. Bielema didn’t inherit a ton of talent to work with, but the Razorbacks have been outscored 134-17 in their last three SEC games. Arkansas does have some promising pieces for the future, including freshmen running back Alex Collins, defensive tackle Darius Philon and offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper. With a bowl game nearly out of reach, Bielema’s top priority for the last four games is to build momentum for 2014, along with being more competitive against its conference foes.
14Willie Taggart

(2-4)

C

Taggart inherited a mess left behind by former coach Skip Holtz. South Florida went 8-5 in Holtz’s first season but finished 8-16 in the last two years, and the cupboard on offense was bare. As a result, the Bulls are averaging just 16.2 points a game. Six combined turnovers against McNeese State and FAU cost South Florida a chance at two winnable games and a likely bowl appearance. Taggart was a good hire and will get the program back on track. However, he will need some time to recruit and upgrade the talent level on offense. 
15Mark Stoops

(1-5)

C

Expectations were low for Stoops in his first year, and the Wildcats’ only victory came against one of the worst FBS teams in the nation (Miami, Ohio). On a positive note, Kentucky lost by only seven to South Carolina, and its margin of defeat against Louisville and Florida decreased from 2012. The Wildcats may only win one more game this season, but Stoops is bringing in a solid recruiting class, which should help immediately upgrade the talent next year in Lexington. 
16Dave Doeren

(3-3)

C

Similar to Utah State’s Matt Wells, Doeren has been dealing with a significant injury at quarterback. Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell broke his foot in the opener and has not played since, which significantly hampered NC State’s offense through the first six games. The Wolfpack are searching for their first win in the ACC but had a respectable showing in a loss to Clemson (26-14) and went 3-0 in non-conference play. Due to Mitchell’s injury, we will give Doeren a slight curve on his grade.
17Scott Shafer

(3-4)

C

Shafer’s first seven games have produced a mix bag of results. The Orange was impressive in non-conference wins against Wagner and Tulane and beat NC State 24-10 on the road in mid-October. However, Syracuse was outscored in conference play by Clemson and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 105-14. Stopping the pass on defense is a huge concern, and the Orange has been unable to get consistent play from Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen at quarterback. With home games against Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College, Syracuse still has a chance to get bowl eligible. 
18Darrell Hazell

(1-6)

C

Hazell didn’t inherit a wealth of talent to work with on offense, and the Boilermakers have already turned the reigns over to freshman quarterback Danny Etling, which only adds to the growing pains in West Lafayette. Purdue’s only win came against Indiana State, but Hazell’s team lost by just 14 to Michigan State and by seven to Notre Dame. It’s hard to find a guaranteed win on the schedule the rest of the way for the Boilermakers, but Hazell went 5-7 in his first year at Kent State, only to rebound with an 11-3 mark the following season.  
19Ron Caragher

(3-3)

C

So far, the Spartans’ season has played out as most expected. San Jose State lost to Stanford, Minnesota and Utah State, while defeating Sacramento State, Colorado State and Hawaii. The Spartans won 11 games last season and returned 12 starters, including standout quarterback David Fales, leaving plenty of hope for this team to push Fresno State and Boise State for the conference title. San Jose State’s schedule is favorable over the final six games, and if Caragher guides this team to nine wins, the season will be a success. However, 7-5 or 6-6 would be a disappointment.
20Brian Polian

(3-4)

C

Much like his Mountain West counterpart Ron Caragher, Polian has played a difficult schedule in his first season. Nevada played BCS foes UCLA and Florida State, along with road games against conference foes San Diego State and Boise State. The Wolf Pack’s offense has remained explosive, averaging 34.3 points a game in conference action. However, Nevada’s defense is struggling and could prevent the Wolf Pack from making their ninth consecutive bowl.
21Sonny Dykes

(1-6)

D

In addition to dealing with a rash of injuries on defense and a true freshman starting at quarterback, the Golden Bears have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. With those three factors in play, it’s easy to see why California has just one win (Portland State). And with a tough schedule the rest of the way, the Golden Bears could be headed for their worst finish since an 0-11 record in 1999. Considering all of the factors working against California this year, this team would be a good candidate for a rebound in 2014. 
22Trent Miles

(0-7)

D

In fairness to Miles, we have to grade his first season on a curve. Georgia State is transitioning to the FBS level and doesn’t have the necessary talent to compete for a winning season. The Panthers lost to three FCS teams but have played better in their last two games, losing to Troy and Texas State by just a touchdown. Miles engineered quite a turnaround at Indiana State, and in time, he will do the same thing at Georgia State.  
23Paul Haynes

(2-6)

D-

Haynes inherited 10 starters from a team that went 11-3 last season. And even with a tougher schedule, a bowl game was a reasonable expectation for the Golden Flashes. However, Kent State’s only wins this season came against an FCS team (Liberty) and winless Western Michigan. The Golden Flashes were competitive against Ball State and Northern Illinois, but this team needs to win out in order to play for a bowl in 2013. 
24Skip Holtz

(2-5)

D-

The Bulldogs lost a plethora key players from last year’s team and only one starter returned from an offense that averaged 51.5 points a game in 2012. Louisiana Tech beat Lamar and UTEP this season and has chances to pickup wins against FIU and Southern Miss in its next two games. Holtz was a retread hire, looking to prove his 16-21 record at South Florida was a fluke. So far, the early returns haven't been positive. However, with the roster and league transition, it's unfair to blame Holtz for all of the struggles in 2013. 
25Paul Petrino

(1-6)
 

D-

Much like New Mexico State’s Doug Martin, Petrino has a tough job in 2013 with Idaho competing as an FBS Independent. The Vandals managed to give Northern Illinois a fight (45-35), but Petrino’s team lost by 34 to North Texas, 24 to Arkansas State and 32 to Wyoming. Idaho’s only win came against Temple, which gives Petrino a slight edge over Matt Rhule in the midseason new coach grades. 
26Matt Rhule

(1-6)

D-

Rhule started his tenure with six consecutive defeats, including a disappointing 30-29 loss to FCS opponent Fordham. The Owls broke into the win column with a 33-14 victory over Army on Saturday, and freshman quarterback P.J. Walker is a promising player for Rhule to build around. Temple won only four games last season and was picked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference for 2013. Rhule didn’t have a total rebuild project on his hands, but he also didn’t inherit a ton of talent to work with. 
27Sean Kugler

(1-5)

D-

Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for UTEP, ranking third in Conference USA with an average of 31.2 points a game. But stopping opposing offenses has been a real challenge for the Miners, as opponents are scoring 37.7 points a game against Kugler’s team. UTEP’s only win came against New Mexico State, but it has lost two games by a touchdown or less. Quarterback Jameill Showers and freshman running back Aaron Jones are two promising pieces for Kugler to build around for the second half of 2013. 
28Doug Martin

(0-7)

F

This is not an easy job. New Mexico State has only two winning seasons since 1995 and has not won more than four games since 2004. Martin needs time to upgrade the talent and change the culture in Las Cruces and moving to the Sun Belt next year will help. The Aggies lost by 20 or more points in six out of their seven losses, but the schedule lightens in the second half with games against Abilene Christian, Idaho and FAU. 
29Ron Turner

(1-5)

F

Firing Mario Cristobal for Ron Turner is still one of the biggest head-scratchers in recent coaching moves. The Panthers had a lot of roster turnover from last year, and it was expected this team would struggle against its BCS opponents. However, FIU was dominated by FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman, and if it wasn’t for a sloppy effort by Southern Miss, the Golden Panthers would be 0-6. The program is also struggling at the ticket office, as FIU ranks 122nd nationally with an average of 15,492 fans per game.
30Todd Monken

(0-6)

F

A once-proud program has fallen on hard times. Ellis Johnson was fired after losing all 12 games at Southern Miss last year, and Monken has been forced to clean up the mess. The Golden Eagles were dominated by Boise State, Nebraska, Arkansas and East Carolina and lost by a touchdown or less to Texas State and FIU. Losing to FIU – a team that lost to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman earlier in the year – was inexcusable. Southern Miss has an 18-game losing streak headed into Week 9. 
31P.J. Fleck

(0-8)

F

Fleck brought some much-needed enthusiasm and energy to Western Michigan. However, the product on the field hasn’t quite matched the offseason buzz. The Broncos lost a few key players to injury – namely sophomore receiver Jaime Wilson – but are 0-8 and lost to FCS opponent Nicholls State in Week 2. Western Michigan has lost by 20 or more points five times in 2013. 

 

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