Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Texas, USC lead the top schools that will have new coaches in 2014
One of the defining moments of college football since the turn of the century was Vince Young leading Texas to a Rose Bowl victory and a national championship over USC following the 2005 season.
In 2014, both teams involved in that legendary game will have new coaches.
USC is already on its second full-time coach since then. After a dramatic back-and-forth with reports indicating Mack Brown had resigned and had not resigned, Brown eventually retired Dec. 14.
Brown’s departure means two of the top jobs in college football will have opened following the 2013 season. The coaching carousel causes us to reevaluate the most desirable jobs in college football.
This year, there’s not much of a reason to recalibrate. Texas remains the top job in college football, not just the top job to open this season. USC is not far off.
We’ve given every job in the coaching carousel a grade, all the way from Texas to Eastern Michigan. The only question is where the Texas and USC dominoes will settle.
The 2013-14 Football Coaching Carousel: Ranking Every Job
Out: Mack Brown, retired (158-47 in 16 seasons)
In: Charlie Strong, Louisville coach
Mack Brown rebuilt the Texas program into a national contender after the failed tenures of David McWilliams and John Mackovic. The Longhorns won at least 10 games in nine consecutive seasons at one point under Brown, but that run yielded one national championship and only two Big 12 titles. The new coach will be under pressure to bring — in Brown’s words — “some new energy” to the program. This is perhaps the best job in college football in every sense. Texas has the best recruiting base in college football thanks to the state’s rich high school football tradition. This season, as many as 11 starting quarterbacks in the NFL went to Texas high schools. The problem for Texas was that none of them played in Austin. The Longhorns are flush with big-money donors, and despite strides by Texas A&M and others, Texas has the largest fanbase in the state. Even though the Longhorn Network is difficult to find, no other college program can claim its own ESPN-backed television network (BYU is the only other school with a TV network). How good is this job? Nick Saban’s name was speculated for the job, and it wasn’t crazy to think the Alabama coach would leave.
How good is the Texas job? A-plus
Out: Lane Kiffin, fired (28-15 in three-plus seasons)
In: Steve Sarkisian, Washington coach
USC is only five seasons removed from Pete Carroll’s last top-three finish and Rose Bowl victory and three seasons removed from going 10-2 in 2011. Many programs can claim tradition, but recruits can still remember when USC was college football royalty. The Trojans are also slated to unveil a renovation of Heritage Hall early in 2014. New coach Steve Sarkisian must navigate one more season of scholarship limitations while facing a tougher Pac-12 with Oregon and Stanford at national powerhouse status and UCLA, Arizona State and Washington on the rise. Still, there’s no reason USC can’t be back in national title contention each year.
How good is the USC job? A-plus
Out: Steve Sarkisian, hired at USC (34-29 in five seasons)
In: Chris Petersen, Boise State coach
Washington was in ruins when Sarkisian took over in 2009. A year earlier, the Huskies had gone 0-12 and were eight years removed from their last conference title. Washington still hasn’t reached the Rose Bowl since the 2000 season, but this is a program in position to reclaim former glory. Sarkisian improved the talent base by leaps and bounds in five seasons, and Washingotn recently completed a $280 million renovation of Husky Stadium. The state of Washington isn’t the best for prospects in Pac-12 territory, but it has produced Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Bishop Sankey, Jake Locker and — this is relevant to the ex-Boise coach — Kellen Moore.
How good is the Washington job? A-minus
4. Penn State
Out: Bill O’Brien, hired by the Houston Texans (15-9 in two seasons)
In: James Franklin, Vanderbilt head coach
In the long run, Penn State is one of the top jobs in college football. Lengthy tradition, a massive stadium with a rabid fan base and a state with good, but dwindling, talent plus access to Ohio and Maryland/D.C. prospects all make this one of the premier jobs in the Big Ten. It’s just going to take at least five years to get back to that spot due to the deep NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The NCAA has loosened some of the recruiting restrictions, but Penn State won’t have a full complement of 85 scholarships until 2016, the same year the Nittany Lions will be eligible for a bowl. Between a wave of transfers in 2012 and limited signing classes, the new coach will have a depleted roster for his first two seasons, if not more. Bill O’Brien also ran into the old adage that it’s tough to follow a coaching legend, and no shadow looms larger than that of Joe Paterno, in spite of the scandal that tarnished his legacy. The new coach, however, will inherit budding star quarterback Christian Hackenberg for at least two seasons. That alone may help Penn State weather some of the leanest years under sanctions.
How good is the Penn State job? B-plus
Out: Charlie Strong, hired by Texas (37-15 in four seasons)
In: Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky coach
The new Louisville coach won’t inherit a cushy position, despite the Cardinals’ 23-3 record the last two seasons. Louisville moves into the ACC — into a division with Florida State and Clemson, no less — without star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Otherwise, an experienced team returns. Louisville has proven it can built teams that are a factor in the national conversation while playing a Conference USA, Big East and American schedule. How Louisville holds up against the ACC, which will include regular games against Notre Dame, will be in question. To compete in the ACC, the Louisville coach must have an aggressive recruiting strategy to supplement in-state prospects. Both Bobby Petrino and Strong flourished due to a substantial presence in the state of Florida. Tom Jurich is regarded as one if the best athletic directors in the country, and he’s given his coaches the infrastructure they need to thrive, including stadium and facility upgrades.
How good is the Louisville job? B-minus
Out: James Franklin, hired at Penn State (24-15 in three seasons)
In: Derek Mason, Stanford defensive coordinator
Franklin left Vanderbilt as the school’s best coach since Dan McGugin, who coached all but one season from 1904-34. Franklin’s run, which included a pair of nine-win seasons, will be tough to replicate, but Vanderbilt also has committed to competing in the SEC in recent years. An indoor practice facility, locker room upgrades and — most important — a financial commitment to a coaching staff all have lifted the Commodores job from the depths of the SEC. Don’t mistake this for a top-half job in the SEC or the next Stanford: Academic hurdles, a shallow recruiting base in Tennessee and limited fan support still make this one of the tougher jobs in the league. However, now Vanderbilt will expect regular bowl appearances.
How good is the Vanderbilt job? C-plus
7. Boise State
Out: Chris Petersen, hired at Washington (92-12 in eight seasons)
In: Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State coach
Petersen turned Boise State from a nice story out West to a bona fide national championship contender. Boise State twice went undefeated and finished in the top 10 four times under Petersen. The Broncos have a clear identity as innovators on offense and unearthing gems in recruiting, in California and as far away as the Netherlands. The Mountain West may cut into Boise State’s ability to put up gaudy records on a yearly basis, but there’s no reason the Broncos can’t be the flagship program in the league.
How good is the Boise State job? C-plus
8. Wake Forest
Out: Jim Grobe, retired (77-82 in 13 seasons)
In: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green coach
Wake Forest is a tough enough job as it is, a private school competing in a division with Florida State, Clemson and, starting in 2014, Louisville. Clawson will have to follow the beloved Jim Grobe, who won the ACC in 2006 and tied D.C. Walker for the most wins in school history. Grobe proved what it takes be competitive at Wake — an unconventional offense and unconventional thinking (i.e. near-universal redshirting).
How good is the Wake Forest job? C-minus
Out: Paul Pasqualoni, fired (10-18 in two-plus seasons)
In: Bob Diaco, Notre Dame defensive coordinator
The talent base in the Northeast is scant, especially after Penn State, Syracuse, Rutgers and Boston College take the top players in the area. The American Athletic Conference may be the seventh-best league in the country. The stadium is 25 miles from campus. That’s enough to make Maryland look like a dream job.
How good is the Connecticut job? C-minus
10. Arkansas State
Out: Bryan Harsin, hired at Boise State (7-5 in one season)
In: Blake Anderson, North Carolina offensive coordinator
Welcome to the nation’s best stepping stone job as the last three coaches have gone on to Ole Miss, Auburn and Boise State all after one year apiece on the job. The three one-and-done coaches have turned Arkansas State into a consistent factor in the Sun Belt, but one has to wonder the toll so much turnover has caused for the program.
How good is the Arkansas State job? C-minus
11. Bowling Green
Out: Dave Clawson, hired at Wake Forest (32-31 in five seasons)
In: Dino Babers, Eastern Illinois coach
Like most schools in the MAC, Bowling Green is only as good its head coach. Bowling Green isn’t quite Northern Illinois or Toledo in the MAC, but it’s not Eastern Michigan. All but one coach since the 1964, and each of the last four coaches, left Bowling Green with a winning record.
How good is the Bowling Green job? C-minus
12. Western Kentucky
Out: Bobby Petrino, hired at Louisville (8-4 in one season)
In: Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky offensive coordinator
A former Division I-AA power, Western Kentucky needed a few seasons to become a competitive program in the Sun Belt. An astute hire of Willie Taggart and taking advantage of Petrino’s baggage has given the Hilltoppers three consecutive winning season. Western Kentucky reached only one bowl game in that span, due to the Sun Belt’s lack of bowl arrangement. That changes as the Hilltoppers join Conference USA in 2014.
How good is the Western Kentucky job? D
Out: Dave Christensen, fired (27-35 in five seasons)
In: Craig Bohl, North Dakota State coach
Wyoming isn’t going to compete with Fresno State or Boise State in the Mountain West, but the Cowboys aren’t in need of a rebuild like Utah State did when Gary Andersen took over. Laramie has a small but passionate fan base, if not a lot of major college football prospects.
How good is the Wyoming job? D
Out: Carl Pelini, fired (9-15 in one-plus season)
In: Charlie Partridge, Arkansas defensive line coach
FAU has a brand new stadium near the beach and the closest college football program to the talent-rich area in West Palm Beach, Belle Glade and Pahokee. And its nearest rival, FIU, can’t seem to get its act together. The right coach can make this a Conference USA contender.
How good is the FAU job? D
15. Miami (Ohio)
Out: Don Treadwell, fired (8-12 in two-plus seasons)
In: Chuck Martin, Notre Dame offensive coordinator
Miami has arguably the greatest tradition of any MAC program as the cradle of coaches (Bo Schembechler, John Pont, Dick Crum, Randy Walker and Terry Hoeppner all coached here). Throw out the 2010 MAC championship season, and Miami is 19-65 since 2006. The struggles are baffling.
How good is the Miami (Ohio) job? D
Out: Rich Ellerson, fired (20-41 in five seasons)
In: Jeff Monken, Georgia Southern coach
Ellerson appeared to be a slam dunk hire for Army. He was successful at Cal Poly running the triple option. He was successful early, leading Army to a 7-6 season and a bowl game in the second year. Army, though, is lagging behind the other service academies. Ellerson went 1-9 against Navy and Air Force. Like the Navy and Air Force, the Army coach needs schemes that can even the odds against more talented teams. All three service academies have restrictions, but Army has the toughest road of the three to get players.
How good is the Army job? D
17. Georgia Southern
Out: Jeff Monken, hired at Army (38-16 in four seasons)
In: Willie Fritz, Sam Houston State coach
Paul Johnson led Georgia Southern to two FCS/Division I-AA national championships, and Monken returned the Eagles to contender status. Georgia Southern will be in the FBS in 2014 and will be eligible for a Sun Belt title in 2015 along with Appalachian State. With a long history in the lower division, Georgia Southern could have similar success to another former FCS champion, Western Kentucky, in transitioning to the Sun Belt.
How good is the Georgia Southern job: D
Out: Garrick McGee, hired as Louisville offensive coordinator (5-19 in two seasons)
In: Bill Clark, Jacksonville State coach
UAB has not had a winning season since reaching the only bowl game in school history in 2004. In theory, team in the heart of Birmingham in football-crazy Alabama should put together a respectable program, but fan support is lacking and facilities aren’t up to par even for Conference USA. A move to build an on-campus stadium has been a non-starter.
How good is the UAB job? F
19. Eastern Michigan
Out: Ron English, fired (12-48 in five seasons)
In: Chris Creighton, Drake coach
Athlon rated Eastern Michigan as the toughest job in college football in a 2010 feature. Little has changed. UMass, Idaho and New Mexico State may be the only FBS jobs less desirable, and that’s a big if.
How good is the Eastern Michigan job? F
Out: Charley Molnar, fired (2-22 in two seasons)
In: Mark Whipple, Cleveland Browns quarterback coach
UMass is on the short list of the worst jobs in major college football. After one season at the FBS level, the UMass faculty senate voiced misgivings about the move up from the FCS. That’s not without valid reasons: UMass won only one MAC game in each of its first two seasons, and attendance was sparse. Building a competitive program with a limited recruiting footprint and fan and booster support will be extremely difficult.
How good is the UMass job? F