By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
The carousel was quite active in the offseason, with 23 coaching positions — 19.2 percent of all FBS schools — changing hands. And not only was the amount of turnover high, but there are some major programs under new leadership — Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Michigan. The following is our take on the new coaches for 2011 — with a new twist. This year, we’ve ranked the hires from best to worst.
1. Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Previous Job: Head coach, Northern Illinois
Pros: Kill has done a tremendous job in four previous stops as a head coach, most notably at Southern Illinois (five straight FCS playoff appearances) and Northern Illinois (18–6 MAC record and three bowl games).
Cons: Despite his outstanding track record, Kill is far from a household name in the college football world. It shouldn’t matter, but some fans aren’t satisfied unless their school hires a big-name coach.
Final Analysis: We were on board with Northern Illinois’ decision to hire Kill three years ago — “This is a great hire … (and) there is no reason to believe that Kill will not have this program competing for a MAC title on an annual basis.” Ditto for Minnesota. Kill might not have the Gophers in the hunt for a league crown any time soon — that’s a very tall order — but Minnesota will be relevant in the Big Ten once again.
2. Al Golden, Miami (Fla.)
Previous Job: Head coach, Temple
Pros: Golden accomplished the impossible, turning Temple into a winning football program. The Owls won a total of four games in the three years prior to his arrival and had not won more than three games in any single season in the previous 15 seasons. Golden had Temple competitive by his second year (4–8) and in a bowl game in his fourth season. Temple’s 17 wins the past two seasons are tied for the best two-year stretch in school history.
Cons: Golden won 27 games in five seasons at Temple, but only three of those wins came against FBS teams that ended the season with a winning record.
Final Analysis: Some Golden detractors point to the above stat in an attempt to minimize his accomplishments at Temple. That is a mistake. The guy did a phenomenal job resuscitating what was the worst FBS program in the nation. He might not be the flashiest coach in the nation, but if he can build a winner at Temple — with limited resources and absolutely no name brand outside of the city of Philadelphia — he should be able to return Miami to national prominence.
3. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
Previous Job: Wide receivers coach, Mississippi State
Pros: Hudspeth enjoyed a highly successful seven-year run (2002-08) as the head coach at North Alabama, compiling a 66–20 record and advancing to the Division II playoffs five times. He is a Mississippi native who has spent the majority of his coaching career in the deep South. He is an outstanding recruiter, and he did a great job putting together a very good class at ULL after taking over in December.
Final Analysis: Hudspeth is a great fit at Louisiana-Lafayette. He has a proven track record as a head coach, and he played a big part in Dan Mullen’s rebuilding job at Mississippi State the past two seasons. The Ragin’ Cajuns, who have made a commitment to the program, will be a Sun Belt contender in the near future.
4. Will Muschamp, Florida
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator, head coach-in-waiting, Texas
Pros: Muschamp has been one of the most highly respected defensive coordinators over the past decade and has coached under some of the best in the game. He is young (40 on opening day) and brings a ton of energy.
Cons: None, other than a lack of experience as a head coach on any level. It didn’t go too well the last time Florida hired someone without head coaching experience. Remember Ron Zook?
Final Analysis: Muschamp, an SEC grad (Georgia) who has coached at two other SEC schools (LSU, Auburn), is a tremendous fit at Florida. It will be a major surprise if he doesn’t win at a high level in Gainesville.
5. Pete Lembo, Ball State
Previous Job: Head coach, Elon
Pros: Lembo has been successful in two previous stops as a head coach, compiling a 44–14 record in five seasons at Lehigh and a 35–22 record in five seasons at Elon. He’s had a winning conference record in nine of his 10 seasons as a head coach.
Cons: Lembo has never coached in the Division I ranks and has spent his entire career on the Eastern Seaboard.
Final Analysis: There have been 12 head coaching vacancies in the MAC in the past three offseasons. This is the only one that has been filled by a head coach from the FCS ranks. The last school to go this route was Northern Illinois, which lured Jerry Kill away from Southern Illinois in 2008. That worked out quite well; Kill went 18–6 in league play in his three seasons before bolting for Minnesota. Don’t be surprised if Lembo experiences similar success. He has won at every stop.
6. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator, Arkansas State
Pros: Freeze did an outstanding job in his only season as the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator. Despite the loss of a four-year starter at quarterback and a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield, Arkansas State’s production improved from 328.8 yards and 22.7 points per game in ’09 to 403.4 and 30.0 in ’10. He was also successful (20–5) in his two-year stint as the head coach at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn.
Cons: Not many. Freeze has spent only three years in Division I football, two with Ole Miss (2006-07) and one at Arkansas State (2010).
Final Analysis: Freeze might be known best as Michael Oher’s high school coach in Memphis, but the guy has an outstanding track record — both as a head coach and coordinator — since making the move to the collegiate ranks. This is an outstanding hire for an Arkansas State program that hasn’t been quite able to break through in the Sun Belt.
7. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State
Pros: Holgorsen is as close of a sure thing as you can get as a play-caller. In his lone season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys ranked third in the nation in both scoring offense and total offense. Prior to that, his two Houston teams ranked first in both categories in 2009 and second in total offense and 10th in scoring offense in ’08.
Cons: Holgorsen has some baggage. He has run into some off-the-field issues since arriving in Morgantown. It’s one thing to enjoy the night life as an assistant coach (or even head coach-in-waiting), but you have to change your lifestyle when you are the man in charge.
Final Analysis: A very awkward 2011 season with Holgorsen serving as WVU’s head coach-in-waiting was avoided when Bill Stewart was forced to step down over the summer. Holgorsen is now the boss, and he will be expected to produce immediately. He comes with some risk — never been a head coach and he allegedly really enjoys frosty cold beverages — but it is a risk worth taking for West Virginia. He will win a ton of games in Morgantown and will do so in entertaining fashion.
8. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Previous Job: Head coach, San Diego State
Pros: Hoke is an experienced head coach who has won at two different schools, taking Ball State to the 2008 MAC title game and becoming the first coach to win a bowl game at San Diego State since 1969. He is a Midwestern guy — native of Kettering, Ohio — who served on the Michigan staff for eight years (1995-02).
Cons: For all of his perceived success, Hoke has a losing record (47–50) as a head coach and has won more than seven games only twice.
Final Analysis: Some Michigan fans craved a bigger name, but Michigan didn’t need a big name — it needed a good coach. And that is what it got with Hoke. Jim Harbaugh would have been a great hire, but the Wolverines — both players and fans — would have had to deal with the annual “Will he bolt for the NFL?” rumors. Hoke, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere. He is a coach who should unite the fractured fan base.
9. Todd Graham, Pittsburgh
Previous Job: Head coach, Tulsa
Pros: Graham has done very well in his two stops as a head coach, taking Rice to its first bowl game in 45 years and winning at least 10 games in three of his four seasons at Tulsa. He has a 20–10 record in Conference USA regular-season games. And while Graham’s background is in defense, his teams have been highly entertaining on offense.
Cons: Graham isn’t the most well-liked man in coaching.
Final Analysis: Graham can be a bit abrasive, but he has a solid résumé, as both as a defensive coordinator and a head coach. And his teams have been exciting to watch — something that was not always the case in the previous regime. Graham should do well at Pittsburgh.