click meAdvertisement

Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2016

Mark Richt is one of the top coaching hires for 2016.

The 2015-16 college football coaching carousel was one of the busiest in recent memory. There were plenty of surprises along the way, including Steve Spurrier’s sudden retirement in October, the bizarre separation between USC and Steve Sarkisian, Todd Monken’s late departure to the NFL, Lovie Smith's late hire at Illinois and Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to leave BYU for Virginia. There were 28 programs that changed coaches in this carousel, which is the most since 31 teams changed coaches prior to the start of the 2013 season.

 

Virginia Tech, Miami, Tulane, Iowa State and Syracuse are just a few of the biggest winners in this carousel. On the other side, Power 5 programs like South Carolina, USC and Minnesota made curious hires.

 

Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 28 new coaches for 2016:  

 

Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2016

 

1. Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente

Previous Job: Memphis Head Coach

Career Record: 26-23 (2012-15 Memphis)

 

Replacing a coaching legend like Frank Beamer isn’t going to be easy. However, Virginia Tech moved quickly in its search, targeting and landing Justin Fuente from Memphis. Fuente was the engineer behind one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds, as he inherited a program that was arguably one of the worst and transformed the Tigers into a team that won 19 games from 2014-15. Making Fuente’s work at Memphis even more impressive was the shift to a different (and tougher) conference in the American Athletic, as well as the development of Paxton Lynch at quarterback. Prior to Memphis, Fuente worked on Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU and also spent time at Illinois State from 2001-06. Virginia Tech’s biggest need of improvement is its offense – that’s Fuente’s specialty. Additionally, keeping Bud Foster on as the defensive coordinator was a huge victory for the first-year coach. Fuente is a proven winner, has a strong track record on offense and seems to fit in well with the Blacksburg/Virginia Tech culture. This is the best hire of the coaching carousel for 2015-16. 

 

Final Grade: A+

 

College Football Podcast: 2016 Coaching Carousel



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Returning Players for 2016

 

2. Willie Fritz, Tulane

Previous Job: Georgia Southern Head Coach

Career Record: 154-69 (Central Missouri, SHSU, Georgia Southern)

 

Fritz doesn’t have the national recognition of a Mark Richt or Kirby Smart, but Tulane is one of the biggest winners in the coaching carousel by landing the former Georgia Southern coach. Fritz has been a proven winner throughout his career, with 193 victories over four different stops. He worked at Blinn College from 1993-96, Central Missouri from 1997-2009 and Sam Houston State (2010-13) before landing at Georgia Southern and helping the program make a successful transition to the FBS level. Under Fritz’s watch, the Eagles went 17-7 and lost only two conference games in two years. Fritz also guided Sam Houston State to two appearances in the FCS title game. The American Athletic Conference’s West Division is tough – Houston, Tulsa, SMU, Memphis and Navy – but Tulane has the right coach in place to compete with the rest of the division.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

3. Mark Richt, Miami

Previous Job: Georgia Head Coach

Career Record: 145-51 (2001-15 Georgia)

 

At most programs, 145 wins in 15 seasons for any coach is more than enough to keep your job. But that wasn’t the case for Mark Richt at Georgia. Yes, the Bulldogs won 145 games under Richt’s direction, but the program – one of the top-10 jobs in the nation – had only two appearances in the SEC title game over the last 10 years and the overall momentum seemed stagnant. A fresh start for both parties is in order, and Richt landed at his alma mater with a chance to get Miami back on track. The Hurricanes have yet to play in the ACC Championship Game since joining the league in 2004 and are just 43-33 over the last six seasons. After Georgia’s offense struggled mightily in 2015 under Brian Schottenheimer’s watch, Richt plans on taking over the play-calling duties at Miami. That’s a good thing. But can Richt beat Florida State and Florida for talent on the recruiting trail on a consistent basis? Is he energized for a new opportunity after appearing to be burned out at the end of his tenure at Georgia? Some question marks exist, but Richt should do well with the Hurricanes.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

Related: Pre-Spring 1-128 QB Rankings for 2016

 

4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Previous Job: Toledo Head Coach

Career Record: 35-15 (2011-15 Toledo)

 

Iowa State is one of the Big 12’s toughest jobs, so it was somewhat of a surprise when the program landed Campbell – one of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches. While winning at a high level and beating Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor and TCU on a consistent basis is challenging, Campbell noted the fan support and facilities in place as reasons Iowa State can compete with the rest of the Big 12. The Ohio native played his college ball at the highly successful Mount Union (Division III) program from 1999-2002 and later worked as an assistant there from 2005-06. From there, Campbell made stops at Bowling Green (2007-08) and worked as an assistant at Toledo from 2009-11 when he was promoted to head coach after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. In four seasons with the Rockets, Campbell recorded a 35-15 record and guided Toledo to a share of the MAC West title twice. Campbell has already injected energy into the program and landed a solid recruiting class for 2016. Winning at a high level will be tough for Campbell. However, all signs point to Campbell as the right hire to help Iowa State take a step forward in the Big 12.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

5. Dino Babers, Syracuse

Previous Job: Bowling Green Head Coach

Career Record: 37-16 (2013-14 Bowling Green, 2012-13 Eastern Illinois)

 

Syracuse got a much-needed shot in the arm and a fresh start for the program with the hire of Babers to replace Scott Shafer. The Orange have made only three bowl appearances since 2005 and badly missed on the hire of Greg Robinson, which resulted in a major rebuilding project for Doug Marrone. Babers isn’t inheriting quite the mess, but he’s got a lot of work to do and a significant scheme change on offense. The Hawaii native has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at UNLV, Northern Arizona, Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh and UCLA. Babers also spent time at Baylor (2008-11) working under Art Briles and picked up on the high-powered offense that is utilized in Waco. Babers took over at Eastern Illinois in 2012 and guided the Panthers to a 19-7 record and back-to-back FCS playoff appearances in two seasons. At Bowling Green, Babers went 18-9 in two years and guided the Falcons to consecutive MAC East titles. Babers is regarded for his work on offense, especially with quarterbacks, including Jimmy Garoppolo (EIU) and Matt Johnson (BGSU). A high-powered offense in a dome should be an advantage for Syracuse and Babers should have no trouble recruiting talent to run his offense. This a home-run hire for Syracuse.   

 

Final Grade: A+

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Rise for 2016

 

6. Mike Norvell, Memphis

Previous Job: Arizona State Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Hiring a successful offensive coordinator from a Power 5 program (Justin Fuente, TCU) worked out well for Memphis the last time it needed a head coach. The Tigers landed another rising star in Norvell, and the 34-year-old Arkansas native is one of the youngest head coaches at the FBS level. Norvell started his coaching career in 2006 at Central Arkansas and landed a job as a graduate assistant with Tulsa (under Todd Graham and Gus Malzahn) in 2007. Norvell remained with the Golden Hurricane until 2010 when he followed Graham to Pittsburgh in '11 and to Arizona State in '12. He has worked as the Sun Devils’ play-caller for the last four seasons, with the offense averaging at least 35 points a game each year. While Norvell has no head coaching experience, there’s no downside to this hire for Memphis.

 

Final Grade: A

 

7. D.J. Durkin, Maryland

Previous Job: Michigan Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 1-0 (Florida – 2014)

 

The top of the Big Ten’s East Division is one of the most competitive and toughest terrains to navigate in college football. Competing with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will be challenging for Maryland, but this program has potential. Durkin is the right coach to help the Terrapins tap into that potential, as the Ohio native lands his first head coaching opportunity in a division that features two of his former bosses. Durkin worked under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan in 2015 and from '07-09 at Stanford. Last season, the Wolverines’ defense limited opponents to 16.4 points a game and 4.5 yards per play. Durkin worked at Florida from 2010-14 under Urban Meyer (2010) and Will Muschamp (2011-14), and also spent time with Meyer at Bowling Green. Durkin has been highly regarded for his work as an assistant and is considered a good recruiter. It may take some time, but this hire should work out well for the Terrapins.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

8. Barry Odom, Missouri

Previous Job: Missouri Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Odom’s stock has soared in recent years, and the Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation. Odom is entrenched with the Missouri program, as he played for the Tigers from 1996-99, worked under Gary Pinkel as an administrative assistant from 2003-08 and a safeties coach from '09-11. Odom was hired by Justin Fuente at Memphis in 2012 and engineered a dramatic turnaround on defense. The Tigers surrendered 35.1 points a game in 2011, and in Odom’s third season, Memphis finished third in the American Athletic Conference by limiting opponents to 19.5 points a game. Odom returned to Missouri last year and coordinated a defense that ranked second in the SEC in scoring (16.2 ppg). Odom has a tough task ahead in replacing Pinkel, but there’s also not a candidate more familiar with this job and what it takes to win in Columbia.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

9. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Previous Job: BYU Head Coach

Career Record: 99-43 (2005-15 BYU)

 

File this coaching hire away as one of the biggest surprises in recent years. Mendenhall has spent most of his coaching career out west, including stops as an assistant at Northern Arizona, Snow College, Oregon State, BYU, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico. He was hired in 2003 as the defensive coordinator for the Cougars under Gary Crowton and took over as the program’s head coach prior to the '05 season. Under Mendenhall’s watch, BYU never had a losing season, played in 11 consecutive bowl games and posted five seasons of 10 or more victories. Considering Mendenhall’s track record at BYU, career path out west, the decision to leave for Virginia is a curious one. Did Mendenhall feel he took BYU as far as it could go as an independent or was he just ready for a new challenge? Regardless of whether or not those factors played into Mendenhall’s decision to leave, this is an interesting fit (in a tough league) for the Utah native.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: Pre-Spring Top 75 Running Backs Returning for 2016

 

10. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Previous Job: Alabama Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Smart is returning to his alma mater after working under Nick Saban for the last nine seasons at Alabama. The Crimson Tide have set the standard for the rest of college football in recent years, and Georgia hopes Smart brings the same level of success from Tuscaloosa to Athens. Prior to Alabama, Smart worked as an assistant at LSU (2004), Georgia ('05) and with the Dolphins ('06) in the NFL. While Saban plays a large role in shaping the Crimson Tide defense, Smart has helped this unit rank first in the SEC in scoring six times since 2008. There’s no denying Smart is a sharp defensive mind, has SEC experience and knows what it takes to win at Georgia. However, he’s a first-time head coach inheriting a job with high expectations. Winning nine games a year won’t be good enough for Smart – he needs to contend (and win) SEC titles.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

11. Lovie Smith, Illinois

Previous Job: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach

Career Record: 89-87 (Bears, 2004-12 and Buccaneers 2014-15)

 

Illinois entered the offseason in a unique position. Bill Cubit was promoted to interim coach after Tim Beckman was fired in August and guided the Fighting Illini to a 5-7 mark last season. Without a full-time athletic director in place, Cubit was retained as head coach on a two-year contract. However, new athletic director Josh Whitman – on his first day on the job – decided a change was needed. Whitman landed a big-time hire in terms of name value, as Smith brings instant credibility and a proven track record in the NFL. Smith went 81-63 with the Bears from 2004-12 and guided the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. He was fired in Chicago after a 10-6 mark in 2012. After a year out of football, Smith landed in Tampa Bay in 2014 and went 8-24 with the Buccaneers before his dismissal at the end of the 2015 season. There’s little doubt Smith brings name recognition and a boost to a program that desperately needs stability. However, Smith has not coached in college since 1995 and will need some time to adjust to the collegiate level. Another key to Smith’s success at Illinois will be the staff. Can he hire a staff with a mix of college and pro experience, as well as coaches who are good on the recruiting trail? Illinois is a program with plenty of upside. Even if the Smith hire doesn’t work out, Whitman deserves credit for aiming high and landing a marquee name. Smith is a proven winner in the NFL, a sharp defensive mind and should be able to attract talent to Illinois. A successful coach from the NFL moving to the collegiate ranks isn’t guaranteed success. However, Smith's hire is a good sign for an Illinois' program that has the potential to be much better than it has been in recent years. 

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: Lovie Smith an Easy Choice for Illinois After Tough Decision

 

12. Scott Frost, UCF

Previous Job: Oregon Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Frost has experienced a fast rise through the coaching ranks. After two stints as a graduate assistant – Nebraska in 20002 and Kansas State in '06 – Frost was hired at Northern Iowa as a defensive assistant in '07. Chip Kelly brought Frost to Eugene to coach Oregon's wide receivers in 2009 and remained in that role until '12 when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator under new coach Mark Helfrich and guided the Ducks to three consecutive scoring titles in the Pac-12 from 2013-15. Additionally, Frost helped to develop Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and played a role in easing Vernon Adams’ transition from the FCS level to the Pac-12. This is Frost’s first opportunity to be a head coach, but UCF is one of the better jobs in the American Athletic Conference. With an entertaining style of play appealing to prospects in a fertile recruiting area, Frost should have UCF back on track sooner rather than later.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

13. Jason Candle, Toledo

Previous Job: Toledo Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 1-0 (Toledo – 2015 Boca Raton Bowl)

 

Toledo didn’t need to look far in its search for a replacement to Matt Campbell. Candle – the program’s offensive coordinator since 2012 – was ready for a promotion. Under Candle’s direction, the Rockets ranked inside of the top five in the MAC in scoring in each of the last four seasons and finished No. 1 in the league in 2014. Prior to his stint as offensive coordinator, Candle worked with the wide receivers from 2009-11 and also coached at Division III Mount Union from '03-08. Additionally, Candle is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the MAC and won his debut in impressive fashion, beating Temple 32-17 in the Boca Raton Bowl this past December. 

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Rise for 2016

 

14. Seth Littrell, North Texas

Previous Job: North Texas Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

North Texas earned four consecutive bowl appearances from 2001-04, but the program has fallen on hard times. The Mean Green have only one bowl appearance since 2005 and just two seasons of five or more wins in that span. The resources – good stadium and recruiting area – are in place for North Texas to win a lot of games in Conference USA. And after missing on the last two coaching hires, the Mean Green got it right this time around. Littrell is regarded for his work on offense, which includes stints as an assistant at Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina. The Oklahoma native has also worked under good coaches at those stops, including Kevin Wilson, Larry Fedora and Mike Leach. Under Littrell’s watch in 2015, North Carolina’s offense averaged 40.7 points a game and 7.3 yards per play, both of which paced the ACC. He’s also pieced together an interesting staff, which includes former Texas Tech stars Graham Harrell and Joel Filani. The state of Texas produces plenty of standouts at quarterback and wide receiver for Littrell to recruit, and he should have no trouble selling the program. It may take a year or two to transition, but Littrell should reverse the recent fortunes of the Mean Green.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

15. Matt Viator, ULM

Previous Job: McNeese State Head Coach

Career Record: 78-33 (2006-15 McNeese State)

 

ULM is a tough job. Since 1994, the program has only one season with a winning record and three non-losing years. However, as a Louisiana native and a coach with plenty of experience within the state, Viator is certainly aware of the challenges facing this program. Viator worked at McNeese State from 1999-2015, including serving as head coach the past 10 seasons. Under his direction, the Cowboys went 77-33, never had a losing record and made five appearances in the FCS playoffs. Hiring a successful coach from the FCS level and expecting to replicate those results in FBS play isn’t guaranteed. However, Viator is a proven winner, has ties to the state and seems like the right coach to help ULM take a step forward as a program.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

16. Kalani Sitake, BYU

Previous Job: Oregon State Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to leave BYU for Virginia was one of the biggest surprises in the coaching carousel. While Mendenhall’s decision to leave may have blindsided some in Provo, the program landed a good replacement. Sitake has been regarded as a coach on the rise in recent seasons, and he’s also the first native of Tonga to land a head coaching job at the FBS level. The former BYU player has a wealth of coaching experience in the state of Utah, starting as a graduate assistant with the Cougars in 2002 and with Southern Utah from '03-04. Sitake was hired on Kyle Whittingham’s first staff in Salt Lake City in 2005 and remained with the Utes until '15 when he joined Gary Andersen at Oregon State. The only knock on Sitake? No head coaching experience. However, he’s entrenched in the culture and knows what it takes to win in Provo. And Sitake certainly didn’t hurt his cause by hiring a good staff, including former BYU quarterback and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer to call the plays on offense.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Rise for 2016

 

17. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

Previous Job: Alcorn State Head Coach

Career Record: 32-17 (2012-15 Alcorn State)

 

Hopson was the last head coach hired in the 2015-16 carousel, replacing Todd Monken after he surprisingly left Southern Miss for the NFL. Late openings are often hard to fill, but the Golden Eagles landed a good coach in Jay Hopson just a few days before National Signing Day. Hopson is no stranger to the program either, as he worked as an assistant in Hattiesburg from 2001-03 and again from '05-07. He’s also a native of Mississippi and previously coached at Marshall, Ole Miss, Michigan and Memphis before taking the head coaching job at Alcorn State. The Braves went 4-7 in Hopson’s first year (2012) but rebounded with three consecutive seasons of at least nine wins from 2013-15. Hopson is inheriting a team capable of winning the Conference USA title next season. Expectations will be high for Hopson in 2016.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

18. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

Previous Job: Nevada Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Hawaii is a challenging job, but Rolovich is the right coach to get this program back on track. The former quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors (2000-01) returns to Honolulu after a four-year stint at Nevada as the program’s offensive coordinator. And prior to Nevada, Rolovich worked at Hawaii from 2008-11, including the last two years as offensive coordinator. While Rolovich’s background on offense at Hawaii was developed under June Jones and the wide-open pass attack, he also worked for Chris Ault at Nevada for one season, which has provided a good blend of concepts for Rolovich to build his offense around in 2016. Recruiting to Hawaii isn’t easy, and the athletic department has budget concerns. Rolovich is no stranger to the culture and what it takes to win at Hawaii. It may take Rolovich a season or two to rebuild the roster, but the Rainbow Warriors upgraded from Norm Chow with this hire.  

 

Final Grade: B

 

19. Chris Ash, Rutgers

Previous Job: Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Ash has been an assistant over the last two years at Ohio State, so he’s aware of the rugged terrain in the Big Ten East Division and the challenges ahead at Rutgers. In addition to his stint in Columbus, the Iowa native cut his teeth as a defensive assistant at Arkansas and Wisconsin under Bret Bielema and also stops at Iowa State (2001-06, '09) and San Diego State ('07-08). Ash is regarded for his work with defensive backs, and his arrival sparked immediate improvement by the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2014 after this unit allowed 31 passing scores in '13. Considering the turmoil surrounding the Rutgers’ athletic department in recent seasons, this program had to get this hire right to avoid falling further behind in the Big Ten. Ash isn’t a flashy hire, but he has provided much-needed direction. Additionally, the first-time head coach is organized, meticulous and is doing all he can to build relationships with New Jersey’s high school coaches. This is a solid hire for Rutgers.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

20. Everett Withers, Texas State

Previous Job: James Madison Head Coach

Career Record: 25-13 (2014-15 Texas State, 2011 at North Carolina)

 

Withers paid his dues as a long-time assistant before his first opportunity to run his own program at James Madison in 2014. Under his watch – and helped by the arrival of transfer quarterback Vad Lee from Georgia Tech – the Dukes went 18-7 and made the FCS playoff in both seasons. Withers also spent 2011 as North Carolina’s interim coach after Butch Davis was fired in late July. The North Carolina native also has a wealth of experience on his resume, including stops as an assistant at Ohio State, Minnesota, Texas, Louisville and in the NFL with the Saints and Titans.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Related: Pre-Spring 1-128 CFB Quarterback Rankings for 2016

 

21. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina

Previous Job: Duke Offensive Coordinator

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Montgomery has been considered a rising star in the coaching ranks over the last few seasons, and the North Carolina native makes the short trip from Raleigh to Greenville to take over the East Carolina program. Montgomery spent the last three years as an assistant at Duke, including the last two as the offensive coordinator. It should be noted coach David Cutcliffe plays a big role in Duke’s offense, but under Montgomery’s direction, the Blue Devils ranked in the top five in the ACC in scoring from 2014-15 (conference-only games). Prior to the last three years at Duke, Montgomery worked under Mike Tomlin with the Steelers from 2010-12 and previously at Duke from '06-09. Parting with Ruffin McNeill after four bowl games in six seasons was a strange move for this program. However, Montgomery is young (37), has experience within the state and has a good background on offense. This looks like a solid hire for East Carolina.

 

Final Grade: B- 

 

22. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

Previous Job: Colorado State Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Georgia Southern made an easy transition from the FCS to FBS level in 2014 and recorded an 18-7 record over the last two seasons. Former coach Willie Fritz was instrumental in the Eagles’ success in that span, but he bolted to Tulane prior to the GoDaddy Bowl last December. The Eagles picked Summers to keep the momentum going, and the Georgia native inherits a team capable of winning the Sun Belt next fall. Summers worked as Colorado State’s defensive coordinator in 2015 and called the plays for UCF’s defense in '14. He also has stops on his resume as an assistant at UAB (2007-11) and Georgia Southern ('06). This is the first opportunity for Summers to be a head coach, but the formula for success this program – an option attack on offense – shouldn’t change in 2016. Immediate success wouldn’t be a surprise. However, can Summers maintain that level over the next five seasons?

 

Final Grade: B-

 

23. Clay Helton, USC

Previous Job: USC Interim Head Coach

Career FBS Record: 6-4


USC is considered one of college football’s best jobs. There’s access to talent in the fertile California recruiting area, history and tradition and plenty of recent success. However, the Trojans have missed on recent coaching hires. Lane Kiffin was fired in the 2013 season, and Steve Sarkisian was let go after USC’s fifth game this past season. Helton was promoted to interim coach after Sarkisian’s dismissal and led USC to a Pac-12 South title and a 5-4 overall record. Helton has worked at USC since 2010 but has never been a head coach on a full-time basis at the FBS level and was handed the keys to one of the top 10 jobs in the nation. After the recent turmoil for the program, a low-key coach like Helton is a step in the right direction for USC. However, it’s fair to wonder if Helton is the right coach to lead the Trojans back into contention for national championships.

 

Final Grade: C+

 

Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2016

 

24. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Previous Job: Auburn Defensive Coordinator

Career FBS Record: 28-21

 

After a pedestrian 28-21 record at Florida from 2011-14, Will Muschamp is getting a second chance in the SEC. Muschamp as a head coach once again isn’t that big of a surprise, but it’s a bit shocking to see him land at South Carolina. In between his two head coaching jobs, Muschamp worked as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2015 and the Tigers surrendered 5.4 yards per play and 28.6 points in SEC games. Under Muschamp’s watch in Gainesville, the Gators struggled mightily on offense and boasted one of the SEC’s top defenses. While Muschamp’s ability to develop defenses is critical for a program that has ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed in back-to-back seasons, can he find the right mix on the offensive staff to prevent what transpired at Florida? Muschamp is known as a good recruiter and hired a good mix of assistants to help win battles against other SEC programs for talent. But the big question remains: Is Muschamp a different coach this time around and will his offenses perform differently than the ones at Florida?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

25. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota

Previous Job: Minnesota Interim Head Coach

Career FBS Record: 2-4

 

Claeys worked for 21 years as an assistant under Jerry Kill and was promoted to interim head coach after Kill retired due to health concerns in late October. Under Claeys’ direction, Minnesota finished 2-4 in the final six games, claimed a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Central Michigan and nearly defeated Michigan (29-26). The Kansas native inked a three-year deal in mid-November to be the full-time coach in 2016 and beyond. Claeys also wasted no time putting his stamp on the program, jettisoning two assistants shortly after the regular season ended. Continuing the success and overall momentum from Kill’s tenure is a big reason why Claeys is now the head coach. He’s got experience on the job from last year, knows the ins and outs of the program and can bring stability to a school that does not currently have a full-time athletic director. Minnesota played well under Claeys last season, but will that momentum carry into 2016? Claeys was a good coordinator under Kill. Now, he’s tasked with building a program and being more of a CEO. Is he up for the task?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

26. Frank Wilson, UTSA

Previous Job: LSU Running Backs Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Wilson is regarded as one of the best recruiters in college football. The New Orleans native was hired at LSU in 2010 and helped the Tigers ink a signing class that averaged a 6.2 national finish over the last five seasons. And in his role as running backs coach, Wilson helped LSU produce a 1,000-yard rusher in four out of the last six seasons. Prior to joining Les Miles’ staff in Baton Rouge, Wilson worked as an assistant at Tennessee (2009), Southern Miss ('08) and Ole Miss ('05-07). His only experience as a head coach lasted from 2000-03 at O.P. Walker High School in Louisiana. It’s no secret Wilson is an excellent recruiter and should attract plenty of talent to San Antonio. However, hiring a position coach for his recruiting ability with no experience as a coordinator or head coach on the FBS level did not go well for Memphis when it hired Larry Porter (2010-11). Wilson hired a good staff at UTSA, and this hire should go better than Porter’s did at Memphis. Assembling talent at a program is just one step of the process. Can Porter develop and put that talent in position to win on a consistent basis?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

27. Mike Neu, Ball State

Previous Job: New Orleans Saints Quarterback Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Pete Lembo’s departure as Ball State’s head coach to an assistant at Maryland was not expected. After guiding the Cardinals to 25 wins in his first three years, the Cardinals slipped to 8-16 over Lembo’s final two seasons. The balance of power in the MAC is clearly with the West Division, and Ball State has turned to a familiar face to get the program back on track. Neu is a former Cardinals quarterback and returns to Muncie after spending the last two years as a quarterbacks coach with the Saints. Prior to his stint tutoring Drew Brees, Neu worked for two seasons as Tulane’s quarterback coach (2012-13) and was the head coach for two Arena Football League teams (Carolina Cobras, New Orleans VooDoo). In four years as the VooDoo’s head coach, Neu recorded a 33-32 overall mark. An offensive-minded head coach in the MAC is never a bad thing. However, Neu has only two years of collegiate coaching experience since 1998 and has never been a head coach or coordinator on the FBS level.

 

Final Grade: C

 

28. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

Previous Job: Texas Tech Running Backs Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Jinks’ hire came as a surprise in Bowling Green’s search to replace Dino Babers. The Texas native heads north after spending the last three seasons as a running backs coach at Texas Tech. Prior to the last three seasons with the Red Raiders, Jinks was the head coach at Burbank (Texas) High School (2005) and recorded a 76-18 record at Lone Star State prep powerhouse Cibolo Steele High School from 2006-12. While Jinks’ background at Texas Tech and staff hires on offense suggest Bowling Green won’t stray too far from the high-powered attack Babers utilized, he has never coached outside of the state of Texas and lacks head coaching experience on the FBS level.

 

Final Grade: C

More Stories: