Scott Frost ranks as the No. 1 coaching hire for 2018.
College football’s 2017-18 coaching carousel featured 21 changes, including moves at big-time programs like Nebraska, Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon and Florida State. With the carousel completed and all 21 jobs filled, it's time to rank and grade the new hires and see how they fit with their new programs. Nebraska hit a home run with former quarterback Scott Frost returning to Lincoln, with Florida (Dan Mullen), Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher), UCLA (Chip Kelly) and Florida State (Willie Taggart) rounding out the top five hires. The next tier features Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, along with Chad Morris at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Arizona.
Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 21 new coaches for 2018:
Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2018
1. Scott Frost, Nebraska
Previous Job: UCF Head Coach
Career Record: 19-7 (2016-17 UCF Head Coach)
In terms of fit and need as it relates to the 2017-18 college football coaching carousel, it doesn’t get much more perfect than Frost at Nebraska. The Nebraska native and former Cornhusker quarterback returns to his home state after a successful two-year stint at UCF. After a winless 2015 season, the Knights improved to 6-7 in Frost’s first year. And Frost capped his UCF tenure with a perfect 13-0 season, a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn and a No. 6 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. Prior to his two-year stint in Orlando, Frost worked as Oregon’s offensive coordinator from 2013-15, calling the plays for one of college football’s top offenses. And he also worked with the Ducks from 2009-12 as a wide receivers coach and had a stint at Northern Iowa (2007-08). Considering Frost’s ties to the program as a former player, he knows what it takes to succeed in Lincoln. Nebraska needed to make a big move in order to become a Big Ten power and close the gap on Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Frost’s arrival will certainly do that in his return to Lincoln.
Final Grade: A+
2. Dan Mullen, Florida
Previous Job: Mississippi State Head Coach
Career Record: 69-46 (2009-17 Mississippi State)
Athletic director Scott Stricklin is leaning on a familiar face to get Florida’s football program back in the mix for national championships. Mullen and Stricklin worked together at Mississippi State, and Mullen had previous experience at Florida (2005-08) under Urban Meyer, so this is a natural fit for both parties. In addition to Mullen’s familiarity with the job, he also brings a needed background on offense to Gainesville. The Gators have struggled on this side of the ball in recent years and have finished eighth or worse in the SEC in scoring every year since 2010. At Mississippi State – the toughest job in the SEC West – Mullen went 69-46 and guided the program to eight consecutive bowl games. For comparison, the Bulldogs had just 12 previous postseason bids before Mullen’s arrival. Also, Mississippi State has nine seasons of nine or more wins in program history. Four of those, including a 10-win campaign in 2014 came under Mullen’s watch. Now based in better recruiting territory and with more resources at his disposal, Mullen should thrive in his return to Gainesville – and get Florida back in the mix to be a top 10-15 team on an annual basis.
Final Grade: A
3. Chip Kelly, UCLA
Previous Job: ESPN Analyst
Career Record: 46-7 (2009-12 Oregon), 28-35 (2013-15 Eagles, 2016 49ers)
Kelly is back on the sidelines in college for the first time since leaving Oregon after the 2012 season. The New Hampshire native was one of the offseason’s most sought-after coaches, and UCLA wasted no time making a move for Kelly following Jim Mora’s departure. During his stint at Oregon from 2009-12, the Ducks finished 46-7, played for the national championship in 2010 and finished inside of the top five in the final Associated Press poll in three out of the four seasons. Additionally, Oregon’s innovative offense ranked among the nation’s best under Kelly’s watch and led the Pac-12 in scoring every year from 2009-12. Kelly left Eugene for an opportunity to coach in the NFL and he had some success in Philadelphia. The Eagles posted back-to-back 10-win seasons and finished 26-21 overall before his dismissal during the 2015 season. Kelly also spent one year (2-14) with the 49ers and joined ESPN as a college football analyst for the 2017 season. It’s no secret what Kelly brings to the table. He runs a high-scoring, up-tempo, spread attack on offense and is one of the game’s best at X’s and O’s. It’s likely the rest of college football has adapted to defend Kelly’s offense since his tenure at Oregon, but he’s at one of the Pac-12’s top jobs and should have no trouble reeling in talent on the recruiting trail. While Kelly may not win 46 games in four years at UCLA, this hire should still work out in a big way for the Bruins.
Final Grade: A
4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Previous Job: Florida State Head Coach
Career Record: 83-23 (2010-17 Florida State)
The 2017-18 coaching carousel only amplified how serious Texas A&M is in becoming a contender in the SEC West. Thanks to a 10-year, $75 million deal, the Aggies lured Fisher away from Florida State. That’s just one cog in the football program’s commitment, which includes a renovated stadium and plenty of money for Fisher to build his staff and off-field analysts. Fisher had the tough assignment of following Bobby Bowden at Florida State but rebuilt the program into a national power once again. The Seminoles went 83-23 under his direction, won the 2013 BCS title and won at least 10 games in six out of his eight seasons in Tallahassee. Fisher is no stranger to life in the SEC, as he coached at LSU from 2000-06 as offensive coordinator before joining Bowden’s staff at Florida State in '07 in the same capacity. Fisher also has stops on his resume from stints at Samford, Auburn and Cincinnati. The West Virginia native developed three quarterbacks during his tenure in Tallahassee who went on to become first-round NFL draft picks and the 2013 offense averaged 51.6 points a game. Fisher’s pro-style attack thrived in Tallahassee but it will be interesting to see if he adapts to more spread or tempo principles in College Station. As a proven winner, excellent recruiter and with a track record of developing talent, Fisher is a standout hire for Texas A&M.
Final Grade: A-
5. Willie Taggart, Florida State
Previous Job: Oregon Head Coach
Career Record: 47-50 (2010-12 WKU, 2013-16 USF, 2017 Oregon)
As a lifelong Florida State fan, Taggart finds himself in his dream job. Taggart has extensive ties to the Sunshine State, starting with his high school career as a quarterback at Bradenton Manatee, which led to a collegiate career at WKU. After his playing career with the Hilltoppers ended in 1998, Taggart was hired as an assistant coach with the program in '99. He left Bowling Green following the 2006 season to coach under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Taggart directed the running backs for three seasons on the Farm, before returning to WKU as the program’s head coach in 2010. The Hilltoppers had transitioned to the FBS level in 2009 but won just two games from 2008-09. After a 2-10 mark in Taggart’s first year, WKU showed marked improvement. The Hilltoppers went on to post back-to-back seven-win seasons, prompting USF to hire Taggart prior to the 2013 campaign. The Bulls started 6-18 under his watch, but a switch in offensive style and tempo to the “Gulf Coast Offense” helped them go 18-7 over the next two regular seasons. As a result of that success, Taggart left Tampa for Eugene and spent one year as Oregon’s head coach. The Ducks improved by three games from 2016 to ’17 under his direction. Taggart is regarded as a strong recruiter and should have no trouble attracting talent to play in his high-powered offense.
Final Grade: A-
6. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
Previous Job: Penn State Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: 38-13 (2012-15 Fordham)
Mississippi State landed one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches when Moorhead was picked to replace Dan Mullen in Starkville. Moorhead spent the last two seasons revitalizing Penn State’s offense as the team’s coordinator. After the Nittany Lions averaged only 23.2 points a game in 2015, Moorhead helped this unit average 37.6 per contest in ’16 and 41.1 this past season. Additionally, Penn State’s offense averaged 6.5 yards per play in both seasons under Moorhead and generated 45 plays of 40 yards or more during that span. Prior to calling the plays in Happy Valley, Moorhead posted four winning seasons (38-13) at Fordham and led the program to three FCS Playoff appearances. He also has stops on his resume from stints at Akron and UConn. Considering Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, hiring a coach with a background on offense and a strong reputation for innovative schemes and play designs is a home run. With Moorhead’s offense in place, the Bulldogs will provide a tough matchup each week in SEC play. And the Pittsburgh native is already off to a strong start, hiring a standout staff and putting the finishing touches on a good recruiting class. With several key pieces returning from a team that won nine games in 2017, Moorhead has an opportunity to start fast in his Mississippi State debut.
Final Grade: B+
7. Chad Morris, Arkansas
Previous Job: SMU Head Coach
Career Record: 14-22 (2015-17 SMU)
Arkansas checked off two important boxes by hiring Morris. The first: Ties to the state of Texas. In order for the Razorbacks to make gains in the SEC West, this program has to recruit the Lone Star State and win some of the battles against its conference counterparts. Morris’ hire should help in that regard, as he worked as head coach at five different high schools in Texas from 1994-99. The Edgewood native (about 60 miles east of Dallas) has extensive ties throughout the state, which should help on the recruiting trail and to attract talent to Fayetteville. And the second box: Doing something different. The SEC West is one of college football’s toughest divisions, headlined by defending national champion Alabama. Trying to outmuscle Alabama or LSU isn’t a smart strategy for the Razorbacks. Instead, Morris’ up-tempo and spread principles should help Arkansas (see Auburn) and will make for a team that’s difficult to prepare for on a week-to-week basis. Morris comes to Fayetteville after a successful three-year run at SMU. He inherited a team that won just one game in 2014 and improved to 5-7 by his second year. In 2017, the Mustangs finished 7-5 in the regular season and went to a bowl game for the time since '12.
Final Grade: B+
8. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Previous Job: Texas A&M Head Coach
Career Record: 86-43 (2008-11 Houston, 2012-17 Texas A&M)
Arizona was the last FBS program to fill its head coach vacancy in the 2017-18 carousel, but the program ended up with a solid fit with Sumlin. The former Texas A&M coach has an opposite personality to former coach Rich Rodriguez and is likely to benefit from a fresh start. Sumlin went 51-26 in six years in the brutal SEC West but was never able to recapture the momentum from an 11-2 debut in 2012. The Aggies never had a losing season under Sumlin and finished at least .500 or better in conference play in five out of six years. Prior to Texas A&M, Sumlin went 35-17 at Houston (2008-11) and worked under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma from 2003-07 as an assistant on the offensive side of the ball. The Alabama native played his college ball at Purdue and later had stops as an assistant with the Boilermakers, Wyoming, Minnesota and Texas A&M. Sumlin is regarded as a good recruiter and has previous experience within the state of Arizona in luring Christian Kirk and Kyle Allen to College Station. Additionally, Sumlin’s background on offense should fit in well with the Pac-12. With USC in transition, and new coaches at UCLA and Arizona State, Sumlin has a chance to contend for the Pac-12 South title in his first year on the job.
Final Grade: B
9. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
Previous Job: Alabama Defensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Tennessee’s coaching search certainly wasn’t without its share of drama. However, after an extended search (and some help from freshly appointed athletic director Phillip Fulmer), the Volunteers settled on Pruitt to guide the program in 2018 and beyond. The Alabama native has no previous head coaching experience at any level but is well-prepared for this job. Pruitt started his career by working his way through the high school ranks as an assistant, eventually landing an off-field role at Alabama in 2007. Nick Saban promoted Pruitt to defensive backs coach in 2010, which lasted three years before the Alabama native took over as Florida State’s defensive coordinator. In Pruitt’s only year as the play-caller, the Seminoles won the national championship and allowed only 12.1 points a game. Pruitt was hired by Mark Richt at Georgia in 2014 and stayed in Athens for two seasons. After Richt was dismissed, Pruitt returned to Alabama to coordinate the defense. The Crimson Tide led the SEC in back-to-back years in fewest points allowed, limiting opponents to just 11.9 points a game in 2017. Pruitt is a relentless recruiter, has worked for the nation’s best coach (Saban) and has proven he can build a defense at other stops outside of Alabama. Running a program as a first-time head coach in the SEC isn’t easy, but Pruitt can lean on a solid staff and Fulmer to guide his transition into this role. Landing talent wasn’t Tennessee’s problem under Butch Jones. However, the Volunteers struggled to fully develop some those recruiting classes that averaged a 13.2 finish nationally from 2013-17. If Pruitt can continue to reel in top talent and do a better job in development, Tennessee should take a big step forward over the next three seasons.
Final Grade: B
10. Steve Campbell, South Alabama
Previous Job: Central Arkansas Head Coach
Career Record: 59-23 (Delta State 1999-01, Central Arkansas 2014-17)
South Alabama is still a relative newcomer to college football, as this program is entering its seventh year of FBS play. Joey Jones guided the Jaguars to two bowl trips since 2014, but the program is hoping to take the next step and compete for Sun Belt titles. Athletic director Joel Erdmann tapped Campbell as just the second coach in South Alabama history after a successful run at Central Arkansas. Under Campbell’s watch, UCA went 33-15 in four years and made the FCS Playoffs in both 2016 and '17. Campbell’s experience extends throughout the Southeast. He spent time as a graduate assistant at Auburn (1988-89), was an assistant at Delta State (1990-92) and Nicholls State (1993-95), and spent a year at Southwest Mississippi Junior College (1996) before becoming the program’s head coach in 1997. He stayed in that role for two years before Delta State hired him in the same capacity. During a three-year stint, Campbell went 27-8 at Delta State. He left the Division II ranks for assistant opportunities at Middle Tennessee (2002) and Mississippi State (2003). After one year with the Bulldogs, Campbell left Starkville to become the head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast JC. Campbell never had a losing season at MGCCC and finished his tenure with an 87-22 record. While Campbell isn’t as big of a name as some of the others on this list, he’s a standout hire for South Alabama. As a proven winner with ties to the Southeast, Campbell should help this program move forward in the Sun Belt over the next couple of years.
Final Grade: B
11. Billy Napier, Louisiana
Previous Job: Arizona State Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Louisiana landed one of college football’s coaches on the rise when it lured Napier away from Arizona State to replace Mark Hudspeth. The Georgia native is just 38 years old, but he’s assembled a solid resume in a short amount of time. Napier worked as a graduate assistant at Clemson (2003-04) and as a quarterbacks coach at South Carolina (2005), before he returned to Death Valley and worked on Tommy Bowden’s staff again in 2006 as tight ends coach. Napier was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2009 under new coach Dabo Swinney and remained in that role in '10. Napier was let go from Clemson after the offense finished 10th in the ACC in scoring that year. But Napier wasn’t out of work long, as he joined Alabama’s staff in an off-field role for 2011 and was hired at Colorado State for one season (2012). Napier returned to Tuscaloosa in 2013 as the program’s wide receivers coach and remained in that capacity for four seasons. He was hired by Todd Graham to coordinate Arizona State’s offense last fall and made an impact in his only season calling the plays. The Sun Devils jumped from 5.2 yards a play in 2016 to 5.7 in ’17 and ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring offense in conference-only matchups. There’s a lot to like about this hire for Louisiana. Napier is young, has experience working under college football’s best coach (Nick Saban), has a solid background on offense and has pieced together a staff with ties to the state of Louisiana. The only downside: No previous FBS head coaching experience.
Final Grade: B-
12. Sonny Dykes, SMU
Previous Job: TCU Analyst
Career Record: 41-46 (Louisiana Tech 2010-12, California 2013-16 and SMU 2017 Frisco Bowl)
With extensive ties to the state of Texas, Dykes is the perfect coach to continue what Chad Morris started at SMU. Dykes spent the 2017 season as an off-field analyst for TCU but served as the head coach for the Mustangs’ bowl loss against Louisiana Tech. Dykes has worked at a handful of programs as an assistant, including Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona before becoming Louisiana Tech’s head coach in 2010. After a 5-7 mark in his first year, Dykes guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back winning records. Louisiana Tech finished 8-5 in 2011 and 9-3 in '12. He was hired as California’s head coach in 2013 and followed a similar path to the one in Ruston. The Golden Bears started slow (1-11) but showed steady improvement in Dykes’ second year (5-7) and finished 8-5 in 2015. However, Dykes was dismissed in Berkeley following a 5-7 record in 2016. With connections to the state of Texas and a high-powered offense, Dykes should be a good fit at SMU. But one area must improve: Defense. Under Dykes, California finished last in the Pac-12 in points allowed in three out of his four seasons. And at Louisiana Tech, his 2012 defense gave up 38.5 points a game. Expect high-scoring and entertaining games from SMU, but Dykes has to build a better defense in order to win the AAC West.
Final Grade: B-
13. Mario Cristobal, Oregon
Previous Job: Oregon Co-Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: 27-48 (FIU 2007-12 and Oregon 2017 Las Vegas Bowl)
Continuity and promoting from within is nothing new to Oregon. Counting Cristobal, the Ducks have had five different head coaches since 1995. Four of those came as promotions from within. Cristobal joined Oregon’s staff as a co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 2017 under former coach Willie Taggart and was promoted to head coach prior to the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. Cristobal’s promotion was backed by the players, and the Miami native’s pitch to be head coach certainly wasn’t hurt by the fact he’s regarded as an excellent recruiter and wouldn’t make a drastic change to the program as the third head coach in three years. Prior to Oregon, Cristobal spent time as an assistant at Rutgers (2001-03) and Miami (2004-06). He was head coach at FIU from 2007-12 and guided the Panthers to a 27-47 mark and two bowl trips during that span. The 27 wins may not seem like much, but Cristobal inherited a program in need of major repair. Following the stint at FIU, Cristobal landed on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama in 2013 and remained in that role until '17. It’s no secret Cristobal is an excellent recruiter, and he’s already hit a home run with the assembled staff, including retaining Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator. With a favorable schedule and a talented cast in place, Cristobal has a chance to make a splash in his first full year at the helm.
Final Grade: B-
14. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State
Previous Job: Washington Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Oregon State is one of the toughest Power 5 coaching jobs, and after four consecutive losing seasons, the program is turning to a familiar face as its next head coach. Smith – one of the top quarterbacks in program history – is set to take over at his alma mater. During his playing career, Smith threw for 9,680 yards and led the Beavers to an 11-win season in 2000, which is the highest mark in school history. Following his playing career, Smith spent two years with the program as a graduate assistant, before joining Idaho’s staff in 2004. He remained with the Vandals until 2009 when he joined Montana’s staff for two years (2010-11) and later Boise State (2012-12) under Chris Petersen. Smith followed Petersen to Washington in 2014 and assumed the role of offensive coordinator until his departure following the '17 regular season. Under Smith’s play-calling the Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring offense in 2016 and finished second in ’17. Smith has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but there’s not a better candidate to lead the way at Oregon State. This is a hard job and will require patience from the administration. Considering Smith’s connections to the program, he should have plenty of time to rebuild.
Final Grade: C+
15. Matt Luke, Ole Miss
Previous Job: Ole Miss Interim Head Coach
Career Record: 6-6 (Ole Miss 2017)
Luke’s on-the-job interview went so well in 2017 that he was promoted to head coach following the Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State. The Mississippi native took over as the program’s head coach after Hugh Freeze’s resigned in late July and proceeded to guide Ole Miss to a 6-6 record. The six victories was one more than the program earned in 2016 and also came after the offense lost starting quarterback Shea Patterson to injury in late October. Luke isn’t the big name most expected to take over in Oxford after Freeze was dismissed, but he’s the perfect candidate to navigate the program through sanctions and a bowl ban in 2018. Prior to his role as interim coach, Luke – a former Ole Miss player – also spent time on staff from 2012-16 as an assistant and also had stops at Duke, Tennessee and Murray State. There’s a big difference in maintaining a program for a year and building one that can sustain for the next five years. In his first opportunity to be a head coach, Luke had a solid debut. With another offseason to work in this role, and a full year of coaching under his belt, Luke should be better equipped to lead Ole Miss. But the big question remains: Is he the right coach to build this program back into a top 25 team in the near future? Or is Luke simply the coach that guides Ole Miss through sanctions?
Final Grade: C
Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2018
16. Josh Heupel, UCF
Previous Job: Missouri Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Heupel inherits high expectations following UCF’s 13-0 season in 2017. However, the former Oklahoma quarterback is stepping into a good situation. The Knights return standout quarterback McKenzie Milton from an offense that averaged 48.2 points a game last fall. Coming off a perfect season, and with a solid core of talent in place, Heupel has a chance to build off the 13-0 record and keep UCF in the top 25 for 2018. However, Heupel has a lot to prove in his first year. The South Dakota native worked at Arizona (2005) and Oklahoma (2006-10) before taking over the play-calling duties in Norman. Under Heupel’s watch, the Sooners finished in the top half of the Big 12 in scoring offense from 2011-14. Heupel was dismissed at Oklahoma following the 2014 season, and the Sooners immediately improved on offense the following year. After averaging 37 points in Big 12 games in 2014, Oklahoma increased that total to 47.2 in '15. Heupel landed at Utah State after being let go in Norman and guided the Aggie offense to an average of 29 points a game in 2015. He was hired on Barry Odom’s staff as Missouri’s offensive coordinator prior to 2016 and was instrumental in helping Drew Lock emerge as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. The Tigers averaged 31.4 points a game in Heupel’s first season calling the plays and increased that total to 37.5 in 2017. While the offense racked up yardage and points, there was a contrast in production against teams with a winning record. Missouri played six games against teams with a winning record in 2017 and averaged only 18 points per contest. Interestingly enough, those were the six teams the Tigers lost to last year. Heupel can clearly push the right buttons on offense, but there was a stark contrast in production in terms of competition. Will Heupel adapt his scheme to fit what Frost did the last two years? Or will Heupel transition UCF to more of a scheme like the one he utilized at Missouri? This is a solid hire, but it’s also far from a slam dunk after the most successful season in school history.
17. Mike Bloomgren, Rice
Previous Job: Stanford Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Rice is one of college football’s toughest coaching jobs. With strict academic standards and a limited recruiting pool of players, it’s not easy to build and maintain a winning program. The Owls have been to just five bowl games since 1962 and six winning seasons since '98. Bloomgren is no stranger to a program with similar limitations after spending the last six years as an assistant at Stanford. The Florida native also has stops on his resume from stints with Division II programs Catawba and Delta State as well as the New York Jets. Bloomgren served as Stanford’s offensive line coach from 2011-17 and also held the title of offensive coordinator from '13-17. Bloomgren and coach David Shaw molded some of the nation’s top rushing attacks during that span, bringing a brand of “intellectual brutality” to the Farm. Expect Bloomgren to bring a similar formula to Rice, with new offensive coordinator Jerry Mack working in elements of the spread. This is a tough job, but Bloomgren’s experience at Stanford should help.
18. Sean Lewis, Kent State
Previous Job: Syracuse Co-Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: First Year
Kent State’s long and winding coaching search eventually concluded with Lewis as the pick to replace Paul Haynes. Lewis has made a fast rise through the assistant ranks and is the nation’s youngest head coach at 31 years old. Prior to Kent State, Lewis worked under Dino Babers first at Bowling Green (2014-15) and then Syracuse (2016-17) and also had a stop at Eastern Illinois (2012-13). Lewis also has previously coached at Akron (2011) as a graduate assistant and served a one-year stint at Nebraska-Omaha in 2010. Lewis was instrumental in helping Bowling Green rank among the nation’s best on offense in 2015 and held the co-offensive title at Syracuse with Mike Lynch. While Lewis doesn’t have much in the way of experience, this is a good upside pick for Kent State. The Golden Flashes have only nine winning seasons since 1962 and two since '90. Lewis has previous MAC experience, runs an offense that should attract talent in Ohio and is hungry to prove himself as a young coach. This may not work out as a home-run hire, but Kent State smartly chose upside (and not a retread) and offense in its search.
19. Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern
Previous Job: Georgia Southern Interim Coach/Assistant (2013-17)
Career Record: 2-4 (Georgia Southern Interim Coach)
Georgia Southern is one of the top programs in the Sun Belt, so it was no surprise the Tyson Summers era ended after a 5-13 record from 2016-17. Lunsford was promoted to interim coach after Summers was dismissed following a 55-20 loss to UMass. Under Lunsford’s direction, the Eagles played better in the second half of the season and finished 2-4 over the final six games. Lunsford has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but his work in a limited stint was a good start to get this program back into contention in the Sun Belt. Prior to taking over as interim head coach, Lunsford had served as an offensive assistant at Georgia Southern since 2013. He also had a stint in Auburn’s personnel department from 2009-13 and stops at Appalachian State, Georgia Military College and a previous stint in Statesboro from 2003-06. Lunsford has surrounded himself with a good staff, including former New Mexico offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse. However, can Lunsford build off last season’s finish as the full-time coach? It’s easy to capture the short-term momentum from a coaching change. Sustaining it and building off that momentum into contending for the Sun Belt title once again is a big challenge.
20. Dana Dimel, UTEP
Previous Job: Kansas State Offensive Coordinator
Career Record: 30-39 (Wyoming 1997-99 and Houston 2000-02)
Dimel is a steady veteran on his third FBS coaching stint. After Joe Tiller left for Purdue in 1997, Dimel was promoted to head coach at Wyoming. The Cowboys went 22-13 in those three seasons but never reached a bowl. Dimel was hired as Houston’s coach prior to 2000 and struggled to get the program pointed in the right direction. The Cougars went 3-8 in his first year but slumped to 0-11 the next season. Dimel’s third season was better, as Houston went 5-7 and 3-5 in Conference USA play. However, that wasn’t enough for Dimel to keep his job. The Ohio native returned to the assistant ranks and spent time at Kansas State and Arizona, before becoming the Wildcats’ play-caller in 2009. Dimel has molded plenty of successful offenses during his time in Manhattan, which also includes a stint from 1987-96. Dimel’s 2012 offense was instrumental in leading K-State to a Big 12 title, as this unit averaged 38.8 points per game. And his 2017 offense finished fifth in the conference by generating 6.14 yards per play. During his stint with the Wildcats, Dimel built his offenses around the run and utilizing the quarterback’s ability to make plays on the ground. That formula isn’t drastically different from former coach Sean Kugler's approach, so the transition will be minimal. Dimel knows how to maximize talent and recruit to a program that isn’t at the top of the conference in terms of resources. However, in a conference that has a handful of young and promising coaches (Lane Kiffin, Seth Littrell and Frank Wilson), UTEP missed an opportunity to bring in a younger coach and generate some buzz outside of El Paso for the program.
21. Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Previous Job: ESPN Analyst
Career Record: 54-74 (Jets 2001-05 and Chiefs 2006-08)
College football’s most intriguing and polarizing hire has to be Edwards at Arizona State. Regardless of what happens on the field this year, there will be plenty of attention on how Edwards performs in Tempe. After an extended playing career in the NFL, Edwards worked as an assistant at San Jose State from 1987-89, which was his last collegiate experience. After the stint with the Spartans, Edwards went to the NFL and worked as an assistant with the Chiefs (1990-95) and Buccaneers (1996-2000). He was hired as the Jets’ head coach prior to the 2001 season and coached five seasons in the AFC East. Edwards guided the Jets to three playoff trips and went 39-41 overall. He was traded to Kansas City prior to the 2006 season and started his tenure with a 9-7 record. However, Edwards’ went 6-26 over the last two years, missing the playoffs both seasons. After his dismissal, Edwards joined ESPN as an analyst where he had been since 2009. Considering Arizona State fired a coach with a winning record (46-32) for Edwards who has no collegiate experience since 1989, this hire is a huge risk for athletic director Ray Anderson. Edwards is known as an excellent motivator, so it’s possible he could make some headway on the recruiting trail. This hire is part of Arizona State’s plan to restructure the football program and the overall leadership model. In this plan, Edwards is slated to be more of a CEO of the program. Credit the Sun Devils for thinking outside of the box and trying something different. However, it’s hard to see this hire exceeding what Graham was able to accomplish in Tempe.