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Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2020

Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles Football

Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles Football

College football’s 2019-20 coaching carousel featured 24 changes, including moves at Florida State, Ole Miss, Washington State, Colorado and Arkansas. With the carousel completed and all 24 jobs filled, it's time to rank and grade the new hires and see how they fit with their new programs. Florida State's hire of Mike Norvell takes the top spot in Athlon's grades, but Ole Miss (Lane Kiffin), Washington State (Nick Rolovich) and Mississippi State (Mike Leach) aren't far behind. Washington's Jimmy Lake, Rutgers' Greg Schiano and Baylor's Dave Aranda highlight the next tier of hires for the 2019-20 cycle. Fresno State (Kalen DeBoer) and USF (Jeff Scott) ranked the highest among teams making a coaching move in the Group of 5 conferences.

Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 24 new coaches for 2020: 

Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2020

1. Mike Norvell, Florida State

Previous Job: Head Coach, Memphis

Florida State has slipped from the ranks of the nation’s elite with an 18-20 mark over the last three years. Norvell has the tough assignment of elevating the program back to the top of the ACC, but after building a reputation as a rising star coordinator, he proved his ability to lead a program at Memphis. Under Norvell’s watch, the Tigers went 38-15 from 2016-19. Memphis claimed three consecutive AAC West titles from 2017-19 and capped Norvell’s tenure with a 12-1 mark, a conference title and a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2019. Prior to his stint at Memphis, Norvell spent time as an assistant at Tulsa and worked as an offensive coordinator at Pitt and Arizona State. Norvell will need time to elevate Florida State back into contention for the ACC title, but the Texas native has the right background and big-picture vision on how to build a program to make that happen.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Final Grade: A

2. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

Previous Job: Head Coach, FAU

Kiffin’s stints as a head coach at Tennessee and USC didn’t end well, but the 44-year-old appears to be matured and more seasoned for his second stint in the SEC. After a 5-15 run with the Raiders from 2007-09, Kiffin finished 7-6 in a controversy-filled year at Tennessee. USC started 18-7 under Kiffin (2010-11) but regressed to 10-8 over its next 18 games, resulting in his dismissal. He wasn’t out of work long, as Nick Saban hired him to direct Alabama’s offense in 2014. The Crimson Tide averaged 35 or more points every year from 2014-16 and led the SEC with a 38.8 mark in ’16. The success at Alabama helped Kiffin land at FAU in 2017. The Owls went 26-13 and won two Conference USA titles under Kiffin’s direction from 2017-19. Kiffin’s recruiting ability and background on offense have never been in question. If he can avoid the mistakes that surrounded his tenure at Tennessee and USC, this will be a home-run hire for Ole Miss.

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Final Grade: A

3. Nick Rolovich, Washington State

Previous Job: Head Coach, Hawaii

A head coach with a fun personality and a high-powered offense sounds a lot like former Washington State coach Mike Leach, but that’s also the best way to describe Rolovich. The former Hawaii quarterback landed his first on-field coaching job at City College of San Francisco from 2006-07 and returned to Honolulu to coach quarterbacks (2008-09) and work as the team’s offensive coordinator (2010-11). Rolovich later spent four years in the play-caller role at Nevada before becoming Hawaii’s head coach in 2016. The Rainbow Warriors won at least seven games three times over Rolovich’s four years at the helm. That stretch includes a 10-5 mark with the Mountain West’s West Division title in 2019. Washington State is one of the Pac-12’s toughest jobs, but Rolovich’s experience from another difficult job (Hawaii) and his offensive background should keep the Cougars interesting (and very relevant) in the Pac-12.

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Final Grade: A

4. Mike Leach, Mississippi State

Previous Job: Head Coach, Washington State

Leach’s arrival in Starkville only adds intrigue to the SEC’s rugged West Division. The Pirate has thrived at tough jobs like Texas Tech and Washington State, where he guided the programs to a combined mark of 139-90 over 18 seasons. The Red Raiders never missed a bowl under Leach, with the best year coming in 2008 at 11-2 overall. The Cougars went 12-25 in Leach’s first three seasons but posted at least eight victories in four out of the final five years. Leach’s last stint in the SEC came at Kentucky from 1997-98 as the program’s offensive coordinator, and the league has changed significantly since that stint. Leach’s pass-happy offenses will be tested against the defenses in the West Division, but he’s proven he can win consistently at tough jobs.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

Final Grade: A

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2020

5. Jimmy Lake, Washington

Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator, Washington

Chris Petersen leaves big shoes to fill, but Lake seems up to the task of keeping Washington among the top programs in the Pac-12. The California native started his coaching career at his alma mater Eastern Washington in 2000 and moved through the assistant ranks with stops at Washington, Montana State and in the NFL with the Buccaneers and Lions before landing on Petersen’s staff at Boise State in 2012. Lake followed Petersen to Seattle in 2014 and was later promoted to defensive play-caller in '18. The Huskies finished first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense that year, followed by a No. 3 finish in 2019. In addition to coordinating some of the Pac-12’s top defenses, Lake has thrived in developing standout defensive backs and with reeling in talent on the recruiting trail. Lake will put his own stamp on the program, but ensuring a seamless transition and continuity from the Petersen era should work out well for Washington.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

Final Grade: A-

6. Greg Schiano, Rutgers

Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

Rutgers is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs, but the program hopes Schiano's second stint is just as successful as the first. The Scarlet Knights won only 11 games in the five years prior to Schiano’s arrival in 2001. After starting his tenure with four losing seasons, Schiano guided Rutgers to six bowl games over the next seven years. During that run, Schiano tied the single-season record for most wins (11) and finished No. 12 nationally in 2006. Schiano’s stint as an NFL head coach in Tampa Bay didn’t go well and he spent the 2019 campaign out of football after a three-year run at Ohio State. However, Schiano’s extensive ties throughout the state of New Jersey will pay off on the recruiting trail, and this is the right hire for a program that won only nine games over the last four years.

College football rankings: Rutgers

Final Grade: A-

7. Dave Aranda, Baylor

Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, LSU

Aranda was regarded as a rising star during stints as a defensive coordinator at Utah State, Wisconsin and LSU and patiently waited to find the right opportunity for his first head-coaching gig. The California native landed in a good spot at Baylor, inheriting a program that won 18 games under Matt Rhule the last two seasons. Aranda’s defenses at LSU never finished a year allowing more than 22 points a contest, and the late improvement in the 2019 unit was instrumental to the program’s run to a national championship. Additionally, his 2015 unit at Wisconsin finished first nationally in scoring defense (13.7 ppg allowed). The lack of head-coaching experience is the only blemish on Aranda’s resume, but he hired a strong staff to help his transition to the top spot in 2020. Fun fact: Aranda was a teammate to Texas head coach Tom Herman at Cal Lutheran.

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Final Grade: A-

8. Jeff Hafley, Boston College

Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

After working as an assistant in the NFL for a combined seven seasons with the Buccaneers, Browns and 49ers, Hafley returned to the collegiate level last fall and helped Ohio State’s defense rebound after a disappointing performance in 2018. The Buckeyes led the Big Ten by holding teams to 13.7 points a game, while Hafley’s position of expertise (the secondary) allowed only nine scores through the air. Prior to the one-year stint at Ohio State, Hafley had other stops as an assistant at the collegiate level from Pitt (2006-10) and Rutgers (2011). Hafley is a first-time head coach, but his background as a good recruiter and ties to the area as a New Jersey native are a plus for Boston College.

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Final Grade: A-

9. Kalen DeBoer, Fresno State

Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Indiana

DeBoer previously worked at Fresno State from 2017-18 as the offensive coordinator under Jeff Tedford. The Bulldogs ranked near the top of the Mountain West in scoring in 2018, and DeBoer’s offenses were a big reason why the program won 22 games and a Mountain West title over that two-year window. The South Dakota native worked as Indiana’s offensive coordinator in 2019 and guided the unit to an average of 31.8 points a game. DeBoer also worked as the play-caller at Eastern Michigan from 2014-16 and at Southern Illinois (2010-13). DeBoer’s only previous experience as a head coach came at the NAIA level at Sioux Falls. From 2005-09, the Cougars went 67-3 and won three NAIA championships under DeBoer’s direction.

College Football Rankings: Fresno State

Final Grade: A-

Related: College Football's Top 20 Teams on the Rise for 2020

10. Jeff Scott, USF

Previous Job: Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson

Scott was a key cog in Clemson’s recent success, working as the program’s receivers coach since 2008 and eventually adding the co-offensive coordinator title in ’15. Scott thrived on the recruiting trail and developed standout receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Tee Higgins at his alma mater. His 12 years working under Dabo Swinney have prepared him for this opportunity and the ties and recruiting connections to the state as a Florida native should help to ease the transition. Scott has never been a head coach, but all signs suggest he’s the right coach to tap into USF’s potential as a program.

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Final Grade: A-

11. Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri

Previous Job: Head Coach, Appalachian State

Drinkwitz took over a loaded team from Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State and parlayed that into a 12-1 record and a sizable contract at Missouri. The terrain in the SEC is significantly tougher, but Drinkwitz has built a quality resume in a short amount of time. The Arkansas native landed his first on-field coaching gig at the FBS level 2012 at Arkansas State. Drinkwitz spent two years with the Red Wolves before moving to Boise State and called the plays for a group that led the Mountain West in scoring (39.1 ppg) in 2015. He spent the next three years as the play-caller at NC State, guiding the offense to an average of over 30 points a game from 2017-18. There’s plenty of risk, but Drinkwitz is a coach on the rise and should immediately help a Missouri offense that averaged only 25.3 points a contest in 2019.

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Final Grade: B+

12. Danny Gonzales, New Mexico

Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Arizona State

In terms of fit, it doesn’t get much better than Gonzales at New Mexico. The Albuquerque native played from 1994-98 with the Lobos and later spent time as an assistant there under Rocky Long from 1999-2008. Gonzales followed Long to San Diego State in 2011 and remained with the Aztecs through the ’17 season. Herm Edwards hired Gonzales as part of his first staff in Tempe, and the former Lobo’s 3-3-5 scheme made an instant impact at Arizona State. The Sun Devils allowed 32.8 points a game in the year prior to Gonzales’ arrival. However, that number dropped to 25.5 in 2018 and 22.4 in ’19. This is Gonzales’ first chance to be a head coach at the FBS level, but he certainly knows what it takes to win at New Mexico. This looks like a great hire for a program that has just two winning seasons since 2008.

College Football Rankings: New Mexico

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Final Grade: B+

13. Mel Tucker, Michigan State

Previous Job: Head Coach, Colorado

Michigan State was put into a difficult spot in the coaching carousel when Mark Dantonio decided to retire in early February. As a result, the Spartans had to pay big-time money to lure Tucker to East Lansing after one year at Colorado. During his only season with the Buffaloes, Tucker guided the program to a 5-7 mark but seemed to have the program trending in the right direction with a solid recruiting haul for the 2020 class. Tucker’s ties to Ohio and recruiting prowess were of interest to Michigan State, especially in a division that features Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. Tucker also has Big Ten experience from working under Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2001-04 and had stints with Nick Saban at LSU (2000) and Alabama (2015).

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

Final Grade: B

14. Sam Pittman, Arkansas

Previous Job: Offensive Line Coach, Georgia

After an extensive coaching search, Arkansas eventually settled on Pittman to guide a program that hasn’t won an SEC game since Oct. 28, 2017. Pittman is widely regarded as one of the top offensive line coaches in college football and previously worked at Arkansas from 2013-15 in that capacity. The Oklahoma native also worked in the trenches for nine FBS programs, including Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Pittman’s ability to develop talent up front isn’t in question, but he hasn’t been a head coach since 1992 when he went 11-9-1 at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. However, Arkansas provided a hefty budget for assistants, ensuring Pittman could hire good coordinators and serve as the program CEO. Considering the scope of the rebuilding project, Pittman needs a couple of years to turn things around in Fayetteville.

College football rankings: Arkansas

Final Grade: B-

Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2020

15. Todd Graham, Hawaii

Previous Job: Head Coach, Arizona State

Hawaii is a unique job that also comes with its share of challenges. Having a head coach with ties to the state and an understanding of the culture are a plus, so it was a little surprising to see Graham picked as the replacement for Nick Rolovich. The Texas native has no previous experience in Hawaii but has been a successful FBS coach at four different jobs. Graham worked as an assistant at West Virginia (2001-02) and Tulsa (2003-05) before taking over as the head coach at Rice in 2006. He guided the Owls to a 7-6 mark that year – a six-game jump from the previous season. Graham left Rice after one year to take over at Tulsa in 2007. The Golden Hurricane won at least 10 games in three out of Graham’s four seasons, finishing with a 36-17 overall mark. He spent one year at Pitt (2011) and finished 6-6 before bolting out west to take over at Arizona State. Graham went 46-32 with four winning seasons and a Pac-12 South title in his six years in Tempe. Additionally, while Graham’s background is on defense, his teams have produced high-powered offenses – a staple of the Hawaii program in recent years.

College Football Rankings: Hawaii

Final Grade: B-

16. Willie Taggart, FAU

Previous Job: Head Coach, Florida State

Taggart is only 43 years old, but FAU will be his fifth head-coaching job at the FBS level. The Florida native wasn’t out of work for long after his dismissal at Florida State and inherits a FAU program that won two out of the last three Conference USA titles under Lane Kiffin. Taggart took over WKU in 2010, and after a 2-10 finish that year, proceeded to guide the Hilltoppers to a 14-10 mark over the next two years. After a 6-18 start to his tenure at USF, Taggart finished 18-7. Additionally, he went 7-5 in his only season at Oregon (2017). Things didn’t work out for Taggart at his dream job, but this seems like a good fit and an opportunity to rebound.

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Final Grade: B-

17. Brady Hoke, San Diego State

Previous Job: Defensive Line Coach, San Diego State

San Diego State didn’t have to look far to find its next coach after Rocky Long’s surprise retirement. Hoke joined Long’s staff as defensive line coach prior to 2019, returning to the program he led as head coach from 2009-10. The Aztecs went 4-8 in Hoke’s first year but improved to 9-4 the following season. Unlike last time, Hoke isn’t inheriting a rebuilding project. San Diego State has made a bowl game in 10 consecutive years and won at least 10 games in four out of the last five seasons. In addition to his previous stint at San Diego State, Hoke went 34-38 as Ball State’s coach from 2003-08 and finished 31-20 at Michigan over four years (2011-14).

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Final Grade: B-

18. Ricky Rahne, Old Dominion

Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Penn State

The 2020 season will mark Old Dominion’s seventh at the FBS level. Despite having just one winning record since making the jump in 2014, Rahne is inheriting a job with potential. The program just completed a stadium renovation prior to the 2019 season and Virginia provides fertile recruiting territory. Rahne comes to Norfolk under a high recommendation from Penn State coach James Franklin. The two coaches worked together at Kansas State (2006-07), Vanderbilt (2011-13), and at Penn State (2014-19). Rahne was promoted to offensive coordinator in Happy Valley after Joe Moorhead left to take over at Mississippi State. The Nittany Lions averaged 6.1 yards a play and over 33 points a contest in both of Rahne’s years as the play-caller. Rahne is a first-time head coach, but his background on offense should play well in Conference USA.

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Final Grade: B-

19. Shawn Clark, Appalachian State

Previous Job: Offensive Line Coach, Appalachian State

Clark is Appalachian State’s third head coach in three years and inherits high expectations after the Mountaineers have won 24 games and two Sun Belt titles over the last two seasons. However, those expectations won’t come as a surprise for Clark. The West Virginia native played at Appalachian State from 1994-98 and joined Scott Satterfield’s staff in 2016 as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. After three years under Satterfield, Clark was retained by Eli Drinkwitz to coach the program’s offensive line last season. The Mountaineers have been strong in the trenches under Clark’s direction, as the offense ranked first or second in the Sun Belt in rushing offense in three out of the last four years. Clark also spent time as an offensive line coach at Eastern Kentucky (2003-08), Purdue (2009-12), and Kent State (2013-15). He’s off to a good start as Appalachian State’s head coach, guiding the program to a bowl win over UAB in New Orleans last season.

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Final Grade: B-

Related: Early College Football Top 25 for 2020

20. Ryan Silverfield, Memphis

Previous Job: Offensive Line Coach, Memphis

Memphis hit a home run with its last two hires (Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell), so the program opted for continuity by promoting Silverfield to the top spot in December. Silverfield joined Norvell’s staff in 2016 and tutored the offensive line over the last four years. The Tigers were solid up front under Silverfield’s watch, with one player earning all-conference honors in each of the last three seasons. The Jacksonville, Florida, native also has stints on his resume as a graduate assistant at UCF (2006-07), offensive consultant at Toledo (2014), analyst at Arizona State (2015), and in the NFL with the Vikings (2008-13) and Lions (2015). Even though Memphis lost the Cotton Bowl to Penn State, Silverfield had a good showing in his first game on the sidelines and built a quality staff for 2020. There’s a lot of unknown here, but the Tigers should be fine in the short term as Silverfield gets more comfortable as head coach.

College Football Rankings: Memphis Football

Final Grade: B-

21. Marcus Arroyo, UNLV

Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Oregon

With Arroyo replacing Tony Sanchez and a move to a new, shared stadium with the Raiders, UNLV is set to embark on a fresh chapter for its football program. Arroyo has never been a head coach before, but he’s gathered experience from stints as the offensive coordinator at San Jose State, Wyoming, Southern Miss and Oregon, while also making stops as an assistant at Oklahoma State, California and in the NFL with the Buccaneers. As a play-caller from 2007-08 at San Jose State and '09-10 at Wyoming, Arroyo’s offenses never finished above 103rd nationally in scoring. However, Oregon averaged over 34 points a game under his watch from 2018-19. The former San Jose State quarterback’s rebuilding effort was bolstered by inking the No. 2 class in the Mountain West for 2020.

College football rankings: UNLV

Grade: B-

22. Jeff Traylor, UTSA

Previous Job: Running Backs Coach, Arkansas

With access to fertile recruiting territory and a passionate fanbase, UTSA is a job with plenty of upside in Conference USA. The Roadrunners hope Traylor’s recruiting acumen and connections throughout the state are the right mix to help the program take a step forward in its ninth year at the FBS level. Traylor spent 15 years as the head coach at Gilmer High School from 2000-14 and went 175-26 and guided the team to five state titles. Charlie Strong hired Traylor to coach tight ends and special teams at Texas in 2015, and he remained on staff tutoring receivers in ’16 under Tom Herman. Traylor coached running backs at SMU in 2017 and followed Chad Morris to Arkansas the following year in the same capacity. Former coach Frank Wilson had no trouble pulling in talent, and Traylor should continue do well on the recruiting trail. However, Traylor’s staff has to do a better job developing offenses and molding the talent it finds in the high school ranks.

College Football Rankings: UTSA

Grade: C

23. Steve Addazio, Colorado State

Previous Job: Head Coach, Boston College

Former Florida and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was involved in helping Colorado State find its next coach, so it was no surprise one of his former assistants landed the job. Addazio has never coached west of Indiana and isn’t the most exciting hire for one of the better jobs in the Mountain West. He landed his first on-field role as an assistant at Syracuse in 1995 and eventually made stops at Notre Dame (1999-01), Indiana (2002-04) and Florida (2005-10) before becoming Temple’s head coach in 2011. Addazio spent just two years (2011-12) with the Owls, recording a 13-11 mark before taking over at Boston College. The Eagles never won more than seven games under Addazio but had only one season of fewer than six. Addazio’s overall mark as a head coach is 57-55.

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Grade: C

24. Karl Dorrell, Colorado

Previous Job: Wide Receivers Coach, Miami Dolphins

Mel Tucker’s decision to leave for Michigan State in mid-February left Colorado in a tough spot. While the pool of interested candidates would be deeper in December, the selection of Dorrell came as a surprise. The California native has previous ties to the program after a two-year stint as the receivers coach under Bill McCartney (1992-93) and a four-season run as Rick Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator (1995-98). Dorrell’s only previous stint as a head coach took place from 2003-07 at UCLA. The Bruins went 35-27 and went to bowl games in all five years of Dorrell’s tenure. However, only one season (2005) resulted in more than seven wins (10-2). Dorrell also has a wealth of experience at the NFL level, including stints with the Broncos (2000-02), Texans (2012-13), Jets (2015-18) and Dolphins (2008-11, '19). His last stop at the collegiate level came in 2014 as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator. The Commodores averaged 17.2 points a game that season. Dorrell is Colorado’s third coach in three years.

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Grade: C-

(Top photo courtesy of @FSUFootball)