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Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2022

Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans Football

College football's coaching carousel for 2021-22 featured 29 job changes and plenty of big-time moves that will have an impact in the coming years. Lincoln Riley's departure from Oklahoma to USC, and Brian Kelly's decision to leave Notre Dame for LSU topped the list of surprises and also the best moves in the cycle. High marks are also in order for Miami (Mario Cristobal), Florida (Billy Napier), Notre Dame (Marcus Freeman) and New Mexico State (Jerry Kill). 

Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 29 new coaches for 2022: 

Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2022

A+

Lincoln Riley, USC
Previous Job: Head Coach, Oklahoma

USC hiring Riley away from Oklahoma sent shockwaves through college football and aims to set the program back on a path to contend for Pac-12 titles and playoff berths on a regular basis. The Trojans gained a reputation for underachieving and struggling to maximize their recruiting territory in the fertile state of California in recent years. Expect that to change under Riley. The Texas native is one of the top offensive minds in college football and went 55-10 with three trips to the CFB Playoff in his career at Oklahoma.

Brian Kelly, LSU
Previous Job: Head Coach, Notre Dame
Kelly has to adjust to recruiting and life in SEC territory, but the Massachusetts native has won at every level and it likely won’t be long until that track record continues in Baton Rouge. Kelly went 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State from 1991-2003, compiled a 19-16 mark in three years at Central Michigan (2004-06), and guided Cincinnati to a 34-6 record from 2006-09. He’s also the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, winning 113 games since ’10 and guiding the program to trips to the BCS National Championship Game and two treks to the CFB Playoff.

Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2022

A

Mario Cristobal, Miami
Previous Job: Head Coach, Oregon

No coach is better suited to lead the way at Miami than Cristobal. He was born in Miami, played as an offensive tackle with the ‘Canes from 1989-92, and later worked in Coral Gables as an assistant from 2004-06. Also, Cristobal is regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football, which should help Miami win battles in South Florida to keep talent at home. Cristobal went 27-47 in a difficult spot at FIU from 2007-12, and after stints as an assistant at Alabama and Oregon, was promoted to top Duck at the end of the ’17 season. Cristobal went 35-13 and won two Pac-12 titles in Eugene.

Billy Napier, Florida
Previous Job: Head Coach, Louisiana

Napier checks off all of the boxes Florida needed in a coach to replace Dan Mullen. He embraces the non-stop recruiting mentality of the SEC, has a creative vision to build an off-field army of assistants, and spent time as an on-field assistant working under the top two coaches in college football – Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. Napier has spent the last four years as the head coach at Louisiana, guiding the team to a 40-12 mark with four division titles and an outright Sun Belt championship in ’21.

A-

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick didn’t have to look far for a replacement for Brian Kelly. Freeman arrived in South Bend prior to the 2021 season after spending four years coordinating Cincinnati’s defense and quickly garnered support from players for the full-time job. The Bearcats emerged as one of the top defenses in the nation under his watch and ranked first in the AAC in fewest points allowed for three consecutive years (2018-20). In his only season as defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish, the defense held teams to 19.7 points a contest and 5.3 yards per play. Freeman is a top-notch defensive coach and is aiming to elevate Notre Dame’s place on the recruiting trail. This is a big-time job for a first-year coach, but he’s ready for this task.

Related: College Football's Top Spring QB Battles for 2022

Jerry Kill, New Mexico State
Previous Job: Interim Head Coach, TCU

New Mexico State is one of the toughest jobs in college football, but the program has the right coach to turn its on-field fortunes around. Kill has been a winning head coach at five programs from different levels of competition. He compiled a 38-14 record at Saginaw Valley State (1994-98), went 11-11 at Emporia State (1999-00), and 55-32 (2001-07) before landing at Northern Illinois. The Huskies went 23-16 with a MAC West title under Kill, which he parlayed into the top spot at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers went 3-9 in Kill’s first season but won at least six games in each of the next three years, including 16 from 2013-14. Health issues forced Kill to step down during the ’15 season, forcing him to spend the bulk of the last six years in off-field roles. However, Kill worked as TCU’s interim coach for the final four games of the '21 campaign and guided the team to a 2-2 mark. Kill’s track record of building winning programs is the right fit at the right time for New Mexico State.

Joe Moorhead, Akron
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Oregon

It’s a major coup for Akron to land Moorhead. The Pittsburgh native previously worked here from 2004-08 as an assistant and arrives after spending the last two seasons coordinating Oregon’s offense after going 14-12 at Mississippi State (2018-19) and 38-13 at Fordham (2012-15). Moorhead also had a successful stint as Penn State’s offensive coordinator, helping to revitalize a unit that averaged 23.2 points a game prior to his arrival to 41.1 in his final year. Programs in the MAC can turn things around quickly with the right coach. Moorhead should be able to win a lot of games at Akron.

Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Venables was regarded as the top defensive coordinator in college football at Clemson and was in no in rush to take a head-coaching job. However, the opportunity to return to Norman where he worked under Bob Stoops from 1999-2011 was simply too enticing. Under Venables’ watch, Clemson ranked inside of the top 10 nationally in scoring defense in six out of the last eight years. Also, the Tigers thrived at creating havoc around the line of scrimmage – an area the Sooners have to focus on improving with the pending move to the SEC.

Related: Big 12 Football Early QB Preview and Power Rankings for 2022

Jay Norvell, Colorado State
Previous Job: Head Coach, Nevada

Intraconference coaching changes in the Group of 5 ranks are rare, but that’s exactly the move Norvell made after spending five years at Nevada. Although the move is rare, it’s a change that makes sense for Norvell. Colorado State has a bigger budget, newer stadium, more resources, and is generally a better job than the one in Reno. Norvell was a long-time assistant with stops at Wisconsin, Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas among others, before becoming the head coach for the Wolf Pack in ’17. Nevada went 3-9 in Norvell’s debut but proceeded to win at least seven games in each of the next four years, finishing with a 33-26 mark.

Kalen DeBoer, Washington
Previous Job: Head Coach, Fresno State

DeBoer checks off two important boxes Washington needed after Jimmy Lake’s tenure ended after two years. The South Dakota native has a track record of producing successful offenses, and he’s a proven head coach at different levels of competition. DeBoer went 67-3 and won three NAIA championships as the head coach at Sioux Falls from 2005-09. After stints as an offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois (2010-13), Eastern Michigan (2014-16), Fresno State (2017-18), and Indiana (2019), DeBoer landed his first FBS head-coaching job. Fresno State went 3-3 in the abbreviated ’20 campaign but finished 9-3 behind an offense that averaged 33.4 points a game last fall. DeBoer has to prove he can recruit at a high level in the Pac-12, but there’s a lot to like about this hire.

B+

Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
Previous Job: No On-Field CFB Role in 2021

After a two-year absence, Tedford is back on the sidelines at Fresno State. The California native guided the Bulldogs to a 26-14 record and a Mountain West title (’18) from 2017-19 but was forced to step down due to health reasons. Tedford – a former Fresno State quarterback – previously went 82-57 as California’s head coach from 2002-12 and has just three losing records in 14 years at the FBS level. With quarterback Jake Haener returning to Fresno in ‘22, Tedford’s Bulldogs can push for the Mountain West title this fall.

Sonny Dykes, TCU
Previous Job: Head Coach, SMU
Dykes didn’t have to move far from his last job (SMU) to his new home (TCU). The Texas native thrived at blending recruiting and managing the transfer portal with the Mustangs, and it’s a formula that should easily translate to Fort Worth. Dykes went 30-18 as the head coach at SMU, guiding the team to a 10-3 mark in 2019 and at least seven wins in each of the last three years. He previously went 19-30 at California (2013-16) and 22-15 at Louisiana Tech (2010-12). Dykes’ ability to produce high-powered offenses and ties throughout the state of Texas should be an excellent fit at TCU.

Related: Ranking the Big 12 Transfer Classes for 2022

Mike MacIntyre, FIU
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Memphis

MacIntyre has experience in turning around FBS programs, which is something FIU desperately needs with just four winning records since 2004 and after last year’s 1-11 season. After going 1-12 at San Jose State in ’10, the Spartans went 15-9 over the next two years, including 10 regular-season victories in ’12. MacIntyre inherited a Colorado program coming off a 4-21 mark from 2011-12 but brought steady improvement, which culminated in a 10-4 season and a Pac-12 South title in ’16. MacIntyre was dismissed in Boulder after going 10-13 from 2017-18 and has spent three years as an assistant at Ole Miss and Memphis.

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Tony Elliott, Virginia
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Similar to his former colleague Brent Venables, Elliott was patient in making the jump from rising star coordinator to first-time head coach. The California native played at Clemson from 2000-03 and later joined the staff in ’11 after stints at South Carolina State and Furman. Elliott tutored running backs from 2011-14 before becoming the co-offensive coordinator and full-time play-caller in ’15. The Tigers averaged at least 33 points a game and ranked inside of the ACC in scoring offense every year from 2015-20, but regressed significantly last season, averaging only 24.5 points per contest in ACC play. Elliott’s background as a good recruiter is a huge plus in a talent-filled state like Virginia.

Jon Sumrall, Troy
Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, Kentucky
Sumrall was considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and landing the top spot at Troy is a return home for the Alabama native. He previously worked as an assistant with the Trojans from 2015-17 under Neal Brown and has other stops on staffs at San Diego, Tulane and Ole Miss before the last three years with the Wildcats. This is Sumrall’s first chance to be an FBS head coach, but this is a strong hire for Troy given his background in the state, recruiting ties, and track record on defense.

Mike Elko, Duke
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M

Patience is required for Elko to rebuild at one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football. The New Jersey native has spent the last four years helping to mold Texas A&M’s defense into one of the best in college football, which came after a one-year stint at Notre Dame (2017) and three at Wake Forest (2014-16). Elko has worked as a defensive coordinator every year since ’06 at the FCS or FBS level. He’s never been a head coach before but experience as an assistant at a variety of programs and levels have prepared him for this opportunity.

Related: Early ACC QB Preview and 2022 Power Rankings

B

Dan Lanning, Oregon
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Georgia

Lanning has been considered a rising star in college football, so it’s no surprise he rapidly ascended through the assistant ranks and lands a big-time job at the age of 35. After spending a year as a graduate assistant in 2015 under Nick Saban at Alabama, Lanning spent two seasons as an assistant at Memphis, followed by four years at Georgia. The last three were as defensive coordinator, helping the Bulldogs build one of the most dominant defenses of the CFB Playoff era by holding teams to just 10.2 points a game last season while winning a national title. Lanning’s SEC background will help Oregon continue to recruit nationally, which is crucial for Oregon to compete for the Pac-12 title and national championship.

Rhett Lashlee, SMU
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Miami

Lashlee marks the fourth consecutive coaching hire to come from an offensive background at SMU. He should also provide a relatively seamless transition from the last staff, as Lashlee worked under Sonny Dykes in Dallas from 2018-19. Under Lashlee’s watch, SMU averaged more than 30 points a game in both seasons, including a 41.8 mark in ’19. He left to become the play-caller at Miami and guided the offense to an average of over 30 points a game in both seasons. Lashlee has never been a head coach before, but he’s garnered valuable experience working at Arkansas State, Auburn and UConn in addition to his other stops at SMU and Miami.

B-

Brent Pry, Virginia Tech
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Penn State

Winning with defense and a hard-nosed brand of football were hallmarks of the Frank Beamer era in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech hopes to rekindle some of that magic with Pry at the helm. The Pennsylvania native knows the program well from a three-year stint as a graduate assistant under Beamer and longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster from 1995-97. Since then, Pry has spent time in a variety of roles, including stops at Western Carolina, Louisiana, Memphis and Georgia Southern before landing on James Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt. He followed Franklin to Penn State in ’14 and has helped mold some of the nation’s top defenses in Happy Valley. Pry’s group has ranked inside of the top five in the Big Ten in fewest yards per play allowed every year since ’16 and has excelled at finding ways to create havoc around the line of scrimmage. Pry’s familiarity with the region is good for recruiting, but he’s also learning on the job as a first-time head coach.

Related: Ranking the ACC Transfer Classes for 2022

Joey McGuire, Texas Tech
Previous Job: Outside Linebackers Coach, Baylor

McGuire is a bit of an outside-the-box hire but also makes a ton of sense for Texas Tech. The Texas native has extensive ties to the state, including a 141-42 record as Cedar Hill High School’s head coach from 2003-16. McGuire landed his first collegiate coaching opportunity at Baylor in ’17 and spent time tutoring tight ends, defensive ends and linebackers over the next five years. Although McGuire doesn’t have any FBS head-coaching experience, his ties to the state of Texas will pay off in recruiting, and he’s assembled a top-notch staff in Lubbock.

Jake Dickert, Washington State
Previous Job: Interim Head Coach, Washington State

A chaotic midseason firing of Nick Rolovich pushed Dickert into the interim role at Washington State last year. Despite all of the drama and changes to the staff, Dickert kept the Cougars on track, finishing 3-3 over the final six games. That mark, bolstered by a 40-13 win over rival Washington, was enough for Dickert to earn the full-time job. Dickert has no previous experience as a head coach but has spent time at a handful of jobs as an assistant, including North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Wyoming. Under his watch, Washington State’s defense showed marked improvement. After allowing 38.5 points a game in ’20, the Cougars surrendered only 24.2 in ’21. Maintaining the momentum from the interim role into the full-time position is a big challenge for Dickert.

Related: Ranking the Pac-12 Transfer Classes for 2022

Sonny Cumbie, Louisiana Tech
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator and Interim Head Coach, Texas Tech

Cumbie is an up-and-coming coach with the right profile to help Louisiana Tech elevate its program to the next level in the revamped Conference USA. He garnered valuable experience as a head coach last fall, serving in an interim role at Texas Tech after Matt Wells was dismissed. Cumbie guided the team to a 2-3 record over the final five games, including a victory over Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. The former Texas Tech quarterback has a deep background in the Air Raid and prior to the stint in ’21, also spent time as an assistant in Lubbock from 2011-13. He also worked for Gary Patterson at TCU from 2017-20.

Don Brown, UMass
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Arizona

Dr. Blitz returns to his home state of Massachusetts for a second stint in charge of the Minutemen. The long-time assistant spent 2021 as Arizona’s defensive coordinator after working from 2016-20 calling the plays for Michigan’s defense. Brown went 43-19 at UMass from 2004-08, including a No. 2 ranking and appearance in the FCS title game in ’06. Other stops during Brown’s career include stints as an assistant at Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Maryland, UConn and Boston College. He also went 25-6 as the head coach at Plymouth State (1993-95) and 27-20 at Northeastern (2000-03). Brown is one of the top defensive minds in college football and is plenty familiar with the Northeast. UMass is a tough job and faces a massive rebuilding effort after winning three games over the last three games. Brown knows the landscape and has already won before here. This is a solid hire.

Timmy Chang, Hawaii
Previous Job: Wide Receivers Coach, Colorado State

Hawaii is a unique job with plenty of challenges, so hiring a coach with Chang’s background is a perfect fit to rebuild a culture that deteriorated under Todd Graham the last two seasons. Chang is a native of Honolulu, had a record-setting career as the quarterback at Hawaii, and has spent the last five years working under Jay Norvell at Nevada and for a few months at Colorado State. He also had stints at Jackson State (2014-15) and Emory & Henry (’16) as an offensive coordinator. Chang is young (40), has no previous head-coaching experience, and may need some time to rebuild his alma mater with just five returning starters in place for ’22.

C+

Jim Mora, UConn
Previous Job: Head Coach (2017), UCLA
UConn hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 and is just 4-32 over its last three years of action. It’s no secret a major rebuild is in store for the Huskies, and while Mora has been out of coaching since ’17 and doesn’t have any ties to the East Coast, his previous head-coaching experience and ability to identify talent should pay off here. The California native worked in the NFL from 1986-2009, including stints as a head coach with the Falcons (2004-06) and Seahawks ('09). Mora’s only on-field experience at the collegiate level was at UCLA from 2012-17, compiling a 46-30 mark as head coach over six years. The Bruins won at least eight games in four of those seasons, including 20 victories from 2013-14.

C

Clay Helton, Georgia Southern
Previous Job: Head Coach, USC

In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much bigger than Georgia Southern hiring the former USC coach. However, it’s also a curious decision. As a Florida native and stints as an assistant at Duke, Houston and Memphis, Helton knows the landscape and recruiting territory. However, his tenure at USC was marred by underachievement, as the Trojans went 46-24 under his watch. After going 21-6 from 2016-17, the program went 19-14 from ’18 until his dismissal. Additionally, Helton’s background on offense is also a strange fit for a program with a track record of running the option.

Stan Drayton, Temple
Previous Job: Running Backs Coach, Texas

Drayton – a long-time assistant and regarded as one of the top running back coaches in college football – finally gets a chance to run his own program. The Ohio native knows the state of Pennsylvania well after a playing career at Allegheny College and a stint as an assistant at Villanova (1996-99). Drayton has no experience as a FBS head coach, but his resume is strong with stops at Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio State, Texas and in the NFL with the Bears and Packers. Also, he’s regarded for his work on the recruiting trail, which should help Temple battle for prospects in a talent-rich state.

Ken Wilson, Nevada
Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, Oregon

Wilson is a first-time head coach, but he has extensive ties to Nevada, including experience as an assistant under College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault. From 1989-98, Wilson served in a handful of roles for the Wolf Pack’s defense, including the final three as defensive coordinator. After a stint in Nevada’s athletic department (1999-2003), he returned to work on the sidelines under Ault (2004-12) and later spent time at Washington State (2013-18) and Oregon (2019-21). Wilson’s familiarity and experience on the West Coast should make him a good fit. Also, hiring a coach (Jay Norvell) without any previous experience as a head coach worked out well for Nevada last time.

Michael Desormeaux, Louisiana
Previous Job: Co-Offensive Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach, Louisiana

Billy Napier guided Louisiana to 33 wins and a Sun Belt title from 2019-21, so Desormeaux has big shoes to fill at his alma mater. The former Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback worked in the high school ranks from 2010-12 before returning to Lafayette as an assistant in ’16. He remained in that role when Napier arrived (’18) and was promoted to co-offensive coordinator last year. Desormeaux’s tenure is also off to a good start after beating Marshall in the New Orleans Bowl. However, maintaining the current level of success as a first-time head coach won’t be easy.

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