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Grading College Football's New Coaches for 2012


By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

When the 2012 season kicks off, 27 teams will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. Athlon examines each hire and grades the moves by each school. Grading new hires is never an exact science, but one can get a good snapshot of a coach by looking at his resume and previous experience. 

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Best BCS Coaching Hires

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh – Chryst lacks head coaching experience, but this is still one of the top hires of the offseason. He served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11, and has made other stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Under Chryst’s direction, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring offense in each of the last three seasons. For a team that needs stability – after having three head coaches over the last year – and a much-needed jolt on offense, Chryst seems to be a perfect hire for Pittsburgh.

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Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – For the first time since 1946, the Rebels are coming off a season with just two victories. And the SEC isn’t getting any easier, especially with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Freeze was an important hire for Ole Miss, and while the track record is limited, he has proven to be a winner at each stop. He led Lambuth to a 20-5 record from 2008-09 and recorded a 10-2 mark as Arkansas State’s head coach in 2011. Freeze has a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s young (42), energetic and a bright offensive mind. The only downside in Freeze’s short tenure was not assembling a top-notch coaching staff.

Mike Leach, Washington State – In 10 years at Texas Tech, Leach led the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record, 10 bowl appearances and some of the top passing attacks in the nation. Leach had a rocky end to his tenure in Lubbock – largely not his fault – but don’t expect that to have any impact on his time at Washington State. The Cougars showed small progress under previous coach Paul Wulff, and the pieces are in place for Leach to lead this team to a bowl game in 2012. Out of the 27 new coaching hires for 2012, Leach landing at Washington State has to be considered one of the best fits for any new coach.

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Urban Meyer, Ohio State – Perfect fit. Terrific hire. That’s the easy way to sum up Meyer landing at Ohio State. Health issues prompted Meyer to leave Florida, but after a year away, he appears to be refreshed and ready to go once again. The Buckeyes won’t be eligible to compete for the Big Ten title in 2012, but Meyer is stockpiling talent for a run at the national title in 2013. Expect the Buckeyes to show improvement in the win column in 2012, and it won’t be long until Meyer has a chance to build upon the two national championships he earned while at Florida.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona – The easy way to sum up Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan: Good coach, bad fit. After compiling a 60-26 record in seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez posted a 15-22 mark in three years with the Wolverines. While his teams improved their win total by two games each season, it wasn’t enough to keep Rodriguez around in Ann Arbor. Rodriguez needs time to implement his system, as well as recruiting the talent necessary to run his spread offense. Much of the struggles at Michigan were due to bad fits in the personnel, but Arizona has some pieces in place that should allow this team to compete for a bowl game in 2012. The only downside? Rodriguez has never coached west of Michigan, so it will be important to establish recruiting pipelines right away.

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Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – Change is in the air in College Station. The Aggies are moving from the Big 12 to the SEC, and Sumlin takes over as head coach after Texas A&M compiled a 25-25 record in four seasons under Mike Sherman. Sumlin is no stranger to College Station, as he spent two years as an assistant (2001-02) with the Aggies and coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma from 2003-07. Texas A&M will need some time to get acclimated to life in the SEC, but Sumlin’s 35-17 record at Houston suggests the Aggies will be in good shape for the future.

Above Average Marks

Tim Beckman, Illinois – As an Ohio native and someone that has worked at Ohio State, Beckman is certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. He spent the last three years as the head coach at Toledo, registering a 21-16 record and a share of the MAC West title in 2011. Beckman has worked with top-notch head coaches, spending time with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Beckman pieced together an interesting coaching staff, especially on the offensive side where Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty will serve as co-coordinators and neither have much experience as a play-caller.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina – After a successful four-year stint as the head coach at Southern Miss, Fedora lands in a very good situation in Chapel Hill at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are still waiting to hear about possible penalties from an NCAA investigation, but the cupboard isn’t bare, especially on offense, which is Fedora’s specialty. In four years at Southern Miss, he compiled a 34-19 record and led the team to a 2-2 mark in bowl games. The Tar Heels have not won more than eight games since 1997, but this is a program that should consistently compete for the ACC title.

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Todd Graham, Arizona State – The criticism of how Graham left Pittsburgh is certainly warranted. And a 6-6 regular season record last year wasn’t exactly a hit with Panther fans either. However, the personnel wasn’t in place to run Graham’s schemes and the offense struggled to find any consistency. Despite the rocky end to his short tenure at Pittsburgh Graham is actually a solid coach, as evidenced by his 49-29 record over the last six years, and should do well over time at Arizona State.

Jim Mora, UCLA – At the time of his hire, this seemed like a strange fit and a bad move by UCLA. However, Mora acquired a solid staff and brought in one of the Pac-12’s top recruiting classes. Considering Mora has spent most of his career in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how he transitions to the college game. This hire could backfire, but Mora is off to a good start and deserves a chance to prove he can turn the Bruins into a Pac-12 title contender.

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Best non-BCS hires

Terry Bowden, Akron – After winning just two games over the last two years under Rob Ianello, the Zips made one of the top coaching moves of the offseason by getting Bowden from North Alabama. In 18 years as a head coach, Bowden has recorded a 139-63-2 mark, including two bowl appearances while at Auburn. Considering his success, it’s strange that Bowden has not landed back on the FBS radar until now. However, this a good fit and a solid hire by Akron – and one that should have this team moving back into MAC East contention in the next few seasons.

Matt Campbell, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest head coach. However, he’s spent the last eight years as an assistant at Mount Union, Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell’s head coaching career is off to a good start, as he led the Rockets to a 42-41 victory in the Military Bowl over Air Force. Considering this is his first head coaching gig, there will be a few bumps in the road for Campbell. However, he fits the mold of a good up-and-coming coach, and his high-scoring offenses will continue to keep Toledo near the top of the MAC West.

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Justin Fuente, Memphis – Larry Porter’s two-year stint was a disaster, but the Tigers picked a terrific replacement by plucking Fuente from TCU. This will be Fuente’s first head coaching position, but he has built a solid resume, serving as an assistant at Illinois State from 2001-06 and working as TCU’s offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Fuente’s coaching experience in Texas should help with recruiting and his background on offense should help jumpstart a Memphis offense that averaged just 16.3 points a game last year.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State – Malzahn has been one of the top assistant coaches in the nation over the last five seasons, leading Tulsa and Auburn’s offenses among of the ranks of the best in college football. Considering Malzahn’s name popped up in BCS job searches, it was a little surprising he chose to land at Arkansas State. However, this is a good position for Malzahn to gain head coaching experience, as he coached at three Arkansas high schools (Shiloh Christian, Springdale and Hughes), and the Red Wolves are positioned to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt in 2012.

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Jim McElwain, Colorado State – After helping Alabama win two national titles over the last three years, McElwain is ready to lead his own program. This is his first head coaching gig, but McElwain has worked under one of the top coaches in college football (Nick Saban) and has experience out West, playing and coaching at Eastern Washington and coaching at Montana State and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Although Colorado State has been down recently, don’t be surprised if McElwain engineers a quick turnaround in 2012.

Garrick McGee, UAB – McGee has been a rising star in the assistant ranks over the last 10 years, making stops at Toledo, UNLV, Northwestern and Arkansas. With low fan support and a stadium in bad shape, UAB isn’t an easy place to win. However, McGee’s experience in the Southeast should pay dividends in recruiting, and at 38 years old, he should breathe some much-needed life into the program.

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Wait and See

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State – DeRuyter is a California native, so landing at Fresno State was a good spot for his first head coaching position. DeRuyter is known as a solid defensive coordinator, and led Texas A&M to a victory over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in December. The Bulldogs seemed to hit a plateau under former coach Pat Hill. Is DeRuyter the guy to take them to the next level?

Kyle Flood, Rutgers – With Greg Schiano’s decision to depart Rutgers a week before Signing Day, filling this coaching void was especially difficult for athletic director Tim Pernetti. Flood does not have any head coaching experience, but has been a solid asset on the recruiting trail and helped to keep the 2012 class intact. Only time will tell whether Flood can keep the momentum going from Schiano’s tenure or if Rutgers will slip back to the bottom of the Big East.

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Curtis Johnson, Tulane – The Green Wave has struggled to find success in recent years, with their last winning record coming in 2002 under Chris Scelfo. Johnson is a curious hire, as he has no head coaching or coordinator experience. However, he is from New Orleans and has coached with the Saints for the last six years. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which should be a valuable asset for Tulane as it looks to get back into bowl contention.

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Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss – Johnson has a wealth of experience as an assistant and served as The Citadel’s head coach for three years (2001-03) and one year at Gardner-Webb (1983). Although his resume is solid, Johnson isn’t the youngest hire (60) and posted a 12-22 record in his tenure at The Citadel.

Charley Molnar, UMass – This is Molnar’s first head coaching gig, but he’s compiled a wealth of experience from stops at Illinois State, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As a native of New Jersey, Molnar should be familiar with the Northeast and the recruiting grounds for the Minutemen. Considering 2012 will be the first year for UMass on the FBS level, the first two or three seasons could be a real challenge for Molnar.

Failing Marks

Norm Chow, Hawaii – As a native of Hawaii, this is the perfect spot for Chow to land after spending all of his career as an assistant coach. However, that’s exactly the problem. Why is Chow getting his first head coaching gig at age 65? Chow’s offenses at Utah and UCLA were underwhelming, but he has the potential to put together some prolific attacks in the Mountain West.

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Bob Davie, New Mexico – After Mike Locksley’s disastrous tenure, this is a good hire in the sense it should bring some stability to the program. However, Davie’s last head coaching gig came in 2001 and he posted a 35-25 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. Davie’s ability to recruit Texas certainly helped his ability to land this position, but after sitting out the last 10 years, this is a strange hire.

Tony Levine, Houston – Levine is well-liked by the players and is certainly familiar with the team after spending the last four years as an assistant with the Cougars. However, Levine has zero head coaching experience outside of the TicketCity Bowl win over Penn State. Also, Levine has never been a coordinator on the college level. Former coach Kevin Sumlin has laid the groundwork for the Cougars to be successful in the next few seasons and now it's up to Levine to continue that momentum. While neither experience guarantees success, Levine is a curious hire for a program moving up to the Big East in 2013.

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Bill O’Brien, Penn State – Considering the circumstances at Penn State, there wasn’t many top coaches willing to jump to Happy Valley. However, O’Brien is largely unproven and other New England assistants (Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Charlie Weis) haven’t exactly done well away from Bill Belichick. O’Brien has a difficult job ahead of him and following a legend like Joe Paterno won’t be easy.

Carl Pelini, FAU – Considering FAU has won just five games in the last two years, Pelini is going to get a chance to rebuild and put his stamp on the program. However, he has no head coaching experience and has not coached in Florida before. The Owls have the ability to pluck some solid talent from the area, but it may take Pelini time to build the recruiting pipelines, especially after getting off to a rough start with one area coach. Also, Pelini was listed as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, but how much control did he have over the gameplan with his brother (Bo) one of the top defensive minds in college football? Good coaches can come from anywhere and with a variety of backgrounds, but this is a strange fit for a program that could have used a higher-profile assistant, especially one with ties in Florida.

Charlie Weis, Kansas – After a disastrous two-year stint under Turner Gill, the Jayhawks desperately needed a new face of the program and someone who could get this team back on the map. Mission Accomplished. Weis has raised the profile of Kansas football, but now has to prove he can win in a stacked Big 12. Weis compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, but slumped to a 16-21 mark in the final three years. Landing transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps have immediately boosted the Jayhawks’ quarterback play for the next couple of years. However, can Weis recruit well enough on defense to turn Kansas into a consistent bowl team? The results from South Bend suggest that won’t be the case.

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