There were 28 college football teams with a new coach this year, and the results have been mixed so far. UCLA's Jim Mora, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Ohio State's Urban Meyer are each off to great starts, while Houston's Tony Levine and Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst are a disappointing 0-2. There's still a long way to go this season, but Athlon's editors (and former coach Don James) discussed which first-year coach has been the most impressive through the first two games.
Which New College Football Coach Has Been The Most Impressive Through Two Games?
Coach Don James, former head coach of the Washington Huskies, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
Jimmy Mora at UCLA. I coached him and I followed him through his career. He’s off to a good start. There’s always been some question about him UCLA, but he’s off to a decent start. He spent most of his career in the NFL. In the NFL, it’s pure football. When you have 16-hour days in the NFL, you’re focused on football. When we had 16-hour days [in college] we were doing everything else: Recruiting and academics. Jim always had an excellent football knowledge. A lot of his early success has to do with his hires. He’s got a guy with two Super Bowl rings [former Steelers assistant Lou Spanos, UCLA’s defensive coordinator] and he’s got some guys who have recruited in college. This isn’t a secret, they had a deal where the seniors had a day off and [Mora] stopped that right away. I think that’s made a big difference. You set a set of rules and start living up to that. If you don’t want to be committed to these rules go do something else. It will impact more of the recruiting because they’ll pick your school because they believe in what you believe.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Based on what games I’ve picked already this season, I’d have to say Rich Rodriguez at Arizona has been the most surprising first-year coach. I picked the Wildcats to lose both to Toledo and Oklahoma State at home this season, and they’ve won both. Rodriguez is a notorious slow starter in his first season at a coaching job, but that doesn’t seem to be plaguing him at Arizona. The Wildcats rolled up 624 yards of offense (though accounted for only 24 points) against Toledo and 501 yards against the defending Big 12 champions. Most impressive in that Oklahoma State game was the lack of turnovers against a ballhawking Cowboys’ D and only a week after Arizona had three turnovers against the Rockets. Going into the season, I didn’t peg Arizona as bowl team, but it looks like that may be in the plans for Rodriguez’s debut season.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There’s still a long way to go in the 2012 season, but it’s hard to pick against Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez or UCLA’s Jim Mora for the job they have done so far. The Bruins have given up some yards on defense, but the offense has been one of the best in the nation, and this team finally looks ready to realize its potential. UCLA has always had talent, but the results haven’t always been there. The Wildcats were picked to finish around .500 by most, however, this team could challenge for eight wins, especially after pulling off an upset over Oklahoma State on Saturday. Since Rodriguez and Mora are the two obvious choices, it’s worth highlighting a couple of other coaches that have been impressive early, including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and despite the loss on Saturday, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
There really are only two possible answers to this question, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Jim Mora at UCLA. I’ll give the slight edge to Mora because the Bruins have faced a more difficult schedule, winning at Rice (which won at Kansas) and beating a solid Nebraska team. UCLA has been terrific on offense, averaging a staggering 649.5 yards and 42.5 points. In the win over Nebraska, the Bruins topped 300 yards both passing and rushing, with quarterback Brett Hundley (305 yards passing) and tailback Johnathan Franklin (217 yards rushing) leading the way. UCLA has long been considered a sleeping giant in the Pac-12. Maybe the Bruins are waking up.
How far has Arizona come under Rich Rodriguez? Look no further than last Saturday's upset of then-No. 18 ranked Oklahoma State. Last season, the Cowboys defeated the Wildcats 37-14 as they piled up nearly 600 yards of offense. This time around in Tuscon, Oklahoma State was certainly able to move the ball against Arizona's defense, to the tune of 636 total yards, but the Pokes also turned the ball over four times. OSU's defense also had just as much trouble stopping Arizona's offense, as the Wildcats amassed more than 500 yards and, more importantly, out-scored the Cowboys 59-38 to move to 2-0 on the season. The defense will be an issue, especially as 'Zona moves deeper into Pac-12 play, but Rodriguez' zone-read option offense should cause opponents enough headaches of its own, giving Arizona a chance to do something this season it wasn't able to do in 2011 — win more games than it lost.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The answer is UCLA’s Jim Mora, and the margin is wide. The Bruins have struggled mightily to find a solution at quarterback over the last few seasons, and Mora’s hire of veteran offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone seems to be working wonders for new signal caller Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman threw for 305 yards and four touchdown passes in the Nebraska victory on Saturday. Hundley also added 53 yards rushing and did not throw an interception in that fan-base reenergizing win. Of course a running game can be the best friend of any young quarterback, and tailback Johnathan Franklin leads the nation in rushing with 431 yards. While the Bruins still have plenty to fix on defense before a challenging Pac-12 slate, Mora already has a signature victory and has shown significant program improvement just two weeks into UCLA’s 2012 campaign.
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