Florida State: Willie Taggart, Oregon Head Coach (GRADE: A+)
Florida State made the best hire of the coaching carousel, and here’s why. First, I’m shocked Jimbo Fisher left after one down season. He won a national title in Tallahassee not too long ago, and had perhaps the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country with strong support for the program. With that said, AD Stan Wilcox was smart to move fast and secure Willie Taggart as the program’s next head coach. Taggart is one of the nation’s best recruiters, especially when it comes to his home state, and I’d argue he’s even a step above Fisher on this level. He’s been a very good program-builder as seen by his stints at WKU and USF, and turned Oregon around real quickly in his one season there. He’s very well-connected in the state, so expect him to develop a top-notch coaching and support staff. Some of the best coaches in college football, such as Jim Harbaugh and Tony Dungy, speak measures to his coaching ability. It’ll be fun (and scary for some) to see the results he might have as a power conference head coach in his home state. This coaching change wasn’t expected or foreseen by many in the industry, but Wilcox did a wonderful job swiftly landing his top-choice candidate in Taggart to run the program.
Nebraska: Scott Frost, Central Florida Head Coach (GRADE: A)
Scott Frost is going home! AD Bill Moos came in and did a great job landing Frost, the one and only choice in the eyes of many Husker fans. Yes, I will concede that Nebraska is not the job that it was back in the 1990s. With that said, Nebraska still has the potential to be a 10+ win per season team. As Frost knows, Nebraska is a football school, and the culture is enveloped around the sport. The program has reached new lows given the disastrous tenure of Mike Riley, and needs to be turned around. There probably wasn’t a better hire to make than Frost, the star ex-quarterback who just went undefeated this season and led the UCF Knights to the Peach Bowl. Frost knows the expectations in Lincoln, and knows he has a strong support system. Furthermore, he also runs a dynamic offense that should make Husker football more fun to watch. With that said, Frost needs to develop the recruiting connections, specifically in Texas, that have weakened as a result of the program’s decline in the current century.
UCLA: Chip Kelly, former 49ers HC (GRADE: A)
Wow, I did not expect Chip Kelly to land at UCLA of all places. LA seems like a rather large place for the small-town guy, plus they aren’t sponsored by Nike! With that said, I like this hire a lot. UCLA has Grade-A resources and a strong donor base, and they’ve been preparing for years to make a major investment in their football program. They are in a recruiting hotbed in SoCal, their facilities are brand new, and they have a big enough brand to appeal to any recruit across the nation. From a coaching perspective, Kelly returns to college and gets to coach on the west coast in a conference which he’s very familiar with. He gets to recruit high-skilled athletes to play in his up-tempo offense, making this hire a good fit on paper. Whether he can bring UCLA to 10-win and 11-win type seasons remains to be seen, but nonetheless this is a great match for both parties.
Mississippi State: Joe Moorhead, Penn State OC (GRADE: A-)
Kudos to AD John Cohen for running a great search! Similar to how he handled the baseball coaching search last year, Cohen ran a quick search and each candidate he interviewed would’ve been a strong choice to be Mississippi State’s head coach. With that said, hiring Moorhead was one of the best case scenarios. Moorhead has prior head coaching experience in which he was successful, which is a plus. Similar to Dan Mullen, he has an offensive background and comes from the northeast. With that said, the shining accomplishment of his resume comes from his two years in Happy Valley. He totally turned around that Penn State offense and their football team fun to watch again. He brought the best out of QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley and made Penn State relevant again, which was quite impressive. Assuming he can build a strong staff with southeast recruiting connections, don’t expect Mississippi State to fall back much next season despite losing their former head coach.
Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Head Coach (GRADE: A-)
Texas A&M committed a ridiculously big contract to their head coach, wow! Ten years and $75 million guaranteed is a whole lot of money for a head football coach. With that said, I like this hire a lot. Going out and securing Fisher in the manner they did shows the school’s commitment to hosting a top-tier football program, which is totally doable given its location and athletics conference. I’m a big fan of securing a top-tier football coach for schools like Texas A&M, because having a top-tier football team positively impacts the rest of the school too, just ask Alabama or Miami. So given that A&M chose to go down that route and pay a boatload of money to a head football coach, Jimbo Fisher was about the best choice they could have made. He won a national title at Florida State four years ago, and he’s very familiar with the SEC conference from his time under Nick Saban at LSU. In terms of personality, his southern charm fits in well with the A&M community despite never having coached in C-Stat before. If he puts a good staff together with strong recruiting ties in Texas, this team could be scary good in a few years. But if he fails to meet the school’s sky-high expectations, the hire will go down as a major bust.
Central Florida: Josh Heupel, Missouri Offensive Coordinator (GRADE: B+)
UCF was very smart in the contract they gave Heupel to run the football program, as it virtually ensures he won’t use the school as a stepping-stone to land a bigger job. He’s got a $10 million buyout in his contract that lasts through the 2020 season, which was a smart move by AD Danny White which brings stability to the program in wake of Scott Frost’s departure. Heupel is a very underrated offensive coordinator, who really brought out the most in Missouri’s offense this year and has a good track record from his time at Oklahoma as well. There’s a lot of overlap between the families running the departments at UCF and Missouri as well (with the Sterks and Whites), so this doesn’t surprise me as much given the facts. He’s already started bringing together strong recruiters with him, which is critical given his lack of recruiting ties in the state. His offensive scheme closely resembles what Frost runs, which is a positive. Given all the factors, I expect UCF to remain very competitive for at least the next couple seasons, making this a good hire.
Florida: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State HC (GRADE: B+)
Wow, Dan Mullen follows his old AD’s footsteps to Gainesville! What a shocker! Well, not really, but it wasn’t as expected as many might have thought. Overall, this is a pretty good hire. Mullen is probably the most successful coach in Mississippi State football history, and has a great track record of developing quarterbacks. On paper, he seems like just what Florida needs in a head coach. With that said, there are some drawbacks to hiring Mullen, which is why he wasn’t hired in the team’s last two coaching searches. He is known to have rubbed elbows with former (emeritus) AD Jeremy Foley, and had his fair share of enemies in Gainesville. He also wasn’t loved by the fanbase and some within the program during his time as an assistant under Urban Meyer. With that said, Mullen has a greater understanding of what it takes to succeed at Florida than his predecessors, which is why he has a decent shot of restoring Gators Football to its past heights. Florida has perhaps the best resources in the country, so it will be interesting to see if he’s the answer that Gator fans have been seeking for the past decade.
Georgia Southern: Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern Interim HC (GRADE: B+)
After the rise of a social media movement and back-to-back wins, Georgia Southern’s search committee chose to keep Chad Lunsford as the full-time coach. Unlike others who promoted interim head coaches, Lunsford makes a ton of sense for Georgia Southern. First off, he’s regarded one of the better assistant coaches in all of college football. He’s a dynamic recruiter who’s spent the bulk of his coaching career in Georgia, all of which are factors making him qualified for the full-time job. Obviously, Lunsford will have some difficult decisions to make about where he ought to take the program. For example, while Georgia Southern’s offense has historically been best under the triple-option, Lunsford has often coached in spread offenses. Overall, there weren’t many better hires that the team could have made given the lack of funding in the program.
Ole Miss: Matt Luke, Ole Miss Interim HC (GRADE: B-)
After spending >$100k on a coaching search, Ole Miss settled on their interim head coach Matt Luke for the permanent job. Luke makes some sense given the state of the program, which is probably going to get hit pretty hard with additional sanctions in the upcoming months. Ole Miss is in a rebound state and probably will be a ~.500 program for the next few years, which is why this hire shouldn’t be too disappointing to the fanbase. However, I don’t like how this hire was made. Ole Miss seemed bound to land a proven, established head coach for most of the year, until Luke led his team to an upset win over the cross-state rival and got the full-time job. Coaching hires based on emotion over logic tend to not work out so well, and although he’s got extensive ties to Ole Miss, he’s probably the least-qualified head coach in the SEC. Luke may be the right guy to lead Ole Miss through the sanctions era, but he definitely wasn’t the best available guy for the job.
Oregon State: Jonathan Smith, Washington Offensive Coordinator (GRADE: C+)
Normally, hiring a Power 5 offensive coordinator who helped lead his team to the College Football Playoff with strong ties to your school would be a very well-regarded hire. However, I’m feeling pretty lukewarm about Jonathan Smith’s return to Corvallis as Oregon State’s head coach. He’s a pretty overrated coach who was almost run out of town in Seattle two-plus years ago, and got a lot of credit for running Chris Petersen’s offensive scheme (which shouldn’t be that hard to do). He’s not necessarily a great recruiter, and doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy with the charisma to turn around a struggling football program. The homecoming storyline might generate some excitement, but I don’t see how Smith is any better than Gary Andersen in terms of being a head coach. The best hope for Beaver fans is that Smith builds an exceptional staff that will bring back better recruits and efficient schemes for the team to run. Also of note, Beau Baldwin (who was first reported to be the choice) would’ve been a much better hire.
Rice: Mike Bloomgren, Stanford Offensive Coordinator (GRADE: C+)
National media outlets have given positive soundbites about this hire, but I’m not a fan. Rice football has been pretty mediocre for the last half-decade under David Bailiff, who I think is a very good ball coach. The job itself is a pretty high order for any coach, given the school’s rigorous academic nature and tough recruiting competition. As such, AD Joe Karlgaard should’ve looked to bring in someone with a scheme or background that could’ve given Rice a schematic advantage, but he didn’t do that. Instead, he looked to his own background as an administrator at Stanford and hired Mike Bloomgren, their offensive coordinator. Bloomgren is a pretty good coach who will bring toughness to both sides of the ball, but I doubt he can really turn this program’s fortunes around. He’s got no ties to the state of Texas, and doesn’t run the spread offense that most FBS schools in Texas run nowadays. Maybe he pulls Rice above the sub-.500 seasons they’ve been having lately, but I’ll be surprised if Bloomgren has sustained success there.
UTEP: Dana Dimel, Kansas State Offensive Coordinator (GRADE: C)
Dana Dimel is a pretty uninspiring choice to run a football program, especially given the challenges that the UTEP program faces. First off, I’m awfully confused on how they landed on him. There were tons of better candidates available, including K.C. Keeler and Mike Houston (who has ties to the new AD Jim Senter), both of whom would’ve been much better hires. With that said, Dimel doesn’t strike any confidence in me. He’s a good ball coach, but his schemes don’t match the trends that most FBS schools in Texas run nowadays. His last run as a head coach at Houston was pretty awful, going 0-11 in his second-to-last season there. He doesn’t have any ties to the UTEP community, nor does he have experience running a sorely underfunded program in a town where it can be tough to attract recruits. Simply put, I don’t see this hire panning out.
Arkansas: Chad Morris, SMU Head Coach (GRADE: B)
Oregon: Mario Cristobal, Oregon Interim Head Coach (GRADE: B)
South Alabama: Steve Campbell, Central Arkansas Head Coach (GRADE: B-)
Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama Defensive Coordinator (GRADE: B-)
Arizona State: Herm Edwards, former N.Y. Jets Head Coach (GRADE: C+)