Ranking 2011 College Football Coach Hires, From No-Brainer To Baffling

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Houston Cougars (R) and head coach Larry Fedora of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles shake hands after the Golden Eagles defeated the Houston Cougars 49-28 at Robertson Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

It's time to make some initial judgments of this month's major conference head coaching hires, from the home runs to the (to put it kindly) more risky picks. Your move, Kevin Sumlin.

To date, 11 major conference head coaching jobs have come open this fall; nine of them have been filled, with only Arizona State and Penn State remaining. So with no bowl games on the slate for another few days, now is a good time to reflect on and prematurely judge the hires that have been made. You know what that means: another arbitrary rating scale!

We're going to go with four categories, worth a total of 30 points: the coach's overall resume (as it pertains to accomplishments, failures, and applicability to the job at hand, worth up to 10 points), the general fit between coach and program (10), the short-term potential of the hire (five), and the long term potential of the hire (five). As always, scores in the arbitrary rating scale are somewhat, yes, arbitrary and subject to my own views, feelings and moods. That's how "Hugh Freeze over Kevin Sumlin" happens.

Mike Leach, Washington State

Resume (1-10): 9
Fit (1-10): 10
Short Term (1-5): 4
Long Term (1-5): 4
TOTAL: 27

While other schools have suffered short-term embarrassment in terms of booster issues (Arizona State), fan protest (UCLA) or odd hires (Kansas), Wazzu handled itself nearly perfectly in its search. Athletic director Bill Moos seemed to acknowledge that changing coaches is a terrifying crapshoot and all but made sure he had the man he wanted before completely deciding to make a move at all. That is not always possible -- sometimes you do have to jump before knowing where you are going to land -- but it worked out perfectly for the Cougars.

Mike Leach was almost certainly the best, most accomplished coach available to Washington State, and they got him. In terms of location, prospects, etc., Washington State is basically the Texas Tech of the Pac-12, and it appears the fit couldn't be better. I'm not going to say that Leach is going to win Pac-12 or national titles for the Cougars, but the odds of him quickly establishing a rather high level of play are quite good.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Resume (1-10): 10
Fit (1-10): 9
Short Term (1-5): 5
Long Term (1-5): 2
TOTAL: 26

If I am giving Mike Leach a 9 in the resume column, I should probably be giving Meyer about a 12. Meyer won two national titles at Florida and needed just two seasons to pull off a perfect record (and BCS bowl win) at Utah before that. He wins, quickly, wherever he goes. Plus, despite the fact that his last two coaching jobs have been at Utah and Florida, he has significant midwestern ties that likely make him a great fit in Columbus.

The one issue with Meyer, of course, comes in the long-term. ("It has been just 10 months since Meyer left for the second time at Florida, and questions about his health and commitment are perfectly legitimate since no one knows whether Meyer is up to the rigors of being a head coach again.") Meyer retired twice in about a year and barely took a full season off. He is a phenomenal coach, and there's no question that he looks healthier now than he did in his final days at Florida, but exactly how long does that last? Honestly, the only reason I'm giving him a two in the Long Term category is that I can't give him the same score as Charlie Weis.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Resume (1-10): 8
Fit (1-10): 8
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 4
TOTAL: 23

If you pretend his failure at Michigan didn't happen, then Rodriguez possibly has an even better resume than Leach. Still, even though the Michigan and Arizona jobs are completely different, that failure did still happen. Nevertheless, Rich Rod has quite a bit of accomplishment upon which to fall back, including a move to within one game (one quarter, really) of a national title shot in 2007. His West Virginia teams were spectacular, and in terms of fit, he could find a comfortable situation in Tucson.

I tentatively gave Rodriguez a healthy score in the Long Term category because he is still pretty young (somehow just 48), and because he may be less likely to jump to a bigger job after his stay in Ann Arbor. If he goes with someone other than Greg Robinson for his defensive coordinator -- Jeff Casteel, his successful D.C. at West Virginia, remains a possibility -- then he should be expected to succeed in the Pac-12 South.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Resume (1-10): 7
Fit (1-10): 8
Short Term (1-5): 4
Long Term (1-5): 3
TOTAL: 22

It is easy to get the sense that Fedora's stock skyrocketed because of a single game -- Southern Miss' domination of undefeated Houston in the Conference USA championship. But that is a bit unfair to the rest of the resume he had compiled in his four seasons in Hattiesburg. He maintained the level of play set by long-time Golden Eagles coach Jeff Bower for his first two seasons, then took a step forward in 2010, and another in 2011. Granted, his team suffered one of the most baffling losses of the 2011 season (their random Thursday night stumble to lowly UAB), but they were still a legitimate Top 25 team from October onward.

A former offensive coordinator at both Middle Tennessee and Florida, Fedora likely knows the territory pretty well in ACC/SEC country, and he has proven at USM that he can lead a high-octane offense that doesn't give away all of its gains on the defensive side of the ball (the Golden Eagles rank 19th in Def. F/+ this season).

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Resume (1-10): 6
Fit (1-10): 8
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 4
TOTAL: 21

The resume Hugh Freeze has is quite impressive. A high school coach until 2004, he may be best known for his involvement in The Blind Side (he was Michael Oher's high school coach), but in his three years as a collegiate head coach (two at NAIA's Lambuth University, one at Arkansas State), he has gone 8-4, 12-1 and 10-2. There's no denying the results he has produced. The only question is whether he needed to produce more of them before landing an SEC gig.

Freeze became Arkansas State offensive coordinator for the 2010 season and immediately improved the Red Wolves' offense from 110th in Off. F/+ to 59th; they improved to 56th in 2011, and their defense improved from 82nd to 42nd. He is a charismatic recruiter, and if he works out, he could be a strong, long-term fit for what has been quite the hit-or-miss program over the last few decades.

Tim Beckman, Illinois

Resume (1-10): 5
Fit (1-10): 7
Short Term (1-5): 4
Long Term (1-5): 4
TOTAL: 20

Tim Beckman has shown signs of incredibly strong program-building ability, only without the breakthrough season. In his three years at Toledo, Beckman was by far the most successful recruiter in the MAC, and his 2011 Rockets squad graded out quite well for much of the season. (Their end-of-regular-season F/+ rankings: 27th on offense, 40th on defense, 30th overall.) Still, it is easy to get tripped up by the fact that he went just 8-5 and 8-4 in his last two seasons. Of course, among those nine losses included two to Boise State (no shame there), a loss to Arizona in 2010, and a narrow loss at Ohio State this season. The Rockets went 16-2 in the MAC, barely losing out on two division titles to Chandler Harnish and Northern Illinois.

It should not be ignored, however, that Toledo was crumbling when he took over. The Rockets went just 3-9 in 2008 and ranked 103rd in F/+ in both 2007 and 2008. With Beckman, they immediately improved to 72nd, then 68th, then 30th. We typically wait until a mid-major coach has a major breakthrough to decide he's ready, but Beckman has already proven quite a bit.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Resume (1-10): 5
Fit (1-10): 8
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 3
TOTAL: 19

Okay. I realize I might be completely off-base with Sumlin. He went 35-17 in four years at Houston, and I gave him the same resume rating as Beckman (21-15). But here's my issue: Sumlin inherited Case Keenum and hasn't proven he can win big without him; he could be just fine, or he could be Jeff Capel, the former Oklahoma basketball coach who basically inherited Blake Griffin, then saw his program fall apart when Griffin left). There is no question that he has recruited a fast, interesting set of players at Houston, but for now I cannot get past his record with and without Keenum. With: 32-10. Without (when Keenum was injured in 2010): 3-7. It's not that he can't win without someone like Keenum. It's just that he hasn't proven he can yet. And his defenses at Houston have, to say the least, left something to be desired. (If he can retain defensive coordinator and interim head coach Tim DeRuyter, that could solve some of the defensive issues.)

If it turns out Sumlin is indeed a strong coach, then everything else should fall into place fine. He has strong ties to the midlands (he has been either an assistant or head coach for Texas A&M, Houston and Oklahoma after years as an assistant in the Big Ten), he has a long resume (23 years of coaching), and especially with Texas A&M moving to the SEC, he is quite unlikely to leave for a better job if he succeeds. But A&M has little margin for error in the ridiculously strong SEC West. We'll see.

Jim Mora, Jr., UCLA

Resume (1-10): 4
Fit (1-10): 6
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 3
TOTAL: 16

This seems like a transparent attempt by UCLA to find their own Pete Carroll, a long-time NFL guy who failed as an NFL coach but has loads of experience and charisma. It worked out quite well for Carroll at USC (sans the NCAA sanctions, ahem), and perhaps the UCLA administration is correct in assessing that charisma comes before resume when it comes to succeeding in Southern California. Still, Carroll is the exception to the rule when it comes to the often difficult pro-to-college jump.

There is a major leap of faith involved with this hire. Mora has certainly paid his dues -- he has been coaching since 1984, when he was a graduate assistant on Washington's 11-1 Orange Bowl squad. Starting in 1985, however, all of his experience has come at the pro level, and his career record as NFL head coach is just 31-33. This was a shot in the dark, and while this type of hire does sometimes work, it goes without saying that it usually doesn't.

Charlie Weis, Kansas

Resume (1-10): 4
Fit (1-10): 7
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 1
TOTAL: 15

Unlike Mora, Charlie Weis does in fact have a track record at the collegiate level. The problem: said track record isn't actually any good. An incredible success as an NFL offensive coordinator, Weis won 19 games in his first two seasons as Notre Dame head coach, and he reeled in a series of highly-rated recruiting classes. But when Tyrone Willingham's recruits cycled out in South Bend, so did the wins. Weis went just 16-21 from 2007-09 and was fired. After a successful year as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Weis went to Florida to coach for Will Muschamp in 2011, and an already disappointing offense tumbled from 53rd in Off. F/+ to 72nd.

A supposed offensive mastermind known for proclaiming that Notre Dame would have a "decided schematic advantage" when he came aboard, Weis' college offenses have just once ranked better than 60th in Off. F/+ since Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left South Bend following the 2006 season -- Notre Dame ranked 114th in 2007, 63rd in 2008 and 12th in 2009. (Meanwhile, his final four Notre Dame defenses ranked 41st, 38th, 49th and 75th in Def. F/+.) Now he inherits a Kansas squad almost entirely bereft of playmaking ability on either side of the ball. He will receive a level of patience he was not privy to at Notre Dame, but patience alone won't make him successful. (And this says nothing of the potential health-related issues Weis brings to the table.)

As I said on Friday, no coach is a guaranteed success or failure -- that's what makes changing coaches so terrifying -- but in terms of an NCAA track record, it is pretty clear that Mora and Weis were the two biggest risks of the hires to date.

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