Ranking 2011 College Football Coach Hires: Everybody But Penn State

It's time to take another look at this year's coaching hires, including recent moves like Paul Chryst to Pittsburgh, Todd Graham to Arizona State, and Norm Chow to Hawaii.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at major conference coaching hires to date and graded them on a 30-point scale that included the following factors: Resume, Fit, Short Term and Long Term. Now seems like a good time to grade some more hires. The domino effect is basically done, though it could start again depending on who Penn State eventually hires (assuming they do, indeed, eventually hire somebody), so we will take a look at Arizona State's and Pittsburgh's hires, and we will throw in some mid-majors as well. Another update will come after Penn State.

Mike Leach, Washington State

Previous Score: 27
New Score: 27

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.

Leach has quietly gone about his business in Pullman. His score could technically change if he makes a knockout defensive coordinator hire, but chances are, 27 is likely his final grade.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Previous Score: 26
New Score: 26

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?

Granted, his hire of former North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers doesn't look particularly shiny after UNC gave up 300 rushing yards to Missouri yesterday, but it typically isn't smart to overreact to one hire. Give Withers an interested team and get him back to only worrying about the defense, and all should be well in Columbus.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State

Resume (1-10): 9
Fit (1-10): 9
Short Term (1-5): 5
Long Term (1-5): 3

Obviously mid-majors are going to get graded on a slightly different scale -- Malzahn going to a major conference team would have probably scored more like a 21-23 -- but this truly was a knockout hire by Arkansas State. Malzahn has a resume good enough to have gotten a Vanderbilt offer last year, he is a near-perfect fit (local boy), and he should certainly be able to make something of the talent Hugh Freeze has left him in Jonesboro. The only question is how long before he begins to get wooed by major conference teams again if he succeeds at ASU; with a Jimmy Sexton client, a '3' is about as good as you are going to score on the Long Term scale.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Previous Score: 23
New Score: 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.

Like Leach, Rodriguez's score could get a boost if he nails the defensive coordinator hire.

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh

Resume (1-10): 6
Fit (1-10): 9
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 4

Pittsburgh is a blue-collar city, so going after a blue-collar offensive coordinator like Wisconsin's Paul Chryst makes perfect sense. He faces a bit of a short-term issue with the fact that his offensive personnel has to basically forget everything it has been taught for the last 12 months and shift back to more of a grind-it-out mentality, but lord knows the players on hand were more likely to have been recruited by Dave Wannstedt to play this type of ball than whatever Todd Graham was attempting to do.

Watching Pittsburgh flail about from coach to coach has been very frustrating because, in the long-term, they seem very well-positioned to do well if they find the right man (and honestly, athletic director Steve Pedersen has never done a particularly good job of "finding the right man," whether at Pitt or Nebraska). They are leaving for ACC stability soon, and the shine has come off of dominant neighbor Penn State recently, which could mean decent things for recruiting. We have no idea what kind of long-term program builder Chryst can be, but he has a strong resume and seems like a really good fit here at first.

Norm Chow, Hawaii

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

If this were about 2006, Chow's hire would grade out around a 27 or so. Chow has extensive ties to Hawaii, he has long been seen as an offensive wizard, and he is highly unlikely to leave for a better job if he succeeds there. The problem: he has spent the last four seasons overseeing lackluster offenses in UCLA and Utah, and he is now 65 years old. Granted, he dealt with plenty of injuries in both Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, but still, his last four offenses have ranked 100th, 90th, 88th and 114th in Off. F/+. Hard to overlook either that, or his age. This is a good hire, but it isn't the great hire it may have been a few years ago.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Previous Score: 22
New Score: 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.

Throughout Southern Miss' Christmas Eve win in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, announcers made reference to Fedora undergoing an "audition" of sorts for North Carolina fans. That is a silly way to look at things -- just like the win over Houston in the Conference USA title game shouldn't be used as the sole reason for hiring somebody, a lackluster bowl performance shouldn't be used as means for questioning the hire -- but that tends to be how people react. Still, Southern Miss did win despite the fact that their offense was less than sharp, and there is something to be said for that.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Previous Score: 21
New Score: 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.

Tim Beckman, Illinois

Previous Score: 20
New Score: 20

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.

Both Freeze and Beckman have quietly gone about their business, giving me no reason to either upgrade or downgrade their scores.

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss

Resume (1-10): 7
Fit (1-10): 8
Short Term (1-5): 3
Long Term (1-5): 2

Johnson is 60 years old and has a career 17-28 record as a coach. Obviously it is hard to give this too good a long-term score, but his incredibly extensive southern ties (virtually every year of his 35+ year coaching career has been spent at a Southern school, from The Citadel, to East Carolina, to South Carolina) make this feel like a solid hire regardless. He is a defensive coach, which is a shift from Larry Fedora's offensive background, but he should find quite a few toys to play with in Hattiesburg. Unfortunately, however, he won't have senior Cordarro Law, who was the best player on the field in each of Southern Miss' last two games.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Previous Score: 19
New Score: 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.

Sumlin could have bumped his score up by retaining defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, but DeRuyter took the Fresno State head coaching job. You can't blame Sumlin for that one, but it failed to quell my concerns about his ability to field a solid defense. We'll see who he hires.

Todd Graham, Arizona State

Resume (1-10): 7
Fit (1-10): 5
Short Term (1-5): 4
Long Term (1-5): 2

Graham has made three different programs bowl-eligible in five years. That is a unique accomplishment ... and it's also the most positive thing anybody has said about Arizona State's hire of Graham in the last two weeks. Granted, this may turn into a Bobby Petrino situation, where open flirtation and jumps from job to job make him unhireable to a certain degree and forces him to establish long-term roots, but with the negative national reaction to the way he left Pittsburgh, it is difficult to give him too high a grade in either the "Fit" or "Long Term" categories.

Bob Davie, New Mexico

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

Honestly, Davie should reestablish solid discipline and a focus on the basics in Albuquerque, which is something that seems to have been eschewed in recent years. That alone could result in slight improvement from a suddenly moribund Lobos program. But it is difficult to get too excited about this hire until Davie shows that he can recruit reasonably well and that either a) the old-school offensive approach he has championed on ESPN for nearly the last decade can actually still work, or b) he can adapt some new offensive techniques. This hire could have more upside than I am acknowledging here, but I'm not exactly sold on The Bawb just yet.

Charlie Weis, Kansas

Previous Score: 15
New Score: 17

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.

Part of the upside of hiring Weis was that, at the very least, he might be able to pull in a pretty talented quarterback. Rumors were flying pretty quickly that he was going to try to bring in both Notre Dame's Dayne Crist for 2012 and BYU's Jake Heaps for 2013 and beyond. He did indeed, and for that bit of confirmed upside, he gets bumped ahead of Jim Mora, Jr.

Jim Mora, Jr., UCLA

Previous Score: 16
New Score: 16

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.

This is still a high-upside, really-low-downside hire.

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