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2012-2013 college football coaching carousel grades, from Bret Bielema to big risk

With this offseason's coaching carousel complete (until the NFL comes calling, somebody puts a motorcycle into a ditch and FIU finally figures out what it's doing, at least), it's time to assess how your team did. Probably pretty good!


First, the obvious, omnipresent disclaimer: Hiring a new coach is a complete crapshoot. I gave eight teams grades of A- or better below, and at least three of these coaches will probably fail at their given school. Meanwhile, I gave 11 teams grades of B or worse, and at least three or four of these men will probably succeed at a pretty high level.

But we press on anyway! Below, each of the 26 new FBS hires have been graded based on a variety of categories, from resume to program fit to short- and long-term potential. As you see below, I'm a pretty easy grader. Enjoy.

Grade: A


Former Coach: John L. Smith
New Coach: Bret Bielema
Most Recent Job: Wisconsin head coach

We can wonder about Bielema's fit with SEC culture if we want. His entire career has been spent playing in Big Ten country and coaching in the Big Ten and Big 12. He doesn't have any natural ties to Arkansas or the general region (his two years as Kansas State's defensive coordinator are as good as it gets in that regard). And there was the whole "Complain about Urban Meyer's SEC-esque recruiting tactics" kerfuffle last year (though he later admitted that he was basically playing to the Wisconsin fanbase with that one).

But the bottom line is this: Arkansas just hired the man who had won the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, that comes with an asterisk (the Badgers wouldn't have won the Big Ten in 2012 had Ohio State or Penn State been eligible for the postseason), but it is also cold, hard fact. He is assembling a solid, well-paid staff, and he has won 40 games in four years at Wisconsin.

He is not a slam dunk success -- nobody is -- but if you can bring in a three-time BCS conference champion, you should probably do it, no?


Former Coach: Jon Embree
New Coach: Mike MacIntyre
Most Recent Job: San Jose State head coach

No, MacIntyre wasn't Colorado's first choice. Yes, most of his career has been spent either in the NFL coaching ranks or on the east coast.

But there is no better fit between need and resume than Colorado's with MacIntyre, who spent the last three seasons building the San Jose State program from scratch. MacIntyre inherited a program that had gone just 2-10 in 2009 and had experienced just two winning seasons since 1992. He went 1-12 in his first year while laying the ground work, won five of his last nine in finishing 5-7 in 2011, then wrecked shop in 2012, finishing 10-2 and putting together a legitimate Top 30-40 squad, potentially the best the school has ever fielded.

Now he gets to do basically the exact same thing in Boulder, attempting to resurrect a program that was below average under Dan Hawkins (19-30 in four seasons) and just plain awful under Jon Embree (4-21 in two).


Former Coach: Bret Bielema
New Coach: Gary Andersen
Most Recent Job: Utah State head coach

Andersen has spent the last 24 years of his coaching career in either Utah, Arizona or Idaho. He has no known Big Ten ties. That prevents him from getting an A+.

But in 2011-12, his Utah State Aggies played a style that will fit just fine in the Big Ten: run a lot and play killer defense. And if MacIntyre put a legitimate Top 30-40 team on the field in 2012, Andersen put a Top 20 team out there. He is experienced and quite proven, and I have gushed about him nonstop for about a month now.

Grade: A-


Former Coach: Gene Chizik
New Coach: Gus Malzahn
Most Recent Job: Arkansas State head coach

Here's what I said about Malzahn after his hiring:

Malzahn was a good hire. He has a wealth of SEC experience at this point, and after a bumpy September he acquitted himself quite well at Arkansas State, rallying his squad to a second straight Sun Belt title. (And with the current, impressive level of coaching and play in the Sun Belt, that is indeed an accomplishment.) His offensive identity is strong enough that he should have the Tigers playing competent, competitive football pretty quickly, even if we don't yet know about the height of the program's ceiling under his watch. The problem, of course, is that Auburn is still in the SEC West, a division which has produced three of the last four BCS title game participants (and five of the last eight), added a suddenly elite-looking Texas A&M squad and features schools like Arkansas (21-5 in 2010-11), Mississippi State (three straight bowl campaigns) and Ole Miss (seemingly rebounding quickly -- and recruiting like crazy -- under Hugh Freeze). If Auburn rebounds, that means somebody else has to fall. Who exactly is that going to be?

Northern Illinois

Former Coach: Dave Doeren
New Coach: Rod Carey
Most Recent Job: Northern Illinois offensive coordinator

You want geographic ties? Rod Carey has spent his entire coaching career in either Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin or North Dakota. You want continuity following Doeren's departure? Carey was Doeren's offensive line coach for two years and his offensive coordinator for one (which happened to be the year NIU made the Orange Bowl).

Carey is not Doeren, obviously, and there is no guarantee that he will automatically succeed, but this hire is perfectly sensible and solid.

Texas Tech

Former Coach: Tommy Tuberville
New Coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Most Recent Job: Texas A&M offensive coordinator

Kliff Kingsbury, the former Tech quarterback, returning home to take the reins of a program that had lost its way a bit with a coach who was never fully accepted in Lubbock (and who also never fully accepted Lubbock)? Yeah, that feels right, doesn't it?

Kingsbury was the hottest young assistant in the country following his sculpting of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, and now he takes over a program that has already embraced him in full. So why only an A-?

Because he is only 33 years old and has only been a coach of any kind for five years. He has never run a program before, which makes him a short-term risk while he gets his bearings. But his ties to Tech mean that if he does succeed, he probably won't be looking to jump to a larger puddle anytime soon. Long-term, this could be a fantastic hire.

Southern Miss

Former Coach: Ellis Johnson
New Coach: Todd Monken
Most Recent Job: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator

Southern Miss won the 2011 Conference USA title with a young, exciting, former offensive assistant in charge. When Larry Fedora departed for North Carolina, however, the Golden Eagles took a completely different approach in replacing him. They went with Ellis Johnson, an experienced (i.e. old), long-time defensive assistant.

The fit was awkward from the start, and disaster struck when he just couldn't find the right buttons to push with a team that had to replace most of its 2011 stars. Not only did Southern Miss' long streak of winning seasons end in 2012 ... the Golden Eagles didn't even win a single game.

So now USM goes back to basics: Monken is a successful career assistant with quite a few ties to the Midwest and South. He was a Les Miles assistant at both LSU and Oklahoma State, and he spent four years as an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars as well. There might not be anything about this hire to outright love, but it is a very easy one to like.

Western Kentucky

Former Coach: Willie Taggart
New Coach: Bobby Petrino
Most Recent Job: Arkansas head coach

Here's the deal: If you understand what you are (dynamite offensive mind, proven head coach) and aren't (long-term stay) getting in Bobby Petrino, this is a fantastic hire. Assuming he succeeds at WKU, Petrino might not stay more than a year or two, but a) that will still mean he succeeded (that's a pretty big deal considering WKU's first-ever FBS winning season happened in just 2011), and b) if you have the next search list ready to go, that won't be the end of the world.

Because of the complete lack of long-term prognosis, this hire gets only an A-, but in the short-term it is a fantastic get for the WKU program.

Grade: B+

Arkansas State

Former Coach: Gus Malzahn
New Coach: Bryan Harsin
Most Recent Job: Texas offensive coordinator

Arkansas State has been hurt by its own success. In 2011, the Red Wolves made such a good hire in Hugh Freeze that he was plucked away by Ole Miss after one season. So they replaced him with Gus Malzahn, who did so well that he was called back to Auburn to resurrect the AU program. That's the way it goes.

But ASU made another potentially strong hire in Harsin. ASU has been actively and openly following the Boise State Blueprint™ for success, and now they have brought in a bona fide former Boise State assistant. Harsin did not light the world aflame as Texas' offensive coordinator, but the Longhorns certainly improved over his two years in Austin, and his Boise State track record (five years as Chris Petersen's offensive coordinator) still speaks for itself.


Former Coach: Butch Jones
New Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Most Recent Job: Texas Tech head coach

Cincinnati has finished with a winning record six times in seven seasons, and with a Belk Bowl win the Bearcats could finish with double-digit wins for the fifth time in six years. UC has succeeded by hiring hot, young names in the coaching ranks. First, it was Mark Dantonio (2004-06), who parlayed a decent run into the Michigan State job. Brian Kelly came along, led Cincy to the brink of a national title game appearance, then left for Notre Dame. And now, after three years (and two more Big East co-titles), Butch Jones leaves for Tennessee.

The hire of Tuberville, then, is a bit of a departure. Tuberville is in no way an emerging name in the college football universe, but he has proven that he will provide a certain level of quality no matter where he goes, and at this stage in his career, he might not be looking to simply parlay success in Cincy into another jump.

(Okay, never mind. If an SEC school calls, he's jumping. But still.)

Kent State

Former Coach: Darrell Hazell
New Coach: Paul Haynes
Most Recent Job: Arkansas defensive coordinator

Kent State's defensive backs coach in 1999 and 2000, Haynes returns to the school after more than a decade away. Like the now-departed Hazell, Haynes has a lot of Jim Tressel on his resume, having spent six seasons as Ohio State's defensive backs coach and one as defensive co-coordinator. More than his year at Arkansas, this had to be appealing to Kent State.

This hire certainly makes sense, though there isn't a ton of margin for error here.

N.C. State

Former Coach: Tom O'Brien
New Coach: Dave Doeren
Most Recent Job: Northern Illinois head coach

Dave Doeren is 23-4 as a college head coach. That alone suggests this hire should have probably gotten at least an A-, but I am a little hesitant in that regard.

For one, like Andersen, he has absolutely no ties to his new region; 14 of his 18 years as a coach have been spent in the Midwest. And unlike Andersen, we don't actually know what kind of program builder he is. He inherited an interesting squad from Jerry Kill when Kill left for Minnesota, and he won big with it. But in only spending two years there, we don't know what he might do with a full recruiting cycle of his own. This is a solid hire, but there are still some red flags.


Former Coach: Danny Hope
New Coach: Darrell Hazell
Most Recent Job: Kent State head coach

Darrell Hazell has plenty of midwestern ties, and he needed just two years to take a perpetually miserable program and take it to the doorstep of a BCS bowl bid.

My one hesitation with Hazell is that Kent State was a bit lucky in 2012. The Golden Flashes were certainly a Top 40 team this season, but they recovered 61 percent of all fumbles this season. That could have made a difference of one to two wins this season, and Hazell probably doesn't get hired after just two years as a head coach if Kent State wins one or two fewer games in 2012. Still, there is obviously a lot to like about Hazell.

South Florida

Former Coach: Skip Holtz
New Coach: Willie Taggart
Most Recent Job: Western Kentucky head coach

USF lost its way under Skip Holtz, perpetually struggling late in games and missing any particular identity. Their new coach, Taggart, brings a strong sense of identity to the Tampa region; like his former mentor Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, Taggart basically turned brute strength into an underdog tactic and crafted two winning seasons at WKU from a program that had never succeeded at the FBS level before.

He's yet to coach in Florida (though he was a high school star at nearby Bradenton), and we don't fully know how he will recruit at the major(ish) conference level, but he has passed the tests he has been given thus far.


Former Coach: Steve Addazio
New Coach: Matt Rhule
Most Recent Job: N.Y. Giants assistant offensive line coach

A Penn State grad and longtime Temple assistant under Al Golden, Rhule stayed in Philadelphia when Golden took the Miami job. He served as Steve Addazio's offensive co-coordinator for a year before ending up with the New York Giants in 2012.

Like Gus Malzahn, however, Rhule's profile likely got a boost when Temple's offense fell apart without him. After ranking 44th in Off. F/+ in 2011, the Owls fell to 72nd in 2012. Now he returns to TU, and like so many other hires in the B+ range, he makes a lot of sense. We'll see if "sense" turns into "wins," however.

Utah State

Former Coach: Gary Andersen
New Coach: Matt Wells
Most Recent Job: Utah State offensive coordinator

Staying in-house made perfect sense for Utah State following Gary Andersen's departure, and the Aggies did just that. They tapped Wells, a 39-year-old USU alum and two-year Andersen assistant, to take over. USU's offense was only good, not great (like the defense), and Wells won't get the chance to woo defensive coordinator Dave Aranda into staying in Logan -- Aranda has already followed Andersen to Madison -- but this was a safe, likable hire.

Grade: B


Former Coach: Jeff Tedford
New Coach: Sonny Dykes
Most Recent Job: Louisiana Tech head coach

Dykes is an offense guy and now resides in an offense conference. He will inherit plenty of perfectly interesting skill position weapons in Berkeley, and by all means he should craft a fun, explosive offense.

But ... defense? Does he have anything on his resume to suggest that he can build a winning defense? His Tech defense was pretty good in 2011, but not in 2010 or 2012. Cal should expect to improve under Dykes, but by how much?


Former Coach: Robb Akey
New Coach: Paul Petrino
Most Recent Job: Arkansas offensive coordinator

Petrino brings an offense-heavy identity and strong blood lines to the Kibbie Dome, and honestly, Idaho should just be happy that they got any sort of name to coach its team while it figures out exactly what it is going to do, long-term, at the FBS level.


Former Coach: Joker Phillips
New Coach: Mark Stoops
Most Recent Job: Florida State defensive coordinator

Hey, speaking of blood lines, the Stoops family is a pretty good one, yes? Kentucky is such a difficult job, and with other SEC programs hiring more proven names, Stoops faces a severely uphill climb. But he has been good at the jobs he's been given through the years, and he gets some benefit-of-the-doubt in that regard.

San Jose State

Former Coach: Mike McIntyre
New Coach: Ron Caragher
Most Recent Job: San Diego head coach

For the first time in quite a while, San Jose State has high expectations of its new coach. And it is hard to gauge anything about Caragher, who was Kentucky's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach when Rich Brooks was going to bowl games every year, and who succeeded Jim Harbaugh at San Diego and went 8-3 or better three times. He has a decent track record, but he is a virtual unknown. (Then again, who isn't?)


Former Coach: Derek Dooley
New Coach: Butch Jones
Most Recent Job: Cincinnati head coach

Tennessee's hire of Butch Jones is, in every possible way, fine. Not great, not terrible, just fine. I now cede the floor to Spencer Hall.


Former Coach: Mike Price
New Coach: Sean Kugler
Most Recent Job: Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach

With just a little more college experience on the resume, Kugler could have been a solid B+ or A- hire. A UTEP grad, Kugler has spent most of his career as an offensive line coach at the NFL level, but he was also Boise State's OL coach in 2006, a year in which Boise State fielded a fantastic offensive line.

He is a complete unknown at this point, but he could give his alma mater a bit of a hometown discount and stick around a while if he happens to succeed.

Grade: B-

Boston College

Former Coach: Frank Spaziani
New Coach: Steve Addazio
Most Recent Job: Temple head coach

Call it a hunch. A Central Connecticut grad, Addazio has been building Northeastern ties for a while now, and he clearly knows how to ace the interview portion of the selection process. After an incredibly mediocre 2010 season as Florida's offensive coordinator, Addazio won the Temple job. He held the fort in 2011 -- Temple won nine games for the second time in three years -- but his offense fell apart in 2012, and in their first year back in the Big East, the Owls went just 4-7. And then he got promoted to the ACC.

There is certainly a lot to like about Addazio's potential as a recruiter and program builder, but he is still mostly potential. At some point he has to prove himself more than he has in the last three seasons, and until then I'm wary.

Western Michigan

Former Coach: Bill Cubit
New Coach: P.J. Fleck
Most Recent Job: Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers coach

Like Toledo with Matt Campbell last year, WMU chose an ultra-young assistant with a world of potential as its new head coach. That Fleck is just 32 years old doesn't scare me. After all, Kliff Kingsbury is just 33, and Matt Campbell is still only 32. Both Kingsbury and Campbell each held the offensive coordinator position for multiple years. Fleck has never been more than a receivers coach. That is an enormous red flag for me. I love the high-risk, high-upside hires, but this one seems a little riskier than others.

Grade: C

Louisiana Tech

Former Coach: Sonny Dykes
New Coach: Skip Holtz
Most Recent Job: South Florida head coach

This isn't entirely fair. Holtz has already proven he can win at the mid-major level; he did, after all, finish with a winning record in four of five seasons at East Carolina, twice winning Conference USA titles. He has a mid-major track record that is nothing if not solid.

But it always scares me when schools depart from the script, and after seeing success with the "hot, young offensive assistant" route, Louisiana Tech pulled a Southern Miss and went in the opposite direction here. Holtz will inherit recruits brought to Ruston to play a completely different offense than what he has fielded in the past, and I am unsure about his ceiling. My giving this hire a low grade reeks of recency bias (if Louisiana Tech had hired him straight from ECU in 2010, I'd probably have loved the hire), but this one just doesn't feel right to me.

Grade: D- (for now)

Florida International

Former Coach: Mario Cristobal
New Coach: ?

Almost no FBS school has been more allergic to happiness than FIU in recent years. Not only did the school think it was a good idea to hire Isiah "failed at everything except being a point guard" Thomas to coach its basketball team, but it fired football program savior Mario Cristobal after one bad year. Rumblings say that Cristobal and the athletic department weren't getting along very well, but let's just say that, whenever FIU does get around to making its official hire, it better be a good one.

If Butch Davis does eventually land there, as rumored, then FIU gets probably a B or so. Davis is a proven, if not long-term answer. But if Davis doesn't end up with the job, this will look more and more like a disaster.

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