This year's FBS coaching hires had a common theme: they ... made sense. They were merit-based and sensible.
And half of them will almost certainly fail.
Such is life in the land of coaching changes. The good athletic director will get one of two football hires right; the really good one will get two of three. But whereas previous years had at least one "WHHHAAAT??!" coaching hire -- Ron Turner at FIU in 2013, Charlie Weis at Kansas in 2012 -- just about every single one in the 2013-14 carousel made a good amount of sense.
With the carousel's spin coming to an end, let's take a look back at the 20 FBS hires and do all the evaluating we can do seven-plus months before games are played.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 22nd
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 8-5 (35th)
Coach's last 10 years: Florida defensive coordinator (2002-09), Louisville head coach (2010-13)
We begin with the biggest heavyweight program on the list, albeit one that has not played at a top-20 level over the past five years.
A good portion of Texas fans/boosters seemed to want a sexier name, but in terms of résumé and record, it's hard to disagree with a 30-year coaching veteran with assistant coaching experience under Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier, and Urban Meyer and a 23-3 record in 2012-13.
Strong is not the most charismatic guy in the world, and there's reason to wonder if the media- and Longhorn Network-based aspects of this job will wear on him over time. But for a program that lacked both discipline and identity in recent years, Strong should bring plenty of both to the table.
And he has a record of success. He inherited a Louisville program that had gone 9-15 and ranked 90th and 96th, respectively, in F/+ in 2008-09. He immediately built it back into a top-50 program (42nd in 2010, 45th in 2011), won a conference title and scored a major Sugar Bowl upset of Florida in 2012, then jumped all the way to 12th and 12-1 in 2013. The Cardinals weren't legitimately elite in 2013, as some predicted they would be, but that was more the fault of the prognosticators than Strong. He quickly reestablished Louisville's foundation, then just as quickly built on top of it.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 20th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 10-4 (11th)
Coach's last 10 years: USC quarterbacks coach (2001-03, 2005-08), Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach (2004), USC offensive coordinator (2007-08), Washington head coach (2009-13)
Spoiler alert: USC's going to be really, really good in 2014. That was going to be the case no matter who took over, but Sarkisian's got it pretty easy. He's going to recruit well -- just about anybody could at USC -- and he should be able to do good things even just as a caretaker of the program left to him by Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, and Clay Helton.
Long-term? We'll see. Sarkisian won praise for inheriting an 0-12 team at Washington and immediately boosting the win total to five, then seven games in the first two years. His Huskies hit a wall, going 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012. But while Washington's 2013 season doesn't look like much of a step forward (UW went 8-4 with him in charge, then won the Fight Hunger Bowl after his departure), the lackluster record was due mostly to an incredible Pac-12. Washington improved from an average of 64th in the F/+ rankings over his first four years to 18th in 2013.
This is a strange situation. Sarkisian absolutely leaves the Washington program in much better shape than he found it in 2009, but UW fans weren't upset when he left, especially considering whom they got to replace him.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 26th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 7-5 (61st)
Coach's last 10 years: Maryland receivers coach (2000-04), Green Bay Packers receivers coach (2005), Kansas State offensive coordinator (2006-07), Maryland offensive coordinator (2008-10), Vanderbilt head coach (2011-13)
On paper, it's hard to find a hole to poke in this hire. Franklin was a Pennsylvania boy and has a track record for outstanding recruiting (still a necessity with Penn State facing ongoing, recruitment-hindering sanctions) and a miraculous turnaround on his record. Vanderbilt had won 36 games in 11 years before Franklin arrived; the Commodores won 24 in three years under Franklin.
Former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, who left for the Houston Texans after just two years, was said to be frustrated with behind-the-scenes machinations at Penn State. Though Franklin seems perfectly built to deal with nosy boosters and outside influences, it could still trip him up. Success isn't guaranteed, but wow, does this seem to be a perfect marriage on paper.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 39th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 12-1 (12th)
Coach's last 10 years: Louisville head coach (2003-06), Atlanta Falcons head coach (2007), Arkansas head coach (2008-11), Western Kentucky head coach (2013)
We'll put aside the general tackiness of this hire, that it sets an awful example for players (if you're into that sort of thing) ... that Louisville is basically welcoming back the guy who cheated on the program, then dumped it seven years ago ... that there's a chance that, despite the "baby, I've changed" rhetoric, he leaves Louisville for a sexier job again in the coming years ... that even though we know that winning is all that matters, we don't necessarily enjoy having that principle shoved so blatantly in our faces.
Indeed, let's put that aside. This makes quite a bit of sense on paper ... we think.
Bobby Petrino wins wherever he goes, at least at the college level. He inherited a strong program at Louisville and made it stronger, winning 41 games in four years. He took over a crumbling Arkansas program, went 5-7 in 2008, then went 29-10 over the next three years. And in one year at Western Kentucky, he changed up the offense and still landed an 8-4 record, only WKU's second winning season at the FBS level.
The problem, if one exists, isn't what's on his résumé; it's what's not. When he left Louisville, successor Steve Kragthorpe won just 15 games in three seasons. When he left Arkansas (because of a literal extra-marital situation, instead of the figurative one mentioned above), the Hogs went 7-17 in 2012-13. Were these just poor hires by these respective schools, or were there cracks in the foundation that might actually trip Petrino up if he sticks around in the same place for long enough? We'll see.
Grade: B+ on paper, D- on principle.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 48th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 9-4 (18th)
Coach's last 10 years: Boise State offensive coordinator (2001-05), Boise State head coach (2006-13)
Again, on paper, what more could you ask for? You just lost a coach who peaked at 8-4 and replaced him with a coach who just experienced a terrible setback of a season ... by going 8-4. Chris Petersen has won 92 games in eight years as a head coach; he engineered four top-10 poll finishes and six top-20 finishes at a school that didn't exist at the FBS level 20 years ago. And now he's at a school that won the national title 22 seasons ago?
Boise State slipped rather drastically in recent years. After ranking first in the F/+ rankings in 2010 (ahead of even national champion Auburn) and fifth in 2011, the Broncos slipped to 21st in 2012 and 45th in 2013. Losing breakthrough talent like Kellen Moore hurt, but perhaps the biggest source of slippage came in the booth, where Petersen was tasked with replacing successful assistant after successful assistant. It's quite possible that opponents were simply beginning to catch up to Boise State tactically; if that's the case, then this isn't a slam-dunk success. But if the problem was more in continuing to find great assistants or land diamond-in-the-rough talent, then those will be rectified to a good degree at UW.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 60th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 9-4 (50th)
Coach's last 10 years: New Mexico State receivers coach (2004), Ohio receivers coach (2005-06), Minnesota Vikings defensive backs coach (2007-09), Stanford defensive backs coach (2010-11), Stanford defensive coordinator or co-coordinator (2011-13)
Suddenly successful smart-kid school loses its architect, replaces him with top assistant at another, stronger smart-school success story. If you know nothing else about Derek Mason, that tidbit makes this a good hire. Success is far from guaranteed, especially for this program in the SEC (and especially with the way that Franklin and other coaches have completely picked apart the current recruiting class), but the hire certainly made sense.
A 20-year coaching veteran, Mason has risen quickly. A Northern Arizona grad, he floated from Mesa Community College to Weber State to Idaho State early in his career. A decade ago, he was a position coach on Tony Samuel's staff aboard the leakiest lifeboat in FBS, New Mexico State. Frank Solich picked him up and dusted him off at Ohio, and after a stint with Brad Childress and the Vikings, Mason fit the young-and-hungry-assistant template Jim Harbaugh has so aptly sought through the years. He stayed with Stanford when Harbaugh left and quickly became David Shaw's top assistant. Meanwhile, Tony Samuel was just let go after eight seasons at SE Missouri State. Fortunes change; we'll see if Mason can prevent Vandy's from doing so in his first head-coaching gig.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 8th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 8-4 (45th)
Coach's last 10 years: Boise State tight ends coach (2002-05), Boise State offensive coordinator (2006-10), Texas offensive co-coordinator (2011-12), Arkansas State head coach (2013)
It certainly doesn't hurt Bryan Harsin's reputation that Boise State's slide began shortly after he (and Kellen Moore, Doug Martin, etc.) left town, does it?
Harsin built something semi-interesting out of the Texas offense -- after ranking 100th in Off. F/+ in 2010, the Longhorns ranked 18th in 2012 -- and kept Arkansas State afloat as its fourth head coach in four years. Nothing he's done since leaving Boise State has proven he's a slam-dunk success, and for all we know, the BSU of 2006-11 is never coming back. But this was a sensible hire in every sense of the word, and he has put together a pretty impressive assistant coaching staff thus far.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 57th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 3-9 (93rd)
Coach's last 10 years: Western Michigan linebackers/special teams coach (2004), Central Michigan defensive co-coordinator (2005), Virginia linebackers/special teams coach (2006-08), Cincinnati defensive coordinator (2009), Notre Dame defensive coordinator (2010-13)
Bob Diaco is nearly a New Englander (he's from New Jersey), he won the Broyles Award (for the nation's top assistant coach in 2012), and his first three Notre Dame defenses all ranked in the Def. F/+ top 20 (16th in 2010, 14th in 2011, 13th in 2012). The 2013 defense slipped to 33rd, but if we were grading on a curve, this hire should probably get an A or A-, as it's just about the best UConn could have hoped for. Curve aside, there are worse things in the world than hiring a defensive coordinator who was in the national title game 11 months prior.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 83rd
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 4-8 (81st)
Coach's last 10 years: Fordham head coach (1999-2004), Richmond head coach (2004-07), Tennessee offensive coordinator (2008), Bowling Green head coach (2009-13)
Most people are aware only of Dave Clawson's last two stops: Tennessee (where he oversaw the crumbling of Phil Fulmer's last offense) and Bowling Green. But 2014 will be Clawson's 15th year as the head coach of a Division I program.
After a 3-19 start with Fordham, Clawson won 26 games from 2001-03 and reached the 1-AA quarterfinals. After a 3-8 start at Richmond, he won 26 games from 2005-07 and twice reached the 1-AA quarterfinals. And after a 14-23 start at Bowling Green, he won 18 games in two years and ended NIU's MAC title reign this past December. Clawson is a far more proven entity than Jim Grobe was when Wake Forest hired the former Ohio head coach in 2001.
The main question for Clawson is ... is he funky enough to win in Winston-Salem? Wake Forest is one of the biggest underdogs at the major-conference level -- as Grobe pointed out to me last year, a school like Michigan has more living alums than Wake Forest has total alums -- and Grobe seemed like a miracle worker for engineering five bowl bids (and one incredible conference title run) in 13 seasons. Can Clawson show the recruiting claws to draw talent to Wake Forest? If not, can he derive supreme development or tactical advantages to win games in the ACC? Like so many others, this hire makes solid sense, but we'll see if Clawson has the right kind of experience to win as a perpetual underdog.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 76th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 10-4 (47th)
Coach's last 10 years: UCLA running backs/quarterbacks coach (2004-07), Baylor receivers coach (2008-11), Eastern Illinois head coach (2012-13)
Here is a complete, alphabetical list of schools at which Dino Babers coached over the course of 28 years before getting a head coaching opportunity: Arizona (six years), Arizona State (one), Baylor (three), Eastern Illinois (one), Hawaii (one), Northern Arizona (one), Pittsburgh (one), Purdue (three), San Diego State (one), Texas A&M (two), UCLA (four), and UNLV (two).
The guy has been around the block, and he has coached for both defense-friendly head coaches (Dick Tomey at Arizona, R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M) and offensive kings (Baylor's Art Briles). He somehow survived the dissonance associated with moving from Karl Dorrell's UCLA to Baylor, and in his first two years as a head coach, he inherited a program that had gone 4-18 in 2010-11 and went 19-7 in 2012-13. His EIU Panthers reached the FCS playoffs both years, making the quarterfinals in 2013. His track record as a head coach is abbreviated but impressive, and it seems his pass-happy style will mesh well with what returns to BGSU in 2014.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 77th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 8-5 (90th)
Coach's last 10 years: Middle Tennessee offensive co-coordinator (2002-04), UL-Lafayette offensive coordinator (2007), Southern Miss quarterbacks coach (2008-09), Southern Miss offensive coordinator (2010-11), North Carolina offensive coordinator (2012-13)
Blake Anderson was actually out of coaching as recently as seven years ago, before a call from UL-Lafayette head coach Rickey Bustle got him back into the game.
His MTSU offenses a decade ago were among the first to hurry up to the line, then look to the sideline to get the play-call, and attack that so many use today, and his 2013 UNC offense seemed to get better as it got younger throughout the course of the season. His star has risen awfully quickly, and he now takes over at a place known almost entirely for hiring rising stars.
Arkansas State hired Hugh Freeze in 2011, then lost him to Ole Miss after one season. The Red Wolves hired Gus Malzahn, then lost him to Auburn. They hired Bryan Harsin, then lost him to Boise State. Anderson is their fourth hire in about 26 months, but despite the turmoil, the ASU program has never been healthier. ASU has won 28 games in three years, and while this run of success could end at any moment, you have to figure ASU gets the benefit of the doubt. No school has passed hiring tests more frequently than this one.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 99th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 8-4 (77th)
Coach's last 10 years: Louisville quarterbacks coach (2003-06), Louisville passing game coordinator (2007), Louisville offensive coordinator (2008), Florida Atlantic quarterbacks coach (2009), Illinois quarterbacks coach (2010-11), UAB offensive coordinator (2012), Western Kentucky offensive coordinator (2013)
You have to figure WKU officials were a bit nervous. In hiring Bobby Petrino a year ago, they had to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were getting a one-year rental. Maybe if things broke right, they'd get him for a second year.
So they planned accordingly. They had Brohm lined up as a likely replacement. Only, Petrino then went to Brohm's alma mater, Louisville. Would Brohm leave with him?
Brohm stayed. And the most Kentucky of coaches -- played at Louisville, coached the Louisville Fire arena football team for a year, was an assistant at U of L for six years, served as WKU's offensive coordinator in 2013 -- now has a home in-state as a head coach. He's got solid offensive credentials. We'll see if he can do what no other coach has done: win after Petrino leaves.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 113th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 5-7 (102nd)
Coach's last 10 years: North Dakota State head coach (2003-13)
Wyoming is a really, really hard job, with a minimal recruiting base on which to lean. But if anybody knows how to navigate waters like these, it's Bohl, who won 104 games in 11 years as NDSU's head coach and won 43 and three FCS national titles in the last three. He oversaw NDSU's rise to the FCS level, then dominated. He crafted the best defense in FCS, and perhaps one of the top 20 teams in the country, last year.
Again, nothing is guaranteed, but wow, is this a home run on paper.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 108th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 6-6 (73rd)
Coach's last 10 years: Pittsburgh defensive line/linebackers/special teams coach (2003-07), Wisconsin defensive assistant (2008-10), Wisconsin defensive co-coordinator (2011-12), Arkansas defensive line coach (2013)
Wyoming went with the proven head coach with unproven (at the FBS level) recruiting abilities. FAU, meanwhile, went with a proven recruiter with no head coaching experience. Partridge bounced from Dave Wannstedt's staff at Pitt to Bret Bielema's, and while he's never ranked higher than co-coordinator, this Plantation (Fla.) native certainly has experience recruiting in the state of Florida. Is that enough?
In a year in which proven head coaching ability ranked high for a lot of schools, Partridge has none. He takes over a squad that was surprisingly strong in 2013 despite the strange circumstances surrounding Carl Pelini's departure, and perhaps he can build on that. But ace recruiters aren't exactly slam-dunk program managers, and this hire doesn't feel quite as sturdy as others. (Then again, like athletic directors, I'm wrong about 50 percent of the time.)
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 104th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 2-10 (100th)
Coach's last 10 years: Navy running backs coach (2002-07), Georgia Tech running backs/special teams coach (2008-09), Georgia Southern head coach (2010-13)
Because of a complete and total lack of size in the trenches, service academies appear resigned to the fact that they can only run option- and cut-block-based offenses. Thinking inside that box, Army landed a pretty damn good option coach.
Jeff Monken coached under both Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo, and in four years at Georgia Southern, he reached the FCS semifinals three times and, in an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, upset Florida without completing a pass. Like others on this list, Army is a really difficult job. But Monken has a level of experience and success that will give him a fighting chance to succeed.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 111th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 2-10 (115th)
Coach's last 10 years: Prattville (Ala.) High School head coach (1999-2007), South Alabama defensive coordinator (2008-12), Jacksonville State head coach (2013)
One could make the case that Jacksonville State is actually a better job than UAB at this point. JSU has proven it can win consistently at the FCS level, and UAB is almost institutionally prevented from succeeding within the structure of Alabama universities.
That said, this is a rather inspired, if risky, hire. Clark won big at the high school level within the state, and while South Alabama's offense struggled mightily in its first FBS season (122nd in Off. F/+), Clark's defense was actually pretty strong, all things considered (83rd in Def. F/+). Clark has just one year of head coaching experience and one year of FBS assistant coaching experience. He might be biting off more than he can chew, but his résumé features a lot of wins, and if you're at UAB, why the hell wouldn't you be willing to take a risk?
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 116th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 0-12 (123rd)
Coach's last 10 years: Grand Valley State head coach (2004-09), Notre Dame defensive backs coach (2010-11), Notre Dame offensive coordinator (2012-13)
The Cradle of Coaches, once one of the best identifiers of coaching talent in the country, has not had much of a track record over the last decade. When Terry Hoeppner left for Indiana in 2005, the Redhawks replaced him with Shane Montgomery, who won 10 games in his final three years. After a brief stint (and a surprising MAC title) by Mike Haywood, Miami brought Don Treadwell aboard, went 8-16 in 2011-12, then went 0-12 in 2013.
Now comes Chuck Martin, who went an impeccable 74-7 in six seasons at Grand Valley State, then performed reasonably well as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator (ninth in Off. F/+ in 2012, 24th in 2013). He's a little too old to be a true up-and-comer, but he nailed his first head-coaching audition. Now let's see if he can resurrect a program that has more-or-less fallen apart, with seven losing seasons in eight years.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 121st
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 2-10 (124th)
Coach's last 10 years: Wabash College head coach (2001-07), Drake head coach (2008-13)
If New Mexico State isn't the country's most consistent coaching graveyard, it's EMU. Since going 7-3-1 in 1989, EMU has finished with a winning record just once (6-5 in 1995). Rick Rasnick won 20 games in five years. Jeff Woodruff won 11 in four. Jeff Genyk won 16 in five. Ron English won 11 in most of five.
That said, Drake is not exactly a football hotbed, and Chris Creighton did average seven wins a year there. Creighton's résumé is ridiculously midwestern -- he went 32-9 in four years at Ottawa (Kan.), 63-15 in seven years at Wabash (Ind.), and 42-22 in six years at Drake (Iowa). He was a quarterback at Kenyon (Ohio) and an assistant in Illinois and Indiana before that.
He wasn't a sexy hire, but EMU isn't going to make a sexy hire. He wanted the job, which made him attractive, and if nothing else he has shown that he can unearth interesting talent in less-than-fertile areas. And he boasts more head coaching experience than most realistic EMU candidates. I'm intrigued.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: 125th
2013 Record and F/+ Rank: 1-11 (118th)
Coach's last 10 years: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach (2004-06), Philadelphia Eagles offensive assistant (2007-08), Miami (Florida) offensive coordinator (2009-10), Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach (2011-12)
Mark Whipple is actually just about the most experienced head coach on the list -- he has 16 years of head coaching experience. Only, it all happened between 11 and 27 years ago. He went 48-17 and twice made the Division II quarterfinals (or better) in six years at New Haven, went 24-16 in four seasons at Brown, his alma mater, and he went 49-26 and reached the 1-AA playoffs three times as UMass head coach.
One can see why Whipple would be attractive to UMass, especially considering, like Creighton at EMU, he actually wanted the job. UMass was decent at football not very long ago but fell apart right as it made the jump to FBS. It's hard to say Whipple will succeed, but again, in a year in which head coaching experience was held in particularly high regard, he has a lot of it.
Program 5-year F/+ Rank: N/A
2013 Record: 7-4
Coach's last 10 years: Central Missouri head coach (1997-09), Sam Houston State head coach (2010-13)
Experience, experience, experience. Willie Fritz has been a head coach for 16 years, first laying the groundwork for a Division II power at Central Missouri, then jumping to the FCS and creating an immediate winner at Sam Houston State. SHSU had averaged just five wins per season in the five years before Fritz came aboard, but after a 6-5 debut, the Bearkats won 25 games in 2011-12, twice reaching the FCS finals (and falling to Bohl's North Dakota State squad).
Fritz reached the FCS playoffs once again in 2013, and now he takes over a Georgia Southern program that is making the jump to FBS. His run-first tendencies should play well with the personnel Jeff Monken left behind, and again, he has more head coaching experience than a fledgling FBS program could expect to land.
That's one A-plus, two As, an A-minus, nine B-plusses, six Bs, and a C+.
A sparkling GPA, really, especially considering that, again, a good number of these coaches will fail. But it's hard to poke holes in many of the thought processes here. Most jobs went to either successful head coaches or really successful coordinators, and a lot of the hires had quite a few ties to the state or region in question.
We'll give athletic directors a solid B+ or A- for this batch.
What do you think?
Photos: Matthew O'Haren-USA Today, Brian Losness-USA Today, Rick Osentoski-USA Today, Danny Wild-USA Today