College football's coaching silly season was slow for a while, but business has picked up a bit as the calendar has turned over to 2017. Nearly two dozen teams have made head coaching changes, ranging from the country's blue-blood programs to Group of 5 bottom-feeders looking for a jumpstart.
There have been a few surprises. Indiana and Cal weren't expected to fire their coaches when they did, and Minnesota's swap wasn't expected at the end of the regular season but was building for a while during bowl season.
At points, it's looked like coaching hiring and firing season had died down, only to find late life. We'll continue to update this tracker if (and as) more college football teams make leadership changes at the top. The current state of play:
|San Jose State
Out: Art Briles (65-37), former Houston HC and Texas Tech assistant
In: Matt Rhule (28-23), former Temple HC and longtime assistant
The NCAA didn’t sanction the Bears for the school’s sexual assault scandal, which cost Briles his job after he allegedly failed to follow protocol upon learning about an attack. It’s outside the NCAA’s jurisdiction, basically.
Rhule is a better hire than most expected BU to be able to make, based on his resume. Back-to-back 10-win seasons is a school first, and the 2016 AAC title is the program's first since 1967. He doesn't have much Texas recruiting background, though.
But it might as well have, as far as the roster goes. The highest-rated signees from 2016 left for Texas and Oklahoma, and the 2017 class won’t approach Power 5 standards. Rhule (who has a good reputation) must enforce a flawless player discipline, and the school must be willing to accept down years before hoping to return to the Bears’ (very) recent competitive standard.
Out: Sonny Dykes (19-30)
In: Justin Wilcox, former Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee, and Boise State DC
The Bears fired Dykes in a surprise move just after the new year, reportedly failing to remove him for cause and making that an expensive decision. Cal was 127th in the country in scoring defense in Dykes' last season, so the Bears hired Wilcox, whose Wisconsin unit was fourth. It's a big change, clearly geared toward Cal figuring out how to stop someone.
Out: Tommy Tuberville (29-22), former Auburn/Texas Tech/Ole Miss HC and DC
In: Luke Fickell (6-7 as interim), longtime Ohio State DC
UC's run of excellent coaching hires continued with the hire of Tuberville, but after two nine-win seasons, he seemed to run out of gas.
Hiring an older coach felt like an attempt to stop the bleeding (Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, and Butch Jones all left UC for bigger jobs), but now it's clear the Bearcats will have to go young again and trust their ability to hire a replacement in another three to five years. This is still one of mid-majordom's best jobs.
Fickell was Jim Tressel's surprise interim in 2011, likely an incomplete picture of his abilities. His defenses have been excellent, with various co-DCs hopping onto and off his side of the ball since 2005.
Out: Bob Diaco (11-26)
In: Randy Edsall (92-97), former UConn and Maryland HC whom the Huskies have rehired.
This isn't a high-upside move, but it might be a high-floor move. The Edsall hire is the opposite of exciting, but it might make the Huskies more respectable than they were in three seasons under Diaco.
Out: Charlie Partridge (9-27), former Wisconsin/Arkansas DL coach
In: Lane Kiffin (35-21), former Alabama OC and USC/Tennessee/Raiders HC
The FAU job just got a bit less attractive.
First, Butch Davis, a tenacious recruiter and evaluator, just got hired at rival FIU.
And second, the Owls just fired a group of respected coaches, who seemed to be doing things the way successful coaches do, but were decimated by injuries this year. It's obviously smack dab in the middle of a talent hot bed, but it's not an automatic springboard.
Kiffin's failed head coaching stints before (and Tennessee doesn't exactly count there) don't mean he'll never succeed as a head coach, and now he's had three years of Nick Saban influence. Will that, plus his talents at coaching offense and recruiting, work?
Out: Ron Turner (10-30), former Illinois HC
In: Butch Davis (79-43 in college career), former Miami/North Carolina/Cleveland Browns HC
FIU has wanted Davis for years. The coach responsible for assembling perhaps the most talented roster ever, 2001 Miami’s, has spent the last few years working for ESPN.
The program has stabilized somewhat after the disastrous 2011 choice to fire Mario Cristobal, who’d engineered the only two bowl bids in program history, winning at least four games three years in a row. Conference USA is the weakest FBS conference, meaning an opportunity for a coach who’ll recruit Florida’s lower tiers well.
Out: Tim DeRuyter (30-30), former Texas A&M/Air Force DC
In: Jeff Tedford (82-57 in college career), former Cal HC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC, and Washington staffer
DeRuyter won 11 games in 2013 with future Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, then plummeted to six, three, and one (at the time of firing).
Tedford returns to his alma mater. He’s had two 10-win seasons, building a reputation as a QB guru thanks to Aaron Rodgers and several other first-rounders.
Mountain West Connection begs to differ and has other worries as well:
In Tedford’s final five years, Cal’s passing offense never ranked higher than fifth in the Pac-10/12 in yards per game, never ranked higher than sixth in overall QB rating, finished in the top half of yards per attempt just once, and never rose above the bottom three in completion rate.
Rodgers, the last best data point, played a dozen years ago. Dilfer played in Fresno well over 20 years ago. The game had clearly changed.
Out: Trent Miles (9-38), former Indiana State HC and NFL/Power 5 position coach
In: Shawn Elliott (1-5), former South Carolina interim and OL coach and Appalachian State assistant
Other than a bizarre, four-game winning streak to close 2015 and reach the first bowl in school history, the Miles era offered no indication that GSU's going to compete at the FBS level. Miles took both ISU and GSU from 0-12 to six-win seasons, but took a step back instead of forward in 2016.
Everything about the job that's looked attractive all along — its Atlanta location, basically — is still there for a coach who can turn it into Sun Belt wins.
Elliott did a pretty good job taking over for Steve Spurrier in 2015 (despite the unattractive win-loss record).
Out: Tom Herman (22-4), to Texas
In: Major Applewhite, Houston OC
Within the last decade, the Cougars have now had to replace Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, and 2016's biggest hire.
There are reasons UH remains able to hire future Power 5 coaches, including the school's location in one of the country's most talented metro areas. The Cougars were prepared to pay Herman at least $4 million a year, and even half that salary would still make this a better job than some that are actually in power conferences.
This time, however, Houston's betting on continuity, promoting OC Applewhite. The Cougars offense ranked in the top 25 in 2015 and contributed to two impressive seasons, and Applewhite (a former Texas QB) has plenty of local ties.
Out: Kevin Wilson (26-47), former Oklahoma/Northwestern OC
In: Tom Allen, former Indiana/USF DC, Ole Miss LB coach
The year's first truly surprising firing, based only on on-field performance. The Hoosiers were bowl-eligible for the second year in a row, something they hadn't done since 1991. But the school's investigated claims of player mistreatment, which could mean a situation like Tim Beckman's at Illinois in 2015.
In one year, Allen helped swing the defense from one of the country's worst to one of the Big Ten's best (105th per S&P+ in 2015 to 37th in 2016). At USF, he oversaw a similar turnaround, and at Ole Miss, worked with All-SEC linebackers Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche. The Indiana native was a finalist for this year's Broyles Award, given to the country's top assistant.
IU will be a tough place for any coach to win, as evidenced by Wilson's six-win seasons being considered achievements. Allen replacing Wilson could signal a continued move away from Indiana's high-scoring, CHAOS TEAM rep and toward something more tranquil on the scoreboard.
Out: Les Miles (114-34), former Oklahoma State HC/OC and Power 5 OL coach
In: Ed Orgeron (already 5-2 at LSU, 21-29 in career), former LSU/USC interim and Ole Miss HC
Firing Miles last year, as LSU tried to do, would’ve felt like another case of SEC teams having unrealistic standards in the Nick Saban era. Firing Miles this year, after the offense offered no new hope against Wisconsin and Auburn defenses that turned out to be great, was hard to avoid.
With Jimbo Fisher likely to remain at Florida State and Tom Herman likely to take Texas (both did), Orgeron’s opportunity was there. He went 5-2, with close losses to the SEC’s division winners, and his offense under interim OC Steve Ensminger broke several school single-game records. Now he’s gonna try and hire away game-changing Alabama OC Lane Kiffin.
Orgeron has been dismissed for his resume alone. Hiring him has been called an "emotional" decision, generally in a derisive tone.
I find it funny when some member of that crowd jump to their own hyperbole with talk of Orgeron "embarrassing" LSU or "setting the program back 20 years."
Orgeron probably offers the highest "floor" of any coaching candidate, due to his recruiting ability and low price tag. Even if he were to immediately revert to what we saw at Ole Miss, he would leave behind a talented roster for a successor, and likely offer an easy way out in terms of finances. Big contracts for Fisher or Herman would leave LSU far more locked in for a certain amount of time due to buyout provisions. That would tie the university’s hands for a time if the program was underperforming, and possibly even limit options in finding a successor.
But the chances that Orgeron would fail on that massive of a scale seem remote to me. I think we’ve seen his plan in action over the last two months, and with more time and resources to implement it fully, it’s a plan that will succeed. And I’m not alone in that thought.
"I think you’ve seen the job he’s done in two months and there’s a lot to like," said (SI’s Andy) Staples. "Can’t you see him doing it all the time? I don’t see any reason why not."
I’ve seen it written at a number of places that, were Orgeron to leave LSU, no other major program would consider him for their head coaching position. And it’s true, he wouldn’t fit in anywhere else. But he would here. And he might just be the best choice.
Out: Tracy Claeys (11-8)
In: P.J. Fleck (30-22), former Western Michigan HC
Despite a nine-win Holiday Bowl season, Minnesota fired Claeys after the season. He'd supported a threatened player boycott over the university's handling of a sexual assault investigation involving suspended players, placing himself in direct opposition to his bosses in the university's administration. The Gophers replaced him with Fleck, who led WMU to the Cotton Bowl in his fourth season with the program. Fleck sounds like he wants to rebuild.
Out: Brian Polian (23-27), former Texas A&M/Stanford/Notre Dame special teams coach
In: Jay Norvell, former Arizona State assistant, Oklahoma co-OC, and longtime assistant elsewhere
Nevada's missed bowl season only twice since 2004, both under Polian. Replacing program architect and College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault might've been too big a task for a first-time head coach.
The birthplace of the pistol offense will have to remain creative, as the school ranks last in the Mountain West in athletic department revenue. MWC Connection approves of Norvell:
The NFL experience is huge, as is Norvell's ability to recruit California and Texas. Over the past few seasons, recruiting the Golden State has been less of a priority for Reno, despite being a border state. Look for Norvell to make recruiting California a priority for the Wolf Pack, and the Nevada roster to have a majority of Californians suiting up for them.
That combination makes Norvell the best choice for the Nevada head coaching job.
Out: Mark Helfrich (37-16), former Oregon OC
In: Willie Taggart (40-45), former USF and WKU HC and Stanford RB coach
The Ducks' first actual head coaching search since 1976 (they'd promoted from within for three straight hires) comes after a total collapse on defense and a step back on offense over the last few years, culminating in a 4-8 2016. The school has Nike money, a national brand, and high expectations in a rapidly improving Pac-12 North.
And now they've got a guy who's pulled off two rebuilds (one of them was a just plain build, as WKU had never even been to a bowl before), can get the Ducks back to top-20 recruiting, will run whatever offense works, and has at least had one solid defense in the last few years. From our 2016 profile on him:
He embraced what he saw in his Floridian roster: raw athleticism, as fast as possible.
"That's so important to us. That's why we have the respect. Because you don't normally see coaches do that," senior running back Marlon Mack said after the win vs. UCF. "I don't know of coaches at this level that would listen to players asking to change things. We said, ‘Please, let's go fast, let us go and we'll show you,' and he did."
"At first it was, well, let's just run West Coast, but see how it looks in the 'gun," Taggart said. "And then it got intriguing, because we started seeing all the options available that we didn't have under center. And then we started running all the practice reps, Quinton in the 'gun, spread out, but with the shifts and motions. And it was like ... wow."
It didn't pay out overnight, but there was faith enough in the experiment to keep going. USF started 2015 1-3, but lost to surging Memphis by only seven. Taggart was hot-seat fodder.
"When we made the change, we were beating ourselves up over, ‘What is it? What are we doing wrong?' It wasn't the schemes. We just needed to get more and more reps," associate head coach David Reaves said.
"We'd see USF when I was coaching against them. You'd watch their tape and say ‘Man, they've got athletes, they just need to get them the ball more,'" new co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said. "It jumps out at you. But unless you're a true power team, with a big offensive line like Michigan, it's hard to make it work."
Out: Darrell Hazell (9-33), former Kent State HC and Ohio State/etc. WR coach
In: Jeff Brohm (30-10), former Western Kentucky HC and Louisville OC
Hiring a Big Ten assistant didn't work for Purdue. It usually doesn't. So, good thing they went creative for once!
A former Louisville, NFL, and XFL quarterback, Brohm runs one of the country's most innovative and devastating offensive systems and is regularly hailed a future coaching star. Baylor and Cincinnati were also interested in him.
WKU's spread offense has ranked in the national top 10 in yards per game and top five in yards per play for three straight years, with a perhaps surprising amount of balance between run and pass. In 2015, Brandon Doughty finished No. 2 nationally in passer rating, and this year, Mike White finished No. 3.
There are signs that Purdue might begin committing to high-level football soon:
In the span of 48 hours, [the Board of Trustees] committed more than $10 million to the improvement of Purdue football in the form of stadium lights and the Hazell buyout. Was it because the Big Ten forced their hand on the lights? Probably. Was Hazell getting fired just a common sense measure? Yeah. They are still positive steps. The program needed to go forward, when for so long we have been held back by financial concerns.
While we still have a long way to go to overcome the Purdue image, the Board has still taken some positive steps. And let's be blunt about the Purdue image: it is that those in power do not care as long as the Big Ten check keeps coming.
San Jose State
Out: Ron Caragher (19-30), former San Diego HC and Kentucky/UCLA position coach
In: Brent Brennan, former Oregon State WR coach and SJSU OC
SJSU recruited well under Caragher, including a 2015 class that ranked a shocking No. 58 in the 247Sports Composite, so the talent is certainly there to compete in the Mountain West's lighter division.
As a Spartans coach he had many roles which included offensive coordinator and coaching the tight ends, wide receivers, offensive lineman and special teams.
There are even more connections with Brennan to San Jose State than just being a coach there for five years. His father played football for the Spartans and his mother was a cheerleader at the school.
Oregon State's passing game this year was not good, for whatever that's worth.
Out: Matt Rhule (28-23), former Temple and New York Giants assistant
In: Geoff Collins, former Florida/Mississippi State DC and longtime assistant
Rhule left Temple better than he found it, winning at levels few thought possible. The Owls are near good recruiting areas and in the country's best non-power conference. Collins has fielded two straight top-10 defenses and was excellent at MSU, and he's got a sense of humor about connecting with recruits. We think pretty highly of him.
Out: Charlie Strong (16-21), former Louisville HC and Florida/South Carolina DC
In: Tom Herman (22-4), former Houston HC and Ohio State/Iowa State OC
Texas remained Texas until the end, turning Strong’s exit into a drawn-out mess, as is custom. The coach and program were a poor fit, and he’ll command interest as a defensive coordinator for now, at very least.
Herman, the year’s most-sought candidate, inherits a talented, young roster that includes a potential long-term QB, freshman Shane Buechele.
Over the last four cycles, only 12 teams have signed a greater percentage of elite players than the Longhorns. Expectations will be high. Strong has, by all accounts, also changed the culture around Texas for the better. These are reasons why, despite mediocre results, he had a chance to keep his job had he not lost to Cal, Kansas, etc. The new coach will benefit from the fact that Texas loses just four senior starters to graduation.
The former Texas graduate assistant went 5-0 against the Power 5 as Houston’s head coach, and going back to his time as a national champion at Ohio State, his teams are on an 11-0 run as underdogs. His tactical specialty is offense that plays to his teams’ strengths, and his staff will be able to recruit the hell out of Texas. His UH roster included freshman Ed Oliver, one of only a handful of five-stars to ever sign with a mid-major.
As with Orgeron, this also counts as a coach landing his actual dream job. Burnt Orange Nation:
It’s hard to say with absolute confidence that Herman will succeed, but he’s been successful in every one of his stops since taking the offensive coordinator job at Texas State in 2005.
Much like Strong, he builds meaningful relationships with his players and recruits at an extremely high level.
Unlike Strong, he’ll have the benefit of all the talent Strong brought to Texas over the last two recruiting cycles and should have a chance to close out the 2017 class by landing some of the top recruits the former head coach was unlikely to land because of his poor results on the field.
Out: Willie Taggart (24-25), former WKU HC and Stanford RB coach
In: Charlie Strong (53-37), former Texas/Louisville HC and Florida/South Carolina DC
The Bulls have a great, young roster and offer a recruiting situation on par with some Power 5 gigs, and Strong's background in the area suggests he can take advantage. He was a poor fit at Texas, but he's succeeded at every other big-time role he's had.
Out: Jeff Brohm (30-10), former Western Kentucky HC and Louisville OC
In: Mike Sanford, former Notre Dame/Boise State OC and Stanford assistant
It seems WKU has done well in Sanford, a well-regarded quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, despite the crowded coaching carousel at the upper-mid-major level. He should be able to keep WKU's 45-point-per-game offense humming.
Out: P.J. Fleck (30-22)
In: Tim Lester, former Purdue QBs coach and Syracuse OC
Fleck left for the vacant job at Minnesota. Lester's move to a head coaching job, coupled with Brohm at WKU and now Purdue, means two former XFL quarterbacks now have head jobs in the college game.