With BYU’s hiring of Kalani Sitake on Saturday and Georgia Southern with Tyler Summers on Sunday, the wild 2015 coaching carousel is finally grinding to a halt.
Nearly 20 percent of the FBS teams made a coaching change sometime during the 2015 season. It began actually on the eve of the season, when Illinois dismissed Tim Beckeman. Then in-season firings started, involving some of the most fabled programs in college football. And three coaching icons – Steve Spurrier, Frank Beamer and George O’Leary – announced their retirements, recognizing that it was time.
The 24 schools that lost their head coaches moved at varying speeds to fill the vacancies. But unlike last season, when Michigan gambled and waited until the end of the NFL season – and was rewarded handsomely with the signing of Jim Harbaugh – every teams found its new boss before the bowl season kicked into high gear in an effort to salvage their upcoming recruiting classes.
The pattern of hirings is pretty typical. Most schools either poached a head coach or a coordinator from another program, or promoted from within. Two African Americans (at East Carolina and Bowling Green) became first-time head coaches and Sitake became the first Tongan head coach in FBS. Five schools (BYU, Georgia, Hawaii, Miami and Missouri) hired an alumnus.
While it’s always risky to evaluate new coaching hires even before they finish decorating their new offices, we’ll attempt to do it anyway. Just know that these observations might turn out very wrong a couple of years from now:
HOME RUN HIRES
Miami – Georgia head coach Mark Richt is as close to the Harbaugh hire this season as there is. The Hurricanes couldn’t have done any better than hiring this alum.
Syracuse – Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers led the Falcons to the MAC title after a long career where he most definitely has paid his dues as an assistant for nearly 30 years.
UCF – Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost has been one of the hottest assistant coaches for the last couple of years and it’s a coup for the Knights to scoop him up before other Power 5 programs did.
Virginia – BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall clearly is ready for a new challenge to make the across-the-country move. The Cavs did well to make it happen.
Virginia Tech – Memphis head coach Justin Fuente was probably the hottest coaching prospect to move into a Power 5 program. The Hokies wasted no time to pick him up after Beamer decided to retire.
Iowa State – Toledo head coach Matt Campbell is one of the young, rising stars in the coaching ranks, and it was mildly surprising that he took this job when better opportunities might come along later.
Maryland – Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin had tremendous success in his one season with the Wolverines. Now he signs up to take on his former boss Harbaugh, Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio every year.
Rutgers – Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash … see above.
SOLID IF UNSPECTACULAR HIRES
BYU – Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was at best the second choice after the school couldn’t close the deal to hire Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo.
Louisiana-Monroe – McNeese State head coach Matt Viator had a solid 10-year run at the FCS school. He’s ready to make this move.
Memphis – Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell takes over an upcoming program built by Fuente, but he won’t have the luxury of coaching Paxton Lynch, who might be the top QB taken in the next NFL Draft.
Minnesota – Tracy Claeys was promoted in-season to replace Jerry Kill, who was forced into immediate retirement because of health reasons. Claeys provides continuity for a steadily improving program.
Missouri – Barry Odom was promoted to replace Gary Pinkel much the same way as it was done at Minnesota after the longtime Mizzou coach stepped down to battle cancer.
North Texas – North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell has impressed with his work with the Tar Heels. Turning around the Mean Green will be a tall order.
Tulane – Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz successfully guided the program into FBS and now he takes on a reclamation project.
USC – Assistant Clay Helton received a battle field promotion after the Trojans defeated UCLA. While USC’s fan base wanted a more splashy hire, Helton might provide the stability the program is dearly in need of.
East Carolina – Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was a somewhat surprising choice after the school interviewed several prominent former head coaches to replace the popular Ruffin McNeill.
Georgia – Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart isn’t a terrible hire, but is he really an upgrade over Richt?
Illinois – Assistant Bill Cubit received just a two-year contract after he guided the Illini to a 5-7 record following his interim appointment to take over from the fired Beckman.
South Carolina – Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was a spectacular flameout at Florida and yet, after just one season of mediocre work with the Tigers, earns another SEC head coaching job? This one is a head-scratcher.
JUST DON’T-KNOW HIRES
Bowling Green – Texas Tech running backs coach Mike Jinks was coaching high school football three years ago.
Georgia Southern – Colorado State defensive coordinator Tyson Summers returns to the Eagles, with whom he spent the 2006 season as an assistant.
Hawaii – Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich will have the unenviable task of cleaning up a mess left behind by Norm Chow.
Toledo – Assistant Jason Candle takes over after Campbell left for Iowa State.