Conservatism Dominates Coaching Searches

The coaching carousel mostly spun to a crawl on Sunday when South Florida hired Charlie Strong to fill its vacancy. There are still three openings, but these Group of 5 jobs (Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Temple) will go to current interim coaches or assistants from elsewhere.

In all, there were 17 openings, including six Power 5 jobs this year. But curiously, other than Texas making the most anticipated – and expected – hire of Tom Herman from Houston, there were no splashy signings. No blockbuster deal materialized as when Michigan lured Jim Harbaugh from the San Francisco 49ers two years ago.

Despite the availability of “big names” such as former LSU coach Les Miles, former USC coach Lane Kiffin and former Baylor coach Art Briles, most schools played it safe. Even Oregon, which reportedly was willing to offer an 8-figure contract for a top-tier coach, decided to pull back and settled for a more low-key hire.

Here’s a recap on what’s happened in this season of coaching changes, with our way-to-early grade for each (in alphabetical order):

Baylor: Briles was ousted amidst scandal before the season started and Jim Grobe was brought in as a caretaker for just for 2016. The Bears lost all but one of their recruits but somehow managed to land Temple’s Matt Rhule, a hot coach who led the Owls to the American Athletic championship. Grade: A+

Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville resigned after a disastrous 4-8 season during which he got into a shouting match with a disgruntled fan. After failing to get into the Big 12, the Bearcats must continue to slog away in the AAC and they hired Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell for the task. Grade: B+

Florida International: Is FIU a sleeping giant or a program with unrealistic expectations? After canning Ron Turner four games into the season – following the absurd dismissal of Mario Cristobal four years ago – the Panthers landed their big fish, former Miami Hurricanes coach Butch Davis. Grade: B

Fresno State: Tim DeRuyter was fired after the Bulldogs started the season 1-7, this following a 3-9 record in 2015 and a clear sense the program was in a tailspin. Fresno hired its former offensive coordinator and Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who’s a certified offensive guru. Grade: A-

Georgia State: This could be a sleeping giant program, in a recruit-rich area and set to move into the former Turner Field as it’s converted into a football stadium. Trent Miles was let go with a 9-38 record in four seasons, replaced with South Carolina assistant Shawn Elliott. Grade: B-

Houston: The Cougars resisted the urge to hire either Miles or Kiffin, opting to stay in-house by promoting offensive coordinator and former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite. The school is now focused more on stability than a household name, after losing three of its previous four coaches (Briles, Kevin Sumlin and Herman) to Power 5 programs. Grade: B+

Indiana: Kevin Wilson’s departure was both sudden and unexpected after he’s made Indiana competitive in the brutal Big Ten East. The schools wasted no time to promote assistant Tom Allen as the permanent head coach. Grade: C-

LSU: After being outbid by Texas for Herman, the Tigers opted for the safe pick of keeping interim coach Ed Orgeron, who filled the same role for USC but was not retained three years ago. Now the intrigue is whether he could lure Kiffin to Baton Rouge to be his offensive coordinator. Grade: B-

Nevada: Just like Kansas State seems incapable of replacing Bill Snyder, the same is true for Nevada and Chris Ault. Brian Polian is out after failing to keep up with Ault’s legacy, and now it’s former Arizona State assistant Jay Norvell’s turn. Grade: C

Oregon: Even with Phil Knight’s millions, the Ducks were not able to persuade former coach Chip Kelly to come back to replace his former assistant Mark Helfrich. They also lost out to Baylor on Rhule. So Oregon settled for Jim Harbaugh disciple Willie Taggart from South Florida. Grade: B

Purdue: Despite playing in the weaker of the Big Ten’s two divisions, the Boilermakers have just been abysmal under Darrell Hazell. The former Quarterback U is back in search for some offense after hiring Western Kentucky’s point-a-minute machine mastermind Jeff Brohm. Grade: A-

San Jose State: The Spartans must view former coach Mike MacIntyre’s success at Colorado with envy, but they’re forever a stepping stone program. The latest switch from Ron Caragher to Oregon State assistant Brent Brennan isn’t going to change that. Grade: C-

South Florida: The Bulls lost Taggart to Oregon but scooped up former Texas coach Charlie Strong. Though his Longhorns tenure ended in failure, Strong was just a bad fit there and now he’s back in familiar ground in the state of Florida. This may actually be an upgrade for USF. Grade: A+

Texas: The Longhorns had to get Herman, after waffling for quite sometime and almost losing him to LSU. The hope is that he becomes the next Urban Meyer, Herman’s former boss at Ohio State who’s brought success everywhere he went. Grade: A

 

Game of the Week

Mary Hardin-Baylor 14, Mount Union 12: For the first time since 2004, neither Mount Union (Ohio) nor Wisconsin-Whitewater will be in the Division III championship game after the Crusaders upset the defending champion in the semifinals. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) pulled off the upset after gaining a first down on a fake punt with 45 seconds left to set up a championship match with Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

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