College football coaching carousel grades

Movie quote of the day:

“I want you to know, Doug, I’m a steel trap.”

– Alan Garner, “The Hangover” (2009)

For the most part, it appears that the college football coaching carousel has come to a halt. The big jobs and most of the smaller jobs have been filled. For the first time in this blog, I’ve decided to evaluate and give my own grades for 12 of the hires. It’s been an interesting year because almost all of the hires have been excellent, but there were a few moves that I wasn’t crazy about.

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule.
Former Temple head coach Matt Rhule.

Out: Art Briles
In: Matt Rhule

The more I think about this hire, the more I think it’s a great move by Baylor. To put it lightly, Baylor has a bit of an image problem after sexual assault accusations hit the football program a few months ago, causing the university to fire its previous head coach, Art Briles, and start over and clean up the program. Rhule played college football at Penn State and learned from Joe Paterno about life, morals, and coaching – not a bad person to learn from. Also, he knows a thing or two about building a program. He led the Owls to back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in Temple football history. He’s an excellent fit for Baylor’s rebuilding process. The only problem I have with this hire is that Rhule is an East Coast guy and has very little to no ties in Texas and the Big 12. Baylor’s recruiting is really hurting after the sexual assault scandal, with just one commit in its 2017 class and several players have already left the program. It’ll probably take Rhule a while to make up for the 2017 recruiting class, and to get his feet wet with recruiting Big 12 prospects. That being said, I still think it’s a fantastic move by Baylor. I think he’ll clean up the program in Waco and field a winning team.

Grade: B+

Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

Out: Tommy Tuberville
In: Luke Fickell

“Meh.” Those were my exact words when I saw the news that Cincinnati hired Fickell to be its new head coach. Fickell is a young, Ohio native and he should be able to relate to recruits and help the Bearcats get more players from the Buckeye State. However, I haven’t been that impressed with Fickell as a defensive coordinator. He was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State for the last five seasons and didn’t field a top-25 defense in Columbus until two years ago, but the Buckeyes have had a top-five defense the last two years. However, Cincinnati isn’t Ohio State and he won’t be able to bring in the same type of talent he was bringing in in Columbus, especially now that he’s out of Urban Meyer’s shadow. So, I think this is a decent hire by Cincinnati but there were better candidates out there, in my opinion.

Grade: C+

Former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Out: Charlie Partridge
In: Lane Kiffin

I think this is an excellent fit for both Kiffin and FAU. Kiffin was considered a “wonder kid” when he was first starting out as a coach, and that label probably came too early for him. He became a NFL head coach at the age of 32, and was also head coach of large college programs like Tennessee and USC from ages 34-38. He has had to deal with a lot of egos from a NFL owner to college boosters – and I’d say he wasn’t ready yet to handle those type of jobs and didn’t know how to deal with the pressure. Now, he’s coached under Nick Saban – probably the best college football coach ever – and he’s seen how Saban handles the pressure of a big program. FAU is an excellent place for Kiffin to attempt to re-launch a head coaching career. It’s a small program with low expectations, and he won’t have to deal with a lot of pressure from the athletic department or boosters in Boca Raton. Also, he shouldn’t have any problems recruiting since he has experience recruiting in the southeast, and he’s still young enough to be able to relate to recruits.

Grade: A-

Former Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
Former Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.

Out: Tom Herman
In: Major Applewhite

I have zero issue with Houston wanting to hire in-house. Tom Herman has built something special in Houston and I think it’s a great decision for the program to want to stay the course – especially for a program like Houston which is young and doesn’t have a rich history. Applewhite has a good resume with stints at Rice, Alabama, Texas, and Houston as an offensive coordinator. Along with Tom Herman, he’s coached under some great head coaches like Nick Saban and Mack Brown. He knows how to field a good offense and Herman has left him with a lot of great players – which makes it easy to coach. Also, he has a lot of ties to Texas, which will help with recruiting. He’s a young guy that’s hungry for a chance to prove himself as a head coach. I think it’s a great fit for both sides.

Grade: B

Indiana head coach Tom Allen.
Former Indiana defensive coordinator Tom Allen.

Out: Kevin Wilson
In: Tom Allen

For the record, I never understood why Indiana got rid of Wilson to begin with. If the rumors are true that he was mistreating players then I could understand it, but so far those rumors haven’t gained traction from the media. Based off on-field performance, I never thought Wilson should lose his job – especially after signing a contract extension last year. He was the first head coach to lead the Hoosiers to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons since Bill Mallory in 1990-’91. Anyway, I did some research about Allen, and he knows defense. He first became a defensive coordinator at the FBS level in 2015. He took over a South Florida defense that ranked No. 66 in 2014 in scoring, and last year he escalated the Bulls’ defense to No. 35 in the same category. He got hired at Indiana this year and did a pretty good job there too. Indiana ranked No. 117 in scoring last year, and under Allen, the unit jumped to No. 57 in 2016. So, after doing my research, I think hiring Allen as head coach was a decent move by Indiana – but I still think Wilson should’ve kept his job if he never mistreated players.

Grade: C

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron.

Out: Les Miles
In: Ed Orgeron

I’ll go ahead and say that I think Ed Orgeron is a great fit for LSU. He’s a Louisiana guy, he sounds like a Cajun, and he played at LSU. He’s perfect for that job, the players love him, and he’s an excellent recruiter. However, do people forget that he was awful as a head coach at Ole Miss? Orgeron had an overall record of 10-25 in three seasons in Oxford. That being said, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. His tenure at Ole Miss was a decade ago, and since then, he’s had two stints as an interim head coach at USC and LSU, and has a record of 11-4 at both jobs. Plus, I think he made a pretty good hire by bringing in Pitt’s offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, to the same position in Baton Rouge. If Canada can develop a competent quarterback – something the Tigers have lacked since Matt Flynn – and field a consistently good offense, Orgeron’s tenure as head coach could go well. However, I won’t be the least bit surprised if he’s a disaster and LSU is looking for a new coach within three years. I’m not crazy about this decision by LSU.

Grade: C-

Oregon head coach South Florida.
Former South Florida head coach Willie Taggart.

Out: Mark Helfrich
In: Willie Taggart

Oregon was in a tough spot after firing Mark Helfrich and many people – including myself – thought the university would have a hard time finding a quality candidate to take that job. However, I think bringing in Taggart was an excellent move. He’s a young guy – just 40 years old – and he coached under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2009. Oregon’s identity has always been to have a high-scoring offense and Taggart knows how to do that. He has a track record of developing an offense, and he has plenty of experience as a head coach. He took over two programs (Western Kentucky and South Florida) that don’t have a rich history of football and he led both programs to bowl games within three years – including a 10-win season at South Florida this year. The criticism with Oregon the last two years though is that its defense has been terrible. Well, he’s already made an excellent move by bringing in Jim Leavitt as his defensive coordinator – who is a great defensive mind. I honestly believe that Taggart is off to a great start in Eugene, and he could get the Ducks’ football program back to where Chip Kelly had it before he left.

Grade: A-

Former Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm.
Former Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm.

Out: Darrell Hazell
In: Jeff Brohm

I’ll go on record and say that I liked the decision by Purdue to hire Hazell three years ago, and that didn’t really pan out because Hazell finished with a 9-33 record in West Lafayette. So, take my opinion with a grain of salt. However, I really like this move by the Boilermakers bringing in Brohm. Granted, he inherited a Ferrari at Western Kentucky where the previous two head coaches before him were Bobby Petrino and Willie Taggart – both now at Power Five schools. However, Petrino and Taggart never won more than eight games at Western Kentucky, and Brohm has led the Hilltoppers to back-to-back 10-win seasons and Conference USA championships the last two years. Brohm is a good fit for Purdue because he’s a Midwest guy from Louisville, Ky., he’s well familiar with the area from a recruiting standpoint, and he’s an offensive guru – which is what Purdue needs because the Boilermakers haven’t finished higher than No. 92 in scoring offense the least four years. The thing that concerns me is that Brohm has never inherited a situation quite as bad as Purdue right now, but he’ll benefit from coaching in the weaker Big Ten division.

Grade: B

Former Texas head coach Charlie Strong.
Former Texas head coach Charlie Strong.

South Florida

Out: Willie Taggart
In: Charlie Strong

I’m going on record that I still think Charlie Strong is a good coach. I think he got a raw deal at Texas because he was never a fit for the university, and the fans and boosters never wanted him and weren’t willing to give him a chance. South Florida is the perfect place for him. It’s a small program that doesn’t have high expectations, which is what Strong needs after dealing with the pressure from Texas. Plus, he was successful as a head coach at Louisville – which was another smaller program that wasn’t a Power Five school yet. The program is in a good situation now thanks to Willie Taggart, so, it makes for a solid re-launching place for him. Also, Strong is a great recruiter in Florida, and he has a lot of connections in the state. He should have no problem bringing recruits to Tampa.

Grade: B-

Former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
Former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.

Out: Matt Rhule
In: Geoff Collins

In my opinion, this is another “meh” hire. My opinion on this is more to do with that I feel like Temple should’ve stayed in-house. I’m not trying to sound mean, but Temple is one of the worst college football programs in the country – just six bowl appearances in its 122 years – and Matt Rhule brought Temple football to success that the program has never reached before. I think promoting a Rhule assistant would’ve been a great move to try to maintain recent success. I think Collins has proven to be a pretty good defensive coordinator, but he doesn’t have any experience as a head coach and he has never coached under one of today’s great coaches. Also, Collins has only coached at schools in the southeast and doesn’t have experience in Temple’s recruiting territory. Only time will tell, but I don’t think this was the best move by the Owls.

Grade: C-

Former Houston head coach Tom Herman.
Former Houston head coach Tom Herman.

Out: Charlie Strong
In: Tom Herman

Herman was the most coveted coach on the market, so, it only makes sense to say that Texas made the best hire of the coaching carousel. I think he’s on his way to being one of the best college football coaches and is a fantastic fit for the Longhorns. He has plenty of coaching experience. Herman coached under Urban Meyer at Ohio State and helped lead the Buckeyes to a national championship. He’s spent a lot of time coaching in Texas and the Big 12 with stints at Texas Lutheran, Sam Houston State, Texas State, Rice, and Iowa State. He also has head coaching experience. He did a great job the last two years at Houston – with an overall record of 22-4 including a victory in a New Year’s Six bowl. Herman is a young guy with a great resume, and knows the recruiting territory in Texas very well. It should be easy for him to get talent to Austin, and I think he’ll have Texas playing in the College Football Playoff within five years.

Grade: A+

Former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
Former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.

Western Kentucky
Out: Jeff Brohm
In: Mike Sanford

Like Oregon, Western Kentucky’s identity the last few years has been to hire offensive minds as head coach and score a lot of points. The Hilltoppers didn’t stop that trend after hiring Sanford, and I think it’s an excellent move for them. Sanford coached at Western Kentucky under Willie Taggart in 2010, so, he has experience in the area. He’s coached under great head coaches like David Shaw at Stanford and Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. Sanford has also shown the ability to field a good offense – averaging over 30 points per game each of the last three years. He’s a young guy with an offensive mind, and he’s a great fit for what Western Kentucky wants to do. I think this is an excellent move.

Grade: B

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53


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