It was a busy offseason for college football, with 28 head coaching vacancies being filled. Here is my ranking, from first to last:
#1 – Mark Richt, Miami
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Georgia
PROS: Richt is one of the few proven commodities in the coaching circuit, and the Hurricanes are certainly lucky to have him. He won 145 games in 14 seasons at Georgia, and he brings a sterling reputation to his alma mater.
CONS: Miami will continue to wear the label of underachiever until Richt and his team prove otherwise.
BOTTOM LINE: The Canes are still dripping with talent, and Richt might be their best hire in years. If he can put all the pieces together, the U might finally get to that elusive ACC championship.
#2 – Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, BYU
PROS: Mendenhall’s departure from BYU after 11 seasons was the shocker of the offseason, and it was even more shocking that he chose the vacant UVA job. Still, Mendenhall has never had a losing season as a head coach, taking the Cougars to 11 bowl games in 11 years.
CONS: BYU is a unique job with significant recruiting challenges, but Mendenhall has never proven himself as an elite recruiter—or at least in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a big move from going from Mormon homes across Utah to attempting to dominate the Tidewater region of Virginia (one of the biggest hotbeds of talent on the East Coast). Also, BYU teams were known for their penalties and disciplinary issues.
BOTTOM LINE: Mendenhall might be an out-of-left-field candidate, but there’s no questioning his coaching acumen, even with the odd geographical location. Can UVA stop being a perennial underachiever and take the next step to being an ACC contender?
#3 – Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Memphis
PROS: Under Fuente’s leadership, the Memphis Tigers went from zeroes to heroes, becoming an elite program in the American Athletic Conference. He won only 26 games in four years, but keep in mind that the change from Year One to Year Two was dramatic—3-9 to 10-3—and Year Three was nearly as good. Fuente’s hiring has been well-received in Blacksburg, where they’re coming off 29 years of the legendary Frank Beamer.
CONS: Fuente hasn’t proven to be an elite recruiter, which is definitely needed, given the fact that VT’s traditional recruiting grounds have gotten bigger and hotter than ever.
BOTTOM LINE: Fuente has all the tools to succeed at Virginia Tech, a program that has enjoyed serious success in the ACC. The Hokies have an established recruiting footprint, excellent facilities, and a history of winning. Fuente could have gone to plenty of other programs, but he seems like an ideal candidate to replace Beamer.
#4 – Kirby Smart, Georgia
PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
PROS: Stingy, smash-mouth, hard-nosed—all of those are adjectives that describe Alabama’s defenses under Smart. Smart has been with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa since day one, and developed a sterling reputation as a defensive mind. He is also a UGA alum who has one year of experience coaching at his alma mater; he was running backs coach at UGA in 2005.
CONS: Smart’s resumé borders on brilliant, and there’s plenty of reasons to believe in him, but Georgia fans aren’t exactly the patient type. Given the fact that Mark Richt was fired after winning 145 games in 14 seasons, it’s safe to say that expectations are through the roof.
BOTTOM LINE: A quality hire for Georgia. Smart had basically done all he could at Bama, and he’s happy to return to his alma mater, this time in the head coach’s chair. With their talent level, the Bulldogs should expect an SEC championship soon. How soon?
#5 – Matt Campbell, Iowa State
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Toledo
PROS: Campbell provides the shot in the arm that the Cyclones need, and he has the enthusiasm required for what is one of the more difficult Big 12 jobs. Campbell is a coach’s son with an offensive background, and he won 35 games in four seasons at Toledo.
CONS: Iowa State hasn’t been able to enjoy consistent success in a long time, and it’s a challenge recruiting kids to come to Ames. Campbell’s biggest hurdle will be raising support on and off the field for a program that has been spinning its wheels in recent years.
BOTTOM LINE: Campbell is one of the bright young minds in college football, and he built quite the well-oiled machine at Toledo. Most of his assistants from Toledo are joining him, so it seems like a natural fit for all involved.
#6 – Dino Babers, Syracuse
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Bowling Green
PROS: Babers is from the Art Briles coaching tree, so his offenses are bound to be exciting. After four mega successful years at Eastern Illinois (2012-2013) and Bowling Green (2014-2015), Babers was bound to move up in the world. He takes over a Syracuse program with a lot of challenges, but also some young talent.
CONS: Babers doesn’t have much experience working at a program with limited resources. While he played a big role in Baylor’s meteoric rise to the college football elite, both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green were fixer-upper jobs. The point is that he hasn’t taken over a mediocre program and done a complete turnaround before.
BOTTOM LINE: Syracuse needed to make a splash, and they got it with the charismatic Babers, a great offensive mind who will begin turning the Orange into a dark-horse. They’ll spring a few upsets in 2016.
#7 – Clay Helton, USC
PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, USC
PROS: Helton is extremely popular with players and has proven himself as a play-caller at USC previously. He’s also been a successful running backs and wide receivers coach. He understands the Trojans’ rich gridiron history and the frequent media access to the program.
CONS: Helton is perfectly qualified to be promoted, but Trojan fans and boosters were undoubtedly expecting a bigger name than him. The fans have been grumbling for several years now. Are there more glory days ahead for USC?
BOTTOM LINE: Well, the ending to the Steve Sarkisian era sure was…weird. While Helton’s not the big name that the fan base craved, he provides stability for a program that desperately needs it.
#8 – D.J. Durkin, Maryland
PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Michigan
PROS: Durkin is an Ohio native who has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most relentless recruiters. He has coordinated defenses at some of the nation’s elite programs, including Florida and Michigan. The Terrapins also have outstanding facilities and are surrounded by loads of high school talent.
CONS: Durkin will have a challenge trying to build the Terrapins into a hard-nosed, smash-mouth Big Ten team. The Terps have recruited well at the skill positions, but they need a lot more on both lines in order to succeed in the Big Ten.
BOTTOM LINE: Given his recruiting prowess and defensive acumen, Durkin seems to have what it takes to build the Terps into a Big Ten contender. The process may be slow, but to some extent, this isn’t a complete rebuilding project.
#9 – Scott Frost, UCF
PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Oregon
PROS: Frost brings his fast-tempo spread offense from the drizzly scenery of Eugene to the swamps of Orlando. In addition to his experience at one of the nation’s elite programs, Frost played in the NFL for six seasons and for the legendary Tom Osborne at Nebraska.
CONS: Frost has to reclaim a team that shot itself in the foot repeatedly with penalties and turnovers last season. You can’t turn that around overnight. Frost also doesn’t have any experience coaching in the South.
BOTTOM LINE: UCF was dreadful last season (0-12), but they’ve got plenty of high school talent surrounding them and some quality facilities. Frost won’t work miracles overnight, but he seemed to be ready to move on from Oregon and has most of the qualifications needed for the job.
#10 – Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Duke
PROS: Montgomery is a North Carolina native who played wide receiver at Duke and in the NFL before embarking on a coaching career. Now, he gets his first head coaching gig at the age of 37. He has coached with the Pittsburgh Steelers and in two separate stints at Duke.
CONS: While Montgomery has proven himself as a recruiter and position coach, he has only two years of experience as a play-caller. Not that Duke was bad offensively—far from it—but Montgomery takes over a program that is known for spectacular offensive numbers. He’ll have to deliver quick results.
BOTTOM LINE: It was definitely a surprise when Ruffin McNeill got the axe after leading ECU to four bowl games in six years. Montgomery seems to be a good fit for a program that has lacked consistency since moving to the American in 2014. At the very least, the Pirates have been entertaining in recent years. But can Montgomery take that talent and do what McNeill couldn’t?
#11 – Chris Ash, Rutgers
PREVIOUS JOB: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach, Ohio State
PROS: Ash built the Ohio State defense into a juggernaut, and before that, he worked under Bret Bielema at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. He is an Iowa native who has a great reputation as a recruiter and a fundamentals coach.
CONS: Ash doesn’t have much in the way of proven offensive playmakers at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights need a shot in the arm in a lot of areas, and they especially need to upgrade their facilities and in-state recruiting. As for Ash himself, he’s unproven as a head coach and it was a bit of a surprise when Rutgers hired him.
BOTTOM LINE: Ash inherits an underachieving Rutgers program that has really struggled against elite competition since joining the Big Ten. The Knights don’t have enough successful pieces in place to contend right away, but they should be more consistent than they were under Kyle Flood.
#12 – Willie Fritz, Tulane
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Georgia Southern
PROS: Fritz became a hot name and a proven commodity after leading Georgia Southern to the FBS ranks (17 wins in two years). Fritz is an offensive coach who prefers an exciting pistol-option scheme. His past two recruiting classes at Georgia Southern were ranked the best in the Sun Belt.
CONS: Fritz has a tougher schedule ahead, and also a tougher recruiting ground to dominate. There’s plenty of talent in Louisiana, but the Green Wave have often gotten stuck with the leftovers.
BOTTOM LINE: This program needed excitement, and they got it with Fritz. He’ll definitely be able to put fans in the stands and attract some quality recruits, but can he win immediately in an improving American Athletic Conference?
#13 – Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Alcorn State
PROS: Hopson has coaching roots in Mississippi, having been an assistant at two previous stops in Hattiesburg (2001-2003, 2005-2007). He also did a nice turnaround job at Alcorn State, where he went 32-17 from 2012-2015.
CONS: Hopson isn’t known as an elite recruiter, and expectations are high at Southern Miss following a nine-win season. Can he assemble the right pieces to keep the momentum going?
BOTTOM LINE: Southern Miss seemed to find an excellent replacement for NFL-bound Todd Monken. With little time before National Signing Day, athletic director Bill McGillis made a nice hire in Hopson, who has familiarity with the program and a proven track record of winning at lower levels of football. In a pinch, this seems like a very solid hire.
#14 – Jason Candle, Toledo
PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Toledo
PROS: Like Matt Campbell before him, Candle is a young offensive coordinator who is getting his first chance to run a successful mid-major program. He’s got great facilities and a history of recent success to sell to recruits, and has been an assistant with the program since 2009.
CONS: Candle is still young, and he didn’t inherit many assistants from the previous staff.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rockets have been on a roll lately, but Northern Illinois and Western Michigan are breathing down their necks in the MAC West Division. Candle was offered to follow Campbell to Iowa State, but turned it down in order to stay at Toledo and become a head coach for the first time. Will he keep the magic going?
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