There were remarkably few head coaching vacancies in the college football offseason (which has still barely started). Only 21 changes were made nationwide, and as of the end of bowl season, all of them have been filled. So without further ado, here are my opinions of all the hires:
#21 – Brent Brennan, San Jose State
- Age: 43
- Hometown: Redwood City, California
- Alma Mater: UCLA
- Previous Job: Outside Wide Receivers Coach, Oregon State
Pros: Brennan was the lone Oregon State assistant who stayed in town after Mike Riley bolted for Nebraska in 2014. While in Corvallis, he mentored several NFL-bound athletes. In addition to his six-year stint at Oregon State, Brennan also was an assistant at SJSU from 2005-2010 under Dick Tomey and has experience in the California high school ranks.
Cons: He has never been a head coach at any level, and SJSU is arguably the toughest job in the Mountain West. The Spartans have delivered only two winning seasons since 1993, and former coach Ron Caragher could never convert significant recruiting success into on-field results.
Bottom Line: Brennan has a strong desire to win, and he’s got an uphill climb to do it in a rapidly-improving Mountain West. If he’s up to the task, Brennan can make the Spartans contenders, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
#20 – Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
- Age: 42
- Hometown: Camden, South Carolina
- Alma Mater: Appalachian State
- Previous Job: Offensive Line Coach, South Carolina
Pros: Elliott is a blue-collar, no-frills coach who believes in discipline and accountability. He cut his teeth under legendary coaches like Jerry Moore and Steve Spurrier and has excellent experience recruiting the greater Atlanta area. As far as Georgia State goes, the school is investing more in football, as the program will have its own stadium in only a few years.
Cons: Elliott has three years as a co-offensive coordinator under his belt, but other than that, he has very little experience as a program administrator. The Panthers are capable of having on-field success if they recruit right, but Elliott will also have to deal with an apathetic fanbase and mediocre facilities.
Bottom Line: Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb worked with Elliott at App State, so there’s plenty of familiarity there. But the Panthers are a program working with numerous challenges, and Elliott will need to get his players to buy in completely in order to get this thing turned around.
#19 – Geoff Collins, Temple
- Age: 45
- Hometown: Conyers, Georgia
- Alma Mater: Western Carolina
- Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Pros: Collins was frequently mentioned as a head coaching candidate following his excellent work as DC at Mississippi State (2011-14) and Florida (2015-16). He’s got the energy and football IQ to keep Temple competitive in the American Athletic Conference, and he’s a great recruiter, too. Before his years in the SEC, he worked at mid-major schools like Florida International and UCF.
Cons: A Georgia native, Collins has very little experience coaching or recruiting in Pennsylvania. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the reason Matt Rhule was so successful at Temple was because of his ability to go toe-to-toe with big-name programs on the recruiting trail in talent-rich Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. Can Collins recapture that magic with his own staff?
Bottom Line: The Owls are on a hot streak in the past several years, and it’s rare to be able to sustain consistent success at a place like Temple. But it can be done and has been done, and the hope in Philly is that Collins can keep the magic going while under high expectations.
#18 – Jay Norvell, Nevada
- Age: 53
- Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
- Alma Mater: Iowa
- Previous Job: Wide Receivers Coach/Pass Game Coordinator, Arizona State
Pros: In addition to ASU, Norvell has experience working at some of the nation’s elite programs, including stints as offensive coordinator at UCLA, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. From 1998-2003, he worked in the NFL as an assistant with both the Oakland Raiders and the Indianapolis Colts.
Cons: After a record-breaking run under the iconic Chris Ault, Nevada has been spinning its wheels in recent years, which led to Brian Polian’s dismissal. The Mountain West continues to improve around the Wolf Pack, and it’s a telling sign that Polian was fired even after winning his last two games (including a double-digit win over rival UNLV). Polian frequently lamented the inadequate facilities and even suggested that they were lucky to be overachieving given the lack of program resources. Will things be different under Norvell?
Bottom Line: Nevada fans are increasingly nostalgic for the Ault era, in which the run-based pistol offense mowed down opponents with ease and the defense was just good enough to carry the day. Norvell has an exciting offensive pedigree and a sterling reputation as a recruiter. It will be interesting to see how he does in his first head coaching gig.
#17 – Tim Lester, Western Michigan
- Age: 39
- Hometown: Wheaton, Illinois
- Alma Mater: Western Michigan
- Previous Job: Quarterbacks Coach, Purdue
Pros: Lester is a WMU alum and former assistant, so he’s understandably excited to come back to his alma mater and continue the work that began under the exciting P.J. Fleck, who departed for Minnesota in early January. Like Fleck, Lester is an offensive guy with enthusiasm and a solid recruiting record. He has also coached at St. Joseph’s and Elmhurst, Division II and Division III programs, respectively, compiling a career record of 40-23.
Cons: Lester has little FBS experience compared to the average coach. He was QB coach at WMU (2005-06) and at Purdue (2016) as well as a four-year stint at Syracuse. However, in a 16-year career, Lester has been at college football’s highest level for only seven of those years.
Bottom Line: Athletic director Kathy Beauregard struck gold in 2013 when she hired then-unknown Fleck, and the hope is that she made the right call here, too. At the very least, Lester is an alum who inherits a fantastic situation in terms of fan support, facilities, and returning talent. The Broncos should stay in the MAC mix.
#16 – Ed Orgeron, LSU
- Age: 55
- Hometown: Larose, Louisiana
- Alma Mater: Northwestern State
- Previous Job: Defensive Line Coach, LSU
Pros: Orgeron has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation’s best recruiters, both at LSU and in his previous assistant coaching stints at USC, where he spent a combined 11 years. He knows SEC country as well as anybody, as well as the expectations at LSU.
Cons: Orgeron’s only previous head coaching experience was at Ole Miss from 2005-07, where he went 10-25. The LSU administration was rumored to have been very close to hiring Houston’s Tom Herman (a much bigger name), but Texas came in and swooped him up at the last minute.
Bottom Line: After years of complaints from restless fans, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva finally listened and got rid of the charismatic-but-stubborn Les Miles. In promoting Orgeron, they’re showing a lot of faith. Players love him, and he’s long been considered one of the most elite recruiters around, but his previous work at Ole Miss wasn’t exactly inspiring. He’s got work to do in order to return the Tigers to a truly relevant level.
#15 – Tom Allen, Indiana
- Age: 46
- Hometown: New Castle, Indiana
- Alma Mater: Maranatha Baptist
- Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Indiana
Pros: Allen has familiarity with the Hoosiers as an alum and a former high school coach in Indianapolis. He’s well-liked by his players, and he did an excellent job as the Hoosiers’ DC in 2016. Before he came to Bloomington, he did another instant turnaround job at USF in 2015 and also coached linebackers at Ole Miss for three years.
Cons: There’s no question that Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. The fanbase is still shocked that former coach Kevin Wilson was canned after back-to-back bowl games and four rivalry wins over Purdue. It will be interesting to see if the Hoosiers can keep the positive vibes going under Allen.
Bottom Line: This one was bizarre. Wilson was a winner and a great program builder, but didn’t see eye-to-eye with AD Fred Glass and got fired shortly before the Foster Farms Bowl. Glass promoted Allen immediately and didn’t even hire a search firm, so the expectations are crystal-clear: Bloomington wants a consistent winner, and not just in basketball.
#14 – Major Applewhite, Houston
- Age: 38
- Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Alma Mater: Texas
- Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Houston
Pros: Applewhite has the goods as far as Texas high school connections go. He worked under Mack Brown in Austin from 2008-2013 before jumping to Houston and creating a Group of Five juggernaut. He’s charismatic, smart, and a known developer of talent.
Cons: Tom Herman was a once-in-a-generation find for the Cougars. He wasn’t the first coach to jump from UH to a bigger job, and he won’t be the last. Given those parameters, how long can the Cougs be truly elite under Applewhite? And will the players he inherited – some of whom are playing for their third coach – buy in?
Bottom Line: This was a safe hire, and fans won’t be pissed off about it. As good as Houston has been lately, and as much success as they’ve had, this is still a stepping stone job. It’s difficult for players to stay focused on competing and winning when there’s no guarantee about their coach moving on or not.
#13 – Mike Sanford Jr., Western Kentucky
- Age: 34
- Hometown: Lexington, Virginia
- Alma Mater: Boise State
- Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Notre Dame
Pros: Sanford has the on-paper qualities that you look for: a great offensive mind, a proven track record as a recruiter and developer of talent, and a coach’s son who has a passion for the game. He engineered a string of excellent offenses at both Notre Dame and Boise State (his alma mater), and was also a position coach and recruiting coordinator at Stanford for several seasons.
Cons: Sanford is still very young and only has three years as a play-caller under his belt. WKU is a program used to explosive offenses; they’ve averaged over 40 points per game the past three seasons under departed coach Jeff Brohm (now at Purdue). Can Sanford keep the ball rolling?
Bottom Line: After a rough initial transition into the FBS ranks half a decade ago, WKU has emerged as one of the more consistent Group of Five programs, winning the past two Conference USA championships. Sanford hitched his wagon to a great team and an administration that is committed to winning. All in all, a great hire.
#12 – Butch Davis, Florida International
- Age: 65
- Hometown: Tahlequah, Oklahoma
- Alma Mater: Arkansas
- Previous Job: ESPN analyst
Pros: It is rare for a small school like FIU to land a coach of Davis’s stature. This guy has serious NFL chops and also boasts a 63-43 career record as a college coach, first at Miami (1995-2000) and then at North Carolina (2007-10), where he was eventually dismissed as part of the ongoing NCAA scandal at UNC. Davis was bound to come back at some point.
Cons: Davis will continue to be forced to answer questions about the NCAA sanctions at UNC that happened under his watch. For what it’s worth, he was never named in the official report, but UNC used him as a scapegoat and gave him the axe. There’s no doubt that Davis is a good coach who has learned from his mistakes, but past demons could get in his way.
Bottom Line: The Panthers have the potential to become a factor in Conference USA after underachieving repeatedly under Ron Turner. Davis should be able to recruit South Florida very well and is already bringing quality assistants onboard.
#11 – Randy Edsall, Connecticut
- Age: 58
- Hometown: Glen Rock, Pennsylvania
- Alma Mater: Syracuse
- Previous Job: Director of Football Research, Detroit Lions (NFL)
Pros: It’s a sweet homecoming for Edsall, who led the Huskies to the FBS ranks in 2000 and coached there for 12 seasons (1999-2010). He’s a talented recruiter who brings a disciplined and methodical approach to a program he’s intimately familiar with.
Cons: Edsall’s star has fallen slightly after his rocky tenure at Maryland (2011-15). He inherited a roster filled with holes and did the best he could, but the program fell on hard times when the Terps moved from the ACC to the Big Ten. In the end, Edsall stumbled to a 22-34 record and never won a bowl game.
Bottom Line: UConn is a program with limited resources, but Edsall knows the terrain as well as anybody. The AAC continues to improve, but it might have as much parity as any Group of Five conference – so there’s reason to think that the Huskies can rebuild quickly.
#10 – Justin Wilcox, Cal
- Age: 40
- Hometown: Junction City, Oregon
- Alma Mater: Oregon
- Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Pros: He may not be a household name, but Wilcox has been flying up the college football ladder as one of the best defensive minds in the game, moving from Boise State to Tennessee to Washington to USC, and finally to Wisconsin. As a West Coast native, Wilcox knows the recruiting terrain as well as anybody, and he’ll certainly bring toughness and discipline to a Cal program that has been treading water in recent years – the Bears were a middling 19-30 under former coach Sonny Dykes and haven’t won a bowl game since 2008.
Cons: The Bears’ defense has been horrendous the past four years under Dykes, and Wilcox will have to set out to change that immediately. But that’s not the problem. The modern-day Pac-12 is far from defense-oriented, so Cal will still have to score points in bunches to have any hope of contending.
Bottom Line: Look, Cal didn’t really have much choice in this hire. Fans and administration were growing tired of Dykes, so they needed to hire a defensive specialist. Wilcox is a former Cal assistant (2003-05) and he’s familiar with the culture and the expectations. Dykes never seemed to be a good fit in Berkeley, and in terms of style, Wilcox might not be either, but this was a pretty solid hire nonetheless.
#9 – Charlie Strong, USF
- Age: 56
- Hometown: Batesville, Arkansas
- Alma Mater: Central Arkansas
- Previous Job: Head Coach, Texas
Pros: Strong’s disciplined approach will be welcomed by the players he inherits, a high-achieving group that made their mark in the AAC this past year and increased their win total every year under former coach Willie Taggart. Strong has experience and a record of success at smaller programs without the insanely high standards he faced on a daily basis in Austin.
Cons: Strong’s tenure at Texas was marked by upheaval on both sides of the ball, and that’s difficult to ignore. He needs to be more patient at USF, especially with coordinator changes.
Bottom Line: Strong is still a great coach, and USF is a good place for him to go. At the very least, his recruiting connections in Florida should pay immediate dividends. The Bulls should stay relevant.
#8 – Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
- Age: 41
- Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska
- Alma Mater: Fresno State
- Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Alabama
Pros: He’s Lane Kiffin. He’s coordinated three spectacular offenses the past three seasons at Alabama under Nick Saban, and can recruit with the best of them. He’ll also have the added bonus of coaching at a program without massive expectations, giving him more time to orchestrate a dramatic turnaround.
Cons: He’s Lane Kiffin. And by that token, he’s been accused of being aloof, brash, and immature following his embarrassing year as the head man at Tennessee in 2009, as well as his controversial tenure at USC. As good of an assistant as Kiffin is, he still has yet to prove that he has the ability to successfully lead an FBS program.
Bottom Line: FAU has a new football operations building under construction, a stadium that’s less than five years old, and they’re surrounded by the South Florida recruiting goldmine. This is a program with plenty of potential, and Kiffin was almost guaranteed to try to get back under the coach’s headset again. Some might take a wait-and-see approach, but it’s safe to say that Kiffin can make the Owls relevant.
#7 – Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
- Age: 43
- Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
- Alma Mater: Ohio State
- Previous Job: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Ohio State
Pros: Fickell is an Ohio native through-and-through. He has spent his entire 17-year coaching career in the state (15 of those at OSU). In addition to an interim head coaching stint in 2011 after Jim Tressel was dismissed, Fickell stuck around under Urban Meyer and helped develop some tenacious defenses.
Cons: Cincinnati is the very definition of a stepping stone program. Their past four coaches have all moved on after four years at the school. Recruiting suffered under the most recent coach, Tommy Tuberville, and the Bearcats have underachieved ever since the AAC expanded. They haven’t won a bowl game since 2012.
Bottom Line: If there’s anyone who knows Ohio talent when he sees it, it’s Fickell – it’s safe to say that recruiting local kids won’t be an issue for the Bearcats heading forward. Cincinnati has solid facilities and a recently renovated stadium, so it should be a quick fix if Fickell is up to it.
#6 – Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
- Age: 55
- Hometown: Lynwood, California
- Alma Mater: Fresno State
- Previous Job: Offensive Analyst, Washington
Pros: Tedford went 82-59 in a strong decade of work at Cal (2002-2012) and had frequently been named as a coaching candidate in the past few years. He’s a Fresno alum who also coached at his alma mater from 1992-97.
Cons: The Mountain West has improved rapidly, with the Bulldogs going from division champions to bottom-feeders in barely two years. Former coach Tim DeRuyter got the axe due to his lack of recruiting prowess and questionable coordinator hires. Fresno State is a historically good program, but when negativity sets in, things can get ugly fast.
Bottom Line: Tedford is a wonderful coach, and he jumped at the chance to lead his alma mater’s program. The Bulldogs have lacked consistency and toughness in recent seasons, something that Tedford will change immediately. The fact that he wants to be there will strike a chord with a fanbase that never seemed to fully embrace DeRuyter.
#5 – Jeff Brohm, Purdue
- Age: 45
- Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
- Alma Mater: Louisville
- Previous Job: Head Coach, Western Kentucky
Pros: Brohm went 30-10 in three years at WKU, where his offenses were explosive, averaging over 40 points per game every year. He’s also a former NFL quarterback who has served as a offensive coordinator and/or QB coach at schools like UAB, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, and his alma mater Louisville.
Cons: Purdue is one of the most difficult jobs in the Big Ten, and it’s unclear how Brohm’s flashy spread offense will fit in the hard-nosed, smash-mouth conference. Brohm will need to be able to handle pressure at a program that hasn’t been truly elite since Drew Brees was in town.
Bottom Line: The Boilermakers really got a steal with Brohm, who kicked it up a notch at Western Kentucky and possesses great offensive chops. He will certainly be able to put more fans in the stands and showcase a much more entertaining offense. It’s also worth noting that Purdue administration has demonstrated a bigger commitment to football, as evidenced by the construction of a new football operations building that will open next August.
#4 – P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
- Age: 36
- Hometown: Sugar Grove, Illinois
- Alma Mater: Northern Illinois
- Previous Job: Head Coach, Western Michigan
Pros: Fleck might have been a biggest name in the nation, turning #RowTheBoat into a national catchphrase. He had one of the largest turnarounds in recent memory, building Western Michigan into a national contender. After going 1-11 in 2013, his first season, Fleck went 29-11 the rest of the way. This past year, the Broncos earned the school’s first conference title since 1988.
Cons: Fleck walks into an train wreck off the field in Minneapolis. The Gophers went 9-4 this past year under the recently fired Tracy Claeys, but his brief tenure was marked by a player boycott right before their Holiday Bowl matchup against Washington State. Ten Gopher players were suspended indefinitely for an alleged sexual assault that occurred in September, and the non-suspended players were outraged over a perceived lack of due process towards their accused teammates. Claeys went on record publicly that he supported the players and was proud of their boycott. After the boycott was lifted, athletic director Mark Coyle promised that the players were be given another chance, but ended up firing Claeys less than a week after the bowl game (which the Gophers won). There’s smoldering anger in the Minnesota locker room, with many players predicting en masse transfers. Fleck will have to work quickly to win over the players he inherits.
Bottom Line: Don’t count out Fleck. Against all odds, he built something spectacular at WMU. Minnesota is a very difficult place to win as well, but Fleck – only 36 years old – is up for the challenge and should be able to keep the on-field success going. The Gophers are in the middle of a successful run, so if Fleck can mend fences off the field, he could keep them contenders in the Big Ten West.
#3 – Matt Rhule, Baylor
- Age: 41
- Hometown: Manhattan, New York
- Alma Mater: Penn State
- Previous Job: Head Coach, Temple
Pros: Rhule engineered a very nice turnaround in his four years at Temple, giving them the first consecutive 10-win seasons in school history, as well as a conference title. He’s known as an ace recruiter, and his defenses at Temple were some of the nation’s best.
Cons: He lacks the obvious Texas high school ties, having never lived or coached in the state before. Rhule’s offenses produced very good numbers, but not Big 12 level numbers. Fans in Waco expect high-scoring games – can Rhule’s teams deliver?
Bottom Line: Given the tumultuous past year at Baylor, they needed to make a slam-dunk hire, and they did. Rhule brings stability, energy, and a strong desire to win to a program that was in disarray this past year under interim coach Jim Grobe. Rhule immediately faces a daunting schedule and a young team that lacks substantial depth. But he’s not one to back down from a challenge.
#2 – Willie Taggart, Oregon
- Age: 40
- Hometown: Bradenton, Florida
- Alma Mater: Western Kentucky
- Previous Job: Head Coach, USF
Pros: Taggart has experience building programs as a head coach, turning around his alma mater’s program (WKU) and then heading to USF, where he increased his win total every year he was there – including a 10-2 mark this past season. He also spent three years as running backs coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh.
Cons: Taggart brings a flashy offense to Eugene that fans will certainly love, but he needs to fix a leaky defense, which has been the main problem at the U of O ever since Chip Kelly left town. Recruiting suffered under Helfrich, and the quarterback position has been a revolving door in the post-Marcus Mariota era.
Bottom Line: With his Florida recruiting connections and sterling offensive resumé, Taggart was a perfectly logical choice to help bring Oregon back to the nation’s elite. He’ll fit in well in the Pac-12.
#1 – Tom Herman, Texas
- Age: 41
- Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
- Alma Mater: California Lutheran
- Previous Job: Head Coach, Houston
Pros: Herman was the hottest coach in the nation for a reason. He built an already solid program at Houston into a national contender, with the Cougars showcasing a fast-paced offense and a turnover-hungry defense, en route to a 22-4 record during the Herman era. Herman also began his FBS coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown in 1999.
Cons: At the risk of stating the obvious, the expectations at Texas are unlike any in the country. No program has higher hopes for football, and Herman needs to prove very early on that he’s not in over his head.
Bottom Line: Herman is a superstar from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, and there’s a definite sense that he knows what he’s getting into at UT. But the first thing he needs to do is to start dominating the in-state recruiting trail and score a win or two over a rival.