|Daily Blog • August 27, 2012|
From 2005-’08 I published an article titled Coaching Changes in my College Football Preview magazine. Each year I try to make the magazine a little bit bigger and a little bit better but right now we’re capped at 344 pages so Coaching Changes does not appear in my 2012 magazine. We have had a lot of requests for this article and since the website has an unlimited amount of room, PhilSteele.com is a great vehicle to continue publishing this article and I will do so each year.
BY PHIL STEELE
There is something to be said for coaching stability as it usually takes a couple of years for a new head coach to get a program going. They usually have their best success when they have a team full of their own recruits and their offensive and defensive systems have been in place for a couple of years. The first few years can be rough on a new head coach as they inherit players who now have to learn new schemes on both offense and defense and he has to learn the players strengths and weaknesses. (See July 14 Blog For Coaches’ Record in Year 1, 2 and 3) Pete Carroll won two straight National Titles but in his first year the Trojans opened up at 2-5 and finished at just 6-6 after the bowl. Tommy Tuberville's first team at Auburn was just 5-6 but in his 6th season they were a perfect 13-0. Nick Saban's first Alabama team finished 7-6 but in his 3rd year they won the National Title. In Bob Stoops' first year at Oklahoma, the Sooners were just 7-5, including a bowl loss to Mississippi. Since then, they have won a National Title and seven Big 12 Championships. Les Miles went 4-7 in his first year at Oklahoma St followed by 3 winning years. Jim Tressel was just 7-5 his first year but won a National Title in his second. Kirk Ferentz was a combined 4-19 his first two seasons but the Hawkeyes have now been to six Jan bowls. Finally Woody Hayes won just 4 games in his first season at Ohio St.
The reason I bring up these examples is twofold: first it shows that Athletic Directors should have a little more patience before firing a head coach for a losing season. Secondly, I wanted to point out that there are individual unit rankings in the lower right hand corner on each of the conference pages. You will notice that I have FIRST year coaching staffs graded lower than you would normally expect.
What sparked this article a few years back was Ole Miss' dumping of David Cutcliffe just one year after the Rebels shared the SEC West Title with LSU. They were the only team that had been bowl eligible 7 straight years prior to that rare losing season. Then after the firing, from 2005-2007, the Rebels went just 3-21 in SEC play.
Let me go over some programs that stuck with coaches for much longer than expected, through many losing seasons but have ultimately been rewarded. The best example is Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer had successive years of 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 6-5, 5-6 and 2-8-1 to start his tenure. Amazingly, Virginia Tech stuck with him. Can you imagine another program that would stick with a head coach through a streak like that? Beamer has done an amazing job building his program including having one of the best strength training programs in the country. They are now a National Title contender on a yearly basis and simply won the ACC Title in their inaugural year in the conference despite being picked 7th in the preseason ACC poll. Joe Novak started out 1-10, 0-11, 2-9 and 5-6 his first 4 years at Northern Illinois and once again, they opted to stick with him and were rewarded with 7 consecutive winning seasons from 2000-'06. Darrell Dickey was DONE at North Texas. His first 3 teams went 3-8, 2-9 and 3-8 and in 2001 they opened the season 0-5. Their AD was under HEAVY pressure to get rid of Dickey not just at the end of the season but RIGHT THEN so they could have some hope. They rebounded to win an amazing 26 consecutive SBC games (including the final 5 in 2001)! They went to four bowls with 4 league titles. Two more losing seasons followed but they stuck with him and the team had 7 consecutive years of bowl eligibility. When Barry Alvarez took over at Wisconsin, he went 1-10 in his first year and followed that up with two more losing seasons. The Badgers simply went to 11 bowl games in his tenure and he retired with an amazing three Rose Bowl wins under his belt. Bill Snyder went 1-10 at Kansas St in his first year and had 3 losing seasons his first 4 years but they stuck with him and he rewarded them with 11 straight bowl appearances, making them a National Title contender. Kentucky fans weren’t too thrilled when Rich Brooks was hired in 2003 and he inherited a team that had just 68 scholarship players. The Brooks era began with 3 losing seasons (9-25) but he rebounded to lead Kentucky to four straight bowl berths in the tough SEC. As you can see, sometimes patience is a virtue.
OK let's take a look at the Baylor situation. Constant head coaching changes are a bad thing. The coach inherits another coach's recruits and many times they not only don't fit his system but they signed with the school because of the other coaching staff. Many times personality or disciplinary conflicts arise and many players leave a program after the coaching change, leaving a team short on scholarships. I call this section "Baylored" because that school provides the most prominent example of how constant head coaching changes can hurt a program. Let's go back to 1996. Baylor had 5 out of 6 winning years despite facing their tough SWC foes on a weekly basis. They were 7-5 in 1994 and 7-4 in 1995 and the amazing part was that HC Chuck Reedy was bringing in recruiting classes on par with teams like Texas and Texas A&M, even finishing ahead of the big boys some years! In this day and age a winning record for a Big 12 team would make them a perennial bowl team. In 1996 they had a nightmare season as the team was besieged by injuries and also dropped some close games like a 28-24 loss to Oklahoma, a 28-23 loss to Texas and a triple OT loss 49-42 to Missouri (those type of losses would look pretty good currently). They still finished 4-7 and clearly, if not for the injuries, could have had a winning season. Amazingly Baylor FIRED Coach Reedy and would struggle big time for the next decade plus! First they brought in Dave Roberts in 1997 then after two losing seasons fired him! They brought in Kevin Steele and gave him 4 years before the axe fell. As mentioned with constant coaching changes, keeping the full complement of scholarship players has been a problem. Guy Morriss was the latest firing at Baylor as he had a 5-6 season in '05 (4-1 start) and was given 5 years but continued the "Baylored" tradition. That may change though with the recent success of Art Briles who led Baylor to their first bowl game since 1994 in 2010 and last year thanks to Heisman winner RG3, got Baylor to the 10-win total.
They do not run the option in the NFL so this category strictly applies to the college game. I have said many times over the last few years that it takes 3-4 years for an option team to successfully move to a pass offense. Why does such a switch take so long? A college team is basically built from 5 different recruiting classes with the classes from 3, 4 and 5 years ago being the most important. A college coach who runs an option offense can be very successful in the college game. To be a success he must be able to bring in big, powerful run blocking offensive linemen who are known more for power than pass blocking. His choice of WR's is generally not made on the guy that will make the most catches but the one who may be the best downfield blocker. The QB's in an option offense are valued more for their mobility than for their passing accuracy. When a coach comes in and tries to move to a pro style passing offense or a pure passing offense, he finds himself ill-equipped to do so. He needs fleet pass catching WR's, QB's who are known for their accurate passing and a solid pass blocking line. By the time a coach recruits those types of players and the starters spots are taken by those type of recruits, it is usually at least two years down the road and possibly 3 or 4. Two big name schools recently went through the switch and their struggles bear out what a difficult transition it can be.
Notre Dame was a run based attack under Lou Holtz with option style QB's and continued in the same vein after his departure. When Ty Willingham took over he inherited a team that avg'd 102 ypg passing the previous year hitting 50% with a 4-11 ratio. The top 2 QB's combined to throw for just 1,071 yards but had 893 gross yards rushing. While ND did win their first 8 games under Willingham, it was hardly due to offensive prowess. They had just 11 FD's and 203 TOTAL yards on offense in a win over Purdue. Later they had 10 FD's and 185 TOTAL yards on offense in a win vs Pitt. That offense averaged just 313 ypg with the QB's hitting 50.4%. The next season they brought in a pure passing QB, Brady Quinn. Quinn however was a freshmen and the offense was just in its second year so he was not yet surrounded by the O-line and receivers which you need in a West Coast offense. He threw for 1,831 yards but only completed 47.3% with a 9-15 ratio. The third year of the offense showed solid improvement as you would expect. Quinn upped the totals to 2,586 yards passing, improved to 54.1% completions and had a 17-10 ratio. In 2005, with all 11 offensive starters back and in the 4th year of the switch, Charlie Weis stepped into a great situation and Quinn exploded with 3,919 yards passing (64.9%) with a 32-7 ratio. There were no Jeff Samardzija-types on the roster in Willingham's first year but thanks to his recruiting, the team was much better equipped to run the pro offense under Weis. In 2006 with 3 solid receiving options, Quinn had 3,426 yards passing (61.9%) with a 37-7 ratio.
When Nebraska hired Bill Callahan he stunned the Husker faithful by announcing that he was ditching the option offense and converting to a pro style pass attack. Some said it was about time and thought he would have immediate success. The 2003 NU team was a solid 10-3. I did not make a lot of friends in Lincoln when the next year in my magazine I picked Iowa St, who had finished 2-10 the previous year to finish AHEAD of Nebraska in the Big 12 North! Joe Dailey threw for 2,025 yards which was the most at that school since Dave Humm way back in 1972. Unfortunately, he completed just 49.4% of his passes with a 17-19 ratio and the Huskers had their first losing season since 1961! Now, let's not pin the whole thing on Dailey. He was recruited as an option QB and had OL's in front of him that were recruited for run blocking who were just learning the pass blocking schemes. He also did not have a fleet of pass catching WR's like most passing schools have. Callahan looked to speed up the system so he went the JUCO route (something ND did not do). He brought in PS#18JC QB Zac Taylor (no freshman QB growing pains), JC WR's and OL's. Despite bringing in JUCO's, the offense did not take off right away. In the first two games vs IA foes in the 2nd year of the offense, they avg'd 104 ypg passing with just 45% completions. The unit got better as the season went on and Taylor threw for 392 yards generating 30 points vs Colorado in the season finale. For the season NU still completed just 53.8% and only increased their passing yards by 37 ypg. In 2006 they improved to 244 ypg passing and 59.4% completions and topped that in 2007 with 324 ypg pass (61.5%).
In 2008, Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverine offense would undergo some major changes over the next couple of years as they were moving from a pro style attack under Lloyd Carr to the spread option offense. In his first year the Wolverines lost Chad Henne who was a 4-year starter and UM’s career leading passer and backup Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas. Also Rodriguez’ offense called for smaller quicker OL which is something Michigan was not known for since before Bo Schembechler. The Wolverines had 40 straight winning seasons and had gone to 33 consecutive bowls, both of which were the NCAA’s longest streaks but the Wolverines stunningly went 3-9 and were -112 ypg in Big Ten play in ‘08 with a unit stocked with pocket passers. 2 mobile true frosh battled for the job in ’09. Tate Forcier threw for 2,050 (59%, 13-10) while Denard Robinson threw for 188 (45%, 2-4) and was the #3 rusher (351, 5.1) and Michigan improved to 5-7. In 2010 Robinson won the job and was the frontrunner for the Heisman at midseason. After 5 games, Robinson had the top 3 performances in program history becoming the first player to be named Walter Camp offensive POW for 2 straight weeks. He also became the first FBS QB to run for 200 and pass for 200 in the same game twice in a season and the Wolverines made a bowl game. While the Wolverine offense improved significantly in the Rodriguez era from 20.3 ppg in ’08 to 29.5 ppg in ’09 to 32.8 ppg in ‘10, it was the defense that led to his demise.
SOME TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
Following a legend is never easy. Vince Lombardi had an incredible run with the Green Bay Packers but after 4 straight NFL titles, stepped down. Phil Bengston was the unlucky guy who took over a team where anything less than an NFL title would be considered a weak season. Unfortunately he not only failed to bring home a championship but suffered 2 losing seasons in 3 years before being fired after going 6-8 in 1970. Ron Zook had the misfortune of being the guy who took over for Steve Spurrier at Florida. A few days after taking the job www.fireronzook.com got started and anything less than an undefeated season and National Title was construed as a failure. Here are a few other coaches that stepped into tough spots. At Ohio Jim Grobe had one of the best seasons at the school in recent memory in 2000 going 7-4 and contending for the MAC Title. He left for the ACC and Brian Knorr inherited raised expectations and was let go after 4 losing seasons. Tommy Bowden led Tulane to a 12-0 season in 1998 with 16 returning starters. He left for Clemson and Chris Scelfo inherited a rebuilding squad and had nowhere to go but down in his first year. They went just 3-8 but he did guide them to two winning seasons.
Some coaches have stepped into this type of tough situation and thrived. Urban Meyer led Utah to a super 12-0 season and left for Florida. His assistant Kyle Whittingham has guided the Utes to 7 winning seasons including a 13-0 #2 finish in 2008. Dirk Koetter left Boise St after a 10-2 season, their best ever, and while Dan Hawkins' first squad "only" went 8-4, he did a remarkable job there going 45-7 in the next 4 years before moving on to Colorado. In 2006 Chris Petersen, who had been the longtime OC at Boise St, stepped in and as I forecasted in my 2006 magazine, took the team to a BCS bowl berth and an undefeated season after their win vs Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
There are just some coaching openings that have early success written all over them. In 2004 for example I pointed out many times in the magazine that UTEP's Mike Price was stepping into a great spot. Gary Nord took over at UTEP and guided the team to an 8-4 record and a rare bowl in his first year. He opted to build the program the right way by getting away from bringing in JUCO's and he not only signed almost all freshmen but redshirted most of them, building the team's depth. He suffered through 3 losing seasons but had put all of his eggs in the basket of the 2004 season, as he knew he would have success with a deep and veteran squad. Unfortunately they fired him so Mike Price took over a team that was -15 in turnovers the previous year and was just 2-11. When a new head coach comes into some early season success it gives a losing team new found confidence. They then buy into the new coach's program more quickly. UTEP went on to their 1st back-to-back winning seasons since '87-'88 and benefited thanks to Nord biting the bullet and taking those redshirts. Urban Meyer took over a Utah team that was one of the most snakebitten teams in the NCAA in 2002. Between 2000-2002, Utah was among the MWC leaders in ypg vs conference foes and in 2000 and 2002 finished with losing seasons overall despite outgaining and outscoring their opponents on the year. In 2002 they had FIVE losses by 8 pts or less! The talent was there and when Meyer achieved some early season success, the team started gaining confidence and won those close games that had escaped his predecessor Ron McBride. Just two years later they were undefeated.
TYPICAL 1ST YEAR HEAD COACH
When looking over the list of new coaches this year, I decided to add a new category to my repertoire titled “Typical 1st-Year Head Coach”. Typically when a HC takes over, there is a learning curve in the 1st year. The HC has to learn the player’s strengths and weaknesses and the players must learn new schemes on both sides of the ball. Generally with these circumstances, the team is not as experienced as they seem to be as many of the returning starters could lose their jobs under the new regime. These coaches in the near future will be achieving some success but the outlook in the first year is not as good.
Now let's take a look at some of this year's head coaching changes and I will put them into some of the categories listed above. Keep in mind many of this year's new guys will go through the typical 1st years that I described previously.
2012 NEW COACHES
RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME:
The last 7 years I have had 44 coaches mentioned in this section. 34 of the 44 (77%) have improved their teams records (3 had same record). In 2006, Chris Petersen of Boise St took over a 9-4 team and guided them to a perfect 13-0 and a BCS bowl win. In 2007 Dennis Erickson took a 7-6 ASU squad to an 8-0 start and #6 in the country. In 2008, Houston Nutt took a 3-8 Ole Miss squad to a Cotton Bowl victory. Bo Pelini of Nebraska took over a 5-7 Husker squad and guided them to a tie for the Big 12 North Title. Coach Jerry Kill of Northern Illinois inherited a 2-10 squad and guided them to a bowl. Three years ago, I went a perfect 9 for 9 as every coach I listed guided their team to a better record. Gene Chizik took over a 5-7 Auburn team and led the Tigers to a 8-5 record including a New Year’s Day bowl win. Dabo Swinney inherited a 7-6 Clemson team and guided them to 9 wins and a division title as the Tigers made their first appearance in the ACC Title game. Steve Sarkisian did a great job at Washington in his first year as he took over a team that was just 0-12 in ’08 and led them to 5 wins. Also Bill Snyder in his second stint at Kansas St nearly led the Wildcats to a division title. In 2010 Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly were placed here and both had successful seasons guiding their teams to the most wins their respective schools have had in multiple years. Last year Hugh Freeze led Arkansas St to 10 wins and Dan McCarney led North Texas to their most wins since 2004.
URBAN MEYER, OHIO ST
Last year OSU had their first losing season since 1988 (3rd s/'60). OSU was -45.5 ypg in B10 play (4th worst). While the Bucks will be ineligible for the Leaders Title due to their NCAA mandated 1 yr bowl ban, Meyer did bring in a great recruiting class and LY's tm had 4 net close losses, has a +5.5 in my Stock Market Indicator and TY has 15 ret sts with no further susp looming over their heads. He has the perfect QB in Braxton Miller to run his offense and OSU makes both my Most Improved and Surprise Team lists!
LARRY FEDORA, NORTH CAROLINA
Fedora is in a good situation as NC returns 13 st'rs and LY was #5 in the ACC at +19.5 ypg despite a 3-5 record. NC is not eligible for the post season but has 4 winnable ACC road gms getting their toughest foes at home and 2 of my 9 sets of power ratings project a 12-0 season. I will call for the Tar Heels to have DD wins for the 1st time s/'97!
MIKE LEACH, WASHINGTON ST
While WSU only improved to 2-7 in the P12 LY, they made great strides (-39.4 ypg). They have 14 ret’g st’rs TY and also have some solid QB’s to plug into Leach’s pass happy offense as well as a dynamic WR in Marquess Wilson. Leach got TTech to a bowl in all 10 ssns and has a shot at keeping that streak alive here.
TIM BECKMAN, ILLINOIS
Last year the Illini were the first tm in B10 history to start 6-0 and finish the regular season 0-6. Beckman inherits 14 ret’g st’rs incl QB Scheelhaase. While the Illini were just 2-6 in the Big Ten, they were +31.4 ypg (4th best). They were -6 in TO's and had a 15.7 off ypp Illinois should be able to make it to a 3rd straight bowl and improve upon LY’s 7-win total.
TERRY BOWDEN, AKRON
Bowden inherits 13 ret sts and naturally most arrows are indicating an upward trend as the Zips were -9 in TO's and had horrible off (19.6) and def (11.1) ypp's. On the negative side, Akron was -177.0 ypg in MAC play which was over 50 ypg worse than the #12 team so the Zips have a lot of ground to make up. I am excited about the new coaching staff and think Terry Bowden and DC Chuck Amato will have this team overachieving but they play a tough schedule pulling 3 of the top 4 out of the MAC West and will be an underdog in all but 2 games. Bowden is doing exactly what he did at North Alabama bringing in BCS transfers and I will call for them to top last year's one win total but I expect the Zips to be playing a lot of frosh by the end of the year to get them ready for Bowden's 2nd season.
RICH RODRIGUEZ, ARIZONA
In each of Rich Rodriguez's previous coaching debuts, he has not had a QB that fit his system. He now inherits one in Matt Scott who will operate behind a veteran O-line. UA has just 12 ret’g st’rs but despite a 2-7 P12 record were only -11.9 ypg and -5 in TO's LY. This is a great situation for Rich Rod to step into as the P12 does not often see his style of offense or his 3-3-5 stack def and he has the ingredients for 1st yr success.
JIM McELWAIN, COLORADO ST
I thought former HC Steve Fairchild did a good job but had a lot of hard luck especially on the injury front. New HC McElwain was Alabama's OC and in the Title gm the Tide rolled up 384 yds vs LSU. In fact, he steps into a good situation as the team was -4 in TO's, has 15 st'rs back and had poor ypp's LY. I would have predicted the Rams to finish higher in the MW but they lost three top def players being expelled in the spring. I still think they will top LY’s 3-win total.
CARL PELLINI, FAU
New HC Pelini does have a more veteran group with 15 ret’g st’rs and LY's team was -9 in TO's and had poor off (19.3) and def (11.3) ypp's. They were -128.9 ypg in SBC play (SBC worst) but Pelini says "this was kind of a sleeping giant ready to take off." FAU will be much more competitive and will pull some upsets easily topping LY’s 1-win total.
TIM DeRUYTER, FRESNO ST
DeRuyter steps into a situation in which almost every factor points up. Fresno had 2 net close losses, was -14 in TO's, had a def ypp of 12.4, earns a +4.0 in my Stock Market Indicator, has 14 st'rs back and was +25.3 ypg in WAC play last year despite their 3-4 record. Fresno makes my coveted Most Improved List as I will call for them to return to the post season and to finish in the top half of their new conference.
CHARLIE WEIS, KANSAS
Weis who won't have the same expectations here that he dealt with at ND. The Jayhawks have 14 ret’g st’rs but LY were -218.6 ypg, by far the worst in the B12 and their 516 ypg all'd on D was last in the FBS. On the positive side they had a def ypp of 11.8 and were -5 in TO's. KU brings in numerous transfers including QB Crist and will be a much tougher team which could top LY's win total by the end of Sept.
HUGH FREEZE, MISSISSIPPI
Surprisingly Ole Miss was only 2nd worst in the SEC at -174.2 ypg despite being 0-8. LY's squad was -8 in TO's. UM has a Stock Market Indicator of +4.5 and TY has 16 starters back for new HC Freeze who got the most out of his Ark St squad LY. This is a much stronger tm and could double LY's win total.
BOB DAVIE, NEW MEXICO
Davie inherits a pretty good situation. Indicators pointing upwards show 14 st'rs back, that they were -8 in TO's and had extremely poor off (24.7) and def (11.8) ypp's. The Lobos have a 22 game road losing streak which is the longest in the nation. NM is one of the most improved tms in the country and I will call for them to win as many games in '12 as they did in '09, '10 and '11 combined!
JIM MORA JR, UCLA
Mora hopes to have some of that Pete Carroll magic coming over from NFL and inherits 16 ret’g st’rs. Despite playing in the P12 Title gm, UCLA was -26.7 ypg (8th best) and was -5 in TO's. UCLA does avoid Oregon and gets 5 P12 HG's and despite a 6-8 record LY, make my MIT List.
TYPICAL 1ST-YEAR HEAD COACH
2010 was my first year for typical 1st-year head coaches and I went a solid 5-1 with my selections. Mike MacIntyre, Bobby Hauck, Rob Ianello, Larry Porter and Doc Holliday all went thru first year struggles as I predicted. The only coach to exceed my expectations was Charlie Strong and I did mention that I was very bullish on the hire but did not expect him to lead the Cardinals to a bowl game after a 4-8 season in ’09. Last year I went 4-3 on selections with Jon Embree, Will Muschamp, Darrell Hazell and Jerry Kill all going thru first year struggles but I was surprised that Pete Lembo, Mark Hudspeth and James Franklin all exceeded my expectations.
TODD GRAHAM, ARIZONA ST
LY ASU was 6-2 (#20) and were in clear control of the South. UCLA got a td with :49 left and ASU missed a 46 yd FG at the end and lost by 1. Their gm vs WSU was the first time ASU played on a snow covered field s/'70 (Peach Bowl) and they lost by 10. They led Ariz 27-17 in the 4Q (548-494 yd edge) but lost another close one by 4. When Colo beat Utah it eliminated ASU from the P12 South chase and they lost to Cal at home to fall to 6-6. ASU fired Erickson prior to the bowl. The hiring of Graham was controversial but ASU had 2 net close losses LY and were 5th in the P12 at -0.3 ypg. They benefitted from +9 in TO's and have just 8 ret st’rs while learning new schemes on both off and def. They have gone 21-28 (42.9%) the last 4 yrs (worst 4 consec yrs s/'35-'38) despite having the largest attendance increase among BCS programs LY. ASU has the fewest ret sts in the P12 but after underachieving in the 2H of last year, have a decent shot at a bowl in Graham’s first year.
JUSTIN FUENTE, MEMPHIS
A surprising number is that UM was +12 in TO's LY. They were -230.9 ypg in CUSA play (120.5 worse than #11). Pointing upward is that they are a more veteran squad with 14 ret’g st’rs, had poor off (16.9) and def (14.0) ypp's and had 3 net close losses. The Tigers have an accustomed amount of HT’s and some VHT’s meaning there is potential to surprise but with the 3rd HC in 4 years, this looks like another rebuilding season.
MATT CAMPBELL, TOLEDO
Last year the Rockets had a advantageous sked getting WMU and NIU at home but could not bring home the MAC West Title. Toledo was a MAC best +125.9 ypg and had a poor def ypp (12.7). On the negative side, they benefited from +16 in TO's, had a strong offensive ypp (11.4) and have just 8 st'rs back (fewest MAC). The Rockets play the toughest schedule of the MAC West contenders playing both WM and NIU on the road but despite their inexp, have an excellent shot at another winning season.
CURTIS JOHNSON, TULANE
Johnson inherits a good situation. Tulane has 14 ret’g st’rs, was -7 in TO's, had poor off (16.15) and def (10.95) ypp's and despite their 1-7 record in CUSA play, was actually only -51.7 ypg (7th best). I do expect Johnson to play a lot of big frosh recruits and with the coaching change, this is a rebuilding year but they could be favored in as many as 3 home games giving them a shot at topping LY's 2 win total.
GARRICK McGEE, UAB
UAB does go from 16 ret sts to 11 and brings in the 39 yr old McGee as HC. UAB was #11 in CUSA at -110.4 ypg in CUSA play despite their 3-5 record. They draw Houston and Tulsa out of the West and Ohio St and S Caro on the non-conf sked and this looks like a rebuilding year.
TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
The last 7 years I have had 28 coaches listed in this category. Three coaches in 2005 had their teams go from a combined 25-11 (69%) in 2004 to 15-19 (44%) in 2005. In 2007 four coaches were in the box and 3 had weaker records including Tim Brewster at Minnesota who took over a bowl squad and went 1-11. The one coach that improved his team's record went from 10-3 to 11-3. In ‘08 I had 4 coaches listed in the box and of the 4 coaches, only one (Steve Fairchild, Colorado St) managed to improve his team’s record but keep in mind the Rams were coming off a 3-9 season. In ’10 I had 4 coaches in this article and between the 4 of them of them including Butch Jones, Ruffin McNeill, Joker Phillips and Dan Enos took over teams with a combined record of 40-14 (74.1%) in ’09 and went 19-31 (3%) in ‘10. Last year I had seven coaches listed including Paul Pasqualoni, Randy Edsall, Don Treadwell and Luke Fickell and the combined record of those seven coaches went from 72-21 (77%) in ’10 to just 47-42 (53%) last year.
JOHN L. SMITH, ARKANSAS
Bobby Petrino had great success here with Ark’s best B2B seasons in two decades. In February, I was thinking of projecting Ark to win the SEC West TY as the Hogs get both LSU and Ala at home and are more exp'd with 13 ret st’rs including their QB but now face the ssn without Petrino. Insert interim HC John L. Smith who you have to believe has to get Ark to the SEC Champ gm to stay on for another year. They benefitted from 3 net close wins LY and draw SC out of the East. This a very dangerous team but it will be tough to live up to the high expectations.
GUS MALZAHN, ARKANSAS ST
Arkansas St was 1 of just 2 tms in the country to lead their conf in ttl off and def (Boise). Their 8-0 SBC record was their most conf wins ever and they were +131 ypg (best SBC). LY's squad did benefit from 2 net close wins and had beneficial off (13.8) and def (16.0) ypp's. TY they have a new HC and have just 10 ret’g st’rs which is fewest in the SBC. They were the best in the SBC LY but won't match LY's DD win total.
TONY LEVINE, HOUSTON
While the Cougars have 12 ret’g st’rs (same as '11) one of those lost is Keenum. UH was +3 net close wins, +16 in TO's, had very positive off (12.2) and def (17.0) ypp's and had a +5.5 gain in wins. UH was +252 ypg in CUSA play (#1 by 97.8 ypg) and even with a new coach, must be considered a contender in the West. While 6 of my 9 sets of power ratings call for them to have another double-digit win season, they won't match LY's 13 win total.
BILL O’BRIEN, PENN ST
Joe Paterno was pushed out of the game by a scandal in Nov 2011, before passing away in Feb 2012. Paterno finished his career before the sanctions took them away with the most career wins (409), most bowl wins (24) and 2 Nat'l Titles. O'Brien was hired prior to the Patriots playoff games and stayed on as OC through the Super Bowl. PSU does have just 6 ret st’rs (fewest B10) suffered a lot of attrition due to the coaching change and off-field distractions over the summer. They also had 4 net close wins LY. This is obviously a rebuilding year and it will be a fight just to make it to 6-6.
ELLIS JOHNSON, SOUTHERN MISS
Johnson takes over a team that had 2 net close wins, positive off (12.5) and def (16.5) ypp's as well as one that goes from 14 ret’g st’rs to 10. They lose their QB and 5 of their top 8 tkl'rs, all indicators pointing downward for '12. Despite all of those factors, there is no denying that SM is one of the most talented teams in CUSA and while they will not match LY's 12 win total, it will be another successful season.
In 2005 the whole reason for me to write this article was the ridiculous firing of coach Cutcliffe at Mississippi where he had done a GREAT job. I think it may be decades before you see Ole Miss bowl eligible for 5 straight years and go to 5 bowls in a 6-year stretch like they did under Cutcliffe. In 2007, I had Rice and Idaho listed here due to constant coaching changes. Idaho went from 4-8 to 1-11 and Rice went from a bowl game to 3-9. In ‘08 I put Southern Miss here as Larry Fedora had one of 5 teams in the NCAA that had 14 straight winning years. The Golden Eagles opened 2-6 and it appeared that a losing season was a given but rebounded to win their final 5 games of the year and match their 2007 record of 7-6. Two years ago I had Frank Spaziani here as the Eagles went from 11 wins in ’07 to 9 wins in ’08 and followed that up with 8 wins last year. In 2010 Derek Dooley was placed here with Tennessee having their 3rd coach in three years and the Vols dropped to 6-7 despite the fact that I think Dooley is a very good hire. No one got placed here last year and this year Pittsburgh almost got the title going on their 6th HC in 15 games (interim incl) but clearly underperformed last year and could top their record this year.
In 2007 I created this category. Some new coaches have conflicting things working for them and it is tough to toss them into any one category above. Of the six I tossed in this category in ‘08, three had miserable seasons for their schools (Texas A&M, UCLA, Washington St) and W Virginia was disappointing. Baylor and Georgia Tech, however, had more success than most thought they would. In ‘09 I had 7 coaches here and like ’08, they had mixed results. Eastern Michigan, and Miami, Oh had miserable seasons while Iowa St and Wyoming had better seasons than expected. 2010’s group also had mixed results with Robbie Caldwell, and Lane Kiffin being placed in there. Last year all five of the coaches won at least six games with Dana Holgorsen having the best record.
KEVIN SUMLIN, TEXAS A&M
Every year on my radio circuit, I get asked which team this year is a team that is sort of a enigma. This year that team is Texas A&M. Sumlin takes over a team that perhaps should have been 12-1 and was -9 in TO's and had 4 net close losses. They have 13 st'rs back but take a step up to the SEC. Despite being less experienced, taking on a much tougher schedule and having a 1st year HC (which means a learning process on both off and def), the Aggies have a solid shot at a 4th straight bowl but topping last year’s 7-win total may be difficult.
PAUL CHRYST, PITTSBURGH
New HC Paul Chryst is technically their 6th HC in the last 15 gms (interim incl) and the Panthers nearly were got my “Baylored” moniker. LY's tm was #2 in the BE at +55 ypg but finished tied for 4th (4-3). They had 3 net close losses LY and two of my 9 sets of power ratings call for 10 wins. Since Pitt had a losing record LY they make my Most Improved List which means no designation given due to all the coaching change.
KYLE FLOOD, RUTGERS
Flood has 15 st'rs back but had beneficial off (12.8) and def (17.0) ypp's. They have 4 AG's in the BE (just 3 HG) but have the league's best defense and will contend for the BE Title. I can see them matching LY’s 9 win total so he gets no designation.
CHARLEY MOLNAR, MASSACHUSETTS
LY UMass had their 2nd losing season in 10 years and brought in new HC Molnar for this year. UMass does return 10 of their top 13 tkl'rs on D as well as a veteran QB and offensive line. The major questions are the skill players on offense and the step up to FBS football competition as they have ZERO FCS opp's this year and play 4 tms from the BCS. This figures to be a transitional season in more ways than one. This year the Minutemen now must travel 94 miles to their new home stadium (also home to the NE Patriots) after playing the last 47 years in cozy 17,000 seat McGuirk Alumni Stadium. This loss of home field edge and the massively upgraded strength of schedule means a couple of wins this year might be considered a good season for the Minutemen.
NORM CHOW, HAWAII
Last year the Warriors were 3-4 in the WAC and -19.6 ypg. This year they have just 10 st'rs back plus lose Moniz. LY's team did have 2 net close losses and they do bring in Chow as the new head man. They go through a scheme change on offense (Run&Shoot to a 2-back Pro-Style) so this figures to be a rebuilding year and they won't match last year's 6 win total.