Grading Every New College Football Head Coach After Week 1
More than 22 percent of FBS programs have a new head coach in 2012. These 28 schools have ushered in new eras for their football teams with these hires.
A new season brings new challenges for all college football programs, but those with new head coaches often create more questions for themselves. How will the team respond to changes in coaching philosophies? How will the university communities respond to the new head coaches? Perhaps most importantly, has the new head coach brought improvement from the program’s previous season?
In Week 1, it is difficult to accurately assess the performances of new head coaches for multiple reasons.
One, Week 1 games are usually nonconference games, so teams are usually not playing teams with which they must compete for the entire season.
Two, teams will not always be immediately comfortable playing under new coaching philosophies. Aside from true freshmen, everyone on the team was recruited to play under the old system employed by the previous head coach.
Three, the players have not played in a meaningful football game in at least eight months. Not only do teams with new head coaches have to shake off the rust, but they come into game situations with new playbooks
Despite not being able to answer all the questions after one game, Week 1 performances can provide some insight into how successful the new head coaches might be throughout the season.
In this slideshow, I will grade each new head coach in FBS based on how his team played in Week 1.
Let’s get out the red marking pen.
Terry Bowden (Akron)
Result: 14-56 L vs. UCF
Akron finished 2011 with a 1-11 record, which included zero wins against FBS opponents. After its Week 1 game against UCF, the chances of Terry Bowden leading the Zips to a better 2012 do not look much better.
Turnovers by Akron decided this game. The Zips lost three fumbles, were intercepted once and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Akron also struggled mightily in red-zone defense, as UCF scored seven touchdowns in seven red-zone trips.
The Zips failed to score a point until 11:28 remaining in the third quarter.
Not much was expected from Akron this season—Athlon Sports ranked the Zips No. 119 of 124 FBS teams—but failing to secure offensive opportunities will not show the country why Akron should earn more respect in 2012.
Todd Graham (Arizona State)
Result: 63-6 W vs. Northern Arizona
The Sun Devils completely dominated Northern Arizona in Todd Graham’s debut. How can I prove that? Arizona State had more touchdowns (nine) than Northern Arizona had points (six).
Offensively, Arizona State gained 554 yards. On the ground, the Sun Devils gained 305 yards and scored seven of the team’s nine touchdowns. The quarterbacks went 16-of-20 as well. Every red-zone trip ended in a score (8-of-8).
Defensively, Arizona State gave up 237 yards, and it also returned an interception for a touchdown. The Sun Devils had three picks in the game.
On special teams, the punters pinned Northern Arizona inside its own 20 three times, and kicker Alex Garoutte had touchbacks on five kickoffs.
According to Ted Miller of ESPN.com, Arizona State has only four returning starters on offense and an additional four on defense from 2011. Graham as the new head coach just adds to the mass changes happening in Tempe.
Despite the clearly inferior opponent, Arizona State’s Week 1 performance definitely got the Graham era off on the right foot.
Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)
Result: 24-17 W (OT) vs. Toledo
Based on Arizona’s performance in Rich Rodriguez’s debut, Arizona State might be the better team in the state in 2012.
The Wildcats won against Toledo in overtime but cracked under pressure throughout the game. Arizona went 1-of-4 in the red zone (no touchdowns) and 5-of-15 on third downs.
Toledo is a respectable opponent from the MAC, but Arizona should have finished off the Rockets in regulation.
Arizona also nearly lost itself the game with four fumbles (two fumbles lost) and two missed field goals.
The Wildcats came away with a win in a game where they were only favored by about 10 points, but after this performance, the Pac-12 should not yet fear the arrival of a high-profile coach in the conference.
John L. Smith (Arkansas)
Result: 49-24 W vs. Jacksonville State
Arkansas lost three fumbles but still won by 25 points over FCS opponent Jacksonville State.
The Razorbacks threw for 400 yards and ran for four touchdowns in John L. Smith’s debut.
Defensively, Arkansas surrendered 322 yards but forced three fumbles.
Smith passed his first test, albeit not with flying colors.
Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State)
Result: 34-57 L at Oregon
Arkansas State should walk away from its game against Oregon with some pride. The Red Wolves went into Autzen Stadium and scored 34 points against the Ducks.
Gus Malzahn led the Auburn offense to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game against Oregon and won. Granted, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was the quarterback of the Tigers that day, but Malzahn’s performance against the Ducks with far inferior talent proves he is arguably college football’s brightest offensive mind.
Arkansas State was expected to lose to the No. 5 team in the country by about 40 points.
Had the Red Wolves not gone 4-of-12 on third downs and lost three fumbles, they might have closed the gap even more.
Arkansas State actually won the second half of this game, 24-7, albeit against Oregon's second- and third-stringers. The Red Wolves shut out Oregon in the third quarter.
Arkansas State finished No. 31 nationally in scoring offense in 2011 (32.5 points per game). In 2012 under Malzahn, expect that number to get higher. A lot higher.
Jim McElwain (Colorado State)
Result: 22-17 W at Colorado
Jim McElwain led Colorado State to its first victory against Colorado since 2009. The Rocky Mountain Showdown still belongs to Colorado by a huge margin, but the Rams got a huge victory against a rival in McElwain’s debut.
Neither team had 300 yards of offense, but Colorado came out on top in turnover margin and rushing yards margin. The Rams had one turnover and 125 rushing yards compared to two turnovers and 58 rushing yards for the Buffaloes.
McElwain brings an outstanding pedigree to Fort Collins, as he led the Alabama offense to two national championships in three years (2009, 2011). The rebuilding process following three consecutive 3-9 seasons will not be easy, but McElwain has proven himself as a winner on college football’s biggest stage.
Carl Pelini (Florida Atlantic)
Result: 7-3 W vs. Wagner
A win is a win—especially for a team that finished 1-11 in 2011—but Florida Atlantic only put up seven points against FCS opponent Wagner.
The Owls scored zero points in three red-zone opportunities. Carl Pelini’s squad also lost four fumbles.
On the bright side, FAU nearly had a 100-yard rusher (Martese Jackson for 99 yards) and receiver (Byron Hankerson for 93 yards). Also, the Owls balanced the run and pass almost exactly (164 rushing yards, 163 passing yards).
FAU did just enough to win the football game, but Pelini should have expected more against an FCS opponent.
The way the Owls played in Week 1 will not fly against future opponents No. 6 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama.
Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State)
Result: 37-10 W vs. Weber State
Fresno State put together a solid performance against FCS opponent Weber State in Tim DeRuyter’s debut.
The Bulldogs outgained Weber State 515-274 in total yards and 217-67 in rushing yards.
Quarterback Derek Carr was stellar, as he was 20-of-25 with 298 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. Robbie Rouse’s 123 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns proved why he is one of college football’s premier workhorse tailbacks.
Defensively, the Bulldogs collected an interception and four sacks to go along with two forced fumbles. Weber State went 4-of-14 on third downs and was held out of the red zone the entire game.
Fresno State switched coaches for the first time since 1997 and switched conferences for the first time since 1992. Pat Hill brought the Bulldogs to 11 bowl games in his 15 seasons at the helm while they were members of the WAC. DeRuyter and the Mountain West bring new challenges, but the Week 1 performance did not raise any red flags.
The real test comes Sept. 8, when Fresno State visits No. 5 Oregon.
Norm Chow (Hawai'i)
Result: 10-49 L at Southern California
In 2012, Hawai’i got its hardest game out of the way early, but must also navigate its way through a new conference—the Mountain West.
Norm Chow was the offensive coordinator of three national championship teams—two of which came at Southern California—but his offensive know-how was no match for the Trojans in this game.
The Warriors had four turnovers and 264 offensive yards, and they surrendered five sacks. Hawai’i also went 7-of-16 on third downs.
Going against the No. 1 team in the country, Hawai’i was not expected to do much, but a loss is still a loss.
Tony Levine (Houston)
Result: 13-30 L vs. Texas State
Houston, we could have a problem.
The Cougars are not expected to compete anywhere near the No. 18 ranking they received in the 2011 final AP poll, but losing to FBS newcomer Texas State is not a good way to start what is expected to be a rebuilding year.
Houston lost six offensive starters and four defensive starters from 2011, including quarterback Case Keenum—the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards. The top three receivers from 2011 have also moved on.
In Week 1, quarterback David Piland completed just 17 of 44 passes. The offense also converted just one third down in 13 tries.
Defensively, linebackers Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward combined for 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but the unit still gave up 444 yards of Texas State offense and allowed four scores in as many red-zone opportunities.
Considering Athlon Sports ranked Texas State No. 121 of 124 FBS teams, Houston could be in for a long season. Sorry, Cougars fans, but Tony Levine bombed in his debut.
Tim Beckman (Illinois)
Result: 24-7 W vs. Western Michigan
Illinois showed offensive weakness after quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase left the game in the third quarter after injuring his ankle. This suggests the fate of Illinois’ 2012 season rests on the health of Scheelhaase.
The Fighting Illini defensive line brought excellent pressure in this game. Western Michigan had minus-six rushing yards, and it was victimized by two sacks, three interceptions and six fumbles.
Beckman managed a good game for Illinois. The Fighting Illini showed a commitment to the run despite averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
Illinois started 6-0 in 2011 but lost its final six regular-season games. Hopefully Beckman and Scheelhaase can keep the fire burning once the weather gets cold in 2012.
Charlie Weis (Kansas)
Result: 31-17 W vs. South Dakota State
In addition to collecting 31 first downs, the Jayhawks gained 432 yards of offense, and 263 of these yards came on the ground. Running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox each rushed for at least 125 yards.
Kansas’ passing attack needs some more tutoring from Weis, though. Quarterback Dayne Crist had a pedestrian line of 17-of-36 for 169 yards and a touchdown. The Jayhawks also went 5-of-17 on third downs.
Defensively, Kansas allowed 411 yards of South Dakota State offense but forced five turnovers.
Considering South Dakota State’s FCS standing, Kansas might have gotten by on talent alone, but this performance will not lead to wins in the Big 12.
Charley Molnar (Massachusetts)
Result: 0-37 L at Connecticut
Massachusetts’ debut in FBS was a disaster.
When the punter sees the field 11 times, that should be a red flag.
The Minutemen generated only 59 yards of offense against the Huskies. Massachusetts went 3-of-15 on third downs as well.
What could be even more depressing for Charley Molnar’s team? Well, UMass faces three more BCS opponents this season, including No. 8 Michigan in Ann Arbor and SEC riser Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Only because UMass was opening its season as a new member of the FBS against a BCS opponent, I will shy away from giving Molnar a failing grade. At least the Minutemen have time to prepare for life in the FBS and in the MAC with a challenging nonconference schedule.
Justin Fuente (Memphis)
Result: 17-20 L vs. Tennessee-Martin
Memphis’ quest for its first winning season since 2007 got a lot tougher after dropping Justin Fuente’s debut against FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin.
The Tigers lost all three of their fumbles, as well as had 68 yards in penalties, which made the difference in a close game. Tennessee-Martin only lost one fumble and had only 13 yards in penalties.
Quarterback Jacob Karam struggled, as he went 12-of-28 with 157 passing yards. Karam threw for a touchdown but also took two sacks.
Tennessee-Martin was not great either, but its biggest concern (2-of-13 on third downs) ended up not costing it the game. Memphis just made more mistakes.
Losing a three-point game is not the worst thing in the world, but an FBS team losing to an FCS team by any margin should not happen.
Bob Davie (New Mexico)
Result: 66-21 W vs. Southern
New Mexico pounded the rock in its victory over FCS opponent Southern in Bob Davie’s debut.
The Lobos ran for 347 yards and five touchdowns. Four players ran for at least 65 yards.
Defensively, New Mexico played aggressively and finished with two sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The Lobos scored two touchdowns on defense, one via an interception and the other via a fumble recovery.
Most importantly, New Mexico did not beat itself up. The Lobos were penalized only once (five yards) and scored on all five red-zone trips.
Davie, who has not been a head coach since 2001, takes over what was arguably the worst FBS program in 2011. Athlon Sports does not expect the Lobos to do much better in 2012, as it ranked them No. 117 of 124 FBS teams, but a Week 1 win could be a sign of a brighter future in Albuquerque.
The next and most important challenge for the Lobos is to remain competitive throughout the rest of their schedule.
Larry Fedora (North Carolina)
Result: 62-0 W vs. Elon
If I told you North Carolina scored 62 points in three quarters, you probably would have thought I was talking about the basketball program. This time, it was the football program, not to mention in head coach Larry Fedora’s debut.
The Tar Heels outgained Elon 524-170. UNC had 243 rushing yards as well. Six of eight red-zone chances were converted into scores.
Running back Giovani Bernard was all over the field for UNC. Bernard had 93 yards and one touchdown on the ground, 100 yards and one touchdown returning punts and a receiving touchdown.
The defense had two sacks, two interceptions and recovered two fumbles.
Granted the opponent was Elon—an FCS team—Fedora could have not started his tenure in Chapel Hill any better.
Urban Meyer (Ohio State)
Result: 56-10 W vs. Miami (OH)
Ohio State literally ran away with a blowout victory in Urban Meyer’s debut.
The Buckeyes had 294 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 161 yards on 17 attempts to lead the team.
Ohio State held Miami (OH) to minus-one rushing yards and to 5-of-19 on third downs.
Miami (OH) quarterback Zac Dysert and wide receiver Nick Harwell were the only threats Ohio State had to deal with all game. Dysert’s 303 passing yards and Harwell’s 120 receiving yards were game highs.
The RedHawks’ one-dimensional offense only helped the Buckeyes in this game.
I expect a smooth transition from the Jim Tressel era to the Urban Meyer era in Columbus. After this season’s postseason ban, Meyer should have the Buckeyes competing for national championships immediately.
Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
Result: 49-27 W vs. Central Arkansas
After one game in 2012, Ole Miss has half of its total wins from 2011. Hugh Freeze knows, though, that 20-point wins will not come as easily as it did in his debut.
Athlon Sports ranked the Rebels No. 71 nationally heading into 2012. Only in the SEC can a team be considered average for FBS standards after winning just two games the previous season.
Ole Miss’ downfall is playing in the toughest conference in the country. Freeze knows that the easiest path to a bowl game is winning all three nonconference games against non-BCS opponents and then stealing three games sometime throughout the season.
Luckily, the Rebels came away with a win in the first of those nonconference games. Granted, it was against FCS opponent Central Arkansas, but considering the result the team had in 2011, a win is a step in the right direction.
Ole Miss did not cruise past Central Arkansas by any means. Central Arkansas actually led the game at halftime, 20-14. The Rebels also allowed three sacks and missed two field goals.
Ole Miss did put the game away in the second half, though, as it scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives that spanned the third and fourth quarters. This type of resiliency is great, but when Ole Miss is trailing to an SEC rival, it will be much harder to come back.
I will be generous to Freeze after his first game in Oxford, but the true test has yet to begin.
Bill O'Brien (Penn State)
Result: 14-24 L vs. Ohio
Perhaps the emotions off the field were too much for Penn State to overcome. Perhaps Ohio is a better football team than Penn State in 2012. Either way, the Nittany Lions could not shake off their Week 1 opponent, both on and off the field.
Bill O’Brien’s offense led the NFL’s New England Patriots to an AFC title in 2011. The same system generated only two touchdowns for Penn State in its 2012 opener.
The Nittany Lions won the first half 14-3, but the Bobcats came back to win the second half and the game.
Quarterback Matt McGloin was good, but not great, for Penn State. McGloin finished 27-of-48 with 260 yards and two touchdowns; he also threw an interception. Under his direction, the Nittany Lions went 8-of-16 on third downs.
Penn State allowed 499 yards of Ohio offense and only generated one tackle for loss.
O’Brien has done a lot of good for Penn State over the offseason, but he will have to wait longer for these good things to generate victories.
Paul Chryst (Pittsburgh)
Result: 17-31 L vs. Youngstown State
A BCS team should have no excuses for losing to an FCS team. That is what happened to Pittsburgh against Youngstown State in Week 1.
The Panthers lost both of their fumbles; 2012 Maxwell Award candidate Ray Graham rushed for only 71 yards.
Pittsburgh has had three different head coaches in three seasons, but even that should not qualify as an excuse for its Week 1 performance. Youngstown State might be one of FCS’ best teams in 2012, but the FCS and the FBS are two different leagues altogether.
Against a BCS opponent, and perhaps even an FBS opponent, I would have given the Panthers a passing grade in Paul Chryst’s debut.
Kyle Flood (Rutgers)
Result: 24-12 W at Tulane
Greg Schiano unexpectedly left Rutgers in the offseason to become the head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The man who built the Scarlet Knights from an FBS cellar dweller to a team that consistently appeared in bowl games seemed like someone who would never leave Piscataway.
After all, Schiano previously declined head coaching offers from more prestigious FBS programs like Michigan and Miami (FL).
Kyle Flood secured the No. 24 recruiting class of 2012 (according to ESPNU) that Schiano left a week before national signing day. That was Flood’s first real victory before defeating Tulane in Week 1.
Rutgers returned to its trademark system of running the football and playing sound defense.
The Scarlet Knights had a balanced offense all game, as they ran for 151 yards and passed for 158 yards. The defense held Tulane to eight rushing yards while collecting three sacks and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown.
Linebacker Khaseem Greene followed up his 2011 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year campaign with a solid outing in Week 1, as he recorded 14 tackles and a sack.
Rutgers had a little extra motivation to win this game; the Scarlet Knights lost to Tulane in Piscataway in 2010.
The Scarlet Knights were shut out in the first and third quarters, but the defense did not give up a touchdown to Tulane until 5:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers could have shown more in a game against the No. 113 team in the country (according to Athlon Sports), but overall, Scarlet Knights fans should have no complaints.
Ellis Johnson (Southern Miss)
Result: 20-49 L at Nebraska
Ellis Johnson had a chance to pull off a huge upset against No. 17 Nebraska in his Southern Miss debut—the Golden Eagles trailed 21-17 just before halftime—but 21 straight points for the Cornhuskers killed those chances.
Southern Miss generated just 260 yards of offense compared to Nebraska’s 632 yards. The Golden Eagles also surrendered three sacks and a fumble. Perhaps the most glaring hole for the team was in the passing attack, where it mustered up seven completions in 19 attempts for 75 yards.
In the end, Southern Miss did not present a major threat to Nebraska.
Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
Result: Postponed at Louisiana Tech
Hurricane Isaac delayed Kevin Sumlin’s debut at Texas A&M.
Matt Campbell (Toledo)
Result: 17-24 L (OT) at Arizona
Toledo came into Arizona as underdogs and left with a seven-point loss in overtime. Matt Campbell led the Rockets to the next best thing to a win in his regular-season debut.
Toledo’s defense allowed 624 yards of Arizona offense but came up big in key situations. The Rockets surrendered only a field goal in four red-zone opportunities on defense, and they held Arizona to 5-for-15 on third downs. They also sacked the Wildcats twice and intercepted a pass.
Punter Vince Penza also did an outstanding job, as six of eight Toledo punts were downed inside the Arizona 20-yard line.
Curtis Johnson (Tulane)
Result: 12-24 L vs. Rutgers
At first glance, it might look like Curtis Johnson took a huge step backwards, as he inherited Tulane after being the wide receivers coach of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. However, considering the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, maybe Johnson’s move could be a blessing in disguise.
Tulane lost to Rutgers in Johnson’s debut, but quarterback Ryan Griffin found quite a few holes in the Rutgers defense. Griffin finished the game 34-of-48 with 254 passing yards.
If not for 120 penalty yards assessed to the Green Wave, Johnson might be starting his tenure with an undefeated record. Tulane also could have done better on third downs (8-of-16), but penalties and eight total rushing yards told the story in New Orleans.
Tulane actually beat Rutgers the last time the two teams met (2010 in Piscataway). That season, the Green Wave finished No. 113 nationally in scoring defense (37.2 points per game) but held the Scarlet Knights to only 14 points.
In 2012, the result was not the same.
Athlon Sports ranked Tulane No. 113 of 124 FBS teams heading into 2012 following a two-win season in 2011. Holding a far superior Rutgers team on paper—particularly on defense—to within two touchdowns should be viewed as a respectable result for Johnson and his team.
Garrick McGee (UAB)
Result: 29-39 L vs. Troy
UAB opened the Garrick McGee era as six-point underdogs in Las Vegas, so a 10-point loss is not too far off what was expected.
The Blazers had 459 yards of offense and 29 points under McGee, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. The Razorbacks finished No. 5 in the 2011 final AP poll, and they averaged about 438 yards and 37 points per game.
UAB had three players with over 40 rushing yards and two players with over 100 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Blazers surrendered 453 yards of Troy offense, with 262 such yards coming on the ground.
UAB should see improvements on offense in 2012 compared to 2011, but it could take time for the defense to catch up. Unfortunately, the next two opponents on the schedule are No. 9 South Carolina and No. 18 Ohio State.
McGee squandered the best chance his team had to win a game before Conference USA play.
Jim L. Mora (UCLA)
Result: 49-24 W at Rice
The UCLA Bruins doubled up a significantly inferior Rice Owls team in Jim Mora’s debut.
If not for three blocked extra points, a 2-of-11 third-down conversion rate and 107 penalty yards, the Bruins would have scored even more.
UCLA gained 646 yards on offense yet remained balanced, as 343 of those yards came on the ground. Running back Johnathan Franklin had 15 carries for 214 yards (14.3 yards per rush) and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bruins allowed 358 yards and 24 points, but they sacked Rice’s quarterbacks seven times.
Mora took care of business in Week 1. Next week’s game against No. 17 Nebraska presents a greater challenge, but UCLA should have an offense to fear all season.
Mike Leach (Washington State)
Result: 6-30 L at BYU
Washington State fans will have to wait at least another week to see Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense in action.
The WSU Cougars generated only 229 passing yards and six points against the BYU Cougars.
According to ESPN.com:
At Texas Tech, Mike Leach’s teams averaged more than 37 points per game for 10 seasons. Washington State scored just 6 in Leach’s debut. That’s the fewest points a Mike Leach team has scored since scoring 6 in a loss at Colorado in 2006…
Washington State was also unable to capitalize on 112 yards of penalties assessed to BYU.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked three times and threw two interceptions.
Defensively, Washington State allowed 426 yards. The switch to a 3-4 defense has not shown improvement from 2011 yet, but then again, this was only Week 1.
One of Leach’s worst offensive performances as a head coach should earn him a failing grade, but considering this was the 2012 opener, the mark will be bumped up a bit.