Thirty-one. That's how many schools elected, or were forced, to find a new leader for their football program this offseason. Each hire came under different circumstances. From Tommy Tuberville bailing on Texas Tech over dinner to P.J. Fleck getting the nod at Western Michigan just seven years into his coaching career after having never been a coordinator.
Some schools, like Boston College and Auburn, were lucky enough to show their coaches the door, dictating the terms of their new direction. Others, like Temple and Arkansas State, were forced into reacting after bigger schools stole their head guy.
Whatever the case may be, schools, and more importantly players, are soldiering on with new staffs in place. The hiring season has passed and teams are in various stages of spring practice, looking at what they have in front of them. Coaches are evaluating talent and finding out where the holes are on the roster.
Meanwhile, we're evaluating and checking out these coaches in their new spots. Sure, we all know their players will turn over in the next few seasons thanks to graduation and attrition, but given the 31 hires, odds are these guys will turn over just as quickly.
Let's face it, in the game of college football, you're hired to be fired. With the exception of a handful of jobs and a handful of coaches who end up happy where they are and go out on their own terms, everybody gets the ax.
The Petrino Brothers...
As we wind our way through the new faces, why not start with Bobby Petrino, one of the most familiar and easily the most intriguing firings and subsequent hirings of the 2012-2013 cycle.
Where football is concerned, the guy is a certified genius. He gets maximum production out of his offense and has a system that is not easy to duplicate. For Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers are getting a winner who has some clout in the state of Kentucky and is going to push for success in the Sun Belt.
Unlike teams transitioning from a pro-style to a spread attack, or from a rushing-based to a passing-based offense, Petrino is going to make this easy on his new roster. He has Antonio Andrews back to tote the ball, and as Western Kentucky goes to a more balanced attack, play action will be one of his best friends.
Former Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart did a great job of using formations to create mismatches and gain advantages, and Petrino will continue to push that element as he looks to get bodies out in space. If you're a Hilltoppers wide receiver, Petrino's route combinations will get you open and let you run after the catch.
Also this offseason, Bobby’s brother Paul Petrino got his first head-coaching gig at Idaho. After going 6-7 in 2010, head coach Robb Akey just could not find the winning recipe again, totaling just three wins in his final two seasons. While Bobby Petrino walks into the WKU gig with a roster that has plenty of potential, his brother Paul walks into Idaho with what amounts to a bare cupboard.
Between players leaving and the guys who are still there not offering much in the way of production, Paul Petrino is going to have to work some magic. And that's just on the field with his scheme. Off the field, Petrino inherits a program that still lacks an identity. The WAC is now defunct, and Idaho is a year away from joining the new Sun Belt.
Petrino employs a philosophy that mirrors his brother's. He tries to be balanced on offense and create big plays through route combinations. The run game will likely be ahead of the pass game, given that the running back position boasts some capable transfers and the quarterback position is unsettled, as Petrino sifts through a four-man battle to be the signal-caller.
It is a heck of a time for Petrino to get his first call-up to the big leagues. Both he and his brother will be starting from scratch in non-BCS leagues.
Idaho transitions to the Sun Belt in 2014, which means the Vandals get into the league as the Hilltoppers leave it for Conference USA. Coaching changes were the norm in the Sun Belt this offseason.
The Sun Belt Conference...
Gus Malzahn, Mario Cristobal, Bill Curry and DeWayne Walker are out at Arkansas State, Florida International, Georgia State and New Mexico State, respectively, replaced by Bryan Harsin at Arkansas State, Ron Turner at Florida International, Trent Miles at Georgia State and Doug Martin at New Mexico State.
Harsin is the next Boise State product to get a head-coaching job. We’re about to find out how much of the offense from Boise State a few years ago was Harsin's and how much was Chris Petersen’s.
At Texas, where Harsin spent the last two seasons, the offense was a problem. It had no identity, no consistency and did not develop in the grand scheme of things. Thus, as Major Applewhite looks to prove that without a co-offensive coordinator he can get the Longhorns moving, Harsin is trying to show what he can do without Mack Brown looking over his shoulder.
This most interesting aspect of the Harsin move is going to be just what his offense looks like. Everyone puts stock in his use of gadget plays, but the real treat is going to be watching the rushing attack he builds for the Red Wolves. Expect the attack to be balanced. But with a lack of experience at quarterback, the run game should pace the team in Jonesboro.
If Malzahn got called up to the SEC big leagues from Arkansas State, Mario Cristobal, at FIU, got sent to the minors as a position coach in at Alabama. The guy who took the Golden Panthers to back-to-back bowl games, their first postseason appearances, was oddly dismissed following an injury-riddled 2012 season.
When it seemed Butch Davis was going to land the job, contract issues with UNC held that up and FIU settled on Ron Turner. Yes, the Ron Turner who went 35-57 at Illinois. Yes, Ron Turner, brother of Norv Turner.
Turner's been all over the country, bouncing back and forth between the collegiate and professional ranks. He'll certainly bring perspective to the gridiron, but perspective is not going to get Florida International the Conference USA championship it is looking for with its coming move.
Kedrick Rhodes and Jake Medlock are going to be the key cogs in making Turner's offense go. Rhodes, a running back, and Medlock, the likely quarterback starter, will be dealing with what Turner wants to be an aggressive scheme blending spread and pro-styled principles.
During spring practice, Turner, whose team lacks offensive line depth, is going to have to find a way to manufacture yardage by the chunks, because it doesn’t have the personnel to win games with a ball-control conservative attack.
Trent Miles, Georgia State's new hire, is grabbing the reins of an FBS team for the first time after leading a successful program at Indiana State. This is a season of big moves for the Panthers, who will be playing their inaugural season at the FBS level.
Positions are wide open, and excitement is real for the spring game in the Georgia Dome. What Panthers fans really ought to be happy about is the presence of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
Jagodzinski has been all over the football map and brought success at just about every stop. He's worked for the Packers, the Falcons and the Buccaneers in the NFL. He worked at Boston College and East Carolina before getting the head-coaching job in Chestnut Hill, where he proceeded to go 20-8 before being canned for merely interviewing for the Philadelphia Eagles job.
Miles is the head coach, but Jagodzinki, a guy with BCS-level head-coaching experience, could end up being the true star here. He's been out of the traditional football game for a while, working in the UFL and then at NAIA Ave Maria last season. But Miles can count on Jagodzinski to get this offense going, which will him in recruiting and building this program for the step up to FBS.
In something that ranks up there with Cristobal and Turner on the "odd occurrences" scale, the New Mexico State Aggies hired Doug Martin as their head coach. Of course, this occurred only after DeWayne Walker left for a position-coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thus, going into February with the interim tag, Doug Martin got the official nod just days prior to national signing day.
Martin, a name we've heard before during his less than successful stint at Kent State, is now back on the radar in an effort to find wins at New Mexico State. Walker was 10-40 in his four seasons with the Aggies, and now Martin, with a roster that lacks talent and has been beaten down, is going to try to pump some life back into the program..
So, for Martin, the hardest part of his job is going to be getting these kids to believe they can be successful. New Mexico State has not been to a bowl since 1960, and these kids have never won more than four games in a season. Regardless of what offense or defense he wants to implement, getting kids to buy in is Job 1..
On the field, Martin, who spent a lot of time with offensive guru Steve Logan, is going to try to find a way to score points. That means getting yardage in big pieces, with explosive plays and meshing some of the new with older looks from he and Logan’s days at East Carolina. Early on, it won't be pretty, but the coach can find success if his kids accept incremental progress as wins and build on those.
Remember the WAC?
Idaho and New Mexico State are not the only schools from the now-defunct WAC that had to find a coach this offseason. Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State also had bigger schools hire away their coaches. The Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech lost Sonny Dykes to Cal, and after two hires that ended up being short-lived due to those coaches leaving for better jobs, they opted for Skip Holtz, an established coach who was recently fired. Instead of the up-and-comer, Tech got the guy who never actually quite made it and is now looking to rebuild his career.
Holtz is a somewhat polarizing figure on the college football radar. For some folks, he's a quality coach who helped ready UConn for the move to FBS and then got East Carolina back to being a respectable team after the John Thompson era. Others see him as a milquetoast coaching option who is not the worst guy for any job, but certainly is not the best candidate either.
Since both Holtz and Louisiana Tech are starting from scratch, expect both to get back to basics. For the Bulldogs, that means playing defense and being a more sound fundamental football team. For Holtz, that means building his career, and his name, from scratch. Luckily, for both parties, this is a match where they need each other. Holtz needs Tech to help bolster his once promising career, and the folks in Ruston want to keep winning football games.
There will be growing pains here. Holtz is nearly as innovative as Sonny Dykes, who was coming out of the Air Raid coaching tree. However, having Tony Peterson from Marshall on his staff should help the Bulldogs keep pushing the pace and attacking defenses.
San Jose State also lost a coach to the Pac-12, as Mike MacIntyre moves over to Colorado in an effort to do for the Buffaloes what he did for the Spartans. Stepping in to replace MacIntyre is Ron Caragher. Caragher, like Trent Miles at Georgia State, has had success at the FCS level and is now making that jump up.
At San Diego, Caragher followed Jim Harbaugh and led the Toreros to three conference titles. Now, he's making the trip up I-5 to San Jose State to try to continue the success that MacIntyre built. Caragher inherits a roster full of kids who are chomping at the bit to prove themselves in a new league, the Mountain West Conference.
David Fales, the stud quarterback, will enter as the leader of this group, and how much Caragher tweaks the successful approach of a year ago will be the most interesting thing to watch. San Jose State ran the ball, used play-action passing and let Fales hit open receivers. Changing that script and not having success would strike quite a blow to Caragher's early efforts.
The Mountain West is a step up from the WAC, so how the players, eager to prove they can compete, are able to compete in their new environment is going to be the story of 2013 for the Spartans.
The same can be said for the Utah State Aggies, a team that replaces Gary Andersen, now at Wisconsin, with Matt Wells. Wells was the offensive coordinator for the Aggies last season, a quarterbacks coach in Logan in 2011 and also played quarterback there in the '90s. His ties to the program run deep, and he has a solid relationship with the current players on the roster.
While they lose Kerwynn Williams, the Aggies do return their best player from a season ago, quarterback Chuckie Keeton. So, as Wells and his staff sort out who will be the go-to running back, they know they have the dynamic Keeton’s arm and legs to pick up yardage.
Wells is a young guy, just 39, and he's hands-on with his players. This is going to be a learning experience as he figures out how to manage players, game plans, his staff and the media obligations. However, coming into it with players he knows, and that know him, gives him something of a leg up on other new hires walking into unknown situations.
The Growing Mountain West...
Which is exactly what you get when you look at Nevada, a fellow MWC team, and its new hire, Brian Polian. While Wells and Polian are close in age—Polian's 38, the son of a former NFL executive—he is short on ties to the program.
That means there will be growing pains as the coaching staff works to mesh with what they have in the way of players. That is something Polian is going to have to figure out. For a team that has been known for its innovative offense, fixing the defense is going to be high on the priority list.
In that regard, Polian has made a strong move by bringing in Scottie Hazelton as his defensive coordinator. Hazelton is a good coach. He’s a guy who was a casualty of the Tampa 2 change at USC and will be looking to find player at Nevada. For the players, the good thing about the transition at the top is that most of these guys will get a clean slate to earn their way up the depth charts.
Now, with spring ball started, it will be about these kids learning the Tampa 2, which is not easy, and Polian's staff finding a way to blend its offensive philosophy with what the players are capable of doing.
At UTEP, Sean Kugler get his first head-coaching gig after never having been a coordinator. While Kugler has no ties to the current players, he does have ties to UTEP, having served there from 1993-2000 as a grad assistant, tight ends coach and offensive line coach. So he does understand the school and the culture.
For Kugler, coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers into a place like UTEP with an understanding of the culture is a major plus. This is not the NFL or even a high-level BCS program. So comprehending that is key. Kugler has to come in with fire as he attempts to inspire these guys who have not participated in a bowl game since 2010.
That starts up front, Kugler is an offensive line guy through and through, and with that comes a workman's approach to football. Look for the Miners to play physically and try to wear down opponents in the fourth quarter. Adding Jamiell Showers to the quarterback race is an upgrade of talent. And if the team can grasp the new schemes, it can claw its way back into bowl contention soon.
Another team looking to get back to a bowl in Conference USA is the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. After one season, they dumped Ellis Johnson in favor of Todd Monken. Much like Larry Fedora, who preceded Johnson as coach, Monken comes in looking to push the tempo and spread the ball around.
During two stints at Oklahoma State, Monken was about pushing the pace and putting up solid numbers in the passing game. Most recently in Stillwater, the Pokes’ offenses were effective at taking what the defense gave them and truly taxing teams with both the run and the pass.
Now, after the Johnson disaster, the Golden Eagles are getting back to the style of football that brought them a Conference USA championship in 2011. They are going to spread you out wide, and when you take players seven and six out of the box, they will run it at you. They will bunch up their formations, allow players to gain separation on the snap, and then the quarterbacks will hit the open man.
Expect a quick transition in Hattiesburg because these players, largely recruited by Fedora, will be getting back to doing exactly what they were brought to school to do.
Time for some MACtion...
Much like the now-defunct WAC was hit hard by promotions, so too was the MAC. Dave Doeren and Darrell Hazell both move from MAC schools to BCS jobs this offseason, leaving their squads looking for their successors.
Doeren is headed to North Carolina State, and the Huskies of Northern Illinois have Rod Carey stepping in to replace the coach who led them to the Orange Bowl. Carey coached Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl and is now the lead dog for the program in DeKalb.
Like Matt Wells at Utah State, Carey is a known face to the players, which will help from an ease of transition and cultural standpoint. As an added benefit, Carey is quite the Midwest guy, having worked at Minnesota, Wisconsin-Stout, Illinois State and North Dakota prior to arriving at Northern Illinois.
With quarterback Jordan Lynch back in the fold as a dark-horse Heisman contender from the non-BCS ranks, Carey certainly knows where to start with his offense. The Huskies will run the ball and work on the issues that stopped them from walking away as Orange Bowl champions. Most notably, they must improve on defense and help Lynch make more plays.
If he can improve on last year's performance, the Huskies will be in good shape to win another MAC championship.
The Huskies’ opponents in the MAC title game also lost their coach this offseason. Darrell Hazell left Kent State for Purdue, and the Golden Flashes hired Paul Haynes to replace him.
Haynes comes in after a tough year at Arkansas that saw its defense ranks as one of the SEC's worst. However, Haynes does still have the Ohio State pedigree, and while the one mess of a season in Fayetteville was bad, his work in Columbus was enough to get him the job.
Brian Rock and Brian George were retained by Haynes to run the offense and defense, respectively, and that is a big plus as Kent State will be able to maintain a sense of continuity during the transition. Its biggest priority this spring is finding a quarterback. But keeping so much of the system the same is going to help all the players transition under the new leadership.
For Haynes, who now has his first head-coaching job, this is a solid move. He'll be working to get recruits into the fold, something he did consistently well at Ohio State during his time as an assistant.
Another change in the MAC is P.J. Fleck taking over at Western Michigan for Bill Cubit. Unlike Hazell and Doeren, the Broncos did not find themselves forced into searching for a new coach after the previous one left for a better job. No, Cubit was fired.
After eight up-and-down years, three bowl losses and a record hovering just over .500, Western Michigan elected to cut ties with Cubit and go in another direction. What they ended up with was Fleck.
He’s a 32-year-old head coach who has never been a coordinator and most recently was Tampa Bay's wide receivers coach. A former NFL receiver, Fleck worked at Rutgers under Greg Schiano, Northern Illinois under Jerry Kill and was a graduate assistant for Jim Tressel.
Because of his youth and relative inexperience, no one is really sure what to expect out of Western Michigan. Well, except for intensity. Fleck, with his youth, brings energy and excitement to the field that resonates with his players. When the kids are enjoying football and looking at a coach who is willing to run through a wall for him, that makes teaching new schemes that much easier.
On to the BCS Leagues...
Leaving the non-BCS ranks, where changes were largely forced through coaches being promoted, firing was largely the reason for change at the BSC schools, except for the Big East, which saw three coaches leave for better jobs.
At Temple, Matt Rhule replaces Steve Addazio. Though he's young, Rhule has spent a lot of time as a Temple assistant and understands recruiting the area. He has coordinator experience, and after a year in the NFL he returned to Philadelphia to lead the Owls as they transition into the Big East.
Rhule brings in a pro-spread attack but also want to use zone-read principles. Up front, he wants his teams to be physical and wants his linemen to move bodies. On the edge, he wants to create mismatches, get guys open in space, use some of the zone-read principles and put pressure on defenses.
Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome are all vying for playing time at quarterback. Each fits what Rhule is looking for.
Temple now has a coach who was there when the program was a laughing stock, who lived through the transition and now wants to help take it to the next level, starting with competing in the yet-to-be-named new Big East, Temple is a confident team that now believes it can, and should, win every time it is on the field.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati went the opposite route with Tommy Tuberville. He's a coach on the tail end of his career who has had beefs with the administration at his last two jobs. When it comes to coaching, energy is not his thing. He tried to inject energy into Auburn, and it ended in disaster. At Texas Tech, he was the lull between Mike Leach's fiery personality and Kliff Kingsbury's young energetic persona.
Now, Cincinnati is going from the energy of Brian Kelly, which was continued by Butch Jones, to Tuberville. He’s not the most inspiring of hires, especially after the recruiting issues that came up with Tuberville and his staff pulling offers from committed Cincinnati recruits.
His teams will play sound defense.That is something he brought to Texas Tech that helped it beat the likes of West Virginia and Oklahoma in 2012 and 2011, respectively. On offense, he'll keep doing what works best from the Jones era and hope that can be parlayed into wins on the field.
It will be most interesting to see how he fares in what used to be the Big East. Of the coaches in what now makes up the league, he is somewhat of an elder statesman, along with UConn's Paul Pasqualoni. If his experience is enough to steal wins, get recruits and put Cincinnati in the running to win the league, that will be a nice exit gift for Tuberville.
Syracuse was the third of three former Big East schools to lose its coach to a career promotion. While Butch Jones and Steve Addazio moved up in the college ranks, Doug Marrone was hired by the Buffalo Bills.. The Orange promoted from within, elevating Scott Shafer to the head position.
Shafer has been working in the college game for awhile, including his most recent three-year stint at Syracuse, where he helped Marrone fix the defense. In back-to-back years, it shut down West Virginia's potent attack and helped keep 'Cuse in position to win late into games.
As a guy who’s worked primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, Shafer brings recruiting chops to the table that will be needed when Syracuse makes its move to the ACC. On offense, the big thing for Shafer and staff will be finding their next quarterback, as Ryan Nassib has moved on to the NFL after being a major key to their production. Whoever ends up at quarterback will have a sound rushing attack to lean on.
Also in the Big East, one coach we've mentioned, Skip Holtz, was fired and replaced by a guy who saw his old vacancy filled by Bobby Petrino. Willie Taggart, formerly of Western Kentucky, is now the lead dog at South Florida. Watching him work in this new conference should be interesting.
Instilling more discipline and better execution is the priority in Tampa. Sloppy play, poor decisions and inconsistency have limited the ceiling for USF, and now it is on Taggart to do what Holtz was unable to do.
On paper, Taggart appears to be the man for the job. He was an assistant at Western Kentucky before going to work for Jim Harbaugh and helping to rebuild Stanford. He then returned to Bowling Green as head coach and took WKU to a bowl game. His system, which is rooted in the Harbaugh approach of outworking and out-muscling people on the field, and using tight ends to create mismatches, clearly works.
At South Florida, Taggart has more to work with than he has had in years' past. He also has a conference that lacks an identity and a grand opportunity to shove his way to the top by playing his ground-control, tough-man football.
The Big 12
The Big 12 takes home the prize for the least number of job swaps this year. Only Tuberville leaving for Cincinnati left a vacancy as the other nine coaches are back at the helm. To replace him, the folks in Lubbock went back to the well, calling Kliff Kingsbury to the plate.
Kingsbury, one of Texas Tech's all-time greats and one of their most favorite sons, was a quarterback under Mike Leach, who then expanded his Air Raid knowledge under Dana Holgorsen, before becoming an offensive coordinator for coach Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. It’s been a quick rise for the 33-year-old, who is now leading a BCS-level program.
Under Neal Brown, the Tech offense followed some Air Raid principles. But now, with Kingsbury, the Red Raiders will go deeper into his modified playbook. Tech loses quarterback Seth Doege, which is a major blow, but Kingsbury is going to work to get his guys ready. Michael Brewer is expected to start, but as we saw a year ago at Texas A&M, Kingsbury is a fan of the best player taking the field.
Kingsbury has already revved up the energy in Lubbock. There’s been music bumping at practice. He speaks the language of the kids. After all, he's only six years removed from being a player himself and reminds the players that football can, and should, be fun.
The ACC and the B-I-G
Both the ACC and Big Ten had just two vacancies in the BCS ranks, all four of which were filled by successful head coaches from the non-BCS ranks.
N.C. State opted to go with Dave Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach, to replace Tom O'Brien. The excitement that Doeren's Huskies played with was the draw, but the bigger reason for the pushing out of O'Brien was his lack of recruiting success and failure to win the ACC. Sure, winning seven or eight games is nice, but the goal is to compete for a conference title.
Doeren takes over a program that has a lot more questions than answers. N.C. State has question marks at quarterback and all over the defense. And the offense will be trying to transition into the new system. Much like the kids at Texas Tech, N.C. State's players are embracing the new coach and his energy with real enthusiasm..
The most interesting position battle is at quarterback. Neither Pete Thomas nor Manny Stocker is the Jordan Lynch type. So how offensive coordinator Matt Canada elects to use them will be intriguing.
On the other side of the ball, watching Dave Huxtable attempt to rebuild the defense rebuilt will be telling. The team goes from the complex attack led by coordinators Mike Archer and Jon Tenuta lto Huxtable trying to find more success through simplicity, as he did at Pitt.
Also in the ACC, Steve Addazio finds himself with a BCS job at Boston College. After finishing second in the MAC in his first season, then being pushed around in the Big East in year two, Addazio got the call to head to Chestnut Hill. The issue, with Addazio, is not whether he can succeed, but rather how long it takes him to be successful and how patient the Boston College fans will be.
After suffering through the Frank Spaziani era, where losses piled up in a fashion most Eagles fans were not accustomed to, patience is not in grand supply for BC. Addazio needs to win now to build goodwill. To do that, he is going to have to walk a very familiar road.
Much like Tom O'Brien before him, Addazio is a blue-collar, run-the-ball-and-play-good-defense coach. He'll use play-action passing to keep defenses off balance, and his teams have to play sound football to win games. With the lack of elite talent on the roster and holes at key positions, Addazio is going to have his work cut out for him trying to win in the expanded ACC.
In the Big Ten, one vacancy came by way of firing, while the other was a promotion of an odd sort, in many folks' eyes. Danny Hope, after five seasons at Purdue, four as the head coach, was shown the door following just one bowl trip during his tenure. In an effort to reach the top half of the Big Ten, the Boilermakers reached out to Darrell Hazell, grabbing him from Kent State.
With Hazell, Purdue is looking for two things: offensive production and improved recruiting. Hazell had Kent State moving the ball well, scoring points in bunches, despite lacking in a myriad of areas offensively. The Golden Flashes ran the football very well, and Hazell is going to find what works at Purdue and do the same things he did with the Kent State program, make it work.
To go with his ability to fit his style into what his team does best, Hazell brings some strong Midwestern recruiting ties. He’s not going to out-recruit Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke or Brian Kelly in the area. But given his ties, he should be able to push other schools for recruits in certain spots. Tapping into some of the second-level talent in Ohio is a great start, a way to elevate Purdue’s overall talent level and help Hazell continue his upward trajectory.
In the case of Wisconsin, Bret Bielema decided for the Badgers that they would be looking for a coach this year when he took the Arkansas job.
In a vacuum, Barry Alvarez made a great call with Gary Andersen. He is a young up-and-coming coach whose teams play hard-nosed, physical football. On the surface, it seems he's the perfect fit. He likes to run the ball, wants his teams to win the battle in the trenches and certainly, after building up the Utah State program, was in line for a bigger, better job.
However, what is going to be interesting to watch is how Anderson meshes with the culture and the region. For the bulk of his career, Andersen has been a Western guy, having worked in Idaho, Arizona and Utah before making the move halfway across the nation to Wisconsin. That fit is going to be the most intriguing off-the-field element to watch.
On the field, Andersen has some quality pieces like running back James White and linebacker Chris Borland. The players are taking to the changes well, and Andersen, as is the case when a program sees a high level of success, is taking care not to crumble the foundation. Andersen is a run-the-ball-and-play-defense guy, Wisconsin has been and will continue to be just that.
Andersen had been expected to be hired by one of the Pac-12 schools, as he was sitting right in the footprint for the league. However, he went east while the Pac-12 looked elsewhere to fill its three vacancies.
At Oregon, we'll likely see the smoothest transition as Mark Helfrich steps in for Chip Kelly, who took the Philadelphia Eagles job. Helfrich has been on staff at Oregon since 2009 and understands the culture. He's also an Oregon kid who understands just how the dynamics work and where to find the in-state and out-of-state players they need to win.
Two aspects to watch are how rigidly he sticks to Chip Kelly's plan and just how much losing a true genius hurts this team. Kelly, after studying multiple systems, birthed this offensive baby that we see before us today, and losing him, as the guy to make it all go, is not exactly something most schools overcome in an instant.
Helfrich has a lot of offensive experience. He's worked with some solid minds, Kelly included, How he incorporates his style into what Kelly has already established will be telling. Everyone is expecting Helfrich to keep the system the same. But look for small new wrinkles as Helfrich begins to recruit for an offense that will look different going forward.
The other two Pac-12 schools that changed coaches do not have the luxury of smoothness in transition. After firing Jeff Tedford and Jon Embree, both Cal and Colorado, respectively, are looking to force the issue, get some wins and do so in a hurry.
Sonny Dykes is now the man at Cal, and while everyone is chirping about the Bear Raid, what people should be hoping is that the defense improves in the transition. While the numbers were not great a year ago—giving up 49, 59 and 62 points in three of your final four games will do that—the pieces are there to be successful. Those kids on defense need a reason to keep fighting and, as we saw in their last four games, it seemed Tedford was not that reason.
Compared to Tedford’s complicated scheme, Dykes’ offense should be something the players can grasp. It dials down what is going to be asked of the receivers, quarterbacks, running backs and linemen, freeing them all up to just get open, find holes and make plays. They will push the tempo, look to run when the box is open, pass when it is full and keep teams off balance.
While the team’s performance in the spring game was not great, Cal showed some promise and, if the players can get to work in pass skeleton drills, they can turn incompletions into completions.
In the Pac-12, the most controversial coaching change came at Colorado, where head coach Jon Embree, a Buffs alum, had the plug pulled on him after just two years. Colorado hired Mike MacIntyre of rebuilding San Jose State fame to replace him, and then released information on new facilities and a plan to fully support the new coach, after not exactly doing the same for Embree in his two seasons.
MacIntyre is a guy who understands both the visible improvement and the incremental successes that are required to build to the wins people see. At Colorado, he is going to find tough sledding, largely because the rest of the Pac-12, especially the Pac-12 South, is pushing to get better at a pace that the Buffs can’t reach. He not only has to take his players and win, like he did in the WAC, he has to beat better teams while he tries to get more talent on the roster.
That is not an easy task.
Under McIntyre, Colorado, like San Jose State, is going to be a tough football team. It will play sound ball and do everything it can to not beat itself. He is a high-caliber coach who builds through defense and line play. He has worked in the NFL and college ranks and gets a lot out of his players.
Year one in Boulder is going to be a lot like year one at San Jose State. Most of it will be spent getting kids to believe in themselves. That's his first job at a place that has not been to a bowl game since most of its current players were in middle school. As a program that used to be a national power, the Buffs have a ways to go.
But Colorado is not the only one. In the SEC, three schools that has won national championships are trying to claw their way back to success, while another longtime SEC laughing stock just wants to be respected. In the country's most cutthroat conference, four coaches got downsized following the 2012 season: Joker Phillips, Derek Dooley, John L. Smith and Gene Chizik.
Phillips, at Kentucky, was shown the door prior to the completion of the season as attendance waned and the natives got restless watching the team get beat week after week in the SEC. Throw in rival Louisville having a Sugar Bowl championship season, and it was a recipe for disaster in Lexington.
Which brings Mark Stoops to town in a push to find success, as he kicks off his head-coaching career. Stoops, a defensive-minded coach, brings Neal Brown to town with him, a guy who studied under Tony Franklin and is going to try to increase Kentucky's offensive production.
Obviously, Kentucky’s most recent success came under Hal Mumme and his Air Raid attack. Stoops is going to try to use some of that same philosophy with Brown as offensive coordinator.
On defense, Stoops' zone-heavy scheme is going to be a plus for a Kentucky team that lags behind its conference mates in talent. If the Wildcats’ defense can understand the zone concepts, stop the run and limit explosive pass plays, that will go a long way in giving their offense a chance to steal wins.
Getting to six wins is the goal for Kentucky. Everything after that becomes a plus, as long as the Wildcats are getting to bowls on a consistent basis.
Unfortunately for Butch Jones, who inherits a project of a team, just getting to bowls is only the first small step of the process at Tennessee. Jones, who left Cincinnati for the Volunteers job, is the third coach in four years to be charged with returning Tennessee to prominence. Lane Kiffin skipped town for his dream job at USC, while Derek Dooley was shown the door after a few disappointing years in Knoxville.
Jones brings some offensive firepower to town, as he looks to take Tennessee from its longtime pro-styled attack to a version of his spread-based attack. On offense, watch how Jones, now working with higher-caliber athletes, adapts his system for success. We've seen Brian Kelly, who employed the same system at Cincinnati, grow his attack as his personnel improved at Notre Dame.
On defense, where Tennessee is desperately in need of a game plan, a scheme that fits it and continuity, Jones brings John Jancek with him from Cincinnati. Jancek spent time at Georgia and understands how the SEC is rooted in defense. Establishing a system that works is going to be a process. This D has gone from Tampa 2 to a standard 4-3 to a 3-4 and now to a new defense in a short period of time. Just getting the kids on the same page has to be the first goal.
We talked about Helfrich trying to replace a genius at Oregon. At Arkansas, Bret Bielema is setting out to do the same thing as he becomes the full-time coach following the short interim tenure of John L. Smith.
Bielema has put on a good show in taking the Arkansas job. He's been folksy and people have embraced his open style. However, he still has yet to lead the Hogs into a game, and watching this team find an identity is what this spring season is all about. Obviously, that identity, brought by Bielema, is to be a tough, hard-nosed team.
At least that's the goal.
The biggest question for him is how his philosophy works against his competition. The Badgers bullied their way to Rose Bowls and Big Ten championships. Can he do the same in the SEC? More importantly, can he do the same in the SEC while going up against teams that are likely going to continue to out-recruit Arkansas.
A plus for Bielema is these kids are hungry. It is less about him pushing all of the right buttons and more about him tapping into the anger and desire for redemption that already exists in a Hogs team that experienced an unceremonious fall from grace last season.
Which brings us to our last hire, Gus Malzahn. A guy who could not wait to get out from under the thumb of Gene Chizik is now replacing him on The Plains. After one solid year at Arkansas State, the folks at Auburn called Malzahn back following Chizik's dismal 2012 campaign.
Of all of the new hires, this Malzahn move is one of the most intriguing. After all, it is not every day that the guy who recruited a large percentage of the players to run his style of football gets to come back as the head coach and is expected to save the day. Malzahn gets that opportunity, and given his pre-existing relationships with the players, especially on offense, expect this transition back to what they were doing in 2011 to go relatively smoothly.
To address the other major issue with Auburn, the defense, Malzahn hired Ellis Johnson, a longtime defensive coordinator who is going to work to find a way to get stops with this Auburn team. The defense is lacking some talent, but it has youth on its side, a strong urge to get better and a coach who should whip them into shape.
Spring on The Plains should be far more enjoyable this year than in 2012. Getting back to what you were supposed to be doing is going to help out not just the playmakers, but the offensive line and, ultimately, Malzahn.