Riding the Carousel: Six Winning Schools of the Coaching Change Season
This offseason's coaching carousel was even more entertaining than it was expected to be.
While some changes were inevitable, no one could have dreamed that things would go down quite like they did.
It is rare that a season goes by in which six former BCS bowl participants are looking for a head coach, but that is exactly what happened this year (USC, Texas, Penn State, Louisville, Boise State and Wake Forest). It was a never-ending cycle of changes that kept college football fans glued to their television sets.
This was an offseason that included many big names as well.
Obviously, the names of Mack Brown, Lane Kiffin and (just like every offseason) Jon Gruden were mentioned numerous times. There are always college coaches rumored to be heading to the NFL, but this time those roles were reversed in one situation as Jim Harbaugh was at least mentioned as a candidate for Texas's opening. The all-star selection of coaches made this offseason a must-see event.
Some of the storylines that played themselves out could have just as easily been soap opera plots.
USC and Texas expected this. Louisville did not. Arkansas State was blindsided by a move that will continue the tumult of its program for years to come. Undoubtedly, this coaching carousel was one crazy ride.
In a world of winners, somebody has to lose.
Some schools simply could not avoid that fact of life. It is an unfortunate rule that in a world of givers, some people have to be takers. For four schools in particular, this could not be more true.
The obvious loser of the carousel is Vanderbilt.
Regardless of whom the Commodores may choose to hire, there is no way the school can possibly replace the greatest coach in its history. Although James Franklin left the program in the best shape it has ever been in, the only way to go is down.
Consistently winning nine games will probably never happen again. The powers of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee will be back, and Vanderbilt will once again be Vanderbilt.
Western Kentucky and Boise State both lost a great coach to a greater situation.
Chris Petersen finally jumped ship from the Broncos and landed at Washington in a move that caught many people off guard. Bobby Petrino left WKU's Hilltoppers and went to his old stomping grounds of Louisville. Boise State might be able to recuperate from its loss. Western Kentucky will not.
Then there is Arkansas State.
Its last three coaches, in order, are as follows: Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Parsin. What do all of them have in common? They left the Red Wolves after one season. The school somehow managed to stay somewhat successful during the time frame, but its third consecutive one-and-done coach will undoubtedly spell disaster.
In a head scratching move, Alabama's former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left the school for Michigan.
In a move that was equally as puzzling initially, Nick Saban replaced him with former Tennessee and USC head coach Lane Kiffin. However, after the initial shock wore off, it is easy to see that this hire actually does make sense.
While Kiffin has a bright offensive mind, this is a move that screams "recruiting."
As much as people dislike him, there is no debate that he is one of the game's strongest recruiters. According to Rivals, his Tennessee staff landed a top-10 class in 2010. Although USC never had the best on-field results to show for it, its last three recruiting classes were very impressive. In fact, ESPN (subscription required) rated the Trojans’ 2011 class fourth nationally.
Some may wonder, however, why Alabama would need to hire a great recruiter.
This is the same team that wins year after year by signing one of the nation's top classes. But the landscape of the SEC is changing.
In recent years, the league has brought in a number of great recruiters as head coaches. The additions of Tennessee's Butch Jones, Kentucky's Mark Stoops, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin have made the league an all-around recruiting monster. The hire of Kiffin gives Alabama a leg up again on its competition.
The question now is whether or not Kiffin can actually coach. But with Saban at the helm, he may not have to.
When leaving out the name of Louisville's new head coach and looking strictly at his coaching history, the Cardinals hit a 500-foot blast of a home run.
The new coach is a two-time conference champion. He has coached in two BCS bowl games, winning one. He has been a head coach in the NFL and an extremely successful coach in the SEC.
However, his name is Bobby Petrino.
He is the same Petrino that coached Louisville for four seasons from 2003 to 2007 before leaving for the Atlanta Falcons. Although a great college football coach, he was never able to translate that success to his off the field life; the life that saw him wreck his motorcycle that led to a chain reaction resulting in him being fired by Arkansas.
Simply put, this is a move that is all about winning.
Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich can spin it any way he wants, but there is no other way to view it.
College football has become, more than anything, an industry. For an industry to succeed, it needs money. If an industry is going to earn money, it must be successful. Petrino has proven that he can do that at Louisville.
While the Cardinals should experience great success on the football field, off the field they may be prone to failure. However, if the risky move does not result in non-football problems, Louisville may find themselves back in the national spotlight sooner rather than later.
USC's hire for its head coaching position was, to say the least, strange.
The Trojans got rid of a mediocre coach to hire another one in Steve Sarkisian. Although he never had a lot to work with at Washington, Sarkisian never won more than eight games and won seven games three consecutive years. During his first year at Washington, the Huskies won only five games.
But it is not the hire that makes USC a big winner this offseason. It is the fire.
Southern Cal fired Lane Kiffin on September 28 and proceeded to name Ed Orgeron its interim coach. He did an admirable job as coach, but the soap opera in Pasadena grew to be too large to manage.
Coach O had been disliked everywhere he had ever been (Mississippi, Tennessee and New Orleans to name a few places) except USC. He simply could not be the coach, though, as the Trojans had to move on completely from the Kiffin regime.
Then Sarkisian comes riding in.
Aside from wins, recruits and enthusiasm, USC hopes he can deliver the program something it has lacked for a number of years now: stability. If he can be successful, his Trojan roots should be strong and deep enough to keep him for a very long time. The football program at USC needs that stable leadership and it needs it soon. Sarkisian could very well be the man that brings it.
Regardless of how anyone feels about Texas letting Mack Brown go, it was going to happen soon anyway.
Bring in Charlie Strong, an absolutely incredible coach but one who is not exactly skilled at working with the media. He was a perfect fit at Louisville, but Louisville does not feature the glitz and glamour of Texas. But if Strong can be successful on the field, it does not matter how bad he is with a microphone.
Strong's coaching history is phenomenal.
He took Louisville from the abyss it was in after Bobby Petrino left for Atlanta and never suffered a losing season. The Cardinals were 7-6 in his first two years before winning the Sugar Bowl over heavily favored Florida in 2013. They went 12-1 in 2013, losing only to eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida. Just a few days later, Strong was announced as the next head coach at Texas.
Clearly, the coaching ability of Strong is unquestionable.
His recruiting skills, while not widely praised, are quite advanced as well. The classes he signed to Louisville were never very highly ranked, but he may be the best talent evaluator in the game today. Strong made a living by signing players he felt were underrated by many, and more often than not, he was right. One can look no further than Teddy Bridgewater to see that.
If Strong can continue to be a successful coach, the rest of the job requirements will take care of themselves.
2. Penn State
Penn State made the move it absolutely had to make when it brought in James Franklin from Vanderbilt.
When Bill O'Brien left for the Houston Texans, the initial reaction in Happy Valley was sheer panic. Then things calmed down and Franklin's name was repeatedly mentioned for the job. It soon became clear that he was the front-runner, and after an extremely lengthy search, he was hired as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
This hire was an obvious move for Penn State to make.
The Big Ten is becoming a recruiting war zone, and if anybody in college football can recruit, it is Franklin. His two full classes at Vanderbilt (2012 and 2013) ranked 29 and 19 nationally, according to Rivals. If he has the ability to attract top talent to the Commodores, the potential in State College is through the roof.
Franklin is not all about recruiting, however.
No team in the SEC could have consecutive nine-win seasons without superb coaching. Even some of the typical powerhouses in the conference (Florida, Tennessee and Auburn) suffered losing seasons during his tenure at Vanderbilt. Those three schools all dealt with inconsistent coaching in that time frame, while the Commodores succeeded under the greatest coach in their history.
Franklin certainly has tough shoes to fill at Penn State, but his shoes appear to be even bigger. Penn State looks poised to make a comeback.
Washington's head coaching search was almost too good to be true.
Steve Sarkisian had spent five seasons with the Huskies, never winning more than eight games. When USC announced Ed Orgeron would not return, two names were mentioned for the Trojans' job: Sarkisian and Boise State's Chris Petersen. Petersen eventually took his name out of the hat, and the job went Sarkisian's way. That gave Washington a vacancy that would be filled by none other than Petersen.
The world may never know what makes Washington more appealing that Southern California, but for Petersen it was.
Nevertheless, the Huskies bring in arguably the greatest and most consistent head coach in college football over the past decade.
His accolades and accomplishments at Boise State are nothing short of magnificent, and he gave fans an unforgettable moment when his Broncos defeated Oklahoma in overtime to win the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State enjoyed another undefeated season in 2010 when it defeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Huskies' new coach is a five-time conference champion (four in the WAC and one in the Mountain West). Petersen is the first and only two-time winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award winner and also won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award in 2010.
Schools had tried for years to pry the genius away from Boise State, but no one would have thought that Washington would be the winner of the sweepstakes. The move makes Washington the offseason's clear big winner.