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The Best and Worst Coaching Hires of the College Football Offseason

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2014

The Best and Worst Coaching Hires of the College Football Offseason

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    Steve Sarkisian (left) and Lane Kiffin both found new jobs this offseason
    Steve Sarkisian (left) and Lane Kiffin both found new jobs this offseasonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Change is good.

    That's got to be the collective mentality of anyone and everyone associated with college football, otherwise, the constant shuffling around of coaches each offseason can drive you mad. Longevity at (or loyalty to) a school just doesn't really exist anymore, so it's better to come to grips with the inevitable annual turnover rather than gripe about it.

    One way to do that? Critique the moves.

    There will be 20 new head coaches at the FBS level for the 2014 season, while dozens of assistants are in new roles throughout the country.

    Which offseason hires were the best or worst among the lot? Check out our take.

Good: James Franklin, Penn State Head Coach

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    John Beale/Associated Press

    James Franklin was the hottest of hot commodities this season. His name was mentioned for pretty much every coaching vacancy—not to mention ones that never came open—due to his combination of personality, drive and the fact he'd somehow turned Vanderbilt into a winner.

    It was almost a foregone conclusion he was going to end up somewhere, and while his linkage to jobs at Texas and USC looked sexy, he ended up at the best place possible.

    He's a Pennsylvania guy, having played and coached in the state, so he knows what Penn State means to the populace. The final two years of the Nittany Lions' NCAA sanctions and postseason ban give him time to get established, first by building off what Bill O'Brien did and then putting PSU back on the national map in terms of greatness.

Bad: Bobby Petrino, Louisville Head Coach

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    Like a convict up for parole, Bobby Petrino said all the right things at the introductory press conference for his return to Louisville. He's a changed man, he's learned from his mistakes and, most importantly, he's there for the long haul.

    Yeah, sure.

    Petrino has had success at each of his collegiate stops and very well could again at Louisville, where he went 41-9 from 2003 to 2006. But considering how well Charlie Strong had fared there—building the program back up after it had gone south in the years following Petrino's first tenure—and the fact the Cardinals are moving into the ACC, it was surprising to see the school make a move that smacked of desperation.

    Per Yahoo! Sports' Gary B. Graves, athletic director Tom Jurich said "everyone is in play" when he began his search to replace Strong. If that's the case, maybe everyone else turned him down.

Good: Doug Nussmeier, Michigan Offensive Coordinator

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The offense Doug Nussmeier ran at Alabama wasn't sexy or flashy. It didn't have any of the newfangled bells and whistles that the spread or read-option attacks popping up everywhere are known for.

    No, what Nussmeier did with the Crimson Tide was very straightforward and up front: tough, physical running, efficient passing and reliable results.

    That's exactly what Michigan needs—and what it didn't have under Al Borges. The Wolverines wanted someone with a proven track record, and though Nussmeier's schemes at 'Bama didn't wow anybody, they always seemed to work.

    Nussmeier was the perfect choice to come in and fix Michigan's offense, not to mention help get an impatient fan base at least temporarily off coach Brady Hoke's back.

Bad: Todd Grantham, Louisville Defensive Coordinator

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Todd Grantham's four years as Georgia's defensive coordinator was a mixed bag, with the Bulldogs looking really good sometimes and really bad at other times. This past season, while injuries plagued the offense, Georgia's defense stayed mostly healthy but had trouble making stops.

    It was quite a surprise when Grantham got hired away by Louisville, though, getting a massive contract (a five-year deal at $1 million per season) is hard to pass up for a coordinator.

    While his 20-plus years of experience coaching college and pro defenses is hard to discount, the fact that many Georgia fans seemed happy to have Grantham go puts a big question mark on his hire.

Good: Chris Petersen, Washington Head Coach

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Chris Petersen is the third straight Boise State coach to leave the land of the blue turf for a job at a power-conference school. But unlike Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins before him, Petersen didn't jump at the first offer he got.

    Athletic directors have seemingly been trying to lure Petersen away forever, especially after he piloted the Broncos to an undefeated season and a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in his first year. But Petersen stuck around Boise, keeping the program in the national spotlight and lessening its reputation as a gimmicky lot.

    Washington seemed prepared for Steve Sarkisian to go, as Petersen was the top choice from the get-go. He was also the best fit thanks to his Northwest coaching roots and his acumen for recruiting in the same areas that Washington normally looks for players. He sometimes poached them from the Huskies too.

    By hiring Petersen, Washington achieved the rarest of occurrences: getting a better coach than the one who left.

Bad: Steve Sarkisian, USC Head Coach

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    USC got the 2013-14 coaching carousel out of mothballs in September when it canned Lane Kiffin, setting off months of speculation, rumor mills and non-stop guesswork as to who the prominent football factory would bring in as its next leader.

    With its national following and Hollywood-like aura, USC was going to make a sexy hire. Athletic director Pat Haden was going to find his rock star coach, his next Pete Carroll, and the Trojans would once again rule the roost.

    Never mind that Ed Orgeron had lit a fire under the team's talent-laden-yet-uninspired roster, USC needed to go big. No assistants, no trendy young standout from a small school. The Trojans were going to make a splash.

    Translation: Let's poach a coach from our own league.

    Sure, Steve Sarkisian is a USC guy, having spent seven seasons on the Trojans' staff before taking the Washington head coaching job. He's also a southern California guy, and his Huskies teams regularly recruited the region.

    But his best year among the five seasons he was in Seattle was 2013, when Washington went 8-4 but failed to beat any of the Pac-12 Conference's best teams. That included USC's top rival, UCLA.

Good: Mark Mangino, Iowa State Offensive Coordinator

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Mark Mangino was a huge success at Kansas and was well-regarded for his ability to win at a program that hadn't ever done that before. But when the Jayhawks stopped winning, and allegations of verbal abuse toward players surfaced, he was no longer beloved.

    Mangino is getting that proverbial second chance with Iowa State, where he's been brought in both to fix an offense that was 96th in yards per game last season and to help save Paul Rhoads' job.

    It's basically a no-risk situation for Iowa State, which can more easily justify letting Rhoads go if the 2014 Cyclones don't show improvement. And for Mangino, as long as there's even the slightest uptick in offensive production, his resume will get that boost it needs to give him another shot at a head coach position.

Bad: Garrick McGee, Louisville Offensive Coordinator

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Sure, it probably looks like Louisville is being piled on with its choice of head coach, defensive coordinator and now offensive coordinator all getting panned.

    But it's hard to ignore the fact that with McGee, the Cardinals are bringing on a coach that essentially accepted a demotion, having spent the past two years as UAB's head coach. He called the plays for the Blazers, but according to Chris Vannini of CoachingSearch.com, he won't have that role at Louisville because of Bobby Petrino's preference to call plays.

    McGee's short tenure at UAB was not successful, as he went 5-19 (including 2-10 this past season) and ended last year with an embarrassing 62-27 home loss to a Southern Mississippi team that came in on a 23-game losing streak.

    McGee and Petrino have history together, as McGee coached under Petrino at Arkansas. While that might be good for the coaches' relationship, it doesn't necessarily translate to success on the field.

     

Good: Craig Bohl, Wyoming Head Coach

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Every year, a few FBS schools dip down into the FCS ranks for their head coach, usually grabbing the hot up-and-comer who was cutting his teeth at that lower level.

    But Craig Bohl wasn't as much a fast riser as he was the king of FCS, winning 104 games in 10 years at North Dakota State. His Bison won the last three FCS titles, knocking off an FBS opponent in each of those years. 

    He'd done pretty much everything he could do in Fargo, and with that school not likely to move up a division, it was smart of him to try a new challenge. And Wyoming looks to be a perfect fit—a place similar to his previous school in terms of a devoted fan base and passion for the game.

Bad: Mark Whipple, Massachusetts Head Coach

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Mark Whipple became the second guy to take over a program for the second time in his career this offseason when he was re-hired at Massachusetts. He won 49 games and made three FCS playoff appearances when he was there from 1998 to 2003, at which time he moved on to become an NFL assistant.

    Why the Minutemen think he'll be able to replicate that success now, with UMass at the FBS level, is baffling.

    UMass has won two games in the last two seasons. The school showed a level of impatience by firing Charley Molnar just two years into what is obviously a long-term project. If the school is in that much of a hurry to win, it struck out with this hire.

Good: Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia Defensive Coordinator

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Georgia's hiring of Jeremy Pruitt is the equivalent of a major league baseball team trading for the reigning MVP while he's still in his prime.

    Pruitt was the defensive coordinator at Florida State this past season and prior to that was a defensive assistant on Alabama's back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012. That kind of resume just screams "hot head coaching prospect," yet his name wasn't mentioned for many offseason openings.

    Instead, Georgia was able to pluck him out of Tallahassee after surprisingly losing Todd Grantham to Louisville. Now this unit is being led by a guy who just oversaw an FSU defense that was third nationally in total defense.

    It's hard not to call that a big win.

Bad: Lane Kiffin, Alabama Offensive Coordinator

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    When Lane Kiffin was fired in September from USC, nobody expected him to be out of work for long. It's the way sports goes: When high-profile coaches quit or are let go, they suddenly become very desirable to other teams.

    After three less-than-successful head coaching gigs (USC for three-plus seasons, Tennessee for one year and two seasons with the NFL's Oakland Raiders), it seemed like a coordinator position was his best option. Kiffin has the reputation of being a mostly solid offensive-minded coach and a heck of a recruiter.

    But Alabama?

    It makes sense in some aspects. Nick Saban doesn't expose his assistants to the media much, according to Tim Rohan of the New York Times, so Kiffin can just focus on his job without worrying about answering nitpicky questions. And with another stud recruiter on board, the Crimson Tide can further cement itself near the top of each year's recruiting rankings.

    But considering Kiffin's history, any stumbles on the part of his offense will no doubt bring critics out of the woodwork. Why Saban would invite such stressors is baffling.

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