Power Ranking College Football's New Head-Coaching Hires
Vanderbilt officially stopped college football’s head-coaching carousel this offseason when it hired Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason on Friday.
By recent standards, this has been a relatively quiet coaching-change season. As I wrote yesterday, there have been 164 coaches hired by 101 programs from the time Florida won the 2007 BCS National Championship Game until Florida State broke the SEC’s streak of BCS titles.
This year’s list stops at 18. The average number of new coaching hires over the past seven years has been 23.
What this year lacked in quantity, though, it made up for in marquee positions. Texas, USC, Penn State and Washington all had openings.
Here’s our power ranking of the new coaching hires made across the country.
18. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Chris Creighton, who has coached at the FCS, Division III and NAIA levels, takes over a program that has won more than four games in a season just once since 1996.
Creighton is 139-46 across his three head-coaching stops at Drake, Wabash and Ottawa, Kan.
He has a lot of work in front of him. EMU is 12-48 over the past five seasons.
17. Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic
16. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky never really figured it would hold on to Bobby Petrino long-term, and therefore put Jeff Brohm in position as a likely replacement.
The Hilltoppers made it official a day after Petrino’s departure, promoting Brohm from offensive coordinator.
Brohm has offensive coordinator experience at Louisville, UAB and Western Kentucky.
Now the former quarterback will take his shot as a head coach.
15. Mark Whipple, UMass
UMass turns to a familiar face in trying to bring the program to respectability at the FBS level.
Mark Whipple coached UMass from 1998-2003, leading the Minutemen to an FCS National Championship in 1998.
He has spent the last decade largely coaching in the NFL, though he spent two years as the Miami Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator.
14. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
It took Dave Clawson some time to get Bowling Green rolling. Once he developed the momentum, though, the Falcons became a force.
Clawson leaves Bowling Green after his team knocked off undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.
The 14-23 record Clawson accumulated over his first two seasons at Bowling Green should be cause for concern at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons don’t exactly boast more talent than the rest of the ACC right now.
Following Jim Grobe will be no easy task for Clawson. Grobe finished tied as Wake Forest’s all-time wins leader. He also led the program to an ACC Championship in 2006.
13. Chuck Martin, Miami (OH)
Chuck Martin has success both as a head coach and as a coordinator for a major BCS program.
As the head coach at Grand Valley State (Division II), Martin led the program to two national championships and another appearance in the finals in five seasons.
He went to Notre Dame from there, serving on Brian Kelly’s staff.
Kelly promoted Martin to offensive coordinator in 2012, coinciding with the Fighting Irish’s undefeated regular season and trip to the BCS National Championship Game.
12. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Part of making a great hire in the MAC is bringing an exciting brand of football to campus and hoping to pinpoint the next superstar coach to get plucked from the league.
Bowling Green did its part in taking a chance on Dino Babers.
The former Eastern Illinois coach led quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the Walter Payton Award—the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Oh, and Babers coached under Art Briles at Baylor, so he knows a thing or two about offensive flare.
11. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Looking for the next hot head-coaching candidate? Finding out who’s coaching the Red Wolves would be a good start.
Three consecutive Arkansas State coaches have left the program after one season—albeit for very nice positions. Hugh Freeze started the trend by leaving for Ole Miss. Next came Gus Malzahn, who left Jonesboro for Auburn, where he led the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game in Year 1.
This year Bryan Harsin left after a 7-5 campaign, taking the Boise State job.
Blake Anderson will be yet another offensive-minded head coach with a bright future. Last year he was reportedly a finalist for the Southern Miss job that ultimately went to Todd Monken.
Anderson coached under Larry Fedora both at Southern Miss and at North Carolina.
10. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Ever since Dirk Koetter started turning Boise State into a college football presence, it has found its replacements from those with connections with the program.
This year was no different.
Bryan Harsin came up through the ranks in Boise, starting as a graduate assistant on Dan Hawkins’ staff in 2001.
From there, Harsin quickly earned a spot as a position coach. He later replaced Chris Petersen as offensive coordinator when Petersen became the head coach.
Harsin left the Broncos to be co-offensive coordinator at Texas. The move paid off, with Harsin spending two years in Austin and subsequently becoming the head coach at Arkansas State.
9. Jeff Monken, Army
Academy services have fared best with triple-option offenses in recent years.
There might be no better option to lead such an attack than Jeff Monken, who helped Georgia Southern reach the FCS semifinals three consecutive times.
Georgia Southern’s biggest highlight in 2013 came when the Eagles upset Florida in The Swamp.
Monken also has service academy experience, having served as a coach at the Naval Academy from 1997-2005.
8. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt announced its hire of Derek Mason on Friday, per ESPN.com, six days after former coach James Franklin left for Penn State.
Mason developed a great reputation as Stanford’s defensive coordinator and as a recruiter. He’s a high-energy personality who created his name by designing a defense capable of slowing down high-scoring, up-tempo, spread offenses.
The biggest questions are two-fold: Can Mason continue the recruiting momentum to replenish the talent Vanderbilt lost? Have expectations in Nashville increased beyond a realistic level that will make Mason’s first head-coaching job a nightmare?
7. Steve Sarkisian, USC
What a turnaround for Steve Sarkisian, who went from the hot seat to start the 2013 season to landing the USC job.
Trojans fans did not seem collectively thrilled with the hire, but winning can cure that quickly enough.
Sarkisian helped turn around a floundering Washington program and make it respectable again.
The marks against Sarkisian are obvious. He never won more than eight games in a season (Sarkisian didn’t coach Washington in its Fight Hunger Bowl win over BYU) and takes over USC with a career 34-29 record.
Sarkisian’s inability to lead the Huskies to the top of the Pac-12 North is at least partially offset by his tremendous success coordinating USC’s offense under Pete Carroll.
Like many of the top-ranked coaches on this list, part of what makes Sarkisian a good fit is his familiarity with recruiting.
6. Bob Diaco, UConn
Few programs aimed higher—considering their levels—and achieved greater than UConn this offseason.
The Huskies whiffed on Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi before landing Bob Diaco. Those might have been the two hottest defensive coordinator names in the country.
UConn’s search and ultimate hire showed all the benefits of firing a coach during the season. Athletic director Warde Manuel took his time to figure out what he wanted from his next coach, decisively pursued his targets and landed a tremendous leader.
Diaco isn’t a proven head coach. That’s OK because UConn hasn’t become a destination job.
Rather, the Huskies seem best off going after huge-name coordinators and hoping one becomes a superstar.
UConn rolled the dice on a young coach paying off and could win big as a result.
5. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
It’s about time someone took a chance on Craig Bohl, who dominated the FCS competition at North Dakota State.
Under Bohl’s direction, the Bison won three consecutive national championships from 2011-13.
Bohl also knows how to recruit talent in the Great Plains.
Wyoming will likely never be able to haul in the “home-run hire” some programs can land. Bohl is about as close as it can get.
And boy did the Cowboys bring home a tremendous hire.
Bohl’s program morphed into such a powerhouse that the Bison went 4-0 against FBS opponents starting in 2010. This year, North Dakota State beat defending Big 12 champ Kansas State.
Anyone who comes in to Wyoming could always flame out magnificently. But Wyoming went for it and deserves significant credit.
4. Charlie Strong, Texas
It’s impossible not to like Charlie Strong and what he represents at Texas.
Strong is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach who produced a 23-3 record in his last two years at Louisville.
Those underachieving defenses filled with 5-star, blue-chip talent? They won’t underperform much longer.
However, Texas’ own ego works against ranking Strong higher on this list.
All the talk about the Longhorns being able to land Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or Mike Tomlin showed everything is bigger in Texas—including arrogance.
When those are the names mentioned for the head-coaching job, and the final hire is Strong, there seems to be a disconnect.
It certainly doesn’t help when one of the program’s top boosters labels the new hire as someone who would be a “great position coach,” as Red McCombs did in an interview with ESPN 1250 San Antonio, via Max Olson of ESPN.com.
Texas brought style points into the equation, so who are we to eliminate them?
Strong brings with him a great pedigree that includes two national championships as Florida’s defensive coordinator and a Sugar Bowl win at Louisville.
As long as Strong can figure out the quarterback position, he will field a motivated defense capable of lifting the Longhorns back toward the top of the nation.
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Look past all the personal drama and it’s easy to see why Louisville provided Bobby Petrino a second chance.
Petrino’s nine-year track record as a college football head coach includes an 83-30 overall record, two trips to BCS bowls and three teams ranked in the final Top 10.
His successful past includes two Top 10 finishes in four seasons at Louisville from 2003-2006.
Any detraction from the Petrino resume comes on the personal side.
(For those who forgot, Petrino has a history littered with classless exits. Arkansas also fired him for hiring his mistress—a former Razorbacks volleyball player—and subsequently lying about their relationship.)
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich didn’t hire Petrino to be a patron saint. He re-hired Petrino to win football games.
Petrino has already recruited Kentucky and the surrounding areas. There shouldn’t be any huge surprises for him there.
He has also proven he can transition Louisville from one conference into another that features greater competition.
In 2005, the Cardinals jumped from Conference USA to the Big East. They won the league under Petrino in Year 2 of the new conference.
Louisville moves from the American Athletic Conference into the ACC this season.
Jurich also locked down a strong commitment from Petrino, who is known as something of a flight risk. Petrino’s seven-year, $24.5-million contract includes a $10 million buyout.
For better or worse, Jurich knows what he’s getting.
Considering Petrino’s on-field results, the proven commodity gives Louisville some peace of mind.
2. Chris Petersen, Washington
For years, high-profile programs have been sniffing around Chris Petersen to see if he had any interest in leaving Boise State.
For years the answer had been “no.”
Washington came knocking at the right time and with the right amount of money and landed the longtime Boise State coach.
What the Huskies get in return is a coach who brought a non-AQ conference team to the next level. In eight seasons at Boise State, Petersen went 92-12 and led the Broncos to two BCS bowl appearances and five conference championships.
He also has a great knowledge base of the fertile recruiting area, making the transition a little smoother.
Petersen must break in a new quarterback (though Cyler Miles looked pretty good in limited action). The first-year coach also inherits 14 starters—seven on each side of the ball.
Petersen’s predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, narrowed the gap between Oregon, Stanford and the Huskies. Petersen seems like the right man if Washington wishes to erase it altogether.
1. James Franklin, Penn State
When Bill O’Brien left Penn State to accept the head-coaching position with the NFL’s Houston Texans, James Franklin’s name quickly surfaced.
It made complete sense.
Franklin spent the last three years developing one of the hottest coaching names in the college football landscape. Every time a big position opened, Franklin’s name seemingly found its way into the conversation.
Ultimately, Penn State became the big-fish program to offer and land Franklin.
What the program gets as a reward is a coach who already has tremendous inroads on the recruiting trail.
Franklin started developing a reputation as an up-and-comer with his recruiting pedigree. He has great familiarity with the area having been the offensive coordinator—and briefly the head-coach-in-waiting—at Maryland.
A high-energy recruiter, Franklin should be able to routinely land key in-state players in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, he should be able to steal high-profile prospects in the pivotal New York/New Jersey area and the Maryland/Washington, D.C. area.
Franklin will also serve as a tremendous promoter for the Penn State brand for a program still in desperate need of positive attention in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Best of all, Franklin is a proven winner. In three seasons, Franklin did what few thought possible: lead the Commodores to consecutive appearances in the year-end AP Top 25.
It marked the first time since 1948 that Vanderbilt finished in the final Top 25 in back-to-back seasons.
In 2012, Franklin led Vanderbilt to its first nine-win season since 1915.
Vanderbilt also reached three consecutive bowl games under Franklin. This year the Commodores beat Tennessee, Georgia and Florida in the same season for the first time ever.
Franklin would not necessarily have topped this list had another program hired him.
Based on Franklin’s familiarity with the area and his strong track record, though, Penn State hiring him ranks atop this year’s college football hires.