What to Expect from Every New College Football Coach in 2014
The quantity saw a downtick—only 20 new coaches were hired in 2013-14 after 31 in 2012-13—but the very top of this winter's coaching carousel was as engaging as ever, highlighted by movement at some of the biggest programs in college football.
The domino effect of that movement was important.
Charlie Strong (Louisville to Texas), James Franklin (Vanderbilt to Penn State) and Steve Sarkisian (Washington to USC) all moved from B-list positions to the A-list, opening room on the B-list for coaches on the C-list, on the C-list for coaches on the D-list, et cetera.
And although these ripples opened just 20 FBS head coaching jobs, the names that moved around were impressive. Chris Petersen was lured away from Boise State, Craig Bohl was lured away from the FCS and Bobby Petrino was readmitted to a power conference.
And that's only the start of it.
But what can we expect, reasonably, from all 20 of the new head coaches?
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
New Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson is not to be confused with his namesake, shaggy-haired Workaholics star Blake Anderson, but he started his tenure with a stunt straight out of a sitcom script, selling the right to coach the spring game for almost $12,000.
It was a much-needed dose of fun for the Red Wolves, who have been successful to a fault the past half-decade. After watching Gus Malzahn bolt for his former school (Auburn) and almost win a national championship the following season, Bryan Harsin followed suit and bolted for his former school (Boise State) this winter and left them searching for their fifth head coach in five years.
To that end, it is fair to hope for—but not necessarily expect—stability from Anderson, whose buyout is front-loaded and worth $3 million the first two years of his contact, according to ESPN.com.
It's also fair to expect a continued tradition of good quarterback play and creative offensive game-planning.
Like his three immediate forerunners (Malzahn was preceded by Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze), Anderson is regarded as one of the best young offensive minds in the game after finding success under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss and North Carolina.
This program remains in good-but-different hands.
Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Offensively, Dino Babers brings the promise of the Urban Meyer years back to Bowling Green.
After learning under Art Briles at Baylor, he turned Eastern Illinois into the FCS version of Oregon these past two seasons. Running plays at a feverish clip, he helped quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throw for 5,000-plus yards and 50-plus touchdowns last year and turn into a high-round NFL draft prospect.
With junior quarterback/potential Heisman sleeper Matt Johnson and 1,500-yard running back Travis Greene returning, it's fair to expect a good offensive season from BGSU under Babers in 2014.
Just how good remains to be seen, but if the defense improves and reverts to its 2012 form, this team should again be able to contend for a MAC championship.
Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Craig Bohl will not win the national championship this season.
To those unacquainted with his work, that might seem like it goes without saying. He's coaching at Wyoming, after all, not Alabama. But after winning the last three FCS national titles with North Dakota State—and 43 of his last 45 games in the process—it would be remiss not to acknowledge the possibility.
Those teams were not a fluke, either. Last year's Bison squad beat Kansas State in Manhattan in Week 1 and finished the season ranked 17th on Jeff Sagarin's ratings—sandwiched between Ohio State on the high end and Wisconsin on the low end and also ahead of Arizona State, Louisville, USC, Texas A&M and Central Florida.
Although he'll have more talent, technically, at Wyoming, it is not fair to expect a Top 20 finish in his first season. In Fargo, he had a chance to establish his culture and system over a decade; in Laramie, he will need time to inaugurate his presence.
Still, Bohl is a defense-first guy who inherits a team that needs a defense. That makes him seem like a pretty good fit, and if he can turn that unit around even modestly, this team has a chance to go Bohling.
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
Ideally, Jeff Brohm can become Bobby Petrino without the baggage.
His entire career has been spent working with Petrino disciples (if not Bobby himself), and he understands the tenets of this high-volume vertical offense better than almost anyone.
Still, as Western Kentucky loses a number of critical pieces from last season—chief among them do-it-all running back Antonio Andrews and eight starters on defense—it is hard to expect any serious, tangible improvement from an internal replacement for Petrino.
Another 8-4 season would be a good thing, 7-5 would be reasonable and 6-6, while disappointing, would not be the worst start in the world to the Brohm era at WKU.
Bill Clark, UAB
Bill Clark has been a college head coach for one season, and it wasn't even at the FBS level.
However, that one season at FCS Jacksonville State was one to remember. According to Drew Champlin of AL.com, the Gamecocks set 49 school records, 13 OVC records and three NCAA records en route to an 11-4 record and trip to the FCS Quarterfinals.
The way that team went about its business was simple: It ran the football. Often and a lot.
Clark is a defense-first coach who wants to move the chains and control the clock—even though his JSU teams were want to score quickly.
According to 247Sports, Clark's first recruiting class featured 14 JUCO prospects, which indicates he does not want to spend much time rebuilding. Still, though, you can't build a run-first offense and defense-first team without enough big, physical athletes, and it will be at least a couple more years before the Blazers are there in earnest.
It would be shocking if this team made a bowl.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Dave Clawson brings a fresh new face to Winston-Salem after the 13-year tenure of Jim Grobe, and his presence should vivify a program that has grown stale.
At the same time, Clawson inherits a roster with questions at seemingly every position. Few jobs appear safe and rebuilding mode should be in effect, which has tempered expectations in year one.
Prior to landing at Wake Forest, Clawson successfully rebuilt programs at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green. In the first two of those jobs, he went a combined 3-21 during his first season, and even though he went 7-6 during his first year with BGSU, he backslid to 2-10 the year after.
Rebuilding takes time, and Clawson is not a quick-fix type of coach. He is the medicine that's used to heal a wound, not the Band-Aid that's used to mask it.
It makes sense why he was hired, and he might well be the perfect person for this job. But things could get ugly in 2014.
Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
You can't blame Chris Creighton for being positive.
This isn't just his first FBS head coaching job, after all; it's his first foray with FBS football period. After a successful career in Division III and at the FCS level—most recently at Drake in Iowa—he sees players this big and talented and thinks he has a chance to win immediately.
"There’s a difference between losers and winners who have been losing, and these guys aren’t losers," he said, according to Pete Cunningham of MLive.com. "They’re not, and that’s an important reality."
Perhaps. And perhaps not. The fact of the matter is that this team has gone 2-10 in each of the past two seasons, and it doesn't return anything special to suggest massive improvement in 2014.
The best thing it has going for it, actually, might be Creighton's lack of FBS experience. There is no tape of him playing against the best competition, which could make him, schematically, an uncharted water to prepare against. He at least has the element of surprise.
But is that and cheery optimism enough to win three or more football games? That still remains to be seen.
Bob Diaco, Connecticut
Bob Diaco is just one season removed from winning the Broyles Award as the country's top assistant coach.
Accordingly, expectations are high at his first FBS head coaching job. UConn slogged through the two-and-a-half years of Paul Pasqualoni and desperately needs a young, energetic face to get behind.
Right now, we're working to eliminate the things that cause losing. It's every day. Performance on the field is just a microcosm of lifestyle. That's what we're focused on -- changing the culture here for the football team. A lack of attention to detail, a lack of physical and mental conditioning, a lack of expectation and confidence due to poor preparation. Communication and presentation. Making sure we're operating at a high level there. And you're talking about inside the play, and you're talking about just in the day. It's all the same. I could name another 100 things that we've tried to inspect hard in these first few months. Everything that's being consumed in this facility.
In Diaco's first season, it is fair to expect an improved, organized, disciplined, physical football team.
With some lucky breaks along the way, there is no reason it can't crash a bowl game (Heaven knows there's enough of them).
But with holes up and down the roster, don't expect this to be an overnight turnaround.
James Franklin, Penn State
James Franklin shocked the SEC by taking woeful Vanderbilt to a bowl game in his first season on the job, and even though that might not be possible at his new program—Penn State is still ineligible for postseason play after the Jerry Sandusky scandal—he should have a similarly massive effect on the team.
An offensive-minded coach, Franklin has a shiny young quarterback in Christian Hackenberg to play with for (at least) the next two seasons. The rest of the offense might be a year away, especially along the line, but with 2014 serving as a trial period, this group could be dangerous as soon as the following season.
Where Franklin should have the biggest effect this season—and where the fruits of his labor have already been seen—is on the recruiting trail. With strong Maryland ties from his time as an assistant at UMD, Franklin has vowed to "dominate the region," per Audrey Snyder of PennLive.com, and he has the charming bedside manner to do it.
In that respect, the best analogue for Franklin's first year might be what Butch Jones just did at Tennessee. The Nittany Lions should show flashes of improvement on the field, not make a bowl game (albeit for different reasons), enjoy an early 2000s-type recruiting cycle and be well set up for the future because of it.
Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Like the team he inherits, head coach Willie Fritz will make the transition from the FCS—where he coached at Sam Houston State the past four seasons—to the senior circuit in 2014.
Fritz's hiring means a deviation from the triple-option mold that had been the norm since Paul Johnson's stint in the late 1990s, all the way until last year's 7-4 record and upset over Florida.
That doesn't mean the option itself will be gone, however—only different. Fritz runs a pistol option similar to what the San Francisco 49ers run with Colin Kaepernick, which Good Bull Hunting did a good job breaking down before the Bearkats played (and averaged 6.72 yards per play against) Texas A&M last year.
FBS transition years are always tough to peg, so Fritz's first season will not be defined by his record—which will likely be bad.
If he can hold his own in the always parity-filled Sun Belt, make Georgia Southern an aesthetically pleasing outfit and maybe pull another modest upset, year one will be considered a success.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Bryan Harsin did not take a conservative approach to assembling his new staff at Boise State, surrounding himself with young, hungry coaches that Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall compared with Jim Harbaugh's first staff at Stanford...and justifiably so.
Harsin was Chris Petersen's first offensive coordinator at BSU, and it's fair to expect a similar style on that side of the ball. Between him and 31-year-old offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who comes over as one of the hottest young assistants in the game after three years at Stanford, this offense is in capable hands.
Defensively, Marcel Yates has been a co-defensive coordinator in the SEC these past two seasons, and even though his Texas A&M defense was a bit of a joke in 2013, he's a secondary specialist who made that unit the heart of an upstart defense in 2012.
With better injury luck than it had in 2013, Harsin should be able to guide this team toward restored dominance in the Mountain West Conference—and it may come as soon as year one.
Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Almost no one has spent more time coaching with Brian Kelly than Chuck Martin, who was his defensive coordinator (and eventual successor) at Grand Valley State from 2000 to 2003 and had coached at Notre Dame since Kelly arrived in 2010.
The past two seasons, he has served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, turning Everett Golson into a national title participant as a redshirt freshman and Tommy Rees into...well, better than he ought to have been.
Martin brings a balanced, underrated attack to Miami (Ohio), which desperately needs his quiet efficiency after finishing second to last in the country in yards per play (3.68) and per game (225.8) last year.
Despite being criticized throughout, Notre Dame finished top 25 in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings last season and top 10 the season before that. Martin should get the chains moving at Miami, and even if that doesn't equal a bowl bid in 2014 (which it won't), it would be a much-needed positive step.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Derek Mason—or, as he's known in SEC circles, "anyone besides James Franklin"—takes over at Vanderbilt with big footsteps to follow.
However, he's seen this happen before.
Mason became the defensive coordinator and primary assistant when David Shaw took over at Stanford, and he helped keep that team and (especially) that unit among the best in college football even after losing Jim Harbaugh to the NFL.
For the mere sake of instability, it would be hard not to expect regression in the win column after two 9-4 seasons. The SEC East should be improved this year—Florida, for example, will not be 4-8—and a bowl game in year one seems like a more realistic goal than picking up where Franklin left off.
But Mason hasn't lost many games these past few seasons, and there's a reason for that. He won't let Vanderbilt go back to being Vanderbilt so easily.
Jeff Monken, Army
The trappings of Army football will not change.
Like the other military academies in the modern era, the Knights will continue to run an old-school option attack, headlined by former Georgia Southern head coach/option guru Jeff Monken.
But that doesn't mean the inner workings won't change. According to Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record, Monken has been preaching toughness to his team and is asserting himself as a more austere figure than his predecessor, Rich Ellerson.
At risk of sounding superficial, it seems like a group of Army cadets would respond better to the tough-love approach Monken is taking. Those quoted in Interdonato's story sound like they already have.
After winning just eight games the past three seasons, Army needed a coach who was the same thing...only different.
Monken was a logical choice, and with 17 starters returning—tied for sixth-most in the country, according to Phil Steele—he should be able to equal or improve on last year's three wins.
Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic
Charlie Partridge is the perfect fit at Florida Atlantic.
Specifically, he is an expert recruiter who proved he understands the area during his one year in the SEC after following Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas. He is widely credited with landing blue-chip running back (and immediate 1,000-yard rusher) Alex Collins and has drawn rave reviews from local high school coaches, according to Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post.
Which is to say, this will not be a one-year job. We saw how Patridge's mentor fared in his first year away from Wisconsin, and though he, himself, should do well to bring in talented players who fit his scheme, former head coach Carl Pelini did not.
If you give Partridge some time, he might be able to turn this team, which was not exactly a pushover last season, into a good one. Just don't expect so much, so soon.
Chris Petersen, Washington
This might be the hardest new coach to project.
Personally, I have faith. I wrote this winter about how Petersen was the best hire of the offseason, and I stand by what I said. I think he can work magic with this team—in both the short term and the long.
But I do get the contrarian arguments. Peterson has never had to recruit against the other top Pac-12 schools—although he did close this past cycle well—and while his resume against the college football blue bloods is impressive, it's another thing entirely to play them week in and out instead of one time each season.
Petersen has fielded great offenses with less talent than he has on the current roster, and no matter who plays quarterback, he is creative enough to keep the chains moving. Former UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox also coached under Petersen (and went 49-4) at Boise State, so the scheme and terminology will be familiar on the other side of the ball, as Petersen told Ted Miller of ESPN.com in January.
This hire was high ceiling, low floor.
Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Bobby Petrino is in many ways the opposite of Charlie Strong: offensive-minded more than defensive-minded and condemned instead of lauded for his character.
But one thing Louisville's former and current (but also former) head coaches have in common is an undeniable knack for winning football games. Even if they do it different ways, that is, when the clock strikes zero in the fourth, the thing that matters most—is it not?
Petrino will pass the ball often but also take advantage of a deep backfield of experienced running backs. This team will score points.
The real questions lie across the line, where the downgrade from Vance Bedford to (more expensive) defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the loss of players such as Calvin Pryor, Preston Brown, Hakeem Smith and Marcus Smith might cripple one of last year's best defenses.
Expect some shootouts during the Cardinals' first ACC season. They have a chance to pull an upset here and there but also a chance to endure some. There are pieces there for this team to win now, but it is still in a transition phase, so a good but inconsistent year seems like the most likely bet.
Steve Sarkisian, USC
As the Pete Carroll-era scholarship sanctions begin to see an end, Steve Sarkisian's first year—while important on the field—should be largely defined by how he fares in recruiting.
So far, things on that front have gone swimmingly. He closed this half-class with a few 5-star committments on national signing day and poached 2015 quarterback Ricky Town from Alabama. That is, in many ways, what Sark was brought in to do.
But Lane Kiffin could recruit, also. Sarkisian must prove that he can translate recruiting to wins. And even after losing a good deal of talent and facing questions along the offensive line, this current roster is still good enough to accomplish that.
Expect the offense to take a step forward with a more experienced Cody Kessler under center and intrepid mind running the show.
The defense, meanwhile, has a chance to be just as good as last year's unit—which finished No. 5 in Football Outsiders' defensive F/+ ratings—although even a slight regression under new coordinator Justin Wilcox would keep the Trojans competitive in the Pac-12 South.
Overall, this team should be about as good or better than last year's team, which was definitely better than it's four-loss record indicated.
It should be a promising start to the Sark era.
Charlie Strong, Texas
Charlie Strong's first year is all about getting tougher.
The lack of that trait is the only way to explain what happened at the start of last season, when a team filled with 4- and 5-star defenders let up 550 rushing yards against BYU—a team that had lost at Virginia, which eventually finished 2-10, one week prior.
It's not in their nature to behave this way, but Texas fans cannot focus just on results. Even with an accomplished braintrust (Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline) running the offense, questions at quarterback and the introduction of a new scheme might make that unit unreliable.
Instead, 2014 is about playing hard and scrappy and disciplined. All the things it didn't do for most of the season last year. If that means it contends for the Big 12 title, it's a bonus. If not, it is still a good step.
Strong went 7-6 his first two seasons at Louisville before winning 23 games the next two years. This could be a similar type of deal—albeit inflated, since 7-6 at Louisville is roughly equivalent of 9-3 at UT.
Mark Whipple, Massachusetts
Can we call it deja vu?
Folks in Amherst certainly want to.
Mark Whipple arrived at UMass—then part of the FCS, which was then called Division I-AA—in 1998 and inherited a team that went 2-9 the season prior. In his first year on the job, the Minutemen went 12-3 and won the national title, beating Paul Johnson's Georgia Southern team in the championship game 55-43.
Now, more than 15 years later, Whipple inherits a UMass team that has climbed up to the highest level of college football but struggled since getting there. Fresh off a pair of 1-11 seasons, it is hoping to strike lightning for a second time.
So should the Minutemen start booking tickets to Arlington?
This team was pretty awful last year and should continue to be pretty bad in 2014. Whipple's most recent coaching stop was ignominious—he was the QB coach tasked with developing Brandon Weeden on the Cleveland Browns—although his experience coaching in the NFL should help him against the lesser minds of the MAC.
I'll be optimistic and expect at least two wins. But not much more.