Troy Calhoun, Air Force (9-4): The hiring was hailed in this space when it happened, but Calhoun exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. Calhoun came from the Jim Grobe School of Football, then got his "PhD in football" in the NFL. To top it off, he's a cadet. His team finished second in the nation in rushing in his first season.
With Paul Johnson gone from Navy, the Commander-in-Chief trophy will return to Colorado Springs for an extended period of time, just as it did for much of the Fisher DeBerry tenure. Calhoun will likely stay at Air Force for an extended period of time. A BCS bowl berth could be in the future—and what a story that would be.
Nick Saban, Alabama (7-6): Some would argue that Saban's struggles in his return to the SEC are a testament to just how tough the league has gotten since he left—the embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe refutes that argument. Saban locked up a solid recruiting class and will ultimately be in the mix annually in the SEC. Just don't expect him to wipe that slick smile off Tommy Tuberville's face too soon.
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State (10-3): The white-haired wonder is up to his old tricks. He built on a solid foundation laid by Dirk Koetter (we'll see him again). His hiring was criticized for being short-sighted, but he may just set up the Sun Devils to take off in the coming years.
Stan Brock, Army (3-9): If Navy and Air Force have taught us anything, it is that Army could win if they hired a creative and intelligent coach—something Brock is not. Bobby Ross was criticized for delaying his retirement to force the hiring of Brock. If true, he handcuffed Army football for years. Unfortunately, the only thing the Black Knights have to look forward to in their clash with Navy is singing their Alma Mater after getting beat.
Jeff Jagodzinkski, Boston College (11-3): Coach Jag played in the ACC title game and produced a Heisman candidate QB, but those results could be misleading. Last year's BC team was likely the best Tom O'Brien team moving forward. That isn't necessarily a knock on Jag, but rather a caution to take a wait and see approach with him.
He came in with the reputation as being an expert in the NFL's zone running attack, yet his first BC team finished 106th nationally in rushing—that is a knock.
Butch Jones, Central Michigan (8-6): Jones was a questionable hire, but did manage to win a MAC title in year one. Dan LeFevour may graduate as the most statistically impressive QB in college football history, so Jones should muster better than an 8-6 season in the MAC.
Jones came in with a profile of a guy who could learn on the job. We'll see if he's a quick enough study to cash in on LeFevour's tremendous talents.
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati (10-3): Kelly is exhibit one in how conference realignment can drive the growth of a program. That being said, it would be hard to envision Kelly settling into the Queen City. A guy who cut his teeth in Division II, it is difficult to tell what type of challenge he would like to take on next. Whatever it is, he'll do well.
Mario Cristobal, FIU (1-11): With all the positive publicity Florida's smaller programs got (UCF, USF, FAU), FIU flat-out stunk in Cristobal's first season. He recruited well and a new stadium is on the way, but Cristobal may be too raw of a sideline man to have success in this situation.
Rob Akey, Idaho (1-11): A hire like Akey is a great reason why things in the panhandle aren't as pleasant as they are in the high desert. Some proud football teams used to run out of the Kibbie Dome tunnel, but that hasn't been the case for years. My advice to Idaho: NEXT.
Bill Lynch, Indiana (7-6): It was without question a special season for the Hoosiers and one that should be remembered for years to come. The bowl berth forced the administration to take the interim tag off Lynch.
Ironically, Terry Hoeppner's death gave birth to a great opportunity for Lynch, whose career had seemed to pass him by. He'll likely have to bite off more than he can chew. If Kellen Lewis isn't eligible this fall, things could get ugly quick at IU.
Gene Chzik, Iowa State (3-9): The highly sought-after Chzik came to Iowa State with little fanfare, proving that it's nearly impossible for a program like Iowa State to make a big splash with a hire. Nonetheless, Chzik is a fantastic hire for this program.
Chzik's year was a classic first year of a tough rebuilding process: over the course of a lot of lumps, the team had some pretty high moments. Chzik's first year in Ames looked much more like Ron Zook's second year at Illinois than his first. The only concern for Chzik is that he joined the Big 12 North at a time when it's never been tougher and has never had better coaches.
Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech (5-7): Bill Belichick's biography is called "The Education of a Coach." Dooley will likely be able to someday pen a book called "The Education of an SEC Coach." He had a successful first year on the field and took on the dual role of Athletic Director this offseason. He'll be in dad's old league in a few years.
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville (6-6): Louisville acted quickly in hiring the highly-regarded Kragthorpe. Nobody could have expected the disappointment he would bring to Derby City. Kragthorpe did more damage to his career in one season than anyone in memory. He's retooled his coordinators—but Kragthorpe is gasping for air.
Randy Shannon, Miami (5-7): Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis—Miami was able to hire a string of good coaches to build a dynasty. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was never established—both in terms of the fan base and facilities—to maintain that dynasty through a string of bad coaches.
Shannon came in as a great example of the good things associated with the Miami football dynasty. However, he could ultimately be remembered as a key contributor to bringing it down.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (7-6): Dantonio is the type of coach that can make guys like Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Jack Mollenkopf, and Duffy Daugherty proud. Michigan State is a school foaming at the mouth to embrace a gridiron winner. They may have found one in Dantonio.
Tim Brewster, Minnesota (1-11): When Minnesota opens $288.5-million TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, there is a real risk they could lose their opener (opponent TBA). Brewster could be credited with being the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars. I can see Glen Mason's white teeth now. In what could have been the rebirth of a football dynasty, Brewster will work against much of the positive energy the stadium will bring.
He may have lucked out in having his defensive coordinator, Everett Withers (119th in total defense), hired away this off season (UNC). While he recruited well, his first season was perhaps the worst the Big Ten has seen since the pre-Gary Barnett Northwestern days.
Butch Davis, North Carolina (4-8): Davis is a solid football coach that finds himself competing against some pretty solid coaches the ACC has acquired in recent years. We'll likely see a few more years of a bunch of .500-type teams in that conference. Will someone break from the pack? Davis has as good a shot as anyone.
Tom O'Brien, North Carolina State (5-7): O'Brien is a very solid coach. He's very much in the quagmire that is the ACC. Despite having a statistically inept year, O'Brien almost snuck into a bowl game. Similar to Chzik, there were some high points in an otherwise tough year.
Todd Dodge, North Texas (2-10): The Dodgeball era of football got off to a rough start, but there is hope. He managed to score 27 or more points in a losing effort seven times, including a 74-62 loss to Navy. He kicked his high school pal defensive coordinator to the curb. Things will get better in Denton.
David Bailiff, Rice (3-9): Rice football saw a lot of points scored last season—unfortunately, on both sides of the ball. In a short period of time Rice has moved very far away from the prodding wishbone days of the Ken Hatfield era. Bailiff will be competitive in C-USA, but don't expect big things.
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford (4-8): Despite his prolific playing career, Harbaugh comes for a coaching family. He had some pretty nice moments in year one, most notably beating USC and Cal. It was expected that Harbaugh would need to learn on the job. He appears to be on the right track, but it could take a while.
Bob Toledo, Tulane (4-8): Toledo rode talented running back Matt Forte all he could, but still saw only moderate results. The hire is similar to Erickson's at ASU and Dick Tomey's at San Jose State, but this one likely won't have nearly the success of those moves.
Todd Graham, Tulsa (10-4): Graham often gets mentioned as a rising star destined to take over a BCS program—not so fast. While he has had success at his two C-USA head coaching gigs, the defensive-minded Graham did so despite woeful performances on defense. His Rice team had the 112th best defense and his Tulsa team was 108th.
His success at both places has been due largely to his offensive coordinators, Major Applewhite and Gus Malzahn respectively. Proceed with caution, BCS programs.
Neil Callaway, UAB (2-10): This discussion should have been about a solid season by Jimbo Fisher, but for political reasons its about a 2-10 Callaway season. UAB has bigger problems than simply who their head ball coach is. Nonetheless, Callaway certainly isn't the guy.