First-year head football coaches are a lot like carpenters. They are only as good as the tools in their shed.
While most new head coaches are a part of an attempt to completely revamp a defunct organization, there are several first-year coaches inducted into programs with much greener pastures. These lucky coaches inherit teams with a handful of proven stars, a solid core of returning players and a plethora of potential on the bench.
This stacked deck certainly provides these coaches with greater chances of success, but also the added pressure of elevated expectations.
Let’s take a look at 10 first-year coaches that have the best tools to work with in 2011.
Despite the miserable stint on the field under Rich Rodriguez, the one bright light shining on his disappointing reign was that he was still able to produce fairly decent recruiting classes.
The decision to bring back “one of their own” in Brady Hoke sparked some amounts of life into the Michigan fan base, but the buzz around their new coach is gaining momentum since putting together a solid recruiting class on National Signing Day.
Along with this decent set of recruits, Hoke will also enjoy eight returning players on defense and ten returning offensive players at his disposal, including the fleet-footed Denard Robinson. This bag of talent could definitely be dangerous with the right coach at the helm.
Paul Pasqualoni spent the past six years hopping around the NFL as a defensive coach/coordinator, but decided to head back to the college ranks in 2011.
Pasqualoni’s experience as a college head coach (Syracuse 1991-2004) will definitely assist this talented Connecticut squad to explode right out of the gate.
UCONN returns nine starters on defense, which should make Pasqualoni, a former linebacker, salivate. Although his inherited offense losses its starting quarterback, a solid offensive line and depth at receiver will help the learning curve for Zach Frazer’s replacement. Hell, maybe Jonnie McEntee has more than just a few tricks up his sleeve.
Despite the recent turmoil felt in Gainesville, coaching the Gators still has to be one of the most sought-after jobs in college football.
Will Muschamp won the Florida sweepstakes this offseason and all eyes will be on how he wields the weapons at his disposal.
The Gators return eight starters from last year’s roller coaster offense, but the potential for success is certainly there. Although Florida only returns five starters on the other side of the ball, the installation of the defensive-minded Muschamp could help quickly mold this younger squad.
Randy Edsall, the winningest coach in Connecticut college football history, takes the train down to Maryland this year with a ton of pressure riding on him in his first season.
Edsall replaces Ralph Friedgen, a coach that touched the hearts of many of the Terrapins’ fans and players, especially during last year’s amazing turnaround.
Maryland returns seven starting players on both offense and defense in 2011, most notably its entire offensive line and two all-conference defensive players (Joe Vellano and Kenny Tate). With this solid core coming back, it is a ‘must’ that Edsall and the Terrapins contend for the ACC Atlantic title again in his first year.
Expectations have been high in Miami the past few seasons, but the Hurricanes continue to struggle to live up to their preseason hype.
Al Golden takes charge of a rather inconsistent bunch. However, the talent embedded in these players is definitely noticeable.
Although only six players on offense and seven players on defense return in 2011, senior quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence provide Golden with excellent on-field leaders in his first season, which could spell first season success for the young coach.
Since starting his coaching career in 1986, Don Treadwell has jumped from one BCS school to the next, mainly playing the role of offensive coordinator.
Miami will be his first season as a head coach in college football and he has an excellent team to help him get off on the right foot.
The Red Hawks return eight starters on offense, which include All-Conference standouts Zac Dysert (QB), Nick Harwell (WR) and Brandon Brooks (OG). Also playing in Treadwell’s favor is the fact that his newly acquired defense returns nine starters, lead by junior conference star Austin Brown.
Miami is coming off a 10-4 season, so expectations under Treadwell will undoubtedly be high.
Northern Illinois took the MAC by storm last season, finishing the year with an outstanding 11-3 overall record. However, with success comes turnover. Relishing in this inevitable change at the helm is newly-appointed head coach Dave Doeren.
In his first ever college head coaching job, Doeren will be equipped with several excellent accoutrements on offense. The Huskies return nine offensive players, most importantly three All-Conference offensive linemen and gunslinger Chandler Harnish.
While the offense should not have problems flourishing in 2011, the loss of the majority of Northern Illinois defense could be a major roadblock for the offensive-minded Doeren.
San Diego State received a ton of press this March for its outstanding basketball team, but Aztecs followers should not quickly forget the amazing run that their football team put together last season.
Rocky Long takes over a San Diego State squad that went 9-4 in 2010, culminating in an impressive Poinsettia Bowl win.
Long will benefit from the return of eight offensive starters, including All-Conference quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman. Although only five defensive starters return, Long’s previous seasons as the Aztecs’ Defensive Coordinator should aid him in quickly revamping this side of the ball.
Although Stanford only returns five offensive starters and six defensive starters this season, David Shaw has one weapon that is a complete game changer. His name is Andrew Luck.
Stanford should land somewhere in the Top 10 to start off 2011, giving Shaw a great deal to work with in his first season as the Cardinal head coach.
The depletion of their solid offensive line could raise some concerns, but Luck’s outstanding all-around talent has the ability to take over any game.
Also, a dangerous group of linebackers in Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov and All-Conference safety Delano Howell should provide Shaw with enough defensive pop to keep the Cardinal relevant in his first year.
After four years as a coaching assistant at Tulsa, Bill Blankenship earned the role as head coach for the Golden Hurricane this offseason.
Blankenship benefits from the return of nine players from an offense that ranked in the top 15 at both running and passing the ball in 2010.
Tulsa’s defense also returns a great chunk of their starters from last season, but this crew still needs a bit more fine tuning.
However, the tools are certainly there on both sides of the ball for Blankenship to have a great first season at Tulsa.