College Football's Coaching Carousel in '08
It's officially "silly season" in college football, that time of the year when there are no games, but plenty of action. Rather than taking place on the field, this action primarily involves agents, athletic directors, and Internet-message-board geeks.
Helping to fill the void, let's look at 10 of the current 16 major college football hires and find out which schools were the winners, which were the losers, and which deserving coaches are still looking for some love.
The Best Hires
1. Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
Not only is Mullen perhaps the best quarterback developer in college football, but he's also an excellent recruiter in a conference where the reality is simply "recruit or die."
Mullen also finds himself at a perfect job where fans don't expect an SEC Championship every season and he can build his program and get the personnel needed to run the spread offense.
2. Lane Kiffin (Tennessee)
The debate on Rocky Top is already raging and only time will tell if the Kiffin experiment will be a clear success. What counts as success? Leading the Vol's back to their place among the SEC's elite.
Failure likely means setting the program back 10 years. Honestly, there isn't much not to like about Kiffin. He is young, energetic, has a wealth of football knowledge, and also has a father who is not only one of the greatest defensive minds in football history, but is his new defensive coordinator as well.
3. Steve Sarkisian (Washington)
At age 34, Sarkisian brings youth and excitement to a program in need of wholesale changes at the top. His ability to recruit and his offensive philosophy should start to show dividends in short order.
Also, this job appears to be the ultimate win-win situation, with Sarkisian bringing some much-needed new blood into a once-proud program so beaten down by the Neuheisal and Willingham regimes that even a .500 season in 2009 may earn him a parade through campus.
4. Brady Hoke (San Diego State)
Hoke certainly isn't the biggest or sexiest name on the list, but given the opening, he might have been the best hire. The improvement made at "Letterman U" was nothing short of amazing, slowly building to Ball State's top-25 rating this year.
He might not be ready for big-time coaching at a BCS level. However, for a team like San Diego State, he might be the program builder they need in order to return to the Marshall Faulk glory days.
5. Bill Snyder (Kansas State)
Who do you get to rebuild a once-proud program that has fallen on hard times? How about the man who built it in the first place? Snyder is a bona fide legend in Manhattan.
He took Kansas State from the Toilet Bowl to the Fiesta Bowl. While Snyder might simply be a stopgap to straighten out the program, it's clear he has the resume to prove he can get the job done.
The Worst Hires
1. Gene Chizik (Auburn)
Perhaps the ultimate "SAY WHAT?" moment in the history of all college coaching hires. Chizik proved himself so much at Iowa State that there was a likelihood that after a 2-10 campaign this season he might not be back in Ames for 2009. Rumors are rampant on "The Plains" that his hire was strictly political, and I buy that explanation because there is none other that makes sense.
2. Doug Marrone (Syracuse)
If you're the Athletic Director at a school that had a pathetic tenure under a coach thought to be an "offensive genius" with no college head coaching experience, what are you likely to do when time to hire that coach's replacement?
How about hiring a coach thought to be an "offensive genius" with no college head coaching experience?
Marrone is a "''Cuse Guy," which will give him a longer leash than his predecessor Greg Robinson had, but hiring on a philosophy that failed earlier simply doesn't make much sense.
3. Danny Hope (Purdue)
The new trend in coaching searches is for a successful (or somewhat successful) incumbent coach to name their replacement. Kentucky and Texas have followed the trend started last season when Joe Tiller announced he was turning his program over to former Eastern Kentucky head coach Danny Hope.
Now, for a disclaimer: I am an alum of Eastern Kentucky and followed Hope's career at the school closely, and yes, he was somewhat successful at the Championship Subdivision level. However, to place the future of a solid Big Ten program in the hands of Hope is a big gamble.
4. Dave Clawson (Bowling Green State)
Nobody found themselves in a worse position last season than Clawson. He left a good Championship Subdivision program (Richmond) to walk into the hornets' nest that was Tennessee football this season.
What can't be debated is the fact that even with an elite-level SEC back like Arian Foster, the Tennessee defense was anemic at best, and at worst, non-existent. Bowling Green is a small enough program that, unlike Purdue, they can take a chance on a FCS coach.
However, the question marks still remain at a program that still has fond memories of Urban Meyer.
5. Bill Snyder (Kansas State)
In order for Snyder to be successful, he has to break a very disturbing precedent set by former coaches hired to bring back the glory days at their respective schools. Legends like Bill Walsh and John Robinson tried and failed at the same task that Snyder has been given, and at some level a casual observer has to wonder if Kansas State shouldn't have just started fresh.
The Five Best Still Available
1. Tommy Tubberville (former Auburn Head Coach)
Why Tubberville isn't still leading the War Eagles is a matter of pure politics. For nearly five years, Auburn's "powers that be" (and every Auburn fan knows exactly who this person is) have tried to push Tubberville out the door, even going as far as to arrange secret meetings with Bobby Petrino when he was at Louisville.
Tubberville, despite not being anything near an offensive genius, is still an elite coach who will make an excellent hire at some BCS-level school next season.
2. Turner Gill (Buffalo Head Coach)
The hottest coaching name at a non-BCS school still finds himself in upstate New York, where his building up of erstwhile-doormat Buffalo has been nothing short of amazing.
After serious consideration for the jobs at Auburn and Syracuse, Gill is still available. Hindsight from armchair quarterbacks like myself leads to a belief that Gill would have been a better choice than the either of the hires those schools made.
3. Skip Holtz (East Carolina Head Coach)
Like Gill, Holtz's rebuilding job at East Carolina has put him on the hot list for a number of job openings. While the Pirates cooled off later in the season after upset wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia that vaulted them into the top 25, Holtz still led his team to a conference championship. Holtz's day of leading a BCS program will come, but maybe not this season.
4. Ron English (Louisville Defensive Coordinator)
While the statistics might not show it, the job English did with the Cardinals' defense was amazing. Leaving Michigan after the post-Lloyd Carr shake-up, English found himself in Louisville with little talent to work with and did a more than adequate job until injuries decimated his squad late in the season.
If English can steer clear of any association with the disastrous Steve Kragthorpe, he will find himself in line for a possible non-BCS level head coaching job in the near future.
5. Phil Fulmer (former Tennessee Head Coach)
Why not? If you are the Athletic Director at a moderately successful BCS school, then there would be nothing to lose by giving Fulmer another opportunity. While the end of his tenure wasn't nearly as successful as the Manning-Martin glory days, there is still a place for a solid defensive-minded football coach somewhere in the coaching landscape.
The only question that remains is whether Fulmer wants to work that hard, or would rather sit back and relax on his rural Tennessee farm?
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