2012 College Football: Grades for Urban Meyer and Other Coaches at New Schools
College football bowl season is upon us and another year is coming to a close. Over a dozen previously successful coaches—such as Urban Meyer—have relocated to new zip codes and attempted to put their stamp on the programs. This year-end report ranks the progress of the coaches and their new teams.
Who could have guessed that Urban Meyer and Ohio State would be 12-0 this season? Or that John L. Smith could take a preseason favorite and utterly fail to succeed? But how are the rest of the coaches doing that have inherited programs with much less clout?
So, heading into bowl season, which coaches are headed in the right direction and which coaches have become obsolete?
13. John L. Smith: Arkansas Razorkbacks
The eccentric John L. Smith formerly coached Michigan State from 2003-2006 with a 22-26 record and only one bowl appearance. It is almost unfair to judge what Smith has done at Arkansas (4-8, 2-6) due to the difficult position that he was put into with the departure of former coach Bobby Petrino.
However, Smith took the helm of a team that was ranked No. 10 in the preseason and has allowed it to implode to the point that they may not win enough games to become bowl-eligible. In retrospect, the defense is not sound enough to warrant the lofty preseason ranking, while allowing over 30 points per game on average.
The Razorbacks only beat the cupcakes on the schedule, which was not enough for bowl-eligibility, and got demolished by Alabama in what was supposed to be a statement game for the Razorbacks. Eight losses during a season with such great expectations will have John L. Smith checking the wanted ads this offseason.
12. Terry Bowden: Akron Zips
Terry Bowden is far removed from his undefeated 1993 season at Auburn, where he went 47-17-1. After a stint in broadcasting and a few years at Division II North Alabama, Coach Bowden has made the leap back to the FBS with Akron (1-11, 0-8).
The Zips were 1-11 last season, so expectations were low, but the team has picked up where it left off despite coach Bowden's presence. The defense was almost non-existent this season. The Zips even managed to lose to FBS newcomer UMass in Akron.
Coach Bowden has a fertile recruiting area to work with, but it make take some time for him to rebuild what was a floundering program. Still many questions remain: Can Bowden recruit in the Ohio valley? Can he capture some more of the Bowden family magic? Can the program be turned around?
11. Charlie Weis: Kansas Jayhawks
The recent troubles of Charlie Weis have been well-documented. Charlie coached his alma mater Notre Dame from 2005-2009 to a 35-27 record with a 1-2 bowl record. Wise has been left longing for the days of Tom Brady and Super Bowls. Coach Weis is attempting to salvage his career at the Big 12 punching bag Kansas (1-11, 0-9).
The cupboard was bare at Kansas, but Coach Weis has not managed to improve upon the 1-11 season the Jayhawks endured in 2011. Kansas did not have an FBS win in 2012 and its lone victory was against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Charlie must be ecstatic that James Sims is returning to the backfield in 2013 because there aren't many more bright spots. Weis better hope he can start out-recruiting in-state rival Kansas State if he would like to prolong his stay in Lawrence.
10. Norm Chow: Hawaii Warriors
Norm Chow was the offensive coordinator at USC from 2001-2004 and called the plays for the Bush/Leinart-led 2004 BCS Championship team. After USC, Chow was an OC with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, UCLA and Utah. Chow returned to his home state to become the head coach of Hawaii (3-9, 1-7).
Hawaii did not record an FBS win until the last two weeks of the season. At one point, the Warriors had lost eight straight games and the offense has sputtered with Chow pulling double duty as the offensive coordinator.
Hawaii is moving backwards from its 2011 record of 6-7 and coach Chow might be dreaming of the mainland and his former glory. Norm Chow better come up with a better game plan for 2013 or next season might seem even longer.
9. Bob Davie: New Mexico Lobos
Bob Davie had a five-year run at Notre Dame where he went 35-35 and lost all three bowl appearances. The faithful in South Bend were quick to show Coach Davie the door. After Notre Dame, Davie has spent the last ten years in the announcer’s booth for ESPN and ABC.
Remarkably, Davie decided to end his hiatus and has started to turn New Mexico around (4-9, 1-7). After early drubbings by Texas and Texas Tech, the Lobos played Boise State tough in a loss. The rest of the conference schedule was bearable, but the team had a tough six-game skid to end the season.
The Lobos have a stable rushing attack to build upon for next year. Davie improved upon last year's 1-11 season, but must work hard this offseason to instill a winning culture.
8. Mike Leach: Washington State Cougars
Coach Leach has brought his affinity for pirates and the spread offense to Pullman after an exciting and controversial stay at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were 84-43 during his tenure with a 6-4 bowl record.
Leach was fired by Texas Tech in 2010 after allegations that he improperly treated a player who happened to be the son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James. Leach is now the coach at Washington State (3-9, 1-8), which has been competitive this season, but has still not been able to turn on the offensive fireworks that made a name for Leach.
A 34-35 loss to lowly Colorado shows that the program has a lot of work ahead of it, but the Cougars faced tough competition against five ranked teams on the Pac-12 schedule.
Leach survived another incidence of player abuse and managed to pull out an overtime win against Washington in the Apple Cup. The jury is still out on whether Coach Leach can make a name for himself on the left coast.
7. Todd Graham: Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Graham made a name for himself at perennial Conference USA doormats Rice and Tulsa. At Tulsa, he went 36-17 with three bowl wins over four years. He made a brief stop at Pitt on the way to the Sun Devils.
Arizona State (7-5, 5-4) had a very balanced team with solid play from both sides of the ball. But Coach Graham’s team had a difficult time with the Pac-12 elite and lost four in a row to Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC.
The Sun Devils missed out on a Pac-12 South title, but have managed to reach the Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy in Graham's first year. In any event, the Sun Devils seem to have progressed in Coach Graham's inaugural season.
6. Rich Rodriguez: Arizona Wildcats
Rich Rod has had a tumultuous road to the desert. He was most successful at his alma mater WVU, where his record was 60-26 with a 3-3 bowl record. However, his high octane offense did not translate well in Michigan, where they went 15-22 over three seasons.
This season, he led Arizona (8-5, 4-5) to twice as many wins as last season, but has lost three in a row to ranked opponents in the Pac-12 and finished a disappointing fourth place in the Pac-12 South. The good news is that his spread offense seems to be catching on, with a 38 point per game scoring average.
Rich Rod was able to take the Wildcats bowling this year against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. Can he improve his defense next year to withstand the Pac-12 offensive onslaught? Or will he continue to try to outgun the likes of Oregon and UCLA?
5. Larry Fedora: North Carolina Tar Heels
Larry Fedora made a name for himself as offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State 2005 through 2007. He is a strong proponent of the spread offense and helped the Cowboys to move onto the national stage.
Fedora was rewarded with a head coaching position at Southern Miss in 2008. Larry took the Golden Eagles to three consecutive winning seasons and three bowl games while going 34-19.
Coach Fedora moved on to North Carolina (8-4, 5-3) and improved upon the previous year's record of 7-6. If the Tar Heels weren't on probation they would have won their division and had a shot at a BCS berth. Not bad for the first year in Chapel Hill. Coach Fedora is raising the bar even higher at UNC.
4. Jim Mora Jr.: UCLA Bruins
Jim Mora Jr. is making his first foray into the college ranks after spending most of his career in the NFL. Coach Mora was a head coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, but over four seasons he had only one playoff appearance and a 31-33 record.
UCLA (9-4, 6-3) has made some noise this season under Freshman QB Brett Hundley who has amassed 3,400 yards passing so far this season. The Bruins won Pac-12 South title and beat USC which by any account is a successful season in Westwood.
UCLA was beaten by Stanford in the Pac-12 championship, but will take on Baylor in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. This season appears to be the beginning of something special for Coach Mora and the freshman Hundley. For now, they are the team to beat in Los Angeles.
4. Gus Malzahn: Arkansas State Red Wolves (Auburn Tigers)
Gus Malzahn was a state champion high school football coach in Arkansas before stints as an offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn. Malzahn was an early innovator of the “wildcat” formation at Arkansas with the Raiders’ Darren McFadden. He also was the OC for the 2010 BCS Championship-winning Auburn Tigers which were helmed by the Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton.
Coach Malzahn took his first collegiate head coaching position this season at Arkansas State (9-3, 7-1). Arkansas State played Oregon well in an early season loss and has a very strong rushing attack. The only real blemish on the season was a loss to Western Kentucky.
The team will play Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, but with Coach Malzahn. Gus accepted the head coaching job at Auburn after the firing of Gene Chizik. Given the fact that Coach Malzahn has such deep ties to the southeast region, he should be able to recruit well and continue his record of success.
As for Arkansas State, they will be looking for their fourth coach in as many years.
2. Kevin Sumlin: Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin was the coach at Houston for four years where he amassed a 35-17 record. He is well-regarded as an offensive mastermind. During his time in Houston, the Cougars were 2-3 in bowl games as well.
Sumlin left Houston for the daunting task of ushering Texas A&M into the SEC. Texas A&M (10-2,6-2) made its presence felt in the best conference in the country and made its point with a program-changing win at Alabama.
The good news for Sumlin is that he has the 2012 Heisman winner behind center for at least one more season. Johnny Manziel will continue to confound opposing offenses and build on a stellar freshman year.
Coach Sumlin has had a very good year and raised the bar in College Station to dizzying heights.
1. Urban Meyer: Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer was arguably the most sought-after coach in college sports this offseason. Meyer most famously led the Florida Gators to two BCS National Championships over six seasons before leaving the sidelines for personal reasons. Coach Meyer sat 2011 out, but jumped at the chance to return to his native Ohio to coach the Buckeyes.
Coach Meyer has led Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) to an undefeated season in his first year at the horseshoe. Unfortunately, Ohio State was unbeaten in the regular season, only to be handcuffed by its ineligibility to play for the Big Ten championship or the national title.
The good news is that Braxton Miller is only a sophomore and the expectations will be sky high next year. Meyer always seems to have a potential Heisman quarterback in his arsenal and Braxton Miller has thrived under his tutelage. It will be exciting to see what they will do together next season.
Meyer is a living legend, and the draw to play for Ohio State should make the Buckeyes a title contender for years to come.