The Biggest Offseason Priority for Every New Power 5 CFB Coach
There haven't been as many high-profile coaching changes in college football as there were a season ago, but there was still plenty of turnover.
Two coaches at traditional powerhouse programs—Ohio State and Miami—retired, leaving a major void in Columbus in the wake of the Urban Meyer era and shock in Coral Gables after Mark Richt decided to hang 'em up after a mediocre season.
Other programs that have experienced success in recent years, like North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Louisville, have new top men too.
Some teams leaned on familiar faces to fill the void. The Tar Heels tabbed longtime coach Mack Brown to come out of retirement, hoping the Arizona State model proves strong. After the Hurricanes lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to be Temple's head coach, they lured him back to lead the program.
Other than Ryan Day with the Buckeyes, none of the new coaches are walking into plum gigs, so they all have major tasks to address this offseason.
Let's take a look at what the priority needs to be at each program with a new coach leading up to the 2019 season.
Mack Brown, North Carolina: Mend In-State Recruiting Fences
One of the biggest splash hires came when North Carolina decided to turn back the clock and hire Mack Brown in Chapel Hill after he'd been out of football and in the ESPN broadcast booth since 2013.
The 67-year-old previously coached the Tar Heels from 1988 to 1997 before leaving to coach Texas, where he won a national championship with Vince Young. Things went sour in Austin, though, and he was out of coaching until Carolina fired Larry Fedora.
It isn't an overnight fix for the Baby Blue, but Brown is off to a great start, already changing the recruiting focus and re-emphasizing the fertile grounds of North Carolina. So far, the Heels have just two of the state's top 10 players in the class of 2019, but Brown is trying to change it.
One of the biggest flips of the early signing period came when he got quarterback Sam Howell to change his scholarship signature from Florida State to be the Tar Heels' signal-caller of the future. Receiver Khafre Brown is the other top-10 in-state pledge.
There are several guys Brown wants who are in his backyard. One of those is safety Anthony Harris, a Tennessee commit who is a major flip possibility. Running back Syheam McQueen is another possibility.
Now is the time to make major inroads for the 2020 and 2021 class, and Brown is getting kids on campus who are intrigued by staying home. While North Carolina isn't as fertile as Georgia or Florida in producing top recruits, the base can always come from there.
Brown needs to keep schools like Florida, Tennessee and Clemson from raiding the state and prevent North Carolina State from getting who it wants too.
Neal Brown, West Virginia: Ignite an Offense That Will Miss Major Weapons
There's no question new West Virginia coach Neal Brown's Mountaineers team is going to look different than Dana Holgorsen's high-flying attack.
But how different in 2019? What we see next season and in the following years may be different because of personnel. So, while it's going to be a major overhaul having to replace quarterback Will Grier and receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings, it's also an opportunity for Brown.
It's a chance for him to build an offense the way he wants it.
Between quarterbacks Jack Allison (a Miami transfer who struggled in the bowl game but has potential) and Trey Lowe, who is a dual-threat weapon who has Mountaineers fans excited, there is a diverse skill set in that battle to replace Grier.
With Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown returning, that's a trio of quality running backs that could make the Mountaineers a formidable force in that aspect if the offensive line holds up. Marcus Simms, T.J. Simmons and other receivers means the passing game won't be a total disaster.
The best thing about Brown is he's always seemed to adapt his scheme to his strengths offensively at Troy and as an assistant at Kentucky. He played for Hal Mumme in UK's old Air Raid scheme, and he has a diverse but rich history of offensive success.
At Troy, his Trojans dominated at times defensively, too.
So, there are plenty of reasons to hope in Morgantown. Brown isn't a one-trick coach who has to have a dynamic passing attack to be successful. Yes, some major talent is gone, but there are pieces with which Brown can work.
It's going to be exciting to see what he does.
Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech: Bring the Yellow Jackets Offense into This Century
When new coaches come in and change schemes, it takes a while for teams to adjust. That is the case when going from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive package, moving from a pro-style offense to a spread, and plenty of other examples.
Geoff Collins faces one of the tallest mountains to climb of any coach in the country this offseason: He has to divorce Georgia Tech from Paul Johnson's triple-option attack.
It takes a specific player type to run that scheme. While Collins says he wants to transition to a more updated scheme, it takes a few years of recruiting to do that. Regardless, Collins' task starts now. He told reporters he wants to run an "NFL-based" offense.
"I formed a vision in my head in multiple stops I've been here of what this place can be, what this place should be," he said.
Junior quarterback Lucas Johnson is more of a passing quarterback than we're used to seeing for the Yellow Jackets, while Tobias Oliver and James Graham have a traditional GT run-first look.
Meanwhile, incoming freshman Jordan Yates looks like a rising star. He is a dual-threat quarterback who is blazing fast and can throw too. He would be the perfect player for Collins to utilize during the transition. Two of the team's top recruits are receivers too.
The first-year coach isn't going to have it easy, but he needs to find players who fit a more traditional recruiting profile, and spring is huge for laying an offensive foundation. It's going to be vital for the Yellow Jackets to catch on quickly to avoid major upheaval in 2019.
Ryan Day, Ohio State: Find Dwayne Haskins' Replacement
When you're losing a quarterback who set school passing records at one of the most prestigious, decorated programs in all of college football, you know it's a tall task.
That's what first-year Ohio State coach Ryan Day and passing-game coordinator Mike Yurcich face as they help the Buckeyes move on from the Dwayne Haskins era.
There are other issues to address, like a complete overhaul on defense after the Buckeyes fired Greg Schiano and Alex Grinch left for Oklahoma. However, finding Haskins' replacement is a bigger priority, especially with all the offensive talent the Buckeyes have coming back.
Of course, talent doesn't appear to be an issue at quarterback.
Big-time Georgia transfer Justin Fields is heading to Columbus, and if the NCAA grants him a waiver to play right away, he should win the starting job as a sophomore.
Maybe Tate Martell saw the writing on the wall. After taking to Twitter to usher a jab at Fields upon news he could come to Columbus, Martell entered his name into the transfer portal. Matthew Baldwin is still potentially a viable option, but the former Colorado State commit suffered a torn ACL 13 months ago.
There are major depth questions for the Buckeyes at the position, especially after Dwan Mathis flipped his signing from Ohio State to Georgia in the early period, leaving the Buckeyes empty-handed. Martell's possible transfer makes it a dire situation if Fields can't play right away.
Nobody's going to feel sorry for OSU, but Day has plenty of obstacles regardless of whether Fields is eligible immediately or not. The Buckeyes need badly for him to be.
Manny Diaz, Miami: Fix the Quarterback Situation
The other marquee program with a new face is Miami, which hasn't been "The U" in some time. Throughout a magical start to the 2017 season, however, the Hurricanes were highly ranked mostly because of Manny Diaz's opportunistic defense.
The 'Canes are expected to keep producing quality defenders in the Diaz era, and he is going to be recruiting frantically leading up to signing day, trying to find difference-makers.
But there are major issues on the other side of the ball.
The Hurricanes are trying to lure Alabama signal-caller Jalen Hurts to Coral Gables to join offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who was one of the biggest coups of any coaching search this offseason. Diaz convinced him to lead the Hurricanes offense, and that's a huge win for a program that needs them.
Right now, Miami can't count on Hurts, though it helps that Enos helped develop him last year as Alabama's quarterbacks coach. The familiarity is vital in the quest to get him to the U.
Other signal-callers on the roster, of course, are Malik Rosier and N'Kosi Perry, neither of whom inspired much confidence in 2018. Jarren Williams and Cade Weldon are two promising youngsters who could factor into the '19 mix too.
Regardless of who winds up the starter, all will benefit from Enos, who is a master developer of signal-callers. It is a bonus to have him to tutor the quarterbacks room. Getting Hurts, though, would allow those players a year to get better and give Miami an instant-impact playmaker.
Diaz fixed Miami's biggest problem by hiring Enos. Now, the duo have to keep the player under center from being a liability.
Chris Klieman, Kansas State: Transfer His Championship Blueprint
If you want a championship pedigree, it's hard to find somebody better than Chris Klieman, who won four national titles at North Dakota State.
But that's the Football Championship Subdivision. Will it carry over in the Big 12?
Klieman doesn't seem worried about the transition, as he said on his weekly radio show in December (per the Associated Press' Dave Skretta):
"You know, you work in this profession as long as I have, to have the opportunity to coach at this level, and I know there are going to be some people that would say, 'Am I ready for this?' Football is football, and I know there's a difference between Power Five and FCS. I know there's a difference between FCS and FBS. But by the same respect, football is football, and we've done really well against those schools."
Boy, have they ever.
The Bison have won six consecutive games against FBS competition, and Klieman went an amazing 69-6 in his tenure.
Now, he gets to replace legendary Bill Snyder at Kansas State. No pressure; all Snyder has is his name on the stadium in Manhattan.
Really, though, despite the flirtation with North Texas coach Seth Littrell, Klieman was the perfect fit for this job. He's been recruiting to Fargo, North Dakota, and that's no easy feat, so the transition to the Little Apple won't be tough. He took the dynasty built by Craig Bohl and made it even better.
Bohl is the current head coach at Wyoming, where he's gone just 28-35, though that record has improved to 22-17 the past three years with two bowl appearances. He also helped develop Carson Wentz at NDSU and Josh Allen at Wyoming.
Klieman was the defensive coordinator for Bohl, so he's continued that championship legacy. K-State has struggled to maintain relevance the past few years, and it isn't easy recruiting to the Kansas prairie either.
It's up to Klieman to find his type of players, build his own program and do all he can to move that blueprint south.
Mike Locksley, Maryland: Change the Culture
Maryland had to turn the page.
The DJ Durkin era was rife with controversy, and the death of Jordan McNair led to an investigation and Durkin's ultimate ouster. Though offensive coordinator Matt Canada did a commendable job as the interim head coach, it was best for the Terrapins to wipe the slate clean.
Even in doing so, they went back to the future by hiring former offensive coordinator and ace recruiter Mike Locksley from Alabama. Locksley struggled as Maryland's interim head coach in 2015, going 1-5, and was equally awful before that at New Mexico, going 2-26 in two-plus years.
So why is he the answer in College Park?
"Michael not only stood out for his talent as a coach, but most importantly for the role he has played as a mentor to student-athletes throughout his career and his deep commitment to helping them grow into leaders on and off the field," Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement.
The talent-rich Washington, DC, region and surrounding areas were good to the Crimson Tide during Locksley's time there, and he fared well recruiting the area in his previous stint with the Terrapins. It's vital he keeps a lot of those kids home.
It's also important that he learned lessons at all his previous stops. His head coaching acumen needs to be more akin to his prowess as the 'Bama offensive coordinator in '18, which netted him the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant, rather than his disastrous head tenures.
Most vitally to Maryland, it has to move on from Durkin, free of controversy, and change a bullying environment for the student-athletes into one where the players look forward to coming to practice and competing in games.
If he can do that, Locksley will be successful. That starts right now and continues throughout spring.
Les Miles, Kansas: Find and Develop Some Playmakers
In December, Kansas running back Pooka Williams was charged with domestic battery. He's been granted diversion, according to the Kansas City Star's Jesse Newell.
According to Newell, while new head coach Les Miles initially suspended Williams, the school had no update on his current status with the team.
Miles needs to find players who can do big things with the football in their hands to help the offense come along and make the same improvement an opportunistic defense did in 2018. That helped lead the Jayhawks out of the land of the pushovers.
Miles wasn't known as having explosive offenses at LSU, which was a big reason why he was let go. He made a splash move hiring away Auburn's offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, but Lindsey left quickly to replace Neal Brown as Troy's head coach.
Per Newell, the replacements list could include former North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and former Houston coach Major Applewhite. Even a big name needs talent with which to work, though.
Potential playmakers include JUCO quarterback Thomas MacVittie and returning receivers Stephon Robinson and Daylon Charlot. Others are incoming freshmen Andrew Parchment and perhaps even Valerian Agbaw, an athlete who could project to defense but may be too talented with the ball in his hands to keep off offense.
Miles needs tons more help in this recruiting class and perhaps in the transfer pool. All comers are needed.
Scott Satterfield, Louisville: Fix the Defense
It's not as big of a mess as Les Miles has in Kansas, but Scott Satterfield isn't stepping into a great situation in Louisville either.
The Cardinals' salvation before the 2018 season was dynamic dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won a Heisman Trophy and took the NFL by storm, usurping Joe Flacco as the starter in Baltimore. But when Jackson left, the house of cards Bobby Petrino built came tumbling down.
Much of the reason for that is a horrific defense that couldn't stop anybody in '18.
The Cardinals were No. 122 out of 130 FBS teams in total defense last year, and only two teams (Oregon State and Connecticut) allowed more than Louisville's 44.1 points per game. The defense was historically horrible.
Satterfield brought defensive coordinator Bryan Brown with him from Appalachian State, where the Mountaineers had strong Sun Belt units throughout Satterfield's career.
As bad as Louisville's defense was, App's was on the opposite end of the spectrum, finishing sixth nationally in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. He's going to be working with a scant group in Louisville, though.
The Cardinals lost pass-rusher Jon Greenard for the season in the 2018 opener, and he is going to transfer to Florida to play his final season, according to the Courier Journal's Jake Lourim.
He would have been a big help as an outside linebacker in Brown's 3-4 scheme after the team transitioned from Brian VanGorder's 4-2-5 base package. Talented middle linebackers Dorian Etheridge and Robert Hicks will be big helps in the move. C.J. Avery and P.J. Blue can help too.
The Cardinals' recruiting class is stunningly bad at No. 132 nationally, according to 247Sports. Satterfield has an uphill battle but must fortify that side of the ball with the rest of his commitments and with guys already on the roster.
It's still going to be a difficult rebuild.
Mel Tucker, Colorado: Develop an Offensive Backfield to Help Steven Montez
Mel Tucker has been a quality coach for a long time, gaining a wealth of NFL experience as well as establishing himself as a defensive star and a recruiting force in stints at Alabama and, most recently, as Georgia's defensive coordinator under Kirby Smart.
After being a finalist for the Tennessee head coaching gig that went to Jeremy Pruitt a year ago, Tucker landed his big break at Colorado, replacing Mike MacIntyre.
The biggest challenge Tucker has on his hands in his first year in the Pac-12 will be on the other side of the ball, where he has to surround solid quarterback Steven Montez with playmakers. A great place to start is running back.
"We have to be able to run the ball on our terms," Tucker told reporters.
Former Virginia Tech transfer Travon McMillian led the Buffaloes with 1,009 yards in 2018. Now, he's gone, and it's vital Tucker finds a workhorse running back and another runner who can help shoulder the load.
The only running back with any real experience returning is Beau Bisharat, who had 143 yards in 2018.
Sophomore Alex Fontenot and freshmen Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith are coming back to CU, but the most exciting players in the mix will be guys in Tucker's first recruiting class.
Jaren Mangham is a 6'1", 214-pound bruising back from Detroit who chose the Buffs over offers from programs like Alabama and Michigan State. Joshia Davis is another player coming in who could factor into the rotation.
With Montez and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. coming back, there are some playmakers on offense, but the running game needs fixing. Tucker is determined to do it, and it looks like he'll have some talented youngsters from which to choose.
Matt Wells, Texas Tech: Focus on Bringing Opportunistic Defense
The Big 12 isn't known for its defense. But even by the shootout conference's standards, the Red Raiders were awful under Kliff Kingsbury in 2018.
They finished 108th nationally in total defense, 86th in scoring defense and next-to-last in pass defense, allowing 288.3 yards per game through the air.
Like Kingsbury, new Texas Tech coach Matt Wells was known as an offensive-minded head coach at Utah State, but he has to do his real work on defense if the Red Raiders are going to improve next year.
The puzzle pieces are plentiful on the other side of the ball, but it won't matter if they can't stop anybody. Wells brought defensive coordinator Keith Patterson with him from Utah State to help. The Aggies had eight players receive all-conference honors in the Mountain West (three on defense), and they led the nation in takeaways.
Even when you aren't the most talented defense, if you can find ways to create extra possessions, it helps win games. That may be how TTU patches things up in '19 until it finds more players on that side of the ball.
There will be some bumps in the road for Wells, Patterson and Co., but they've got to find a way to get better. Linebacker Dakota Allen's departure won't help.
With quarterback Alan Bowman and the offensive playmakers on the other side of the ball, though, maintaining mediocrity on defense should be enough to get the Red Raiders to a bowl game.
Youngsters like cornerback Alex Hogan and defensive end Gilbert Ibeneme need to be ready to step in and play right away too.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.