Complete Guide to the College Football Coaching Carousel and New Hires

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2021

Complete Guide to the College Football Coaching Carousel and New Hires

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    For much of the 2020 season, the common thought was financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would slow the coaching carousel. Nevertheless, it's spinning as usual.

    As of Tuesday, the Football Bowl Subdivision will have no fewer than 13 changes in the offseason.

    High-profile programs Auburn and Texas headline the group of teams transitioning to a new coach. Eleven vacancies have been filled, and the replacements range from FBS coordinators to NFL assistants to a couple of FBS head coaches.

    Along with the complete list of changes, we've organized the hirings into four categories: marquee teams, former FBS head coaches, Blake Anderson (you'll see) and first-time FBS head coaches.

Complete List of FBS Openings

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    Gus Malzahn
    Gus MalzahnButch Dill/Associated Press

    List current as of Jan. 6.

    Arizona: Kevin Sumlin (out); Jedd Fisch (in)

    Arkansas State: Blake Anderson (out); Butch Jones (in)

    Auburn: Gus Malzahn (out); Bryan Harsin (in)

    Boise State: Harsin (out); vacant

    Illinois: Lovie Smith (out); Bret Bielema (in)

    Louisiana-Monroe: Matt Viator (out); Terry Bowden (in)

    Marshall: Doc Holliday (out); vacant

    South Alabama: Steve Campbell (out); Kane Wommack (in)

    South Carolina: Will Muschamp (out); Shane Beamer (in)

    Southern Miss: Jay Hopson (out); Will Hall (in)

    Texas: Tom Herman (out); Steve Sarkisian (in)

    Utah State: Gary Andersen (out); Blake Anderson (in)

    Vanderbilt: Derek Mason (out); Clark Lea (in)

New Coaches at Marquee Programs

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    Bryan Harsin
    Bryan HarsinJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Bryan Harsin, Auburn

    Interestingly enough, Bryan Harsin has followed Gus Malzahn at both Arkansas State and Auburn. This job, however, puts substantially more pressure on Harsin.

    Malzahn posted a 68-35 record in eight years, and Auburn ranked in the AP Top 10 at some point each season. But after winning the SEC in 2013his first year on the Plainsthe Malzahn-led Tigers never did again. They appeared in the 2017 title game but lost to Georgia.

    Harsin, meanwhile, had seven successful years at Boise State. He compiled a 69-19 record, leading the Broncos to three Mountain West championships in that time.

    That success is encouraging. Simultaneously, the SEC is a dramatic step up in competition.

    Harsin has accepted a job that carries national championship expectations. How quickly can he match them? Or, it must be said, how quickly does the honeymoon phase end?


    Steve Sarkisian, Texas

    Tom Herman posted a 32-18 record at Texas, but the Longhorns failed to win a Big 12 title in his four seasons. They've moved on to Steve Sarkisian.

    Formerly the coach at Washington and USC, Sark earned this promotion on the success of coordinating two strong offenses at Alabama. In both 2019 and 2020, the unit ranked first or second nationally in yards per play and points per game.

    Sarkisian's main challenge is to reshape an offense that stagnated as Herman's tenure ended. The hope is he brings his aggressive, downfield approach from Tuscaloosa to Austin.

Old Faces, New Places

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    Bret Bielema
    Bret BielemaAssociated Press

    Butch Jones, Arkansas State

    From 2007 to 2017, Butch Jones led Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee. After winning or sharing two conference titles at both CMU and Cincy, he managed a 34-27 record at Tennessee but finished just 14-24 in SEC play.

    Jones spent the last three seasons on the Alabama staff, most recently as a special assistant to Nick Saban. Jones is entering an excellent situation at Arkansas Statemore on that in the next section.


    Bret Bielema, Illinois

    Illinois is hoping Bret Bielema can bring even a little of the success he achieved at Wisconsin from 2006 to 2012. He guided the Badgers to a 68-24 mark, two outright Big Ten titles and one shared crown.

    What the Illini want to avoid, though, is his 29-34 record (11-29 SEC) at Arkansas. They're banking on Bielema's comfort in the Midwest and decent reputation of player development to spark a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2011.


    Terry Bowden, Louisiana-Monroe

    Louisiana-Monroe turned a few heads in hiring Terry Bowden. After posting a 47-17-1 record at Auburn in the 1990s, Bowden spent a decade in broadcasting. He put together a successful run at North Alabama from 2009 to 2011 but ended 35-52 at Akron and served as a Clemson assistant for the last two years.

    Expectations are low at ULM, which finished 0-10 in 2020 and has one winning record since it rejoined the FBS (formerly I-A) in 1994.

Blake Anderson's Hard Decision

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Humanity is easily lost in sports. Blake Anderson is a necessary reminder of how a personal matter can affect coaches.

    In 2019, his wife, Wendy, died of breast cancer. Before the 2020 season, per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Anderson shared how her death impacted his professional reality.

    "Can I stay here and do this when everything about Jonesboro reminds me of Wendy?" he said. "The church we went to, driving by the hospice all the time, everywhere we ate, everywhere we did things. Can I do that and do a good job? Or am I going to be a basket case?"

    That sentiment helps explain Anderson's decision to resign at Arkansas State and head to Utah State.

    "He poured out his heart to the players and truly just told them exactly how he felt," ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir said of Anderson's departure, per the Gazette. "He loves them. This is not a professional decision, at all. This is a personal decision."

    Anderson went 51-37 and won or shared two Sun Belt titles at ASU.

First-Time Head Coaches

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    Clark Lea
    Clark LeaAssociated Press

    Jedd Fisch, Arizona

    Arizona marks coaching stop No. 13 for Jedd Fisch since 2000. He brings a strong offensive background but minimal ties to the Southwest, let alone Arizona specifically. Building a knowledgeable staff of assistants will be critical for Fisch.


    Kane Wommack, South Alabama

    This is a deserved opportunity for Kane Wommack, who's steadily climbed the coaching ladder in the last decade. He served as the defensive coordinator at South Alabama in 2016 and '17 before heading to Indiana for three years. Wommack spent the last two years leading the Hoosiers defense.


    Shane Beamer, South Carolina

    The son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Shane Beamer has two decades of experience as an FBS assistant. He held various roles at South Carolina from 2007 to 2010 and, most recently, was the assistant head coach at Oklahoma.


    Will Hall, Southern Miss

    Although not a first-time head coach, Will Hall is entering his first FBS job. He went 25-11 at West Alabama (2011-13) and 31-9 at West Georgia (2014-16) before one year coordinating the Louisiana offense, one as Memphis' associate head coach and two as Tulane's offensive coordinator. As a player, Hall won the Harlon Hill Trophythe D-II Heismanas North Alabama's quarterback in 2003.


    Clark Lea, Vanderbilt

    In his three years as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, Clark Lea's units finished 13th, 12th and 14th in points allowed per game. Now, he's going home. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, and a Vanderbilt grad, Lea is tasked with the ever-difficult task of making Vandy competitive. The Commodores managed just 10 conference wins in Derek Mason's seven seasons as the head coach.


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