The college football coaching carousel is over, barring an NFL-induced chain reaction. It’s time, therefore, to take stock and to provide some admittedly knee jerk rankings of the Power 5 hires. Without question, these assessments will look misguided in three years.
These rankings aren’t based on coach acumen, necessarily, but by decision given available options. Most schools, that are not Illinois, have reason for optimism.
1. Virginia Tech [Justin Fuente] The Hokies had become stale. Their offense had become moribund. They had to revitalize. They moved quickly to land 39-year-old Justin Fuente. He’s proven, having built Memphis from nothing to 19 wins this past two seasons. Moreover, he’s an offensive guy who just landed a top JUCO QB recruit. He’s keeping Bud Foster on board. We can’t see how the Hokies could have handled this better.
2. Virginia [Bronco Mendenhall] UVA needed an established head coach. They needed someone to resurrect the program. Mendenhall inherited a BYU program in disarray. He won double-digit games five times in 11 years and took the Cougars to 11-straight bowl games. He’s only 49. He’s hungry. It’s hard to come up with a better realistic name. One concern: the closest he has coached to the East Coast is one year at Louisiana Tech in 1997.
3. Miami [Mark Richt] Miami needed a big name who could coach. They got that with accomplished alum Mark Richt. The question is whether Richt’s fire dimmed or went out at Georgia. He brought in a boat load of talent, and averaged four losses per season since 2008, with Florida and Tennessee ebbing. His pro-style offense means butting heads with Florida and FSU recruiting. Miami was too good a landing spot to pass up, but Richt felt like a guy who needed a year off.
4. Georgia [Kirby Smart] Georgia had enough of Richt. They locked in early on
Smart and never looked away. Smart has been a very accomplished coordinator. He has a clear vision. He’s a Nick Saban disciple. The same was said when Florida knocked it out of the park with… Will Muschamp. We can presume Smart can coach. There’s a reason Saban paid into the seven figures to keep him around. But, he’s not a sure thing. One can’t help but wonder whether Georgia could have attracted one.
5. Maryland [D.J. Durkin] Durkin has a tremendous track record as a defensive coordinator. Importantly, he’s not Randy Edsall. The 37-year-old will bring vibrant energy to a program in need of it. He has already started the culture change. The quibble is whether Maryland should have gone with an offensive coach. “Maryland Stadium” was empty. Can the Terps out-do MSU, OSU, Michigan, and Penn State at what they do well with less talent?
6. Missouri [Barry Odom] Missouri faces challenges in the SEC. Those challenges limited the pool of realistic candidates. The best option, with Gary Pinkel leaving, was continuity. Barry Odom coordinated an excellent defense. He’s well regarded. He’s an alum. He’s 38 and could grow into a very strong head coach. He’ll need to be one to keep Missouri competitive in an improving SEC East.
7. Syracuse [Dino Babers] Syracuse has cold weather, a crappy dome, and a tougher conference slate than in years past. Recruits barely remember Donovan McNabb being good in the NFL. Their nickname is now a bland color. The program needed…something. Embracing an up tempo, Art Briles offense with Dino Babers seems like a strong, reasonable experiment. It did not take Babers long to sell himself on the opportunity.
8. Iowa State [Matt Campbell] Iowa State is among the worst Power 5 jobs. There’s a definite ceiling. Campbell should come closer to hitting it than Paul Rhoads was near the end. He won 34 games in four full seasons at Toledo. He’s still only 36 with his best years ahead of him. There’s hope, so it’s a solid hire.
9. Rutgers [Chris Ash] Rutgers was limited by finances and being Rutgers. The program needed to refresh. Hiring a young, established coordinator from a national power with experience in the conference should be an upgrade. Ash already brought in a Tom Herman disciple to run the offense. Priority 1A will be rebuilding a recruiting pipeline. New Jersey produced a lot of in-state talent in 2016. Most of it is going to Michigan.
10. Minnesota [Tracy Claeys] Jerry Kill’s retirement was heart-breaking. Keeping his seasoned staff together under Claeys was probably the most responsible option. Still, Minnesota went 1-4 under Claeys down the stretch. That included some egregious decision-making that cost the Gophers a win against Michigan. Minnesota does not offer much margin for error. This is far from a sure thing.
11. South Carolina [Will Muschamp] Muschamp remains an excellent defensive coordinator. His head coaching record at Florida was spottier, though the rot was set in before he arrived. Muschamp deserves another opportunity. But should it be now, at South Carolina, getting the same band together a year later? What will Muschamp accomplish there that he could not, with many more advantages, at Florida? Great head coaches – Holtz, Spurrier – have struggled in Columbia. It’s not yet clear Muschamp is a good one.
12. USC [Clay Helton] USC is so insular it doesn’t know it is a laughingstock. The Trojans now have the shakiest head coach in the nation’s deepest coaching conference. Their AD offers zero reason to afford the benefit of the doubt. USC needed a coach to excise the soft, complacent mediocrity that has set in. They hired a guy who closed 5-3 with one-score wins over Cal, Arizona, and Colorado in a bid to keep that culture alive.
13. Illinois [Bill Cubit] Cubit took over on an interim basis after Tim Beckman was fired. He went 2-7 vs. FBS, and could not get that last win to get to a bowl game. Illinois’ athletic department is in no position to hire a coach, so Cubit is back, but only on a two-year deal (which means he’s probably getting bought out next year). If you’re a recruit, why are you going there? If you’re a fan, why are you buying tickets?