College Football America tackles all of the recent head-coaching hirings below, in alphabetical order by school:
Smart will be busy a few more weeks, as the Crimson Tide are in the College Football Playoff. But this is clearly what Smart has been waiting for, as he’s been considered a top candidate for a head-coaching job for at least three years. He’s a former Georgia player and a former Georgia assistant coach, so it’s a homecoming. The shoes he must fill, left behind by Mark Richt, are large, but not massive. That’s because Richt never got the Bulldogs quite where they wanted to go. It’s up to Smart to take them the next step. Recruits will respond to Smart because of his success at Alabama. The real question is whether he can run an entire program? Georgia could have gone after a sitting head coach. But if you’re going the assistant route Smart was the top choice.
Hawai’i: Nick Rolovich (former Nevada offensive coordinator)
Rolovich has never been a head coach, but he was a former Hawaii quarterback who succeeded Timmy Chang (who might be on our hot coaching names list next fall). He bounced around in the NFL, the Arena Football League and the World Football League before moving into coaching. Before going to Nevada Rolovich had been an assistant at Hawaii from 2003-04 and 2008-2011, where he ended his tenure as offensive coordinator. Like Smart, this job is likely the one he wanted all along. But it’s a tough one. Hawai’i is not nearly what it was when Rolovich played there.
Illinois: Bill Cubit (former Illinois interim head coach)
The Illini signed Cubit, the interim head coach, to a two-year contract before the season finale. It is reportedly a two-year, $2.4 million deal. Cubit led the Illini to a 5-7 record in 2015. Cubit shouldn’t get comfortable. The athletic director that signed him is also an interim, so the Illini are searching for a full-time AD. I think the assumption is that Cubit will have to show progress in 2016 to get an extension.
Iowa State hired Campbell the day after the Cyclones’ season ended. Campbell has been on our Hot Coaching Names list in the last two College Football America Yearbooks, and he had Toledo in the national conversation after a 7-0 start and a road win over Arkansas. Toledo polished off a 9-2 season with a loss to Western Michigan. Campbell ends his five-year stint at Toledo with a 35-15 record and gets a raise from nearly $500,000 per year to a reported $2 million per year as part of his new six-year deal. I think Iowa State will see an immediate bump from this. Campbell is still in his 30s, connects well with recruits and runs an offense tailor-made for the Big 12. Plus, fired head coach Paul Rhoads left Campbell two great pieces in quarterback Joel Lanning and running back Mike Warren.
Maryland: D.J. Durkin (former Michigan defensive coordinator)
Durkin is a career assistant who has worked his way up the ranks from a graduate assistant at Bowling Green to the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator in 15 years. Along the way he also coached at Notre Dame, Stanford, and Florida, the last of which provided him his one game of head-coaching experience — serving as interim head coach for the Gators’ bowl game victory after the 2014 season (in place of Will Muschamp). He’s worked for Jim Harbaugh twice. Durkin has a great reputation as a recruiter and that’s where Maryland needs help immediately, attracting Big Ten-level talent to College Park, Md. The hire doesn’t knock your socks off, though.
Memphis: Mike Norvell (former Arizona State offensive coordinator)
Norvell is considered a solid offensive mind. He played at Central Arkansas, where he left the school as its all-time receptions leader. From there he took on a graduate assistant gig at UCA, followed by stints at Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State. So he’s a Todd Graham guy and served as Graham’s offensive coordinator in both Pittsburgh and Arizona State. At age 34, he’ll be one of the youngest head coaches in FBS. Memphis is clearly hoping Norvell can recruit and carry forward the work that Justin Fuente has done the past few years, especially on the offensive side.
Miami (FL): Mark Richt (former Georgia head coach)
Slam, meet Dunk. Richt, a former Miami quarterback (he played with Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar) comes home after Georgia unceremoniously dumped him. Richt was 145-51 at Georgia. He inherits a Miami team that has some issues, but Richt knows the Florida area and knows the culture around the program. He gets it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami wins its division in three years, if not sooner. Warren Sapp should be pleased. So should all Miami alums.
Minnesota: Tracy Claeys (former Minnesota defensive coordinator)
Claeys has been Jerry Kill’s right-hand man for years. Now the Golden Gophers are giving him a shot to run the show. Claeys was named the interim coach when Kill retired due to health issues, and was made the full-time head coach shortly after. Claeys deserves the shot, but he’ll have the learning curve of making all the decisions, with the knowledge that Kill isn’t coming back this time.
Odom is a Missouri guy through and through. He played for Mizzou and has served as an assistant coach for the Tigers for more than a decade. Along with being a coach, Odom served as a director of recruiting and a director of football operations at Mizzou before being a coach. Missouri is going with continuity and Odom’s skills as a recruiter instead of going for an outsider with head-coaching experience, which the Tigers could have easily done. Missouri players are clearly happy about this. Whether alumni and supporters will be in a few years is uncertain. It’s a bit of a risk for the Tigers, but they must feel Odom has earned his shot.
North Texas: Seth Littrell (former North Carolina offensive coordinator)
Littrell gets his first head-coaching job and his task is to resurrect a North Texas program that was in a bowl game just two years ago and absorbed the worst lost by an FBS team to an FCS team in history (66-3 to Portland State), which led to Dan McCarney’s firing. UNT doesn’t have UNC’s talent. Littrell will need at least two years to fill the recruiting cupboard with what he needs. He has been an offensive coordinator for five years. He’ll have to draw on that experience to make UNT competitive early.
Rutgers: Chris Ash (former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State)
The former Drake wide receiver has spent most of the last five years in the Big Ten, first at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema and then at Ohio State under Urban Meyer. He did follow Bielema to Arkansas for a year before joining OSU. Rutgers needs a coach with deep recruiting experience and Big Ten knowledge, and Ash has both. In addition to his Big Ten ties he has been a recruiting coordinator twice — at Iowa State and at San Diego State. This is a great opportunity for Ash, but it’s a tough job. Rutgers is not a destination. He’ll need to be as good a teacher and coach as a recruiter.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp (former Auburn defensive coordinator)
Muschamp’s tenure at Florida doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he can turn South Carolina around. In fact, this almost feels like a bit of a reach. But Muschamp knows the conference and knows the recruiting base, so those are plusses. Muschamp’s potty mouth is not. South Carolina wasn’t going to elevate an assistant or entertain hiring a coordinator, even though outgoing head coach Steve Spurrier was hoping the Gamecocks would elevate his top man, Shawn Elliott.
Hey, didn’t I just see this guy in Detroit on Friday? Yep, I was on the sideline for the MAC Championship game and watched as Bowling Green overwhelmed Northern Illinois. It’s not shocking to see Babers on his way to a new job. The Art Briles disciple has a career record of 37-16 after two years at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and two years at Bowling Green (2014-15). He should inject some new life in Syracuse’s program immediately. His teams are well-coached, exciting to watch and know how to win. That said, this is a different job. Both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green had good tools on hand when he arrived, specifically at quarterback. At EIU Jimmy Garoppolo was already in the house. At BG quarterback Matt Johnson, running back Travis Greene and wide receiver Roger Lewis were already on campus. They adapted quickly to Babers’ system. There is far less talent at quarterback at Syracuse and the program is coming off two losing seasons. Don’t get me wrong — I really like the hire. But I think we’re going to find out just how good a program builder Babers is in Syracuse, because the success won’t likely come immediately.
Toledo: Jason Candle (former Toledo offensive coordinator)
When Tim Beckman left for Illinois a few years ago, the Rockets elevated their young offensive coordinator, Matt Campbell, to head coach. Now that Campbell is gone, why not try it again? The 36-year old Candle ended his playing career at Division III power Mount Union, spent five years there as an assistant (the last two as offensive coordinator) and then moved on to Toledo and worked his way up. He’s considered an expert recruiter and shouldn’t change much in Toledo’s system. The question is how steep his learning curve will be in terms of being a head coach.
UCF: Scott Frost (former Oregon offensive coordinator)
Frost has been on our College Football America hot coaching names list for a couple of years, and given the numbers the Ducks have put up with him calling plays its easy to see why. Frost has worked his way up the ranks after being a star at Nebraska. Because of that he’s developed a good reputation as a coach and recruiter. UCF should be better next season, and not because it went winless this year. Frost will bring that Oregon mentality to Orlando and the Knights will be better for it.
USC: Clay Helton (former USC interim head coach)
This hire is a lot like the Tracy Claeys hiring at Minnesota. Athletic Director Pat Haden is rewarding the loyalty, as Helton has been interim head coach at USC twice (don’t forget his bowl game after then-interim Ed Orgeron left a couple of years ago). Haden went flashy with Steve Sarkisian and the situation imploded. He’s choosing stability with Helton. It remains to be seen if Helton has the goods to keep the Trojans in Pac-12 contention. The good news? He has solid talent and no scholarship sanctions to deal with.
There is always one straight out of left field hire and this is it. Mendenhall is a BYU man through and through, the coach picked to succeed LaVell Edwards when he retired. And he leaves for an ACC job? In truth, Mendenhall may have foreshadowed this recently when he told reporters that BYU probably needed to be in a conference in three years to remain relevant. BYU can’t qualify for the College Football Playoff as an independent. Virginia can through the ACC. This move acknowledges that there is no future at BYU for a head coach if you’re chasing a championship. Mendenhall apparently wants more. This is a great hire for Virginia, probably better than it had a right to expect after Mike London.
Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente (former Memphis head coach)
Fuente will replace the retiring Frank Beamer. Fuente will make $3.2 million his first year in Blacksburg, just a shade higher than Memphis offered Fuente in an extension last month. The Hokies get one of the hottest coaching names in the game, as Fuente guided the Tigers to a 9-3 record and a win over Ole Miss. Fuente’s overall record at Memphis was 26-23. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and Beamer’s son, Shane, will remain on the staff. It’s everything you want as a head coach — great money, great job and access to the Power 5. Now Fuente has to deliver. A good hire, and a pressure-filled one, as well.
These jobs remain open: BYU, Bowling Green, East Carolina, Tulane, and ULM.
Once all hirings have been announced, College Football America will rank the hirings from top to bottom.
|BYU||Bronco Mendenhall||Kalani Sitake|
|Ball State||Pete Lembo||Mike Neu|
|Bowling Green||Dino Babers||Mike Jinks|
|East Carolina||Ruffin McNeill||Scottie Montgomery|
|Georgia||Mark Richt||Kirby Smart|
|Georgia Southern||Willie Fritz||Tyson Summers|
|Hawaii||Norm Chow||Nick Rolovich|
|Iowa State||Paul Rhoads||Matt Campbell|
|Maryland||Randy Edsall||D.J. Durkin|
|Memphis||Justin Fuente||Mike Norvell|
|Miami (FL)||Al Golden||Mark Richt|
|Minnesota||Jerry Kill||Tracy Claeys|
|Missouri||Gary Pinkel||Barry Odom|
|North Texas||Dan McCarney||Seth Littrell|
|Rutgers||Kyle Flood||Chris Ash|
|South Carolina||Steve Spurrier||Will Muschamp|
|Southern Miss||Todd Monken||Jay Hopson|
|Syracuse||Scott Shafer||Dino Babers|
|Texas State||Dennis Franchione||Everett Withers|
|Toledo||Matt Campbell||Jason Candle|
|Tulane||Curtis Johnson||Willie Fritz|
|UCF||George O'Leary||Scott Frost|
|ULM||Todd Berry||Matt Viator|
|USC||Steve Sarkisian||Clay Helton|
|UTSA||Larry Coker||Frank Wilson|
|Virginia||Mike London||Bronco Mendenhall|
|Virginia Tech||Frank Beamer||Justin Fuente|
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