FBS Coaching Carousel: Fickell, Kiffin return to head coaching ranks

Today the 2016 FBS Coaching Carousel is in full spin. As of December 12 there have been 17 job changes, 15 of which have been filled. We’ll start with the new openings and the new hirings since our last update on December 5 (the hiring of Baylor’s Matt Rhule).


Cincinnati: Luke Fickell will finally get the chance to lead a program, and not on an interim basis. The Bearcats selected the current Ohio State co-defensive coordinator to helm their program and he’ll join them as soon as the Buckeyes’ run in the College Football Playoff is done. Fickell, of course, was the interim coach when his former boss, Jim Tressel, resigned before the 2011 season. Fickell went 6-7 as the Buckeyes hired Urban Meyer in 2012. Meyer kept Fickell on as his defensive coordinator. In fact, aside from a two-year stint at Akron in 2000-01, Fickell is an Ohio State lifer. In Fickell Cincinnati is getting a coach that knows Ohio recruiting like the back of his hand and should hit the ground running. The question is this — what is Fickell’s overall ability as a head coach? His interim season at OSU wasn’t an ideal incubator for success.


Florida Atlantic: The Owls hired Lane Kiffin. For a school like FAU this is beyond what they should have been able to get. The Owls haven’t had a winning season since 2008. FAU gets a name-brand coach who comes to Boca Raton with at least one national title ring from Alabama, and perhaps a second if the next few weeks break right. For Kiffin it’s an opportunity to show he has learned from the mistakes he made at Tennessee, USC and Oakland and that he’s grown as a leader. His name will get FAU in the living rooms of recruits immediately. With FIU’s hiring of Butch Davis, this has the potential to set off a small-scale recruiting war for those Conference USA-level recruits across the state. I actually don’t see too much risk for FAU here. They’re terrible right now, so even if Kiffin gets them to a bowl game during his time there it’s a win. For Kiffin, the stakes are much higher. If he fails at FAU, he probably won’t be a head coach again.

Georgia State: The Panthers hired South Carolina offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott. This is a case where the athletic director went with a coach he knows well. GSU AD Charlie Cobb was Elliott’s boss at Appalachian State, where Elliott played and coached for an extended period and ended up with three national title rings. Elliott was considered for the App State job when it opened after the 2012 season, but wasn’t hired and remained at South Carolina as the OC. Last season Elliott was just the offensive line coach under Will Muschamp. Elliott inherits a GSU program that went 9-38 under Trent Miles. Elliott knows the area well from a recruiting standpoint and that should help. He will have a shot at the Georgia-based talent that doesn’t go to the ACC and SEC and he has to win more of those battles. Plus, the Panthers are set to move into a retooled Turner Field at some point, so he’ll have a new facility to recruit to as well. There is no reason GSU can’t be a .500 program in the Sun Belt.

Houston: The Cougars chose continuity over a flashy name in choosing current offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, the former Texas quarterback who has worked his way up the ranks since the end of his playing days. Applewhite’s list of mentors is like a who’s who of the coaching profession — Mack Brown, Greg Robinson, Nick Saban, Todd Graham and Tom Herman. He’s coordinated Houston’s offense the past two years, knows the talent and knows what is in the pipeline. He’s an expert in the Texas recruiting fields. Now we find out if he can lead a program. That requires a skill set Applewhite hasn’t shown yet.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack hired Arizona State assistant coach Jay Norvell. After 30 years as an assistant coach Norvell finally gets his shot to lead a program. He’s coached in the college ranks at big programs ranging from Wisconsin and Nebraska to Oklahoma and Texas, along with stints in the NFL with Indianapolis and Oakland. He’s spent his entire career on the offensive side of the ball. This is one of the more curious hires this offseason, as Norvell really doesn’t have any obvious ties to Nevada. The Wolf Pack are clearly hoping his offensive knowledge, plus his recruiting ties to California and Texas, will help in the short term as he proves himself as a head coach.

Oregon: After Rhule reportedly turned the Ducks down, they turned their attention to South Florida head coach Willie Taggart. If you look at his record you see that it’s under .500 (40-45). Look deeper and you see a coach that improved Western Kentucky in three seasons, going from 2-10 in his first season to back-to-back 7-5 seasons that sparked the program’s rebuilding process in FBS to where it is now, a Conference USA champion. He used that job to get to USF, where he again improved every season, going from 2-10 in 2013 to 10-2 in 2016. When you’re successful at Group of 5 programs you have to be good at turning 2- and 3-star players into 4- and 5-star players, and he’s done that at both stops. He’ll get better athletes at Oregon, but its a Pac-12 where the Ducks are now playing catch-up. Taggart has a bit of a West Coast footprint, as he did three years as a running backs coach at Stanford. But expect recruiting to be a bit uphill the first year. The expectation in 2017 should be a bowl game.

San Jose State: The Spartans hired Brent Brennan. Brennan has been the wide receivers coach at Oregon State for the past six years, but before that he served at SJSU as an assistant from 2005-10 under Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre and his father played for the Trojans. When you’re a Group of 5 program that has fallen on hard times, it can be hard to find someone that wants to be there. Clearly Brennan has some affection for the school. He’s developed fine receivers at Oregon State, including Brandin Cooks, and has intimate knowledge of California recruiting. Both should help rebuild a Spartans program that didn’t have a winning season under Rod Caragher. The clear question is whether Brennan can handle being a head coach.

South Florida: It took a couple of days of negotiating, but former Texas coach Charlie Strong agreed to take over the Bulls after the departure of Willie Taggart. I like this hire for USF. Strong is a coach with good Florida recruiting ties (that’s where he plucked several key recruits for Louisville, including Teddy Bridgewater) and inherits a program that was one of the best in the American Athletic Conference in 2016. He should be able to maintain that quality as he continues to build up talent. USF took advantage of what Taggart built and probably got better as a result.

The rest of the jobs

Here’s the information that is out there on the remaining head-coaching openings.

Temple: According to the Temple News the players want defensive coordinator Phil Snow to take over the program, prompting them to start a hashtag — #LetItSnow — on Twitter. That ignores the fact that Ed Foley is actually the interim coach for the bowl game. He’s a candidate too, as is Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder and Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo (Philadelphia Inqurier).

Western Kentucky: Idaho head coach Paul Petrino (CBSSports.com), Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner (Columbus Dispatch), WKU interim head coach Nick Holt (WBKO) and WKU special teams coordinator Tony Levine are all in the mix.


Baylor Jim Grobe (acting) Matt Rhule
Cincinnati Tommy Tuberville Luke Fickell
Florida Atlantic Charlie Partridge Lane Kiffin
Florida International Ron Turner Butch Davis
Fresno State Tim DeRuyter Jeff Tedford
Georgia State Trent Miles Shawn Elliott
Houston Tom Herman Major Applewhite
Indiana Kevin Wilson Tom Allen
LSU Les Miles Ed Orgeron
Nevada Brian Polian Jay Norvell
Oregon Mark Helfrich Willie Taggart
Purdue Darrell Hazell Jeff Brohm
San Jose State Ron Caragher Brent Brennan
Temple Matt Rhule Ed Foley (interim)
Texas Charlie Strong Tom Herman
USF Willie Taggart Charlie Strong
Western Kentucky Jeff Brohm TBA

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