Welp, here we go. Chip Kelly is a UCLA Bruin, Dan Mullen is a Florida Gator and there is so much more. In fact, 14 FBS jobs have turned over so far.
The first real dominoes in the 2017-18 FBS Coaching Carousel fell on Thanksgiving weekend. I’m here to break down and analyze all of the moves and the remaining openings since our last update on Nov. 30 (updated as of Nov. 29).
UCLA: The Bruins hired Kelly, signing him to a five-year, $23 million deal. It’s a lot of money to give one man, but the Bruins don’t want to just be good. They want to be relevant in the national title picture. Kelly did that at Oregon. He led the Ducks to a 46-7 record in four seasons, three Pac-12 titles and an appearance in the BCS National Title game after the 2012 season. He helped revolutionize the way college teams play games, taking the idea of offensive pace to new levels before leaving for the NFL. The Bruins better get in shape because Kelly’s practices are great cardio. The Bruins have a bowl game to prepare for, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will handle the coaching duties for that game while Kelly watches. UCLA swooped in and grabbed Kelly after Florida all but thought they had him a week ago. That alone — stealing one of the game’s best out-of-work options from an SEC school — should be alarming. It also clears up any misconceptions about Kelly and where he wants to be. He’s a west coast guy when he’s not in New Hampshire.
But Florida did find their man …
Florida: The Gators snagged Dan Mullen from Mississippi State and it couldn’t be a better hire for the program. This reunites Mullen with the Gators, as he served as the offensive coordinator for the Gators’ two national title teams under former head coach Urban Meyer. Mullen parlayed his success at UF into the MSU job, where he led the Bulldogs to unprecedented heights. He went 69-46 with the Bulldogs, the second-most wins in program history behind Jackie Sherrill. He also landed the Bulldogs in the No. 1 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings in 2014. The expectations will be high immediately for Mullen, but he’s used to the pressure cooker that is Gainesville and I believe he’ll respond by getting the Gators back into a bowl game, at the least, next season.
That, of course, means there is an opening at Mississippi State. Greg Knox will handle the interim head-coaching duties for the Bulldogs’ bowl game. But the Bulldogs now have a new head coach …
Mississippi State: MSU announced on Nov. 29 that Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is the new head coach. This will be Moorhead’s second head-coaching job after a four-year stint at FCS Fordham (where he went 38-13 and led the Rams to three FCS playoff appearances). His stock has been on the rise the past couple of seasons as Penn State has surged back on the national stage. He’s considered one of the best offensive minds in the country and he steps into a job that Mullen turned into a desirable one. Now, the last Big Ten coach to migrate down to the SEC didn’t work out so well (see Arkansas). Plus this is his first stint south of the Mason-Dixon Line. So recruiting will require a learning curve. I like the hire, but I don’t love it. I think Mississippi State had a good enough reputation to get a sitting head coach like UAB’s Bill Clark. But, at least no one’s protesting, so that’s a good start.
Then, another SEC job was filled, but not the one any of us were expecting …
Ole Miss: After a 6-6 season the Rebels decided to make their interim coach, Matt Luke, their permanent coach, giving him the full-time job on Nov. 27. I must admit this was a surprise. Luke had never been a head coach at any level before taking over after Hugh Freeze departed in disgrace in July. I assumed all along the Rebels would look outside the program for a new head coach, but they feel they must have something in Luke. Of course, the Rebels are not eligible for a bowl this year due to self-imposed sanctions, and many believe more sanctions are coming from the Freeze era, so this may be a nod to the belief that more punishment is coming and hiring Luke may be the path of least resistance, at least for the moment.
Then a Group of 5 school got in the act …
Georgia Southern: The Eagles removed the interim tag from Chad Lunsford on Nov. 27, making him the permanent head coach. Lunsford took over after Tyson Summers was fired and went 2-3 in his first five games (the Eagles can get to .500 under Lunsford if they beat Coastal Carolina this weekend). Lunsford is a long-time assistant for GSU, which means he’s worked under both Jeff Monken and Willie Fritz, along with a three-year stint prior to that. He’s coached many different positions at GSU, which should be to his benefit. His time as a recruiting coordinator for GSU should help the transition, too. This is a “family” hire, which should go over well with GSU fans.
Then, out west…
Oregon State: The Beavers announced that Washington co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith will be their head coach. Smith played for Oregon State and was a walk-on quarterback who eventually started 38 games and left as the program’s all-time leading passer. He will be tasked with resurrecting the Beavers. He is the first graduate of Oregon State to be named the head coach.
Now the firings …
Nebraska: New athletic director Bill Moos wasted little time, firing Mike Riley one day after the Huskers lost their season finale to Iowa, 56-14, to fall to 4-8 on the season. Riley was a curious hire to begin with, in that he spent most of his college career on the West Coast. Riley went 9-19 in three seasons, but had a winning record last season (9-4) in 2016, so the fast drop-off and the quick hook has as much to do with the new AD as it does trying to fit Riley into Nebraska’s culture. Moos has a connection to Washington State head coach Mike Leach, so he’s an option. But the odds are Nebraska’s first phone call is to UCF to talk to their former quarterback, Scott Frost. They will have to wait a week to talk to him, since he just led the Knights to the American Athletic Conference title game. But if the Huskers do wait, you know he’s their first choice. If not, I suspect Leach will be in the mix.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks fired Bret Bielema right after the Hogs’ loss to Missouri (Bielema said it happened on the field; Arkansas brass said it happened off the field). Either way, it happened fast and Bielema must have known it was coming when his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, was fired a few weeks ago. Now the real question is who replaces him. There is a search committee to find a new Arkansas AD. Are they going to wait to hire a new AD before they hire a new coach? Normally, that would make sense. But it’s recruiting season and the Hogs can’t afford to be without a head coach for long. So, expect a quick search. For now, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads — the former head coach at Iowa State — is the interim head coach and theoretically will handle recruiting duties until the coaching search is complete. Rhodes could be a one-year transitional head coach until the new AD is named.
The Razorbacks finished 4-8 in 2017. Bielema’s record at Arkansas was 29-34, but he won just 11 games in the SEC and never won more than eight games. That said, Bielema — who won 68 games and three Big Ten titles at Wisconsin — didn’t forget how to coach and becomes a head-coaching candidate immediately.
Arizona State: This one was a bit of a surprise. The Sun Devils fired Todd Graham after six seasons and a 46-31 record. The Sun Devils were not a good team in 2016, and I should know because I saw them twice. But Graham seemed to have righted the ship a bit in 2017, as the Sun Devils went 7-5 and 6-3 in the Pac-12. But that apparently wasn’t enough to save his job. Graham handled it well, doing a post-firing press conference and agreeing to hang around to coach the Sun Devils’ bowl game. With a large investment in facilities at Sun Devil Stadium, I guess the brass was looking for more of a return on their investment. Graham will find a job next season, probably as a coordinator. The Sun Devils’ coaching search is underway and reportedly former Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards is going to get the job, pending university approval.
Texas A&M: The Aggies fired Kevin Sumlin the day after the Aggies lost to LSU. On the surface, that should not have happened. Sumlin had a 51-26 record and took the Aggies to a bowl game every year. But he set the bar too high his first year, going 11-2, beating Alabama on the road and overseeing the rise of Johnny Manziel. From there Aggie fans expected more and, even though the Aggies kept winning, the wins declined from year to year. Sumlin always brought in Top 15 recruiting classes, but just couldn’t get the program over that hump that would allow them to compete for an SEC title. The cupboard is quite full for his replacement, which is widely believed to be Florida State boss Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies appear to be ready to throw a boatload of money at Fisher, but who knows if he’ll bite. There is, reportedly, a 10-year contract on the table.
Jeff Banks will serve as the interim coach for the Aggies’ bowl game.
Rice: The Owls did what was necessary after Thanksgiving, firing David Bailiff after an 1-11 season. Bailiff was with Rice for 11 seasons, finishing his tenure with a 57-80 record and piloting the Owls to four bowl games. Give Bailiff credit — the Owls won a conference title in 2013, a rarity for the program (just eight all-time). But it was time for a change. This isn’t an easy job. Rice is a university with rigorous academic standards, a small student body and football isn’t necessarily as valued there as it is at other schools. They’re looking for a coach that can, at the least, get the Owls in a bowl game more consistently than Bailiff could. You’re looking for a successful FCS head coach or an FBS assistant coach looking for their first head-coaching opportunity. Ties to the school would help, too.
Other openings and reports
Tennessee: Reports surfaced that Tennessee was close to a final deal with former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano and the fan base went berserk. In fact, it went so nuts that the school stepped back from pursuing the deal because of the reaction. Tennessee is back to square one. It’s possible that the Vols will only be satisfied with a former Tennessee player as their head coach, and there is one that is qualified — current USC assistant coach Tee Martin, the quarterback who led the Vols to their last national championship. However, on Tuesday the Vols appeared to get Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy interested in the job with an interview in the Dallas area. Why, I have no idea. And on Tuesday night, Gundy took a pass. So the Vols are back to square one. Perhaps Clay Travis has some ideas on who they can hire? He even has a list of approved candidates.
On Thursday night there were reports that the new target was Mike Leach of Washington State after Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and NC State’s Dave Doeren passed on the job. But nothing official yet.
UTEP: The Miners hired Citadel athletic director Jim Senter last week to run their athletic programs. Now it’s up to Senter to figure out who the next head coach will be. That’s likely to take a bit. An article in the El Paso Times threw out a ton of potential candidates, most of which are assistant coaches or have ties to UTEP as former players.
South Alabama: The USA search committee has conducted no interviews yet, per AL.com. But Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has been connected to the job.
Coastal Carolina: As we’ve noted all season, Joe Moglia is on a five-month medical sabbatical due to a respiratory condition. But he signed a new contract extension with Coastal Carolina, tying him to the university through 2020. So Moglia is locked in to return in 2018, barring any setbacks to his health, which is why we continue to monitor the job. Jamey Chadwell is the interim coach. Coastal’s season ends Saturday against Georgia Southern.
2017-18 FBS COACHING CAROUSEL (changes are listed when schools make official announcements)
|Arizona State||Todd Graham||TBA|
|Arkansas||Bret Bielema||Paul Rhoads (interim)|
|Florida||Jim McElwain||Dan Mullen|
|Georgia Southern||Tyson Summers||Chad Lunsford|
|Nebraska||Mike Riley||Trent Bray (interim)|
|Ole Miss||Hugh Freeze||Matt Luke|
|Mississippi State||Dan Mullen||Joe Moorhead|
|Oregon State||Gary Andersen||Jonathan Smith|
|South Alabama||Joey Jones||TBA|
|Tennessee||Butch Jones||Brady Hoke (interim)|
|Texas A&M||Kevin Sumlin||Jeff Banks (interim)|
|UCLA||Jim Mora Jr.||Chip Kelly|
|UTEP||Sean Kugler||Mike Price (interim)|
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