This college football season may be drawing to a close, but the head coaching hires that teams make this offseason will shape the sport for years to come. So far over a dozen programs have replaced their recently departed head coaches, with the new hires coming from all over the place. Nearly any hire could work out or fail, but we can still try our best to grade each one on how it looks right now.
Scott Satterfeld to Louisville: A
Jeff Brohm returning home to Louisville felt more and more likely all year as the Cardinals continued to plummet under Bobby Petrino. Missing out on what would have felt like such a perfect fit has got to hurt. With that being said Satterfeld is still a great option. Satterfeld was part of the Appalachian State staff that beat Michigan in one of the biggest upsets of all time back in 2007. He also oversaw their transition from FCS to FBS and never had a losing record after making the jump. Since his second year Satterfeld has guided the Mountaineers to a 40-11 record and has won at least a share of the conference title the last three years. Louisville faces up an uphill battle with perennial powers Clemson and Florida State in the division, but Satterfeld has been used to overachieving at App State.
Geoff Collins to Georgia Tech: A
Many have long thought that Georgia Tech didn’t need the triple option to survive in the ACC Coastal. Geoff Collins is the perfect hire to take them out of the Paul Johnson era. Collin’s defenses at Mississippi State and Florida were excellent and he has plenty of recruiting experience in the south. He will work to modernize the entire program and is already trying to get the team more connected to the city of Atlanta, both in terms of culture and recruiting. In the weaker side of the ACC, Collins should have the Yellow Jackets competing for division titles in no time at all.
Matt Wells to Texas Tech: A-
It’s rare in college football that we get to see someone get a second chance at the same school, but Wells was given exactly that at Utah State. Wells reached the Mountain West title game in his first season and led the Aggies to a 19-9 record after just two years. However, they cratered at 3-9 in 2016 when the injury bug hit and they lost all four one possession games. Wells was then able to jump back to a 10-2 record and was just one close loss away from winning the division. While Wells is certainly still considered an offensive guy, Red Raider fans can expect more of a focus on the run game and a better defense than what Kliff Kingsbury was producing every year.
Ryan Day promoted to Ohio State Head Coach: A-
This hire will draw comparisons to the Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley transition two years ago, with Urban Meyer retiring and seemingly hand picking Day to replace him. Day was responsible for bringing the Buckeyes out of the post Tom Herman slump, leading two top ten offenses while he was OC. Continuing to recruit at an elite level will be one of the top concerns for Day, but many current recruits have already reaffirmed their commitment to the Buckeyes.
Jake Spavital to Texas State: A-
Spavital has been as successful running the air raid as nearly any coach in the country. He’s worked under Kevin Sumlin, Dana Holgersen and Sonny Dykes and contributed to top 15 offenses all but once. Texas State has struggled on offense since making the jump to FBS so Spavital will surely make strides there. Spavital also has plenty of experience recruiting in Texas because of the time he has spent coaching in the Big 12 and at Texas A&M.
Chris Klieman to Kansas State: B+
This was an incredibly important hire for Kansas State, given how nearly all of their success historically has come under Bill Snyder. Klieman has plenty of experience winning somewhere that is not in a good area for recruiting because of his time at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While Klieman has been extremely successful at NDSU, winning 3 out of 4 national championships, he inherits a Kansas State roster in a much worse situation than what he started with in Fargo.
Will Healy to Charlotte: B+
Healy was able to win at one of the hardest jobs in the country at Austin Peay. The program was a staggering 1-34 in the three years before he took over, so reaching 8-4(with three FBS losses) feels like a near miracle. Healy was a fantastic recruiter and brought in several top 5 FCS classes at both UT Chattanooga and Austin Peay. The 49ers have struggled since starting the football program back in 2013, but Healy will have a chance to establish himself in a Conference USA that currently lacks consistent powers.
Mike Houston to East Carolina: B+
Houston was reportedly close to taking the Charlotte job, but backed out for this one at the last minute. At James Madison, Houston managed to break up what could’ve been seven straight FCS titles for NDSU by upsetting the Bison and winning the title himself in 2017. There’s always risk hiring someone who has never coached in FBS, but Houston has proven his ability by winning 6 out of 8 conference championships in DII and FCS.
Hugh Freeze to Liberty: B+
Freeze’s success at Ole Miss is well documented, as well as his recruiting violations and other issues that led to his firing. He also frequently discussed his faith which will naturally fit in at a religious school like Liberty. There’s also this, just incredible quote:
Manny Diaz to Temple: B+
Diaz has put together excellent defenses at Miami the last three years and will look to continue that at Temple. He has coached everywhere from Texas to Middle Tennessee State, always having a disruptive defense. The only concern is his lack of connections in the area, but a young exciting head coach will surely be able to overcome that.
Mike Locksley to Maryland: B
Locksley struggled mightily during his time at New Mexico, but has recently gone through the Nick Saban head coaching clinic in Tuscaloosa. Locksley curated maybe the best offense in Alabama history this past year, but his best attribute might be on the recruiting side, especially since most of his coaching experience is in the DMV. Many from the are have praised the hire, including ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt:
Tyson Helton to Western Kentucky: B
Mike Sanford never really got going at WKU and they decided to go back to a Jeff Brohm assistant. Helton was the offensive coordinator under Brohm in 2014 and 2015 when the Hilltoppers had a top ten offense. As OC at Tennessee this year Helton was able to improve the Volunteers from one of the worst in FBS to merely average. The only concern here is the lack of head coaching experience, but given his previous success at least the offense will be good.
Eliah Drinkwitz to Appalachian State: B
Drinkwitz coached under offensive minds Gus Malzahn for two years and Bryan Harisn for another three. He’s been OC for NC State the last three years and has produced top 20 offenses the last two seasons. App State already has a strong foundation in place, so a first time head coach like Drinkwitz should have everything he needs to be successful.
Jim McElwain to Central Michigan: B
McElwain went 19-8 with two SEC East titles in his first two years at Florida. While the East was clearly down during this run, it is clearly still impressive for any MAC school to hire an SEC division winner. McElwain has also already shown success at a group of five school, reaching 10-3 in his final season at Colorado State. He also has coached in the region before, as an assistant at Michigan State under John L. Smith.
Mel Tucker to Colorado: B-
Tucker has obviously done a great job with Georgia’s defense the last three years, but he’s never coached further west than East Lansing. He’s also always had a built in talent advantage at Alabama and Georgia, while Colorado ranks near the bottom in Pac-12 recruiting rankings. If Tucker can make some strides in recruiting, a good to great defense feels like the least we can expect from the Buffaloes.
Les Miles to Kansas: C+
Miles’ later LSU teams struggled despite incredible recruiting because of a failure to innovate on offense. While Miles will improve the talent level at Kansas(pretty low bar), the Jayhawks will always be at a disadvantage in the Big 12. If the goal is to make a bowl game, Miles could absolutely deliver in a few years, but if they’re looking for more…
Gary Anderson back to Utah State: C
Anderson went 26-24 at Utah State during his four years there from 2009-12, but finished with an 11-2 final season. He was successful in two years at Wisconsin, but left for Oregon State in 2014 and then resigned last year with a 1-5 record. Utah State could have made a much better hire, but similarly to Kansas and UNC, boosters seem to have forced this through.
Walt Bell to UMass: C-
At just 34, Bell will be one of the youngest FBS head coaches in the country. He has been an offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, Maryland and Florida State without ever being extremely impressive. Bell shouldn’t be blamed for how horrid FSU’s offense was this season because of how bad the offensive line was, but still an unimpressive hire considering he doesn’t have any ties to a region that doesn’t get excited about college sports.
Scot Loeffler to Bowling Green: D
Loeffler has ties to the region(which previous coach Mike Jinks seriously lacked) having coached at Michigan and CMU, but besides from that this hire makes little sense. The best offense that Loeffler has been a part of was a Tim Tebow led Florida team in 2008 that probably would have been just fine with or with out him. Since then he has been responsible for a couple of short bursts at BC, Temple and Virginia Tech, but seemingly no sustained success. Update: This hire got even worse with the addition of Brian VanGorder as linebackers coach and associate head coach.
Mack Brown to North Carolina: D
UNC might have been the best job that came open this year and they went for a guy who went 27-21 in his last years at a blue blood like Texas. That alone should be enough of a red flag to stop this hire from happening, but that Brown has been out of coaching for five years makes it even worse. Sure, Brown was able to manage three 10 win seasons during his first stint in Chapel Hill, but the last of those was in 1997. If Brown had been able to hire young elite innovators at the coordinator positions this could have worked, but so far the coaching staff has been filled with unimpressive hires.