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2019 was a season marked by the transfer rule in the NCAA. 3 of the 4 starting quarterbacks in the CFP were transfers, and while coaches hate to lose a player like Justin Fields or Jalen Hurts to the transfer portal, how mad can they really get when the coaches play their own version of the transfer game, with the coaching carousal. Last season there were 12 new head coaches at a Power-5 University. This year, the same number, and while this class of new hires don’t carry the national championship that Mack Brown and Les Miles did last summer, the names and personalities moving around have certainly changed the perception of their new program already.
Here are the 12 new head coaches, broken down into three tiers of immediate success that they will bring their new locker room
A-Level Hires – Immediate Culture Change for the Better
Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin
“University changing hire” does not mean Ole Miss is going to win the SEC this fall, but it does make them a name in the conversation. For years the Rebels have been right there, close to pulling off upsets but losing close games. Enter, the “Lane Train.” He is a great recruiter and his offenses are always putting up points. This hire doesn’t just improve the team, but it also heightens the excitement around the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving when the Rebels take on Mike Leech and in-state rival Mississippi State. Kiffin is coming off back-to-back Conference USA championships with FIU. He has had a winning record at every college on his journey which includes stops at Tennessee and USC. Ole Miss fans, alumni and students go crazy for the rebels 365 days a year, even last season when they finished 5-7. Just imagine what the Grove will look like on Gameday when the games really matter, and soon enough, they will. That is why this is a University changing hire. Lane Kiffin will restore winning in Oxford.
Baylor: Dave Aranda
Matt Rhule brought Baylor back to life in 2019, and as soon as the season ended, he deflated the University in the matter of minutes, breaking his promise to return to Waco, and instead accepting a head coaching position in the NFL. Baylor had come too far under Rhule to fall back on an average hire into mediocracy in the Big-12. Thankfully for the Bears, there’s Dave Aranda. Hours after LSU stunned the Clemson Tigers’ offense in the national championship, Aranda had his bags packs and ready to move into a conference known more for scoring than defending. A d-coordinator for 10 seasons, and the highest paid one at that, Aranda gets his first try as the big dog. This was the hire of the off season. Baylor gets an enthusiastic coach who has consistently put together brilliant game plans in the SEC for a decade. If he can recruit, which he has shown a capacity to do so in the past (responsible for LB Patrick Queen landing at LSU), he will keep Baylor as a contender for years to come. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Aranda and the Bears to win a Big-12 title in the next 3 seasons.
Mississippi State: Mike Leach
The Air-Raid offense in the SEC? Sign me up for watching a minimum of 10 Bulldogs game in 2020. Not only will Leach be the most entertaining coach in the conference, but his offense will be worth the price of admission. He is coming off successful runs at Washington State and Texas Tech where he was 49 games over .500 in 229 contests. His offense is capable of scoring on every possession, from anywhere on the field. He takes over the 7th ranked SEC scoring unit from a season ago, but more importantly he inherits every down back Kylin Hill, one of the top offensive weapons in the country. Starkville will be a fun atmosphere on Gamedays for a long time under the reign of the most interesting man in college football.
Improvement Hires – The team is better, the culture improves, but this hire still doesn’t make them an elite team
Florida State: Mike Norvell
If we are grading this hire off Norvel replacing Willie Taggert, then he is the next tier up. Willie was a disaster in Tallahassee, though not all his fault, but it was ugly. Norvell brings more than a like for like comparison though. His Memphis Tigers had just won the American Athletic Conference and were heading to a New Year’s Six bowl game when FSU administration was able to pluck Norvell from the Group of 5 before the rest of the conferences came calling. Can he coach? In four years at Memphis, the Tigers went 38-15. Can he recruit? He has averaged 2 players drafted to the NFL per season. Can he reinvigorate the Seminole’s fanbase? That remains to be seen as they have been consistently let down by the team since Jimbo Fisher left. Having QB James Blackmon and WR Tamorrion Terry to begin the spread offense era certainly helps Norvell get a start.
Arkansas: Sam Pittman
I love this hire; I think it’s a homerun for Arkansas. Pittman comes in having previously been the assistant coach and offensive line coach for the Georgia Bulldogs. He was not only a great position coach, having the top o-line in college for years, but an even better recruiter. Two of his more recent 5-star commits, Isaiah Wilson and Andrew Thomas will go on to be decade long starters in the NFL after a successful career under Pittman in Athens. Can he do the same in Arkansas? It’s not going to be easy, but he will start by building an offensive line full of athletic big men and then surround them by athletes. It’s his first go around as a head coach, so this University will give him some time to grow. It won’t be an overnight success, but he is too good of a coach to fail.
Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz
Drinkwitz took over a successful program at Appalachian State and continued the success last season with 12-1 record and the Sun Belt title. A former offensive coordinator at NC State, Drinkwitz joins the SEC for the first time in his short coaching career. The 36-year old inherits a team that was 2 games under .500 in the past four years. There is talent in this state and if Eli can keep them there, he will enjoy a nice ride
Boston College: Jeff Hafley
Great hire for the Eagles, and I mean great. When Steve Adazzio left, I was certain BC would reach deep into the Group of 5 for their next lead man, but to my surprise they were able to land Hafley, a 40-year old first time head coach who is coming off one of the best defensive seasons in Ohio State history. His team was so good last year, they might have 2 of the top 3 picks in April’s NFL draft. Boston College has failed to find excitement in a sports city since Matt Ryan left the Heights 12 years ago and while Hafley isn’t a well-known name yet, he will bring recruits to Boston. If he can land the right offensive coordinator to pair with, this could be a long tenure in the ACC for Jeff.
Nowhere else to turn – Coaching hires from a bare cupboard
Rutgers: Greg Schiano
He was the head coach of Rutgers from 2001-11 and had a record one game over .500. While most Power-5 schools would be embarrassed by that record, the Scarlet Knights have only won 36 of 99 games since he departed. Now Schiano returns with a new mentality, having recently coached under Urban Meyer for 3 years in Columbus. Does this hiring make them a Big-10 threat for a title? No, but give him a year or two and he is capable of pulling in some good Northeast recruits and coaching this team to some fun upsets along the way.
Michigan State: Mel Tucker
Yes, coaching Sparty is a step up from Colorado, so Mel Tucker rose in the ranks, but what about his perception? Publicly saying he wasn’t leaving the Buffaloes and then signing a contract 24 hours later to move north into the Big-10 certainly raised questions about Tucker’s reliability and loyalty. That will play a big role with recruits going forward. Personality aside, Tucker went 5-7 in his lone season at Colorado, but Mark Dantonio left Michigan State in a tough position having waited until February to step down. Tucker is not the long-term solution, but in a program like State, they needed a Power-5 coach to make this transition. This won’t last long for Tucker.
Colorado: Karl Dorrell
If the name sounds familiar, then you are going back almost 13 years in your memory. That was the last time Dorrell was in the college game at UCLA from 2003-07. He had a winning record (35-27) and vaulted that into a career in the NFL. This isn’t a program changing hire, nor is this a booster chest thumping move, but Mel Tucker left the Buffalos in a really tough position when he bailed to Michigan State. Dorrell will do fine at Colorado, probably better than his predecessor, but don’t expect this to be a Pac-12 title team either.
Washington: Jimmy Lake
This was the logical move for Washington. It wasn’t a sexy hire, it wasn’t one that shook up the college football landscape, but it kept continuity out in Washington. Jimmy is just 42 years old and has spent the last 4 seasons as the defensive coordinator under Chris Peterson. The Huskies were one of the better defenses in the Pac-12, but now it’s time to see if Lake can put it all together as a full team? I expect his youth and passion to shine here and bring some life back to a program that has been treading water for the past 3 years.
Washington State: Nick Rolovich
I have no idea what to make of this hire. On one hand, I’m a fan of Rolovich. He has energy for the game and seems to get the most out of his players. On the other hand, he was a University of Hawaii grad who spent 7 seasons coaching on the island, so perhaps the passion was for his alma matter. He was also just a game over .500 there, with a career HC record of 28-27. But where else was Washington State going to turn? Mike Leach left in early January when a lot of the big-name coaching candidates were already signed. I think Rolovich will be able to recruit here, I just don’t know if he can win in this conference yet. I do think he will be given time to work the kinks out, and if he runs the offense like he did on the island, then we can expect a similar offensive tempo of his predecessor.
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