The Coaching Carousel - Final Grades  

Posted by Walter

With the Louisville and Tulsa jobs being filled last week, the final dominoes have fallen (at least in regards to the major programs) and we seem to have a final roster of Division 1A head coaches for the 2007 season. With more high profile positions available this past offseason than in any year in recent memory, these new hires are going to shape the landscape of college football for at least the forseeable future. As we saw this past year with the likes of Chris Petersen and Bret Beilema, first year coaches can have an immediate and profound impact on the national title scene. It's not to say that every first year coach will be met with such immediate success (see Hawkins, Dan), but some certainly will. So without further ado, the official 323 final grades for each and every one of the major college football hires this past offseason.

**schools listed in alphabetical order**

University of Alabama
Old Coach: Mike Shula
New Coach: Nick Saban (HC Miami Dolphins)

Walter: Wait a minute, you mean Alabama was in the market for a new head coach this offseason? The coaching saga that just wouldn't die ended with Alabama getting the guy they wanted all along. We know that Saban is a terrific x's and o's head coach, but his real skills are as a recruiter and that is why the Crimson Tide needed him so badly. Alabama fancies itself a perennial national title contender like Texas or USC, problem is unlike those programs they don't have a built in recruiting base filled with blue chips prospects. Saban has the cache, savvy and reputation to recruit the top talent throughout the entire South, just as he did when he was at LSU. Saban will make a living poaching top talent from Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia, and he will hurt his chief rivals in the process.

It is also worth noting that Saban, himself, made an excellent hire in bringing in former Longhorns QB Major Applewhite as offensive coordinator. Not only is Applewhite a 323 favorite and a terrific coach, but he is something of a god in the lonestar state.....especially to high school QB's who spent their formative years pretending to be him in their backyards. You think Applewhite might have some sway in recruiting a signal caller in Texas?

Overall Hiring Grade - A+

Frazier - I didn't love the firing of Mike Shula, this program really owed him better after he helped bring it back from serious sanctions, ran a clean ship, and somehow got blamed for over-achieving last year. I also don't love Saban as a person. He's a snotty little bitch, and he has no problem following the dollar. He asks for a commitment from players which he is unwilling to give of himself. On the other hand, homeboy knows coaching. He's going to be just fine, thanks, and this team will succeed with him at the helm. He has a track-record of success, a national title, experience in the SEC, and a desire to win. He even did well with the Dolphins, although he wasn't able to overcome the quarterback quagmire he was partly responsible for. However, that sort of thing is easier to deal with in college, and he's going to be just fine at Alabama. Not sure if there was a better coach out there, so you have to love the hiring, and hell, it's not my money. It's just sad that a guy like Saban will be carrying on the legacy of the Bear.

However, if this paves the way for Major Applewhite someday becoming the Man in 'Bama, well, that's pretty much the best thing that could ever happen. The Major knows football, has a great fucking football name, and is going to get his troops to play with tons of heart, and scrap out wins, just the way he did. The fact that he grew up a fan of the Crimson Tide just makes everything about a hundred times better.

Overall Hiring Grade - A (Saban) A+ (The Major)

Arizona State University
Old Coach: Dirk Koetter
New Coach: Dennis Erickson (HC Idaho)

Walter: An intriguing hire if nothing else. Arizona State hired Koetter away from the coaching factory that has become Boise State several years ago when he was a hotshot up-and-coming offensive mind. Well, six seasons and countless 45-38 losses later, the Sun Devils realized he may not be the man to lead them to the promised land. The Erickson hire is everything the Koetter hire wasn't. Erickson is a proven winner who has national championship experience, but he isn't a young man who is going to try and build the program from within. What he will do is bring in a whole bunch of JUCO players who are loaded with talent and discipline problems, and who will win a whole bunch of games in Tempe despite a plethora of 15 yard personal foul penalties. Erickson is staight out of the Howard Schnellenberger school of coaching. He believes that brash and cocky youths make the best football players. I expect Arizona State to have some immediate success with Erickson, but it won't be longl lived. Erickson is a mercenary who will jump ship as soon as a better position comes along. My guess is Erickson stays 2 seasons to see his JUCO players "graduate" and goes something like 18-6 in Tempe. Bottom line, when Erickson leaves, he'll leave behind a program in no better shape than he found it.

Overall Hiring Grade - C-

Frazier: Erickson will be at his slash-and-burn best in Arizona. Idaho was the first step, a bottom level school, ASU is the second step, but he's obviously looking for a nationally recognized program, or another shot at the NFL. The man is FROM Idaho, and he returned to the school that give him his big break promising to help them turn things around. Then he jumped ship the first opportunity he got. He recruits players who think the same way. Either JuCo guys who need a season at a major program before they can declare, or high school talents who have no desire to attend a single class, and want to be able to flash their stuff, talk trash, and leave as soon as they are draft eligible. Shaky background? No problem! Dennis Erickson will win football games, but he'll do it his way. Which includes refusing to build a program. There is no need to sow seeds when you don't plan on being around for the harvest. Arizona St. has really done itself a disservice. They are delusional if they think that Dennis is sticking around for any longer than absolutely necessary. He'll win, but not enough to justify tactics that will leave Sun Devils fans embarrassed by their program, and no better off when he bails out a couple of years from now. I hate this hire. I hate it. Like Dennis Erickson is going to get these guys to play disciplined football! Not exactly likely. But yeah, he'll have winning seasons. Ugh.

Overall Hiring Grade - D+

Yup, the Erickson hire is somewhat of a head scratcher.

Boston College
Old Coach: Tom O'Brien
New Coach: Jeff Jagodzinski (OC Green Bay Packers)

Walter: Well nobody expected Tommy O to leave Chestnut Hill, no less for an inferior program, but he did and BC did what they always do: just enough to get by. Hoped as I might, potential coaching studs like Steve Kragthorpe were never an option for the Eagles. They simply would have cost too much money. Instead, BC reached back into their past and hired Jagodzinski, a former tight ends coach with the program. First the good. Jags has a strong NFL pedigree which will help him lure top talent from around the nation. This is imperative as the New England area is virtually devoid of Division 1A football talent. Now the bad. Jags has absolutely no head coaching experience and is being forced to work with holdover members of O'Brien's staff. To put it lightly this situation is not exactly akin to a tranquil sea. Jags is a young offensive head coach, and I give credit to BC for thinking outside the box with him. However, their insistence on keeping holdovers from O'Brien's staff may have cost the school the chance to get a better coach, and possible the one they wanted all along (former UMass coach Mark Whipple).

Overall Hiring Grade - B-

Frazier: I was more confused about O'Brien leaving than anything. Boston College however, showed why he felt like he had to go when it started looking for a replacement. BC really had a chance to make a splash, get a top candidate, and declare that going 8-4 and making a mediocre bowl every year was no longer good enough at the Heights. However, that obviously IS good enough. Now, Jags may turn out to be a good, solid coach. But he's not taking this program to new heights. He will churn out great offensive linemen, solid tight ends, and occassionally a linebacker, or defensive lineman. Of course he will fail to recruit speed at the skill positions, and the team will never be anything special. At a time when the Red Sox are dormant, the Celtics are terrible and the Bruins are almost equally bad, and when the Patriots only play once a week, the Eagles had a chance to make a splash and get everyone excited and talking about the chances for next year. Instead this story was buried below the crease, and had hardly anyone talking about it. No one at my office even mentioned it, and I work with BC alum. Just blah. A completely vanilla hire for a program that is seemingly content to be vanilla.

Overall Hiring Grade - C

University of Cincinnati
Old Coach: Mark Dantonio
New Coach: Brian Kelly (HC Central Michigan)

Walter: This was a weird saga as a bigger school poached Dantonio from the Bearcats, and then Cincinnati ended up with a coach who I think is a whole lot better. Kelly, a Chelsea MA native, did an amazing job at Central Michigan without much fanfare. He took Central Michigan from the bottom of the MAC (an incredibly underrated conference) to the top in only three seasons. Though his record won't blow you away (19-16 over 3 seasons), Kelly is a classic overachiever whose teams always play better than their talent level. This is a perfect fit for a team like Cincinnati as they just cannot compete on a recruiting level with their conference rivals in Louisville and Morgantown. Kelly was a very strong hire, for a school that does not have a history of investing much in their football program.

Overall Hiring Grade - A-

Frazier: Kelly was more successful at Central Michigan than Dantonio was at Cincy. Frankly, if they played, I might take the boys from the MAC. And since they're not from a BCS conference, that pretty much tells you that Kelly has done a better job than Dantonio did. It's a solid hire. Kelly made his team a tough out against anybody, and will get the most from his players. There should be enough talent in Ohio to field more than one good team every year, and so Cincy may have a shot to actually compete someday. Now, it's not going to happen overnight, but you have to like the direction they are heading in. Without the huge Huggins distraction, Kelly has a chance to put a stamp on this school. I like the hire. Dantonio had things headed in a good direction, but hadn't actually accomplished anything, so it's no big loss, and Kelly has an excellent track-record. Things are looking up for the Bearcats.

Overall Hiring Grade - B+

Iowa State
Old Coach: Dan McCarney
New Coach: Gene Chizik (DC Texas)

Walter: This one flew under the radar a bit since it was taken care of so early on. Still, it represents an outstanding coaching hire. Chizik is a true defensive guru, and over a two year period, teams whose defense he coordinated went undefeated (first Auburn, then Texas). Chizik is a fiery leader who will bring instant credibility to an Iowa State program that has languished in mediocrity for several years now. The Hawkeye state has plenty of talent and Kirk Ferentz still has not yet figured out how to corner the market. Chizik has learned from two of the best recruiters in the nation in Tommy Tubberville and Mack Brown, and I expect him to put those skills to work almost immediately at Iowa State. The Cyclones should be very happy with this hire, as if Chizik had waited he probably would have been a top candidate for nearly every other opening.

Overall Hiring Grade - B+

Frazier: Secretly one of the best hires of the year. Chizik has an astounding track record, with a title, an undefeated SEC team, and plenty of NFL standouts on his resume. If anything, this was a lousy hire for Chizik, since Iowa St. probably over-reached in getting him. The Cyclones job hasn't exactly been a hot-spot, but they managed to get one of the country's top assistants. They moved quickly, and got their man before anyone else could go sniffing around. An excellent job by the administration. Chizik understands defense, knows the Big 12, and will give his team a shot. He also has experience under Tubberville and Mack Brown, two of the most successful coaches in the country, so he'll have an excellent resume to recruit with. Not sure if this hire could have gone much better for Iowa St.

Overall Hiring Grade - A-

We've said it before at the323...this is exactly
what a college football coach should look like!

Old Coach: Bobby Petrino
New Coach: Steve Kragthorpe (HC Tulsa)

Walter: Talk about making the best of a bad situation. Louisville lost one of the absolute best in te business in Petrino (the definition of a tier 2 coach), but didn't miss a beat in bringing in the best available young coach in Kragthorpe. Kragthorpe was masterful in the job he did at Tulsa, transforming that program from one of the worst in all of college football to a top competitor in Conference USA. Kragthorpe is a dynamic and creative offensive mind, who should step in almost seamlessly for Petrino. Kragthorpe is a QB guru, and I am guessing his hiring had something to do with star QB Brian Brohm returning for his Sr. season. If this is true, Kragthorpe earned his money right there, as with Brohm at the helm the Cardials have the opportunity to go somewhere they've never been before.....the 2007 BCS title game. I can't give Louisville an A because they lost such a terrific coach in Petrino, but make no mistake about it, Kragthorpe has the coaching talent to finish what Petrino started.

Overall Hiring Grade - B+

Frazier: Losing Petrino hurts, but at least Louisville proved once again that they are a program on the rise. They pursued a top national candidate, and landed their man. It was efficient, and a great job of a bigger program plundering a successful coach from a lesser school. Textbook. I feel bad for Tulsa, but this is the way of the world. Kragthorpe is going to be a good coach in Louisville, and with Brohm returning he has a chance to really make some noise his first year on the job. We know he can coach, his main challenge will be continuing to recruit well to a place that has been known primarily for basketball for a half-century. But, winning makes recruiting a whole lot easier, and Kragthorpe is going to win. Good coach, good program, good returning team. This thing is going to work out.

Overall Hiring Grade - B+

University of Miami
Old Coach: Larry Coker
New Coach: Randy Shannon (DC Miami)

Walter: My least favorite coaching hire of the entire offseason. Miami. The storied Hurricanes. The U for god's sake! This program has fallen on hard times before, but perhaps never to the embarrassing level it did this past season. There was no doubt about it, Coker had to go. The inmates were running the asylum, the team had no offensive creativity, and the brawl against Florida International was the low point for the institute (not to mention it's aftermath). Well, Miami did the right thing in getting rid of Coker, but the wrong thing in promoting from within. Shannon is a great defensive coordinator, don't get me wrong, but he was part of the problem. Since Butch Davis left Coral Gables the entire program has been off. Shannon was part of it, and it's impossible to extricate his defensive skills from this fact. Hiring Shannon is a tacit admission that the school is happy with the status quo. What Miami really needed was an infusion of new blood, not the same old crap they've had. Furthermore, the whole reason Shannon was a candidate was because his defense played so well. Wasn't the problem with Miami these past 2 seasons their offense? What does Shannon know about calling plays or fixing a stagnant passing game? Well, he'd better learn quick because Shannon was the strongest link of the coaching staff as the D-Coordinator. Whoever he hires in that position won't be as good as he was, so the staff has already been weakened in one area. It looks to me like Miami is just trading one problem for another. I'd like to give Miami an F, but no matter who they hired getting rid of Coker was the right move.

Overall Hiring Grade - D+

Frazier: A completely and utterly baffling hire. This should be one of the premiere jobs in America. Coaches should be banging down your door at the opportunity to recruit in this hot-bed of talent. Look at Florida, they just won a championship born of the speed developed within state. Randy Shannon managed to have a good defense on a terrible football team. But this is Miami, anyone should be able to get a bunch of guys with a half-dozen future NFL starters to play decent defense. The unit had talent, it's fucking Miami, it ALWAYS has talent. And Shannon was part of a coaching staff that oversaw a complete loss of control last season. His players brawled with LSU at the Peach Bowl, almost brawled with Louisville, and then were engaged in one of the ugliest incident in recent memory with their on-field fracas. Of course this team also lost many games it should not have. Add to it players who were arrested, another involved in a shooting, and another who was shot dead. Some of these guys were victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that is tragic, but it happened to a team that produced vulgar rap songs talking about their propensity for violence. Things got out of hand at Miami, and Randy Shannon was part of the problem. He was NOT the solution. A baffling hire. What needs to happen to this program for the administration to realize things are out of control?!

Overall Hiring Grade - D-

Michigan State
Old Coach: John L. Smith
New Coach: Mark Dantonio (HC Cincinnati)

Walter: Like Miami, Michigan State had to make a coaching change. But also like Miami, I don't understand the hire all that much. Let's make one thing clear, John L. Smith was a terrible head coach. His calling may be as an O-Coordinator or QB Coach. Michigan State was loaded with talented players during his tenure, yet Smith never did anything. He had to go. But why Dantonio? Were they that impressed with what he did as the D-Coordinator for Ohio State in 2002? News flash fellas, Ohio State's defense is ALWAYS good. The state breeds good defensive players. There was absolutely no fall off when Dantonio took the head coaching job at Cincinnati. Which brings us to that. It's not as if Dantonio did anything special there. He didn't really improve all that much (he was 7-5 his first season, and 7-5 his final season). His career head coaching record is a paltry 18-17, and he wasn't ever adept at recruiting top talent. Dantonio is a nice coach, but it looks to me like Michigan State got lazy in their search. Michigan is a talent rich state, and the Spartans are a major program who should be a national title player. They aren't, and it looks like they won't be in the future. Once again, I'd love to give them an F, but getting rid of John L. Smith counts for something. It's too bad Iowa State snatched up Chizik because he would have been perfect for this job.

Overall Hiring Grade - D+

Frazier: Once again, not an inspired hiring. Although I do like Dantonio credentials, and I do like bringing a defensive guy to the Big Ten. He knows the turf, and will make this team work again. One of Sparty's biggest problems was that its' defense made sure that no lead was safe. They completely and utterly collapsed at times during last season, and Dantonio will go a long way towards fixing that problem. While he didn't do anything spectacular at Cincy, he allowed for a successful transition to the Big East, and had the program headed in the right direction. I think he'll be fine. Of course, I am not exactly blown away here. Michigan St. has the ability to be a real quality program. In fact, a consistent effort over the last couple of years and they would have been one of the better programs in the conference. Of course that wasn't about to happen with John L. running the show. If Chizik was a phenomenal reach for Iowa St. Dantonio is a mediocre step down for Sparty. He's not a bad coach, but I'm not sure what he's done to deserve moving to a program that should have their sites set a little higher.

Overall Hiring Grade - C

Well at least the East Lansing faithful don't
have to put up with John L. anymore!

University of North Carolina
Old Coach: John Bunting
New Coach: Butch Davis (unemployed)

Walter: Wow, finally an inspired coaching hire from a program that is actually committing itself to improving their station. Davis is a marvelous college football coach, who deserves ALL of the credit for Miami's most recent national title as he recruited that entire team. Coker winning was shades of Barry Switzer with the Cowboys. North Carolina is a talent rich state, but Davis will also be able to dip into Florida. While he may not ever be able to bring a national title to Chapel Hill, Davis brings immediate credibility and will vastly improve this program. I wouldn't be shocked if he had them in the top 25 by 2009. Just an inspired move by a school that has always put football a distant second.

Overall Hiring Grade - A+

Frazier: Best coaching hire of the year. Hands-down, frankly. Saban is a good coach, but Butch has a resume as impressive, if not more so. He also happens to be a top-flight recruiter with huge inroads in Florida, and a completely honorable and honest leader. This was an absolute coup. The administration knew what it was doing when they cut bait early in order to go after Butch. He brought that Miami program back from purgatory, and did it by establishing class and dignity to a program best known for thuggishness. He recruited some of the most talented teams in the history of college football. There were NFL drafts where you would swear his entire team was picked in the first two rounds. This is an awesome hire. He'll have to compete at a basketball school. but he's going to turn this program around, sooner rather than later. He's as good as they get. Absolutely inspired effort by North Carolina.

Overall Hiring Grade - A+

North Carolina State
Old Coach: Chuck Amato
New Coach: Tom O'Brien (HC Boston College)

Walter: This hiring I understand. If I were a NC State fan I'd be fed up with undisplined play as well. I just wonder if it's not too little too late. If O'Brien had been the coach of the 2005 or 2006 NC State team, we may be talking about the two time ACC champions. Those teams were so talented, but completely devoid of discipline. O'Brien, an old time militay man, will certainly bring discipline, but I wonder if he can bring talent. O'Brien is Amato's doppleganger. If you could combine the two men you'd have one heck of a football coach. O'Brien always gets the most out of the talent he can acquire. Problem is, the biggest knock on him has been his ability to attract blue chip player. O'Brien was very happy to go 9-3 every season at BC (and the administration was happy with him). That may not be good enough for an NC State team whose many years in the heart of ACC country has left them with a hearty inferiority complex. I like O'Brien as a coach, but this hiring looks too reactionary to me. NC State saw Amato's teams full of talent, but with no discipline. They hired a coach to remedy that. Problem is that in college football you only get talent for 4 years, and there is no guarantee O'Brien is going to be able to recruit the same caliber of player as Amato did. Chuck Chuck had to go, though, and the Wolfpack do get points for that.

Overall Hiring Grade - B-

Frazier: Welcome to 8-4 football hell, Wolfpack. O'Brien is a good (not great) coach. His teams will be disciplined. His teams will be tough. His teams will blow at least one game they positively HAVE to win every year. He will not reach his recruiting potential. He will also have to recruit against Butch Davis in North Carolina, and will not fair well in that match-up. Yeah, this team will be better off than they were under Chuck Chuck. I'm just not sure what the goal is for NC State. The boys at UNC are gunning for a fucking title. O'Brien isn't a hot up-and-comer, and he isn't a proven winner coming back to the college game. He's just a good, interesting, decent, coach. I don't think he'll love the pressure, or the ridiculous expectations. I think the fact that no one in Boston cared what he did was both a curse and a blessing. He'll be expected to do a lot more this time around. The 'Pack needed a change of pace, and O'Brien will have them playing better and more consistently than they were before, but neither he, nor this program, is really going anywhere.

Overall Hiring Grade - B-

Stanford University
Old Coach: Walt Harris
New Coach: Jim Harbaugh (HC San Diego University)

Walter: A real head scratcher. Walt Harris was an unmitigated disaster and had to go, but Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh was always the type of player who got the most out of his ability, but he just doesn't seem like a great fit for this team. Harbaugh was a midwestern boy (born in Ohio), who went to the University of Michigan, and played the majority of his career for the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. That type of personality usually doesn't mesh well on the left coast. Still, Harbaugh is a young, offensively minded coach, who has a strong NFL pedigree. If nothing else, he has name recognition which could help him in the recruiting process. He really doesn't have a whole lot of coaching experience and may do a lot of learning on the job. Expect Stanford to continue to struggle early in his tenure, but perhaps Harbaugh will grow into the job. Stanford knows they have a long way to go, so this hire is not meant to get immediate results.

Overall Hiring Grade - Incomplete

Frazier: Um, what? Where did this come from? Now, Harbaugh did attend Palo Alto High, so he has some experience out there. But, well, I'm confused. Stanford should be a major school. When Walt Harris went there he had rebuilt Pitt, was in a BCS game, and had a very impressive resume. Of course, Harbaugh did win the Gridiron Classic against Monmouth this year, for athe Mid-Major national championship. Whatever the hell that is. This is ridiculous. How does anyone have any idea if Harbaugh is any good? Yeah, he did a nice job for the Torero's, but it's not exactly the same league as the Pac-10. Stanford is one of the top sports universities in the country, so how did their administration get it so wrong. As far as I know, Harbaugh will do a decent job, but this just seems desperate. One of the most bizarre hirings I have ever seen. This would make sense for Samford, not Stanford! I'm tempted to give this an F double-minus and be done with it. Of course, there is a slight chance that Harbaugh will actually be good. So I'm going to be lenient.

Overall Hiring Grade - F (Seriously, this hiring is ridiculous. Even if it works out, how do you justify this to your fans? Who was their next choice, Snoop? I hear he is building a fucking pee-wee juggernaut in LA.)

Old Coach: Steve Kragthorpe
New Coach: Todd Graham (HC Rice)

Walter: What happened here in Tulsa was truly amazing. Just like with Louisville you can't discount what they lost. But also like with Louisville, the University went out and got the absolute best option possible. Graham is very young (VERY young), but he is a creative offensive coach whose spread offense will play well in Conference USA. But it gets better. Not only did Tulsa get Graham, but Graham was able to persuade Arkansas O-Coordinator Gus Malzahn, and subsequently star QB Mitch Mustain, to come with him. I mean, WOW. Mustain was the top recruit in the nation last season and the type of player Tulsa cannot ever dream of getting. Well, in one fell swoop they got their coach and their franchise player, not to mention Malzahn, whose spread offensive principles will mesh with Graham's absolutely seamlessly. Outstanding work.

Overall Hiring Grade - A

Frazier: We'll see if Mustain follows through and joins his old coach. But even if he doesn't, this hiring was excellent. They lost an excellent coach, but they replaced him with another hot name. Anyone who can turn around Rice deserves all the credit in the world. And this is a guy who LOVES Tulsa. He was thrilled to get the job. Add to it the fact that he brought with him Malzahn, a man who will make this offense go, and things couldn't have gone much better. Malzahn has a lot of good ideas, and he and Graham will get on famously. Tulsa is going to be a fun team to watch. It's tough when big schools loot smaller ones, but then Tulsa turned around and looted someone even smaller. And as bad as I feel for Rice right now, that's what happens, and they will return some talent, so their new coach will have some help. Graham is a hot young talent, and he will draw recruits. Tulsa is another program that made a good, quick decision, and brought in the best man for the job. Fine work. And Graham replaced the Major with another coach who will help in bringing in talent, and offensive ideas.

Overall Hiring Grade - A
Talk about a wealth of riches. Who's the most
important piece of this hiring, is it him........

or him............

or him?


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