Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

Breaking Down Every FBS Hire of the 2020-21 Coaching Carousel

Bryan Harsin

The assumption among most college football media and fans was that no matter what happened with the 2020 college football season, head coaches were going to get a longer leash than normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, athletic departments across the country remain strapped for cash, and nearly FBS team was playing a shortened, abbreviated schedule. Months later, it's clear that this assumption was dead wrong. College football is big business after all, and business doesn't ever stop at many of these major universities, no matter what's going on in the world. As a result, we have seen massive jobs open up in many spots across the college football landscape, as well as some under-the-radar ones. As we prepare for the 2021 off-season and our world slowly returning to normal, I decided to break down every FBS head coaching hire and what it will mean going forward.

Arizona Wildcats

Out: Kevin Sumlin

In: Jedd Fisch, New England Patriots QB Coach

Once considered on a fast track to a future NFL head coaching gig, Kevin Sumlin's fall from grace continued on his short-lived tenure in Tucson. Sumlin seemed to be a good fit with the Wildcats and their personnel when he was hired, but things never quite meshed right. His debut season of 5-7 was extremely disappointing and after a 4-1 start to Year Two, Arizona would drop seven straight. His third team showed some flashes in the short Pac-12 season, but they still wound up 0-5 and dead last in the Pac-12 South, capped off by a shocking 70-7 loss in the Territorial Cup to arch-rival Arizona State. The Sumlin era ends up with a .310 winning percentage, which goes down as the second-worst in Arizona history for a coach that has been there over 20 games. There were several pretty notable names rumored for the job after Sumlin was let go, but in the end UA landed on Jedd Fisch, who was previously QB Coach with the New England Patriots. Fisch's only head coaching experience in the college ranks was back in 2017, when he served as interim coach at UCLA following the departure of Jim Mora. Fisch went 1-1 with the Bruins, who would go on to lose their bowl game to Kansas State. Outside of that, Fisch has regularly flipped jobs in both college and the NFL, including stints at Minnesota, Miami and Michigan. In every sense, the hire was not exactly "flashy" but Fisch does seem to have support from several big-name alumni. Arizona is a job with loads of potential, but the key for him will be finding out a way to lock down in-state talent. It's an extremely talent-rich area, but high-profile recruits continue to bail for other programs in the Pac-12 or Big 12. I'm not sure whether Fisch will win big with the Wildcats, but it's hard not to be somewhat of an upgrade over Sumlin. I firmly expect Year One to be fairly brutal, with a variety of Wildcats hitting the transfer portal following Sumlin's departure.

Arkansas State

Out: Blake Anderson

In: Butch Jones, former Tennessee HC & current Alabama assistant

Jonesboro, Arkansas has become a common pit stop for coaches looking to make an eventual Power Five HC jump and while Blake Anderson stuck around longer than most, he eventually did the same. Anderson left in a pretty surprising move to Utah State, which looks more like a lateral move than anything else. In response, Arkansas State quickly turned to a pretty big name in Butch Jones, who previously was head coach at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and of course, Tennessee. Jones received a lot of grief for how things ended in Knoxville, but we shouldn't ignore that he was actually fairly successful there. He posted two nine-win campaigns and proved himself as a very adept recruiter, even though he was never able to really get UT over the top. While the Sun Belt has improved in recent years, I still really like Butch's chances to succeed there. It's a program that does a very good job mining for talent in the Southeast and one with quality resources for a Group of Five program. Most importantly, it's a fantastic spot for Jones to get his career back on track and eventually land another P5 job, which will happen at some point if things go smoothly.

Auburn Tigers

Out: Gus Malzahn

In: Bryan Harsin, Boise State HC

Prior to Tom Herman's surprise dismissal earlier this week, Auburn was by far and away the biggest job that opened up this coaching carousel. Gus Malzahn was a regular fixture on hot seat head coach lists, but he managed to hold on to his job for nearly a decade in an extreme pressure environment. Although Gus never replicated the magic of the 2013 team, he did beat Nick Saban and Alabama three separate times in his tenure and won the SEC West twice. I actually think that's a very solid resume at one of college football's toughest jobs. Consider for a moment where the Tigers sit in the college football landscape; inside the state they have the most successful dynasty in modern college football history and inside the division, they are recruiting against powers such as LSU and Texas A&M. Auburn still felt it necessary to pay $22 million to move on, and eventually brought on Bryan Harsin from Boise State. Although Harsin put up great numbers while with the Broncos, it is a weird fit. He's only coached in the South for a short period of time as Arkansas State head coach and as co-OC at Texas. He's also a Boise State alum and an Idaho native. It's quite a difference recruiting up at Boise at one of the Group of Five's best brands versus the unforgiving SEC, especially if Saban sticks around for awhile longer, which I believe he will. Plus, it's fairly obvious that Harsin was not exactly the "first choice" as Auburn openly flirted with names such as Hugh Freeze, Billy Napier and Kevin Steele. I'm not grading any of these hires right now, but this one would not exactly get a good one if I was. Harsin's going to have a tough time transitioning from the Mountain West to the SEC, and while I do understand why Auburn wanted to move on, was he really worth paying over $25 million for (when also factoring in his likely salary)?

Boise State

Out: Bryan Harsin

In: Andy Avalos, Oregon DC

The surprising departure of Harsin to Auburn forced Boise State to hire another alum in Andy Avalos, who has spent the past two seasons as defensive coordinator at Oregon. Avalos was a highly successful linebacker during his time as a player in Boise, leading the team in tackles each year from 2002-2004. In addition to his playing days, he's spent several years in different roles on the Boise State staff, rising from DL Coach to defensive coordinator, a role he held from 2016-2018. Oregon clearly saw something in him to poach him away from his alma mater, and statistically his numbers were very strong in his two seasons in Eugene, despite being crippled by opt-outs this fall. At the very least, Avalos should be able to keep the positive momentum going that has continued at Boise throughout the last two decades. They remain one of Group of Five's premier brands, and should be able to recruit very well. He's also blessed with a stud quarterback to begin his tenure in Hank Bachmeier, who has been an absolute stud when healthy. It's a hire that might not make "waves" in the coaching industry, but it's hard to see it not working out well. 

Illinois Fighting Illini

Out: Lovie Smith

In: Bret Bielema, former Wisconsin HC & NY Giants LB Coach

A late run to the 2019 season saved Lovie Smith's job for one more season, but a 2-5 mark in 2020 eventually sunk him. Lovie was a popular hire for the Illini but he never really acclimated to the college level, forcing the Illini to turn to a familiar name as their next head coach. Bret Bielema returns to the Big Ten, where he put together an impressive run at Wisconsin before moving on to the SEC and Arkansas. Bielema coached in Madison for seven seasons, where he went a combined 68-24 and 37-19 in the conference. Bielema's teams epitomized the Wisconsin brand, power-running teams that played physical defense. However, Illinois is a much different challenge than the one he took one with the Badgers in 2006. Lovie really leaned on the transfer portal in the end of his tenure, which resulted in a loss of depth throughout the roster. The Illini also don't have much football tradition to lean on, although the state is rich with talent. With that being said, the Big Ten West is a division ripe with opportunity for the right guy, and Bielema is a Big Ten guy through and through (played at Iowa). My view on this remains rather simplistic: if this hire was made a decade ago, it would obviously be a killer move for Illinois. But in the year 2020? I think Bielema will elevate the floor in Champaign, but I don't see this move changing the face of the Big Ten West either.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

Out: Matt Viator

In: Terry Bowden, former Auburn & Akron HC

A school of just under 9,000 students in rural Louisiana, UL-Monroe is expectedly far from a football powerhouse but they were at least respectable throughout much of the Matt Viator era, beginning in 2015. Viator was 19-29 in four seasons prior to this 2020 season, when things absolutely fell off the track, as the Warhawks went 0-10. In response, ULM chose to move on from Viator and hired Terry Bowden, who has been coaching in college football at various levels since the 1980s. Bowden first made a real name for himself while at Auburn in the mid-90s where he went 47-17-1, but his most recent stop was at Akron. Akron is an incredibly difficult job to win at but Bowden at least kept the Zips competitive, going 35-52 there. ULM isn't going to expect the 64-year old to come on and build a Sun Belt Title contender instantly, but he has a proven pedigree at program building, at least to a certain point. The program should be good enough to at least compete for bowl games on the regular, even if Bowden probably isn't the long-term solution here.

Marshall Thundering Herd

Out: Doc Holliday

In: Charles Huff, Alabama RB Coach

Of all the FBS jobs to open this off-season, perhaps none was more surprising than at Marshall. John "Doc" Holliday had led the Thundering Herd for over a decade, and the West Virginia native had done a good job. He compiled an overall record of 85-54 and 55-30 inside the Conference USA, winning the East Division three times. With all that success, including a 7-3 record in the 2020 campaign, it's still quite a mystery why Holliday was let go. There are some that point to the program stalling in recent years and the three straight losses to end 2020 weren't reassuring, but the larger factor was likely because power-brokers behind the scenes wanted a fresh start. That fresh start will end up being 37-year old Charles Huff, the former RB coach at Alabama. In some ways, Huff is a surprising hire, considering he has never been a head coach or coordinator at any level of football, and he has only been coaching since 2006. However, Huff's youth might actually be an advantage in the recruiting trail. He has established himself as one of the best recruiters in America, and won the 247Sports Recruiter of the Year for 2020. That, along with his prior experience with Nick Saban, was clearly a major selling point for a Marshall program that clearly wanted to go younger. It will obviously be much more difficult getting recruits to come to Huntington, West Virginia than Alabama, but if Huff can elevate the talent level here and surround himself with the right staff, this has the potential to be extremely successful. Even so, I'm always a little bit wary about handing such a young coach the keys to a football program. It has worked before, but if Huff is successful, it also makes it that much more likely he'd jump at a Power Five opportunity when given the chance.

South Alabama Jaguars

Out: Steve Campbell

In: Kane Wommack, Indiana DC

After two consecutive 10-win campaigns with Central Arkansas, Steve Campbell seemed like a logical move for South Alabama when they hired him in 2018. But, Campbell never was able to acclimate to FBS football and the Jaguars were regular Sun Belt bottom-feeders under his leadership, going a total of 9-26 and 6-18 in the conference. South Alabama next turned to Kane Wommack to be their third head coach since the program formed back in 2008, taking him away from his role as Indiana defensive coordinator. Wommack becomes the youngest head coach in FBS football at just 33, but it's a very promising move for several reasons. First off, Wommack's performance with the Hoosiers speaks for itself, as Indiana's defense was among the best in the nation despite having a roster of two and three-star recruits. Secondly, Wommack has prior experience with the Jaguars, as he was their DC/LB Coach from 2016-17. He also has other Southeast roots, as he played at both Arkansas and Southern Miss. He should be a great fit with South Alabama, a place that is obviously not going to land top-tier in-state talent but should be competitive with other Sun Belt foes. Overall, it's a move with a lot of promise without any obvious downsides at this point.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Out: Will Muschamp

In: Shane Beamer, Oklahoma assistant/TE Coach

The first Power Five job to open up this cycle, South Carolina is a fascinating job. It's a school without a long tradition of winning that plays in the ultra-competitive SEC, but Steve Spurrier proved you could win here. Even Will Muschamp did a decent job in Columbia before the bottom started to fall out the final year and a half. There were a few pretty big names tossed around here, but Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer quickly rose to the forefront. As a South Carolina native who's well-respected in the industry, Beamer received a bunch of support from former players and USC alumni. The fascinating thing is, Beamer has never been a head coach at any level before, and he's never even been a coordinator. Taking the jump to head coach at a major institution in the SEC is a significant one. Now, Beamer does have some talent to work with already on the roster, and he's known as a skilled recruiter. The thing is, Muschamp was a fairly solid recruiter himself and overall, the SEC East has vastly improved in the past half-decade. I certainly think Beamer can succeed here, but I also wouldn't label it a "home run" hire. The SEC has a way of humbling even the most skilled coaches, and South Carolina will be no different.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

Out: Jay Hopson

In: Will Hall, Tulane OC

Southern Miss football over the last decade has been one of significant highs and major lows. Larry Fedora won 12 games in 2011 and parlayed it into the UNC job, while Todd Monken left to the NFL after going 9-5 in 2015. Included in the decade has also been the 1-23 run in '12-'13, as well as the 3-7 mark the team experienced in 2020, that began with Jay Hopson stepping down. Hopson did okay with the Eagles but was mired in mediocrity through most of it. For a program that has big dreams, they were eager to bring on an up-and-comer in Will Hall, previously the Tulane offensive coordinator. Hall has been a riser through the Southeast as both an assistant and head coach, with previous HC stops at West Georgia and West Alabama, where he put up good records. Since 2017, he's been making the rounds at some of the better Group of Five programs in the nation, and he did a really job under Willie Fritz with Tulane. Technically, he has not coached at the D-I level yet, but he appears to be well worth the risk at 40 years old. Hall will also provide valuable continuity to a program that had two interim head coaches after Hopson left. His creative offense will be a breath of fresh air for a program that had gone a little stale under Hopson.

Tennessee Volunteers

Out: Jeremy Pruitt

In: Josh Heupel, UCF HC

Entering 2020, Tennessee was riding a significant wave of momentum. They ended 2019 on a six-game win streak that included a comeback victory over Indiana in the bowl game and they also appeared to be making waves on the recruiting trail. Just a few months later, things have flipped in the complete wrong direction for the program. The Volunteers limped to a disappointing 3-7 record on the season and then reports came out that Jeremy Pruitt and the coaching staff had engaged in serious recruiting violations that could haunt the program for years to come. Tennessee decided to start anew, as Pruitt was fired an AD Phil Fulmer stepped down. In his place stepped in former UCF AD Danny White, whose first football hire in Knoxville is a guy he's very familiar with: former UCF head coach Josh Heupel. Heupel and White have a great relationship from their time in Orlando and Heupel has never shied away from the big stage. That doesn't mean that there aren't questions about this hire, however. Heupel's first head coaching gig was at UCF and while 28-8 isn't anything to scoff at, the program appeared to be slipping down the American Athletic totem pole. In addition, Heupel has never coached at an environment quite like Knoxville, a pressure cooker where fans can turn on you in an instant. With that being said, his explosive offenses should endear fans to him right away as compared to what Pruitt did early on, and he is believed to be a fairly strong recruiter. I'm not sure whether it will work out when you consider all the sanctions likely to hit the program in the coming years, but I know that it will never be boring at UT.

Texas Longhorns

Out: Tom Herman

In: Steve Sarkisian, Alabama OC

Texas head coach Tom Herman entered 2020 on a hot seat and while his 7-3 record wasn't overly encouraging, the expectation was that he was going to get another year to show his worth. The program even seemed to have some momentum, fresh off a dominant Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado and with intriguing young talent, namely tailback Bijan Robinson. But, a place like Texas expects more than Alamo Bowl wins and they saw an opportunity to snag a coach quickly moving up the ranks, in 2020 Broyles Award winner Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian has a complicated past; he did a really good job building up the Washington program prior to Chris Petersen's arrival in Seattle and got a chance at the USC job. Sarkisian was the first Trojan HC to get a crack at the job without the NCAA sanctions that had crippled Lane Kiffin. After winning nine games in Year One, off-the-field problems that involved problems with alcohol eventually led to Sarkisian's dismissal in 2015. By all accounts, Sark has moved on with his life and career, and there is no denying he has done an excellent job the past two seasons as Alabama offensive coordinator. There's no question that Sarkisian is a tremendous offensive mind going all the way back to his days as USC offensive coordinator, but Texas is possibly the toughest job in college football. Not only are the on-field expectations insane, but dealing with boosters and recruiting the state is a different animal altogether. Of course, with all that does come endless resources to build a winner in the most talent-rich state in America. I remain split on whether I think this is going to work out; Sarkisian's career coaching record of 47-35 doesn't exactly jump off the page at you, but he is known as a skilled recruiter and talented coach. I will say, it still feels like a hefty price to pay, no matter who they were getting to replace Herman. Herman will make $15 million on his own buyout, and it will cost roughly $24 million to buy out the rest of this coaching staff. I understand this is Texas, but all that for a guy who has gone 32-18 overall and whose three losses in 2020 were by a combined 13 points? 

UCF Knights

Out: Josh Heupel

In: Gus Malzahn, former Auburn HC

With both White and Heupel moving onto the SEC, UCF could go nearly anywhere to land their next head coach. While plenty of names were rumored, in the end it looks like it will be Gus Malzahn leading the new era of Knight football. Malzahn's coaching career has been really fascinating to watch; he made a name for himself coaching high school football in Arkansas before eventually moving up and leading Auburn as OC on the 2010 National Championship team. After a brief stint at Arkansas State, he returned to the Plains, where he coached for eight years. While his time with the Tigers was far from perfect, he did make a National Championship Game and also beat Nick Saban and Alabama three times. There's not many coaches anywhere in the nation that can claim that, let alone any in the Group of Five. The good news for Gus is that he enters a really favorable situation with UCF. The roster is still loaded with talent and already has a star QB in Dillon Gabriel ready to lead the show, and they're located in a talent-rich area. I absolutely love this hire, and I think it's the perfect move for a football program looking to keep itself near the top of the Group of Five.

Utah State Aggies

Out: Gary Andersen

In: Blake Anderson, Arkansas State HC

Gary Andersen's return to Utah State was supposed to be the hire that would once again stabilize the football program after Matt Wells went south to Texas Tech. Andersen had gone 26-24 in his first stint in Logan and parlayed it into the Wisconsin gig, a job he held for two seasons before a return to the West Coast at Oregon State. After less than two seasons back with the Aggies, it became clear that Andersen was not the right answer at the time. After a decent 7-6 2019, the team started off 0-3 in 2020 and the school and Andersen opted to part ways. It's another curious case of a program deciding to move on despite not terrible results, but likely has to do with Andersen and his commitment to being a head coach. Following his departure, Utah State replaced Andersen with an Anderson, plucking Blake Anderson from Arkansas State. It's certainly no surprise to see Anderson eventually leave Jonesboro, but the fit is interesting. Is Utah State really an upgrade over Arkansas State? Both are solid Group of Five gigs that could eventually set up a Power Five job, but the Aggies are definitely not a traditional power or school with unbelievable resources. Whatever the reason, Anderson should bring a fresh energy back into the program, and his track record speaks for itself. While Arkansas State had a down 2020, Anderson still went 51-37 overall there and won a pair of conference titles. Geographically, Utah State is a different fit but he does have some experience in the Mountain West, previously coaching at New Mexico.

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.