The end of the college football season brings two certainties: sadness and coaching changes. At the end of each season, and sometimes even before the season actually finishes, some programs part ways with a coach and set their sights on bigger and better things. This move can cause mixed emotions from the fans over the uncertainty but ultimately can get them excited about the future. There were multiple interesting coaching changes and some huge names were hired to run prestigious programs. The coaching searches were crazier and more entertaining than ever (looking at you Tennessee) and it caused all college football fans to start their countdowns to August 2018. There were several coaches who returned home to their alma maters, some who signed big contracts, and a former NFL coach who has not coached since 2008. Here is my take on the major 15 new college football coaches and their rank based on fit, excitement, and potential.
15. SMU – Sonny Dykes
Sonny Dykes takes over the SMU football program as Chad Morris left for Arkansas. Dykes takes over a team who finished 16th in total offense in FBS, but finished 122nd in total defense. Dykes, who served as an offensive analyst for TCU in 2017, has 7 years of head coaching experience. He went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech and 19-30 at Cal. There is no doubt that with a talented offense, Dykes will be able to move the ball, but will he be able to stop anyone?
14. Ole Miss – Matt Luke
After Hugh Freeze was forced to resign, Ole Miss named Matt Luke their interim head coach. After going 6-6 in 2017, Ole Miss, to the surprise of many, named Luke their permanent head coach. With the NCAA probations hanging over the program, maybe it is best to keep Matt Luke, who is a proud Ole Miss alum, around. However, I don’t believe he is the long-term answer this program needs to compete in the SEC.
13. Arizona State – Herm Edwards
Herm Edwards may be the most surprising hire of any football team this offseason. After coaching in the NFL from 1990-2008, the last 7 being as a head coach, Edwards became an ESPN analyst. He is known for his motivating personality and great football insight. Now if this list was ranking the coaches who could motivate you the most, Herm Edwards would be on the top of the list. But it’s 2017, and Edwards hasn’t coached college football since serving as the DB’s coach at San Jose State from 1987-1989. It will be very interesting to see how Edwards does in year 1.
12. Oregon State – Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith gets to come back and coach the Beavers after serving as the offensive coordinator at Washington the past 4 years. He comes from the Chris Peterson coaching tree, both at Washington and Boise State. Oregon State, 1-11 in 2017, is in need of a boost of pride and power. Smith was a 4-year starter at Oregon State from 1998-2001. It will take some time to tell if Smith is the answer to the Beavers’ problems.
11. Oregon – Mario Cristobal
Hiring someone from the Nick Saban coaching tree is always a safe bet. Cristobal served as Alabama’s OL coach and recruiting director, helping them achieve the #1 ranked recruiting class every year he was there. He also coached some of the best offensive linemen in the country. In 2017, he became Oregon’s Co-offensive coordinator under Willie Taggart. Cristobal does have head coaching experience, leading Florida International to a 27-48 record from 2007-2012. He was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2010.
10. Central Florida – Josh Heupel
Not many times in college football coach can you be hired to take over a team that went 13-0 the previous season, but that’s what is happening to Josh Heupel. Heupel was the runner-up for the Heisman trophy and led Oklahoma to a National Championship during his playing days. The last two seasons, he has led the Missouri offense to new heights, finishing 11th in the FBS in total offense. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock passed for 43 touchdowns in 2017 under Heupel’s leadership, which set the SEC record for touchdown passes in a season. With a talented roster coming back to UCF, expect Heupel to have success and get a Power 5 job within a few years.
9. Mississippi State – Joe Moorhead
Joe Moorhead’s head coaching experience comes from his 4 years at Fordham, where he went 38-13. In 2016, he took over the offense for Penn State and helped Saquon Barkley become one of the most dynamic players in the country. His offensive system allowed Penn State to have a surge in yards and points, and helped the Nittany Lions start to move forward from some dark years. Moorhead has a very talented quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, who can give defenses fits with his arm and legs. If Fitzgerald can get healthy and learn system, the Bulldogs offense could be scary.
8. Arkansas – Chad Morris
Chad Morris can be described in one word: fast. You can tell by the way he talks and by the way he runs his offense. Morris takes over an Arkansas program that saw flashes of success under Bret Bielema, but no consistency whatsoever. Chad Morris is credited with recruiting Deshaun Watson to Clemson and giving the Tigers offense the burst it needed to become the successful program it is today. In 2015, Morris took over a SMU program at the bottom of the list when it came to offensive production, and in just 3 years, made them one of the top offenses in the country. It may take a year or two to get his system to work with his players, but Morris has what it takes to revamp the Hogs.
7. Tennessee – Jeremy Pruitt
After one of the craziest coaching searches in recent memory, Tennessee finally got their man in Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt coached at Alabama from 2007-2012, helping out on the defensive side of the ball. After stops at Florida State and Georgia, he returned to Alabama as the defensive coordinator after Kirby Smart went to Georgia. Pruitt led the typical Alabama defense that was incredibly talented and helped the Tide win the 2018 National Championship. Pruitt comes from coaching under some great head coaches, and should bring some toughness back to Rocky Top.
6. Arizona – Kevin Sumlin
Some wonder if Kevin Sumlin’s two great years at A&M were due mostly to a guy named Johnny Football. But however you look at it, Sumlin was continually getting highly-ranked recruiting classes to come to College Station. He was the head coach of Houston from 2008-2011 before coming to the SEC. He won SEC Coach of the Year in 2012. In more recent years, he was criticized for starting out great, but falling flat late in the season. Bottom line, Arizona got a good football coach who will be able to recruit well. Can he get the Wildcat program back where they want to be?
5. Florida State – Willie Taggert
Willie Taggart became a hot commodity in the coaching world when he led South Florida to a 10-2 record in 2016, after taking over the program that went 3-9 in 2012. Taggart was instrumental in making the changes needed to the staff and scheme to turn the program around. Oregon hired Taggart in 2017, where he led the Ducks to a 7-5 record. Many people thought Taggart had what it takes to get the Ducks back on top, but he quickly left this offseason to go back to the state of Florida. Injuries caused the Seminoles to struggle in 2017, but with Taggart’s recruiting ability and leadership, the Seminoles should be back at the top in no time.
4. Florida – Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen has been able to groom some of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory. Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Chris Leak, and Dak Prescott all come from under Mullen’s wing. Of course, Dan Mullen was under Urban Meyer’s wing at Utah and Florida, but Mullen proved he could do it on his own at Mississippi State. With the lack of resources available at Mississippi State compared to other SEC schools, many thought that Mullen was the 2nd or 3rd best coach in the conference, leading the Bulldogs to 8 straight bowls, including a 10 win season in 2014. Some thought Dan would stick it out in Starkville, but the offer was too sweet, as he returns to Gainesville to give the Gators the offense they so desperately need.
3. Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher
Jimbo Fisher is one of only four active coaches in college football with a National Championship, which is absolutely nuts. Having lead the Florida State Seminoles to many years of success, including the 2013 National title, Fisher thought he’d never leave. But something changed in his heart, calling the move to A&M a ‘no-brainer’. Maybe it was the Texas recruiting. Maybe it was the $75 million contract. Who knows, but Jimbo Fisher is built to have great success in College Station. Can he finally beat his former boss Nick Saban?
2. UCLA – Chip Kelly
Chip Kelly is back in college football! This could be the most exciting move of the college football offseason. Many thought Kelly was bound for Florida, but once UCLA fired Jim Mora, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Chip Kelly has obvious success in the Pac-12, leading Oregon to two National title games. When he gets his guys into the program, look out, because UCLA could become a powerful program nationally. With his offensive power and recruiting skills on the west coast, Kelly has the Bruins poised to make a comeback.
1. Nebraska – Scott Frost
Scott Frost to Nebraska was the best coaching hire in 2018. Having taking over a Central Florida program that was 0-12 in 2015, and leading them to become 13-0 in 2017, Scott Frost was arguably one of the best coaches in the country this past season. Scott Frost takes over a Nebraska program that hasn’t be able to build much consistency in recent years, but that should change now. Scott Frost brings recruiting and great coaching to Lincoln. Having helped Marcus Mariota win the Heisman at Oregon, he was labeled one of the brightest young minds in the game. He quickly proved that at Central Florida. College football needs Nebraska to return to its glory days of being a power program. With Frost leading the way, they just might do it.