Which new head coach in college football is best set-up for success
It was an offseason full of coaching changes for head coaches in college football, 30 to be exact. So, I had to ask college football junkie Trevor King (@TrevorKingWV on twitter) to help me rank those 30 hires. We didn’t rank them necessarily on what hire was the best. Rather, we wanted to see what coaches were set up to succeed. There were a few factors that go into that. Obviously, how good the team currently is was one factor. But, it went deeper than that. What are the program expectations and resources? How patient or impatient are the fans? Are they moving to a different conference or is their schedule situation favorable?
Success means different things at different schools, too. Success at Akron may be making a bowl game every other year. Success at USC is being a powerhouse. That was taken into consideration as well.
Note: List was compiled before Week 0
Lincoln Riley, USC
Riley has a great situation all around. He walks into a talented team, as fertile a recruiting base as any in the country, and a place that seems committed to winning again. Yes, he will move to the Big Ten in two years, but he gets two years in the piss-poor PAC 12 South and that should be enough time to get it rolling. USC gave Clay Helton a leash much longer than he deserved, so Riley should have plenty of time to get USC back to the top of College Football.
Mario Cristobal, Miami (FL)
It’s the perfect spot for Cristobal, as he walks into a program with low expectations, recruiting grounds as fertile as ever, a terrible ACC coastal and the big three in Florida collectively at their lowest point in maybe forty years. Cristobal is set up to be the coach at Miami for a long time.
Jay Norvell, Colorado State
From Colorado State’s perspective, stealing Norvell from conference rival Nevada was an absolute coup. Norvell has proven he can win the Mountain West and had four straight winning seasons at Nevada. Colorado State is a more attractive place to recruit to and the Ram faithful will be patient after the bad football they’ve had to endure lately. Norvell will turn the Rams into an upper-echelon Mountain West team
Brian Kelly, LSU
Yes, there are potential culture fit issues and he enters the toughest division in the sport, but this ranking boils down to one thing. Even Les Miles and Ed Orgeron won national titles here, and those guys aren’t anywhere close to the coach Brian Kelly is.
Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame
Freeman gets one of the marquee jobs in the sport and inherits a Notre Dame program that is as strong as it has been in nearly 40 years. Notre Dame is famously patient and he will get a long leash. Based on the way he’s recruiting, he won’t need that leash.
Joe Moorhead, Akron
Akron has been one of the worst teams in America the last few years, and I have no clue how they got Joe Moorhead. Moorhead is an elite offensive mind with the recruiting ties in that area to succeed. Moorhead was not a culture fit at Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs weren’t terrible under him and this is a hire way out of Akron’s ballpark. Expect Akron competing at the top of the MAC sooner than later.
Dan Lanning, Oregon
Lanning just helped guide arguably the best defense in college football history at Georgia last season, and he walks into a team that has significantly more talent than any team in its conference but one. Oregon is going to spend the money to be successful, too. Hard to see Lanning failing here.
Jon Vincent, UAB
It’s hard to believe that UAB decided to fold their program not long ago. Bill Clark saved it and built something and just handed it off to Vincent. UAB brings back 14 starters and has a chance to win Conference USA this year, and Clark laid the building blocks and long-term donor support for long-lasting success.
Kalen DeBoer, Washington
It’s not the flashy hire that programs of Washington’s stature or better made, but DeBoer walks into a place that has much more talent and better recruiting success than their opponents, with expectations lowered after the disastrous Jimmy Lake tenure. No reason that Washington can’t be back near the top of the PAC 12 starting this year.
Michael Desourmeuox, ULL
Desourmeoux inherits the Sun Belt’s best program from Billy Napier and there’s no reason why that can’t continue. They have better facilities and recruiting grounds than most of their conference competitors, and Napier handed him a team that could win the Sun Belt this year.
Joey Mcguire, Texas Tech
McGuire is a high school coaching legend in Texas, and those recruiting ties and high energy should play well at Texas Tech. Expectations here aren’t much more than getting to bowl games, and with Texas and Oklahoma leaving, McGuire could help Texas Tech find its way to the top of the Big 12.
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
Tedford is back for his second stint at Fresno State and returns to an area he knows well. Kalen DeBoer left the cupboard stocked with 15 starters in a very fertile recruiting area, and to help ease him into his first year he convinced one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Jake Haener to return to Fresno State after he strongly considered transferring.
Brent Pry, Virginia Tech
There is serious work to do for Pry, the former Penn State defensive coordinator and longtime James Franklin assistant, to do. But, there’s no reason he can’t get it done at Virginia Tech. Pry can recruit and brought a staff of recruiters with him to pound the talent-rich DMV. You know his defenses are going to be good, but he can get a consistent offense going in Blacksburg, something they haven’t had since Tyrod Taylor was under center?
Sonny Dykes, TCU
It seems like a great culture fit for Sonny Dykes, who seemed out of his element at Cal but very much in it at TCU. He moves crosstown to a program that has shown it can compete for Big 12 titles and even college football playoff berths. But, Gary Patterson is a surefire hall of famer and he couldn’t get it going at the end of his TCU tenure. Are we sure Sonny Dykes is better than Patterson?
Sonny Combie, Louisiana Tech
Combie replaces Skip Holtz at Texas Tech, and Holtz showed you could be successful there. Combie is known as a great offensive mind using the Air Raid, and he brings back 14 starters to make it work right off the bat coupled with fertile recruiting ground.
Jon Sumrall, Troy
Sumrall inherits a program that has shown it can win like it did under Neal Brown. Even under the now-fired Chip Lindsey, their worst season was 5-7. Sumrall inherits a team with 18 starters returning and could hit the ground running in the Sun Belt, with a chance to possibly win their division.
Mike Macyntire, FIU
Macyntire had Colorado on the brink of a conference title before his quarterback got hurt in the championship game. FIU has struggled to get it going under a multitude of coaches, but I think they know now they have to be patient, and given time, I think Macyntire may be able to get them bowl-eligible.
Rhett Lashlee, SMU
The Gus Malzahn protege seems like a good fit on paper at SMU, and he shouldn’t struggle to maintain their recruiting. But, the fact they got passed up for this round of conference realignment while Houston didn’t moves them down another rung on the totem pole in the state of Texas, and it’s not hard to see this program fading back into mediocrity.
New Mexico State. Jerry Kill
New Mexico State is one of the most impossible places to win at, but Jerry Kill is a coach that is proven levels above what the Aggies could expect. Yes, Kill has battled health problems, but he excelled at Minnesota and expectations are so low at New Mexico State. A bowl game every few years will keep his seat nice and cool and will be seen as a success.
Tony Elliot, Virginia
UVA is an interesting spot. Bronco Mendenhall did get them to bowl-eligible five years in a row, and Elliot will inherit his foundation. But, the brass at UVA just doesn’t care about football enough at a time when other programs are caring more and more about it. It’s fertile recruiting ground, but better places to play than UVA that are close by.
Jake Dickert, Washington State
Dickert inherited a near-impossible situation last year when Nick Rolovich was fired for not taking the COVID vaccine. Dickert did keep it together and got the Cougars to a bowl game. But, it’s such a tough job to win at and Washington State is an absolute afterthought in realignment, making recruiting there even tougher.
Billy Napier, Florida
The first real shock to many on this list, Napier has a lot of resources at Florida in terms of fan support, talent base and NIL but runs up against some steep headwinds as well. When Florida was struggling recruiting earlier this summer, Gator fans were already turning on him, and having to play in the SEC with LSU as a permanent crossover and Florida State as a permanent rivalry means the schedule is brutal every year for a Florida program that hasn’t quite gotten it right since Urban Meyer left.
Mike Elko, Duke
Another place that is tough to win at, Elko replaces David Cutcliffe, who actually got Duke to the ACC title game at one point. But, it’s so hard to recruit there given the bad facilities and academic requirements that apply to every program at Duke but basketball. The silver lining is that expectations are very low, and just making a bowl game half the time will keep Elko employed.
Ken Wilson, Nevada
Yes, you can win at Nevada. Jay Norvell and Chris Ault proved that. But, Norvell left him with only six returning starters in an increasingly competitive Mountain West. Wilson has no head coach experience and while you can win at Nevada, you can lose there too. I think it’s a real uphill battle for Ken Wilson.
Stan Drayton, Temple
A program that was a doormat for so long gained respectability through the tenures of Al Golden, Matt Rhule and Geoff Collins. Rod Carey ruined all of that goodwill in a hurry, and Temple football has lost a lot of momentum after they could not get a deal to get their own stadium built in Philadelphia. The recruiting ground is decent, but it never seems to want to stay home and while I like Drayton as a coach, I don’t like him in this situation.
Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Probably the headline entry, but I feel strongly that Venables is set up to fail at Oklahoma. They’ll do fine in the Big 12, but the move to the SEC, and possibly the SEC West is looming. It’s a guy who has relied on his fiery personality as a defensive coordinator and has familiarity with Oklahoma’s program, but I think his schtick will wear quickly on players and recruits alike. There won’t be a long leash, either, because Oklahoma knows they cannot fall behind their SEC rivals and they’ll be flush with cash to make sure that does not happen.
Jim Mora, Connecticut
This is no knock on Jim Mora, whose resume is as good as UCONN could’ve asked for from a new coach. But, UConn is just so hard to win at. Connecticut produces more talent than you’d maybe think, but anyone that is even a regional recruit gets snatched up by Penn State and others. He inherits basically nothing from Randy Edsall. The leash should be long, though.
Clay Helton, Georgia Southern
This was the most puzzling hire of the entire carousel for me. Georgia Southern has legitimate football history, and it’s all from running option offenses. In comes Clay Helton, a guy who, despite given many more years than he deserved, couldn’t get it going at USC, and is going to come into Georgia Southern running an entirely new offensive scheme. Let me emphasize, Clay Helton can’t coach, Georgia Southern football is option football, and this will turn out terribly.
Don Brown, UMass
Don Brown has had quite a career in football. He’s one of the better defensive minds in all of football, too. But this is basically a copy and paste from Jim Mora’s entry. It’s too hard to win at UMASS, I don’t see Brown lighting it up on the recruiting trail, and it’s hard to see any path to success. Expectations are, of course, low.
Timmy Chang, Hawaii
Poor Timmy Chang. Chang was a late-night hero for many of us who fell in love with college football in the early 2000s. He returns to his alma mater and he gets a team that was completely destroyed from within by Todd Graham. It’s basically a death penalty situation at Hawaii who will play their home games at a facility that may not be as nice as the one I used to play intramural football at Penn State is. It’s hard enough to recruit to Hawaii as it is, and the reputation of the program on the island needs a full reboot. Sadly, it will be after Timmy Chang is gone when Hawaii recovers from Graham’s behavior.