2019 New Coaches
By Joe Gavazzi Winning Sports Advice
There are now 130 teams on the weekly betting line in CFB action. It seems that every year there is an increasing number of new coaches. In an era of huge contract prices for a CFB coach, there is increasing pressure on these coaches to improve their new team immediately. Just like in the business world, the investors wish to see a return on their investment. As a result, more and more coaches find themselves “on the hot seat” or, even worse, “walking the plank” each season.
This year, there are 25 new coaches among the 130 teams. That is 19%, or roughly 1 in every 5 jobs that has turned over. Along with the new coaches, it is highly probable that the important positions of Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator are new men as well.
The purpose of this article is to grade each TEAM on their new hire in terms of the way in which the new coach will improve the program this year as well as in the near future. The programs are graded on a traditional A, B, C, and D grade from, what is in my opinion, the best to the worst hires.
Last year, my A and B coaches had a record of 73-64 SU in their first season, while the C and D coaches had a combined record of just 38-75 SU.
Grade A – Jim McElwain – Central Michigan (1-11 SU, 4-7 ATS LY)
Gone is the feel good story of 4 year C. Mich HC Bonamego who overcame cancer to successfully guide the Chips to an 8-5 SU season in 2017 including 6-2 SU, ATS in MAC play. But the bottom fell out big time of the offense last year when they averaged just 15/259 dragging them down to a 1-11 SU mark. Make way for HC McElwain who has success at prior stops where he was Conference Coach of the Year in 2014 at Colorado State and 2015 at Florida. He has also had success working at other stops such as Oakland Raiders, Alabama, Michigan State and Louisville. But when the bottom fell out of a 4-7 SU, 3-8 ATS season at Florida, after 2 preceding years of success, McElwain was quickly shown the door. He now takes a step down to resurface at C. Mich where he will once again look to prove himself and get his coaching career back on track. One of his first moves was to recruit former Tennessee/Houston QB Dormady to follow him to C. Mich. With Dormady’s pedigree and McElwain’s successful experience on the offensive side of the ball, there is little doubt that the Chips offense will be one of the most improved in the Nation. It doesn’t help that 4 members of the OL return intact along with a veteran group of RBs. Working with veteran OC Charlie Fry, who had a short lived NFL career, further validates the process and improvement. Defensively, improvement may not be as obvious as just 3 starters return and lost 4 first team, All Conference players. Veteran DC Rob Akey certainly will have his work cut out for him. Lots of upside for the Chips this season and the years ahead until McElwain gets an offer to return to the Big Time.
Grade A – Scott Satterfield – Louisville (2-10 SU, 1-10 ATS LY)
Were it not for Heisman QB Lamar Jackson, would former Louisville HC Petrino have made it through 5 seasons at Louisville? That’s actually a record stay for Petrino whose bad decisions in life normally cost him his job prior to 5 seasons. But when the bottom fell out, it really did for a Cardinals team who went from 8 to 2 wins last year and a just 1-10 ATS record. The defense dipped 18 points and the offense 17 points with yardage differentials commensurate with the decline. This season, the Cards welcome Scott Satterfield who was building a fortress in Boone, NC for Appalachian State. In fact, since the Mountaineers joined the Sun Belt, the team was 41-11 SU including 22-4 SU in Belt play. Problem with an immediate turnaround to the plus side of .500 is that Satterfield must accumulate the pieces for his preferred run game vis-a-vis the Petrino passing emphasis. Experience has shown however, that it is clearly easier to transition from pass to run rather than vice versa. Some may see a benefit to 17 returning starters, but you know the feeling of this bureau about veteran teams coming off a poor record. It is a defense, however, that is of greater concern for Satterfield. That 44 point allowance was a result of a “200 Club” defense that allowed 277/6.0 overland. Note that beginning with the October 5th game against Georgia Tech last year, that the Cards allowed 66, 38, 56, 77, 54, 52, 56, good for a 0-7 SU, ATS finish. Can you say “Toss the Towel”. The line simply could never catch up. In charge of turning things around for Satterfield is DC Brown who has joined Satterfield from App State. Needless to say, all defensive positions are up for grabs. A Labor Day night contest in which Louisville hosts Notre Dame may send a clear message to all of us as to what type of a season it is going to be for the Cardinals. Note, however, that Satterfield enters on a 14-3 ATS run from App State and is widely consider one of the up and coming coaches in the Nation.
Grade A – Manny Diaz – Miami (Florida) (7-6 SU, 4-8 ATS LY)
Though this bureau is not privy to the details behind the sudden retirement of long time college coach, and 3 year head man at his alma mater, it appears that the 35-3 embarrassing loss to Wisconsin in last year’s Bowl Game was enough to tip the scales toward retirement for former Hurricane HC Mark Richt. That set the stage for former Miami DC Diaz, who had already accepted the job at Temple, to return to Miami to assume the reins. After all, no one could really blame Diaz for the Hurricanes 7-6 SU, 4-8 ATS debacle of last season. His Canes defense allowed just 19 PPG on 279 YPG. Though some may blame the “ turnover chain craze”, it really came down to lack of offense as the stodgy outdated schemes of Richt resulted in just 167 PYPG last season. Neither QB Rosier or Perry could produce. Enter new OC Dan Enos, most recently a QB coach at Alabama. Furthering the offensive transformation could be QB Martel, the Ohio State transfer who is immediately eligible. In short, the offensive transformation of Miami will most likely be linked to their resurrection, for there is little doubt that the Diaz defense will continue to be among the best in the country. In any case, we get a good read on Miami on August 24th in their Primetime meeting on National TV against in-state rival Florida. This bureau considers Diaz to be a distinct upgrade over Richt who appeared to be hanging on despite being passed his expiration date. Strong possibilities there are very good things to come for an underrated Miami team who was just 9-15 ATS the previous 2 seasons.
Grade B – Eliah Drinkwitz – Appalachian State (11-2 SU, 8-3 ATS LY)
New HC Eliah Drinkwitz has big shoes to fill in replacing former App State HC Satterfield who “took the money” and bolted to Louisville. All Satterfield did in his 7 years at Boone, North Carolina was to dominate the Sun Belt with a recent 4 year record of 29-4 SU. Last year’s 8-1 SU mark was part of an overall 11-2 SU, 8-3 ATS season by the Mountaineers which culminated with a 45-13 victory vs. Mid Tenn. It was the 4th consecutive Bowl victory for App State since they came on the Big Board. Though the Mountaineers have been known for explosive offense, averaging 34 PPG and 441 YPG in 4 seasons of Sun Belt play, it is an underappreciated defense (15/289LY) that has been just as important. THE CUPBOARD IS FAR FROM BARE for Drinkwitz. Satterfield left 16 RS and a Top 10 experienced team. That includes 10 on offense led by QB Thomas (21/6), RB Evans (6.6 YPR), and 7/8 top receivers. With an OL that has 4 returning, Drinkwitz, the former highly successful OC at Boise State and NC State, should have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard once again. Defensively, veteran DC Roof will lead a group that allowed just 18 PPG L4Y. With a manageable non-Con slate (only a trip to the Tarheels could be a stumbling block), look for it to be a highly successful opening year for Drinkwitz whose team figures to be favored in 11/12 contests and is the odds on favorite to repeat as SBC Champ. The greater question is how Drinkwitz performs in the years ahead.
Grade B – Mike Houston – East Carolina (3-9 SU, 4-8 ATS LY)
A change was long overdue in Greenville where, in 3 years under Scotty Montgomery, ECU went 3-9 SU for 3 consecutive seasons with a pointspread mark of 9-24 ATS. Ouch! A mediocre offensive averaged 25 PPG but was pulled down by a stop unit that, in those 3 seasons, allowed 39 PPG. The fact they have 14 RS, return over 70% of their lettermen, and bring back Top 50 experience is not necessarily a positive with those numbers. Welcome new HC Houston who had great success up the road at James Madison where he recorded an 80-25 SU mark, 6 Conference Crowns in 8 years, back-to-back Championship Game appearances, and the FCS National Title in 2016. At the helm of a program that has nowhere to go but up, I like coaches who are proven winners at a lower level to successfully transition when asked to step up in class. No surprise if Houston has the Pirates moving to the winning side of the ledger in the next 2 or 3 seasons.
Grade B – Dana Holgersen – Houston (8-5 SU, 5-7 ATS LY)
The Applewhite era at Houston was largely a bust. The Cougs were coming off 2 years of a combined 22-5 SU seasons under Tom Herman. Applewhite inherited plenty of fire power from the Herman era and translated that for 44/512 last year. That was expected as his roots run deep on the offensive side of the ball. Yet the Cougs recorded 5 wins in each of Applewhite’s seasons with one being able to directly point the finger at the defensive side of the ball where they allowed 37/496 last year. Knowing to leave when the gettin’ is good, new HC Holgersen leaves behind a West Virginia team with only 10 RS and Bottom 10 experience. In returning to his Houston roots, where he was OC in 2008/09, he will gladly pocket the $20 mill for 5. He also shows up at the right place at the right time inheriting 7 starters from the explosive attack that averaged 44/512 as a “200 Club” member. That includes QB King, the Top 3 receivers, and a deep corps of running backs to implement Holgersen’s uptempo air raid attack in which he will call the plays. Greater problems are the defensive side of the ball which will hopefully be improved under the tutelage of new DC Joe Cauthen who will implement the aggressive style of defense he used at Arkansas State. Bottom line conclusion of this bureau is that although Holgersen has experience as a head coach, is he really much of an upgrade over Applewhite who reached his Peter Principle when asked to step up and run a program.
Grade B – Chris Klieman – Kansas State (5-7 SU, 7-4 ATS LY)
Replacing a legend is never easy. That is the task entrusted to new Wildcats mentor Chris Klieman as his Wildcats take the field in a stadium that is named for departing hero, former HC Bill Snyder. It says it all that the job Snyder did in twice restoring K State football fortunes resulted in his being inducted into the Hall of Fame while still an active coach. To put his success in Manhattan in perspective, know that his teams recorded the Top 16 winning seasons in school history. Enter Chris Klieman who has climbed mountains of his own. His teams at North Dakota State recently won 3 FCC Titles over the past 5 seasons. He is also fortunate that Snyder left the cupboard far from bare with a Top 25 experienced team that has 8 returning starters on each side of the ball, including veteran lines. Aware of the decline in the Wildcats offensive fortunes last season, which saw them score just 22 PPG on 345 YPG, Klieman’s first move was to focus on the offense in the spring. At ND State, Klieman was known for controlling the football overland. Toward that end, OC Messingham came along for the ride to Manhattan. Understanding the power run game may not succeed as well against BIG 12 defenses, expect the offense to take advantage of returning QB Thompson who proved to be a dual threat last season. His new DC is Scottie Hazelton who has worked with Klieman since their days on the staff together under former ND State HC Bohl, now the head man at Wyoming. It is a big leap from the FCC to the BIG 12 and replacing a legend is never easy. But with a strong bent toward the fundamentals of running game and defense, expect Klieman to have the Wildcats immediately competitive and successful during his tenure in Manhattan. For our purposes, let’s hope this fundamental approach replicates the outstanding underdog record that former HC Snyder crafted during his years at Kansas State.
Grade B – Jake Spavital – Texas State (3-9 SU, 6-6 ATS LY)
The football fortunes of the Texas State Bobcats (Sun Belt West) have been of modest proportions. In 3 years under former HC Withers, the Bobcats were 7-29 SU including just 2-22 SU in the Sun Belt. Their 3 year offensive average was just 19 PPG and 324 YPG. With 19 returning starters, it looks like there is nowhere to go but up for one of the most experienced teams on the CFB landscape. Remember, however, that experience is not always a positive with players who have recorded such a modest record. Enter new HC Jake Spavital hired to transfer his successful offensive experience to San Marcos. This renowned QB whisperer has coached 7 NFL QBs as well as served on the offensive staffs at Power 5 teams WVU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Houston and Tulsa. It will all begin with new OC Bob Still who will bring his Juco transfer Gresch Jensen from Montana where they had two highly successful seasons together. Improvement in the defense would be less of a surprise as the Bobcats return nearly their entire stop unit that has improved from 41 to 28 points allowed in the 3 recent seasons under former HC Withers. Might we have a “Hidden Gem” in Texas State this season.
Grade B – Matt Wells – Texas Tech (5-6 SU, 5-6 ATS LY)
Not in the 40 years that I have been doing this! I’m talking about the magic trick that former TTRR Kliff Kingsbury pulled when he parlayed 3 consecutive losing seasons in Lubbock into the head coaching job of the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. That makes way for Matt Wells who performed some magic of his own. After going 15-23 SU, 12-23 ATS, the pieces all fell into place for Wells at Utah State last year with a Top 25 experienced team. The 11-2 SU, 9-3 ATS mark was punctuated by a 52-13 Bowl win over North Texas. Clearly, the admin in Lubbock was watching. The 47 PPG scored by Utah State (10 more than purported offensive guru Kingsbury squeezed out of the Red Raiders last year) was enough to clinch the hire. He brings with him OC Yost who will not be changing much from the Red Raiders traditional spread offense. An experienced offense, returning a pair of QBs in Bowman and Duffy, a pair of RBs in Ward and Henry, and 4 RS on the OL will ease the transition for another high scoring season by TTRR. DC Patterson, also transitioning with Wells from Utah State, is known for his attacking defense that forced 32 turnovers last year for his Logan stop unit. Under Kingsbury, the Raiders had consistently allowed more than 30 PPG. That however, was in no small part because the fast paced dictated by the offense often left them breathless when quickly returning to the field. It all adds up to HC Wells inheriting another Top 25 experienced team such as his Aggies of last year. As such, it is no surprise to this bureau that the Red Raiders return to the winning side of the ledger in what I believe is a most positive hire for the Lubbock faithful.
Grade B – Chip Lindsey – Troy (10-3 SU, 9-3 ATS LY)
Much like their perennial SBC rival App State, new HC Chip Lindsey, OC at Auburn past 2 seasons, inherits an experienced unit. That comes with gratitude to former HC Neal Brown who leaves behind a highly successful 4 year career at Troy for a far greater challenge with West Virginia in the BIG 12. In challenging App State for SBC superiority in the last 3 seasons, Brown has gone 31-8 SU (all double digit winning seasons) with a combined 20-4 SU record in The Belt. This includes Bowl victories in the previous 3 seasons in which the Trojans averaged 32/412. Also, in a way similar to App State, there was improved defense for a team that allowed just 21/350 in that trio of years. If last year’s starting QB Barker had not hurt his knee in early October, things may have been even better. Nonetheless, new HC Lindsey inherits an experienced offense with 7 starters and experienced QB in Barker. 4 OL starters ensure continuity. On defense, no less than 14 players with double digit tackles return for new DC Hall who was the LB coach of the Trojans LY. Again, like rival App State and new Coach Drinkwitz, the success of HC Lindsey will most likely be decided in future years as this year’s Trojan entry, with the season-ending game at home vs. App State, figures to again challenge for the League crown and make it to their 4th consecutive Bowl.
Grade B – Neal Brown – West Virginia (8-4 SU, 7-4 ATS LY)
Slick move by former West Virginia HC Holgersen who bolted Morgantown, to return to his Texas roots at Houston, at just the right time. You see, the Mounties of 2019 are one of the most inexperienced teams in the Nation with just 10 RS. Welcome to the BIG 12 Big Time for former Troy HC Brown who worked his magic for the Trojans the previous 4 years. Following a 4-8 SU beginning, Brown logged 3 consecutive double digit winning seasons in which his Trojans went 31-8 SU capturing 3 consecutive Bowl victories. At first glance, the loss of QB Grier would seem to hurt the offense. Brown will be aided in that regard by Oklahoma transfer QB Kendall who backed up Mayfield and Murray the last two seasons in Norman. Battling Kendall for snaps is Miami transfer Allison. Biggest challenge will be keeping these signal callers upright as the OL returns just 2 starters. The 40 points the Mounties scored last season under Holgersen will be tough to match. An improved defense, however, despite lacking experience, figures to improve over the permissive Mounties stop units of recent years. WVU will count on some Jucos for replacements upfront as the entire front 7 was decimated by graduation. Note, however, that Brown’s underrated defensive units at Troy, which allowed just 21 PPG the L3Y combined, are a positive omen. Temper that positivism however by the fact that Brown’s defense will now be facing the prolific attacks of the BIG 12. Nonetheless, I consider Brown to be a solid upgrade over Holgersen whose teams never reached the hype that came with his hiring.
Grade C – Scot Loeffler – Bowling Green (3-9 SU, 4-7 ATS LY)
New HC Loeffler, the former OC/QB coach at Temple, Auburn, VA Tech and BC inherits quite a mess. The Falcons program was on the uptick in 2015 in the 2nd year under Dino Babers. In that season, the Falcons went 10-4 SU, ATS including 8-1 SU in MAC play. A disastrous hire in Mike Jinks the following season led to an immediate decline which has seen the bottom fall out of the program. That was characterized by an offensive drop from 42/547 in 2015 to just 24/355 last season. The real issue under Jinks however, was a defense that allowed at least 38 PPG each of the final 3 seasons including 267/5.8 overland in the last 2 years. The combined mark of 5-27 SU, 11-22 ATS is the final arbiter in the decline of the Jinks era. With former QB Doege entering the transfer portal, Loeffler brought a ready-made backfield to Bowling Green. That includes former BC QB McDonald and RB Jones. At this time, however, it must be confirmed that McDonald will qualify under the NCAA transfer rules for immediate eligibility. Jones will join RB Clare who averaged 5.9 YPR L2Y for a potent ground attack. Defensively, it could be a different story. New DC VanGorder had plenty of experience in that role having served with the Atlanta Falcons, Auburn, Notre Dame and Louisville. With just 5 returning starters on that side of the ball, it will be quite a challenge. In the final analysis, there figures to be no way for the Falcons to fly but up. The eligibility of QB McDonald could go a long way towards that end making it a positive start for Loeffler as he looks to clean up the mess left by Jinks.
Grade C – Will Healey – Charlotte (5-7 SU, 7-5 ATS LY)
This bureau is not privy to the reasons for the firing of former HC Brad Lambert who lifted the 49ers to a 5-7 SU, 6-5 ATS mark in 2018 after going 7-29 SU the previous 3 seasons. There was improvement of 8 points and 36 yards on offense and 6 points and 118 yards on a defense where 8 starters return to a group that was Top 25 overall and had a Top 10 rush defense. The beneficiary of the improvement is Will Healey who, at his previous stop Austin Peay, took a team that was 1-34 SU, in 3 years prior to his arrival, and won 13 games in his 2nd and 3rd year. New OC Alex Atkins inherits a more creative offense that returns most of their skill position essentials but must rebuild an OL. Should the defense live up to its performance of last season, it will not surprise this bureau if Healey has the 49ers continue their upward mobility this season as they challenge for Bowl eligibility.
Grade C – Geof Collins – Georgia Tech (7-6 SU, 5-7 ATSLY)
After a decade of option football under Paul Johnson, the veteran mentor chose to end his tenure in Atlanta. The team responded with a 34-10 thrashing at the hands of Minnesota in their Bowl Game. So much for “playing one for the Gipper”. Thus ends a decade of Georgia Tech being one of the National rushing leaders on the CFB landscape. Returning to his southern roots is new HC Geof Collins, who retained winning records after inheriting a pair of 10 win teams at Temple from Matt Rhule in 2017. History says the most difficult transition for a team is from a rushing offense to a passing offense. This will be the epitome of that transition. For most of the current Tech players have been recruited to fit Johnson’s offense. Transitioning to Collin’s NFL spread offense under the guidance of new OC David Patenaude will certainly take some time. Though Tech has a veteran OL, this group was geared to run blocking, an issue that is further complicated by the fact that all 3 signal callers were recruited as option QBs. There is a far better chance that the defense, a forte of Collins based on his tenure at Miss State and Florida, will make the quicker change over. That unit also must be rebuilt in the front 7. Perhaps no team in the country will enter with less experience in their current schemes than these Yellow Jackets. Expect a tough year for Collins, starting with an opener vs. Clemson which will show the Yellow Jacket players just how far they have to go, as if they didn’t know that following their 49-21 loss last year to the National Champs. Eventually, however, with solid running game and staunch defense, Georgia Tech will prosper under Collins.
Grade C – Les Miles – Kansas (3-9 SU, 6-6 ATS LY)
Bold move for 65 year old Les Miles to come out of retirement following his successful stints at Oklahoma State and LSU, where he replaced Nick Saban. Bold because he inherits a Jayhawk program who has averaged 2.3 wins over the last 10 seasons including a 6-42 SU mark the previous 3 years, including 2-34 SU in BIG 12 play. Forget the fact that he only inherits 5 returning starters on each side of the ball. What good would a veteran cast be who recorded that kind of record. Miles pedigree is strong considering he owns a pair of SEC Titles and a National Championship at LSU prior to being canned midway through the 2016 season. Yes, fired despite a record of 114-34 SU during his tenure at Baton Rouge. Let’s not expect anything so magical in Lawrence. This is a major rebuild of incredible magnitude. But it is a “free shot” for Miles who will look like a hero if he pulls it off. Just the type of challenge a man with a moniker “mad hatter” would love to achieve. Only time will tell if he is successful.
Grade C – Walt Bell – U. Massachusetts (4-8 SU, 4-7 ATS LY)
When former U. Mass. HC Whipple mutually agreed with his bosses that it was time to step down, the door flew open for Walt Bell, a long time successful assistant in such stops as Maryland, Florida State, S. Miss. and Arkansas State. Bell inherits just 5 returning starters on each side of the ball with no experienced signal caller. This is arguably the least experienced team in CFB this season. With nary a winning season since stepping up to the FBS level, Bell inherits a team that, in the last 4 years under Whipple, has gone 13-37 SU. That includes last year’s “200 Club” defense that allowed 43/487 including 278/5.9 overland. With no Conference affiliation and no Bowl tie-in, winning seasons at U. Mass. figure to be few and far between. Given his positive resume, let’s give Bell the benefit of the doubt in the belief that there is nowhere to go but up for U. Mass.
Grade C – Thomas Hammock – Northern Illinois (8-6 SU, 7-7 ATS LY)
Big shoes to fill for new HC Thomas Hammock, a former NIU running back in the early years of this millennium! His experience is at that same position coaching RBs at not only his alma mater but also Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Baltimore Ravens. AS WE HAVE OFTEN SEEN IN THE PAST, IT CAN BE A BIG LEAP TO HEAD MAN FOR A COACH WITH SUCH QUALIFICATIONS. Not to mention the great history of the Huskies under 3 outstanding HCs such as Jerry Kill, Dave Doeren, and for the last 6 years Rod Carey. In the last 10 years, the Huskies have gone bowling in 9/10 post seasons and have just completed a season in which they won their 5th MAC Title. In the previous 2 years, the Huskies have fielded a solid defense allowing just 22/350 including just 109/2.7 overland last year. With 7 returning starters, this unit should again be the strength of NIU this season. Offense is a different story as NIU slipped to 20/322 last season. Hammock must rely on returning QB Childers or Cal transfer Bowers, along with his experience coaching the running game. And with 3 returning seniors on the OL, the rushing attack could well be the strength of this year’s team. Hammock clearly has ample coaching experience, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where his forte figures to be the ground game. Making the transition to the ever improving MAC WEST, particularly with the annual challenge presented by Toledo and Western Michigan, may simply be more than Hammock is able to conquer in his maiden voyage.
Grade C – Ryan Day – Ohio State (13-1 SU, 6-8 ATS LY)
Ryan Day steps in to replace legendary HC Urban Meyer. Among his other excellent records at coaching stops including Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, all Meyer did the last 4 years at Ohio State was go 48-6 SU including 33-4 SU in BIG 10 play. His departure, however, was not a surprise, as Day, the former OC, was groomed for this job posting a 3-0 SU mark as interim coach to begin 2018 while Meyer served a temporary suspension. Along with Meyer, the Buckeyes lose QB Haskins, among 9 Ohio State players who were drafted this year. In addition, QB Martell, who was slated to back up Haskins, transferred to Miami, FL. In his place, Day will hand the keys to his offense to Georgia transfer, Justin Fields, who was ranked among the top signal callers in the Nation when he enrolled at Athens last year. As if that was not enough disruption to an offense that averaged 42/536 last year, both the OL and receiving corps need to be rebuilt. On the other side of the ball, 9 starters return including the top 5 tacklers. Note, however, this is a unit that was scorched for 25/403, the highest in the Meyer era. Good choice for Meyer to step down, leaving Day to pick up the pieces. Buckeyes no longer the favorite to win the BIG 10.
Grade C – Rod Carey – Temple (8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS LY)
The coaching carrousel continues to spin in North Philly where, including the 2 week stint of temporary HC Manny Diaz, the Owls will be on their 4th HC since 2016 when Rod Carey takes the reins. Carey’s 6 year stint at Northern Illinois played to mixed reviews. After starting 24-6 SU for the Huskies, his final 4 years saw NIU finish on a run of just 29-24 SU. That did culminate, however, with the Huskies 5th MAC Championship (followed by a Bowl loss to UAB). Good news is that the schemes will not be appreciably differ from the running sets that the Owls have used in recent seasons. 7 starters return to an offense that averaged 35 PPG. QB Russo, 7-3 SU as starter, will need to be coached up if he is to improve his 14/14 ratio. Temple will miss RB Armstead but will benefit from 4 OL starters returning for new OC Uremovich. On the defensive side of the ball, a pair of coordinators in Brown and Knowles, welcome back 6 starters who allow 27 PPG. Nonetheless, the hiring of Carey from his MAC roots appears to be a bit of a lateral if not downward move.
Grade C – Gary Anderson – Utah State (11-2 SU, 9-3 ATS LY)
Former Utah State HC Matt Wells did a terrific job in his 6 years in Logan. Last year was the pinnacle of his success as his Aggies, with a Top 25 experienced team, recorded an 11-2 SU, 9-3 ATS season. That included a resounding 52-13 Bowl win vs. North Texas. That success paved the way for the big money in Lubbock where Texas Tech was most impressed with Wells 47/498 offense of last year. Sliding into a familiar spot where he led the Aggies to a record of 11-2 SU in 2012 (before bolting to Wisconsin) is former HC Gary Anderson. Unhappy with his jump to the Midwest, Anderson signed on at Oregon State to succeed Mike Riley. Midway through his 3rd season, however, (an eventual 1-11 SU disaster for the Beavers), he jumped ship. He then spent some time on the Utah staff before reclaiming the head man job for the Aggies. With a resume like that, it makes one wonder if Anderson will hang around when the times get tough. Anderson inherits only 2 offensive starters from that 47 point offense of last year. He, however, is a good one in QB Love who had a 32/6 ratio. Further complicating the transition is the hiring of OC Mike Sanford who comes off a disastrous step up as a head coach with a 9-16 SU record at Western Kentucky the last two years. On the defensive side, 7 starters return to a unit that recorded a +14 net TO margin last season. Some are expecting a continuation of winning seasons in Logan. This bureau, however, sees enough potential pot holes, namely an inexperienced offense, the potential downer after last year’s highlights, and Anderson’s spotty coaching record, as a reason why things may not go as smoothly for the Aggies as their faithful believe.
Grade C – Tyson Helton – Western Kentucky (3-9 SU, 6-5 ATS LY)
“Fool me once”… well, you know how that goes. Is Western Kentucky about to repeat their 2017 error of hiring a former OC who is not ready to make the leap to head man. Such was clearly the case when they hired Mike Sanford to replace the highly successful Jeff Brohm (Purdue) who had led the Tops to a 23-5 SU (17-1 SU CUSA) in 2015-16. Yes, any hire would most likely have been a step downward for this CUSA program. Yet the results of Sanford (9-16 SU) were particularly heinous. That was never more true than on the offensive side of the ball where WKU went from 45/525 in that 2 year run under Brohm to 21/363 last year under Sanford. And remember, this had been a guy who was well thought of as an OC. Thus begs the question, are the Hilltoppers repeating their error? Enter new HC Helton who was actually a former assistant under Brohm and, in the interim, the OC at Tennessee. Yes, this is the same Tyson Helton whose brother Clay is in the process of coaching mediocrity at USC (5-7 SU, 4-8 ATS LY). Unlike his brother, however, Tyson is apparently a rah-rah guy whose infectious enthusiasm may make the difference. Along with his new OC, Bryan Ellis, and Arkansas transfer QB Storey, there is reason to believe that 9 RS can make a meaningful leap from the bar that was set so low by Sanford last year. Last year’s DC White, whose stop unit was decent at 28/422, has been retained by Helton in hopes that this veteran unit can show meaningful improvement. On the surface, Helton looks like a decent hire particularly with all the experience at his disposal this season. But “once burned” could well appear to be “twice shy” as the powers that be in Bowling Green hope they have not repeated their error with Sanford.
Grade D – Tom Arth – Akron (4-8 SU, 5-6 ATS LY)
7 years of former HC Terry Bowden and the mediocrity that perpetuated the Akron program was enough. Following a 4-8 SU record of last year including 2-6 SU, ATS in MAC play, saw the Akron admin pull the plug. In the previous 2 seasons, the Zips had averaged just 20/305 on offense including just 95/2.9 overland last season. With only 10 returning starters, the future looked bleak. At the helm now is HC Tom Arth, who has recently coached at Chattanooga and in the local Akron area at D-III John Carroll where he played QB in his college days. He was 9-13 SU most recently in 2 seasons at FCS UTC. Climbing up the coaching ladder, he returns to northeast Ohio where he will inherit one of the least experienced teams in the MAC. Just 3 returning starters on defense will be a great challenge for 1st year DC Feeney who followed Arth from UTC. Hard to see this unit taking a major step forward. Though 7 starters return on offense, including vet QB Nelson, they are starting from the bottom of the barrel and must learn new schemes. To this bureau, it looks like another long year for the Zips with a future that appears little better.
Grade D – Mel Tucker – Colorado (5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS LY)
It appears to this bureau that Colorado has panicked. They are now trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Former 6th year HC Mike MacIntyre was fired just before the season’s final home game vs. Utah. MacIntyre had done a decent job in Boulder including a record of 10-4 SU, ATS in 2016. Following a 5-7 SU, 3-8 ATS dip in 2017, it looked like the Buffs were in for a bounce back season. They broke from the 2018 gate by going 5-0 SU, ATS then, roughly coinciding with the injury to do everything WR Shenault, the flood gates opened for the Buffs. They finished the year 0-7 SU, 1-6 ATS. Despite the fast beginning to last season, panic set in with not only the firing of MacIntyre, but also the hiring of new HC Mel Tucker.
Tucker seemingly has ample qualifications with his work as highly successful DC at Georgia. Yet one of the more successful parameters for hiring a new coach is a proven track record of positive recruiting experience in the region. WITH SEC ROOTS IN GEORGIA, that simply is not the case for Tucker who has no experience in the western half of the United States. Further complicating the situation is the hiring of new OC Jay Johnson whose pro style sets will be an adjustment for the best returning players QB Montez and WR Shenault. On the other side of the ball is DC Tyson Summers, again with roots in the south, whose latest coaching foray led to the near destruction of the long successful Georgia Southern program in his brief stint as head man. An immediate turnaround does not appear imminent with what appears to be a most questionable hire.
Grade D – Mike Locksley – Maryland (5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS LY)
This is a joke, right? Who hires a coach, Mike Locksley, who enters the season with a lifetime record of 3-31 SU in his games as a CFB head coach? At least the admin is familiar with Locksley as he begins his 3rd go round on the Terrapins coaching staff. He was RB coach in 1997 – 2002 as well as OC and interim HC 2012 – 2015. The Maryland program was rocked by last summer’s death of Jordan McNair which set off a string of events that eventually resulted in the firing of former HC DJ Durkin. One of Locksley’s first acts was to convince former VA Tech QB Josh Jackson to transfer in. He will vie for the signal caller position with vet Pigrome and newcomer LeGendre. It is a long way back for an offense that was ranked #94 in the Nation last year. With the offense returning just 3 starters, Locksley also will benefit from soph RB McFarland, who averaged 7.9 YPR. On the defensive side of the ball, it is also virtually a total rebuild with just 5 starters back for new DC Jon Hoke. Locksley will fool me big time if he is able to get to the winning side of the ledger with the mess he has inherited.
Grade D – Mack Brown – North Carolina (2-9SU, 5-4 ATS LY)
It was time for a change in Chapel Hill. After 7 years at the helm of the Tar Heels, it was time for Larry Fedora to be replaced. His Tar Heels had slipped from 11 to 8 to 3 to 2 wins in the previous 4 seasons. Commensurate with those declines were dips of 14 points on offense and 10 points on defense. In fact, in each of the previous 2 seasons, the North Carolina defense had been of the “200 Club” variety allowing at least 213 YPG BOTH RUSHING AND PASSING in those seasons. And that was with veteran units. With wins over only Pitt and Western Carolina last season, the winds of change have blown former HC Mack Brown back to Chapel Hill where he last coached the Tar Hills some 20 years ago. After leaving Carolina, Brown matriculated to Texas where his career was highlighted by the 2005 National Championship. Brown hung on in Austin until 2013 when a trio of mediocre seasons saw him transition to the CFB booth at ESPN. Now, at age 68, he looks to make a comeback on the sidelines at Chapel Hill. History has shown that the 2nd go around for coaches, where they had former success, has a great chance of failure. Even though Brown kept his hand in the game, it is unlikely he will transition well to the sidelines. This may be particularly true on the defensive side of the ball where there is much to be done to resurrect the stop unit. (See the numbers above). Brown is relying on his hire of DC Bateman, from Army, to rekindle the defensive fire. As has often been proven however, it is improbable that veteran defenses with poor numbers will make notable improvement. It will be equally interesting on the offensive side where Brown has opted to bring a new look, air raid offense to the ACC. The man in charge will be Phil Longo from Mississippi. A pair of highly touted newcomers in Freshman Sam Howell and red shirt freshman Cade Forton will vie for the keys to the attack. In the final analysis, it appears to be a long way back for a coach who may be long in the tooth and proved to be passed his expiration date, especially considering the change of schemes on offense.