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College Football 2012: First-Year Coaching Hire Grades

As schools scurry to make their program redefining coaching hire, here is a look at how the 2012 crop fared in their first seasons..

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M [A+] Sumlin was a first-year coach, bringing a new team into the SEC with a freshman starting quarterback. He went 10-2, upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and came a few plays in the Florida and LSU games away from having the chance to win the conference and play for the BCS Title. In three months, the school went from being shunned and ridiculed by “SEC” fans to being touted as a sign of the conference’s manifest superiority.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State [A+] Meyer went 12-0 and beat Michigan. He did this with a young quarterback changing systems, a shaky defense and a dearth of skill position talent on offense. He returned Ohio State to the forefront, immediately. The question may not be whether he burns out, but how many national titles he wins before he does.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss [A] Freeze sparked an incredible turnaround. His Ole Miss team went 6-6 after 2-10 last year. They were competitive in nearly every game, including one score losses to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU. The Rebs remain in play for the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. Things are looking up, for a team that looked moribund under Houston Nutt.

Bill O’Brien, Penn State [A] O’Brien inherited a raw deal and made the most of it. He kept most of the team together when it could have disintegrated. He bounced back to win eight games after an 0-2 start. Most impressively, he turned Matt McGloin into a halfway decent quarterback in a pass heavy offense. You have to wonder where he would have this team right now, had it not been sanctioned.

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State [B+] DeRuyter went 9-3, with two shameless road losses at Oregon and at Boise State. He won a share of the MWC title and crushed Pac 12 Colorado by 55 points.

Jim L. Mora, UCLA [B+] Mora made few friends in his first year in Los Angeles, but he closed the gap with USC and has the Bruins playing this weekend for a 10-win season and a Rose Bowl berth. We downgrade him slightly for an atrocious Cal loss, but, altogether, a promising debut. 

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State [B+] Malzahn is 8-3, with two of the losses to Oregon and Nebraska. He has the Red Wolves in the Top 20 in yards per play offense. The best testament to his coaching may be what happened to Auburn in his absence.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers [B+] Flood kept Schiano’s wheels turning with a strong defense and solid turnover margin. He’s playing for a BCS bowl bid on Thursday. Not bad for a late “we can’t afford to hire outside the program” hire.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona [B] Rodriguez’ Wildcats were inconsistent, though much better than most anticipated against a brutal schedule. He seemed to learn from his mistakes at Michigan, though having a capable fifth-year senior at quarterback certainly helped.

Todd Graham, Arizona State [B] Graham had a solid first season. He beat Arizona in the in-state rivalry game on the road. He beat the bad teams on his schedule and could not hang with the good ones. With so many coaching jobs available, will he be visiting relatives in other parts of the country?

Larry Fedora, North Carolina [B] He made a good enough debut, despite an early loss to Wake Forest. Fedora has the Tar Heels tied for 14th in yards per play offense vs. FBS. He seems to be the right man for the job, but how long will he stay?

Matt Campbell, Toledo [B] Campbell had a decent first year with the tiller at Toledo, after taking over his boss Tim Beckman. His Rockets took Arizona to overtime on the road, though late losses to the two best teams in his division, Ball State and Northern Illinois, removed a bit of the shine.

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh [B-] Chryst inherited a job with an underrated amount of difficulty. He was the seniors’ fourth head coach and implemented their third offensive system. This problem was compounded by an atrocious start. That said, Chryst righted the ship. The Panthers can still get to a bowl game with a win over South Florida. They have been competitive enough to give some teams fits, most notably BCS title-bound Notre Dame .

Justin Fuente, Memphis [C+] Fuente only went 4-8, but at a school that had won five games the previous three seasons. A late three-game win streak, fostered by an improving defense, to move to .500 in the conference will engender optimism (as much as Memphis can reasonably entertain.)

Bob Davie, New Mexico [C] Davie is a retread head coach at a below average job. He’s trying to make the triple option work to compensate for talent disadvantages. Going 4-9 is not an auspicious start, though doing better than 0-5 in one score games could have made that look a lot better.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State [C] The former Alabama OC opened the season with a win against Colorado, which did not mean much. He pulled things together to win their final three home games and finish 4-8.

Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic [C] He has a long-term plan for Florida Atlantic, which will take a long time to enact. Pelini has a chance to improve a one-win team in 2011 to four wins this weekend. Too early to judge one way or another.

Garrick McGee, UAB [C] Arkansas’ former offensive coordinator inherited an abysmal program and did not get much out of it his first year. They put up some yards with the passing game. Their highlight was probably only losing by two touchdowns at the Horseshoe.

Tony Levine, Houston [C-] The departures of Sumlin and Keenum popped the bubble. Levine fired has offensive coordinator after the first game as that unit fell from 2nd in yards per play, to 50th. The Cougars did not reach a bowl game at 5-7, though Levine does play a mean saxophone.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane [C-] Tulane was terrible, but they have been terrible for a while. How bad will they be moving up a rung? Johnson’s reputation in college was as a recruiter during the late 1990s and early 2000s at Miami. He needs time to do that before judgement. 

Mike Leach, Washington State [D] Leach entered the season with an apparently well stocked ship and ran aground, going 2-9 vs. FBS. His Cougars played tough against some good teams, beating a ranked Washington in the Apple Cup and losing one score games with Stanford and UCLA. Highlighting their inconsistency, though, is their loss to Colorado. This team showed flashes, but this first season did not inspire.

Charlie Weis, Kansas [D] Weis’ Jayhawks competed a bit at home, holding Oklahoma State and Texas to one-score wins. That said, Weis had more controversies incited (multiple) than FBS wins (zero). This program has taken a step back from Turner Gill.

Norm Chow, Hawaii [D-] Chow went 1-9 vs. FBS at a school that has won 10 games or more three times since 2006. Charged with resurrecting an offense that had declined from 1st in yards per play in 2010 to 42nd in 2012, his Warriors fell to 123rd out of 124 teams.

John L. Smith, Arkansas [D-] John L. inherited a messy situation and made it worse, with the team seeming to absorb his erratic personality. He went 4-8, with a team some thought could win the SEC.

Tim Beckman, Illinois [F] Ron Zook had issues. Bringing in talent was never one of them. This was a team that was a disappointment last year at 6-6. Beckman steered them to 1-10 vs. FBS. The Illini lost six Big Ten games by four scores or more. They ranked 119th in total offense. He was not fired, though a case could have been made. Notable accomplishment: dipping on the sidelines.

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss [F] The Golden Eagles lost talent from last year, but not enough to justify going from 12-2 to 0-12. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Johnson was fired after just one season and will probably head back to the SEC as a defensive coordinator.

[Photo via Presswire]


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