The coaching carousel is always a fun ride in the days following the conclusion of the regular season when teams fire their underachieving coach and fan bases are filled with optimism that the new coach will fulfill their wildest hopes and dreams.
Sometimes the moves are a mere formality like the case with Michigan and Brady Hoke who was left twisting in the wind for the better part of the 2014 season before hearing his fate three days after a 5-7 season came to an end. And sometimes the coaching carousel takes a spin or two before the end of the year like we saw with Kansas firing Charlie Weis and Florida terminating Will Muschamp.
Coaching rumors are every bit as wild as trade rumors in the pro sports and like we saw with Nick Saban last year when Texas coveted the Alabama head coach and this year we saw former San Francisco 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh as the object of his alma mater's affection.
Harbaugh was hired to take over for Hoke at his alma mater where he started at quarterback for three years under Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler and headlines the list of 14 college football coaching changes at the FBS level.
But was he the best hire?
Let's take a look at the 14 coaches in new places and rank them according to the best hire in both the short and long-term. Three of the 14 new coaches were features in my preseason look at assistant coaches destined for a head coaching job. Next year could see a few more from that list hired in the 2015-2016 coaching carousel.
NCAAF 2015 coaching changes
Ranking the best college football head coaching changes in 2014-2015
14) Tony Sanchez
Head Coach, UNLV Rebels
You have to admire the bold decision from UNLV to hire Tony Sanchez, 40, from Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas to be the head coach of the Rebels despite no college coaching experience.
“In Las Vegas and as a Las Vegan, we aren’t afraid to take a very bold and unconventional approach when responding to challenges,” UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “We aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.”
The status quo needed to be challenged considering UNLV only has four winning seasons in the last 28 years and went 15-49 in the last five years under previous head coach Bobby Hauck who resigned after a 2-11 record in 2014.
Hiring a coach with zero college coaching experience certainly comes with some risk, but why not take that risk on Sanchez who went 85-5 in his six years at Bishop Gorman and won a Nevada state championship in all six seasons there. Plus, Sanchez showed the ability to develop talent by sending 25 players to major college football.
Sanchez is the fourth head coach to make the jump from the prep to the college ranks, joining North Texas’ Todd Dodge, Notre Dame’s Gerry Faust and Iowa’s Bob Commings. The trio combined for a 54-100-1 record in 14 seasons.
“As far as people questioning my ability to do the job, it’s understandable; it hasn’t been done many times in college to know whether or not it really works. I think when people see the staff we bring in, the energy we have, the way we do things, people will be very confident in our ability to move forward with this program.” — Sanchez on making the leap from high school to UNLV, via ESPN.
I love the thought process from UNLV to think outside the box and try something new and Sanchez’s local ties should help in raising excitement as well as dollars for the program to upgrade facilities. His relationships with local high school coaches should be a significant advantage for recruiting as well.
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
10) Philip Montgomery
Head Coach, Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Philip Montgomery, 43, replaces Bill Blankenship who was fired after going 2-10 in 2014 and compiled a 24-27 record over four seasons. Montgomery comes from Baylor where he was the offensive coordinator on Art Briles’ staff since 2013 and served as the co-OC since 2008, coaching quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty.
Briles is one of the best head coaches in college and he’s been on his staff since 1997 when he joined the staff at Stephenville high school in Texas as a quarterbacks and running backs coach before following him to Houston and later Baylor. Montgomery has consistently fielded one of the best offenses in the FBS, including leading the nation with 48.2 points and 581.5 yards per game in 2014.
He was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant last year and now gets his chance to be a head coach at a program that made eight bowl games from 2004-2012, but has only won five games since winning Conference USA in 2012. “I’ve always wanted to be a head coach, but my family and I knew that it would take the right opportunity to get me to leave Waco. Tulsa is that special opportunity. There is a lot of work to get done and trust me, I’m already on it. Get ready for some fun, fast and physical football.” — Montgomery on leaving Baylor for Tulsa, via ESPN.
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
9) Mike Riley
Head Coach, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska fired Bo Pelini after a 9-3 season in his seventh year with the Cornhuskers where he compiled a 67-27 record, three seasons with 10 wins, four division titles and three bowl wins. He was fired more so because of his abrasive personality that didn’t mesh well with the administration so in comes Mike Reilly who is as nice of a man as any in college football.
But I don’t think he’ll experience the same type of on-field success as Pelini did in his seven years at Nebraska when his teams were ranked in the final top 25 in six of his seven seasons. Nebraska’s firing of Pelini made it clear that winning nine or 10 games every season is not good enough and as great of a person as Reilly is he only has one nine-win season, one bowl win and ended the season ranked in the top 25 just once in the last six years.
Reilly went 5-7 in his last year at Oregon State and his 2-7 record in the Pac-12 was the worst since his first year in 1997. That’s not exactly the trend you want to see when making a new hire. If there’s a silver lining it is that Riley will have a more manageable time recruiting athletes to Lincoln than he did Corvalis, but this hire was more about bringing in a guy who won’t ruffle the feathers of athletic director Shawn Eichorst than an upgrade over Pelini.
(Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
3) Tom Herman
Head Coach, Houston Cougars
Tom Herman, 39, replaces Tony Levine who went 21-17 at Houston, including bowl appearances the past two seasons, and a 7-5 finish in 2014. Herman has been pulling double-duty since he was named the head coach of the Cougars as he’s still the offensive coordinator for Ohio State who finish their season in the National Championship Game against Oregon.
Herman won the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant coach in 2014 after leading the Buckeyes to the No. 5 scoring offense in the nation despite losing two-time Big Ten player of the year, Braxton Miller less than two weeks before the season opener. He developed redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett into a Buckeye and Big Ten record holder as Ohio State played for the Big Ten Championship Game.
Later he was forced to replace Barrett who broke his ankle in the season finale against Michigan and showed no drop off as third-string quarterback Cardale Jones led Ohio State to 59 points and later a win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State has gone 37-3 in the last three years with Herman running the offense and takes over a program with a winning history that has launched the careers of Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin in recent years.
Herman’s first four coaching stops were in the Lone Star State at Texas, Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice, so he knows the lay of the land and how important football is in the state and where to find recruits with his history of recruiting across the state.
Herman is also literally a genius as a Mensa member and should have Houston competing for AAC titles right away.