The 2010 First-Year Head Coaches
Ranking the new guys
2009 First-Year Coach Rankings
2008 First-Year Coach Rankings
2007 First-Year Coach Rankings
Nearly two dozen head coaches made their debuts at campuses across the country in 2010. While the results were predictably uneven, with just one rookie, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, finishing in the Top 25, and a third participating in a bowl game, the challenges were similar; succeed in a new town with someone else’s recruits. Oh, and if you can generate more fan interest and move the turnstiles, that’d be swell too. While a smattering of coaches has made strong early impressions in their first year on the job, many others are already scrambling for answers before the start of another session of spring practices in a couple of months.
Quick, get this guy a long-term extension
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
The ‘Noles are finally on a northern trajectory again, and Fisher deserves a ton of the credit. It was no coincidence that the program had its first 10-win season in seven years, knocking off Miami and Florida in the same season for the first time since the 1999 national championship campaign. Surprising South Carolina and Steve Spurrier in the Chick-fil-A Bowl was an exclamation point for a team that’s about to become real trendy in the offseason. Not only does Fisher have Florida State on the verge of a resurgence, but he’s doing it after succeeding an icon of the sport, Bobby Bowden.
2. Skip Holtz, South Florida
You knew Holtz would be a great fit in Tampa, where he’d have access to better athletes than he did at East Carolina. Still, few thought he’d get out of the gates so quickly. With only modest talent, even by Big East standards, he served up eight victories and the school’s first bowl win over an AQ conference opponent. South Florida finished 5-2, beating Miami and Clemson along the way. Give Holtz a little more time and a few more playmakers, and there’s no telling how far he can take this undervalued gem.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville
Okay, so the Cardinals’ first winning season since 2006 was erected on the backs of some pretty poor competition. However, you have to understand the depths the program reached under Steve Kragthorpe to really appreciate the job being done by Strong. He’s had an immediate impact at Louisville, improving the culture and instantly making the program more physical and competitive. If he can attract the type of talent Bobby Petrino used to harbor in the ‘Ville, Big East contention won’t be too far behind.
The foundation is laid …now go build on it
4. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
After losing back-to-back games to Tulsa and Navy, Kelly was a chump. A season-ending four-game winning streak, including wins at USC and over Miami in the Sun Bowl, means he’s the savior. Somewhere in between lays the truth. As expected, the Irish hit some choppy waters, on and off the field, but that final kick has a lot of folks optimistic about the future in South Bend. Even better, it was pieced together after QB Dayne Crist was lost for the year and rookie Tommy Rees was pressed into action.
5. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Considering he was replacing popular Mike Leach, Tuberville turned the page with class and did about as well as could be expected in Year 1. The Red Raiders won eight games, including the TicketCity Bowl over Northwestern, showing gradual improvement down the stretch. The defense was an exception, and is an area that’ll require a lot of attention in the offseason. Beating ranked Mizzou in early November was notable, but still not enough to keep Tech from a fifth place finish in the South Division.
6. Lane Kiffin, USC
The good news? The first year is over. Challenging on so many levels, Kiffin is just thrilled to be in 2011 and one step closer to fulfilling the NCAA’s punishment. On the field, the Trojans were marginal by their usual standards, going 4-5 after fattening up on the easiest portion of the schedule. Execution was spotty, especially on defense, and losses to Washington, Oregon State, and Notre Dame couldn’t sit well with the alumni. This staff still has plenty of hurdles and a lot to prove to new AD Pat Haden.
7. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Yes, there were times when Dooley looked overwhelmed by the task of resuscitating the Volunteers. However, he got some traction late in the year, winning the final four games to become bowl-eligible, and almost knocking off North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. Okay, so 6-7 is never going to cut it in Knoxville, but in the coach’s defense, he did go with a ton of youngsters, which should start bearing fruit in 2011. Now that UT has gone 18-20 over the last three years, it better.
8. Joker Phillips, Kentucky
If nothing else, Phillips’ first team in Lexington was predictable, winning and losing on cue. The lone exception was the Oct. 16 upset of South Carolina, which ended up being a key moment to landing a second-tier bowl invite. Otherwise, the Wildcats essentially feasted on the softest portion of the schedule behind the play of an underrated offense. Winning the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pitt would have helped avoid a losing season, but a suspension to QB Mike Hartline left Kentucky with little pop.
You struggled, but better days lay ahead
9. Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina
On one hand, McNeill did get the Pirates to the postseason in a presumed rebuilding year. On the other, however, this was a house of cards that began to collapse in the second half of the season. Even a suped-up passing attack wasn’t enough to overcome a dreadful D that gave up less than 40 points just three times in 13 games. There were impressive wins over Tulsa, Southern Miss, and NC State to provide some offseason momentum at the end of an up-and-down year.
10. Mike London, Virginia
It’s going to take time for London, who inherited a struggling team that had just two returning all-stars and no playmakers. Al Groh had basically run the Cavaliers into the ground, so the new staff was going to have its hands full no matter how well it coached. At a base level, Virginia needs to amass a better caliber athlete, which will take a couple of years. The Cavs nearly shocked USC in the Coliseum and upset Miami on Oct. 30, the high points of an otherwise dismal campaign.
You’ve got time … you’ll need it
11. Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech
It took over a month or so, but Dykes’ Air Raid offensive system gradually started to sink in for the Bulldogs. After starting 1-4, they went a respectable 4-3, scoring at least 40 points on three separate occasions. Although Tech got swept by the WAC’s four bowl teams, it survived when it was supposed to, finishing in the middle of the league pecking order. Once the coach surrounds himself with more of his players, namely at quarterback, this program will have a chance to improve markedly.
12. Doc Holliday, Marshall
The Herd stumbled out of the gate, finished strong, and missed bowl-eligibility by one game. It was the program’s fifth losing season in the last six years, but to Holliday’s credit, he had his players scrapping and clawing until the final whistle. The first half schedule wound up being too taxing for a school desperate for a talent upgrade, especially in the backfield. Marshall’s leading rusher had 345 yards and the quarterbacks were next to last in conference passing efficiency.
13. Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
Berry won five games, or as many as he had during a failed four-year stop at Army from 2000-03. The Warhawks came within a point in the regular season finale from reaching .500 and delivered a stunning upset of Troy at the end of October. Best of all, the program achieved a level of respectability primarily with young players, including a redshirt freshman, Kolton Browning, taking snaps.
14. Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky
All things considered, Taggart showed hints of making progress at a school that began 2010 on a 20-game losing streak. The Hilltoppers, in just their third year in the Sun Belt, played well in the second half. Not only did they defeat Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, but also lost by a point to Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State. With Taggart at the controls, Western Kentucky has never been this feisty in the league.
15. Dan Enos, Central Michigan
Enos was on the sidelines for the Chippewas’ first losing season since 2004, but how much of the blame does he get? Central Michigan was ravaged by graduation, losing a ton of starters from last year’s 12-2 team. Still, there was a lack of consistency in all facets of the game that has to fall on the shoulders of the staff. On a campus that grew accustomed to titles under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Enos will be pressed to make a quantum leap in 2011.
16. Bobby Hauck, UNLV
There’s no need to tell Hauck how difficult it is to win in Las Vegas. He got a crash course in that cruel reality last year, going 2-11 and rarely mounting much of a challenge. His Rebels did avoid the Mountain West cellar by beating New Mexico and Wyoming, but suffered all 11 losses by at least 15 points. The defense was particularly abominable, ranking 116th nationally at almost 40 points a game.
17. Jeff Quinn, Buffalo
Not only was Quinn faced with the unenviable task of replacing Turner Gill, but he didn’t get many breaks along the way either. The Bulls didn’t have enough talent to run the coach’s system, a situation that was exacerbated by the transfer of QB Zach Maynard to Cal. Buffalo had just one win over an FBS opponent and floundered on offense, pulling up the rear nationally at just 14 points a game.
18. Larry Porter, Memphis
For the third time in the last five seasons, Memphis won no more than two games, going 1-11. Porter is only responsible for this latest one. In his defense, his kids were young and not ready to compete in Conference USA. The Tigers knocked off bowl-bound Middle Tennessee State early on, dropping all but one game by less than two touchdowns. The coach must exceed his reputation as a recruiter because this program has a long way to go to close the talent gap.
19. Rob Ianello, Akron
The Zips avoided being the school’s first winless team since 1942 … barely. It wasn’t until the regular season finale against Buffalo that Akron broke through, snapping an 11-game losing streak. While Ianello took over a team that won just three games a year ago, it regressed in 2010, even bowing to second-division Gardner-Webb, a 4-7 squad out of the Big South Conference.
20. Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State
You’d think that being an assistant at Duke would have prepared MacIntyre for losing. Uh-uh. Facing a tough schedule and an inordinate number of injuries to starters, the Spartans went 1-12 and needed a comeback to defeat Southern Utah of the FCS. On a positive note, he did develop a handful of talented freshmen, who’ll form the core of a challenging rebuilding project in San Jose.
Print out boarding passes … the honeymoon is over
21. Turner Gill, Kansas
Hey, no one was banking on a miracle in Lawrence, but Gill and his Jayhawks got off to a rougher than expected start. The program endured its worst season since 2002, going 3-9 and rarely putting up a fight down the stretch. Even after losing the opener to North Dakota State, a 2-2 start provided hope, but Kansas would win just one more time. In fact, over the final eight games, it fell by an average score of 42-14.
22. Butch Jones, Cincinnati
Is this the second coming of Steve Kragthorpe in the Big East? Jones inherited a team that had been to back-to-back BCS bowl games, yet couldn’t even get it postseason eligible. The Bearcats managed just four wins, going bowl-less for the first time since 2005 and squandering a lot of the momentum gained during the Brian Kelly years. Okay, so a three-peat was a reach, but there was too much offensive talent for Cincy to be this bad.