Analyzing the New Coaches - Penn St-Wazzu
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien
Posted Jan 21, 2012

Meet the new bosses. Learn about all the new coaching hires - Penn State to Washington State

The New Head Coaches

The Class of 2012 - Part 3

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2011 New Head Coaches
- 2010 New Head Coaches
- 2009 New Head Coaches
- 2007 New Head Coaches
- 2006 New Head Coaches
- 2005 New Head Coaches

- 2012 New Head Coaches - Akron to Fresno State
- 2012 New Head Coaches - Hawaii to Ole Miss
- 2012 New Head Coaches - Penn State to Washington State
The coaching carousel has spun at warp speed since November, ushering in new eras on more than two dozen campuses across the country. Out with the old and in with the new. Significant change is in the air in every corner of the map. From UCLA to UAB, and Ohio State to Washington State, new staffs are feverishly beginning to put their own stamp on programs, while attempting to maintain the integrity of recruiting classes. There have been a handful of surprises to go along with a bunch high-profile returns to FBS sidelines, such as Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Terry Bowden, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis. Welcome back to the boiler room, gentlemen.

Each and every new hire arrives with cause for celebration ... and concern. It'll be years before it's known which athletic directors flourished during this cycle of new hires and which flopped, meaning all of this season's tenderfoots begin their careers on relatively equal ground. C Penn State
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien
Replaces: Joe Paterno
Last Gig: New England Patriots offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: How miserable was the quarterback play at Penn State over the last few years? Matt McGloin? Rob Bolden? The Nittany Lions haven't gotten enough production, and O'Brien knows quarterbacks after coaching up Tom Brady for the last few years. He's a young, hungry head coach who won't have any problems hitting the recruiting trail and working in a division to battle with Urban Meyer and Bret Bielema for players. Best of all, at the moment, he's not a Joe Paterno disciple. He represents a fresh new start for a program in desperate need of one.

Reason to question the hire: The Bill Belichick disciples haven't exactly rocked after leaving the nest. O'Brien is a relative unknown, and while that might be a plus in a lot of ways at the moment, he has some impossible shoes to fill and has to appease a lot of angry alumni and fans. He looked great getting to coach Tom Brady, but can he actually run a major program like Penn State? He has never been a head coach, and - considering Tom Bradley's interim status - now he'll be known as the one who's taking over the full-time job from a legend.

Head Coach: Paul Chryst
Replaces: Todd Graham
Last Gig: Wisconsin offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: Graham's unexpected departure could end up being a blessing for Pitt. Chryst has been one of the hottest assistants in America for some time, engineering a balanced, well-coached and potent offense in Madison. He's a terrific X's and O's guy who just completed an apprenticeship with one of the best run programs in the FBS. Fans in Western Pennsylvania will have no problems embracing Chryst's physical, power-based running game.

Reason to question the hire: Chryst is a blue-collar football guy from a blue-collar football family. However, he's not particularly verbose or prone to working the media, which become unavoidable duties of the profession. Ideally, he's the kind of coach who'd much rather be teaching and breaking down film than making public appearances. Those sorts of traits are ideal in a coordinator, but could be seen as aloof in a chief executive. Chryst will need to tweak his approach a little now he's the man in charge.

Southern Miss
Head Coach: Ellis Johnson
Replaces: Larry Fedora
Last Gig: South Carolina defensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: Southern Miss has inked one of the country's best defensive coaches, an ideal fix at a school that's lacked consistency on that side of the ball. Johnson has a long and distinguished career, mostly in the South, of leading defenses, such as Clemson, Alabama and Mississippi State before flourishing on Steve Spurrier's staff the last four seasons. He knows the local terrain extremely well, even spending two years in Hattiesburg in the late 1980's, which will provide a much-needed edge in recruiting.

Reason to question the hire: Terrific coordinator, yes. But is everyone convinced Johnson is head coaching timber? He's now 60 years old, which means Southern Miss has gotten much older on the sidelines, and in four years leading Gardner-Webb and The Citadel, he failed to produce a winning season. Although he'll continue to run the spread that Fedora birthed in Hattiesburg, Johnson was accused in the past of being too conservative, and for putting the brakes on his team's offensive attack.

Texas A&M
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Replaces: Mike Sherman
Last Gig: Houston head coach

Reason to like the hire: At the age of 47, Sumlin is creative, successful and in the prime of his coaching career. He took the baton from Art Briles in 2008, and elevated the Houston program, darn near leading the Cougars to an improbable BCS bowl bid this past year. He obviously knows the state of Texas intimately well, and has been adept at becoming a well-liked disciplinarian in the eyes of his players.

Reason to question the hire: As well as Sumlin did at Houston, he never won a Conference USA title. And now his new employer is relocating to a new league, the Southeastern Conference, with a whole new collection of opponents and challenges. The cynic will point out that the Cougars won a ton of games with record-setting Case Keenum in the saddle, but slumped to 5-7 a year ago, when the quarterback was injured. To survive in the SEC, you better have a stout D, which hasn't been a Sumlin trademark.

Head Coach: Matt Campbell
Replaces: Tim Beckman
Last Gig: Toledo offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: The Rockets promoted from within, a wise move bearing in mind that their recent success was built on the shoulders of Campbell's offense. A young and energetic student of the game, he relates well to the current players on the roster as well as those considering spending the next four years at Toledo. He's also one of the MAC's best recruiters, aided by a great feel for every corner of the Ohio map.

Reason to question the hire: Campbell isn't just green—at 32, he's now the youngest head coach in the FBS. Bright future? No doubt. However, the present will include a steep learning curve and a mess of responsibilities that never reach the coordinator's office. While Campbell's offense will continue to be dynamite, he'll have to figure out a way to retool the D in order to cop a conference title.

Head Coach: Curtis Johnson
Replaces: Bob Toledo
Last Gig: New Orleans Saints wide receivers coach

Reason to like the hire: The Green Wave would have been hard-pressed to find a candidate with better ties to the Big Easy than Johnson. He's not only a native of New Orleans, but has also been on Sean Payton's Saints staff since 2006. While LSU has nothing to worry about, the new staff will have a much better chance of luring local talent to Tulane than recent head coaches Bob Toledo and Chris Scelfo. Despite coming via the NFL, Johnson has held numerous college jobs.

Reason to question the hire: Johnson has skipped a few steps en route to his first head coaching job. Sure, he's dynamite at handling wide receivers, but he's never even held a coordinator's title. Having been surrounded by first-rate talent since 1996, with the Saints and Miami Hurricanes, Johnson could suffer through a bout of culture shock after digesting the Tulane roster. He's also been away from the college ranks for a while, yet another tough adjustment to manage.

Head Coach: Garrick McGee
Replaces: Neil Callaway
Last Gig: Arkansas offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: Successful stints coordinating the Northwestern and Arkansas offenses since 2006 have McGee climbing the coaching ladder, and landing his first head job long before his 40th birthday. More than just a quality coach, he's a leader and a mentor to his players. McGee has shown a penchant for teaching his kids in such a way that they want to go the extra mile for him.

Reason to question the hire: Like any first-time head coach in his 30's, there's a legitimate concern about his ability to handle the challenges associated with the job. Not only have his responsibilities exploded practically overnight, but he's in the unenviable position of trying to breathe life into one of the lowest of the FBS programs. Hey, Callaway, too, was a coveted SEC assistant not long ago, but wound up leaving Birmingham as his coaching career circled the drain.

Head Coach: Jim L. Mora
Replaces: Rick Neuheisel
Last Gig: NFL Network analyst

Reason to like the hire: In dire need of a new direction, the Bruins sure did orchestrate one with this hire, their first since 1949 with no ties to UCLA. Mora brings a fresh outlook and renewed energy to Westwood, where malaise and reduced expectations have hit the campus. The longtime veteran of the NFL will not be infected by the program's culture of losing, or become unnerved by butting heads with crosstown rival USC. Mora is a pro, the kind of new sheriff who'll look to transform UCLA right down to its core.

Reason to question the hire: Who's about to undergo more of a culture shock, Mora or his new employer? The coach has no relevant experience at the college level. None. That'll guarantee a steep learning curve with recruiting, the region, NCAA guidelines, the Pac-12 and more. Not only has Mora been in a studio the last two years, but his production was on a steady decline in the NFL. After starting fast in Atlanta, he missed the playoffs the next two years and was fired. In his only season as the Seattle Seahawks head coach, he went 5-11, and was ironically replaced by former USC coach Pete Carroll. You never know how these things might work out, but this is a very strange hire for a school that has to get it right.

Washington State
Head Coach: Mike Leach
Replaces: Paul Wulff
Last Gig: CBS Sports Network analyst

Reason to like the hire: Wazzu needed to make a splash. Leach is Shamu. Say whatever you want about the coach, but he does two things extremely well—win football games and ratchet up interest in a program. Both of those characteristics are very appealing to an athletic director. Leach's offenses at Texas Tech were perennially among the highest scoring during a decade-long tenure marked by 10 bowl games and five Top 25 finishes. Leach is a free spirit and a quote machine, the kind of character that will put the Cougars back on the national radar before too long.

Reason to question the hire: Leach's eccentric personality can get him and his program in hot water at times. Witness his controversial departure from Lubbock, which ended with allegations of player mistreatment and a wrongful termination lawsuit. As successful as the swashbuckler was with the Red Raiders, he was never able to get them over the hump. Often challenged defensively, Tech won 10 games just one time, and was never able to break through and capture the Big 12 South.