Preview 2012 - Meet The New Coaches
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 2, 2012


With all the changes and all the surprises on the coaching front, do you know who all the new guys are? How good were the new hires and how will they all work out? Before jumping into the recruiting season, meet the new bosses who'll take over as Richard Cirminiello breaks down and analyzes 2012's new head coaches.

Preview 2012

Meet The New Head Coaches


By Richard Cirminiello

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- 2012 New Head Coaches - Akron to Florida Atlantic
- 2012 New Head Coaches - Fresno State to Memphis
- 2012 New Head Coaches - New Mexico to Pitt
- 2012 New Head Coaches - Rutgers to Washington State
 
The coaching carousel has spun at warp speed since last 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.

2012 SEASON PREVIEW
All August long, CFN and Scout.com will get you ready for the season with these great features. But that's not all. Check CFN's 2012 preview page for even more coverage.
Aug. 1: Top coaches on the hot seat
Aug. 3: Meet the new coaches
Aug. 6: Teams that might surprise us
Aug. 8: Teams that might disappoint us
Aug. 10: Teams that could ruin your season
Aug. 13: Biggest unanswered questions
Aug. 15: Great programs heading nowhere
Aug. 17: Unknown programs on the rise
Aug. 20: Top Heisman Trophy candidates
Aug. 22: Best games of the regular season
Aug. 24: Toughest stadiums to play in
Aug. 27: Teams most likely to play in BCS
Aug. 29: Title game match-ups we'd love
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.

Akron
Head Coach: Terry Bowden
Replaces : Rob Ianello
Last Gig: North Alabama head coach

Reason to like the hire: All of a sudden, the Zips are being led by one of the MAC’s most recognizable coaches, a member of the legendary Bowden family, and veteran of the SEC wars. Wherever Terry has been, success has usually followed, from small schools, like Samford and North Alabama, to Auburn. He has the personality, pedigree and Southern contacts to upgrade the talent base at Akron, an exciting departure for a school accustomed to inking in-over-their-heads assistants.

Reason to question the hire: How will Bowden’s brand sell in the Midwest, where he has no experience or roots? Yeah, he has considerable ties to Florida and Alabama, but successful MAC teams are always built around home-grown talent. He’ll need to surround himself with a staff that knows Ohio’s nuances and high school programs. Is Bowden looking to build a program, or simply use Akron as a stepping stone back to the big leagues?

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: Don’t expect a big jump up to a bigger and better gig, but he could find a role as another Frank Solich at Ohio. The potential is there to settle in and make the Akron job all his.

Arizona
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Replaces: Mike Stoops
Last Gig: CBS Sports Network analyst

Reason to like the hire: No, Rich Rod’s philosophy didn’t work at Michigan, but then again, Tucson is a far cry from Ann Arbor. Arizona figures to be a far more conducive spot for the coach to unleash a desert version of an offensive attack that was so successful for years in West Virginia. Plus, without the intense scrutiny he endured in the Big Ten, he’ll have a much better chance to recapture the magic he birthed in Morgantown, when he went 60-26 from 2001-07.

Reason to question the hire: The divorce from West Virginia and messy three-year stop with the Wolverines sure did uncover a lot of Rodriguez’s warts. He’s been a lightning rod for controversy since leaving his alma mater, ruffling the feathers of players, fans and even the NCAA. His image tarnished, he’ll benefit from a quick start, and also needs to get acclimated with an area of the country he’s never canvassed for talent.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: This will be terrific. Lost in all the issues at Michigan was that his offense actually worked. It might take a little while to find the right guys to fit the system, but he won’t have the pressure he had to deal with in Ann Arbor. Now he just needs a defense.

Arizona State
Head Coach: Todd Graham
Replaces: Dennis Erickson
Last Gig: Pittsburgh head coach

Reason to like the hire: The Sun Devils landed an experienced head coach, but unlike Erickson, it’s getting one with a lot more tread left on the tires. Though just 48, Graham has already held top jobs at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh, bringing much-needed discipline and energy to each new stop. The Texas native has ties to the region, and has won at places that attract far less talent than he’ll have access to at Arizona State.

Reason to question the hire: Graham has gained a reputation as a job hopper, the result of being on his fourth assignment since 2006. Is this where the carousel finally stops? The coach labeled Pitt a destination job a year ago, and then bolted via a text to his players after going 6-6 with the Panthers. He’ll have to win over players and recruits who haven’t heard favorable snippets about him over the past month. Graham wasn’t the top choice of Arizona State or Pitt, which could be a worrisome omen.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: Arizona State has turned into the place where good coaching prospects go to melt. The pressure will be on Graham to not just succeed in the Pac-12 South, but to outshine Rich Rodriguez in-state. He’ll have his moments, but ASU won’t make a big jump forward.

Arkansas
Head Coach: John L. Smith
Replaces: Bobby Petrino
Last Gig: Weber State head coach

Reason to like the hire: Smith has pulled off a rare feat this offseason, landing two head coaching jobs before a single play is snapped. Considering the self-inflicted mess created by Petrino that resulted in his April 10 ouster, Smith was by far the most logical choice to maintain some degree of continuity at an awkward time of the year. He’d been with the Razorbacks for three seasons prior to returning to his alma mater, so he already knows the landscape, the personnel and the expectations in Fayetteville. As an 18-year veteran as the CEO, including stops at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, he’s seen it all, and is uniquely prepared to navigate tough circumstances.

Reason to question the hire: A short-term fix? You betcha. Long-term? Not so much. Smith is clearly at the tail end of his coaching trajectory, which is why he looked at Weber State as a chance to ride off into the sunset. He’s a pseudo-interim head coach, which is a less than ideal situation for a veteran team eyeing an SEC title in 2012. Smith can be somewhat of a loose and unpredictable cannon, both on Saturdays and with the media. In his last prominent gig, coaching the Spartans in the Big Ten, he flopped to a 22-26 mark that was capped by back-to-back league finishes of ninth or lower.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: He’ll do fine, but at this point Arkansas needs more than fine. He’ll do just enough to hang on for one extra year before the kickoff of the Gus Malzahn era.

Arkansas State
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
Replaces: Hugh Freeze
Last Gig: Auburn offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: In a stunning development, the Red Wolves were able to ink one of the hottest assistant coaches in the entire country. Considered among the most inventive young offensive minds around, Malzahn was the architect of the hurry-up, no-huddle attack that guided Auburn to the 2010 BCS National Championship. Where he goes, excitement follows. A high school coaching legend in Arkansas, he’ll enjoy a unique advantage for ferretting out some of the state’s hidden gems as he tries to transform Arkansas State into the Boise State of the South.

Reason to question the hire: Malzahn is like a pair of skates at your local rink—Arkansas State is renting him, not buying. If he can build on what Freeze accomplished in 2011, it’ll be only a matter of when, not if, he gets promoted to a higher profile and higher paying gig. Of course, he’s saying all of the right things now, but the lure of winning Sun Belt Conference crowns can keep a budding coach motivated for only so long.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: Wooooooooo … Pig Sooey. Welcome to the 2014 Arkansas head football coach.

Colorado State
Head Coach: Jim McElwain
Replaces: Steve Fairchild
Last Gig: Alabama offensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: In McElwain, the Colorado State administration believes it’s mined the second-coming of Sonny Lubick, a rock solid teacher with deep roots in the West. He brings to Fort Collins four seasons of experience coaching at the highest level of college football, playing for national championships as a member of Nick Saban’s staff. His last three quarterbacks—Greg McElroy, John Parker Wilson and Tom Brandstater—are in the NFL, promising news for young Rams hurler Garrett Grayson.

Reason to question the hire: McElwain’s offense has taken a lot of heat in recent years for what’s been perceived as a lack of creativity and pop. It remains to be seen if he was simply playing to the strengths he inherited in Tuscaloosa. If his future was on local ballots last November, the coach might have been voted off the Tide staff by fans. After being surrounded by elite talent, he’ll need to quickly adapt to the less refined recruits that call Colorado State home.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: It’s going to be rocky early after losing quarterback Pete Thomas to NC State and with several big problems on defense dismissing Nordly Capi and with Mike Orakpo gone. It might take a little while, but he should be a new coaching star.

Florida Atlantic
Head Coach: Carl Pelini
Replaces: Howard Schnellenberger
Last Gig: Nebraska defensive coordinator

Reason to like the hire: The Owls are going young to replace the venerable Schnellenberger, plucking the 46-year-old Pelini out of Lincoln. He was an integral part of Nebraska’s defensive turnaround in recent years, coaching up his kids with passion and a fiery intensity. He’ll bring that energy to Boca Raton, where the fans and the local prospects are going to appreciate the 24/7 commitment he brings to the job.

Reason to question the hire: How will Carl perform out on his own without the support of brother Bo, Nebraska’s head coach? To take nothing away from the former’s impact on the Huskers, but the latter’s fingerprints were all over the Blackshirts D. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. Not only will Pelini be running the show for the first time, and in unfamiliar terrain, but he’s following in the footsteps of the father of Florida Atlantic football.

CFN prediction on how he’ll do: He’s not going to outrecruit FIU’s Mario Cristobal for local Sun Belt-level talent, but his defenses are going to be terrific right away. His teams will be fine, not great. 

- 2012 New Head Coaches - Fresno State to Memphis
- 2012 New Head Coaches - New Mexico to Pitt
- 2012 New Head Coaches - Rutgers to Washington State