Ranking The 2012 Rookie Head Coaches
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
Posted Dec 18, 2012

Which head coaches were best and worst this year at their new jobs?

The 2012 First-Year Head Coaches

Ranking the new guys

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2011 First-Year Coach Rankings
- 2010 First-Year Coach Rankings
- 2009 First-Year Coach Rankings
- 2008 First-Year Coach Rankings
- 2007 First-Year Coach Rankings 

Ranking the 2012 First-Year Head Coaches
- Okay ... learning on the fly. - 12 to 20
- Don't get comfortable - 21 to 28

Nearly 30 head coaches made their debuts at college campuses across the country in 2012. While the results were predictably uneven, it was generally a positive year for the rookies. Nearly half piloted their teams to a .500 mark, with one sweeping his slate of games.

The challenges for each of the newcomers were similar—hit the ground running in a new position and often on a completely unfamiliar terrain. Oh, and if you can help ignite fan interest, and keep the turnstiles moving, that'd be appreciated, too. Although the majority of coaches made good first impressions this fall, a handful of others are already trying to do damage control before Signing Day and the start of another spring session.

Quick, get this guy a long-term extension

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
On Nov. 28, 2011, Meyer was hired to coach the Buckeyes. His first loss with program won't happen before Aug. 31, 2013, when Buffalo visits Columbus.

Only two of the nation's 124 FBS programs has yet to lose a game in 2012. And Ohio State is one of them. NCAA sanctions denied the program a shot at a Big Ten championship or a bowl game, but not at running the table. Meyer had his share of close calls with the likes of Cal, Indiana and Purdue, but always found a way to survive. In fact, the Buckeyes went 6-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, the sign of a well-coached squad.

Meyer's impact on QB Braxton Miller was instant and obvious. The sophomore quickly grasped the new system, and finished fifth in Heisman voting. This duo is going to win a lot of games together, and contend for titles now that the penalties have been paid.

2. Bill O'Brien, Penn State
No rookie head coach had more unique hurdles to overcome than O'Brien. And it wasn't even close.

O'Brien endured one of the most trying debuts in recent college football history, yet somehow milked eight wins from a team that had been diluted by preseason transfers. Penn State was engulfed by the distractions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and the subsequent NCAA sanctions that cut the program down at the knees. O'Brien, though, displayed tremendous poise, leadership and resolve in the face of adversity, keeping his kids focused even after opening with losses to Ohio and Virginia.

There are plenty more challenges ahead in Happy Valley, but little doubt in the region that the Nittany Lions have the right man to guide it out of the woods.

3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
With Johnny Manziel commanding so much attention—and a Heisman—is it possible that everyone has sort of downplayed just how transformative Sumlin has been in 2012?

Aggies fans would love to forget the Mike Sherman era, but it happened. And it figured to encumber Sumlin for at least this year, especially as his program made the difficult relocation from the Big 12 to the SEC. Instead, A&M has won 10 games for the first time in 14 years, with a Cotton Bowl date against Oklahoma still to come. It finished the year as one of America's hottest teams, highlighted by the Nov. 10 upset of ‘Bama in Tuscaloosa, and was close losses to Florida and LSU away from being unbeaten.

While Manziel is a special talent, he was also a rookie when the year began. Sumlin's offense and the staff he assembled in College Station deserve credit for the quarterback's rapid ascent.

4. Jim Mora, UCLA
The Bruins were a rudderless ship when Mora took the job a year ago. Today, they're a nine-win program and Pac-12 South champs, with a very bright future ahead.

Mora did a miraculous job right out of the gate, proving that a lack of college coaching experience could quickly be overcome. His first team was instantly better prepared and more competitive than at any time during the Rick Neuheisel era. UCLA registered four quality victories, capped by a statement defeat of rival USC on Nov. 17, before hitting a roadblock in Stanford. The fact that the Bruins have pulled even with the Trojans practically overnight underscores the incredible work that Mora has done so far in Westwood.

5. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
It doesn't take Freeze very long to enact change on a new campus, does it?

In the coach's three head jobs at this level, he's engineered season-over-season improvements in his first year of five wins at Lambuth, six wins at Arkansas State and no fewer than four wins at Ole Miss. By turning the Rebels into a bowl-eligible squad for the first time in three years, he has the school way ahead of schedule in a rebuilding plan that wasn't expected to produce a payout until at least 2013.

Everyone's pick to pull up the SEC West rear, Ole Miss finished ahead of Arkansas and Auburn, and beat Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Plus, it lost to Texas A&M, Vandy and LSU by an average of just a field goal. The offense was instantly exciting under Freeze, bringing the most hope to the Grove since Eli Manning was still taking classes.

6. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
No first-year coach has overseen a greater improvement from 2011 than DeRuyter, whose Bulldogs have upgraded by five games, with the Hawaii Bowl still left to be played on Christmas Eve.

The coach has no doubt benefitted from the presence of predecessor Pat Hill's best players, like QB Derek Carr, RB Robbie Rouse and S Phillip Thomas. However, he still needed to eradicate the culture of mediocrity that permeated the locker room. Fresno State played like a very different team this season, winning seven of the final eight regular season games … each by double-digits. DeRuyter's agent got calls about multiple job openings; his current employer is thrilled that he's still on the payroll.

The ground floor is down … now go build on it

7. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
When Rodriguez was hired, the Wildcats had won just a single bowl game since 1998. The coach doubled that number in his first year on the job.

Rodriguez did not inherit a talent-rich squad that was ready-made for a postseason run, yet Arizona won eight games, capped by a thrilling comeback to beat Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, 49-48. With the victory in Albuquerque, the Cats knocked off five other bowl participants, including Toledo, Oklahoma State, Washington and USC. The fact that this staff was able to lay a foundation and even play a bonus game in December without any help from the D speaks to its skills as offensive teachers.

8. Todd Graham, Arizona State
The Sun Devils were not expected to be bowling during this season of rebuilding. That they'll face Navy in the Dec. 29 Fight Hunger Bowl is testament to the solid job done by Graham and his staff.

Arizona State began the year having won no more than six games in four straight years, and in need of a new quarterback to replace Brock Osweiler. Graham's first team in Tempe has been much more physical than recent editions, and ran the ball with authority. While a loss to Oregon on Oct. 18 set off a tough four-game losing streak, the 7-5 Devils rallied with back-to-back season-ending wins over Washington State and rival Arizona in Tucson.

9. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Flood had some of the biggest shoes to fill among the 2012 class of rookie head coaches, succeeding program architect Greg Schiano. On a cumulative basis, he did pretty well, but was so close to standing atop this list.

Flood got off to an improbably good start in his head coaching debut, opening 7-0, with a statement win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. And then the bottom began to fall out for the nation's 18th-ranked team. It lost three of its final five games, to Kent State, Pitt and Louisville. Right up until halftime of the finale with the Cardinals, the Knights were in the Big East driver's seat, but squandered a school-first conference title and BCS bowl game.

10. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora's toughest year in Chapel Hill is already in the rear view mirror. Now, he can go about the business of working toward an ACC title.

The coach and his staff took the reins of a veteran team that was not bowl-eligible this season, which comes with all kinds of motivational challenges. All things considered, they did rather well. The Tar Heels tied with Miami and Georgia Tech for a share of the Coastal Division crown, finishing their season 8-4. Carolina adapted quickly to Fedora's new offensive system, sporting a neatly-balanced attack that ranked among the nation's leaders in both total production and scoring.

11. Matt Campbell, Toledo
Campbell maintained the success of predecessor Tim Beckman, leading the Rockets to a second-straight nine-win season and a berth in the Idaho Potato Bowl.

At 33, the youngest coach in the FBS at the start of the season, he learned on the fly, surrounding himself with a youthful and energetic staff of assistants. The program continued to be paced by an unpredictable and balanced attack led by RB David Fluellen and QB Terrance Owens. Toledo handed Cincinnati its first loss of the year on Oct. 20, while losing to four teams that are bowling, Arizona in overtime, Ball State, Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois and 11-2 Utah State.

Ranking the 2012 First-Year Head Coaches
- Okay ... learning on the fly. - 12 to 20
- Don't get comfortable - 21 to 28