Ranking The Rookie Head Coaches - No. 12-20
Washington State head coach Mike Leach
Washington State head coach Mike Leach
Posted Dec 18, 2012

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

The 2012 First-Year Head Coaches

No. 12 to 20

By Richard Cirminiello

Ranking the 2012 First-Year Head Coaches
- The stars - Top 11
- Don't get comfortable - 21 to 28

A Cup O' Joe in Jonesboro served you well

12. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
It was common knowledge that Malzahn would use Arkansas State as a stepping stone to a much bigger job. Few expected him to jump so quickly.

Malzahn parlayed a successful 9-3 season that ended with a second straight Sun Belt championship into a return to Auburn and the SEC. His only losses this past season were to Oregon, Nebraska and Western Kentucky, who are joining the Red Wolves in the postseason. It was just two years ago that he was the offensive coordinator on the Plains, helping the Tigers to a national championship and QB Cam Newton to a Heisman Trophy. Malzahn takes over a program facing issues on and off the field, but he knows the terrain, which is a huge luxury for anyone planning to compete with Nick Saban in Alabama.

Very quietly, you did some nice things

13. Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic
Under Pelini, the Owls laid a foundation on which it plans to build in 2013 and beyond.

Florida Atlantic increased its win total from one in 2011 to three this past season, including upsets of Troy and bowl-bound Western Kentucky. Even in losing, the program was far more competitive than it was a year ago, dropping three games by a touchdown or less. His systems now established on both sides of the ball, Pelini will look to improve the overall talent level in Boca Raton so that the program can inch closer to postseason contention as a member of Conference USA in 2013.

14. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Fuente took control of a program that had won three games in the previous two years. The fact that Memphis went 4-8 in 2012 is called advancement.

The Tigers will take a three-game winning streak into next season, their longest run of success in more than four years. That the wins came against three other sub-.500 Conference USA opponents matters little, because Memphis isn't in a position to be choosy. Fuente and his staff have gradually begun to change the climate and culture around campus, no small achievement, which should pay dividends on Signing Day and next fall when the school joins the Big East.

You've got time … you'll need it

15. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
It was a rather strange season for Chryst and his .500 Panthers. The program is just happy that for the first time in three years, it's not in the market for a new head coach … for now.

An FBS conundrum, Pitt is the same team that lost to Youngstown State at home, yet beat Virginia Tech and Rutgers, finished strong and took unbeaten Notre Dame into triple-overtime on Nov. 3. For a program that's been pining for stability at the top, Chryst is capable of providing it as long he stays put and gets his kind of blue-collar players on campus. The Panthers got thrown a curve when Bret Bielema left Wisconsin, Chryst's alma mater and last employer, for Arkansas. At this time, though, Chryst is expressing his commitment to his current school.

16. Mike Leach, Washington State
The final impression of Leach's first season on the Palouse was a positive one. Good thing, too, since everything preceding the Apple Cup was not.

The Cougars wrapped up a 3-9 campaign by beating rival Washington in overtime, engineering the largest comeback in the series' 105-year history. It was a rather timely victory for a program that entered the final weekend on a nasty eight-game losing streak. Leach also had to deal with allegations of abuse from his best player, Marquess Wilson, who left the program in November. The wide receiver ultimately recanted his accusation, but it was still a nuisance for the staff. Leach needs time and a lot more players who'll buy into his message.

17. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
Yeah, progress was incremental, but it beats the alternative of being stuck in neutral.

After three straight 3-9 seasons under Steve Fairchild, McElwain did well to guide the Rams to four wins, especially considering the spate of injuries with which his program faced. Colorado State one-upped rival Colorado in the opener, and finished on a high note by winning three of the final five games. There's also talk of a new on-campus football stadium to replace the current outdated facilities. The future is trending north in Fort Collins, even if it was hard to tell from this season's record and offensive numbers.

18. Bob Davie, New Mexico
Under Davie, the Lobos showed undeniable progress, winning three more games than a year ago. It could have been even better had his young team been able to pull out some close games.

In 2011, New Mexico was outscored by an average of 26 points. This past fall? Less than five points per game. The Lobos will take a six-game losing streak into the offseason, but four of those defeats were by no more than touchdown. Davie has his running game where it needs to be, norming more than 300 yards a game on the ground, but now needs to get the rest of his roster playing at a more consistent level.

19. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Johnson took over a struggling program, with nine straight losing seasons when he arrived. The fact that he was on the payroll for No. 10 is not a reflection of his ability to turn things around.

The 2012 season went pretty much as expected at Tulane, though joining the Big East was certainly unexpected. The Green Wave won just a pair of games, getting a boost from the return from injury of QB Ryan Griffin. It was also competitive down the stretch with Rice and East Carolina, who are both bowling. Johnson grew up alongside his kids, enduring uncommon adversity, such as the broken neck suffered by S Devon Walker on Sept. 8.

20. Garrick McGee, UAB
Birmingham has been a place where coaching careers go to die. McGee is trying to change that track record.

His first Blazers team won just three games, two against fellow FBS opponents. A 46-9 loss at home to Memphis, who is also rebuilding under a rookie head coach, on Nov. 17 was another stark reminder of how far UAB must still travel. On a positive note, the innovative McGee was the catalyst for the nation's 19th-ranked passing team. He did a nice job of coaching up rookie QB Austin Brown, who began the year on the bench, but ended it with three three-touchdown games.

Ranking the 2012 First-Year Head Coaches
- The stars - Top 11
- Don't get comfortable - 21 to 28