Analyzing the New Head Coaches ... 2006

Posted Feb 15, 2007

Richard Cirminiello breaks down and analyzes the 2006 new head coaches.

By Richard Cirminiello

The coaching carousel, which describes the comings and goings of head coaches each off-season has never been more aptly named than this year—a child’s amusement park ride as a metaphor for a cycle that has been completely dominated by babes, by coaching standards.  It’s an ideal fit.

Unlike the last two years, when turnover was rampant, and wily, seasoned veterans gobbled up high-profile jobs, the past few months have seen only nine new hires that averaged just 40 years of age.   Three of the nine rookies are 36 years old, youngest among all I-A coaches, and just one—Colorado’s Dan Hawkins—has ever held a head job in college.  There’s no Mike Price to discuss or George O’Leary to debate about.  And no Steve Spurrier, Charlie Weis, Les Miles or Urban Meyer for beat writers to follow incessantly leading up to, and beyond spring ball.  The upcoming season will, however, have a Prince, a Hawk, a Gill and a man named Golden, who bring youthful enthusiasm to new towns and educe a certain amount of skepticism and trepidation from local fans.

School athletic directors made a clear statement this off-season—regardless of age, if you can coach and, most important, recruit, a head coaching job might be in your future.  At least for one year, youth has been served…on a near-empty carousel laden primarily with unproven and untested career assistants.

Boise State
Head Coach
: Chris Petersen
Former Coach: Dan Hawkins
: Petersen, 41, slides over from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, positions the two-time Broyles Award finalist held for five seasons.  Under his watch, Boise State was a balanced, complex attack and the nation’s highest scoring offense at more than 41 points a game.  Petersen also tutored quarterbacks at Portland State for two years and Pittsburgh in 1992, and was Oregon’s wide receivers coach for the six seasons preceding his arrival at Boise.  He played for UC-Davis when Hawkins was a coach at the I-AA school.           
The Skinny: It’s hard not to kick back and marvel at how Boise State has become a coaching farm system for the BCS schools.  Houston Nutt, Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins have each showcased their skills at the program before landing high-profile promotions, and Petersen has the skills to be just as successful as his predecessors.  He’s been the architect of one of the country’s most prolific offenses and interest in his services peaks every December.  Hawkins will be missed, but his departure allowed the Broncos to retain one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks.  
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
: QB Jared Zabransky.  After busting out in 2004, Zabransky took a giant step backwards his junior year, particularly in the passing game.  Had someone other than Petersen replaced Hawkins, the beleaguered quarterback would have felt the aftershock far more than any other Bronco.        

Head Coach
: Turner Gill
Former Coach: Jim Hofher   
Bio: So good was Gill, now 43, during his playing days at Nebraska, few folks realize he’s been coaching at the college and pro level for the last 17 years.  Fourteen of those seasons were spent back in Lincoln, tutoring quarterbacks from 1992-2003 under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich and wide receivers on Bill Callahan’s staff in 2004.  Seeking an opportunity to make himself more marketable for head coaching jobs, Gill accepted a position as the Director of Player Development/Offensive Assistant with the Green Bay Packers.  He was 28-2 as the ‘Husker starting quarterback and played two seasons with the CFL’s Montreal Concordes.
The Skinny: This is one of those win-win deals.  Gill desperately wanted his own gig after losing out to Callahan and others in Nebraska and Hal Mumme at New Mexico State, and views Buffalo as an only-way-is-up stepping stone.  For the Bulls, the hire is a stroke of genius.  When you’re Buffalo, and you’ve won five games in four years, you need to make a splash when there’s an opening.  Gill offers that in a fashion that parallels Solich’s arrival on the Ohio campus a year ago.  Recruits are excited and writers are penning national articles about Buffalo, making the move a no-brainer, even if Gill initially struggles in the leap from position coach to head coach.  
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
: QB Drew Willy.  Gill knows a little something about playing the position and managing a game, and Willy showed potential in 2005, throwing six of the Bulls’ seven touchdown passes as a true freshman.  If he’s lucky, Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost and Eric Crouch will pop into camp this spring to offer some pointers.

Head Coach
: Dan Hawkins
Former Coach: Gary Barnett
: From the College of the Siskiyous to Boise State, wherever Hawkins, 45, has coached, he’s always won big.  The road to Boulder began at his alma mater, UC-Davis, and included brief layovers at schools like Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento and Sonoma State.  Hawkins’ first head job came at NAIA Willamette College, where he went 40-11-1 from 1993-1997 and positioned himself for a spot with Dirk Koetter, who arrived at Boise State in 1998.  Hawkins coached Bronco tight ends from 1998-2000 before replacing Koetter at the end of the 2000 season.  In five years at the Boise helm, he was 53-11 with four straight WAC Championships and a couple of Top 25 finishes.   
The Skinny
: There’s at least one big coaching catch every off-season, and Hawkins was it in 2005.  Colorado was looking to turn the page on the volatile Gary Barnett era, and landed an aggressive and accomplished winner, who seemed to be on everyone’s short list for openings the past few years.  At worst, he gives the Boulder community someone to rally around for the first time in years.  The Buffs will hardly abandon the run going forward, but with Hawkins and former Arizona State passing game coordinator Mark Helfrich calling the shots, expect the offense to lean more on the vertical game and be far less predictable than in the past.     
Putting Out the Welcome Mat: Whoever replaces Joel Klatt at quarterback might struggle in the early going with the new offensive system.  However, gifted young receivers, such as Patrick Williams and Dusty Sprague will see an immediate uptick in their production and increased roles in this offense. 

Kansas State
Head Coach: Ron Prince
Former Coach: Bill Snyder  
Bio: Prince’s path to Manhattan and back to his Kansas roots has had many stops along the way in places, such as Dodge City Community College, Alabama A&M, South Carolina State, James Madison and Cornell.  His big break came in 2000, when Virginia’s Al Groh called looking for an offensive line coach, an opportunity he parlayed into the offensive coordinator’s job early in 2003.  In all of the change, the two constants for the 36-year old Prince have been a penchant for recruiting very well and a knack for coaching up young offensive linemen.         
The Skinny: It’s never easy replacing a legend like Bill Snyder, especially if you’re from outside the family and were a surprise hire.  Prince comes highly recommended, but is a total mystery to most and his dink-and-dunk style of offense had some Virginia fans screaming wahoo when he accepted the promotion.  The coach’s first recruiting class, headed by blue-chip quarterback Josh Freeman, was a nice introduction to ‘Cat fans and he does inherit a team that returns 18 starters and could win the Big 12 North immediately.
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
: The offensive line.  Prince will be pulled in many directions, but the big uglies are still his babies, and KSU returns six wide-eyed freshmen that finished the 2005 season on the two-deep.     

Middle Tennessee State
Head Coach
: Rick Stockstill
Former Coach: Andy McCollum  
Bio: It took his first head coaching opportunity to pry Stockstill, 45, away from the Atlantic Coast, where he’s spent the last quarter-century as a player and a coach.  The former Florida State quarterback played for Bobby Bowden and learned on the sidelines from a diverse cross-section of coaches, including Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz, Danny Ford, Tommy Bowden and Ken Hatfield.  Stockstill spent the last two seasons working for Holtz and Spurrier at South Carolina, but built the majority of his experience at Clemson from 1989-2002, coaching receivers for nine years and quarterbacks for five.  In 2003, he was the offensive coordinator for East Carolina.       
The Skinny: For a few years, the Blue Raiders appeared capable of breaking North Texas’ hold on to Sun Belt supremacy, but it never happened.  Enter Stockstill, an offensive-minded coach, who’s watched film with his share of college luminaries and is recognized as a top-notch recruiter.  He’ll need to be to get a better caliber of athlete to Murfreesboro.  Should Raider fans be concerned that Stockstill has been a coordinator for just one of his 24 years as an assistant?    
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
: WR Bobby Williams.  Stockstill has had tremendous success tutoring wide receivers over the years, and Williams is his best looking pupil at Middle Tennessee.  He’s 6-3, and as a true freshman, earned 10 starts and pulled down 22 receptions.   

Head Coach
: Todd Graham
Former Coach: Ken Hatfield
Bio: Graham’s first college head job takes him back to Texas, where he was born and raised and was an all-state high school defensive back.  The 41-year old coach used a very successful three-year stint as Tulsa’s defensive coordinator as a springboard for this unexpected promotion and also spent two seasons on Rich Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia.  The majority of Graham’s resume, however, contains various high school positions, most notably a six-year run from 1995-2000 as the skipper of Allen (Tex.) High School in which the Eagles made five postseason trips and their head coach blossomed into a hot item.           
The Skinny: There are reclamation projects, and then there’s Rice, a floundering program that has tattered facilities, no bowl invites in 45 years and in 2005 suffered through its worst attendance in 56 seasons.  Graham’s a high energy guy, who’s going to need every ounce of it to get the Owls competitive in Conference USA.  The new coach does know the Texas landscape very well, which has already helped with recruiting, and after a dozen increasingly stale years with Ken Hatfield at the helm, brings a fresh vibe to Houston.  
Putting Out the Welcome Mat: Graham will mesh nicely with a secondary that returns all four starters, but the big winner is quarterback Pierre Beasley, the gem of this recruiting class, who gets to learn from new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and has a chance to become the face of Rice football early in his career.           

San Diego State
Head Coach
: Chuck Long
Former Coach: Tom Craft   
Bio: Whether he was wearing a helmet or a headset, success has always followed the 42-year old Long.  He’s played or coached in 14 bowl games, including three Rose Bowls, finished runner-up to Bo Jackson in the 1985 Heisman race and was on board for Oklahoma’s national title in 2000 and three Big 12 championships.  In a profession of job-hoppers, Long is an anomaly, having coached at just two schools since retiring from the NFL in 1994.  He’s spent the last six years in Norman, the first two as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator and the last four as offensive coordinator.  And from 1995-1999, he was both a secondary coach and a quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Iowa.        
The Skinny: In no uncertain terms, Long believes the Aztecs can begin winning Mountain West championships immediately.  San Diego State is paying him nearly twice what they were giving Tom Craft, so the pressure will be on him to deliver.  Long is on to something regarding the school’s potential.  San Diego State has always been able to attract quality players to the Mesa, but Craft and his predecessors were unable to mesh that bounty into victories.  If Long can break the current streak of seven non-winning seasons, he’ll be well-positioned for another promotion.  He’s Bob Stoops’ fourth assistant to land a head job, joining Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and Mike Stoops. 
Putting Out the Welcome Mat: QB Kevin O’Connell.  A former All-American quarterback at Iowa, Long also had a Sooner pupil finish in the top 3 of the Heisman balloting three consecutive years.  O’Connell threw 19 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2005, but was also picked 12 times, and will benefit from Long’s experience.

Head Coach
: Al Golden
Former Coach: Bobby Wallace   
Bio: Temple went local and went for youth, tabbing the 36-year old Golden, who hails from nearby New Jersey and played tight end at Penn State from 1989-1991.  He arrives from Virginia, where he was Al Groh’s defensive coordinator since 2001 and an integral part of the Cavs’ recruiting team.  Golden also spent the 2000 season at his alma mater and three years with Boston College, coaching the linebackers at both schools.  His introduction into coaching came as one of George Welsh’s graduate assistants at UVa from 1994-1996.                  
The Skinny: Rocky Balboa fought tougher odds in Philadelphia than what Golden is about to undertake.  Temple football has been on life support the past five years, losing games as fast it’s losing fans and spending two years in purgatory before the MAC open its gates in 2007.  The Owls future hinges on a young product of the Garden State, who attended Penn State, was a former defensive coordinator of a current ACC school and has earned a reputation as a crackerjack recruiter.  In other words, Temple AD Bill Bradshaw is hedging his bets that he’s landed Greg Schiano: The Sequel.  Golden has been a hot name the last two Decembers, but still a lot to prove in the coaching fraternity.  
Putting Out the Welcome Mat: Owl linebackers.  Golden has coached linebackers ever since getting into the profession, and his 3-4 defense requires a multitude of versatile defenders that can play the position well.      

Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Former Coach: Barry Alvarez
Bio: Bielema has been on the coaching fast track ever since his NFL quest came to an end and he chose this profession.  He’s learned from some of the all-time greats over the past decade, including Hayden Fry, Bill Snyder, Kirk Ferentz and Barry Alvarez.  Bielema spent nine years as a defensive assistant with his alma mater, Iowa, before moving on to Kansas State to serve as Snyder’s co-defensive coordinator.  In 2004, he was lured to Madison to fix a leaky defense, and was an immediate success, guiding a no-name unit to No. 6 nationally in scoring defense and No. 9 in total defense.  At only 36, Bielema has built a robust resume and is the youngest head coach at the I-A level.
The Skinny: Time will tell if the excitable Bielema was the right choice to replace an icon like Alvarez, however, the way the University orchestrated the transition was commendable.  Bielema got the job last summer, side-stepping all of the inevitable distractions and rumors that would have followed the Badgers in 2005 and allowing him to shadow Alvarez all year, while gathering some valuable on-the-job training.  Plus, had the administration ruminated until December, when Wisconsin was struggling on D, Alvarez’s hand-picked successor may have been a tougher sell.     
Putting Out the Welcome Mat: DT Justin Ostrowski.  Defense has always been Bielema’s focus, but will be even more so in 2006 after his unit collapsed at times last fall.  Ostrowski has a star’s upside, and after sitting out most of 2005, is set to begin a salary run as the anchor of Bielema’s D.