Tue. Question - Best & Curious Coaching Hires

Posted Jan 22, 2008

What were the three best new coaching hires and which were the three most questionable? Maybe a program got a good under-the-radar hire, or maybe, like Michigan with Rich Rodriguez, there was a big splash. The CFNers give their choices.

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Pete Fiutak     

Q: The three best new coaching hires and the three most questionable ones were …

A: Best hires ...

3. Jerry Kill, Northern Illinois - Among the least visible of all the coaching changes, Kill comes in from his highly successful stint as the head man for Southern Illinois, a FCS power. Don't be shocked if he does what Joe Novak couldn't and gets the program over the hump. This could be a rent-a-coach situation like Brian Kelly's move from Central Michigan to Cincinnati last year.

2. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech - Lost on the public is just how little D-I talent there is at Army and Navy. Hampered by the strictest of recruiting limitations, Johnson averaged 7.5 wins a year in Annapolis and was a regular in the bowl season. His offense is about to show the spread world that there's still a place for the triple-option at a high level.

1. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas - Whether or not you think he's a pud for bailing out on the sinking ship called the Atlanta Falcons that NO ONE in the coaching world wants any part of, the dude can actually coach. Remember, he was this close to being the Auburn head man before Tommy Tuberville started to turn things around, and now the Hogs got one of the best all-around college coaches with a great offense to follow. For a place like Arkansas, which hasn't been any sort of a BCS player, this could turn out to be a Nick-Saban-to-LSU like move.

Questionable hires ...

3. Bill Stewart, West Virginia - Off the field, the Mountaineer situation is a total and complete mess with a daily soap opera of bizarre things happening. On the field, the team is still good enough to win the Big East title and be on the short list of 2008 BCS title contenders. Was it just a knee-jerk reaction to the win over Oklahoma and did the upset force the hire? Would Sherman have been the new head man if the Mountaineers lost the Fiesta Bowl? 

2. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M - There's something very Dave Wannstedt about this move. Texas and Oklahoma aren't going to fold up shop with the hire of the former Green Bay head man. Is he the wow hire Aggie fans were looking for? Of course, the proof will be in the record, but Dennis Franchione beat Texas the last two years, and if Sherman can't do that, and get the program to a Big 12 title level in the next three years, the Big 12 big boys might get that much stronger while A&M is starting from scratch.

1. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan - Remember, as good as Rich Rod was at West Virginia, he failed to get the program over the hump and into the national title despite playing in the weakest of the BCS leagues and continually having one of the conference's strongest teams. Just winning the Big Ten isn't going to be enough, and no, just beating Ohio State isn't going to do the trick alone (although that will certainly help). Rodriguez has to put Michigan in the national championship on a semi-regular basis with anything less considered a failure. No pressure there. Considering the way things ended with West Virginia, the microscope will be on if anything goes slightly wrong, and he's going to need to fight through a potentially tough transition period before his new offense gets rolling at an elite level. He'll get one year to put the pieces in place, but that's it. This is Michigan. The supposed Leaders and the Best. It's not supposed to rebuild.

Richard Cirminiello      

Q: The three best new coaching hires and the three most questionable ones were …

: Best hires

1. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA – Neuheisel may make you hold your breath from time to time, but he made too much sense to not take a chance.  If he can avoid the tabloid stuff, what’s not to like about this hire?  He’s a UCLA guy that’s won in the Pac-10 before and loves to recruit, the perfect answer to Pete Carroll across town.  Neuheisel’s first two big catches?  DeWayne Walker to run the defense and Norm Chow to coordinate the offense, two quality coaches he beat out for the top job.  That alone says a ton about Neuheisel’s power of persuasion.  

2. June Jones, SMU – When you’re trying to climb a mountain at a place like SMU, you’ve got to have a coach with a hook.  Jones is one of those guys.  He’s got a national name, a proven track record as a program builder, and an offense that’s going to attract more talent than he was able to get at Hawaii.  In a couple of years, Jones will have some undersized, Chase Daniel clone that Texas didn’t want throwing for 5,000 yards a year.  The Mustangs are closer to a bowl game than last year’s record indicates, and Jones is the guy to get them over the hump.    

3. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas – Set aside your personal feelings about Petrino.  The fact is that he can coach, and has a history of success at this level, something the Hogs had to have after cutting ties with Houston Nutt.  If quarterback guru Petrino isn’t in Fayetteville, does one-time mega-recruit Ryan Mallett choose Arkansas after leaving Michigan?  Maybe not.  

Questionable hires

1. Bill Stewart, West Virginia – Is it just me, or did this look like a major knee-jerk reaction to the Fiesta Bowl win from an administration that did nothing right after Rich Rodriguez resigned?  What exactly has Stewart accomplished to warrant a head coaching job of this caliber?  The fact that the players overwhelmingly endorsed Stewart should have been cause for concern, rather than a reason to offer a contract.  There’s too much returning talent for him to get exposed in 2008, but look out in 2009.  I’m thinking Larry Coker at Miami or Bill Doba at Washington State, coaches that did well with someone else’s players, yet couldn’t maintain that success for very long.

2. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M – Sherman might get the last laugh, but I just don’t get it.  The Aggies wasted no time searching for other candidates, tapping a coach that was fired by the Green Bay Packers after six decent seasons, and hasn’t been on a college sideline in almost 12 years.  Okay, so he does have a history in College Station, but that was a long time ago, and hardly something that can be pointed to as an asset.  Understanding what Texas A&M is hoping to accomplish in the Big 12 South, it needed a home run with this hire.  Mike Sherman just doesn’t look like a four-bagger.

3. Bo Pelini, Nebraska – I accept that I’m alone on this one, but considering what the Huskers endured during the Bill Callahan years, they needed the closest thing possible to a slam dunk, someone that’s proven himself as a head coach.  Pelini is not that guy.  Yes, he’s a terrific defensive coordinator who’ll help bring the pride back to the Blackshirts, but we’ve seen a million times before that top coordinators don’t always equate into top head coaches.  Pelini may wind up being the answer, but at such a crossroads moment for the Nebraska program, it needed more of a sure thing than someone with no head coaching experience.  

John Harris

Q: The three best new coaching hires and the three most questionable ones were …

Three Best Hires

1.  Duke – David Cutcliffe.  The Blue Devil program can only go up and the former Ole Miss head man had the Rebels in the Cotton Bowl, the last bowl the Rebels have seen.  I don’t know that Duke could’ve done any better than Cutcliffe.

2.  Michigan – Rich Rodriguez.  Sorry, West Virginia fans, but it’s obvious how good a coach he is with the backlash that transpired when Coach Rod departed for Ann Arbor.  Just keep Pitt off the schedule and Michigan football will be fine.

3.  UCLA – Rick Neuheisel.  I can’t believe that I’m saying this and I wouldn’t have hired him, but I think this was the only place that he could’ve landed.  The fact that he left two programs in ruins concerns me, but this is his alma mater, so hopefully he can keep his nose clean.  And, if he does, this hire might be the best.

Three questionable Hires

1.  West Virginia – Bill Stewart.  This might appear to be piling on (after putting Michigan in my list above), but I just have a problem making a decision after one game.  Recall the Michigan State hire of Bobby Williams and how that program performed after his hiring.  MSU is still trying to recover.  Hopefully what WVU got with Stewart in Glendale will translate over a complete season.

2.  Arkansas – Bobby Petrino.  One year, maybe two tops in Fayetteville before he starts looking again.  Arkansas got its splashy hire and will be looking again shortly.  It’d be irresponsible for any of us to think that Petrino is here for the long haul. 

3.  Nebraska – Bo Pelini.  Not so much because of Pelini, but this program and Jim Grobe would’ve been a match made in red and white heaven.  I think what Pelini will do for the defense, Grobe could’ve done for the entire program.  I understand why Pelini was hired, but going after a guy like Grobe would’ve been worth the slight risk of the unknown.

Matthew Zemek  

Q: The three best new coaching hires and the three most questionable ones were …

A: The three best hires:
3) June Jones, SMU. The program crushed two decades ago by the death penalty just might have found new life.
2) Ken Niumatalolo, Navy. A forward step for minority coaches and for the sport of college football itself. A landmark hire by Navy AD Chet Gladchuk.
1) Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. The man who deserved his shot at a big gig finally got it. The Yellow Jackets went from a Chan Gailey Edsel to a brand-new Prius.
The three most questionable hires:
3) Rich Rodriguez, Michigan. Could revolutionize the Big Ten. Could also blow up in the face of a proud university who has had high-character coaches for most of the past 39 seasons (if not more).
2) Bobby Petrino, Arkansas. A great coach in the college game when it comes to scoring points and winning games, but a coach is also supposed to be the face of a program and a model of both leadership and integrity who will holistically enrich and educate young men. Petrino obviously lacks the off-field components of a good coach. He could win SEC titles, but he also needs to learn from past indiscretions and give the Hogs the length of the contract he just signed.
1) Larry Fedora, Southern Miss. No offense to Fedora, but hiring anyone other than God is a bad hire when you consider the disgraceful spectacle of shoving Jeff Bower out the door.