Analyzing & Welcoming The New Head Coaches
Posted May 3, 2009

There are 21 programs welcoming in new head coaches (and that includes Bill Snyder at Kansas State). Along with Snyder, Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Washington's Steve Sarkisian, and Miss State's Dan Mullen will try to turn things around. Richard Cirminiello breaks down all the new head men and how they might do.

Welcoming The New Head Coaches

Breaking Down the 21 New Bosses
By Richard Cirminiello


Head Coach: Rich Ellerson
Former Coach: Stan Brock
Last Seen: Coaching Cal Poly

Reason to like the hire: On many levels, Ellerson is an ideal fit for the struggling Black Knights. He has a successful track record as a head coach, leading Cal Poly to six straight winning seasons, and has unique ties to West Point; Ellerson’s father was an Army officer, and his brothers were graduates. Oh yeah, he’s also a strong proponent of the triple-option, which has become a staple for all successful service academies.      

Reason to question the hire: Culture shock. Ellerson has never been a head guy at this level, or coached east of Utah. Ever. Heck, when he was at Cal Poly, he had a sailboat on Avila Bay, a dive boat in the driveway, and a vineyard within walking distance of his front door. How long before the migraine of turning around Army has him longing for the good old days of the Great West Conference? 

The Early Hunch: Considering the constraints of being a service academy that hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, this is a shrewd hire by AD Kevin Anderson. Once Ellerson gets his personnel in place, he’s got a shot to become Paul Johnson light.       


Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Former Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Last Seen: Coaching Iowa State

Reason to like the hire: Just two years ago, Chizik was one of the hottest coordinators in the country. Think Will Muschamp without all the sideline theatrics. He’s young, motivated, well-liked by his players, and no stranger to what it takes to be successful at Auburn or in the SEC. For three years, he was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach and helping lead the program to a perfect season in 2004.  

Reason to question the hire: Going 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State was hardly the recipe for a promotion. Even worse, the Cyclones regressed in 2008, losing every conference game and beating just one FBS foe. Was Chizik a victim of poor talent or is he one of those really good coordinators that shouldn’t be a head coach? Auburn better pray it’s the former, or, considering the ominous climate surrounding this choice, things will get ugly on the Plains real fast.

The Early Hunch: There was a reason Iowa State wanted to extend Chizik’s contract before he packed up and left. He can coach and he still has a bright future. However, all of those allegations that race was a factor in the decision mean the media intensity will be more oppressive than ever, and the urgency to win right away is non-negotiable.   

Ball State

Head Coach: Stan Parrish
Former Coach: Brady Hoke
Last Seen: Coordinating the Ball State offense

Reason to like the hire: When you’ve got a good thing going, why go outside the organization and essentially start over? Parrish has been with Ball State since 2005, recruiting many of the kids on the roster and leading an offense that’s set a slew of school records. He personally tutored Nate Davis, the MVP of last year’s MAC champs, which bodes well for Kelly Page, the heir apparent at quarterback. Parrish is no stranger to being the chief executive, having already coached at Marshall and Kansas State. 

Reason to question the hire: Sure, Parrish has been a head coach, but that was 20 years ago. Doesn’t it say something that no one has offered him an opportunity since he got run out of Manhattan in 1988? While not quite past his prime, he is 62 years old, so his best days of coaching are probably in the rear view mirror. An argument can be made that the Cardinals went safe at a time when they might have been able to make a splash.

The Early Hunch: There’s something to be said for continuity, especially coming off a 12-win season. Parrish is the best choice for Ball State today. Down the road, however, he’ll have to prove he can attract talent and coach it up the way Hoke did before leaving for San Diego State. 

Boston College

Head Coach: Frank Spaziani
Former Coach: Jeff Jagodzinski
Last Seen: Coordinating the Boston College defense

Reason to like the hire: When your coaching search begins in mid-January, there’s no room in the timetable to go outside the family. Plus, Spaziani is a darn good football coach, who bleeds maroon and gold. One of the most respected guys on the campus and in the locker room, he’s been at Boston College since 1997, perennially molding the defense into a rock-solid, no-name group. In many ways, he is Eagle football, which makes this a natural fit for both sides.   

Reason to question the hire: It’s always a little scary when a coach gets his first head job in his 60s. Boston College could have made this move two years ago, but instead went all the way to Green Bay to pluck a little-known assistant out of the NFL. Why now and not at the end of 2006 when Tom O’Brien resigned? After being an assistant for four decades, Coach Spaz needs to show he handle all of the additional duties of being the top guy.

The Early Hunch: Boston College wanted a company man, and that’s exactly what it got in Spaziani. He’s extremely popular, knows the school and the region better than anyone, and has no desire to go anywhere else. He should have gotten this opportunity two years ago.

Bowling Green

Head Coach: Dave Clawson
Former Coach: Gregg Brandon
Last Seen: Coordinating the Tennessee offense

Reason to like the hire: Clawson is a young up-and-comer in the profession with a penchant for turning sagging programs around. At Fordham, he took a team that was 0-11 in 1999 and had them in the playoffs three years later. In four seasons at Richmond, he was twice named the FCS Coach of the Year, and was credited with reenergizing the squad. The Spider team that won the 2008 national championship had Clawson’s fingerprints all over it. 

Reason to question the hire
: In his first shot on a big stage, Clawson hardly distinguished himself in Knoxville. His Tennessee offense ranked 115th nationally and was held below 10 points four times, reaching a low point for productivity in the last three decades. None of his moves worked last fall, raising concerns about his ability to succeed against better competition.   

The Early Hunch
: One bad stint does not erase a career’s worth of success. Call it the Chizik Law. History shows that Clawson starts slowly, but then really takes off once his system and style are allowed to set. Given time, he’ll reward Bowling Green for looking at the big picture and not getting sidetracked by last year’s failed experiment at Tennessee.    


Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Former Coach: Tommy Bowden
Last Seen: Coaching Clemson on an interim basis        

Reason to like the hire: In his half-year audition as the interim coach, Swinney reached the Tiger players with an infectious energy after Tommy Bowden had already lost many of them. He won four of his seven games, beating rival South Carolina and guiding Clemson to an improbable Gator Bowl. He’s also widely considered to be an ace recruiter, which will be instrumental in the program’s quest to finally win another ACC championship.  

Reason to question the hire: There’s a ton risk associated with hiring an inexperienced coach based on a hot streak at the end of an emotional season. Heck, until landing the interim gig, the 39-year old Swinney had never even been a coordinator. The cameras may love his sideline antics now, but try and name a championship coach at any level, who chest bumps his players during games. That’ll wear thin after the first losing streak.

The Early Hunch: Is Swinney a shooting star or a young Bill Stewart, a coach that used a short burst to land a job no one thought he’d get? It’ll take at least a full season to better answer that question. Still, you can’t help but feel Swinney skipped a level here, and would have been better prepared had he spent a few seasons coaching a smaller school, like a Furman or James Madison.   

Eastern Michigan

Head Coach: Ron English
Former Coach: Jeff Genyk
Last Seen: Coordinating the Louisville defense                  

Reason to like the hire: After steadily climbing the ladder, English was ready for this chance to be a head coach. Stays at Arizona State, Michigan, and Louisville helped establish him as one the nation’s top young defensive teachers. He has a presence and a passion that will be necessary to win and recruit at a school that hasn’t had a winning season in a dozen years. His five years in Ann Arbor will come in handy when it comes time to reconnect with local high school coaches.     

Reason to question the hire: Like so many first-year coaches, a lack of head coaching experience sticks out as a concern. Not only has English never been in this position before, but he’s also never been surrounded by such a dearth of talent. Coaching elite athletes in places like Tempe and Ann Arbor does not prepare a man for Ypsilanti, where the Eagles have had three players drafted in the last decade.

The Early Hunch: English is top dog material. If you want validation, go ask the kids at Louisville, who had more respect for their defensive coordinator than their head coach. Places, like Eastern Michigan, have a way of breaking quality coaches, so endurance and perseverance will be critical in the first few seasons.  

Iowa State

Head Coach: Paul Rhoads
Former Coach: Gene Chizik
Last Seen: Coordinating the Auburn defense

Reason to like the hire: The Cyclones landed a coach with strong ties to the state and the program. The kid from Ankeny first cut his teeth as an assistant on Dan McCarney’s Iowa State team in the 1990s, helping lay the groundwork for an eventual turnaround. Rhoads has been a successful defensive coordinator wherever he’s been, including an eight-year stop at Pittsburgh and a cup of coffee with Auburn. His message and delivery will resonate to the locals who usually wind up playing in Ames.    

Reason to question the hire: Rhoads lacks the sizzle needed to spark a program that’s fallen on hard times and has some of the worst facilities in the Big 12. Face it, AD Jamie Pollard had no competition when making this hire because no other school was sizing up Rhoads for a promotion. After getting left at the altar by Gene Chizik, Iowa State needed someone closer to a sure-thing.  

The Early Hunch: Good coaching choices are often about finding the right fit. Was Rhoads the best unemployed guy on the market? No. For Iowa State, however, a local guy with ties to McCarney might be exactly what the ‘Clones need to begin making the slow climb back to .500.   

Kansas State

Head Coach: Bill Snyder
Former Coach: Ron Prince
Last Seen: Enjoying retirement

Reason to like the hire: Who better than Snyder, the architect of the Manhattan Miracle, to awake the ‘Cats from their slumber? When you have a chance to bring back a three-time National Coach of the Year and the very embodiment of Kansas State football, you do it without hesitation. He’s got the blueprint for making the Wildcats winners again, which requires coaching up kids the schools don’t want. That’s a distinct advantage over anyone else that AD Bob Krause might have signed.     

Reason to question the hire: When Snyder left the program three years ago, it was not on the shoulders of his players in some post-championship celebration. The Wildcats went just 9-13 in his final two years, finishing no better than fifth in the Big 12 North. Now, on the brink of turning 70, he’s jumping back into a difficult remodeling job. Oh, and the conference has gotten a lot tougher to navigate in the three years since Snyder retired.   

The Early Hunch: Whoaa, flashback. Snyder returning to the stadium that now bears his name makes for great copy, but will it be good for a school that’s mired in a five-year slump? While the coach insists he’s rejuvenated by the lay-off, it’ll be fascinating to see if his message still resonates to his players.  

Miami University

Head Coach: Mike Haywood
Former Coach: Shane Montgomery
Last Seen: Coordinating the Notre Dame offense

Reason to like the hire: At just 44, Haywood possesses a level of energy, intensity, and experience that’ll resonate with his current and future players. He has long been recognized as one of the country’s most successful recruiters, an important trait when competing in a state that sent two schools to BCS bowl games in 2008. Having held positions with LSU, Texas, and Notre Dame over the past decade, he knows what it takes to be successful at a high level.       

Reason to question the hire: Is Haywood ready for this promotion? Sure, he can recruit, but that’s just one component of being a head coach. While it’s never one person’s fault, his offenses at Notre Dame lacked consistency and imagination, especially since Brady Quinn’s graduation following the 2006 season. Toward the end of last year, Haywood was relieved of his play-calling duties, hardly a vote-of-confidence from Charlie Weis.      

The Early Hunch: The RedHawks appear to be rolling the dice here, but after two two-win seasons in the last three years, a little risk-taking may not be such a bad thing. As MAC jobs go, Haywood actually has a great opportunity at a school with a rich tradition and a supportive fan base.     
Mississippi State

Head Coach: Dan Mullen
Former Coach: Sylvester Croom

Last Seen: Coordinating the Florida offense

Reason to like the hire: Hey, when you’re Mississippi State and you land one of the hottest young coordinators in the country, it’s cause for a celebration. Mullen is an Urban Meyer disciple, having been an assistant on his staffs at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida. He’s been instrumental in the development of Meyer’s quarterbacks, and his offenses have been both inventive and incendiary. At the age of 36, Mullen is just now hitting his stride, which has helped create a stir around a program that needed it. 

Reason to question the hire: All of Mullen’s success has come with Meyer not far behind. Now that he’s broken the apron strings, is he about to get exposed? You know the routine about premier coordinators. Some are meant to be head coaches and others are better suited as cogs in a larger machine. Mullen will have to prove he’s the former at one of the toughest SEC schools to win—and recruit—at.  

The Early Hunch: There’s really not much to dislike about this hire. Mullen could have gone in a number of different directions, but chose Starkville to call home. That’s a big win for a school that rarely makes headlines in the SEC. The town and the campus have embraced the new coach, so there’s plenty of equity to be tapped.     

New Mexico

Head Coach: Mike Locksley
Former Coach: Rocky Long
Last Seen: Coordinating the Illinois offense

Reason to like the hire: While best known for his ability to stockpile blue-chip talent, especially in the D.C. area, Locksley can also coach. He’s an outstanding motivator, who has already started to earn the respect of his players. His offenses showed rapid improvement at Illinois, and his ability to teach was honed at Maryland and Florida. Locksley is young, aggressive, and capable of blossoming into a dynamite coach now that he has his own gig. New Mexico got him at the early stages of his ascent.     

Reason to question the hire: Hey, there’s no doubt Locksley can sell, but his skills as a game-day coach and ability to run a program remain question marks. Plus, his chances of luring young men out of Washington are greatly diminished now that Albuquerque is home. If Juice Williams is an example of his work with quarterbacks, the Lobos ought to be concerned. Williams struggled in 2008, and has almost as many career picks as touchdowns.   

The Early Hunch: If Locksley surrounds himself with capable coaches, he could hit the ground running at a school that doesn’t need to rebuild. And if allowed to concentrate on his strengths, motivating and recruiting, he could be up for another promotion in a couple of years.   
New Mexico State

Head Coach: DeWayne Walker
Former Coach: Hal Mumme
Last Seen: Coordinating the UCLA defense 

Reason to like the hire: After going with offensive-minded coaches the last few go-rounds, the Aggies have finally handed the reins to a defensive guy. In Walker, they’ve got one of the best. For all of the problems that UCLA has had lately, the defense has not been one of them. Walker’s units have been talented and fundamentally-sound. He’s got ample experience in the NFL and knows the California landscape well, both of which will help attract young talent to Las Cruces. 

Reason to question the hire: Walker has suggested that it won’t take years to turn things around at New Mexico State, but one look up and down the roster shows a group of players who don’t fit his style. To play for Walker, you’ve got to be tough, physical, and short on mistakes. The current Aggies, as built by Hal Mumme, are a finesse team that hasn’t allowed less than 30 points a game since 2003. It’s going to take a while before the new coach is surrounded by the kind of players he needs to change the culture of losing.  

The Early Hunch: Good coach. Bad job. If this marriage is going to work, everyone, from Walker to the fans and the administration, will need to exercise some patience. Until the coach gets more of his type of kids into the pipeline, the Aggies are going to be a WAC doormat.  


Head Coach: Danny Hope
Former Coach: Joe Tiller
Last Seen: Assisting Tiller as Purdue’s coach-in-waiting

Reason to like the hire: The Boilermakers may have written the coach-in-waiting blueprint for other schools to follow. They found their successor to Tiller a year ago, brought him on board, and got him up to speed with the personnel and the program. Now, Hope can spend his first season navigating a much flatter learning curve. Think Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema in 2006. He’s no stranger to Purdue, having coached the O-line from 1997-2001, and had a successful five-year stretch as the head coach of Eastern Kentucky.      

Reason to question the hire: The Big Ten might be down a bit, but it’s not the Ohio Valley Conference. Hope will find the leap from Eastern Kentucky to West Lafayette to be a big one that’s littered with all kinds of new challenges and hurdles. In Richmond, his defenses were a periodic liability, which is a concern for a Boiler team that’s been way too vulnerable for way too long on that side of the ball.   

The Early Hunch: By hiring Hope a year before his official start date, Purdue has put the coach in the best possible position to succeed right away. His rugged, blue-collar approach to the game should find a receptive audience in Big Ten land.

San Diego State

Head Coach: Brady Hoke
Former Coach: Chuck Long

Last Seen: Coaching Ball State

Reason to like the hire: If Hoke can get Ball State into the Top 25 and on the national scene, imagine what he’ll do in San Diego, where the pool of talent is deeper. Heck, Auburn was poking around about Hoke’s availability, so the Aztecs have to be absolutely thrilled that they lured him to the Mountain West. Before Hoke arrived, the Cardinals had been to just three bowl games in their entire history. The coach got them to back-to-back postseason games for the first time ever.        
Reason to question the hire: Will the message of a meat-and-potatoes Midwesterner resonate in Southern California? Hoke has built his career and made most of his ties in places like Michigan and Indiana, so it’s no slam dunk that he’ll be equally effective in a new zip code. He also has to prove he’s no one-hit wonder. Remember, before this season, he was just 22-37 in his first five years in Muncie.      

The Early Hunch: San Diego State has long been a sleeping giant that shouldn’t be 10 years removed from its last winning season. Hoke has already proven once that he’s capable of dragging a program off the scrap heap and into a new era of prosperity. This time around, however, it can’t take five years to get from Point A to Point B.


Head Coach: Doug Marrone
Former Coach: Greg Robinson
Last Seen
: Coordinating the New Orleans Saints offense  

Reason to like the hire: In Marrone, the Orange landed one of its own, a former Syracuse lineman, who has unabashedly dreamed of returning to his alma mater. He has experience at both the college and the NFL levels, spending the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. During that time, the Saints consistently had one of the most potent offenses in the league. Marrone’s extensive experience as an offensive line coach bodes well for a school that hasn’t done much blocking lately.   

Reason to question the hire: Didn’t the Greg Robinson debacle teach Syracuse anything? The Orange has once again dipped into the NFL and plucked out a coordinator with no head coaching experience. In fact, Robinson had a longer resume and had at least spent some recent time on a campus. Marrone hasn’t coached college kids since 2001. The school continues to tout the fact that he bleeds orange. That’s charming, but it’ll only get you so far. And it’s not as if Syracuse has some unique culture to understand, like Notre Dame or Navy.    

The Early Hunch: Maybe Marrone is the next big thing. No one really knows. However, considering the depths that this program has reached, it needed a safer bet, who has done this before. Not getting someone, like Turner Gill, Skip Holtz, or Randy Edsall, will haunt the Orange if Marrone fails to turn things around.     


Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Former Coach: Phil Fulmer

Last Seen: Coaching the Oakland Raiders

Reason to like the hire: If you’re going to compete in the SEC, you better be prepared to make a splash when a head coach is needed. Tennessee did that when it signed Kiffin. Widely considered one of the best young offensive minds in the sport, he has the right makeup and connections to be a success in the toughest league in the country. Despite being only 33, he already has head coaching experience, and his ability to attract talented players and coaches will serve him well in Knoxville.      

Reason to question the hire: Sure, he looks the part of a wunderkind, but what exactly has Kiffin accomplished that makes everyone convinced he’s the next big thing? Yeah, his USC offenses were prolific, but they should have been when Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Dwayne Jarrett are executing the plays. Oh, and in less than two years with the Oakland Raiders, he went just 5-15. In a league with heavyweights, like Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier, Kiffin could spend his first few years getting a rude education.

The Early Hunch: Leave it to the SEC to attract a coach, who comes prepackaged with a slew of storylines. Kiffin’s dad is his new defensive coordinator. His wife is a Gator. His former bosses include Pete Carroll and Al Davis. In terms of drama, he’s got the potential to be Rick New-heisel, which will fit in nicely in his new surroundings.


Head Coach
: Tim Beckman
Former Coach: Tom Amstutz
Last Seen: Coordinating the Oklahoma State defense           

Reason to like the hire: Beckman is returning to Ohio, the scene of some of his best coaching accomplishments. Before moving on to Oklahoma State, he worked for seven years as the Bowling Green defensive coordinator and two years as the Ohio State cornerbacks coach. He knows the state and the MAC, which, coupled with his charismatic style, will produce results in February. One look at Toledo’s defense from the last few years shows that the timing of his hiring couldn’t be better.       

Reason to question the hire: Beckman must be a top recruiter because his results on the field haven’t exactly been otherworldly. When he was the coordinator at Bowling Green, the defense was not the strength of the Falcons. It was the offense that was the catalyst. In fact, from 2002-2004, the program allowed at least 30 points on 10 different occasions. In Stillwater, the Cowboys fell apart down the stretch, allowing 176 points in the final four games.

The Early Hunch: Was Beckman on the path to a head job? It didn’t seem that way, especially after Okie State finished 93rd nationally in total defense. While his knowledge of the state and the conference are pluses, he’ll need more than familiarity to surpass what Amstutz did for Toledo.    

Utah State

Head Coach: Gary Andersen
Former Coach: Brent Guy

Last Seen: Coordinating the Utah defense

Reason to like the hire: This made way too much sense not to do it. Andersen has spent the past 12 years of his life in the state, 11 as an assistant with the Utes and one as the head coach of Southern Utah. He obviously knows the landscape of the state, and has long been recognized as one of the country’s premier recruiters from a non-BCS team. He’s had a prominent role on two BCS bowl-winning teams, experiences that will benefit a struggling school, such as Utah State.     

Reason to question the hire: One season with the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah does not prepare a coach for a reclamation project at Utah State, where there’ve been no winning seasons since 1996. Of course Andersen has had to work for everything he’s earned at Utah, but winning in Salt Lake City is nothing like winning in Logan. After reaching the pinnacle with the Utes, the coach will have to reinvent himself to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.    

The Early Hunch: There’s not really much to nitpick about this choice. When you’re Utah State and you can get a seasoned coach with ties to the state and a proven track record, you hand him the lease to the property. Obviously, there are no guarantees that Andersen will turn things around, but he’s the logical pick considering the options that were out there.       

Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Former Coach: Tyrone Willingham

Last Seen: Coordinating the USC offense

Reason to like the hire: If you like Lane Kiffin, you’ll love Sarkisian, another 30-something, offensive-minded coach, who spent time with the Oakland Raiders and made his bones at USC. He’s got far more charisma than Tyrone Willingham, which will be refreshing around Seattle, and his history as a recruiter will lure more blue-chippers to Washington from California. A former hurler himself, Sarkisian has done a nice job mentoring quarterbacks, which will benefit U-Dub franchise player Jake Locker.    

Reason to question the hire: Sometimes youth and an apprenticeship at USC can be vastly overrated. Being surrounded by some of the best talent on the West Coast can insulate a coach from having to really dig deep and get the most out of his kids. For all of the talk about Sarkisian’s offensive ingenuity, the Trojans have underachieved on that side of the ball the last two years. If USC has lapses, how will the rookie react when he’s got a fraction of the talent at his disposal.   

The Early Hunch: Sometimes, to be great, you’ve got to be willing to roll the dice on a head coach. There is undeniable risk associated with Sarkisian, however, if he’s the budding star that AD Scott Woodward believes he is, Washington may have finally hired someone that can pilot it back to the glory days.       


Head Coach: Dave Christensen
Former Coach: Joe Glenn

Last Seen: Coordinating the Missouri offense

Reason to like the hire: When your offense needs a shot of B12, it makes sense to look to the Big 12. In nabbing Christensen out of Missouri, Wyoming landed one of the league’s best Xs and Os coaches. His installation of a no-huddle, spread offense in Columbia was the key to the Tigers breaking all kinds of school offensive records over the last couple of seasons. Once he gets the right mix of talent to Laramie, he’ll provide a much-needed spark at a program that hasn’t had much to cheer about this decade. 

Reason to question the hire: Not only has Christensen never been a head coach before, but he hasn’t even worked for someone other than Gary Pinkel over the last 16 years. Now that he’s on his own, he’ll have to prove that he can still be successful without Pinkel’s presence. To be successful, he needs his wide-open offense to click. The wicked winters and the shallow talent pool will be hurdles he didn’t have at his last job.  

The Early Hunch: AD Tom Burman did well to get Christensen, especially when he knew he had competition. Christensen wasn’t your ordinary coordinator, who designed an offense in some lab and rarely poked his head out for daylight. He was an influential part of Mizzou’s recent success, and the main reason why QB Chase Daniel was in the Heisman hunt the last two seasons.