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Ranking the 2022 Coaching Hires the Smart Way

The greater college football landscape has finally accepted the notion that grading coaching hires right when they happen is pointless. Too many outside factors determine if a coach succeeds or not to make a judgment on whether it was a good decision right away. Plenty of hires over the last decade offer proof that letter grades are meaningless. Brett Bielema, Kliff Kingsbury, Charlie Strong, and Willie Taggart were all considered “A” hires, and all left their school with a losing record. Tom Herman and Dan Mullen were two of the biggest slam-dunk hires in recent memory. Neither are currently working for a college football team. Likewise, nobody thought much of it when PJ Fleck went to Western Michigan, Jeff Traylor went to UTSA, Jeff Brohm went to Western Kentucky, or when Jamey Chadwell took over at Coastal Carolina. All four ended up winning conference championships. The new buzzword in college coaching circles is “alignment,” meaning when a coach and university administration are on the same page. So instead of trying to predict which hires will work and which won’t, I decided to rank the hires based on how much sense they make for the school. I split them into tiers because that seems to be the most accurate way of categorizing them, and ranked them all because, hey, it’s the offseason, I need content, and people love lists. So, let’s rank how much sense each 2022 college football coach hire makes.

Top Tier

1. USC- Lincoln Riley

I know I just said that it was pointless to try and predict whether a hire will turn out well or not, but come on. I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t work out well. USC gets the splashy hire it desperately needed to return to relevance. Riley has done literally everything but win a national championship and will bring the offensive firepower and recruiting ability that you need to win in LA. Screw it, I’ll say it: it’s an A+ hire.

2. Akron- Joe Moorehead

Moorehead is a Midwesterner through and through. More specifically, he was on Akron’s staff for their only conference championship back in 2005. He’s been a highly successful coordinator and a moderately successful coach in the SEC West. He got fired from Mississippi State because he wasn’t able to manage the overall program, not because he couldn’t win. You have to think that’ll be much easier at Akron. The Zips are punching well above their weight with this hire.

3. Miami- Mario Cristobal

What can I say? Mama was calling. Miami was probably one of the only places that could lure Cristobal away from Oregon. He has everything the Canes were looking for in a coach. Worked for Nick Saban, won a Rose Bowl at Oregon, is a Miami alum, and is Cuban. There are some genuine questions about some of his game management decisions, but there genuinely isn’t a better fit for the Miami Hurricanes.

4. Colorado State- Jay Norvell

I genuinely believe this is the best hire that Colorado State could have made. After the Urban Meyer-led Steve Addazio disaster, CSU needs stability and someone that has proven they can win at this level. Norvell checks every single box. He spent five seasons at Nevada, where he was vastly underpaid because they don’t have the resources necessary to be successful. Despite that, he had four straight winning seasons with the Wolfpack. CSU is low-key the second-best job in the Mountain West, and Norvell sounds like the right choice to bring them back to that level.

5. Washington- Kalen DeBoer

Another up-and-coming coach I wrote about during the season, DeBoer has had success everywhere he’s been, especially on the West Coast. He checks every box for Washington, including being an offensive mastermind, a necessity after the John Donovan-led disaster of last season. This ranking is all about fit, and DeBoer fits at Washington like a glove.

Solid

6. Florida- Billy Napier

This hire is the definition of solid. Napier has everything you look for in a new coach, from experience as an SEC assistant, recruiting chops, to success as a head coach at a G5 school. The only thing keeping this down a tier is his lack of ties to Florida, a state he’ll need to lock down in order to ascend to championship contention. Remember, this list is about fit, not the traditional grading scale.

7. LSU- Brian Kelly

Kelly is by far the most successful coach to change schools this cycle, compiling two playoff appearances and a trip to the old BCS national championship game. Say what you want about him as a person, but the man can coach. That alone makes him a fit for a school like LSU, which many people, including myself, consider the best job in the sport. What keeps it from the top tier is the fact that there is no cultural fit whatsoever. Kelly has never coached further south than Cincinnati and is headed to the most eccentric southern state there is. His introductory speech tells you everything you need to know.

8. Notre Dame- Marcus Freeman

Marcus Freeman was absolutely the right hire for Notre Dame. The videos of the current Notre Dame players reacting to the news, as well as their current recruiting ranking, are all the evidence you need. Freeman is the rare coach that is top-notch both on the field and on the recruiting trail. His lack of head coaching experience is the only thing keeping him down, as Notre Dame is a hell of a first job.

9. Texas Tech- Joey McGuire

Joey McGuire is Jeff Traylor without the buyout. That’s by no means an insult. Everyone spent the entire season talking about what a perfect fit Traylor was for Texas Tech. When he decided to sign a massive extension at UTSA, the Red Raiders went for the next best thing. Time will tell how well McGuire adjusts to running a college program, but other than that it’s a perfect fit.

10. Oklahoma- Brent Venables

Just go read everything I wrote about Marcus Freeman, and it applies here. Venables has the added boost of having coached at Oklahoma before, and the added negative of being 16 years older than Freeman when starting his first gig.

11. Hawaii- Timmy Chang

Everything surrounding this move was a disaster. First, the Rainbow Warriors made the fatal mistake of hiring notorious scumbag Todd Graham in 2020. After two pretty meh seasons, reports flooded in that he had created a toxic culture, leading to a mass exodus of players who said he “killed their love of football.” Things got so bad, the state of Hawaii held a senate hearing about the program, where we got the incredible detail that he called Hawaii a “third world country” because, and I’m not making this up, the vending machine in the football facility didn’t have Dr. Pepper. You’d think the circus ended when Graham resigned on January 14th, but you’d be wrong. Hawaii offered the job to legendary coach June Jones, but he turned them down. Jones revealed that they had only offered him a 2-year contract, which is unheard of in college football, and would not allow him to hire his own staff. The school wasn’t thrilled with these tweets, officially stating that Jones “showed zero integrity.” It was a dumpster fire of the highest order, and it looks like we’re headed towards a second senate hearing.

With all that being said, Timmy Chang is a great fit for Hawaii. The Honolulu native is legend at the school, as he was the quarterback who carried those June Jones teams in the early 2000s. He graduated in 2004 holding the NCAA record for passing yards and was only five touchdown passes away from breaking that record too. He’s spent the last few seasons as a position coach at Nevada and was planning on following him to Colorado State next year. Hawaii is the most unique job in college football, but it sits on the precipice of disaster. Graham chased away half the roster, money is tight, and they’re currently without a stadium because their old one was condemned. They need someone who knows the area and what it takes to win on the island. This list is all about fit, and nobody fits Hawaii better than Timmy Chang.

12. Washington State- Jake Dickert

This is the ultimate continuity hire. Dickert stepped in as the interim coach after Rolovich tried his hardest to torpedo the season, brought some much-needed stability to the team, and went a shocking 4-2 with a win over archival Washington. He did everything you can ask for from an interim and earned a shot at the full-time gig.

13. Virginia- Tony Elliot

Elliot is an incredibly well-respected and successful coach, that much is plain to see with the number of jobs he’s been offered over the years. However, he’s only spent two years of that prestigious career outside of the Upstate of South Carolina. Virginia seems like a good fit, as the word on the street was that he wanted to coach at a more academically focused school. A mid-tier P5 school like Virginia is the perfect landing spot after his struggles at Clemson this year.

14. Oregon- Dan Lanning

Like Elliot, Dan Lanning is obviously very well respected in the coaching world. Despite only being 35 years old, and being a graduate assistant just 7 years ago, Lanning’s name has come up for multiple major openings. This means he should be able to put together an experienced staff to help guide him in his first year as a head coach. As a fellow Saban protege, he’ll also be able to keep up the recruiting, um let’s call it “infrastructure” that Cristobal built, a vital trait now that Lincoln has arrived to lock down LA.

15. Nevada- Ken Wilson

Like I said earlier, Nevada is a brutal job. It’s one of those schools where an understanding of their situation is required to be successful. Seeing that Ken Wilson has spent 19 years of his career in Reno, he fits that bill nicely.

16. Louisiana- Michael Desormeaux

Just look at his last name. This guy is Louisiana to the core. He’s got big shoes to fill but going for a continuity hire following the greatest coach in school history makes a lot of sense.

17. New Mexico State- Jerry Kill

New Mexico State might be the worst job in the country. The fact they got a coach who’s been even moderately successful at the P5 level is a coup, and enough to bump them up a tier.

Wait and See

18. TCU- Sonny Dykes

Dykes has had an interesting career path, to say the least. He had a solid run at Louisiana Tech, a rough few years at California where neither side seemed particularly happy, and then went back home to Texas where he was the most successful coach at SMU since they got the death penalty back in the ‘80s. This may be his most interesting step, going from SMU to their hated rival TCU. SMU fans weren’t thrilled about it as you can imagine.

19. Georgia Southern- Clay Helton

You may not know it, but Clay Helton is actually a southerner. His time at USC was his first foray out of the region. So there are more connections here than at first glance, but not many. This is a massive departure for Georgia Southern, confirming that they want to leave their history as a triple-option powerhouse behind. I don’t think Helton is a very good coach, but the man did win a Rose Bowl. You can’t discount that in a place like Statesboro.

20. Troy- Jon Sumrall

After getting passed over in 2018, Sumrall is returning to a place he knows very well. He makes a lot of sense for Troy, and many experts have argued he should’ve been the pick four years ago, but his lack of major experience in the last few years is enough to bump him down a little bit.

21. Fresno State- Jeff Tedford

I have very conflicted feelings about this one. On one hand, I’m not a fan of retread hires as a rule. On the other hand, Tedford was incredibly successful in his earlier stint in Fresno and only left because of health issues. It’s a true wait-and-see situation, but keeping starting QB Jake Haener was a great start.

22. SMU- Rhett Lashlee

Lashlee has done an amazing job at adapting his offensive style. He started out as a Malzahn disciple but has since evolved and led some of the country’s most explosive passing attacks at SMU and Miami. He obviously knows the school, but after getting left behind in the conference realignment circus, SMU is in a difficult spot for a first-time head coach.

23. Virginia Tech- Brent Pry

Pry has had a ton of success as a coordinator and spent a few years in the area at the beginning of his career. However, he’s been working for James Franklin for a decade. After a lengthy marriage like that, it can be difficult to separate Pry’s success from Franklin’s. Considering there were a few other candidates who seemed like better fits for VT, like Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, Pry was an interesting choice.

24. Duke- Mike Elko

Elko has had success at each of his stops as a defensive coordinator. His name was mentioned for most of the second-tier jobs that opened this cycle, and for good reason. But Duke is a brutal job, and Elko doesn’t have any head coaching experience, so we’ll have to wait and see how it works out.

25. Temple- Stan Drayton

Drayton has some experience coaching in Pennsylvania, as well as time in the NFL and major college jobs, so there’s logic behind this. His serial job-hopping might be worrying given Temple’s history, but it is a terrible job. The athletic department is broke and might get left behind in the next wave of conference realignment. Drayton is probably the best they could do.

Sure, Why Not?

26. UConn- Jim Mora Jr.

27. UMass- Don Brown

These hires are the exact same. Both programs are disasters that have zero shot of winning anything. Both schools get coaches who have had success at one point, even if they’re clearly over the hill. Both coaches get one last check to carry them into retirement. It’s a true win-win situation.

Huh?

28. Louisiana Tech- Sonny Cumbie

As a rule, I try not to factor in who the new coach is replacing, but that’s impossible to do with Louisiana Tech. Skip Holtz is the most successful LA Tech coach since the school moved to the FBS back in 1989. His tenure accounts for four of their six 9-win seasons, including a streak of three years in a row. Instead, the school decided they’d rather have a career offensive coordinator, and not a particularly good one at that. The Bulldogs getting left behind in the latest round of conference realignment makes a lot of sense now.

29. FIU- Mike MacIntyre

What are we doing here? Coming off a decade of uninspired, retread hires that produced only two winning seasons, FIU decided to go to the well one more time. Fittingly, Mike MacIntyre has also only had two winning seasons his entire career. Throw in his sketchy track record off the field, and you’ve got a head-scratcher of a hire. Hard to believe this was the first school to give Mario Cristobal a shot once upon a time.

(Image Courtesy of USC)

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