A Look at 2020 Coaching Debuts

Hi everyone! For my first post, I thought I’d write some sort of analysis piece on the coaching carousel from the previous cycle and how these coaches each did in their first game. This was a mixed bag of course, but with varying expectations and lots of impatient fan bases, getting off to a strong start to your tenure is always crucial.

Mississippi State: Mike Leach (New Mexico W 34-18)

Easily the most polarizing coach on this list, Leach left Pullman, WA after eight seasons with the Cougars. He finally got the SEC job offer he wanted after the Bulldogs cut ties with Joe Moorhead after just two seasons. Leach will eat up this media attention in the football crazed south, with a rural fan base similar to WSU’s, that wants to get back to the Dak Prescott days of competing for the SEC West crown. Leach’s high-tempo offense was not at its best here, but nevertheless, 1-0.

Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin (vs. Baylor L 29-30 OT)

The Lane Train has pulled back into the SEC after doing a bang-up job at FAU. Matt Luke got the Rebels out of their sanctions by giving them a good leader and a fresh start. But Kiffin could really jump start the Rebs back into contention if things go well. We know how his time ended in Knoxville, but the fans in Oxford would love some coaching consistency for a change. This was a tough debut for Kiffin, against another new coach, in a neutral site kickoff game in Houston. This one went to overtime and Kiffin rolled the dice by going for the two point conversion instead of sending the game to double-OT. With a tough schedule ahead, this one Ole Miss might wish they really had.

Florida State: Mike Norvell (vs. West Virginia W 33-30)

Now to the highest expectations on our list. Noles fans need national relevancy in the worst way. Especially with how the Jimbo Fisher tenure ended chaotically and the absolute disaster Willie Taggart turned out to be. The massive buyout was paid to get Taggart out of town, and enter Memphis’ Mike Norvell. Norvell won big in Memphis and is expected to return the Seminoles to ACC prominence, which is a tall task, given the machine Clemson has become. FSU was given an intriguing neutral site game in Atlanta vs. the Mountaineers of WVU, who are also coming off a disappointing season. The Seminoles squeaked this one out by a field goal, despite being 67.2% favorites, per ESPN’s FPI. Not the best showing, but again, this seems like a game FSU would have lost the last two seasons.

Michigan State: Mel Tucker (Northwestern L 6-35)

I view this hire as the most puzzling of the entire off-season. We’ll let the football decide if it’s a good or a bad hire. But given what Mark Dantonio did for the Spartans, this seems like an extremely tough spot for Tucker. Dantonio faced some controversy, and the late exit in the coaching carousel sparks that controversy. MSU then went into panic mode contacting coaches who had just signed extensions. The timing was not great, as Luke Fickell among others turned down the job. Tucker left Colorado after not accomplishing a ton. However, he emphasizes defense, something he was outstanding at coaching at UGA. Also the Spartans leaned on their defenses so much back in their glory days. This could be a rough season, but Tucker could build something slowly in East Lansing. Week 1 was a huge disappointment, as Northwestern stomped Sparty at home when it looked like it would be a tossup.

Washington State: Nick Rolovich (@ Utah State W 31-21)

Nick Rolovich has brought the run and shoot offense off the paradise that is Hawai’i and to the Palouse of eastern Washington. This hire was raved upon by critics following Leach’s sudden departure. There are no doubt huge shoes to fill given the relevancy WSU had under Leach. But this seems like a great fit. Rolovich and the Cougars had a tougher test than most some might initially think in a trip to Logan, UT. But the Cougars escaped with a ten point win against the always-pesky Aggies.

Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz (Central Arkansas W 34-30)

Barry Odom is out at Missouri after a disappointing final season (which they were not eligible for a bowl anyways). Missouri went a bit off the radar by hiring App State young play-caller Eli Drinkwitz, who had only been the head man in Boone for one season, albeit a conference championship caliber season. Missouri is looking for a little more consistency long-term since Gary Pinkel left, but consistently good times will be hard to come by in Columbia, now that they are in the SEC. And with Georgia and Florida seeming to be on rolls, that won’t make things easier for Drinkwitz. He had an easy opener against an FCS squad, but they certainly gave the Tigers a run for their money. Not a great look for Mizzou to start off the year, but a win is a win.

Washington: Jimmy Lake (#14 Michigan L 9-16)

Replacing an all-time legend is never easy. Chris Petersen has retired in Seattle, and after bringing Washington back to prominence, UW has taken the safe route by hiring the next man up in defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. Lake has followed Petersen since his Boise days, so he knows the culture well. He will be counted on to keep up with Oregon in the Pac-12 North for years to come. His first game was indeed a tough one vs. the 14th ranked Wolverines. Although FPI, predicted a 53.8% chance for a Husky win. Lake’s defense showed up to the party, but the offense was MIA, albeit against a tough Don Brown defense.

Baylor: Dave Aranda (vs. Ole Miss W 30-29 OT)

After Matt Rhule finally made the jump to the NFL after just his third season in Waco, Baylor got a solid get late in the carousel by nabbing LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who has long been considered one of the great DC’s in college football. Going after a defensive minded coach in the Big 12 is a bold move, but could be one that keeps the ball rolling at Baylor after a Sugar Bowl appearance last season. Aranda and the Bears defeated the aforementioned Rebels in a coin flip overtime game in Houston. Huge win for BU, as they are now ranked yet again.

Boston College: Jeff Hafley (Syracuse W 41-35 OT)

All of a sudden, after one year assisting Ryan Day at OSU, Jeff Hafley has a head coaching position in the Power 5. Steve Addazio was somewhat suprisingly let go, and enter Hafley. BC will be looking for a heightened emphasis on offense and did they ever get it in Game 1 of the Hafley era. A walk-off overtime winner over division rival Syracuse puts the Eagles in a great spot to gain momentum moving forward. Getting past 6-7 wins will ultimately decide the fate of this coaching tenure.

Arkansas: Sam Pittman (Nevada L 30-38)

Sam Pittman just screams “football guy”. Specifically, an Arkansas football guy. He’s a former O-line coach and he embodies that Razorback spirit. I think Chad Morris was cut loose too early, as they really did not even give him enough time to get his offensive guys in the system, considering how big of a change Arkansas went through schematically. To be fair, those two seasons of Morris were horrible for the Hogs, and the fans can’t go through that again, but will this year be any different? Week 1 says no. The Hogs get upset yet again by a beatable Nevada team, that many Arkansas fans penciled in as one of the few wins this year. Now, a gauntlet of a schedule awaits them.

Colorado: Karl Dorrell (@ Colorado State W 37-31)

Colorado was affected late in the carousel by Mel Tucker suddenly departing, so they decided to hire a coach who has not spent much time in college recently. He has a lot of NFL experience, but he may be too far removed. Of course, this strategy seems to be working quite well for Herm Edwards in Tempe, so maybe the Buffs saw something from their division rival. Dorrell got off to a great start with his fan base, as they defeated their in-state rivals in their own building. This gives Dorrell a lot of slack, as CU fans are longing for the consistency they had back in the 1990’s.

Rutgers: Greg Schiano (Monmouth W 44-16)

Greg Schiano is back at Rutgers in an attempt to bring some sort of winning back to Piscataway. Schiano held a 68-67 record in this position from 2001-2011, which Knights fans would absolutely kill for. However, in the Big Ten East, I think Rutgers going around .500 would qualify as almost miracle-worthy for a decade’s plus span. Schiano got off on the right foot here, however, as Rutgers controlled play from start to finish, which they have not always done against FCS competition in recent years. Prime-time home game against Syracuse comes next. Schiano will have the Knights ready.

South Florida: Jeff Scott (@ #15 Texas W 25-24)

USF is one of the more intriguing programs in the country. They have not been around very long, but have had very successful seasons in their history, but can not quite get over the hump in terms of being “the team” in the Group of 5. Charlie Strong was not the answer, as the Bulls were to be blunt, quite bad by the end of his tenure. Jeff Scott was co-offensive coordinator at Clemson, so he knows talent when he sees it. If he can recruit and play-call his way to success, they have a chance to get back to that top tier of G5 teams. However, his first game was an extremely tough one, at blue-blood, nationally ranked Texas. USF shocked the world and upset the Horns in a thriller. This start could not be any better for Scott in his new job.

Memphis: Ryan Silverfield (Arkansas State W 42-29)

Ryan Silverfield is the next man up for Memphis after Mike Norvell headed south. He was given the position before their Cotton Bowl appearance last year. The former offensive line coach inherits a ranked team with a boatload of talent. Memphis should be good enough this year to compete for the AAC yet again. If he can replicate some of last year’s success, he will have a great change back to get back to the New Year’s Six. Where this becomes hard for Silverfield, is if he can recruit his own guys to keep this tremendous momentum the Tigers have. He is off to a good start, as Memphis took down an underrated pesky rival in Arkansas State in a pretty close game.

Florida Atlantic: Willie Taggart (@ #15 Minnesota L 3-44)

Willie Taggart’s train wreck in Tallahassee is mercifully over, and now he heads south to Boca Raton to attempt to regain a lesser program’s glory without Lane Kiffin. The Owls lost a lot on offense, but the roster still holds some pretty decent recruits. FAU still has a target on their backs, however, winning 2 of the last 3 Conference USA championships. Taggart built up South Florida and Western Kentucky to become solid programs. If he can do the same here, he’ll have to look past a rough Week 1 that saw the Owls stomped in Minneapolis by a top 15 Gopher team.

San Diego State: Brady Hoke (Sacramento State W 30-6)

The former Michigan man is back on the sidelines, with his first head coaching experience since 2014. This is his second go-around as head coach of the Aztecs, as he previously held the position from 2009-2010. Hoke replaces Mr. Consistency Rocky Long, who finally retired after bringing the Aztecs great success, lead by a strong defense and great rushing attack. Hoke emphasizes both of these, and inherits a pretty strong roster as well. SDSU looked dominant in the opener.

Appalachian State: Shawn Clark (Morgan State W 54-0)

App State has become a springboard for Power 5 coaches lately. With Scott Satterfield at Louisville and now Eli Drinkwitz at Mizzou, another promotion from within has occurred. Shawn Clark, the offensive line coach now has the reins in Boone. The former player’s squad is in win-now mode. They have won the Sun Belt championship or at least a share of it for four years running now, and they are the favorites yet again. Week 1 showed just that with a dominant performance.

UNLV: Marcus Arroyo (California L 18-39)

Arroyo comes over after coordinating Justin Herbert and the Ducks to a Rose Bowl championship and 12 win season. Tony Sanchez was fired, and now Arroyo starts fresh with the Rebels in a brand new Raiders stadium in trendy Las Vegas. Hopefully for UNLV fans, Arroyo can use some of that swagger to bring in recruits fast enough to start challenging for the Mountain West and beat these Power 5 programs dying to play in the new dome. Unfortunately for Arroyo Cal ran away with the Week Zero matchup after a close first half. Then, UNLV could not hold their own against a sneaky-tough LA Tech team. Give Arroyo time.

Fresno State: Kalen DeBoer (Idaho State W 41-19)

The long rumor was that OC Kalen DeBoer would take over for Jeff Tedford once he hung up the headset, but a contract dispute led DeBoer to leave Fresno after 2018, and become the OC for Indiana. He impressed there mightily, leading Indiana to eight wins. After Tedford retired this offseason, both parties caved in, and this is finally his program to lead now. The Bulldogs have enjoyed great success in the last decade, but the consistency has not been there. DeBoer is young enough that he can hope to recruit better and get back to being a ranked team. Fresno State looked solid in the opener against a beatable team that they may have struggled with.

Colorado State: Steve Addazio (Colorado L 31-37)

The Mike Bobo experience just was not expected. He was a bit of a confusing hire, and although at times looked promising, it flamed out pretty quickly. So the Rams bring in Steve Addazio, fresh off of being let go at BC to try to rebound the program. Addazio will try to ground and pound his way to victory in the Mountain West. CSU has a fairly young stadium and facilities though, which hopefully brings in talent. The Rams are in a tough division though, with lots of tough teams, headed by Boise. The opener was a winnable but challening game for the Rams, as they dropped a one-score game to their rivals at home. There were some positives, but the Rams easily could have had this one.

Hawai’i: Todd Graham (@ Arizona L 40-59)

After the beloved Nick Rolovich was hired away, the Rainbow Warriors made an interesting splash by bringing in former Arizona State coach Todd Graham. This seems like a bit of a culture clash, but I’m very happy Graham gets another go of things, because there were times where he had the Sun Devils playing great football. Hawai’i is a tough place to win, however, and it is a very difficult job. However, there is some history of great offenses in Manoa, which Graham is known for. The season started with two Pac-12 teams that struggled last year, so perhaps an upset opportunity was there. Alas, the ‘bows dropped both, and are now sitting at 0-2, but cannot panic yet. This season can be salvaged.

Old Dominion: Ricky Rahne (Wake Forest L 22-27)

The former Penn State OC gets his first shot at a head coaching gig at ODU. This is a tough job, no doubt, as seen by Bobby Wilder’s struggles. But if Rahne can handle the responsibilities that come with it, there is a lot of potential here. The recruiting base in Norfolk is outstanding, and there is an athletic program willing to spend money to win. If Rahne can get some momentum, don’t be surprised to see the Monarchs perennially contending for Conference USA. On last Friday night, the Demon Deacons came to town, and the ODU just missed out on upsetting an ACC team. Close, but no cigar.

New Mexico: Danny Gonzalez (Idaho State W 46-18)

After the controversial Bob Davie was let go, UNM seemingly got a steal in Danny Gonzalez. The former Lobo walk-on player most recently turned around Arizona State’s defense in a quick time period under Herm Edwards. Knowing the region well, if he can replicate that defense in Albuquerque, while raising the recruiting profile, the Lobos can get back to being a threat to teams like Boise State, Air Force, and Wyoming, perhaps. The Gonzales era started off pretty well, as they took care of business against the Bengals. They played the next week too, with a trip to Starkville against Mississippi State, but a two-score loss at an SEC team is a lot of progress for UNM.

UTSA: Jeff Traylor (@ #4 LSU L 0-46)

Frank Wilson was thought of to be a great hire for the Roadrunners, but somewhere along the way, the building momentum completely collapsed and he was let go after four seasons. Enter Jeff Traylor, who was the running backs coach for Chad Morris at Arkansas. Traylor is known for his recruiting Texas extremely well. This is why UTSA got him. If they can find some hidden talent in a state littered with it, the Roadrunners have some sway in a big city to move up the ranks a bit. This is still a rebuild and Traylor had just about as tough of an opener as you can ask. The defending champs rolled.

-Scott

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