20 Division 1 FBS programs are undergoing coaching changes entering the 2014 season, 7 of which are Power 5 Conference teams. Chris Petersen, James Franklin, and Charlie Strong may be the top headliners, but there are several intriguing moves in the coaching world to keep an eye on including a coach moving within the same conference, and a 3-time defending national champion coach moving up to the FBS level.
After a week 5 blowout loss at Arizona State, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin before he stepped off the plane. While Ed Orgeron did a sufficient job filling in as interim, and had the players motivated to play for him, Haden controversially elected to go with an outside hire. The term “outside” is a stretch here, considering Steve Sarkisian already has coached quarterbacks at Southern Cal for 7 seasons in the 2000s. After gaining some Head Coach experience and finally breaking the 7-win barrier at Washington, Sarkisian was brought back to USC, this time as the head of the program. Such an in-conference coaching switch is rare, and often built into contracts as prohibited.
Sarkisian’s departure left a void up in Seattle, one that fellow Pacific Northwest coach Chris Petersen wanted to fill. Petersen took over at Boise State in 2006, and in his 8 seasons, has amassed by far the most wins in Division 1 over that span. With a record of 92-13 (.877 win %), and several BCS buster seasons, Petersen has been regarded as the top coaching prospect for a few years now. His name was thrown at the top of every list whenever a major program opened up. While his move to Washington, a strong program but no recent powerhouse, may surprise some, it makes sense regionally. Petersen inherits a UW program with a state-of-the-art stadium renovation and a revamped roster that went 9-4 in 2013. He already has strong recruiting ties in the region, and looks to take UW to the next level as a perennial Pac-12 contender.
Mack Brown led the Texas program to consistent 10-win seasons and even a National Championship in 2005, but after a few hiccup seasons, it was time for a change in Austin. Texas went to the American Conference (old Big East) for its next hire, the charismatic, energetic, defensive-minded Charlie Strong from Louisville. Strong excelled at defensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer, and even brought Louisville to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2012. High School recruiting rankings are hit-or-miss, but more often than not, Texas finished with some of the most elite recruiting classes. Can Strong motivate the raw talent and translate that into victories?
Filling Strong’s opening in Louisville is Bobby Petrino, which is one of the strangest hires of the season. Twice Petrino has fled Louisville for the pros, but UL continues to blindly bring him back. Petrino had success in other places, most recently at Arkansas, but disgraced himself by his motorcycle crash/affair with a trainer. Scandal and previous departures to the NFL have not stopped Louisville for rolling out the Big Red carpet for Petrino. I guess it’s too hard for the Cardinals administration to ignore his 41-9 record at UL.
In 2012, Bill O’Brien stepped into a slow burning fire at Penn State and somewhat succeeded in righting the ship. While the “Paterno People” continue to draw negative attention to PSU off-the-field, O’Brien brought back a respectable product on-the-field. A serviceable kicker sure would have helped, but still the win total has dropped each season over the past 3, most likely a direct correlation to the mass exodus of transfers and their roster reductions that cripple team depth. After 2 years, O’Brien fled to the NFL (Houston Texans), and Penn State chose to hire Pennsylvania-native James Franklin. Frankin brought Vanderbilt to new heights, quite a feat at the perennial SEC punching bag. He has also already pumped excitement into the Penn State program, and the Nittany Lions have shot up the recruiting rankings for the 2015 class. Now, keeping those early commitments is another story – ask Brady Hoke about last season – but Franklin has done everything right so far.
Last season, Division 1 FCS Georgia Southern went into the Swamp and defeated Florida – without even attempting a pass. The option wizard behind this is Jeff Monken and he will be filling the vacancy at Army, whose option attack could use a boost to finally knock off rival Navy after 12 straight losses. Interestingly, Monken was on staff at Navy for 6 of those Midshipmen victories (2002-2007)
The real dynasty in college football is located in Fargo, North Dakota, home of the NDSU Bison. Led by Craig Bohl, the Bison have won 3 straight NCAA titles knocking off several FBS and Big 12 programs in the process. Bohl has roots at Nebraska, serving under legendary coach Tom Osborne during the 1990s dynasty there. While many thought Bohl could go even higher in the coaching ranks, he landed at Wyoming, a member of the Mountain West Conference. This is certainly a program to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Several coordinators also made moves this offseason. After being fired mid-season at USC, Lane Kiffin accepted an offer from Nick Saban to coach his offense at Alabama. Kiffin fills the void of Doug Nussmeier who went up north to attempt to fix Michigan’s offensive issues. Under Al Borges, Michigan had several games where they failed to gain a single rushing yard and finished in the negatives.
Long-time Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired, causing more staff turnover in Eugene. And finally, the best news in East Lansing since the Spartans’ Rose Bowl victory is that successful defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will return despite being the popular name for head coaching openings.
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