Ranking the Coaching Hires Made Thus Far
Photo Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking the Coaching Hires Made Thus Far

November 29, 2017

Silly season is in full force. If you haven't been following Hail Varsity's Coaching Carousel, you should fix that, but this will be a way to get you caught up on the major hires that have happened.

Florida, UCLA, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have all made moves while Tennessee and a few others flounder around. Let's rank them, shall we? All the while saying thank you to Nebraska AD Bill Moos for keeping the Huskers out of this circus that has ensued.

A: Chip Kelly, UCLA

About a week ago, USA Today’s Dan Wolken tweeted there are about 20 college football programs in the country that, year in and year out, have all the resources you need to go win a national championship. Weird premise (luck is involved a lot) but for the most part, the list makes sense. UCLA is on that list. Money, recruiting hotbed, prestige, beautiful baby blue uniforms that Under Armor better not touch, ability to attract elite talent, UCLA has the tools it needs to win. It just hasn’t used them. UCLA hasn’t won anything this century. Chip Kelly might change that.

Before his arrival in Eugene, Oregon had finished in the top 10 of the AP poll twice since 1950. Oregon finished in the top 10 of the AP poll three times out of four. He went to a Rose Bowl in his first season, went to a national championship in his second season and won a Rose Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl. If you want to count the Helfrich years as an extension of Kelly – you wouldn’t be crazy for doing so – the numbers look better.

Kelly offenses averaged 500.7 yards per game in four seasons, ranked No. 33, No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 in total offense, turned under-recruited guys like Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James into household names and a three-star quarterback into a Heisman Trophy winner.

Take all that talent and put it in a place like Los Angeles? Kelly could legitimately elevate UCLA to not just Pac-12 dominance but national dominance. And he knows the terrain too, that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pac-12 doesn’t really have a school that runs the show right now. USC? They’re in the same boat as UCLA lately, all hype, no results. Stanford? Well, they have a Heisman-worthy runner in the backfield and they’re nowhere near the playoff discussion. Oregon? They might be looking at a third coach in as many years here pretty soon.

Here’s the part that makes this all that much more fun to watch: this could end in a beautiful disaster.

Kelly could clash with leadership, this could start slow and people could get antsy, they might never win anything. Nothing in UCLA’s history suggests this move instantly makes it a title contender. Most of the national pundits are considering this a home run hire, which it is, but how shocked would you really be if it ended with nothing to show it?

A: Dan Mullen, Florida

This is the hire that has the potential to be the best of the offseason. Mullen might not have the ceiling Kelly does but he definitely has a much higher floor. In nine seasons at Mississippi State, he averaged eight wins a year and 30 points a game in a ruthless SEC West division, developed Dak Prescott from a three-star recruit into what you see today and has Nick Fitzgerald on a similar path.

For years following the departures of Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow, Florida had the defense to win national championships, it just had an offense that would struggle to compete in the MAC. With Mullen (back) in town after winning two national titles as the offensive coordinator under Meyer, Florida will win big if it makes the right defensive coordinator hire.

SI’s Andy Staples is as good as it gets on the Gators, and he had a great breakdown of what Florida expects and what Mullen understands. He checks all the boxes the Gators needed checked: offensive system that he can not only teach but adapt to his personnel (a big failure of the Jim McElwain era), ability to develop high-end quarterback play (a big failure of the post-Meyer era) and consistency (did I mention Mississippi State won eight games a year in the SEC West?).

Personally, Mullen fits Florida better than Kelly would have, but he falls below Kelly on this list for a few reasons: the excitement level isn’t what it could have been after whiffing on Kelly, he doesn’t have quite the head coaching track record of Kelly and, as previously stated, I think Kelly has the higher ceiling.

C: Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State 

Mississippi State’s coaching search lasted all of two days after Florida hired away Mullen on Saturday. The Bulldogs announced the hiring of Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead Tuesday evening and it really was a case of making the most of a bad situation.

I don’t know that Mississippi State expected to go into this offseason looking for a new head coach but it had to have an inkling Mullen was in danger of being poached when the Florida job opened up. A guy that won an Offensive Coordinator of the Year award back in 2016 and put together the Trace McSorley-Saquon Barkley backfield is not a bad way to move on.

Quick rundown: Moorhead got to Penn State in 2016 after four pretty successful seasons at FCS Fordham and exploded. In his first season as the OC and quarterbacks coach, Penn State broke school records for total offense (6,056 yards) and passing yards (3,650 yards) while tying the record for points scored in a single season (526). Penn State’s scoring also jumped just over two touchdowns a game from the previous season, marking the fourth-highest jump amongst Power 5 programs. (Okay, maybe that wasn’t “quick” but the guy has a good resume.)

No established hire here, Moorhead is an up-and-comer without a ton of head coaching experience. The two years and Penn State are nice and fun, and he took a 1-10 Fordham team and went 38-13 in four seasons at the helm, but the SEC is a different animal. In the words of Nebraska AD Bill Moos, “they eat their young,” and Moorhead could get eaten alive if he doesn’t make the right moves. That means filling out your staff with established guys that know the lay of the land in the conference and finding success in new recruiting areas.

Mississippi State is a hard place to win at but if Moorhead can produce eight wins a season, this will probably be viewed as a success.

D: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

"We had to find a big-time coach," said Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork, per ESPN, when he was telling the Rebels football team about the coaching search.

That big-time coach is apparently someone with no head coaching experience.

The move came quickly and without a ton of hoopla, Ole Miss just removed the interim tag from Matt Luke’s name following a 6-6 campaign capped by an Egg Bowl victory. The players wanted Luke, which means something in college football, but there are just too many questions with this hire. The most important? Why hire a search firm to "find" someone already on campus and why move so fast?

Sanctions are coming, let’s just sit on this for a while.

Incomplete: Jon Gruden, Greg Schiano, Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm , Tennessee

This coaching search continues to be the best part of the offseason. Purdue’s Jeff Brohm would have been great and Mike Gundy could have been nice, but the Vols have yet to make a hire. I just wanted a reason to laugh at them.

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