The silly season that is the coaching carousel is in full swing as assistants and coordinators are on the move. For now, it seems like the head coaching movement is just about done. If that indeed turns out to be the case, there will be 16 new head coaches in the Group of Five next season.
So which school made the best hire? The worst? Who will be on the hottest seat next season? Here’s our takes on this year’s coaching cycle and the incumbent head coaches who may be on the way out next year.
New Head Coaches
Akron: Tom Arth
App State: Eli Drinkwitz
Bowling Green: Scot Loeffler
Coastal Carolina: Jamey Chadwell
Central Michigan: Jim McElwain
Charlotte: Will Healy
East Carolina: Mike Houston
Houston: Dana Holgorsen
Liberty: Hugh Freeze
Northern Illinois: Thomas Hammock
Temple: Rod Carey
Troy: Chip Lindsey
Texas State: Jake Spavital
UMass: Walt Bell
Utah State: Gary Andersen
Western Kentucky: Tyson Helton
Whose stock are you putting on hold?
Cyrus Smith: Hugh Freeze, Liberty. Putting aside the hi-jinks of the press conference and the marriage between the two in general, this was a really smart hire by Liberty. Liberty has a lot of resources, a solid fan based and great facilities. Getting a big name like Freeze was a must and should pay dividends on the recruiting trail. If Freeze can bounce back from the end of his tenure at Ole Miss, the Flames could be a formidable program. But considering their Independents status, that’s a huge if.
Adam Woodyard: Hugh Freeze, Liberty. Pros are everything he did on the field at Arkansas State, cons are everything he did off the field at Ole Miss. Either could make an appearance at Liberty. Or neither. The team is well-funded but independent schedules are murderous. Putting this one in a drawer.
Joe Londergan: Chip Lindsey, Troy. Lindsey clearly knows offense which is something that Troy fans are used to seeing thanks to Neal Brown’s teams. But if you look at Lindsey’s recent history, there’s good and bad. Lindsey had a great 2017 at Auburn, but their offensive production plummeted in 2018. Then there was the fact that he was Kansas’ OC for all of a month this offseason. Not that the last thing says anything about him personally, but all that change in such a short amount of time wears on a person. I have no idea what to expect from the Trojans next year.
Joe Serpico: Walt Bell, UMass. I would have said Hugh Freeze as well, but for the sake of not repeating what the guys said above, I’ll go with Bell. He’s what every program is looking for these days in the sense of a young offensive coach, but there are questions. Florida State’s offense wasn’t the most exciting last season and the New England area is difficult to recruit.
Whose stock are you selling?
Cyrus Smith: Tyson Helton, WKU. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I didn’t think this was a particularly strong hire for the Tops. Especially after going down this well in hiring a P5 offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford just a few years prior. The big appeal here is that Helton was the offensive coordinator at WKU when Jeff Brohm was the head coach. He’s been apart of some gaudy offenses but I still would’ve liked to see more here. The coaching talent in C-USA has improved immensely since Brohm left for Purdue but the expectations of a conference title for the Tops are still the same.
Adam Woodyard: Jake Spavital, Texas State. Maybe this is dismissive, but any Larry Teis hire is suspect. That squad has suffered mightily and still doesn’t really have its footing at the FBS level, I fully expect more of the same in the near future.
Joe Londergan: Gary Andersen, Utah State. I don’t see the Aggies replicating their recent success now that Gary Andersen has taken over. Andersen’s last stint as a head coach at Oregon State was basically a disaster. If nothing else, it will take him a minute to get back on the head coach horse.
Joe Serpico: Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green. Loeffler has been an offensive coordinator and quarterback's coach for much of his career, but he hasn’t exactly produced prolific offenses. He’s another one with his work cut out for him on the recruiting trail as well.
Whose stock are you buying?
Cyrus Smith: Dana Holgorsen, Houston. Arguably the splashiest hire of the coaching carousel, Houston brought out the Brinks truck to return Holgorsen to the Lone Star State. Former Power Five head coaches aren’t guaranteed to succeed at the G5 by any means, but Holgorsen did well enough at West Virginia for me to think he’ll have Houston competing for conference titles annually right out of the gate.
Adam Woodyard: Mike Houston, ECU. Of all the hires above, he’s the one that most screams to me, “Holy crap, this dude’s gonna win right away.” The ceiling in the AAC has no limits, UCF has proven that. The conference needs more teams consistently ranked to be taken seriously as “Power Six” and I could completely see the Pirates managing that in the next few years.
Joe Londergan: Jake Spavital, Texas State. We’re playing this like the stock exchange, right? The way I see it, the state of Texas State football can’t get much worse, so it stands to reason that things are going to get at least a little better. Plus, Spavital reportedly turned down some interest from NFL jobs, so at least the guy is committed.
Joe Serpico: Dana Holgorsen, Houston. Holgorsen takes over a program that already has some weapons - most notably quarterback D’Eriq King - in a hot bed of recruits. Houston has been on the outside of the AAC Championship in recent years, but Holgorsen will get them back into the title game in no time. The Cougars did not break the bank for nothing.
Which head coaching hire surprised you the most?
Cyrus Smith: Scot Loeffler, Bowling. The Falcons hired a journeyman offensive coordinator from Boston College who didn’t exactly light the scoreboard up. Loeffler hasn’t been tied to too many FBS head coaching jobs in his career and was likely to remain at Boston College for another year. Loeffler is a “Michigan Man” so his ties to the midwest region is the big draw here, but put me down as someone who thought Loeffler would never be a head coach at this level.
Adam Woodyard: Gary Andersen, Utah State. As a fan, you dream of that when they leave (“hey, if Scott Frost keeps losing at Nebraska, maybe he’ll come back to UCF...”), but that never actually happens. Also the fact that Anderson hasn’t exactly seen success since he left USU. But here we are.
Joe Londergan: Jim McElwain, Central Michigan. Other than working with wide receivers some last season at Michigan, McElwain hasn’t really worked in the midwest in over a decade. Plus, McElwain’s tenure at Florida was just so...weird. I figured he would go back to being a coordinator somewhere before he got another head coaching job.
Joe Serpico: Hugh Freeze, Liberty. It is without-a-doubt college football’s most controversial pairing with Freeze and former Baylor AD Ian McCaw working together. Liberty will clearly do whatever it takes for some recognition, but if history repeats itself, this duo could do more damage than good.
Which G5 head coach will be on the hottest seat in 2019?
Cyrus: Tony Sanchez, UNLV. In four seasons Sanchez has yet to post a winning record. He is 16-32 and 11-21 in conference play. An injury to talented QB Armani Rogers, derailed what looked like a promising 2018 season so Sanchez was granted a mulligan. In a public statement, the AD has mentioned that anything less than bowl eligibility in 2019 means the season was a failure. If the Rebels don’t go bowling, Sanchez is out.
Adam: Bobby Wilder, ODU. I could point to a couple of candidates with a shorter tenure, but in the end looked I closer to home, at C-USA. Wilder has coached the Monarchs since 2007, when the school was still FCS, but since making the FBS move his teams have finished over .500 only once, going 10-3 in 2016. This season, even with Blake LaRussa’s star-making performance against Virginia Tech, the team still finished an abysmal 4-8. Eventually the Athletic Department will realize they need a head coach who can compete consistently at the FBS level, and one more terrible season should do it.
Joe Londergan: Frank Wilson, UTSA. Former UTSA coach Larry Coker had two good seasons at the FBS level followed by two bad seasons before he was fired. Wilson had two winning seasons (barely) followed by a 3-9 season in 2018. If they have a similar year in 2019, I think there’s a pretty good chance he’s gone.
Joe Serpico: Randy Edsall, UConn. This is a no-brainer for me as it’s hard to believe he still has the job after the worst defensive performance in the history of college football. UConn’s latest expense report sheds some light on why they have held on to Edsall, but he might drive the football program and himself to extinction if history repeats itself.