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College football coaching carousel tracker: Grades, analysis on coach changes, 2023-24 firings and hirings

DeShaun Foster (Las Vegas Raiders RB coach) Chip Kelly The timing on Kelly’s decision couldn’t have been worse. Most of the “splash hire” options were already off the board and UCLA’s roster isn’t in a great state after years of lackluster recruiting efforts. Enter Foster, a young but largely unproven coach who hasn’t even held a coordinator position in his eight-year coaching career. There’s reason for optimism with Foster, though: he’s a program legend, a player’s coach and an absolute grinder on the recruiting trail that should improve talent acquisition efforts. Grade: B- Bill O’Brien (Ohio State offensive coordinator) Jeff Hafley Hafley’s decision to return to the NFL in February left Boston College scrambling for a new head coach late in the game, but the Eagles managed to find a solid replacement in O’Brien. He brings both NFL and college head coaching experience after stints with Penn State and the Houston Texans, and he’s intimately familiar with the New England area from his time on the Patriots’ staff. Grade: B Sherrone Moore (Michigan offensive coordinator) Jim Harbaugh Moore was always the favorite the succeed Jim Harbaugh if he left for the NFL, and Michigan wasted little time with the promotion. Moore guided the Wolverines through a difficult three-game stretch during Harbaugh’s second suspension at the end of the regular season and “passed” the test by winning all three — including the heated rivalry with Ohio State. What the 37-year-old lacks in head coaching experience, he makes up for with continuity and locker room respect. Now, can he keep it going at one of college football’s blue bloods? Grade: B Ken Niumatalolo (UCLA tight ends coach) Brent Brennan Niumatalolo was a star at Navy for the better part of his 16-year career, but things went south during his final three seasons. He reportedly won’t run the pure triple option with the Spartans, which is a sign that he has evolved into the new era of the sport. However, we don’t know how effective he actually can be running a new scheme. Grade: C+ Pete Lembo (South Carolina special teams coordinator) Maurice Linguist Lembo was a key cog at South Carolina, tutoring a consistent special teams unit that always played sound and ranked near the top nationally in most relevant categories. He also has coaching experience at both the FCS and FBS levels with stints at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State. While he did lead Ball State to a couple of nine-win seasons, he failed to win a bowl game or put the Cardinals in a position to compete at the conference level. This seems like a decent hire to bring stability back, but Lembo’s ceiling might be a bit low. Grade: C+ Major Applewhite (Promoted from offensive coordinator role) Kane Wommack Wommack left a great foundation with the Jaguars, and it’s now up to Applewhite to keep the momentum going in the right direction. He was 15-11 in two full seasons with the Cougars with a pair of bowl games. His familiarity with the South Alabama program should allow him to keep it at a relatively high level. Grade: B Brent Brennan (San Jose State) Jedd Fisch Brennan was 34-48 in seven seasons as coach of the Spartans, which included a 7-1 record and No. 24 final ranking in the AP Top 25 during the 2020 season. He has three bowl game appearances over the last four seasons. When you take the COVID-19 season off of his resume, however, it doesn’t really jump off the page. He’s going to have a lot of work to do following Fisch’s success as the Wildcats move into the Big 12. Grade: C+ Jedd Fisch (Arizona) Kalen DeBoer Fisch is a solid hire, given the circumstances. He needed just three years to build into Arizona into a 10-win team and brings a wealth of collegiate and NFL experience to the job. However, Washington fans should temper their expectations as the Huskies move to the Big Ten and replace a massive amount of production. This one may not pay immediate dividends. Grade: B+ Kalen DeBoer (Washington) Nick Saban (retired) DeBoer turned plenty of heads at Washington and developed a reputation as a quarterback guru. There will be a learning curve as he adjusts to the SEC, but DeBoer has been a winner at every stop in his career, including three NAIA national titles Souix Falls. He seems to be built for the high-pressure situation he’ll inherit in Tuscaloosa. Grade: A Mike Elko (Duke) Jimbo Fisher Elko is familiar with the program after spending four seasons as Fisher’s defensive coordinator (2018-21). He’s aware of the expectations. His 16-9 record at Duke shows that he is able to develop players who can compete at a high level. However, he only has two years of head coaching experience and will have to create top-down unity at a program with a lot of chefs in the kitchen. Mark Stoops would have been a better option, and Elko would be graded higher had the deal with Stoops not imploded. We will have to wait a few years to see if this hire works out, but Elko shares similar coaching characteristics as Stoops. Grade: B+ Jonathan Smith (Oregon State) Mel Tucker (cause) Smith is the perfect hire for Michigan State. The former Oregon State quarterback rebuilt the Beavers program into a consistent team despite challenges in the recruiting department. Michigan State is bound to be a developmental program in the new-look Big Ten, and Smith has proven that he’s one of the best at developing talent throughout his coaching career. Grade: A+ Jeff Lebby (Oklahoma offensive coordinator) Zach Arnett Lebby has been successful as an offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, UCF and Oklahoma. However, finding success in the new-look SEC that includes Texas and Oklahoma will be almost impossible for a first-year coach at a program that is constantly fighting an uphill battle like Mississippi State. Grade: C David Braun (Northwestern interim head coach) Pat Fitzgerald (cause) Fitzgerald was dismissed after an investigation revealed a culture of hazing within the program. He was 110-101 in 17 seasons leading the Wildcats. Braun was tabbed as the team’s interim coach at the beginning of the season and has surpassed all expectations, guiding the Wildcats to the brink of bowl eligibility. Northwestern rewarded Braun by removing the interim tag and making him the full-time head coach. Sure, the Wildcats could have tried for a splashier hire, but it’s hard to argue with the job Braun has done so far. Grade: B Fran Brown (Georgia defensive backs coach) Dino Babers This is a big jump for Brown, going from a position coach to a head coach in a Power Five conference. It’s going to be a tall order for Brown to succeed early on, especially in the expanded ACC. However, the New Jersey native is currently ranked as the top recruiter in the nation, according to 247Sports, and finished No. 8 last year. He will help the Orange replenish that roster through high school recruiting and the transfer portal. Grade: B- Trent Bray (Oregon State defensive coordinator) Jonathan Smith Bray has taken over for Jonathan Smith after Smith left to take the Michigan State job. This is an interesting hire because Bray, who was the Nebraska interim coach for one week as it made the transition from Mike Riley to Scott Frost after the 2017 season, has never actually coached an FBS game. There are two ways to look at this hire. The continuity he provides after being serving on the Beavers staff since 2018 will help them make the transition out of the Pac-12. However, these are uncharted waters for a program that has no home. There’s no way to gauge what the blueprint is for this program, so keeping it in-house is probably the right move. Grade: B- Curt Cignetti (James Madison) Tom Allen Cignetti was the talk of the college football world during the first two-plus months of the season as he led James Madison into the national conversation with 10 straight wins to open the campaign. He has three double-digit win seasons since taking over the program in 2019, finished in the top three in the final FCS rankings from 2019-21 prior to the program moving up to FBS. It’s going to be tough for him to rebuild Indiana, but he is the right man for the job. Grade: A Manny Diaz (Penn State defensive coordinator) Mike Elko This marks Diaz’s second coaching stint in the ACC, having previously posted a 21-15 record at Miami. Diaz certainly knows defense and has a proven track record as a recruiter, but he still has something to prove as a head coach. Grade: B- Sean Lewis (Colorado offensive coordinator) Brady Hoke (retired) Lewis was bound to be a hot commodity at the Group of Five level, and San Diego State struck while the iron was hot. Lewis’ one-year tenure as the Colorado offensive coordinator failed not due to anything that he did, but because the Buffaloes simply couldn’t block. He has one division championship in four years at Kent State and will give the Aztecs an offensive identity that it lacked last season. Grade: A- Willie Fritz (Tulane) Dana Holgorsen This is a perfect hire for a program that has enormous upside in the Big 12. Fritz turned Georgia Southern around as it transitioned to FBS. Then he transformed the Green Wave into a New Year’s Six bowl contender. Houston needs a coach that can succeed fighting a tough battle, and Fritz is the best in the country at that. Grade: A+ Spencer Danielson (Boise State interim head coach/defensive coordinator) Andy Avalos Danielson served as the Broncos’ interim head coach over the final three games. He led them to a 3-0 record and became the first interim head coach in FBS history to win a conference title when they topped UNLV in the Mountain West Championship Game. He has served in a variety of roles on the Boise State staff since 2017, so he knows the expectations within the fan base and administration. There is no doubt that he earned the chance to lead the program, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can handle the responsibility on a permanent basis for a team that should be contending for New Year’s Six bowl games every year. Grade: B+ Scotty Walden (Austin Peay) Dana Dimel Walden is one of the hot up-and-coming names in the coaching industry after finding success at Austin Peay, where he posted a 26-14 record in four seasons. His win total increased in each season, culminating with a 9-3 record and FCS playoff berth in 2023. Plus, his four-game stint as the interim coach at Southern Miss in 2020 allowed him to get his feet wet leading an FBS program. He is a native Texan, and the ties to the high school coaches in the state will go a long way towards rebuilding the roster with enough talent to contend in Conference USA. Grade: A- Bryant Vincent (New Mexico offensive coordinator) Terry Bowden Vincent was 7-6 as UAB’s interim coach during the 2022 season following the retirement of Bill Clark and led the Blazers to win in the Bahamas Bowl. He served as the New Mexico offensive coordinator last season and helped the Lobos average 6.21 yards per play. He has ties to the Southeastern footprint as a high school and college coach, which will help him build the roster in Monroe. He’s a good fit, but this is going to be a tough rebuild. Grade: B- Derek Mason (former Vanderbilt coach) Rick Stockstill Mason took one year off of coaching last season after serving as the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator in 2022. He was the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2014-20, so his knowledge of the landscape in central Tennessee will be vital to the rebuilding effort in Murfreesboro. He is a master salesman, is well-versed on building defenses and has SEC experience. He’s a prefect fit for the Blue Raiders. Grade: A Bronco Mendenhall (former BYU and Virginia coach) Danny Gonzales What an upgrade from Gonzales to Mendenhall. The former BYU and Virginia coach has a 135-81 record as a head coach, has led teams to Top 25 rankings in either the coaches or the AP poll six times and has ties to the “Four Corners” region of the United States. He is known for his hard-nosed approach, discipline and ability to get the most out of his players. Grade: A+ Jay Sawvell (Wyoming defensive coordinator) Craig Bohl (retired) It’s never easy to follow a legend, but that is what Sawvell is going to be tasked with after Bohl’s success in Laramie. Sawvell has been on Bohl’s staff as defensive coordinator and safeties coach since 2020. His previous stops include Wake Forest, Minnesota and several other FBS schools. However, it’s hard to imagine a first-time head coach jumping in for a legend and quickly contending for a conference title. Grade: C+ Bob Chesney (Holy Cross) Curt Cignetti Chesney might not be a household name, but he did a tremendous job at Holy Cross with four straight Patriot League titles and playoff appearances from 2018-22, the last of which included an undefeated regular season. He takes over a James Madison program that thrived under Cignetti, which means that Chesney should be able to hit the ground running. Grade: A+ Jon Sumrall (Troy) Willie Fritz Tulane made a splash in replacing Fritz, who left for Houston. The Green Wave landed a rising star in Sumrall. He posted a 23-4 mark in two seasons at Troy while winning back-to-back Sun Belt championships. The 41-year old comes from a defensive background and knows the landscape at Tulane after working as the Green Wave’s co-defensive coordinator from 2012-14. Grade: A Gerad Parker (Notre Dame offensive coordinator) Jon Sumrall Parker is a natural fit for a Trojans program that has had success hiring coaches from the same tree. Parker has worked with Neal Brown (West Virginia) and Jon Sumrall (Tulane) during their time at Troy. Brown and Sumrall combined for five double-digit win seasons leading the Trojans, with the failed Chip Lindsay experiment coming between their respective tenures. Don’t expect anything to change at Troy … which is a good thing. Parker doesn’t have head coaching experience which does make this a risk but only a minor one. Grade: B+ Jeff Choate (Texas co-defensive coordinator) Ken Wilson Choate led Montana State to back-to-back FCS playoff appearances in 2018-19, and jumped to Texas where he served as co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach since 2021. The former Montana Western linebacker has coaching experience all over the region, which will help him sell the program to high school recruits and transfer players looking to get closer to home. The combination of FCS coaching success and ties to the area make him a perfect fit. Grade: A Tony Sanchez Jerry Kill Kill stepped down after leading the Aggies to a 17-11 and two bowl appearances over the last two seasons. Sanchez has been the wide receivers coach under Kill for the last two seasons after going 20-40 in five seasons at UNLV from 2015-19. Sanchez has a tough act to follow after Kill’s dramatic turnaround of a once-dormant program. Grade: D

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