Where to find college football’s next ‘home run’ coaching hire

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You are a Power 5 athletic director. You are tasked with hiring a new football coach. You presumably want this coach to last more than 11 games (looking at you, Washington State) or 13 games (looking at you, Washington).

Four Power 5 jobs are currently open, and a few more may follow. Six have already been filled, thanks to the bomb-shell hires by USC (Lincoln Riley) and LSU (Brian Kelly). Every AD and fan base is looking for the “home run” hire, the guy who fulfills the program’s perceived potential. But where do you find these guys? With James Franklin, Dave Aranda, Jimbo Fisher and Mel Tucker seemingly taking themselves off the market, ADs will be looking harder than ever for them.

MORE: Latest news on coaching carousel

Sporting News is here to help. We looked at all 52 Power 5 hires in the last five years, placed them into categories based on where the hires came from, and then subjectively picked “home runs” and “failures.” The category with the biggest home run hit rate was “promoted from within,” with superstars Ryan Day, Lincoln Riley and Mario Cristobal all being elevated from coordinator when the head coach left. So when names get floated for the current openings, ADs better double check that the best man for the job isn’t already on campus.

We took these categories one step further: Of the 19 coaches who were coordinators or assistants before being hired, there were seven home runs, six failures. Of the 24 sitting head coaches, either Group of 5 or Power 5, there are four home runs and nine failures. Moving from one program to another as a head coach has been far from a slam dunk in recent years.

Here is the breakdown of every Power 5 hire of the past five years and where those hires came from.

MORE: Why Lincoln Riley left OU | Where does Oklahoma turn?

Group of 5 head coaches

  • Total: 18
  • Still current head coach: 12
  • Home runs: 2
  • Failures: 6

This is the most common route ADs have taken — grabbing the hottest Group of 5 coach available — but the hit rate has not been great. Matt Rhule at Baylor and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss fall into the “home run” category, and Kiffin’s placement may be premature. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck is on the fringe but not quite there with a 33-23 record, which is similar to the Golden Gophers’ 37-28 record in the five years prior to his arrival. On the failure side, Tom Herman (Texas), Chad Morris (Arkansas), Matt Wells (Texas Tech) and Nick Rolovich (Washington State) have been fired, Willie Taggart left Oregon after one 7-5 season and Scott Frost continues to lead Nebraska to new lows.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
P.J. Fleck Central Michigan to Minnesota 2017  
Jeff Brohm Western Kentucky to Purdue 2017  
Matt Rhule Temple to Baylor 2017 HOME RUN
Tom Herman Houston to Texas 2017 FAILURE
Willie Taggart USF to Oregon 2017 FAILURE
Scott Frost UCF to Nebraska 2018 FAILURE
Chad Morris SMU to Arkansas 2018 FAILURE
Scott Satterfield Appalachian State to Louisville 2019  
Geoff Collins Temple to Georgia Tech 2019  
Neal Brown Troy to West Virginia 2019  
Matt Wells Utah State to Texas Tech 2019 FAILURE
Mike Norvell Memphis to Florida State 2020  
Nick Rolovich Hawaii to Washington State 2020 FAILURE
Lane Kiffin FAU to Ole Miss 2020 HOME RUN
Eli Drinkwitz Appalachian State to Missouri 2020  
Lance Leipold Buffalo to Kansas 2021  
Bryan Harsin Boise State to Auburn 2021  
Josh Huepel UCF to Tennessee 2021  

Power 5 coordinators

  • Total: 9
  • Still current head coach: 7
  • Home runs: 1
  • Failures:  4

Dave Aranda is only 11-9 at Baylor, but remember, his first season was the Pandemic Year and the program fell off quickly after Matt Rhule departed. Aranda rebuilt the Bears in Year 2 and now has them in the top 10. Jeremy Pruitt is the only coach in this group to get fired, but Mel Tucker also falls into the failure category after lasting just one 5-7 season at Colorado before leaving. Steve Sarkisian led Texas to an unthinkable six-game losing streak in Year 1.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Justin Wilcox Wisconsin to Cal 2017  
Jonathan Smith Washington to Oregon State 2018  
Jeremy Pruitt Alabama to Tennessee 2018 FAILURE
Mike Locksley Alabama to Maryland 2019  
Mel Tucker Georgia to Colorado 2019 FAILURE
Jeff Hafley Ohio State to Boston College 2020 FAILURE
Dave Aranda LSU to Baylor 2020 HOME RUN
Steve Sarkisian Alabama to Texas 2021 FAILURE
Clark Lea Notre Dame to Vanderbilt 2021  

Promoted from within

Getty Images

  • Total: 8
  • Still current head coach: 4
  • Home runs: 5
  • Failures: 2

This is an all-or-nothing category. There is an impressive group of home runs with Tom Allen at Indiana, Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, Mario Cristobal at Oregon and Ryan Day at Ohio State. Ed Orgeron is still in the home run category despite being fired by LSU, for delivering a national championship in 2019. Matt Luke and Jimmy Lake have also been fired and Manny Diaz is on the brink at Miami. We’re resisting putting Diaz in the failure category for now, but if he does get fired, that will land every promoted coach into one category or the other.

NAME SCHOOL YEAR RESULT
Tom Allen Indiana 2017 HOME RUN
Lincoln Riley Oklahoma 2017 HOME RUN
Ed Orgeron LSU 2017 HOME RUN
Mario Cristobal Oregon 2018 HOME RUN
Matt Luke Ole Miss 2018 FAILURE
Manny Diaz Miami 2019  
Ryan Day Ohio State 2019 HOME RUN
Jimmy Lake Washington 2021 FAILURE

Power 5 head coach

  • Total: 5
  • Still current head coach: 3
  • Home runs: 2
  • Failures: 2

Tucker has exceeded all expectations at Michigan State despite the ugly 56-7 loss to Ohio State. It seemed the university overpaid to hire him away from Colorado, and it may have overpaid him again with a 10-year, $95 million contract extension, but he delivered in a big way in 2021; the Spartans were expected to win just four games. Jimbo Fisher has made Texas A&M as relevant as it has ever been, both on the recruiting trail and in the national conversation. It did not capitalize this season when everything seemed lined up for it to break through and win the SEC West, but AggieLand is still thrilled to have Jimbo at the helm. Taggart was fired during his second season at Florida State. Dan Mullen enjoyed success at Florida, but similar to Herman at Texas, it wasn’t good enough and he was fired after four seasons.

MORE: Tucker signs $95 million extension

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Willie Taggart Oregon to Florida State 2018 FAILURE
Jimbo Fisher Florida State to Texas A&M 2017 HOME RUN
Dan Mullen Mississippi State to Florida 2018 FAILURE
Mel Tucker Colorado to Michigan State 2020 HOME RUN
Mike Leach Washington State to Mississippi State 2020  

Out of football

  • Total: 5
  • Still current head coach: 4
  • Home runs: 0
  • Failures: 1

This group has not fit the narratives that existed when they were hired. Chip Kelly was supposed to rock it at UCLA. He hasn’t. Herm Edwards and Mack Brown were expected to fail at Arizona State and North Carolina, respectively. They haven’t. Greg Schiano was supposed to be the answer at Rutgers. He might prove to be, but the Scarlet Knights aren’t making too much progress climbing up the Big Ten ladder. The only hire analysts pegged correctly was Les Miles at Kansas. He was not seen as a good choice, and that initial view proved correct.

NAME SCHOOL YEAR RESULT
Chip Kelly UCLA 2018  
Herm Edwards Arizona State 2018  
Mack Brown North Carolina 2019  
Les Miles Kansas 2019 FAILURE
Greg Schiano Rutgers 2020  

NFL assistants

  • Total: 3
  • Still current head coach: 3
  • Home runs: 0
  • Failures: 0

This group is all new on the job and all three have shown some promise after taking over dormant programs. Karl Dorrell took over at Colorado after Tucker’s 5-7 season and went 3-1 in the Pac-12  in the Pandemic Year, though there CU has been mediocre again this season. Bret Bielema took over an Illinois program that had nine consecutive losing seasons. It has endured a 10th, but it also has wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Jedd Fisch found an empty cupboard at Arizona and then suffered through a year of injuries.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Karl Dorrell Dolphins to Colorado 2020  
Bret Bielema Giants to Illinois 2021  
Jeff Fisch Patriots to Arizona 2021  

Power 5 assistants

  • Total: 2
  • Still current head coach: 2
  • Home runs:  1
  • Failures: 0

Sam Pittman at Arkansas and Shane Beamer at South Carolina have exceeded expectations as first-time head coaches in the SEC. Pittman took over a program in disarray and pushed it to the middle of the toughest division in the nation in just two years. Both fan bases have to be encouraged by the early returns.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Sam Pittman Georgia to Arkansas 2020 HOME RUN
Shane Beamer Oklahoma to South Carolina 2021  

Fired Power 5 coach

  • Total: 1
  • Still current head coach: 0
  • Home runs: 0
  • Failures: 1

Mullen, Orgeron and Gary Patterson fall into this category this hiring cycle. The only coach to get scooped up by a P5 program after being fired in the last five years is Kevin Sumlin at Arizona, and that did not work out. Sumlin took over a declining program from Rich Rodriguez and further declined it, leaving Fisch with a major rebuild. Sumlin went 5-7 in 2018, 4-8 in 2019 and then 0-5 in 2020, closing things out with a humiliating 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M to Arizona 2018 FAILURE

FCS head coach

  • Total: 1
  • Still current head coach: 1
  • Home runs: 0
  • Failures: 0

Chris Klieman has been an excellent hire for Kansas State, bordering on home run. A 19-16 record through three seasons includes two wins against Oklahoma. The program is on solid footing, unlike the last time Bill Snyder needed to be replaced.

NAME TRANSITION YEAR RESULT
Chris Klieman North Dakota State to Kansas State 2019  



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