1-Kliff Kingsbury: (Texas Tech) - Tommy Tuberville was obviously dying to get out of Lubbock and that’s never a good thing for the long-term future of a program. With Kingsbury, the school’s second all-time leading passer, that won’t ever be a concern. If things go swimmingly, he could be there for the next 2-3 decades. Kingsbury has reunited a fractured fan base that was divided by the Mike Leach controversy in 2009. His age – he’ll be 34 in August – is the only criticism that can possibly be levied to this choice. In three seasons as an offensive coordinator, his units finished third, first and 11th in the nation (2012 at Texas A&M, 2010-2011 at Houston).
2-Gary Andersen: (Wisconsin) – This was a home-run hire by Barry Alvarez and remember, he got a late start to the process. Andersen caught my eye for the long haul while nearly orchestrating an upset of Auburn on The Plains in the 2011 season opener for Utah St. and the defending national champions. Andersen took the Aggies to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1960-61. I’ve always felt that against-the-spread records are a good barometer for the type of job a head coach is doing. On that note, we’ll inform you that Utah St. compiled an 11-1-1 spread record last season.
3-Willie Taggart: (South Florida) – Sticking to that same ATS theme, Western Kentucky went 18-6 versus the number in the last 24 games coached by Taggart. For whatever reasons, the Skip Holtz Era was a disaster. But it’s not as if Holtz didn’t have plenty of talent. The Bulls just lost too many close games. In 2011, they dropped five games by 18 combined points. My point is that the cupboard is far from bare. Taggart can recruit and he has a dynamic personality. I’ll be stunned if this hire doesn’t work out extremely well for USF.
4-Mike MacIntyre: (Colorado) – San Jose St. went 11-2 both straight up and ATS last season. In the Spartans’ season opener, they almost pulled a monster upset in a 20-17 loss at Stanford. CU has a hard time hiring coaches because it is financially strapped and the football program has come upon hard times since the glory days of Darian Hagan and Eric Bienemy in the early 1990s. But the school got it right with this hire and I believe brighter things are on the horizon in Boulder, which is one of the best college towns in America.
5-Gus Malzahn: (Auburn) – The 2010 national championship gets further into the rearview mirror with each national title Nick Saban collects at arch-rival Alabama. The AU program fell into the toilet in its one season without Malzahn, resulting in Gene Chizik’s pink slip. The school, which could still be looking at NCAA sanctions in the not-too-distant future, passed on the temptation to hire Bobby Petrino and instead chose Malzahn, who was the real architect behind the success in 2010. In his lone year as a college head coach, Malzahn led Arkansas St. to seven straight victories to close the regular season. This is a solid hire for Auburn. With what’s going on at Alabama, however, and the potential of facing the NCAA’s wrath, the better question is if this was the right choice by Malzahn?
6-Bobby Petrino: (Western Kentucky) – We slot this hire at sixth only because we know BP’s stay in Bowling Green will be a brief one. Western Kentucky knows this, though, and the school has protected itself well with the contractual terms. But doesn’t it always end in a mess when Petrino is involved? Tom Jurich, Arthur Blank and Jeff Long can attest to that. Petrino is what he is -- a terrific head coach and a snake for a human being. The Hilltoppers just hope they can get one or two quality seasons (and minimal controversy) from BP before he bolts for a bigger job.
7-Bret Bielema: (Arkansas) – The reality is that Jeff Long ran the perfect coaching search. He swung for the fences by offering big-time dollars to Les Miles and Chris Petersen and then took quality cuts at James Franklin and Mike Gundy. Just when it appeared as if all hope was lost, Long reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out the head coach of the last three Big Ten championship teams. Long had something Barry Alvarez couldn’t provide – an SEC job and everything that comes with it. Certainly, Bielema faces challenges galore at what is probably the fifth-best program in a seven-team division. But he’s in his prime and has already enjoyed success. Well done, Jeff Long.
8-Sonny Dykes: (California) – Jeff Tedford had it going in his first seven seasons, but things steadily went south for the Bears over the last four seasons. Dykes had a really nice run at La. Tech and inherited a program with a freshly refurbished stadium in Berkeley. There are plenty of recruits in California and Dykes brings an exciting brand of football to the Bay Area. Cal did well to get Dykes.
9-Tommy Tuberville: (Cincinnati) – This hire gets a 10 on the Shock Scale. Obviously, Tuberville realized he was never going to get another SEC job (Arkansas didn’t even call when it was getting desperate) and he wanted out of West Texas in the worst way. This space has always had a soft spot for The Riverboat Gambler who knows on how to coach, plain and simple. It won’t be easy at Cincy, particularly with the uncertainty of its league in the future. But ‘Tubs’ is as good a game coach as there is and the Bearcats couldn’t possibly have done better.
There were plenty of other hires, but the nine above were the only ones I was bullish on. We will concede that some of the hires for the smaller schools involve coaches that this space simply isn’t knowledgeable about yet.
Of course, there was the exception in FIU hiring Ron Turner. What, Ray Goff wasn’t taking calls that day?