There are 119 schools fielding football teams at the top collegiate level. One in every five will have a new head coach this year.
Each coaching change has different circumstances behind it and an equally distinct result. Here’s the new sideline scene broken down by conference.
ACC (four new head coaches)
Two schools, Miami and Boston College, are at the root of all four changes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Randy Shannon is the new man for the Miami Hurricanes. He ran the team’s defense and the players like him, but the Canes are coming off a .500 season and the pressure in Coral Gables to do better will be huge.
Former Miami boss Butch Davis takes over for the North Carolina Tar Heels. An ace recruiter, Davis has already worked some magic in bringing talent to Chapel Hill and he’s assured everyone that his cancer scare last spring won’t be an issue in the future.
Jeff Jagodzinski is the Boston College Eagles’ new head coach, taking over after Tom O’Brien was poached by the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Jags has a really tough act to follow while O’Brien steps into a good spot in Raleigh. He brought offensive coordinator Dana Bible with him and NC State has the offensive personnel to make good things happen in 2007.
Big Ten (3)
Former Cincinnati boss Mark Dantonio will try to slap some life into the Michigan State Spartans as opposed to his own face like predecessor John L. Smith famously did during a press conference. Dantonio’s exactly what the Spartans need, but faces a brutal schedule in his first season in East Lansing.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers handed Tim Brewster the boss’s headphones for 2007. Who? Exactly. Lots of rah-rah attitude but no coaching experience worth mentioning.
The Indiana Hoosiers step into Northwestern’s shoes from 2006, as both schools tragically lost a popular head coach in the summer preceding the season. It was rough for the Wildcats then and it’ll likely be the same for the Hoosiers this year. Offensive coordinator and new head man Bill Lynch has the respect of his players and coached Indiana in two games Terry Hoeppner missed last year due to illness.
Pac 10 (2)
Vagabond Dennis Erickson settles in for his third stint as a head coach in the Pac 10, this time with the Arizona State Sun Devils. Erickson knows his offense and must like what he sees in quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Erickson’s also the beneficiary of one of the country’s kindest schedules.
Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh takes over the Stanford Cardinal with no Division 1A coaching experience on his resume. The good news for Harbaugh is that it’ll be impossible to tell if Stanford somehow plays worse than they did last year.
Big East (2)
The Louisville Cardinals lost Bobby Petrino to the NFL, but scored a coup by grabbing Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa. It’ll be hard to match Petrino’s willingness to cover big spreads, but it’s reasonable to envision Kragthorpe having Urban Meyer-like success moving from a medium-sized school to a national powerhouse.
Brian Kelly already stood on the Cincinnati Bearcats sideline for last January’s International Bowl, but this will be his first crack with his offense fully implemented. It’ll be a tough task to return to a bowl game with such a massive philosophical shift going on.
Nick Saban takes over the Alabama Crimson Tide, becoming the highest-paid college football coach in America in the process. His tasks? Elevate ‘Bama to its former standard of play, flirt with the top of the SEC West standings sooner rather than later … and beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl, dammit!
Saban wasn’t the saviour Miami Dolphins fans hoped for, but Crimson Tide faithful care more about his past success in Baton Rouge – he proved with LSU that he can win in the SEC and that’s all that matters. He’ll have some excellent play-calling help, as Major Applewhite takes over as offensive coordinator.
Big 12 (1)
He coached the defense for an undefeated Auburn team in 2004 and did the same for an undefeated national champion at Texas in 2005. Now Gene Chizic can run the whole show and the Iowa State Cyclones are the beneficiaries. Two questions come to mind. Does Chizic have enough talent to mold something special out of the defense? And even if he does, will the weak offense make the ‘D’ a moot point?
Conference USA (4)
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane lost Kragthorpe to Louisville, but they’ll do just fine with former defensive coordinator Todd Graham taking over. Gus Malzahn takes over the offense after one year at Arkansas and finally has a chance to run the spread at the collegiate level.
Tulsa’s gain is the Rice Owls’ loss, as they lose Graham after he’d led them to their first bowl game since 1961. David Bailiff is the new head coach at Rice and faces a natural letdown season.
The others (7)
Two of the service academies have new coaches, but neither switch on the sidelines heralds much change in strategy. Troy Calhoun, who takes over from Fisher Deberry for the Air Force Falcons, has had success with offenses at the college level before and has a good dual-threat weapon in quarterback Shaun Carney. Stan Brock is the Army Black Knights' new man and was Bobby Ross’ offensive line coach in 2006.
In the WAC, Derek Dooley brings his SEC pedigree to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Dooley’s dad coached Georgia back in the day and the junior Dooley was an assistant at LSU in the past. Also out west, Robb Akey becomes the Idaho Vandals’ third new head coach in four years. Akey doesn’t have much to work with.
Butch Jones steps in for the Central Michigan Chippewas in the only coaching change in the MAC. The Chippewas won the conference last year behind Brian Kelly’s innovative offense, meaning Jones has awfully big shoes to fill.
The Sun Belt will have two new head coaches manning the sidelines this season, both for lower-ranked teams but both interesting stories. Todd Dodge became a high-school coaching legend in Texas and makes the big jump to college ball this season with the North Texas Mean Green.
Mario Cristobal left the once-mighty Canes for another Miami-based school and will lead the Florida International Golden Panthers in 2007. He’s only 36 and a former All-Big East O-lineman and while FIU won’t excel right away, Cristobal’s profile will help with recruiting for future seasons.