Would you hire them again? Grading the Power 5 coaching hires of 2016
Mark Richt wasn’t just a home-run hire in 2016. He was going to be the one who put The U back in Unbeatable.
That’s essentially what I wrote after Miami brought back its former quarterback.
About that …
Richt was the splashiest hire of the 2016 coaching carousel that saw 13 Power 5 programs change hands. It didn’t exactly work out.
And if there is a common and sobering theme to this 2016 coaching class, it is exactly that.
After just 5 seasons, just 6 remain.
How many of those athletic directors would like a do-over? Let’s take a look.
The best hire
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Without question, the Bulldogs rolled the dice on Smart. The buyout line is littered with great coordinators who couldn’t reproduce that magic as the head coach. There was no guarantee that Smart would reach levels that Richt couldn’t. And those concerns grew louder after Smart went just 8-5 with some of the best offensive talent Richt ever recruited.
Midway through Year 2, however, and it was clear Smart was building something special.
No, he still hasn’t beaten Alabama and he’s lost at least 2 games every year, but Georgia has been in the hunt for an SEC title and Playoff spot ever since.
Without question, this was the best coaching hire of the 2016 cycle.
The next-best hire
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Given history, pedigree and resources, you could argue what Campbell has done at Iowa State is even more impressive than what Smart has accomplished at Georgia.
And it’s a compelling stance, too.
Campbell just led the Cyclones to their first top-10 finish … in program history.
Until he arrived, they hadn’t appeared in a year-end poll since finishing No. 25 in 2000.
He just posted his 4th consecutive winning season … something the Cyclones hadn’t done since the 1920s.
The only question that remains is how long will Campbell stay? NFL teams want him, and he’s a natural candidate for every “better” Power 5 opening.
Would happily do it again
Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
You can scoff at Mendenhall’s 30-32 record in 5 years at UVA, but also know that he won a Coastal Division title in 2019 — the Cavs’ first division title — and ended a 15-game losing streak against hated rival Virginia Tech.
His name appears on various hot-seat lists, but those who understand Virginia’s football history post-George Welsh know better.
Clay Helton, USC
Helton twice took over on an interim basis before the Trojans named him the permanent head coach in 2016.
USC has championship aspirations and trophies as receipts. So they’re not quite “back,” but Helton is 39-19 with 3 Top-25 finishes.
It’s been OK
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
After a fantastic start with Frank Beamer’s players, Fuente enters his 6th season firmly on the hot seat. The Hokies finished 5-6 last season — the 2nd time in 3 years that Fuente endured a losing season.
Beamer didn’t have a losing season after 1992.
Dino Babers, Syracuse
In fairness, Babers walked into an impossible situation.
Not only had the Cuse been rotating coaches — the previous 2 lasted 4 years and 3 years, respectively, and had a combined losing record — the Cuse hadn’t finished a season ranked since 2001.
And that backdrop is even before you consider the immovable object of sharing a division with Clemson.
Give Babers credit. He upset Clemson in 2017 and then posted a 10-win season with a top-25 finish in 2018. That year very nearly included another upset of Clemson.
But he’s had 4 losing years in 5 seasons and is 24-36 heading into Year 6.
Should have hired somebody else
Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom was a popular pick to succeed Gary Pinkel. A former star linebacker and Mizzou defensive coordinator, he checked a lot of Tigers boxes.
He just didn’t win enough. Or, probably more detrimental, he lost to the wrong teams.
He went 25-25 and landed in 2 bowl games, but the Tigers suffered strange losses to Middle Tennessee State, unranked Purdue, Wyoming and Vanderbilt that robbed their ability to build any type of long-term confidence.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
The Gamecocks had to know how this was going to end, right?
It’s right there on the back of Coach Boom’s football card.
Muschamp struggled to win at Florida, with all of its history and championship legacy.
He was just 28-30 when South Carolina fired him during his 5th season.
He’s one of the best defensive minds in the game, though, and he’ll be a key part of Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia.
Mark Richt, Miami
Richt wasn’t terrible. Far from it. He was 26-13 in 3 years with a pair of top-20 finishes. But nobody hires a head coach with the intention that he’ll be gone after 3 seasons, especially one with Richt’s pedigree. That it was Richt’s decision matters none.
Chris Ash, Rutgers
It’s Rutgers. Only 1 coach has been able to win at Rutgers.
But Ash went 8-32 before he was fired early in his 4th season. The obstacles were aplenty, beginning with the fact Ash had never been a head coach and was inheriting a program that had just moved into the Big Ten.
Clearly it didn’t work out.
Greg Schiano, who left with more wins than all but 2 Rutgers head coaches, returned for the 2020 season. Schiano has 71 career wins at Rutgers — 7 shy of matching Frank Burns’ program record.
Lovie Smith, Illinois
Smith had NFL success and was a celebrated hire, but he never posted a winning season and was fired in December after posting a 17-39 mark in 5 years.
Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
His one season was marked by success on the field — 9-4 — and controversy off it. Citing the need for a culture change, Minnesota fired Claeys and hired PJ Fleck, a move that has been a smashing success.
D.J. Durkin, Maryland
His 10-15 record is the very least of the reasons the Terps should have looked elsewhere. There’s no need to revisit the tragedy that occurred on his watch, but Maryland fired Durkin after just 2 seasons.