Top 10 First-Year FBS Head Coaches
It’s the time of year when we usually talk about the coaches who flopped on their way out the door of their respective schools. But there are many who did remarkable jobs in their first seasons as FBS head coaches. We look at the Top 10 from 2011 based on expectations, results and the program’s history.
10. Dave Doeren (Northern Illinois)
Doeren inherited an 11-win team that was the best in the MAC in 2010 despite not winning the conference title. A year later, the Huskies won 10 under Doeren but, this time, hoisted the conference trophy with a win over Ohio in the championship game. They will take on Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday. With 11 starters returning - including senior QB Chandler Harnish - we commend Doeren for helping NIU get over the top but know that he had a lot with which to work.
9. David Shaw (Stanford)
Listen, we think that Shaw is going to have a very good career at Stanford. It’s never easy to win 11 games at 39-years old in your first season as a head coach. The Cardinal earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl and lost in overtime to high-powered Oklahoma State. But when Andrew Luck - the most-heralded college quarterback in more than a decade - is your meal ticket, life is pretty good. With a coach on the field, this is the most praise we will give Shaw for his performance on the sideline - especially after he received lots of blame for the BCS bowl loss.
8. Pete Lembo (Ball State)
Lembo equaled the win total of his predecessor, Stan Parrish, in just one season. Parrish went 6-19 in two-plus campaigns with the Cardinals, who have never won a bowl game in their history. Lembo has the team dreaming of doing so at 6-6, but we would have him higher on this list if he had a winning season or if the Big Ten team Ball State beat were anyone but Indiana. Sorry, Hoosiers fans.
7. Steve Addazio (Temple)
Addazio has a history as an assistant coach that dates to 1995; most recently, he was maligned as the offensive coordinator at Florida. His only previous head-coaching experience came from 1988-94 at Connecticut’s Cheshire High School. Not exactly a resume without holes. But taking his cue from Al Golden - who moved on to Miami (FL) - Addazio guided the Owls to nine wins, their first bowl victory since 1979 and the second in school history. Not bad for an FBS head-coaching newbie.
6. Bill Blankenship (Tulsa)
It looked as if Blankenship had inherited an incredible situation, taking over Todd Graham’s 10-win team that was returning 18 starters. But Blankenship lost star receiver Damaris Johnson, the NCAA’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards, who was arrested for felony embezzlement in August. In addition, the Golden Hurricane were able to navigate a a grueling non-conference schedule - bouncing back from losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State - to earn an eight-win season. Not an easy accomplishment.
5. James Franklin (Vanderbilt)
Franklin did not have a winning season and lost to both rival Tennessee and in the team’s bowl game, but it certainly was a successful debut. Annually an SEC laughingstock, Vandy has seen its culture changed by Franklin, who has made it obvious he is not willing to let the Commodores continue as a doormat. The fiery Franklin will go chest-to-chest and nose-to-nose with anyone, and we found his act refreshing in Nashville, where there has been very little reason for any optimism.
4. Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia)
If this list were relative to how a coach’s tenure began, Holgorsen would be a unanimous No. 1. He came over from Oklahoma State, where he was a wildly successful offensive coordinator, and immediately provided bad headlines for his reported poor behavior in a casino. The Mountaineers then forced out Bill Stewart, who expected to coach one more season with Holgorsen as the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting. Oh, well. After starting off slow, Holgorsen’s team went 9-3 in his debut and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl.
3. Brady Hoke (Michigan)
They are ready to nominate Brady Hoke for sainthood in Ann Arbor after taking a team that lost six of its last eight games in 2011 and turning them into Sugar Bowl champions. What he and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did with the Wolverines’ defense was nothing short of a miracle. It’s hard to give him the No. 1 spot because Rich Rodriguez left the offense loaded with weapons and UM caught some very fortunate breaks (miraculous victory over Notre Dame, no Wisconsin or Penn State on schedule, catching Ohio State in chaos, the entire Sugar Bowl game).
2. Mark Hudspeth (UL Lafayette)
Hudspeth’s predecessor, Ricky Bustle, had just one winning season during his nine-year tenure - and that was a 6-5 mark in 2005. After having success at Division II North Alabama and landing as
an Ole Miss Mississippi State position coach for two seasons, Hudspeth lifted the Ragin’ Cajuns from 3-9 in 2010 to 9-4 a year later - capping the season with a dramatic win over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. It was the first postseason win for the program in the FBS - and a great debut for Hudspeth.
1. Hugh Freeze (Arkansas State)
Freeze lifted a 4-8 team to a 10-2 record in one season. For all intents and purposes, Freeze’s cameo put both himself and the school on the map. Freeze earned the head-coaching job at Ole Miss (in the SEC!) just seven years removed from coaching in high school. It also gave the Red Wolves enough clout to hire Arkansas native Gus Malzahn, one of college football’s premiere offensive minds, as its next head man.
So Year One in the FBS coaching ranks couldn’t have gone any better for Freeze, who proved that he can coach while having a knack for knowing his Jonesboro audience - and how much they covet the opening of deer season.
Gotta give the guy credit.