Berry Tramel

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College football: Oregon's Mark Helfrich the best coaching hire

by Berry Tramel Modified: July 15, 2013 at 5:20 pm •  Published: July 15, 2013

FILE - In this April 7, 2013, file photo, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, right, looks back at quarterback Marcus Mariota as they run onto the field for their spring NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore. The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions will release a public report on the findings of its investigation and any possible sanctions against Oregon's football program on Wednesday morning, June 26, 2013.  (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File) ORG XMIT: NY169
FILE - In this April 7, 2013, file photo, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, right, looks back at quarterback Marcus Mariota as they run onto the field for their spring NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore. The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions will release a public report on the findings of its investigation and any possible sanctions against Oregon's football program on Wednesday morning, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File) ORG XMIT: NY169

Major college football will have 31 head coaching changes from last season. That’s more than a quarter of the schools. Amazing.

Just like last year, I decided to rank the new hires. Not on how they’ll do, necessarily, just on the quality of the hire. Obviously, KentState can’t hire the same kind of coach that Tennessee can. Obviously, Mark Helfrich is going to win more games at Oregon in 2013 than Doug Martin is going to win at New Mexico State.

But I rank the hires based on each school’s particular resources and tradition. Who got the best fit?

1. Oregon: Mark Helfrich (replaced Chip Kelly). I like the Ducks’ system of hiring. Rich Brooks did a great job building the Oregon program, then he was replaced by his offensive coordinator, Mike Bellotti. When Bellotti resigned, he was replaced by his hand-picked offensive coordinator, Kelly. When Kelly went to the NFL Eagles, Helfrich was promoted from offensive coordinator. No reason to mess with success. Helfrich grew up in Oregon and was an NAIA all-American quarterback at Southern Oregon. He was a Ducks’ graduate assistant in 1997 and since has coached quarterbacks at Boise State, Arizona State, Colorado and back at Oregon.

2. Arkansas: Bret Bielema (John L. Smith). I know, it seems a strange fit. Iowa, Kansas State, Wisconsin. That’s Bielema’s roots. Not much about those locales scream SEC. But that’s why Bielema left Wisconsin after taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls. He’s a sharp guy. He knows SEC football is a big upgrade from the Big Ten, primarily in terms of commitment. That’s what Bielema wanted. And Bielema was 68-24 in seven Wisconsin seasons; 37-19 in Big Ten games.

3. Texas-El Paso: Sean Kugler (Mike Price). Let’s see. The Miners found a coach who played at UTEP, coached at UTEP (assistant eight years, 1993-00) and spent 11 years coaching in the NFL, the last three as the Steelers’ offensive line coach. El Paso is a tough place to win. Hard to imagine UTEP doing any better than that.

4. Colorado: Mike MacIntyre (Jon Embree). The Buffs don’t have any money, or much of anything anymore, but San Jose State is a dead-end job, and MacIntyre made something out of it, going 16-21 in three years, including an 11-2 record in 2012. MacIntyre has an interesting resume’, having coached five years in the NFL, plus some colleges where it’s difficult to win (Duke, Temple). He played at Vanderbilt for his father, George MacIntyre, then transferred to Georgia Tech when his father was fired.

5. Nevada: Brian Polian (Chris Ault). The son of long-time NFL executive Bill Polian, Brian is young (38) with a great resume’. He was special teams coach at Texas A&M in 2012, at Stanford in 2010-11 and at Notre Dame in 2005-09. That’s some varied experience — Charlie Weis, Jim Harbaugh, Kevin Sumlin.

6. Purdue: Darrell Hazell (Danny Hope). Here’s what I like about Hazell. His age. He’s 49 this month. Usually, the Big Ten likes young guns from the Mid-American Conference. But Hazell is not flash. In two years at Kent State, Hazell went 16-10, quite the achievement, but he also spent seven years on Ohio State’s staff, three years with Greg Schiano at Rutgers and two years with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. And before that, Hazell worked his way up at places like Oberlin, Eastern Illinois, Penn, Western Michigan and Army.

7. Southern Miss: Todd Monken (Ellis Johnson). Southern has to like its choice. It did well by hiring away Larry Fedora from OSU, and West Virginia went to the Orange Bowl in its first year after hiring away Dana Holgorsen from OSU. The Golden Eagles went 0-12 after promoting Fedora’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, then went back to Plan A. Southern’s 18-year coach, Jeff Bower, also had been hired away from OSU as offensive coordinator.

8. Kent State: Paul Haynes (Darrell Hazell). Haynes has a good resume’, having served as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator last season, an Ohio State assistant from 2005-11 and a quality control coach with the NFL Jaguars before that. Better yet, Haynes was a standout as a Kent State defensive back after coming to the school without a scholarship.

9. Georgia State: Trent Miles (Bill Curry). Georgia State started its program in 2010 and ascends to Division I-A this season. Outside of residing in a football-mad state with lots of players, Georgia State has little going for it. So it was impressive for GSU to hire a quality coach, which Miles is. Indiana State went 1-32 from 2005-07. Then the Sycamores hired Miles, and Indiana State is 20-36 in five seasons since. Miles coached with Tyrone Willingham at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington.

10. Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville (Butch Jones). I don’t know why Tuberville is such a lightning rod coach. But he is. For whatever reason, Tuberville just never fit in at Lubbock. Perhaps he’ll fit in better with the Bearcats; Tuberville is reunited with athletic director Whit Babcock, with whom he worked at Auburn. But Tuberville is a heck of a coach. Amazing that Cincy, left behind in the conference carousel, could hire a coach of this caliber.

11. Kentucky: Mark Stoops (Joker Phillips). If Stoops’ name was Mark Fitzpatrick, no one would be as excited about the hire, despite three years as the Florida State d-coordinator. But Stoops’ name is Stoops. That’s part of the package.

12. Auburn: Gus Malzahn (Gene Chizik). Head-coaching experience (a Sun Belt title at Arkansas State), Auburn ties (o-coordinator on the 2010 national title team), still hungry (a high school coach as recently as 2005). Solid hire.

13. South Florida: Willie Taggart (Skip Holtz). Taggart’s lack of widespread experience is a little troubling – since high school, he’s spent only three years anywhere but Western Kentucky, where he was a record-setting quarterback, an eight-year assistant coach and finally as head coach. But give Taggart credit; he turned around the Hilltoppers, who ended a 26-game losing streak and in 2012 made a bowl game. Taggart’s record of 16-20 at WKU is impressive.

14. Temple: Matt Rhule (Steve Addazio). Hard, hard job, but the Owls hired someone with what seems like the necessary experience. Rhule spent six years at Temple working on the staffs of Al Golden and Addazio. Rhule has some NFL cred, having been on the New York Giants staff in 2012. And Rhule played at Penn State, which carries a stigma it didn’t use to carry but at least tells us Rhule has been exposed to big-time college football.

15. California: Sonny Dykes (Jeff Tedford). Dykes took the Cal job a day or so before Tommy Tuberville left Texas Tech, else the Red Raiders might have had a tough decision to make: Spike Dykes’ final Tech quarterback (Kliff Kingsbury) or Spike Dykes’ son. Sonny Dykes did a good job at Louisiana Tech (22-15 in three seasons). But he faces a tough job. Jeff Tedford was a good coach in Berkeley yet went just 15-27 in his final three seasons.

16. Boston College: Steve Addazio (Frank Spaziani). Addazio was on Urban Meyer’s 2008 national championship staff at Florida, although I don’t know how much weight that carries in New England these days, since the Aaron Hernandez scandal. Addazio went 9-4 and 4-7 in his two seasons at Temple.

17. Utah State: Matt Wells (Gary Andersen). Another hard job, this one inherited by a guy from Sallisaw. Andersen got the Wisconsin job because he produced the Aggies’ first back-to-back winning seasons since 1979-80. Wells is a good fit because he has Utah State ties (Andersen’s offensive coordinator and former USU quarterback) and has coached at some decent, but hard-to-win, places – Louisville, Tulsa, Navy.

18. Tennessee: Butch Jones (Derek Dooley). Clearly a consolation prize for Tennessee, which shot for Jon Gruden and hoped for a bigger name and settled for Jones, who is an obvious rung-climber. In 2006, Jones was Rich Rodriguez’s receivers coach at West Virginia. Since then, Jones has been head coach at Central Michigan for three years and Cincinnati for three years. He did a decent job at Cincy, going 23-14 after replacing Brian Kelly.

19. San Jose State: Ron Caragher (Mike MacIntyre). When you’ve got no money, your options are limited. Caragher spent the past six seasons at the University of San Diego, where his I-AA team went 44-22 overall with three conference championships. USD is where Stanford found Jim Harbaugh. Can lightning strike twice?

20. Western Kentucky: Bobby Petrino (Willie Taggart). The Hilltoppers will win with Petrino. There’s little doubt about that. But every step along the way, they will ask, is it worth it?

21. New Mexico State: Doug Martin (Dewayne Walker). As good a pick as any as the worst I-A coaching job in America. Walker went 10-40 and that’s not awful in Las Cruces. He left to join the NFL Jaguars. Martin had been New Mexico State’s offensive coordinator for about a week. But at least he knows what a tough job is. He was head coach at Kent State for seven years (2004-10).

22. Florida International: Ron Turner (Mario Cristobal). Turner coached Illinois to the Sugar Bowl in 2001, so there’s something to be said for that. But does a 59-year-old who has spent the last eight years in the NFL, still have a thirst for recruiting? Not that he’s got to go a long way to find players at FIU.

23. North Carolina State: Dave Doeren (Tom O’Brien). Doeren coached Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl, but let’s not pretend this was a Boise State-type coaching job. Northern got to the Orange Bowl through kooky BCS rules; the Huskies were a typical Mid-American champion. Solid. Not spectacular. And now the Wolfpack has a coach on Tobacco Road who never has coached east of DeKalb, Ill., or south of Lawrence, Kan. I don’t see the fit.

24. Louisiana Tech: Skip Holtz (Sonny Dykes). Holtz is not a bad coach. He’s had some interesting seasons at UConn and East Carolina. But La Tech’s previous three coaches were Sonny Dykes (son of Spike, Texas Tech), Derek Dooley (son of Vince, Georgia) and Jack Bicknell Jr. (son of Jack Sr., Boston College). If Skip’s last name was Sawyer, no way would he have this job.

25. Arkansas State: Bryan Harsin (Gus Malzahn). Hiring Boise State’s offensive coordinator would have been a good get for Arkansas State. But that’s not who Ark State hired. The Red Wolves hired the Texas offensive coordinator, and Texas’ offense the last two years has not been all that good.

26. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen (Bret Bielema). Andersen did a great job at Utah State; the 2012 Aggies went 11-2. That’s remarkable. But Andersen was born in Utah and played in Utah and has coached exactly six seasons outside Utah – one at Southeastern Louisiana, three at Northern Arizona and two at Northern Arizona. Head coach at Colorado? OK. But not at Wisconsin.

27. Idaho: Paul Petrino (Robb Akey). Another dead-end job. One winning season in the 2000s. So you have to take a flier on the brother of a guy who can really coach but has no scruples.

28. Syracuse: Scott Shafer (Doug Marrone). A former Baldwin-Wallace quarterback. A non-descript resume’, other than being Stanford’s defensive coordinator in 2007, Harbaugh’s first season, then leaving to be Rich Rodriguez’s first d-coordinator at Michigan. Talk about dubious career choices.

29. Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury (Tommy Tuberville). All of Lubbock Land is ecstatic over the return of a hero. Kingsbury quarterbacked the Red Raiders from 1999-02 and was Johnny Football’s offensive coordinator last season. But Kingsbury has been coaching FIVE seasons. That’s it. Five years total. Kingsbury is on a magic carpet ride. But not one person on Earth knows if he can oversee a football program.

30. Northern Illinois: Rod Carey (Dave Doeren). No I-A experience (although he played at Indiana) until 2011, when he became Northern Illinois’ offensive line coach. This is a leap of faith.

31. Western Michigan: P.J. Fleck (Bill Cubit). The 32-year-old Fleck is the youngest coach in Division I-A. Fleck has about the same experience as Kingsbury, without the alma mater/Johnny Football bonus. Fleck spent three years as receivers coach at Northern Illinois, two years as receivers coach at Rutgers and one year as receivers with the NFL Buccaneers.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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