Carpenter reportedly threatened to transfer and some of his offensive players approached him about changing his mind, which he did 48-hours later when he named Carpenter the starter. Keller later transferred to Nebraska, Arizona State took a step backwards with a 7-5 regular season record, and Koetter's promising career at Arizona State ended with an unceremonious loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Looking to improve the situation, the Sundevils hired formerTwenty-three Division 1-A teams made head coaching changes this past offseason. As we get toward the end of Spring football, I thought it might be fun to grade all of schools on their new hires. This will be far from an exact science, but the goal here will be to measure the new coaches against their predecessors to see what effect they can be expected to have on the present and future of their respective programs. With that in mind, a grade of "A" would indicate that I expect the new coach to significantly improve their program, a grade of "C" would indicate that the coach will likely maintain the program pretty well and provide a similar level of success, while a grade of "F" means that the school will probably regress under the new regime. Today, we will take a look at the first four schools, alphabetically, that made changes this past offseason. Air Force (replaced the retiring Fisher DeBerry with former Denver Broncos Assistant Coach Troy Calhoun) -- Coach DeBerry had a legendary career as the head coach at Air Force and retired as the academy's most winningest coach with a career record of 169-107. In these days of big money and bigger conferences, it is hard to imagine a service academy head coach doing much better than DeBerry. With all that said, DeBerry had made some significant P.R. slipups in recent seasons and he is 68-years old. So, when we compare the two men, we have to look at present-day DeBerry versus present-day Troy Calhoun. Glancing over Coach Calhoun's resume, we can see that he is of fine pedigree: former Air Force quarterback (under DeBerry), working as a collegiate assistant at Ohio University, Air Force, and Wake Forest, and then serving in a number of capacities (including assistant to the head coach) at the NFL level with the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan. An additional plus, in my opinion, is his age, 38-years old, should provide him the energy level, hunger, and desire to maximize the program he inherits. I give Air Force a "B+" for this hire, as it is difficult for me to imagine them finding a candidate that realistically fills their needs in such a strong way. Alabama (replaced the fired Mike Shula with former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Nick Saban) -- Mike Shula probably did not know it at the time, but he was, for all intents and purposes, a caretaker or loyal soldier for the school he attended as a player. Coach Shula took over a program that had grown into an embarrassment: the team he took over had been penalized with limited scholarships (from 2001-2005) for violations the team committed under former head coach Mike DuBose, lost Coach Dennis Franchione (in what most feel was, at best, a lateral move) to Texas A&M after just two seasons at Alabama, and then Franchione's successor, Mike Price, was forced out in a very-well publicized scandal before ever coaching a game. Shula took over the program, with limited scholarships, in 2003 and was ousted before really having an opportunity to put his fingerprints on the program. He pretty much fell on the sword for his school. It appeared as if Alabama would again become an object of ridicule, as they whiffed on Saban and West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez during a lengthy period of time without a head coach, before Saban had a change of heart as the NFL season ended. Whatever. The Crimson Tide got who they wanted, a head coach with major conference (and SEC and NFL, to boot) experience and a national championship to his name, a charasmatic figurehead with the ability to schmooze with the best of them, and above all else, a big name. Alabama needed to hit a homerun with this hire, after seemingly firing Shula without an immediate successor in place, and Saban fits the bill. The expectations will be immediately become very high, but I give Alabama an "A-", with the only knocks against Saban being that he is not one to stay in one place for long (never spending more than five seasons at one place during his 30+ year coaching career) and, at 55-years old, there could be some question as to how much gas he has left in the tank to "retool," if not rebuild, this proud program. Arizona State (replaced the fired Dirk Koetter with former Idaho Head Coach Dennis Erickson) -- The change at Arizona State will be one of the more intriguing scenarios to watch over the next several seasons. In Koetter, they basically had what every mid-tier BCS conference school looks for in a head coach: he had youth (he came to ASU as a 41-year old in 2001), he had experience (he built the Boise State program from virtually scratch and had a 26-10 record in his three seasons there), and he was steadily improving a program that had always had the "potential" label attached to it (a 40-34 record with three consecutive bowl appearances and four in the past five years). And then, 2006 happened. Last season, Koetter was "lucky" enough to return two experienced, quality quarterbacks in sophomore Rudy Carpenter and senior Sam Keller. When Koetter chose Keller as the starter following training camp,
head coach Dennis Erickson, the Ted McGinley of football coaching. Erickson has some good coaching qualities, in that he is experienced (college head coaching jobs at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, University of Miami, Oregon State, and Idaho again AND NFL head coaching jobs with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers), two National Championships ('89 and '91 with Miami), and NFL ties (always handy to use when recruiting). He also has some major deficiencies in that he, like Saban, does not stay in one place for long, and that he will be 60-years old at the start of the 2007 season (an ongoing theme here is that there are not a lot of 55+ year old coaches that have had success rebuilding football programs--it is more of a young man's game). But, the big red flag here is that was at the helm when Miami got busted for paying players, failing to properly institute a drug-testing plan, lost 31 scholarships over a two-year period, nearly got the "death penalty" for "losing institutional control over the program" in the mid-90s. So, to recap here, we have a program that was moving in the right direction but had not gotten over the hump yet (re: good, but not good enough), that is taken over by a coach whose career is in its twilight (re: quick fix), that has a history of committing major rules violations in order to win. I think Koetter, who is now employed as the offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars, ends up the big winner in this deal--he will cut his teeth in the NFL, enjoy the big severance he got from ASU, and probably return as a college head coach in a year or two. Arizona State will likely push into top 2-3 of the Pac-10 for a few seasons before a.) Erickson retires from football or b.) Arizona State ends up with the NCAA breathing down their necks for improper actions. I give Arizona State an "F" on the Erickson hire. I think that, even though it would have been an unpopular move in the short term, keeping Koetter would have been the smart long-term answer. Yes, Koetter badly mishandled the Keller-Carpenter controversy and the team did backslide a bit in 2006, but consider where the program could be, at its best, five years from now under 48-year old Dirk Koetter versus 60-year old Dennis Erickson.
Army (replaced the retired Bobby Ross with Army Offensive Line Coach Stan Brock) -- I touched on this move earlier in the year, so I won't spend a ton of time on it today. As we all know, Ross was classy and had been very successful throughout his career, both in the NCAA and in the NFL. Like the Air Force comparison, we are not comparing Stan Brock to Bobby Ross during Ross's prime. Bobby Ross is 70-years old and it seemed apparent that he was having a pretty tough time getting the most out of the program at Army. Stan Brock has a respectable resume, as he spent 15-years as a player in the NFL, was a head coach in the AFL for three seasons, and served the past three seasons as an assistant under Ross. At 48-years old, Brock will be able to bring a higher level of energy to the USMA players and, I suspect, he may be better able to relate to 18-23 year olds than the 70-year old Ross. Ross is a class act and had an excellent career, but I think Stan Brock will be able to provide a long-term gameplan for the Army program and be there to see it through successfully. As with Air Force, there are limits (funding, recruiting, exposure, etc.) to the Army head coaching job, so taking that into consideration, the only negatives that I see in Brock are that his experience is pretty limited, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, and that, despite his NFL career achievements, he does not bring the same name recogntion as a Bobby Ross. Still, I like the Stan Brock move and I think he will almost certainly be able to improve a pretty down-trodden program, so I give Army a "B" with this hire.
Next time, we will take a look at Boston College, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Florida Internation, and Idaho.
Please feel free to leave your questions and/or comments.