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Grading college football coaching hires 2022-’23: Rankings the best hires from the coaching carousel

College football coaching grades
Barbara Gauntt / USA TODAY NETWORK

The coaching carousel is moving quickly with college football coaching hires being made faster than ever before. We’ll be grading every hire made in the FBS, ranging from the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the Colorado Buffaloes.

This time of year is really like no other in professional or collegiate sports. Top programs coming off disappointing seasons fire their head coach, creating a coveted position that coaches across the country want. As we often see, the biggest Power 5 programs create vacancies at other programs by nabbing their head coach and key staff members.

The best available jobs in college football right now are the Auburn Tigers and Arizona State Sun Devils. Of course, that could change quickly depending on which programs are forced to dive into the coaching carousel when their head coach leaves for another job.

Bookmark this page for updates to our rankings of the college football coaching hires along with individual grades for every program hiring a head coach from now until the end of the 2023 offseason.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers hire Matt Rhule

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The moment the Carolina Panthers fired Matt Rhule, he instantly became the No. 1 target for potential college football coaching hires. While his limited time in the NFL proved that level likely isn’t for him, the Nebraska Cornhuskers might have just landed one of the best coaches in college football and a perfect fit for their program.

  • Matt Rhule college record: 47-43

Rhule excels at building up mid-tier programs into consistent winners. He replaced Steve Addazio at Temple in 2013 and quickly went to work on building his first football program. After a 2-10 season, Temple rebounded with a 6-6 season followed by consecutive years with double-digit wins. Not only that, the Owls earned consecutive bowl appearances for the first time ever.

He then took over a job a program that seemed like an impossible fix. The Baylor Bears needed a complete reset after 2016, a challenge Rhule took on. Following a rough transition year (1-11 in 2017), Baylor rebounded with seven wins in 2019 followed by an 11-3 campaign in 2019.

Rhule also knows how to recruit, excelling at building a staff who excel at finding three-star gems. Both at Temple (Ryquell Armstead, Haason Reddick, Dion Dawkins, Jacob Martin) and Baylor, Rhule and his staff consistently proved they can build a quality team without five-star recruits. It’s exactly the type of coach the Cornhuskers need to become relevant again.

  • Grade: A+

2. Luke Fickell named Wisconsin Badgers head coach

Syndication: The Enquirer
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Wisconsin Badgers knew quickly this season that things weren’t going to work out any longer with Paul Chryst. Firing him in early October allowed the program to conduct a trial run with Jim Leonhard at the helm, evaluating a rising coaching candidate who many believed would become an FBS head coach by 2023. Ultimately, though, Wisconsin landed the big fish.

According to Pete Thamel of ESPN, the Badgers are finalizing a deal to name Luke Fickell their next head coach. It means landing one of the most coveted head coaches in college football. with Wisconsin finally being the program to lure Fickell away from Cincinnati.

When evaluating all college football coaching hires, it’s worth considering what went wrong with the previous hire. As Jesse Temple of The Athletic reported in-depth, Chryst was too loyal to people who were part of the problem t Wisconsin. The Badgers’ recruiting was woeful, with only a small staff dedicated to recruiting and coaches asked to carry far too much weight.

It’s a guarantee that will change under Fickell. With NFL teams interested in him, he doesn’t leave for Wisconsin unless boosters and the athletic department make assurances about funding and staff sizes dedicated to recruiting.

A Midwest native, Fickell is extremely familiar with the Big Ten conference from his time at Ohio State. He replaced Tommy Tuberville in 2017, going from a 4-8 season to consecutive 11-win campaigns in 2018 and ’19. Cincinnati also reached the CFB Playoff last year and Fickell’s ability to identify and recruit NFL talent (Desmond Ridder, Sauce Gardner, Jerome Ford, Myjai Sanders, Alec Pierce) should help him turn Wisconsin around.

  • Grade: A+

3. Jamey Chadwell takes over Liberty Flames

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Coastal Carolina
David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Jamey Chadwell to Liberty will be one of the most well-liked college football coaching hires in this cycle. The 45-year-old needed time to build up Coastal Carolina, but it wouldn’t slow down once he got things fired up.

Thanks to an explosive offense, one that should mean Liberty doesn’t lose any of its exciting elements, Coastal Carolina went 31-6 over the past three seasons, reaching the Cure Bowl twice and even maintaining a consistent position in the top 25 rankings. Quite frankly, he’s a version of Hugh Freeze without the off-field baggage and someone Liberty can feel very good about continuing to build its football program around.

  • Grade: A-

4. Arizona State hires Kenny Dillingham

Syndication: The Register Guard
Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

After parting ways with Herm Edwards, the Arizona State Sun Devils took a more conventional approach in this hiring cycle. Arizona State announced Sunday that Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is taking over as the program’s new head coach.

It’s a fitting hire for the Sun Devils. Dillingham grew up in Phoenix and is an Arizona State alum. After graduating college, he joined Chaparral High School in Arizona as quarterbacks coach,s serving in that role from 2007-’12. After one year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, he went back to Arizona State as a coaching assistant (2014-’15).

Dillingham’s name has been steadily on the rise ever since. He made waves as a quarterbacks coach for Memphis (2018), then became the Auburn Tigers’ offensive coordinator in 2019 followed by a two-year stint as OC and quarterbacks coach for the Florida State Seminoles.

Calling plays for the Oregon Ducks’ offense and working one-on-one with Bo Nix, the 32-year-old only strengthened his resume. Oregon ranked fourth in yards per game (507.8), averaged 39.7 points per game and Bo Nix set career-highs in quarterback rating (167.4), yards per attempt (9.0), completion rate (71.7%) and total touchdowns (42). It’s a home-run addition for Arizona State and stands out as one of the best college football coaching hires in this cycle.

  • Grade: A-

5. Deion Sanders named Colorado Buffaloes head coach

Syndication: The Clarion-Ledger
Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger / USA TODAY NETWORK

Deion Sanders worked for an opportunity to coach an FBS team and it has arrived. Afte receiving offers from multiple schools, the Hall of Fame cornerback is leaving Jackson State to coach the Colorado Buffaloes.

On the surface, this might seem like a massive risk for Colorado. It’s betting on a coach with limited FCS experience who largely won because he brought in top recruits who dominated against a lower level of competition. However, Jackson could prove to be a great hire for the Buffaloes.

For one thing, Jackson is an excellent recruiter. Whether he is building relationships with quality assistants or coordinators to add them to his staff or convincing a student-athlete to play for him, Jackson does it well. The 2022 recruiting cycle proved that some of the best players right out of high school gravitate toward Sanders’ personality, background and the way he both relates to his players and mentors them.

Now, Jackson is going to have the resources of a Pac-12 program with an even deeper coaching staff and a much larger recruiting budget. While he might not be a coaching savant with brilliant play-calling, he plays the CEO role well and he could help turn Colorado back into a quality football program.

  • Grade: A-

6. Alex Golesh hired as USF Bulls head coach

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alex Golesh didn’t seem to be a hot name as a coaching candidate and some of the grades on his hiring haven’t been favorable to South Florida. Consider us among those that believe this has real potential to be a fantastic move by the Bulls’ athletic department.

Golesh served as offensive coordinator for one of the best offenses in college football. He played a massive role in designing Josh Heupel’s offense, putting in extensive preparation work to help engineer the play-calling for each game (Rocky Top Talk). He will bring an up-tempo offense to South Florida, playing at a pace that should cause plenty of programs on a regular basis for a non-Power 5 conference.

Yes, there’s a risk that comes with firing a first-year head coach and it has backfired on South Florida before. However, Golesh’s work over the past two seasons at Tennessee speaks for itself. There’s a reason he was Josh Heupel’s right-hand man with both the Vols and UCF.

  • Grade: B+

7. Tom Herman returns to coaching as FAU Owls head coach

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas
Austin American Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK

The FAU Owls have a history of landing some high-profile coaches in recent years and that trend continues. Following the underwhelming results under Willie Taggart, former Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman is now headed to Boca Raton.

Considered a candidate for some other top jobs – Stanford and Cincinnati – this is an excellent hire for the Owls. A program with a losing record (101-129) needs stability and Herman provides it. The former Broyles Award winner – 2014 at Ohio State – won AAC Coach of the Year in 2015 and helped turn Houston into a top-10 program at one point. While he got pushed out at Texas following the 2020 season, Herman still finished with a winning record (32-18) and the Longhorns went 4-0 in bowl games.

Following two years spent as an NFL team analyst followed by a stint in media, Herman returns to the conference he dominated as a coach at Houston. He demonstrated success on the recruiting trail at both stops and Florida will always be a massive pool of talent, even for players who don’t get into one of the three big in-state programs. This could prove to be a great hire.

  • Grade: B+

8. Auburn Tigers hire Hugh Freeze

NCAA Football: Liberty at Arkansas
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Hugh Freeze to the Auburn Tigers was one of the most predictable college football coaching hires this year. Once Lane Kiffin turned down the job, Auburn immediately pivoted to Freeze and a deal came together quickly.

There’s no denying Freeze’s track record. He went 10-3 in his first year as a head coach at Arkansas State then jumped to Ole Miss. Overseeing the Rebels’ football program, Freeze went 7-6 in his first season followed by a combined 23-12 record with appearances in the Peach Bowl and Sugar Bowl from 2013-’15.

Things unraveled quickly after that. The NCAA charged Ole Miss with numerous recruiting violations for providing β€œimpermissible benefits” to players. Freeze ultimately left the program in 2016 after a defamation lawsuit filed by former coach Houston Nutt found that Freeze made at least 12 calls to escort services during his time at Ole Miss.

After resigning, Freeze returned in 2019 at Liberty. The Flames’ offense took off and with it the program rise to new heights. At its peak, Liberty went 10-1 in 2020, winning the Cure Bowl. With Malik Willis at quarterback, the Flames went 8-5 and had one of the best offense in college football. Entering Week 13 this season, Liberty ranks 42nd in the FBS in scoring (30.4 PPG), 46th in points per play (0.41) and 39th in total yards per game (418.2).

Freeze can recruit, with the assistance of financial compensation for student-athletes. However, he does have a history of coming up short against top opponents. This is a massive gamble by Auburn, one that could blow up in its face or deliver more nine-win seasons.

  • Grade: B

9. Jeff Brohm named Louisville head coach

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Matt Stone/The Louisville Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The moment the Louisville Cardinals’ gig came open, Jeff Brohm seemed like a pre-determined hire. He grew up in Lousiville, Kentucky, starred for the Cardinals’ offense and later coached in Louisville from 2002-’08.

Now, the reigning Big Ten West champion is headed home. Brohm brings an engaging offense, one that will inject much-needed life into Cardinal Stadium. He is taking on a program with a defined ceiling and it’s worth remembering the 12 total wins Brohm delivered at Purdue from 2018-’20. However, no one knows the area better and this feels like the perfect marriage.

10. Barry Odom gets shot at UNLV

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After four seasons at Missouri that could only be described as mediocre, Barry Odom returned to his bread-and-butter as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator and associate head coach from 2020-’22. Now, as UNLV seeks its first season with six wins since 2013, Odom gets a second chance.

Quite frankly, the Rebels’ program needed someone with experience and Odom provides that. He wasn’t cut out to be a head coach in the SEC, but the Mountain West Conference feels like a softer landing spot for him to find lesser-known talent and develop it. It’s far from a splash hire, but UNLV simply needed stability and Odom should bring that in short order.

11. Willie Fritz expected to become Georgia Tech head coach

NCAA Football: Tulane at Cincinnati
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disastrous four-year stint with Geoff Collins, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are reportedly closing in on hiring Willie Fritz as the program’s next head coach.

Fritz, age 62, would be coming off an excellent run with the Tulane Green Wave. The team finished the regular season with a 10-2 record, its first 10-win season since 1998. Tulane also earned its fourth bowl game appearance in the Fritz era, for a program that entered 2015 having played in just four bowl games since 1981.

  • Willie Fritz coaching record: 59-52

He first became a head coach in 1993, winning two national junior college championships and being elected into the NJCAA Hall of Fame. Fritz took over at Central Missouri in 1997, posting a 97-47 record with 11 winning seasons in 13 years. He remains the winningest coach in program history and is their only coach with eight consecutive seasons of seven or more wins.

Fritz took over at Georgia Southern in 2014, posting a 9-3 record in his first season. After going 9-4 the following year, with the Eagles playing in their first-ever bowl game, he landed at Tulane.

While it took Fritz time to build the program up, hitting a low point in 2021 with a 2-10 record, Tulane rebounded this year. It landed in the college football rankings for the first time since ’98 and faces UCF in the AAC Championship Game in Week 14.

Fritz might not go down as one of the flashiest hires in the college football coaching carousel, but he has won at every stop made. With a defensive mind and significant coaching experience, it will be interesting to see how Fritz builds his staff on the offensive side.

  • Grade: B-

12. Cincinnati Bearcats tab Scott Satterfield as head coach

Syndication: The Enquirer
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cincinnati Bearcats were never going to find a head coach like Luke Fickell, even for a program with a history of nailing its hires. There is a chance Scott Satterfield can follow in the footsteps of those who turned landing here into national prominence, but it will be a long road.

Satterfield thrived at Appalachian State, going from 7-5 in his first season to three campaigns with double-digit wins in the next four years. It put him on the rise, having such instant success taking a program from the FCS to the FBS.

However, things never came together at Louisville. The Cardinals went 8-5 in his first season and won the Music City Bowl, but they have gone 17-19 in the last three years. Coaching in the Big 12 and running the Bearcats’ recruiting could yield better returns, but he could easily be replaced by 2025.

  • Grade: C

13. Tim Beck takes over at Coastal Carolina

Syndication: Las Cruces Sun-News
Meg Potter/Sun-News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Much like Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina found itself in a difficult spot. The Chanticleers thrived under the direction of a head coach who likely always belonged at a higher level and now they can only hope that Tim Beck is the next one.

The 56-year-old comes over from NC State, where he served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. NC State’s offense certainly impressed at times, especially in the last two years, but they were never consistently one of the best units in the conference. Fortunately for Beck, Coastal Carolina will likely be patient with him as this is his first head-coaching gig.

  • Grade: C

14. Charlotte 49ers hire head coach Biff Poggi

NCAA Football: Maryland at Charlotte
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After going 12-36 in four seasons with Brad Lambert, the Charlotte 49ers made a necessary change in 2019. In came Will Healy, the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year. In three seasons at Austin Peay, the Governors went from 0-11 in 2016 to 8-4 the following year. After a 5-6 campaign in 2018, Charlotte hired Healy as its next head coach.

Things looked promising earl, with the 49ers winning a program-record seven games and earning their first bowl appearance. However, the program quickly fell off with Healy winning just eight of his next 26 games before being fired.

Instead of hiring a prominent name from the FCS or DII level, Charlotte went in a surprising direction. It hired Biff Poggi, a 63-year-old coach with limited experience at the collegiate level.

Poggi began his coaching career as an assistant for The Citadel in 1987. He then became an assistant at Gilman School (1988-’95) in Baltimore, Maryland before taking over as the program’s head coach. Poggi joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan as an analyst in 2016, then took over at Saint Frances Academy High School (2017-’20).

“Biff has been a tremendous asset to our University of Michigan Football program, providing support and mentorship to our coaching staff and players. He has a great football mind, knows how to prepare a team during the week and on game day, and is a coach that aims to change the lives of his players in a positive way.”

Jim Harbaugh on Charlotte 49ers head coach Biff Poggi

Bruce Feldman of The Athletic detailed Poggi’s influence on Harbaugh and how he has served as the Michigan coach’s right-hand man, most recently this season. In his role as associate head coach, Poggi worked closely with players and supported multiple coaches on the staff.

It’s a risky hire by Charlotte, betting on a head coach with very limited college experience. However, there is some upside if Poggi proves to be the Kevin O’Connell for Sean McVay, a trusted assistant who a top head coach relied upon heavily before they landed their own job.

  • Grade: C

15. Trent Dilfer hired as UAB Blazers head coach

Syndication: The Tennessean
Matthew Diggs | For Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The UAB Blazers went in a surprising direction, the most unusual move of the college football coaching carousel. Following the retirement of Bill Clark in June, UAB tabbed high school football coach Trent Dilfer to run the team.

Dilfer, the former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst, coached at Lipscomb Academy, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee. Well-known for his work with quarterbacks at the Elite 11 camp, the 50-year-old is now making a huge leap to D1 college football.

On the one hand, Dilfer demonstrated that he connects well with young athletes and his focus on building offenses tailored to the strengths of his players is important. He is great with the media and at least has some background in playing the ‘CEO’ role required of a head coach.

However, this remains a massive gamble. Dilfer will need to build a strong staff around him, heavily prioritizing those who have significant experience both as assistant coaches and coordinators, but he would also be wise to add a former collegiate head coach to his staff.

There is an upside and expectations at UAB aren’t especially high to begin with. It’s just betting on an unknown.

  • Grade: C-

Stay tuned for updates on all the college football coaching hires and vacancies.