Skip to main content

Ranking The Top 10 Power 5 Coaching Hires This Season

ESPN's College Football Playoff "Who's In?" promo.

The CFP Trophy is the ultimate goal of any new coach and his staff.

The end of November-beginning of December is a time of tremendous off-field movement in college football. The reason is simple: each year, dozens of programs around the country are unhappy with the performance of their current head coach, so they make a change. The coaching carousel then spins furiously for a few weeks, before transitioning to the recruiting frenzy of January and finally settling down into the offseason. 

In the immediate aftermath of a new hire, programs usually receive a solid PR boost and stir the passions of their fan base, which has been re-invigorated by the fresh blood that's been brought in. But after the initial buzz, each coach and his new staff has to walk the walk after talking the talk. Anyone can win the press conference; not everyone wins on the recruiting trail and on the field.

In total, there were 13 new hires made within the Power 5 conferences this fall, including three interim coaches (Illinois' Bill Cubit, Minnesota's Tracy Claeys and USC's Clay Helton) who earned permanent status. We decided to take the top 10 hires and rank them, giving you a quick breakdown on which programs seem to have set themselves up best moving forward.

Without further ado, let's get started with...

No. 10 ??? >>> 

10. Clay Helton, USC

Helton was named the interim coach of the Trojans on Oct. 11, following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian. He first filled interim duties in 2013, leading the Men of Troy to a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl. Since stepping in for Sarkisian, Helton has led USC to a 5-3 record, including wins over then-No. 3 Utah and No. 22 UCLA, and a berth in the Pac-12 title game. As a reward, USC officially removed the interim tag on Nov. 30. Since then, he's wasted little time putting his plan in place. 

USC has shown a proclivity to hire from within, and Helton has been with the program since 2010. His players clearly like him --check out the video below -- and he appears to have paid his dues. But why is he only No. 10, you ask? Bottom line, this is USC, and USC should, in theory have made a stronger hire than this. Some former players reportedly would agree. 

Helton may very well be successful at USC. But, given the program's tradition, recruiting base and already talent-rich roster, there should have been a slew of big names interested in the position, and USC should have pushed harder to land them before giving Helton the reins. 

No. 9 D.J. Durkin, Maryland >>>

9. D.J. Durkin, Maryland

Maryland needed to escape from the Randy Edsall era, and chose to fill their vacancy with the 37-year-old Durkin, a well-respected defensive mind from within the Terrapins' own division, the Big Ten East. Prior to arriving in College Park, Durkin served as Michigan's defensive coordinator this season and held that position under Will Muschamp at Florida in 2013-14. 

Durkin has immediately started to build an impressive coaching staff. He hired ex-Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer as his defensive coordinator and former Virginia head coach Mike London as an associate head coach. There's even been some talk of retaining well-liked offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.

Right now, he checks in at No. 9 on this list because his cache is below that of the other names linked with Maryland - Mark Richt, Frank Reich, Dan Mullen and ultimate pipe dream Chip Kelly come to mind - but Durkin could ultimately make us look foolish for having him so low. 

">December 3, 2015

No. 8 Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia >>>8. Bronco Mendenhall, VirginiaMendenhall's hiring in Charlottesville kind of came out of left field. He had been at BYU since 2005 and was not a hot name in the coaching rumor mill. However, his coaching record (99-42 overall, 4-2 in bowls) and disciplined personality should serve him well with the Cavs. We do have some concerns about Mendenhall, however. BYU is certainly a unique institution, and recruiting there involves catering to a niche market of prospects. Mendenhall's recruiting base will be expanded and he will be reaching out to and interacting with some prospects who would not have considered BYU and vice versa. Mendenhall won't be expected to reel in top 10 classes at UVa., and the school won't have unrealistic expectations regarding what his yearly record should be. Still, Mendenhall is taking a step up in competition, and he'd better find a way to procure enough talent to keep his head afloat in what looks like an improving ACC Coastal division. 

No. 7 Chris Ash, Rutgers >>>7. Chris Ash, RutgersAsh comes over from Ohio State to try his hand at a Rutgers program which floundered on and off the field this season under Kyle Flood. The 41-year-old led OSU's "Silver Bullets" defense the past two seasons, engineering a huge turnaround for the unit and lending his hand to the Buckeyes' 2014 national championship outfit. Ash also has prior DC experience at Wisconsin (2011-12) and Arkansas (2013). He was successful in Madison, but the Razorback defense struggled in his lone year with the program. Still, there's enough on his resume to suggest he is more than competent and he is well-regarded in coaching circles. Around the country, Ash is known as a strong, if not spectacular recruiter, a respected technician and an effective and disciplined teacher. His style should help provide much-needed structure in a program that had come off the rails a bit at the end of Flood's tenure. Many Rutgers fans are also enthused by his plan to transition from the program's traditional, Pro Style scheme to a more multiple, power spread one.Ash is a bit of a risk, as is any assistant who has never been a head coach before. He also will have to find a way to make RU competitive in an especially rugged Big Ten East. But his credentials are clear, and he appears to be a nice hire for the Scarlet Knights. 

">December 9, 2015

No. 6 Will Muschamp, South Carolina >>>

6. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Muschamp's four-year tenure at Florida, which featured a 28-21 overall record and 17-15 mark in SEC play, is widely regarded as a failure. After just one season as Auburn's defensive coordinator, South Carolina, an SEC East constituent of the Gators, came calling and hired the 44-year-old as its head coach. 

Muschamp is certainly a well-known name, albeit not always for good reasons. On the plus side, he knows the conference well and is bringing Travaris Robinson with him from Auburn to be his defensive coordinator. Robinson is regarded as a robust recruiter and one of the top up-and-coming assistants. Muschamp is also reportedly keeping well-liked interim head coachShawn Elliott on his staff. 

If Muschamp learned a little about how to be a head coach and understands his reasons for failing at Florida, he could improve in his second go-round and be successful in Columbia.

">December 7, 2015

No. 5 Dino Babers, Syracuse >>>5. Dino Babers, SyracuseSyracuse fired the defensive-minded Scott Shafer and replaced him with Babers, who had his Bowling Green team ranked in the top-five in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense this season. Babers was an assistant coach at Baylor under Art Briles. His teams operate out of a fast-paced, spread look, constantly looking to put pressure on opposing defenses.This scheme should fit well at Syracuse. Why? Well, the Orange don't have the facilities, recent tradition or recruiting base to compete with a lot of other programs, so selling recruits on an exciting system is the way to go. Babers was also able to maximize two and three-star talent at Bowling Green, and should be able to not only do the same at 'Cuse, but also bring in higher-quality recruits. Syracuse isn't the easiest place to win. But it appears the Orange did a good job by inking Babers.

">December 5, 2015

No. 4 Matt Campbell, Iowa State >>>

4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

By posting three nine-win seasons in his last four campaigns at Toledo, Campbell solidified himself as one of the hot young names in the coaching ranks. This fall, Campbell's Rockets defeated Arkansas and Iowa State in back-to-back weeks in September.

The Cyclones must have figured, if you can't beat him, hire him. In fact, Iowa State's ability to snatch him up early on Nov. 29. was impressive. The Cyclones weren't one of the biggest job openings, but they hired a very capable candidate before he had a chance to be courted elsewhere. 

A former Division III defensive lineman, Campbell reportedly passed up an offer to join Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State. He's a Midwestern guy, and his ability to win at the non-Power Five level is encouraging when predicting how he'll do at a lower tier Power Five program like ISU. 

No. 3 Kirby Smart, Georgia >>>

3. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Georgia raised some eyebrows when it fired Mark Richt after a 9-3 season, his 15th leading the Bulldogs.To replace Richt, the program looked to bring home on of its own: Smart, an All-SEC safety between the hedges from 1995-98. 

From 2008 through this season, Smart mentored a slew of All-Americans and future NFL players as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Alabama. He's also been an assistant at LSU, Georgia and Florida State. He knows the recruiting terrain in the South, and has quite the Rolodex of stars he coached at Alabama to show off to prospects. 

If you're going to trust your SEC program to a coach with no head coaching experience, you could do much worse than Smart. Given his own accomplishments, the stature of the Georgia program and the ability to easily lure top talent to Athens, he should do well at his alma mater. 

No. 2 Mark Richt >>>

2. Mark Richt, Miami

It didn't take long for Richt to get snatched up by his alma mater after being fired by Georgia. The fit is a natural one. Richt not only played for the Hurricanes in the early 1980s, and recruited Florida heavily as an assistant at Florida State and while at Georgia. 

Miami has been searching for its glory days ever since that belatedly-tossed yellow laundry fell on the field in Tempe at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and the Ohio State Buckeyes walked off the field as national champions.It's unknown whether those flames can ever fully be brought back to life, but Richt's hiring should rekindle them plenty. He's a well-known name, has a fantastic head coaching resume and has no problem reeling in talented recruits.

Bringing in Richt has already seemed to energize the Hurricane fans, alumni base and current players. He's a good bet to be successful in Coral Gables.

No. 1 ??? >>>

1. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech 

Fuente, a former quarterback at Oklahoma in the mid-1990s, replaced the legendary Frank Beamer, who stepped down this fall after nearly 30 season in Blacksburg. Simply put, this hire looks like a home-run for the Hokies. The 39-year-old Fuente was arguably the hottest name on the coaching market, having led Memphis from the doldrums to a top-25 ranking and win over Ole Miss.

Fuente is an offensive-minded coach (what former QB isn't?), but since taking over, he's retained the Hokies' long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He's already landed a re-commitment from one of V-Tech's top 2016 recruits, and has his fan base excited for the future of Hokie football.

There's always been talk that Beamer WAS the program at Virginia Tech, and anyone who replaced him wouldn't be able to replicate all he was able to accomplish. Fuente seemingly has all the tools to put any of those notions to bed. 

">December 1, 2015

Back to Start >>>