Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin is leaving for the Arkansas State post Gus Malzahn vacated when he took the Auburn job. Another Big 12 offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State’s Todd Monken, departed for the vacancy at Southern Miss.
Why would well paid assistants at successful, major programs depart for the Sun Belt and a team coming off a winless campaign? Coordinators in the past have parlayed their success as assistants into jobs of greater prestige than Arkansas State and Southern Miss. After all, the last two coordinators who left those same Texas and Oklahoma State programs landed head coaching positions at Florida (Will Muschamp) and West Virginia (Dana Holgorsen).
However, the days of coordinators moving on for high profile, BCS conference jobs appear to be dwindling. Kliff Kingsbury’s departure from Texas A&M for the Texas Tech vacancy is a notable exception, and his status as an alum certainly couldn’t have hurt. Mark Stoops also left Florida State’s defensive coordinator gig for the head coaching job at Kentucky, but the high profile label might be ill applied when referencing Kentucky football.
Other BCS conference positions were filled by candidates with head coaching experience and impressive credentials:
- Arkansas: Bret Bielema, seven seasons of head coaching experience at Wisconsin
A three-time Rose Bowl participant
- Auburn: Gus Malzahn, one season of head coaching experience at Arkansas State
Led Arkansas State to the Sun Belt championship, employing the same uptempo offensive philosophy that helped Auburn to a national championship in 2010.
- Cal: Sonny Dykes, three seasons of head coaching experience at Louisiana Tech
His high-flying offense is the remedy to years of offensive anemia plaguing the Golden Bears. Dykes transformed one Pac-12 program when he worked as Arizona’s offensive coordinator, and then led to 17 wins over the last two seasons at Louisiana Tech.
- Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville, 17 total season of head coaching experience
A well-tenured head coach with wins everywhere he’s been, including an undefeated season in 2004 while at Auburn.
- Colorado: Mike MacIntyre, three seasons of head coaching experience at San Jose State
The perfect fit for Colorado, having already built a program from the lowest depths of college football to 10 wins in short order.
- NC State: Dave Doeren, two seasons of head coaching experience at Northern Illinois
Winner of 23 games and two conference championships in two seasons.
- Purdue: Darrell Hazell, two seasons of head coaching experience at Kent State
Built a long-struggling program into a top 25 team, employing two staples of Big Ten football: multifaceted rushing and aggressive defense.
- Tennessee: Butch Jones, six total seasons of head coaching experience
He’s won as many conference championships in the last two seasons as Derek Dooley won SEC games over the same duration.
- USF: Willie Taggart, three seasons of head coaching experience at Western Kentucky
Took over a program that went winless just a few seasons ago and produced back-to-back winning campaigns.
Nine hires out of 11 is a trend. When Wisconsin replaces Bielema, anticipate Barry Alvarez to make it 10 of 12 with another hire boasting head coaching credentials.
Pressure on coaches to produce is at an all-time high. In turn, coaches are padding their resumes with more applicable experience. Consider it like today’s college student. There was a time when simply earning a college degree landed one a quality job. Now, college students must garner professional experience, fill internships, and oftentimes gain a postgraduate degree.
Such hiring hasn’t been the trend long enough to declare it the rule, but I suspect that’s the direction coaching hires are headed.
Addressed above are the hires of Muschamp at Florida and Holgorsen at West Virginia. We’re just two years removed from both moves, and three years removed from Jimbo Fisher ascending to the job Bobby Bowden made famous at Florida State. Fisher had no head coaching experience.
All three have had their tribulations. Holgorsen wasn’t hired as a head coach, but rather coach-in-waiting to succeed Bill Stewart. Stewart’s firing in May 2011 expedited the transition. He won the Orange Bowl in spectacular fashion to cap a debut season featuring a conference championship. However, the uptempo air raid offense he ran at Oklahoma State was not enough alone to make West Virginia competitive in its debut Big 12 season.
Fisher was also a coach-in-waiting. While he has Florida State headed to the Orange Bowl off its first ACC championship, Fisher has drawn criticism for not hiring an offensive coordinator to lighten his workload.
Muschamp had his own detractors after his first season because of staffing concerns. The Gator offense struggled mightily under Charlie Weis’ direction in 2011, and Florida sputtered to a 6-6 regular season finish. Brent Pease came on board, but the Gators haven’t transformed offensively overnight. Quite the opposite — Florida has had issues with offensive consistency, but a transcendent defense and special teams have compensated in the Gators’ 11-1 run to the Sugar Bowl.
All three of these coordinators-turned-major BCS conference program head coaches have impressive successes to their credit. They’ve also suffered through some growing pains in their first jobs. And as stated above, athletic departments and fan bases expect greater results in less time than ever before. Little time is afforded a coach to mature through growing pains.
Learning to win either at another, perhaps lower level program is in a coach’s best interest before diving into the major program candidate pool. Both Harsin and Monken made the right moves, and each picked a suitable starting point.
Harsin takes over an Arkansas State with two straight Sun Belt championships under two different head coaches. Both are now plying their trade in the SEC, as Malzahn predecessor Hugh Freeze is rebuilding Ole Miss.
Monken inherits a mess at Southern Miss. Ellis Johnson was fired after the Golden Eagles’ disastrous 0-12 campaign. He tried four different quarterbacks, but none were successful. Such a scenario makes Monken’s headache of tailoring the Oklahoma State offense to Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf seem downright ideal.
That said, USM reached a bowl game every year from 2002 through 2011, and missed the postseason only once dating back to 1997. Southern Miss has an established track record, and Monken’s NFL background gives him a valuable recruiting pitch to rebuild the Golden Eagles to their past level of greatness.
Succeeding in Hattiesburg can lead to much bigger, more lucrative things. Previous Golden Eagle head coach Larry Fedora parlayed his Conference USA championship into the North Carolina job, and nearly the Tennessee vacancy.