Not all coaching jobs are the same. Some are set up for success immediately. Others are in shambles and need the right guy to lift them up. Yet other programs just need a jolt of energy to fulfill potential.
So in a vacuum, it is difficult to rank how the new head coaches did this season. All situations aren't equal. Taking over Ohio State in its state isn't the same as taking over Central Michigan. This list isn't just about wins and losses (though it plays a part) as it is about the impact made by the 27 coaches who took over new programs this year.
Day has Ohio State in the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2016, so it is safe to say that he's done a pretty good job replacing Urban Meyer in Columbus. Some felt that this may be too big of a job for him, and now others think he's just doing this with Meyer's kids. His Buckeyes have simply been dominant all year long, and he has the program right where it wants to be. His ability to make quick adjustments and impose his will has been quite impressive.
How about the job McElwain did at Central Michigan? He took a team that went 1-11 last season and got it to the Mid-American Conference championship game this year while being named the MAC Coach of the Year. The turnaround is the biggest in the nation as far as win differential from last year to this year.
How about those Hilltoppers! After going 3-9 last year, Tyson Helton (younger brother of USC's head coach Clay) has Western Kentucky bowling with an 8-4 mark, which includes a 45-19 win at Arkansas. It took a while for his offense to get where he wanted it to be, but the improvement was evident as the season went along. Over the first six games of the season, WKU averaged 21 points per game; the team averaged 30.2 points over the last six games.
Drinkwitz took the Mountaineers to a 12-1 record and a Sun Belt championship. They are ranked and continue to be a formidable Group of Six program, which notched a win at North Carolina this season. Too bad App State will need to look once again for a new head coach, as Drinkwitz's success has resulted in him being hired at Missouri.
Satterfield's Cardinals had an up and down season in 2019. Their five losses were, for the most part, beatdowns, but they notched a couple of impressive wins (Wake Forest, Virginia). The improvement was significant, as the 2-10 team went 7-5 this year (and went from zero to five league wins) with Satterfield winning ACC Coach of the Year.
Kleiman replaced an absolute legend in Bill Snyder and did him proud. The best moment of the season was the Wildcats' win over Oklahoma in late October, as K-State would end up with an 8-win season...three more wins than last season. Kleiman showed that he wasn't just a good FCS coach, as he has the Wildcats set up for long-term success.
Brown injected life into a sunken program. While the Tar Heels improved to only a 6-6 record, it is more wins than they had in the last two seasons combined. And those six losses were all by one possession...one of which was a one-point loss to Clemson. Recruiting has gone up and the fan base is reenergized.
Healy guided the 49ers to their first bowl game in program history. Needless to say this has been a successful season. On paper, it doesn't seem like a big jump to turn a 5-7 team into a 7-5 one, but this is a program that has struggled to find its footing since its inaugural season, in 2013. Charlotte was 1-11 just two years ago and has struggled to make a big mark in the local sports scene, so this is a major event. Healy resurrected Austin Peay already and looks like he has the Niners on a similar path.
Freeze went to Liberty amid a ton of controversy to how his time at Ole Miss ended. He landed at Liberty and took the Flames to a 7-5 record in their second year as an FBS school, getting them to a bowl game. He even coached from a hospital bed, as he was dealing with a staph infection. Now Liberty is reportedly preparing to offer him an extension that will put him among the highest-paid Group of Six coaches.
Carey kept the Owls rolling forward, which was exactly what Temple wanted. Unlike many teams on this list, Temple was replacing a coach who left for a bigger job and not because the program was in disarray. Remember that Manny Diaz took the job before backing out and taking Miami's vacancy. To get Carey that late in the game was a smart move, and he's rewarded the school with another 8-win season.
Diaz's path to the Hurricanes head coaching job was much more exciting than Miami's season. At times, the offense looked unstoppable, and most of the season it looked pedestrian. This was evident in two bad losses to end the season (FIU and Duke). Miami finished with a 6-6 record (4-4 in ACC play), which is all the more confusing when held up against wins over Virginia and at rival Florida State.
Utah State took a major step back from its 11-win season. Jordan Love didn't have a good season at all, throwing 17 TDs and 16 INTs one season after tossing 32 and six, respectively. Andersen took a more hands-on approach to his team as the season went along, so it will be interesting to see how he handles his team going forward. It is clear he didn't like what his team and coaching staff were doing, and he is willing to do what it takes to correct it. This year's 7-5 record was a learning experience for everyone.
The Buffaloes had their moments. They beat a ranked Nebraska (I know, I know) and Arizona State while popping Stanford and Washington. Beyond that, Colorado had some ugly losses to Oregon, Washington State and Utah and went on a five-game losing streak midseason. Tucker, like every coach, is trying to build something special in his new surroundings, and it felt as if there was some progress made in Boulder.
West Virginia was bound to take a big step back this year after losing so much talent, but nothing came easy. The Mountaineers opened the season against FCS power James Madison and barely won and then struggled mightily in Big 12 play. At times they had trouble scoring and couldn't finish close losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State. Brown did have the Mountaineers playing better as the season ended, which should bring optimism heading to 2020.
A 3-9 season typically isn't a reason to be optimistic, but that's how bad this Texas State program was when Jake Spavital inherited it. Though the win total matched last year's effort, the offense was a tad bit better and the team won two Sun Belt games. Off the field, he's done a nice job trying to change the culture and inject life in a program that has struggled to find success.
Houston is a defensive guy, so he had to be disappointed in the way the Pirates played on that side of the ball this year. Six times ECU gave up at least 40 points, with two of those games coming against SMU and Cincinnati. Those two games are notable as East Carolina put up its fair share of points and lost by a combined 11 points. If Houston can install his defensive philosophies, there is a bright future ahead.
Holgorsen opened many eyes when he left the Big 12 for a Group of Six job — not that his gig at West Virginia was on solid ground. His first year in Houston ended in a 4-8 season, but the Cougars dealt with some tough luck. Defensive star Ed Oliver left for the NFL in the spring, and quarterback D'Eriq King and receiver Keith Corbin decided to stop playing after a 1-3 start to the season to take a redshirt year. With those two back next year, the future should be better, but Year 1 didn't go very well.
Northern Illinois was all over the place in Hammock's first season. After beating Illinois State, it lost four straight games...then alternated wins and losses over the last seven weeks of the season. One week the Huskies are blowing out Akron, and later they are getting run down by Eastern Michigan. Hammock, a former Huskies running back, said this was his dream job but will need to find more consistency to make this a long-term gig. Like pretty much everyone on this list, it takes time to come in and get a program to where you want it.
Texas Tech was set for some culture shock, as the defensive-minded Wells was heading up a program that has been known for its high-octane offenses. The defense did improve a bit but the offense fell off. Tech lost to Kansas, which in Big 12 circles in considered an embarrassment, and Arizona. While the Red Raiders' 4-8 mark was a disappointment, they did lose close games to Baylor, Kansas State and TCU.
The Chanticleers finished 5-7 (2-6 in Sun Belt play) for the third straight season, but it wasn't just the same old thing in Conway. Coastal Carolina won at Kansas, which is a major achievement for such a fledgling program. It was its first win over a Power Five school and showed Chadwell's culture is paying off. Sure, the other wins were not all that noteworthy but the team was competitive in all but two of its losses — the games against the Sun Belt's top teams, Appalachian State and Louisiana.
Maryland is a tough job. Not only did the Terps switch from the ACC to the Big Ten earlier this decade, but they also are sitting in one of the most brutal divisions in college football. Include the issues the program went through recently, and it adds up to a more difficult job than it looks. The Terps got out to a nice start in Locksley's first season, winning three of their first five games and spanking No. 21 Syracuse (and actually becoming ranked themselves) before it all fell apart. The Terps lost their final seven games, and their only league win was over lowly Rutgers. There was a four-game stretch where Maryland was outscored 217-38.
Troy floundered without Neal Brown's run-happy offense. After winning 10 games last year, the Trojans fell back to the pack with a 5-7 record this year. There were moments where they displayed a sliver of last year's offense (63 points at Texas State, 49 against Georgia Southern), but they also had three games in which they failed to score 14 points, including an ugly 53-3 loss to Louisiana late in the year.
Bowling Green went 3-9 again under new coach Scot Loeffler, with the only wins coming against FCS Morgan State, winless Akron and MAC West Division bottom-dweller Toledo. The offense has been horrible this year, with the Falcons scoring 10 or less points in half their games. In fact, they beat Morgan State, 46-3, in their opener and then would score only 47 points total over the next five games. The roster is thin after years of poor recruiting, and word is that some of their 2020 recruits are being looked at by better programs.
We knew Collins was going to have a tough season, as he was attempting to convert Georgia Tech from a triple-option offense to a more modern look. That doesn't take a year to complete, and the Jackets suffered through some growing pains. Their three wins were all close and none was against a winning team. Getting run by Clemson and Georgia is one thing, but losing to The Citadel is another. This certainly is a work in progress.
Kansas' 2019 season looked a lot like the 2018 campaign. The Jayhawks finished with a 3-9 record, just like last year, though they had some nice moments...even in losses. They beat Texas Tech in league play, which was the only unranked team they played in their final seven games. They hung tough with Texas and Iowa State but were reamed by Baylor in the finale and lost to Coastal Carolina early in the year. This isn't a quick turnaround by any means, and Miles knows that.
UMass won one game all season long...and it was against the team next on this list. Not only did the Minutemen go 1-11 for the year, but they were blown out quite a bit. They gave up 632 points this season. 632 points! That's a 52.7-per-game average. And it wasn't as if UMass was in a bunch of shootouts. The team scored only 19.7 ppg, and all of its losses were by at least 21 points. This was a bad team and a bad season.
It isn't all Tom Arth's fault that the Zips went 0-12 this year, but this was a 5-7 team last year and Akron struggled to stay competitive in games. The Zips had only one game in which they lost by less than seven points and had nine games where they lost by more than 20, including a stretch in which they lost three games by a combined score of 105-6. Another bad team and bad season.