My 2012 FBS first-year coaching grades

Earlier this year at PigskinU.com I ranked every head coaching hire for 2012. So how did they do in relation to my preseason ranking? I explore that below. Now, understand that this is just based on one year and based on one man’s opinion. But here’s how I see it. The coaches are listed by my preseason ranking, starting with No. 28. Letter grades follow in bold. Note: When I released my rankings the Bobby Petrino mess had not started at Arkansas, so John L. Smith is not included.

27. Charlie Molnar, Massachusetts. The Minutemen went 1-11, which is about what you would expect from a team making the transition from FCS to FBS. One feather in Molnar’s cap is a win over a MAC opponent, Akron. The Minutemen were terrible on offense, ranked No. 122 out of 124. Molnar needs more time and more talent. Grade: D.

26. Garrick McGee, Alabama-Birmingham. McGee matched last year’s win total as the Blazers went 3-9. But this team made significant strides on both sides of the football, especially in the passing game, where the Blazers were a Top 30 unit. McGee needs more time, but he has a head of steam entering 2013 and the next step is to get the Blazers bowl-eligible. Grade: C-plus.

25. Curtis Johnson, Tulane. Like McGee, Johnson has revived the passing game for the Green Wave, but the rest of the team’s statistical categories showed little improvement over last year. We’ll see if Johnson can improve the recruiting classes with the prospect of an on-campus stadium starting in 2014. Grade: D-plus

24. Kyle Flood, Rutgers. I wrote that the Rutgers assistant was the most expedient hire, since Greg Schiano left for Tampa Bay in late January. He knew the system, he knew the staff and he knew the players. Turns out he can coach too. Now the Scarlet Knights are on their way to the Big Ten. By staying, Flood has fallen into a plum job. Grade: B-plus

23. Jim McElwain, Colorado State. McElwain improved the Rams by one win this year. They were able to win three games in the Mountain West, but all three wins were against the three teams that finished below the Rams in the standings. That win over Colorado was nice, but they lost to North Dakota State, the defending FCS champions. This all illustrates the uphill battle McElwain faces. The offense was ranked No. 95 in FBS. It’s clear he needs more time to collect talent. Grade: C-minus.

22. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State. I freely admit I didn’t think much of this hire. But DeRuyter turned the Bulldogs into winners in 2012, claiming nine victories, a share of the Mountain West title and a berth in the Hawai’i Bowl. DeRuyter also improved both sides of the football, with the Bulldogs ranking in the Top 20 in both total offense and defense. No wonder he’s getting attention from BCS jobs this offseason. Call this one a pick I got wrong. Grade: A.

21. Tim Beckman, Illinois. The bottom fell out of Illinois this season. Coming off a 6-6 regular season and bowl berth, the Illini lost every Big Ten game and won just two games all season, beating Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. I wrote last year that the hire was curious because the Illini struggled to score points in their final season under Ron Zook, failing to score at least 20 points in each of their last six Big Ten games. This year Illinois scored 20 or more points in just one of its eight Big Ten games. Beckman clearly did not get the most out of the existing talent. Grade: D

20. Justin Fuente, Memphis. The Tigers might be on to something. They won their final three games of the season (granted it was against arguably the three worst teams in Conference USA). But they created some momentum. Fuente turned Jacob Karam into an efficient quarterback and he has him for one more year. This team still needs talent, but Fuente appears to have them on the right track. That three-game win streak and a move to the Big East might help. Grade: C-minus

19. Bob Davie, New Mexico. This team stunk in 2011, so anything Davie was able to do would have been better than Mike Locksley. The Lobos won four games and had one of the nation’s best running games, gaining 305 yards per game. They still need help everywhere else. Grade: C-minus

18. Tony Levine, Houston. I wrote that the hard part of this job would be the transition to a new quarterback. Well, quarterback David Piland had a nice year. But this defense was atrocious, ranked No. 117 overall. Good news is Levine gets Piland for two more years. Bad news is he has to find some answers on defense. Missing a bowl game a year after nearly qualifying for a BCS Bowl game won’t cut it, even in Houston. Grade: C-minus

17. Matt Campbell, Toledo. I felt entering this season that Campbell was set up well to succeed. He inherited a 9-4 team from last year, led the Rockets to a bowl victory after Tim Beckman left for Illinois and recruited one of the MAC’s best classes in February. Campbell’s decision to stay was a sound one. The Rockets are 9-3 and headed for another bowl game. Next year there’s a good chance Campbell can take the Rockets the next step to a MAC title. He’s on a fast track to a BCS job. Grade: B

16. Terry Bowden, Akron. In Year 1 with Bowden the Zips did no better record-wise than last year. I wrote earlier this year that Bowden would need time to get the talent he needs and implement his system. He’s already looked ahead to next year by giving the reins to freshman quarterback Kyle Pohl in the season finale. Next year could be tough. The Zips only have 13 scholarships to offer in 2013, so Bowden has to grow the talent he has before he can replace it. Grade: C-minus

15. Bill O’Brien, Penn State. I’m impressed, frankly. I didn’t think O’Brien had the chops for this job. I thought the exodus of talent and the inability to recruit to a program with no hope of the postseason for four years would be like kryptonite. Well, the opposite happened. O’Brien rallied his leftovers, turned Matt McGloin into a competent quarterback and led the Nittany Lions to seven wins, which any other year would put PSU in a bowl game. Truthfully, O’Brien needed a good first year to keep recruiting on track. Grade: B-plus

14. Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic. Pelini’s signature win in his first season was over Western Kentucky. It’s hard to see how that happened. The pass defense was decent statistically, but the rest of the team, overall, didn’t seem to improve much. Consider that an indictment of the final years of Howard Schnellenberger, who was clearly losing the local recruiting war with FIU’s Mario Cristobal. Pelini needs at least another year to build the talent base, but he didn’t do much with what he had, either. Grade: D

13. Hugh Freeze, Mississippi. The Rebels had seriously slipped the two years before Freeze arrived and in his first year in Oxford he got the Rebels back to a bowl game. So Freeze managed to get more out of what was on hand than Houston Nutt. The Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State was a nice feather in Freeze’s cap for the recruiting trail this winter. The program is on a slight uptick, but more talent needed to compete with the rest of the SEC West. Grade: C-plus

12. Todd Graham, Arizona State. Graham took the Sun Devils from under-.500 to a bowl game in his first year, plus exacted a win over Territorial Cup rival Arizona. This is Arizona State’s first winning season since 2007. Graham came into town on a wave of controversy over his departure from Pittsburgh. A winning season seems to have calmed the waters in Tempe. He needed to improve the running game and the pass defense and he did both, especially the pass defense which was No. 8 in FBS. Grade: B-minus

11. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. RichRod helped the Wildcats to a signature win over USC. He’s turned Matt Scott into a nice-looking quarterback, and it’s a shame that Scott won’t be around next year. The emergence of running back Ka’Deem Carey gives him a weapon for the next two years. Arizona moves into the Top 10 in total offense this year, but the defense still needs a lot of work. These Wildcats probably overachieved just a bit in year one, but it also puts them a bit ahead of schedule. Grade: B-minus

10. Norm Chow, Hawaii. Yikes. The Warriors won just three games. One win was over newly-minted FBS member South Alabama and another was over FCS member Lamar. That’s not good if you’re recruiting. This is a program two years removed from a conference title and bowl game. It’s also a program making the transition from the run-and-shoot to a pro-style offense, so Chow may not have the players he needs. Hopefully the brass at Hawaii is patient. I must admit, given Chow’s reputation I expected a better first season. Grade: D.

9. Jim Mora Jr., UCLA. I think Mora actually exceeded my expectations, even though I had him ranked in the Top 10. By getting the Bruins to the Pac-12 title game for the second year in a row (this time without needing sanctions against USC to get them in), he’s shifted the paradigm in recruiting in Los Angeles and Southern California. UCLA is now perceived as competitive with USC. Mora made that happen in one year. He’s off to a solid start. Grade: B-plus

8. Larry Chryst, Pittsburgh. I was a fan of this hire when it happened and I’m still a fan of it, and the move to the ACC doesn’t change that at all. Granted their record wasn’t any better than last year, but Chryst got the Panthers back to playing straight-ahead football, the type they like in that town. The running game has to get better, but that defense was one of the best in the nation. The move to the ACC should have an impact on recruiting. Grade: C.

7. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss. I thought this was a really good hire when the Golden Eagles announced it. They snagged an SEC coordinator with head coaching experience. Well, I didn’t count on the dearth of talent on this team in 2012. I saw the Golden Eagles in person this year and they were the worst team I saw this year. This is, without question, the worst first-year job by any coach on this list. Johnson was fired shortly after the season, making his tenure a rare one-year wonder. Grade: F.

6. Larry Fedora, North Carolina. The Tar Heels had no hope of a bowl game this year, thanks to NCAA sanctions. He’s done a good job of motivating a team with nothing to play for, winning eight games. He’s also energized an offense that looked listless last year into a unit that ranks in the Top 20 in total offense this year. Plus, the Tar Heels’ quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver all return next year. When the sanctions are lifted Fedora has an instant ACC contender. But he still has scholarship reductions to overcome. Grade: B-plus

5. Charlie Weis, Kansas. Hopefully those in Lawrence know this is a multi-year process. But this season has a hint of disappointment. Weis brought in his quarterback, Dayne Crist, and the Jayhawks were one of the worst pass offenses in the country. The Jayhawks’ only win was over a FCS team. Weis has another QB, Jake Heaps, waiting in the wings. But a season like this one makes it hard to recruit. A season like Kansas State’s next door in Manhattan makes it nearly impossible. I wrote that a bowl game in Year 2 was a reasonable expectation. I’m not so sure about that now. Grade: D-minus

4. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State. Malzahn inherited a team coming off a Sun Belt title and held serve, as the Red Wolves are on track to win another SBC crown. What’s interesting is that while ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin became the conference’s all-time leading passer Malzahn improved the running game. It should get even better next year as former Auburn back Michael Dyer joins the team. Plus, if Cedar Hill (Texas) QB commit Damion Hobbs holds true to ASU, then look out. Malzahn may have a winner for years (Note: Malzahn left ASU for Auburn). Grade: B

3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. Texas A&M didn’t just survive in its first year in the SEC. It thrived. The biggest issue Sumlin faced was finding a quarterback to replace Ryan Tannehill. Mission Accomplished. The emergence of Johnny Manziel changed the face of the program and tweaked Sumlin’s pass-heavy spread offense by adding a run element it didn’t have at Houston. The Aggies pulled off a signature win at Alabama and, if it can improve its pass defense in 2013, could be a player for the SEC West title next year. It’s hard for me to imagine Sumlin doing a better job in his first year. Grade: A.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State. Yes, I had Meyer ranked No. 2 in the preseason. I felt Mike Leach’s hiring meant more to Washington State than Meyer’s did to Ohio State. OSU already has a rep. WSU doesn’t. Well, that certainly didn’t mean I didn’t think Meyer couldn’t coach. The Buckeyes went 12-0 and have a Heisman Trophy candidate for 2013 in Braxton Miller. Had OSU not been on probation, they would be probably he headed for Miami. Grade: A

1. Mike Leach, Washington State. Leach brought the Cougars a boost in terms of national profile, but that didn’t translate into a bump in wins and losses. In fact, Leach lost one more game than Paul Wulff did last year with basically the same team. Leach toggled between quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday and that probably didn’t help matters. This Cougars team could not run the football, averaging a paltry 30 yards per game, and expect Leach to address both his backs and offensive line this offseason. Still, the Cougars got a boost by beating Washington in the Apple Cup and that will at least provide some momentum into this offseason. Leach’s 3-9 record in his first year may underscore the lack of talent in Pullman and the enormity of the job ahead. Grade: C-minus

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