Each May, we like to spend some time diving into the state of coaching in college football, rolling out a full week of rankings, analysis and discussion to reset the landscape heading into the upcoming season. Earlier this week, our CBS Sports college football experts ranked all 69 of the Power Five coaches -- check out and -- while also spotlighting the reshuffled .
Now, it's time to take another look at the 2022-23 coaching carousel as though it were a graduating class. It is graduation season, after all, and one thing everyone enjoys is handing out some high school-style superlatives.
While we were tempted to go all in on the motif and identify "best hair," that seemed unfair to some of the follicularly challenged of the group. Of course, you could argue that nearly every coach qualifies as "biggest flirt" considering the importance of recruiting, and when it comes to "best dressed," there just isn't going to be a ton of competition for Matt Rhule's smock -- though the newly-hired Nebraska coach could switch up his style when it comes time for the Cornhuskers debut in the fall.
So, here we go with some end of year fun, starting with the most talked-about hire of the entire cycle.
2023 coaching hire superlatives
Most popular: Deion Sanders, Colorado
The data backs up what every college football fan inherently understands, and it's that Sanders' arrival as coach of a power conference program is the most engaging hire since the end of last season. It does not matter if it's a casual fan or a diehard, a coach, administrator or member of the media; we simply cannot stop talking and thinking about Sanders and the outlook for Colorado with him as coach.
Sanders is a Hall of Famer who existed in the icon realms of American sports as a player, and he's continued to put his charisma to work as he rises in the coaching ranks. His popularity is how Colorado sells out a spring game and gets featured on national television, and it's how he's been able to attract new talent in a transfer portal-powered flip of a roster that went 1-11 last season. No matter the metric you use to judge popularity, no one has generated more of it in this coaching carousel than Sanders.
Most attractive: Matt Rhule, Nebraska
Sure, we could write about Rhule's eye-catching smile, but a successful college coach with NFL experience made Rhule incredibly attractive to Nebraska administrators hoping to somehow, finally, turn around a once-national championship caliber program. He led impressive turnarounds at Temple and Baylor, and once he became available, the former Carolina Panthers coach was immediately one of the top two candidates of the cycle. Rhule is a hire with significant Power Five success that came without any baggage, giving a resume unmatched by any other coach this offseason.
Most likely to win big early: Luke Fickell, Wisconsin
All three of the coaching changes in the Big Ten came from the Big Ten West, and while the current division structure likely has its days numbered with the impending arrival of USC and UCLA in 2024, there's a path for one of these new hires to quickly compete a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers chances of being that team are boosted by the fact that Fickell is an excellent coach -- top 10 in the country, according to our rankings -- and the situation he inherits is not a total rebuild. With the talent that stuck around in Madison, a new-look offensive approach and the coaching chops that Fickell proved quickly building up Cincinnati and leading the program to the College Football Playoff, Wisconsin should be in the mix to win the Big Ten West late into the year.
Most likely to win big later: Hugh Freeze, Auburn
Freeze leading a program with Auburn's resources and commitment to winning should lead to yet another program peak for the Tigers. Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn each led charges all the way to the top of the sport, and the expectation is that eventually Freeze will have a run at an SEC and/or national championship in the College Football Playoff. But the team in 2023 has question marks in the passing attack, a roster that's undergone some transition through the coaching change and the usual challenges that come with playing Auburn's schedule (Alabama and Georgia as annual opponents). Auburn has too much of a track record to say that Freeze has a "long leash" -- more on that pick below -- but everyone does seem to agree that the high ceiling potential is a couple years down the road.
Future Power Five hires: Jamey Chadwell, Tom Herman
Chadwell has a chance to string together a couple of Conference USA championship runs as Liberty makes its move from independence into a conference, and given the success he had at Coastal Carolina, that's going to make him an easy name to add to any athletic director's wish list. As for Herman, we acknowledge that he's already been a Power Five coach at Texas but want to point out how well-positioned he is to have success at FAU. The Owls have a ton of production returning on the defensive side of the ball and the transfer portal class now includes former Longhorns quarterback and Herman signee Casey Thompson. FAU's challenge is steeper in the American than it was when Lane Kiffin was winning conference titles, but the program -- and athletic department in general -- are trending in a direction that could see him finding success in this return to the sidelines.
Toughest rebuild: Troy Taylor, Stanford
The seas of change in college football have not been friendly to Stanford, a program that reached impressive heights and established consistency in the transition from Jim Harbaugh to David Shaw but has not played in a bowl game since the 2018 season. First came the early signing period and the proliferation of top talent committing early, which worked against a Cardinal program that had previously been on the low end of early enrollees. Then the transfer portal added additional road blocks for Stanford to reload its roster, as the academic requirements for admission serve as a road block to quickly fill roster needs in the way that other schools are able to do through the portal.
From 2010-17, Stanford was one of the most successful programs in the country, and now there's a long road to haul to make up the lost ground. That challenge is for Taylor, a coach who has proven to be successful at places where success was not the standard, so hopefully he can close the gap between Stanford and the top tier of the Pac-12.
Longest leash: Jeff Brohm, Louisville
The Louisville native who played quarterback at Louisville, assisted as a coach at Louisville and remained close with the Louisville community during his head coaching stints at Western Kentucky and Purdue is going to have a lot of wiggle room as the Cardinals' head coach. There are expectations for Brohm to lead a winning program, but any setbacks on the journey are going to met with more understanding than if he were an outsider. Part of those expectations comes not from Brohm's familiarity but from his own history as a coach, winning two conference titles with WKU and guiding Purdue to four bowl appearances in six years, including a Big Ten West title in 2023. There is no doubt that it can be done, so there will be a little more patience for Louisville's native son.
Shortest leashes: Zach Arnett, Brent Key
It is not uncommon for schools to promote internally when replacing a coach or remove the interim tag for a coach who guided the program through a change (particularly a tough one). But those coaches ultimately face more scrutiny from fans, and possibly administrators, as a result of such moves. For every Dabo Swinney or Lincoln Riley there are examples of promoted coaches who have faced early skepticism at the first sign of struggle as fans consider whether an outside hire would have worked out better for the program. Even Swinney faced those doubts early in his head coaching career.
The pressure of the SEC West is immense for every coach, but Arnett's situation is unique as he tries to prove, in real time, that he's got the tools to lead Mississippi State into the conference's next era. Key energized Georgia Tech after he took over in 2022, but can that be sustained over the course of an entire season in a way that turns GT around and has the Yellow Jackets back in the mix in the ACC? These two hires could end up being wildly successful, but the pressure is high and the leash is short for each considering how they arrived as Power Five head coaches.