There was once a time not long ago when people believed that you needed to give a college football coach at least three seasons before you could judge the job they'd done. Things have changed. Coaches are fired in their second season routinely these days, and many more are often placed on the hot seat during their second year if things aren't moving quickly enough.
With the advent of the transfer portal and skyrocketing salaries, patience has worn thinner than ever before. Rebuilds are supposed to be done in one offseason, and if a coach hasn't shown strong signs of improvement by the end of his second season, there's a prevailing belief that he never will.
I suppose that makes it a good time to grade the FBS coaches who just finished their second seasons on the job. There were 17 changes among FBS jobs ahead of the 2021 cycle, and while not everybody has proven to be a "home-run hire," it's a coaching class that's doing well, all things considered. Let's break it down on a case-by-case basis.
|Jedd Fisch||6-18||When Arizona hired Fisch, he was a respected coach who had bounced around the NFL and college levels. Still, no matter how often his name came up for openings, he never landed a job until Arizona pulled the trigger. While a 6-18 mark after two seasons doesn't seem like much, the Wildcats went from 1-11 in Fisch's first season to 5-7 this year. Players have bought into what Fisch is selling, and we could see the Wildcats return to a bowl game for the first time since 2017 next year.||B-|
|Bryan Harsin||9-12||A hire that felt doomed from the start and ultimately proved to be. Harsin walked in the door at Auburn with people already plotting to get him out. The man survived the college football version of a booster coup after his first season but didn't make it through the second. Better results would've helped, but Harsin went 9-12 and recruiting was not where Auburn wanted it to be. I still think Harsin's a good coach, but Auburn was never the right place for him.||F|
|Bret Bielema||13-12||Bielema was a hire that raised some eyebrows at the time, but it made sense for the Illini. The program needed an identity, and Bielema wasted no time in giving the program one. After going 5-7 in his first season and nearly reaching a bowl game, the Illini started 2022 with a 7-1 record and reached No. 14 in the AP Top 25 -- the program's first appearance since 2011. The team lost four of its last five but nearly knocked off Michigan in Ann Arbor. His 13 wins in his first two seasons are the most for any Illini coach since John Mackovic went 16-7-1 in the 1988-89 seasons.||A|
|Lance Leipold||8-17||Kansas is one of the most challenging Power Five jobs in the country and needed somebody who had proven they could build a program from scratch. Enter Leipold, a national champion at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater who helped build Buffalo into one of the MAC's best programs from nothing. The Jayhawks went 2-10 in his first season, but 2-10 at Kansas is an achievement. The Jayhawks then started this season 5-0 and reached No. 19 in the polls before finishing 6-7. Still, this was good enough to earn the Jayhawks their first bowl bid since 2008.||A|
|Shane Beamer||15-11||Beamer finally got his first head coaching shot after years of serving as an assistant, and he's quickly proven to be more than a coach with a famous last name. South Carolina is not a program with a long history of football success, but he's brought a jolt of energy to it in his first two seasons. The Gamecocks are 15-11 and 7-9 in the SEC under Beamer and finished the season with a couple of big upsets over No. 5 Tennessee and rival No. 7 Clemson before hanging with Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. There's more optimism surrounding this program than there's been since the Steve Spurrier era, but defections in the portal are concerning.||B+|
|Josh Heupel||18-8||When Tennessee hired Heupel, it was a move that made sense to me, but it wasn't one I thought would be anything special. The program was under the threat of NCAA penalties and had not only been disappointing on the field but boring to watch. If nothing else, Heupel's offense would make things fun on Rocky Top. Things have certainly been fun, but I didn't see 2022 coming. The Vols went 11-2 this season, knocked off Alabama for what felt like the first time since the late 1800s, and finished the season with an Orange Bowl win over Clemson. The losses to Georgia and South Carolina, along with an injury to Hendon Hooker, kept them from being a pure fairy tale, but that was the most fun any Vols fan has had watching their football team in a long time.||A|
|Steve Sarkisian||13-12||Is Texas better off under Sarkisian than it was under Tom Herman? Herman went 25-12 in his final three seasons, finishing each of them ranked in the AP Top 25. Sark is 13-12 through two seasons and hasn't finished ranked in either one. I get there are reasons to be optimistic -- hello, Arch Manning! -- but there have been reasons to be optimistic about Texas every offseason for the last 14 years; they've rarely come to fruition. With all the talent on hand, the incoming recruits and a move to the SEC looming, you get the sense Sark and the Horns need to take a dramatic step forward in 2023 or they'll start the cycle again in Austin.||C|
|Clark Lea||7-17||There are a lot of schools that can make a case for being the toughest Power Five gig in the country, but imagine being a small, private school with more stringent academic requirements than the rest of your conference. Now imagine your conference is the SEC. Still, Lea has provided plenty of reason for optimism. He inherited a rough situation from Derek Mason, and after a 2-10 record in 2021 that saw the Commodores go winless in the SEC, Vandy went 5-7 in 2022 and picked up SEC wins over Kentucky and Florida late in the season. It also fell a field goal shy of beating Missouri. Vandy may never reach the levels of the SEC's elite, but it's already showing an ability to close the gap on everybody in its division not named Georgia.||B|
|Butch Jones||5-19||After being fired by Tennessee in 2017, Jones spent three seasons as an assistant at Alabama. His name came up often for job openings, but it wasn't until Arkansas State called that Jones found a new home. It was an eyebrow-raising hire at the time, and thus far, it hasn't shown inspiring results. Jones is 5-19 after two seasons and only 2-14 in the Sun Belt. That's a significant step back from where the program had been under Blake Anderson, and it comes during a time when the Sun Belt is getting stronger overall.||D|
|Andy Avalos||17-9||The former Boise State linebacker and defensive coordinator returned to the blue turf after a couple of seasons at Oregon to replace Bryan Harsin. Things got off to a rocky start. Avalos was 9-7 through 16 games, but an embarrassing loss to UTEP led to a shakeup. A new quarterback and offensive coordinator later, the Broncos began looking like the Broncos again, winning eight of 10 to finish the season. Though they failed to win the Mountain West, things look to be heading back in the direction they're supposed to be in Boise.||B|
|Maurice Linguist||11-14||It's always difficult being "The Guy Who Replaces The Guy," but after a rough start to his first head coaching gig, Linguist's Bulls team rebounded in 2022. Buffalo began the season 0-3, which included an embarrassing loss to Holy Cross, but won seven of its final 10 games and went 5-3 in the MAC. The Bulls finished the season with a Camellia Bowl win over Georgia Southern. We'll see what Year 3 brings in a conference that can be a roller coaster ride from year to year.||B|
|Charles Huff||16-10||I was among the many surprised by Marshall's decision to move on from long-time coach Doc Holliday after a 7-3 finish in 2020, but Charles Huff is proving to be a smart hire by those in charge in Huntington. After going 7-6 in 2021, the Herd had an impressive 9-4 mark in their first Sun Belt season, going 5-3 in conference. While a 26-21 win over Notre Dame in South Bend will always be considered the high point of the season, the fact that the Herd finished with five straight wins is a better sign of what could be coming in 2023.||B|
|Kane Wommack||15-10||South Alabama didn't join the FBS until the 2012 season, and while it's never had an outright terrible season or been a perennial doormat, it had never won more than six games in a season until Wommack came around. The Jaguars went a respectable 5-7 in his first season and exploded in 2022, finishing 10-3. The Jaguars went 7-1 in conference, but the lone loss -- 10-6 to Troy -- proved costly. The Trojans also finished 7-1 and had the tie-breaker in the Sun Belt West. Still, while USA didn't get the chance to play for a conference title, it's hard to argue this wasn't the Sun Belt's second-best team in 2022.||A|
|Will Hall||10-15||This was one of my favorite under-the-radar hires of this cycle. Hall led some fun, potent offenses at Tulane for two seasons under Willie Fritz, and he's brought it with him to Southern Miss. The 2021 season was an adjustment period as the Eagles finished 3-9, but they took a significant step forward after moving to the Sun Belt this season. Southern Miss went 7-6, beat Tulane (USC couldn't!) and finished the season with Frank Gore Jr. rushing for a bowl-record 329 yards in victory over Rice. I'm not sure Southern Miss fans have had more reasons to be optimistic about a team heading into the offseason since Larry Fedora left for North Carolina following the 2011 season.||B+|
|Gus Malzahn||18-9||Malzahn was a hire that made plenty of sense for UCF. It's a program that has had plenty of success hiring offensive-minded coaches, and his years of experience at Auburn would help the program transition to the Big 12. So far, Malzahn has delivered as expected. The Knights have gone 18-9 in his two seasons and 11-5 in the American. However, while they won a division title in 2022, they've yet to win the conference under Malzahn or finish a season ranked in the AP Top 25, so there's room for improvement in Orlando.||B|
|Terry Bowden||8-16||This is one of the more difficult situations to judge. Bowden did a good job resurrecting an Akron program from the dead but hadn't coached anywhere since 2018 when ULM hired him. The Warhawks were coming off an 0-10 season in 2020 and immediately jumped to 4-8 in Bowden's first season. There wasn't much of an improvement in 2022 as the Warhawks once again went 4-8, though they did improve from 2-6 in the Sun Belt to 3-5. That may not seem like much, but this program has been to one bowl game (the 2012 Independence Bowl) since moving to the FBS level for the 1975 season.||C+|
|Blake Anderson||17-10||Anderson was successful in seven seasons at Arkansas State but needed a fresh start following the death of his wife in 2019. He found one in Logan, Utah, and he got off to an incredible start with the Aggies. Utah State went 11-3 in 2021, won the Mountain West, finished the season with a bowl win over Oregon State and ranked in the AP Top 25. There was significant regression in 2022 as the Aggies dealt with injuries and poor performance at the QB spot. They finished 6-7, though they did go 5-3 in the Mountain West.||B|