Third Year Coaches' Report Cards

The conventional wisdom is that most college football coaches will let you know how good (or not so good) they're going to be by their third year on the job. There are exceptions.

Dan McCarney at Iowa State – and the most notable exception, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer – took twice that long before becoming established. But by and large, if a coach struggles in his first three years, he's going to struggle beyond that point as well, unless his school is handicapped by some kind of extraordinary circumstance.

 

Mike Shula of Alabama was part of the NCAA Division-IA coaching class of 2003, albeit late to the dance. Mike Price was initially part of that class, but he got expelled from school before he even took his first test. Shula entered over the offseason in 2003, and is now in his third season at the helm in Tuscaloosa.

 

Overall, there were 16 coaches that took new jobs in 2003. Here's a look at how things have gone for those 16 coaches so far.

 

Mike Shula, Alabama (for Dennis Franchione via Mike Price)

Records: 4-9, 6-6, 5-0 (15-15)

Analysis: Shula appears to just be coming into his own after two difficult seasons in Tuscaloosa. Shula had challenges many others on this list did not face, in particular NCAA sanctions and the fact he took over from Mike Price after 2003 spring practice was already concluded, and had to implement an entirely new offense in a month. Shula's first season was very rough, but he started to show signs of maturity early into the 2004 season. But he has really started to hit his stride in 2005, with impressive wins over such household names as Steve Spurrier, Houston Nutt and Urban Meyer. The heat that Shula felt after one bad and one mediocre season in Alabama has abated substantially.

Outlook: Shula is just now starting to get the talent situation fixed in Tuscaloosa. If he's able to foster team unity among his future squads the way he's fostered it in the 2005 edition of the Crimson Tide, Shula will likely have a long stay in Tuscaloosa.

 

Brady Hoke, Ball State (for Bill Lynch)

Records: 4-8, 2-9, 1-4 (7-20)

Analysis: Hoke is at his alma mater, coming to Ball State from the Lloyd Carr staff at Michigan. When he got to Ball State, the school was already in the throes of a seven-year string of non-winning seasons, and that misery hasn't abated. Ball State continues to be a doormat team that Division-IA powers like to get on the schedule to pad their win totals. Ball State was winless until Saturday, when the Cardinals finally got a win over equally decrepit Western Michigan 60-57 in a game that was apparently optional for defensive players. Rumblings about Hoke's job had begun in the preseason and haven't quieted much.

Outlook: It isn't bright, unfortunately. A lot depends on what the expectations are at Ball State, but the MAC is an emerging conference and Ball State administration doesn't figure to let the program languish forever. The Cardinals will be favored in only one or two games the rest of the way, and they need to win those games plus pull a big upset at some point. Otherwise, if Hoke survives 2005, he'll be on the clock for real in 2006.

 

Guy Morriss, Baylor (for Kevin Steele)

Records: 3-9, 3-8, 4-1 (11-18)

Analysis: Morriss' first two seasons looked a great deal like what Baylor football had become since Grant Teaff retired. In his first two years, only an upset win over Texas A&M gave Baylor fans much to root for. But 2005 has been a different story. Baylor narrowly missed upsetting Texas A&M again, and on Oct. 8 beat Iowa State on the road 23-13 for its first Big 12 road win ever. Only two more wins are needed to get the Bears into a bowl game, and Baylor has winnable games against Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State left on its schedule. When at Kentucky, Morriss was seen mainly as a second-hand successor to Hal Mumme, who left the program in the midst of an NCAA investigation. He's making believers in Waco these days.

Outlook: If Morriss can consistently win six and seven games a season for Baylor, he'll be working there as long as he wants to. Morriss took the job mostly to get close to family (as well as to get out of the cesspool that the SEC had become), so it isn't likely he'll be leaving for greener pastures anytime soon. The marriage of Morriss and Baylor looks to be working.

 

Gregg Brandon, Bowling Green (for Urban Meyer)

Records: 11-3, 9-3, 3-2 (23-8)

Analysis: Brandon was the perfect fill-in for Urban Meyer in 2003 when Meyer left for Utah. Brandon ran mostly the same offense as Meyer and the transition was seamless. And in his first two seasons, Brandon began to quickly establish himself as one of the next young coaches to watch. It didn't hurt that he has Heisman Trophy candidate Omar Jacobs under center, either. The 2005 season, however, isn't shaping up to be quite as impressive. Yes, there is a 70-7 win over Temple in there, and the 56-42 loss to big boys up at Wisconsin isn't something to be ashamed of. But the Falcons have also struggled in a win over Ball State and a loss to Boise State, and with Urban Meyer's offense slowly being figured out at Florida, one has to wonder if Brandon can keep up the pace he's set the last two years.

Outlook: Bowling Green should win at least four more games this year, with the toss-ups being Miami-OH and Toledo. If Brandon manages to finish 8-3 or 9-2 and gets another job offer, look for him to consider it closely. His name has already come up in connection with the Kentucky job, which isn't currently open but might become so over the next few weeks.

 

John Thompson, East Carolina (for Steve Logan)

Records: 1-11, 2-9, fired (3-20)

Analysis: At one time, Thompson was one of the three or four most feared defensive coordinators in college football. East Carolina tapped him to succeed Steve Logan in 2003, a coach that had put together a respectable record at ECU and who many observers felt got the short end of the stick from the school. Thompson's first year was forgettable and his second not much better. His three wins came over Army (twice) and Tulane. Worse yet, his defenses were ranked 84th in 2003 and 111th in 2004. Thompson was fired at the end of the 2004 season and replaced by Skip Holtz. Thompson is now at South Carolina, working again for Steve Spurrier. But his defense there has gotten the blame for the Gamecocks' slow start, although at 49th in the country, it is improving.

Outlook: Thompson won't likely get another head coaching opportunity anytime soon, and if he does, it almost certainly won't be in Division-IA. His best bet is to help Spurrier pull a rabbit out of a hat next year and get the Gamecocks to top of the SEC East rankings. Most likely, he'll be a coordinator the rest of his career.

 

Rich Brooks, Kentucky (for Guy Morriss)

Records: 4-8, 2-9, 1-4 (7-21)

Analysis: Brooks can undoubtedly coach football. Before Mike Bellotti was a big name at Oregon, Brooks built that program into something respectable after years of being the PAC-10's second-longest running joke behind rival Oregon State. He was the first coach of the St. Louis Rams in the NFL, so you know he wasn't a pretender. But Brooks never has looked like a good fit at Kentucky, a school he took over at the front end of some serious NCAA scholarship reductions. Brooks was 61 at the time and hired an assistant staff replete with former head coaches and older assistants. What Kentucky needed was a young guy with lots of enthusiasm; what they got was an old-school coach in the autumn of his career who probably would have been a good choice to take over a contender, but not a rebuilding project. In his third year at Kentucky, Brooks has had to deal with massive amounts of injuries in addition to the scholarship losses. He is definitely the coach on the hot seat in the SEC and would be a surprise to return in 2006.

Outlook: Brooks, at best, will finish 4-7 this season at Kentucky. Given that the three wins he doesn't already have would most likely come against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, they probably won't carry enough punch to convince the school to bring him back for a fourth try. Kentucky would have to do the impossible – qualify for a bowl – for that to happen. Brooks is most likely done in Lexington, and figures to retire from the sport completely if he's let go.

 

Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe (for Bobby Keasler via Mike Collins)

Records: 1-11, 5-6, 2-4 (8-21)

Analysis: Weatherbie took over for Mike Collins, the "other" Mike Price of 2003. Collins took over in late 2002 after Bobby Keasler quit before the season ended. He was elevated from interim coach to head coach before the 2003 season started, and promptly was charged with DUI in April of that year after allegedly running his truck off the road and hitting a house. Weatherbie, a veteran coach with stints at Utah State and Navy, took over. His first season, much like Mike Shula's at Alabama, was a wash. But Louisiana-Monroe made great strides in 2004 and nearly pulled off a winning season, which would have been the team's first since 1993. The 2004 season, which held great expectations, got off to a poor start, however, with a loss to Division-IAA Northwestern State. But the Indians lead the Sun Belt Conference nonetheless with a 2-0 record in conference games. With a handful of winnable games left on the schedule, it will be interesting to see what ULM does. If the Indians win the Sun Belt, Weatherbie could be sainted. If they lose all five remaining games – not probable, but definitely possible – it could be time for another coaching search.

Outlook: Weatherbie is a veteran coach who at one time was a rising star in the coaching ranks. He's still young enough to move up again, and if Louisiana-Monroe was to finish the season 7-4, he'd probably have offers. At the same time, his name has already been connected to hot seat rumors stemming from the loss to Northwestern State in the opener. The next five weeks will be crucial for Weatherbie's career.

 

Bobby Petrino, Louisville (for John L. Smith)

Records: 9-4, 11-1, 4-1 (24-6)

Analysis: Former coach John L. Smith left for Michigan State almost literally left in the middle of a bowl game. The Cardinals, obviously hurt from the experience, took a chance on Petrino, then the offensive coordinator at Auburn. After a 9-4 opening season, Petrino nearly copied Smith's exit by getting caught up in "Petrinogate" with Auburn school officials and heading back to the plains to replace Tommy Tuberville. Instead, Petrino stayed in Louisville and led the Cardinals to an 11-1 record in 2004, coaching a team that led the nation in scoring offense and total offense and finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in rushing offense and passing offense. Petrino has since specifically been mentioned for job openings at LSU and Florida, as well as virtually every other opening in major conferences and the NFL. His team was thought to be a national title contender in 2005, until he led his team down to South Florida and got hammered 45-14. Louisville has rebounded nicely, with consecutive 60-point showings against Florida Atlantic and North Carolina. There is no doubt about Petrino's offensive coaching ability, and he's proven to be an able recruiter. Given his propensity to listen to outside job offers, though, he hasn't developed much trust between himself and the school, and he's looked at by outsiders as a hired gun looking for a better offer. But he also looks like the real deal and potentially one of the country's most innovative coaches. Unless West Virginia trips up the Cardinals on Oct. 15, they look like a safe bet to finish the season 10-1.

Outlook: With Louisville now in the Big East, there may not be much incentive for Petrino to leave Louisville for greener pastures. He can potentially build a national contender there and turn Louisville into the undisputed premier team in a BCS league. But Petrino's name is already being floated for potential job openings at Michigan and yes, Tennessee. Louisville is probably not his last stop.

 

John L. Smith, Michigan State (for Bobby Williams)

Records: 8-5, 5-7, 4-1 (17-13)

Analysis: John L. Smith has many reputations: Offensive genius, crabby with the media, ruthless in recruiting, and very unlikely to finish the deal during a season. Smith's teams have always been tough, but also always seem to inexplicably lay an egg or two during the season to teams they should, by all rights, completely blast. Case in point, Michigan State upset Notre Dame in South Bend this year, then come back and lose in overtime two weeks later, at home, to Michigan. Smith's first season in East Lansing was a success on several levels. First and foremost, he wasn't Bobby Williams, the initially popular ex-coach who completely lost control of his team in 2002. Smith brought excitement back to the program, particularly through the air on offense. But 2004 was a disappointment. Although the Spartans finished 10th in the country in total offense, they put up a 5-7 record including losses to Rutgers, Hawaii and a terrible Penn State team. Smith is also 0-3 so far against hated Michigan, and is 0-2 against Ohio State heading into this Saturday's game with the Buckeyes. He may have the personality of former Michigan State head coach Nick Saban, but he doesn't have the resume.

Outlook: Smith isn't on the hot seat, but if the Spartans lose to Ohio State this week, which is expected, he needs to win a minimum of eight games in the regular season and then the bowl game in order to quiet critics. With games against decent competition such as Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State, that's a tall order given Smith's career history. If this was Michigan, Smith would probably be on his way out, but this is Michigan State and the expectations aren't quite as high.

 

Mike Riley, Oregon State (for Dennis Erickson)

Records: 8-5, 7-5, 3-2 (18-12)

Analysis: This is Riley's second go-round in Corvallis, and he is widely credited with building the program that Dennis Erickson took over in 1998 and started a run of seasons in which the Beavers competed for the PAC-10 title. Riley left Oregon State the first time to take the reins with the San Diego Chargers, but it was a short honeymoon. He was coaching the New Orleans Saints' secondary when The University of Alabama first called to talk about their vacancy after Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M. Riley spurned Alabama, but later decided to go back into the college ranks to coach his old team. The 2003 and 2004 seasons were marked mostly by wins in games he should have won and a couple of close calls (LSU, Southern Cal) against teams he had no business beating. Riley proved the last time he was at OSU that he can recruit, and his offenses have always been entertaining. What's killing OSU this year is a bad defense, which is not typical of Riley's teams. Oregon State was ranked seventh in total defense in 2003 and 18th in 2004, but only 113th in 2005. As a result, there have been some rumblings that Riley is on the hot seat in Corvallis, but Beaver fans would do well to remember what football was like before Riley got there. The schedule looks like six or seven wins at best this year, but that should be enough to get Riley back in 2005. He's a good fit in Corvallis.

Outlook: Barring a total collapse this year and another the year after, Riley is more likely to finish his career at OSU than he is to get fired. He's a native of the area and despite his Alabama pedigree, is a Beaver through and through. He isn't likely to leave Corvallis for another job unless the NFL came calling again and even then, it's unlikely.

 

Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M (for R.C. Slocum)

Records: 4-8, 7-5, 3-2 (14-15)

Analysis: Something is wrong here, and there's no clear picture of what exactly it is. When Franchione arrived in College Station, he did so with an impeccable resume that included 155 wins and success in building some programs from the ground up and restoring others to long-forgotten levels of prominence. But Franchione's Texas A&M experience has been a Lone Star State-sized bust. The breakdowns have mainly been on defense, where the Aggies have finished the season ranked 96th in total defense in 2003, 63rd in 2004 and are currently 98th in 2005. There are rumors of staff dissension, the result of his hasty and doublespoken exit from Alabama after the Crimson Tide was placed on probation for violations that occurred under the Mike DuBose regime. Franchione became a media pariah after leaving Alabama high and dry, and is popular these days only among the diehards in and around College Station. From a technical standpoint, he's always been a great offensive mind, creative with his option-based packages and utilization of players both very talented and otherwise. This year's Aggie team, however, is thoroughly average, excelling in nothing in particular and playing with very little heart. It doesn't help that Franchione is achieving poorer results than his predecessor, R.C. Slocum, despite telling Aggie fans upon his arrival that there would be no need for a rebuilding period in College Station. Now, his story has changed, and it's wearing thin with the fan base.

Outlook: Franchione is on the hot seat for perhaps the first time in his career. A control freak, it must be maddening to Franchione that he can no longer control the message about his team and his methods. If rumors of a staff meltdown are indeed true, any number of things could happen the rest of the way. The same thing happened to Alabama in 2000, and the Crimson Tide finished 3-8 despite having a talented roster. None of Texas A&M's remaining games are gimmes, and if the Aggies finish with a losing record, A&M might just decide to cut its losses and buy out Franchione's contract.

 

Steve Kragthorpe, Tulsa (for Keith Burns)

Records: 8-5, 4-8, 3-3 (15-16)

Analysis: A 15-16 record might not look good to some people, but for a Tulsa fan, it may be the golden age of Golden Hurricane football. Kragthorpe was just 37 when he took over Tulsa and was the trivia answer to the question, "Who is the youngest coach in Division-IA?", a question many Alabama fans asked considering Mike Shula was the answer to the question of who was the second-youngest at the time. Kragthorpe came to Tulsa from the Buffalo Bills, where he was a respected quarterbacks coach. He immediately installed a wide-open offense that ran better than it passed despite multiple-receiver sets on most downs. Over the past three seasons, Tulsa has pulled its share of upsets, played respectably against top-level competition and hasn't had any unexpected embarrassments, which puts Kragthorpe ahead of most coaches at programs on the level of Tulsa. The 8-5 2003 season created some high expectations for Kragthorpe and some Tulsa fans griped a bit following the disappointing 2004 season, but Kragthorpe is working under a six-year contract extension and is likely to call his own shots on his next move. If Tulsa finishes with a winning record in 2005, which is very likely, Kragthorpe could find his name on several coach watch lists for 2006 and beyond.

Outlook: Kragthorpe is promising, and he's coaching at a perennial coaching graveyard. Unless Kragthorpe is a true believer in Tulsa and the message behind his six-year contract extension, he won't be long for the place. Kragthorpe might not be at Tulsa a year or two down the road, but you'll probably be familiar with his name for some time.

 

Karl Dorrell, UCLA (for Bob Toledo)

Records: 6-7, 6-6, 5-0 (17-13)

Analysis: Dorrell entered the 2005 season squarely on the hot seat after two seasons that offered little improvement over the results his predecessor, Bob Toledo, were getting. Worse yet, with rival USC just down the road and whipping up on everyone in sight, life was getting hard as a UCLA fan. But Dorrell has answered his critics on the strength of a pair of wins over Oklahoma and a big-time upset of California on Saturday. The Bruins rank sixth in the country in scoring offense and will probably be undefeated until their last two games, which will come against Arizona State and USC. Dorrell, much like Mike Shula at Alabama, was a pro assistant and a former offensive coordinator with no prior head coaching experience. Dorrell's even temperament and nose for recruiting success are also similar to that of Shula. But like Shula, it remains to be seen whether Dorrell's success in 2005 can be repeated and expanded upon. At the moment, however, it looks like UCLA upgraded its coaching situation by bringing in Dorrell.

Outlook: If Dorrell's improvement as a head coach is legitimate, he stands a good chance of building UCLA up to the point it can compete for the PAC-10 title with USC on a regular basis. Recruiting ground in California is fertile, and UCLA has traction with big-time recruits who need only to see consistent success before choosing the Bruins. Dorrell is a UCLA alumnus, so unless he's angling for a NFL gig, UCLA would seem to be his permanent destination.

 

Urban Meyer, Utah (for Ron McBride)

Records: 10-2, 12-0, left for Florida (22-2)

Analysis: Meyer was in Gregg Brandon's shoes in 2002. He was coaching the Bowling Green Falcons and running up big numbers at a school that previously had not been competitive with even mid-level opponents. In 2003, the Utah Utes gave Meyer a chance to take over a program that was always solid under Ron McBride, but couldn't take the ultimate step. Meyer proved to be one of those rare up-and-coming young coaches that is everything his reputation had him cracked up to be. Utah went 10-2 in 2003, with close losses to Texas A&M and New Mexico, then went undefeated in 2004, which put Utah through to a BCS Fiesta Bowl game and punched Meyer's ticket for Florida. The hire was definitely an inspired one by Utah officials, who as yet have not gotten similar results from Meyer's successor, Kyle Whittingham – although to be fair, Utah had to replace 12 starters over the offseason. Meyer is struggling a bit in the SEC, but Utah wasn't hiring for the SEC, they were hiring for Utah. And in that regard, Meyer was a smashing success.

Outlook: For Meyer, the outlook is mixed. His spread option attack, at least with QB Chris Leak running it, isn't going over so well in the SEC. But good coaches know how to adjust, and it's a good bet Meyer will adjust his system – or at least, Florida's personnel – to improve the situation in short order. For Utah, it will be another year or two before it becomes clear whether Whittingham was a worthy successor to Meyer. But the Meyer hire definitely put the school on the map.

 

Bill Doba, Washington State (for Mike Price)

Records: 10-3, 5-6, 3-2 (18-11)

Analysis: Washington State did the best thing it could when Mike Price left for Alabama: The Cougars promoted long-time Price assistant Bill Doba and convinced half the assistant staff to stay behind as well. The result was a seamless transition, and a 10-win season in Doba's debut as head coach. The Cougars had a losing record in Doba's second year, however, although uneven year-to-year results were not uncommon to Price's tenure in Pullman, either. Doba is more businesslike than Price and appears to be more calculating as well. Offensively, Washington State hasn't skipped a beat. The Cougars remained a premier passing team in 2003 and 2004, but have found offensive balance in 2005, ranking 24th in rushing offense, 15th in passing offense and eighth in total offense as of Oct. 8. Unfortunately, the Cougars are coming off a major upset loss to woeful Stanford, and the remaining schedule is not favorable for bowl qualification. It will take another two seasons beyond this one to truly tell whether Doba can cut it at WSU or not. Given the problems inherent to recruiting to middle-of-nowhere Pullman, Cougar fans have become accustomed to good seasons being intermixed with two or three mediocre ones.

Outlook: Doba is in his mid-60s and it's not clear how much longer he wants to coach. Another losing season in 2005, which is likely, will start some rumbling at WSU, but just how much is also unclear. Doba was a short-to-mid-term hire at best as WSU scrambled to replace Price in the middle of a recruiting year. Look for Doba to coach somewhere around three to five more years and perhaps be replaced by offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller.

 

Joe Glenn, Wyoming (for Vic Koenning)

Records: 4-8, 7-5, 4-2 (15-15)

Analysis: Wyoming bucked a recent trend among mid-level programs of hiring promising coordinators or older coaches looking to revive stalled careers and instead went after Joe Glenn, who has national championships to his credit in Division-II and Division-IAA. The move paid off in a big way. Glenn's first season only produced a 4-8 record, but he brought confidence back to the Cowboy program, evidenced by big upsets over BYU and Colorado State, not to mention almost pulling another one off against Kansas. In 2004, things really began to turn around. Wyoming hosted Ole Miss and beat the SEC's Rebels, then capped off its season by beating UCLA in a bowl game. The 2005 season is off to a strong start as well, with yet another win over Ole Miss, this time in Oxford. Bowl eligibility looks like a good bet once again. Glenn took the job at the age of 52, making him older than most first-time Division-IA coaches on this list. Maybe it's a move other schools should try; Glenn has brought recognition to the Wyoming program and his name now sits atop many lists of potential coaching candidates for bigger schools. Wyoming hit a home run with this hire and it continues to pay dividends.

Outlook: At this stage of his career, Glenn's career path is entirely up to him. He's coached in the Big Sky region virtually his entire life, so he can either remain in Laramie and be a legend, or take his pick of several plum jobs that figure to open up in coming seasons. As long as he continues to post winning records at a program not known for having many, he'll continue to be a wanted man.

 

List of coaches by record:

1. Urban Meyer             Utah                 22-2      91.7%

2. Bob Petrino               Louisville          24-6      80.0%

3. Gregg Brandon          Bowling Green  23-8      74.2%

4. Bill Doba                  Washington St. 18-11    62.1%

5. Mike Riley                 Oregon State     18-12    60.0%

6 (tie). Karl Dorrell        UCLA               17-13    56.7%

    John L. Smith                       Michigan State  17-13    56.7%

8 (tie). Joe Glenn           Wyoming          15-15    50.0%

    Mike Shula               Alabama           15-15    50.0%

10. Steve Kragthorpe      Tulsa                15-16    48.4%

11. Dennis Franchione   Texas A&M       14-15    48.3%

12. Guy Morriss            Baylor              11-18    37.9%

13. Charlie Weatherbie   La.-Monroe       8-21      27.6%

14. Brady Hoke             Ball State          7-20      25.9%

15. Rich Brooks             Kentucky          7-21      25.0%

16. John Thompson       East Carolina    3-20      13.0%


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