January 11, 2009

Which head-coaching hire is most impressive?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

This week's question: Which head-coaching hire has impressed you the most?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
I really like New Mexico State's choice of DeWayne Walker and Eastern Michigan's choice of Ron English. I find Kansas State's decision to bring back Bill Snyder intriguing. Mississippi State's hiring of Dan Mullen got my attention as well. But I find myself being surprisingly impressed by Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. He wasn't successful with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, but that appears to be a no-win situation. He's young, aggressive and making a significant impact in recruiting. He's also assembling an impressive staff that includes his father, Monte, and Ed Orgeron, a great recruiter and excellent defensive line coach. Obviously, it's wait and see what he can do on the field, but Vols fans can be optimistic from what they've seen so far.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
Honestly, none of the hires looks like a sure-fire success story. The closest thing is San Diego State's hiring of Brady Hoke from Ball State. Hoke did a masterful job building Ball State into a MAC power. He's a proven commodity, a tough, hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach who will take over a program that for too long has been under-coached. And Hoke's cause will be aided by the presence of two standout coordinators in Al Borges (offensive) and Rocky Long (defense). That coaching trio alone should guarantee the Aztecs a quick return to the postseason where SDSU hasn't been since 1998. I expect Hoke and Co. to earn a spot in the upper echelon of what is a strong and getting stronger Mountain West.

David Fox's answer:
This is a tough question. None of the hires looks like a home run. If there's one who could pay off in a big way, it could be Wyoming's hire of Dave Christensen. The program certainly has its challenges. It is way behind the other programs in the Mountain West, and it's not exactly in fertile recruiting ground. But Christensen instantly will be the most creative offensive coach in the league. Missouri's version of the no-huddle, spread offense was Christensen's brainchild. The offense turned Missouri from a mediocre Big 12 team to a conference contender. If anyone has experience playing catch-up with a league's top programs, it's Christensen. With the right coach, Wyoming has proven it can be a winner. Christensen might be that guy.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
When talk in the future turns to uninspiring coaching hires, this offseason will be the first one mentioned. A lot of the hirings are head-scratchers, in two ways: "Why is that school hiring that guy?" and, "Why is that guy settling for that school?" Still, an answer is needed, and I'll go with Dave Clawson at Bowling Green. Clawson had a brutal season as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, but it's hard to have success on offense when your quarterbacks aren't that talented. Clawson did an excellent job as head coach at Fordham and Richmond two Football Championship Subdivision schools before his one season at Tennessee. The Richmond team Clawson built won the FCS title this season. Plus, he's not taking over a program bereft of talent. Bowling Green was 6-6 this season after going to a bowl in 2007. An infusion of enthusiasm and a new outlook could have the Falcons back in a bowl in 2009.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I wasn't particularly thrilled with any of the hires. Most of the schools with openings seemed more interested in hiring promising young assistants with reputations as sold recruiters rather than going after proven head coaches. The notable exception was Auburn, though it's tough to call Gene Chizik a "proven" head coach when he had such a dismal record at Iowa State. If Texas Tech's Mike Leach truly was available, I have a tough time understanding why Washington, Tennessee or Auburn didn't make a serious push for him. Auburn's decision to select Chizik was one of the more mystifying moves by a major college program that I've seen in recent memory. Since I was disappointed with the moves made by teams from the big-time programs, it's no surprise I'm going outside the "Big Six" conferences to find my favorite coaching hire of the offseason. Wyoming hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2004 despite traditionally fielding a solid defense. The problem has been offense. Wyoming scored the fewest points in the nation this season and managed more than 21 points in a game just once. Former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen should help the Cowboys correct that problem. Christensen, a 2007 finalist for the Frank Broyles Award that goes to the nation's top assistant, helped Missouri rank in the top 10 in scoring each of the past two seasons. His offenses at Missouri generally were more explosive than the USC offenses coordinated by Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, who landed head-coaching jobs at Washington and Tennessee, respectively. If Christensen can build a respectable offense while helping Wyoming remain solid on defense, the Cowboys could be back in bowl contention as soon as next season.


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