Every year, a new crop of coaching hires pokes their headsets through the gridiron soil, unfurls their leaves, and tries to flourish in the harsh glare of national scrutiny. Some are fated to bloom and drop the seedlings of a healthy coaching tree; others wash away in the flood.
Before the first hoe is turned on the new crop, we’d like to offer clairvoyant predictions as to how these coachlings will perform in year one, what the pinnacles and nadirs of their tenures will be, and how the gigs will end.
We selected 14 of this year’s most interesting hires (sorry, Mike Sanford, Jr.) and ran them through the prognosticatory thresher. Behold.
Willie Taggart, Oregon
It’s unusual for a program of Oregon’s caliber to hire a young coach with a career record of 40-45. Could Taggart be the Ducks’ Brady Hoke, a mediocre guy who got a way-too-good job because of limited success in minor conferences? OK, technically, Brady Hoke is Oregon’s Brady Hoke, having served a disastrous year as the Ducks’ DC in 2016. But you get the point. For some Ducks fans now accustomed to the top ten, Willie Taggart was an underwhelming hire. Could he be in over his head in Eugene?
In his first season, it’ll sure seem like it. Oregon will beat Southern Utah and Nebraska at home, then lose one of their next two games as road favorites in Cheyenne or Tempe. Fans will grumble. DC Jim Leavitt will say at a press conference that it’s going to take more than a few games to undo the damage Brady Hoke has done to this defense. The Ducks will go on to win all their home games, but lose four on the road, finishing 9-4.
Taggart may have a losing career record, but he inherited train wrecks at Western Kentucky and South Florida and turned them around. He’ll find success with Oregon as he gets his players and institutes his system, winning 10+ games in his second, third, and fourth seasons.
Pinnacle: Makes the Playoff in year three or four, and loses in the semis.
Nadir: Will never be able to remember Phil Knight’s name. The top five things he calls him instead: Bill Knight, Phil King, Bob Kerry, Pete Kohut, Greg Kill.
How Will It End? Tragically hired away to coach the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Today we stand on the precipice of a Purdue football renaissance. Jeff Brohm boasts more XFL experience than any other coach, and that counts for something. What’s more, Brohm’s Western Kentucky teams put the hurt on the rest of Conference USA — peep some of the box scores from the second half of last season:
That’s a spicy meatball.
In his first season, Brohm’s Purdue team will post a respectable enough 3-9 that bodes well for the future. They’ll get the shit kicked out of them by Louisville, and maybe win that Missouri game? Yeah, they beat Mizzou, beat an SEC team, after losing to Ohio.
Pinnacle: Having cultivated the next great Purdue QB, Brohm’s Boilers squad wins the Big Ten West at 9-3, loses the Big Ten title game, wins a decent bowl game over an SEC opponent, and then that QB goes pro a year early.
Nadir: Drunk at a boosters conference, and feeling thin-skinned due to light criticism, Brohm claims Drew Brees could have never cut it in the XFL.
How Will It End? After attempting to fit two too many mistresses on his Goldwing, Bobby Petrino will suffer another motorcycle accident, fatally crashing through the front window of a Papa John’s. Brohm takes the open Louisville job, his brother Brian takes over at Purdue, and subsequently, Purdue and Louisville end up in a Brohm loop, what CFB scientists have dubbed an Ourobrohmos, the two brothers trading jobs back and forth into infinity, or perhaps until they meet in the Pinstripe Bowl and trigger a space-time rift that sees the Brohms and their programs united at last into Purdouisville.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops’ oddly timed June retirement thrust wunderkind OC Lincoln Riley into the top job at just 33 years old, an affront to PJ Fleck’s fragile vanity.
In his first season, Riley, a former Texas Tech QB, will lead Oklahoma to an 11-3 season, with regular season losses to Ohio State and Texas. The Sooners will replay Texas in the first annual Big 12 title game, and win, only to replay Ohio State in the Playoff and lose again. Rematches will be big in 2017.
We predict that Riley will recruit well and continue the Stoopsian tradition of putting together preseason top 5 teams that go on to lose two games and finish about seventh. The offenses will put on a great show, except come Playoff time.
Pinnacle: Riley’s team will lose some national championship game behind the next great Heisman-winning OU QB who goes on to have a lackluster pro career.
Nadir: Down the road, Riley will bring on his old coach Mike Leach to be an assistant. That same year, a devastating string of tornados will rock Oklahoma. Riley will establish a charity fund for victims and their families.
The following season, Oklahoma will be undefeated and ranked #1 when word breaks that Riley has been skimming funds from his tornado charity for the sake of a mistress, a former Texas cheerleader he met on the sidelines.
How Will It End? He’ll step down in disgrace. And after decades at lesser programs, Mike Leach will become the interim head coach at Oklahoma. And while we’re at it, let’s say he wins the title. Why not? Swing your fucking sword.
Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
Lane Kiffin’s tenure at Florida Atlantic promises to be enigmatic, grandiose, bizarre, ignominious, and memorable precisely not for its actual football. The tea leaves are murky at this point, but we foresee his time at FAU will last somewhere between 1.5 games and 1.5 seasons.
Pinnacle: The afterparties.
Nadir: Sunday mornings.
How Will It End? Caught on tape commenting that, unlike what he’d hoped, Florida Atlantic is in “the part of Florida where even people from Florida go to die,” Kiffin will be asked to leave for an OC job at the pro level.
PJ Fleck, Minnesota
After landing the Michigan job, Brady Hoke said he “would have walked to Michigan [from San Diego State],” and they should have made him. No such rhetorical devices surrounded the hiring of PJ Fleck, who rowed without fanfare from Kalamazoo to Minneapolis on I-94 over the course of two grueling weeks, stopping only for recruiting visits in Chicago and Eau Claire.
The vigorous 36 year old brings an enthusiasm unknown to Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Gophers, that comes with ambition. Gophers fans know PJ Fleck is destined for bigger jobs if he’s successful. The gnawing question of when he bolts–not if–will hang over the entirety of his tenure.
In his first season, Fleck’s Minnesota team will start out white-hot, winning its first seven games. Fleck will be floated as a top candidate for openings at Notre Dame, which will fire Brian Kelly midseason, but will deny interest in leaving Minnesota. But by the time the Gophers lose their last six (including bowl game), the bloom will be off the rose.
Pinnacle: A 10-win second season will have Gophers fans elated. Unfortunately, the attention comes with renewed interest, and Fleck will break hearts and confirm fears by interviewing for the Tennessee job. But, following a tip from Greg Schiano, he’ll turn it down, and assert his commitment to the Gophers, though his intentions will be clear.
Nadir: Never beating Wisconsin.
How Will It End? Unlike the rest of the country, no one in Minnesota will be surprised when Fleck succeeds Mark Dantonio at Michigan State in a few years.
Luke Fickell, Cincy
Does anyone have any doubt that Luke Fickell is coaching Cincy as an agent of Ohio State? It will appear as much as Fickell guides the Bearcats through a few good, but never great, years, keeping the Bearcats flying as eternal wingman to the Scarlet & Grey.
In his first season, Fickell’s Bearcats will go 6-6 and be denied a bowl bid after the NCAA discovers that Tommy Tuberville was hoarding stolen World War II memorabilia in Cincy’s basement.
Pinnacle: His 2017 team takes Michigan to the wire, but loses on a late overthrow.
Nadir: Fickell’s caught moonlighting as an Ohio State position coach.
How Will It End? With good behavior, Fickell will be promoted back to the DC job at Ohio State, where he’ll get a second shot at being Interim Head Coach when Urban Meyer suddenly retires for health reasons. Fickell will then lose to Michigan on another overthrow.
Tom Herman, Texas
Unlike his predecessor, Charlie Strong, Tom Herman knows Texas football. A one-time grad assistant for the Longhorns who put in stints at Sam Houston State, Texas State, and Rice, Herman is that rare breed for whom coaching football in Ohio was a departure from the norm.
Given Herman’s pedigree, the Longhorns may finally have the dynastic coach they’ve been angling for. Year one will be very good, but not great. In his first season, Herman’s Longhorns will lose to USC in week three, beat Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout, lose an errant Big 12 road game along the way — to Baylor, TCU, or West Virginia — and face Oklahoma again in the title game, where they will lose the rematch. They’ll head to the Alamo Bowl as the Big 12’s No. 2, replaying USC…and losing. Rematches will be big in 2017.
Pinnacle: Herman’s high point will be less acute than a mere point: he will become the winningest Texas coach of all time, and give a lovely address at Mack Brown’s funeral that wins the commitment of a 4-star safety in attendance.
Nadir: Early in his career, he will commit the torrid indiscretion of leaving his wife for an Oklahoma cheerleader.
How Will It End? Herman will spend the next 40 years coaching Texas; NCAA football will end before Herman’s tenure does.
Matt Rhule, Baylor
Exquisite hire. Who better to clean up Baylor’s rape-riddled program than a former Penn State linebacker who learned the game from position coach and defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky? We’re sure it’ll go great.
Charlie Strong, USF
Charlie Strong is a talented coach who helmed a few great Louisville teams after coaching Florida’s defense through the dominance of the late aughts. But he tracked a little mud into the house of Texas football, and the boosters went apeshit.
Set up to fail as a Longhorn, he’ll bounce back with an 11-1 regular season and American Conference title at South Florida in his first year. He’ll be a Coach of the Year candidate for having put the Bulls in contention for a Playoff bid and earning a New Year’s Six bowl.
Pinnacle: Smoking Major Applewhite’s Houston squad in Week 11 this year and beating Navy in the 2017 American title game.
Nadir: A physical altercation with Randy Edsall after tensions flare during a heated Week 3 matchup.
How will it end? Charlie’s tenure as a Bull will be strong and not long. In the interregnum between the regular season and the bowls, he’ll be hired away by Notre Dame, which will have fired Brian Kelly after a blowout home loss to USC in Week 8. Strong was a defensive line coach in South Bend for four years in the ‘90s, so unlike at Texas, he’ll know precisely the nature of the dysfunction he’s getting himself into.
Tom Allen, Indiana
Here’s a man 10 years removed from his last full-time head coaching position, which happened to be at an Indianapolis high school where he spent more time as a coordinator. Allen has a college record of 0-and-losing-the-Foster-Farms-Bowl and takes over a program 50 years removed from its last Big Ten title, boasting only 9 bowl appearances, and sporting a winning percentage that would look great if it were Will Sheehey’s success from three-point range. And yet, we’re optimistic. In his first season, Allen’s taking this team to 8 wins and a 10th bowl.
Pinnacle: In year 3, the Hoosiers win 10 games and finish tied for second in the East, which feels every bit like a conference title, nevermind the blowout loss to Georgia in the Outback Bowl
Nadir: It’s revealed that his former boss, Hugh Freeze, used Allen’s residence in Oxford for midnight dalliances. Allen will claim he thought ménage à trois was some type of trips formation Freeze was inserting in the playbook, but will eventually make a teary-eyed apology.
How Will It End? Allen’s a Hoosier through-and-through, but there’s more than one program in the state, and after Charlie Strong is fired at Notre Dame in 2022, Allen takes the Irish job.
Randy Edsall, UCONN
After spending six years in the wilderness of Maryland, and one diffuse year as Director of Football Research for the Detroit Lions — where he made the stunning discovery that the Lions were once good — Randy Edsall has made his prodigal return to UConn.
In the end, there was no other coach for UConn, and no other school for Randy Edsall, who will hit the ground running in his first season, going 5-7 and repping out to receive a bowl invite, where the Huskies will lose in the Hawaii Bowl to Nevada.
Pinnacle: After suffering two more conference realignments, Edsall will candidly disavow the notion of conferences altogether, and will take the Huskies into independence. Like loyal pack dogs, they will follow him into the cold.
Nadir: Edsall will continue to incite howling rivalries with teams that are much better than his, starting a pissing match with Maryland that will include a bunch of losses at home and reach rock bottom the day Edsall’s team loses but refuses to leave the field. The contest will be ruled a tie.
How Will It End?: UConn is Edsall’s soul team. His tenure will end with his death.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
After Les Miles was fired last September, Ed Interim became LSU’s Orgeron coach, leading the Tigers to a Citrus Bowl win. Now with the Orgeron label stripped, Interim has the chance to live down his less-than-stellar Ole Miss coaching tenure at a university whose wild character befits his own.
We predict non-LSU fans will enjoy Orgeron’s time as LSU’s coach more than native ones will. He will be as LSU’s Bo Pelini, piling up 4-loss seasons and studly recruiting classes, beginning with a 9-4 record in his first season.
Pinnacle: beating Alabama once in five tries.
Nadir: After suffering a heart attack at a crawfish joint where he was illegally hosting recruits, his hospital stay brings forth many NCAA violations.
How Will It End?: Afflicted with gout, Orgeron will be eaten by an animal, possibly a big snake, or a literal or figurative gator, on a vacation/recruiting trip into the Everglades.
Justin Wilcox, Cal
Previously serving as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator with similar stops at Tennessee, Washington, and USC, Wilcox gets his first try at a head coaching gig at Cal. Yet his tenure will be the shortest of anyone’s on this list, for he will make the rookie mistake of forgetting his audience in his first season.
After inviting nineteenth century conservative speaker Lou Holtz to address the team before their first game, Wilcox will watch in horror as riots erupt across Berkeley’s campus. Unable to curb the looting, Cal will cave to protesters and issue a temporary stop to the program. Nary a down will be played before Wilcox, sickened at the dysfunction, will be hired away to coach linebackers for Utah. Holtz will be flayed by #Antifa in a related incident.
Major Applewhite, Houston
To replace Tom Herman, Houston reportedly debated between promoting offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and hiring CBS broadcaster Chris Simms. The decision came down to the wire, with Applewhite getting the nod. Yet just as they battled for playing time at QB for Texas in the early 2000s, Applewhite and Sims will compete for coaching time at Houston.
In his first season, Applewhite will lead the Cougars to a 4-0 start, including a win over Arizona that will send Rich Rodriguez packing. But after a humiliating loss at SMU, Applewhite will be benched and Simms brought on board.
The Major won’t see coaching time until late in the second half of Houston’s road loss to USF, with Simms injured and the game already well out of reach. He’ll coach the remainder of Houston’s season and secure the job outright with a convincing win in Houston’s bowl game.
Pinnacle: A 13-1 season where the lone loss is a bad one that keeps the Cougars out of the Playoff.
Nadir: A 4-7 season in which Houston’s second game is cancelled.
How Will It End?: After five or six years on the job, Applewhite will discover he still has a year of NCAA eligibility left, having never played professionally, and will leave Houston to compete for the Texas starting QB job. He’ll expect to have the inside track thanks to his close ties with Tom Herman, for whom he served as OC. But in yet another irony of history, he will lose the job in fall camp to Richard Walton, Jr., the son of former Texas quarterback Richard Walton.
NOTE: Butch Davis will be slain in Florida in an unrelated International incident.