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College Football Coaching Hires: Home Runs and Groundouts

It has been a busy offseason on the coaching carousel, so much so that there have been major developments even since MaconDawg graded the early coaching hires. Some recent instances of job-hopping in the coaching ranks are of interest to college football fans generally, while others are noteworthy to the Georgia faithful specifically, but heed must be paid to the following strategic career moves:

Rich Rodriguez (head coach, Michigan)

Without a doubt, this was the home run head coaching hire of the offseason. "Coach Rod" is an innovator who has been flexible enough to tailor his system to his talent at every stop along the road. Much as Mark Richt took over a Georgia program that was seldom terrible but only intermittently excellent, so too did Rich Rodriguez guide the West Virginia program from periodic short-lived stratospheric surges to consistent success in a partially depleted yet nevertheless more competitive Big East.

During the Don Nehlen era, the Mountaineers posted 11-0 regular seasons in 1988 and 1993, only to lose January bowl games by double-digit margins to cap off those campaigns. Coach Nehlen's teams went 9-3 in three of his first four seasons in Morgantown, but only two of his last 17 squads would win more than eight games while seven of them won six or fewer outings.

Coach Rodriguez got off to a rocky start at W.V.U., just as Pete Carroll did at U.S.C. (In 2001 and 2002, Coach Rodriguez went 8-11 in his first 19 games in Morgantown. In 2001 and 2002, Coach Carroll went 9-8 in his first 17 games in Los Angeles.) After that, Coach Rodriguez took his team on a tear, leading the Mountaineers to three Gator Bowls, a Sugar Bowl, a Fiesta Bowl, and at least a share of four conference titles in his last five seasons.

Although Coach Rodriguez is the target of some accusations out of Morgantown that sound more than a little implausible, it appears pretty clear that he remained at his alma mater (despite being tendered a lucrative offer from Alabama last year) because he was given promises on which his employer failed to deliver. Michigan, which had become the most hidebound of the traditional powers during nearly four decades under the leadership of a Bo Schembechler coaching tree that did not branch, thought outside the box and turned a looming disaster into an outcome better than the Wolverines' purported best case scenario.

Bozo the Coach or the Rain Man of sideline stalkers?

Rick Neuheisel (head coach, U.C.L.A.)

When Doug Gillett suggested hiring Coach Neuheisel as Georgia's offensive coordinator, I reacted strongly (and, in retrospect, perhaps overly harshly) in opposition to "Slick Rick." A year and a half ago, I minced no words when declaring Coach Neuheisel an odd fit in both Boulder and Seattle:

He is sufficiently cutthroat to be a recruiting coordinator in the S.E.C. His Hawaiian-shirts-and-sandals hippified casualness would seem suited to a coaching job with, say, the Oregon Ducks. How, though, did this charlatan manage not only to weasel his way into succeeding Bill McCartney in Boulder, but also, after losing 10 of his last 17 conference games with the Buffaloes, to parlay his Colorado tailspin into the head coaching position in Seattle? The respective hometowns of the Universities of Colorado and Washington may have their own quirks, but neither city at its most zany would make a suitable fit for as bizarre a bird as Neuheisel.

Here's the thing, though . . . the one credible reservation any even remotely neutral observer could have about Michigan's hiring of Rich Rodriguez is that it is hard to wrap your head around the idea of Coach Rod bringing daring and innovation to the staid constancy of the Big House. It's a great hire, but a bit of an odd fit, and it is possible to see it not working out because two great tastes don't always taste great together.

For Coach Neuheisel, though, this was a homecoming. I am not naïve enough to suppose that Slick Rick would ever say anything genuinely heartfelt---there is a reason, after all, that Doug and others have compared him to the undeniably charismatic yet earnestly insincere Bill Clinton---but, if ever there was a place where Coach Neuheisel was a good fit where he could prove that he had matured and was loyal, that place undoubtedly is Westwood.

The Bruin faithful are happy with the hire, so I am happy for them. At any other N.C.A.A. institution, the unmistakable downward trajectory of Coach Neuheisel's teams would cause me to view this as an unqualifiedly bad hire, but, at U.C.L.A., bringing home the prodigal son who maybe, just maybe, has learned his lesson could be the shrewdest move the Bruins have made in a generation, making the Battle of Los Angeles instantly more competitive and undeniably more intriguing. My gut instinct is that Coach Neuheisel will put the "ruin" back in "Bruin," but what I lack in faith I make up for in hope where the new U.C.L.A. skipper is concerned.

I wouldn't buy a used car from him or anything, but this idea could be just crazy enough to work.

Bill Stewart (head coach, West Virginia)

Let's not dance around this one. Sunday Morning Quarterback already hinted at the fact that this was a sentimental hire made in the afterglow of an unexpected January bowl victory, making Coach Stewart very probably the Mountaineer equivalent of Bobby Williams, who was made the head coach at Michigan State on the strength of an improbable Spartan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl and proceeded to go 15-17 over the remainder of his career in East Lansing.

Some may say that's harsh, but I suspect it isn't quite harsh enough. Rich Rodriguez turned this program into a conference powerhouse and at least brought it to national relevance, if not prominence. I'm tempted to say Bill Stewart will turn out to be West Virginia's Ray Goff, although the case could be made that that's what W.V.U. would have gotten had it hired Terry Bowden. Nothing about this promotion from within suggests that the powers that be in Morgantown even intend to make an effort to maintain the Mountaineers' present stature as a meaningful presence on the college football stage.

Greg McMackin (head coach, Hawaii)

I don't know whether you noticed, but the Warriors promoted their defensive coordinator to replace June Jones.

Yes, you read that correctly: Hawaii promoted its defensive coordinator to replace June Jones.



Did you, like, watch the Sugar Bowl at all?

In Coach McMackin's last five games as defensive coordinator, the Aloha State Adventurers surrendered 30, 26, 27, 28, and 41 points. Not since George O'Leary was made the head coach at Georgia Tech after a three-game interim stint in which the Yellow Jackets went 0-3 and were outscored by a cumulative margin of 88-33 has a defensive coordinator done so little in his audition to earn the promotion he inexplicably received. With my apologies for stealing a line from Dennis Miller, Greg McMackin deserves to be a Division I-A college head coach like Elvis deserved his black belt.

If Hawaii and West Virginia meet in a Bowl three years down the road, they'll both be doing better than I expected. Coaches and players are bailing on the 2007 Big East and W.A.C. champions like rats deserting a sinking ship, and they are doing so at such a clip that it is clear that the ride is over for Georgia's last two Sugar Bowl opponents. Hawaii's and West Virginia's capitulatory caretaker coaching hires confirmed that the athletic directors in Honolulu and Morgantown cannot make the same claim as Dido: there will be some white flags above their doors, as they have put their hands up and surrendered.

Will Muschamp (defensive coordinator, Texas)

Boom! I know I'm biased, but this was a win-win for us in Bulldog Nation. First of all, a proud University of Georgia alumnus was turned back from the Dark Side and wrested from the fell clutches of the Ugliest Village on the Plains, simultaneously weakening the Bulldogs' oldest rival while putting Coach Muschamp in a position in which we among the Red and Black faithful will be able to root for a former Georgia player.

I hate Auburn.

Secondly, Coach Muschamp has accepted the football equivalent of an appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which commonly is referred to as "the junior Supreme Court" because its judges frequently make the leap to the Highest Court in the Land. The move from Auburn to Austin put Coach Muschamp in a prime position to land a head coaching job . . . in another conference. Whichever Big 12 team makes Will its top 'Dawg will have a fan in me and I will wish him well against a league in which the Red and Black do not play.

Admittedly, Coach Muschamp met with only limited success in his last several outings against his alma mater, but what can I say? Georgia rocks. You can't judge a coach by what he does against a team as terrific as the Bulldogs. In a season in which Al Borges's paradigm-shifting offense sputtered, Will Mushcamp's fired-up defense kept the Plainsmen in games in which they could not score.

This was a first-rate hire and the Longhorn faithful are going to field an aggressive D that will produce quality results and be fun to watch.

Paul Rhoads (defensive coordinator, Auburn)

That sound you just heard was me breathing a big sigh of relief, mostly because of the defensive coordinator Auburn didn't get (Rodney Garner) but partly due to the one they did.

Coach Rhoads was the spectacularly inconsistent defensive coordinator at Pitt, where he guided the Panthers to three finishes in the top twelve nationally in total defense but whose defensive units ended up ranked 73rd or worse in three of the last five seasons.

Although Tommy Tuberville's rationale for hiring Troy's Tony Franklin as Auburn's new offensive coordinator was dubious (yeah, the Trojans moved the ball on Georgia and Florida . . . in trap games for S.E.C. powers who substituted liberally), the Tigers' new look in the Chick-fil-A Bowl gave the War Eagle's S.E.C. opponents cause for concern.

A coach from Pitt with a herky-jerky track record, though? Color me unimpressed.

The final newly-hired coach to attract our attention would have gotten here sooner, but he had to go bail Chris Simms out of a jam first.

Major Applewhite (running backs coach, Texas)

If Bill Stewart is West Virginia's Ray Goff, then Major Applewhite is Texas's Mike Bobo, the beloved former quarterback who came back to his old stomping grounds as a position coach but who clearly was destined for bigger and better things at his alma mater.

Coach Applewhite's new title is technical and temporary, as he will play a major (sorry) role in the offense. He never really got to showcase his best work at Alabama. During his more representative year coordinating the Owls' attack in 2006---when Rice attended its first bowl game since 1961---he helped the Conference USA squad win six straight games to close out the regular season, scoring 31 or more points in five of them.

This move proves that the Longhorns are thinking long-term. It is not a minor detail that Coach Applewhite has the title "assistant head coach." The Major is being groomed and bringing him home was the second-best hire Mack Brown has made lately.

Those are the coaching maneuvers that seemed to me most worthy of note. What other additions to coaching staffs around the country have slipped by unnoticed and are deserving of attention? Let me know in the comments below.

Go 'Dawgs!