The 2017 season seemed to be full of feel-good turnaround stories. There was Scott Frost’s rejuvenation of the UCF program going from 0-12 the year before his hire to 11-0 in just his second season, Mark Dantonio flipping the script from 3-9 to 9-3 in the face of tremendous off season adversity, and a host of others in interesting story lines in their own right.
These types of turnarounds happen every year in one way or another across the country, opening the doors for head coaches and their coordinators to other potential job opportunities, new contracts, or just providing some fresh perspective.
To reflect back on the hard work of those head coaches, their staffs, and the players that put in the work and sacrifices needed to make all possible, we wanted to take a minute to quickly recognize several below.
UCF (2017: 11-0, 2016: 6-7, 2015: 0-12)
Head coach: Scott Frost (2nd season)
Heading into 2016, Scott Frost took over a UCF team coming off a rare 0-12 season, and in two short years he’s built them into not only contenders for the AAC title, but also the Group of Five front runner representative to a New Years six bowl game. Frost’s complete rejuvenation of the program is one of more impressive recent FBS turnarounds, and how he’s done it has drawn the attention of a number of high-profile programs.
North Texas (2017: 9-3, 2016: 5-8, 2015: 1-11)
Head coach: Seth Littrell (2nd season)
When North Texas hired Seth Littrell I remember just nodding my head in agreement thinking of what a good fit it was. Littrell took over a program that went 1-11 prior to his arrival and built things up the right way, going 5-8 last year before a breakout 9-3 2017 season, including a perfect 6-0 mark at home.
Fresno State (2017: 9-3, 2016: 1-11)
Head coach: Jeff Tedford (1st season)
What Jeff Tedford has done in just one season turning the Fresno State program around has been nothing short of remarkable. Two of those three losses this year were to Alabama and Washington. Earlier today, Tedford’s squad beat Boise State and will face them again next week in the Mountain West title game.
Michigan State (2017: 9-3, 2016: 3-9)
Head coach: Mark Dantonio (11th season)
Few teams faced the type of adveristy Michigan State did last year. Not only did their on-the-field record drop to 3-9, but the football program was also caught up in an ugly sexual assault scandal that hovered over the program the majority of the off season. The ability of Mark Dantonio and his staff to refocus their roster and flip the script from 3-9 to 9-3 with wins over Michigan and Penn State (both top 10 programs at the time) is nothing short of incredible.
FAU (2017: 9-3, 2016: 3-9)
Head coach: Lane Kiffin (1st season)
The hire of Lane Kiffin at FAU injected some immediate energy into the program. That energy didn’t take long to turn into results on the field, and after starting the season 1-3 before rattling off eight straight wins against CUSA foes, including a 69-31 thrashing of a 8-win North Texas team, and 52-24 beating of an FIU team that went 7-4.
UAB (2017: 8-4, 2016: 0-0)
Head coach: Bill Clark
2017 was the year that Bill Clark and UAB returned to the field after a few years in football purgatory, and boy did they impress. Clark’s Blazers were not only undefeated at home, but they were just a few points away from putting together a 10-win season. Very impressive coaching job by Clark and his staff having his guys ready to play in their first year back.
Notre Dame (2017: 9-2, 2016: 4-8)
Head coach: Brian Kelly (8th season)
Brian Kelly took a major risk shaking up his coaching staff after their 4-8 finish last year, and it paid off big time. The Irish’s only losses are to SEC East champ Georgia (who has just one loss on the year), and Miami – who just suffered their first loss of the season to Pitt last night.
Purdue (2017: 6-6, 2016: 3-9)
Head coach: Jeff Brohm (1st year)
FIU (2017: 7-4, 2016: 4-8)
Head coach: Butch Davis (1st year)
Austin Peay (2017: 8-4, 2016: 0-11)
Head coach: Will Healy (2nd year)
It would be impossible (and downright disrespectful) to talk about amazing turnarounds without mentioning what Will Healy accomplished at Austin Peay in his second season. Taking over what many considered the toughest Division I job in the country, mired in a 29-game losing streak, Healy struggled through an 0-11 season his first year before leading the Governors to an 8-4 mark while controversially just missing the cut for the FCS playoff. For what it’s worth, Healy notes a big part of their success behind their turnaround was hiring the right people.
Howard (2017: 7-4, 2016: 2-9)
Head coach: Mike London (1st year)
Mike London, the former head coach at Virginia, came in at Howard and brought a new staff, along with some fresh perspective and energy that immediately translated to wins. Three of their four losses this year came to FBS teams (Maryland, Rutgers, and Kent State), and London led an improvement from second to last in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2016, to finishing second this season.
Elon (2017: 8-4, 2016: 2-9)
Head coach: Curt Cignetti (1st season)