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Three years in, evaluating the head coaching hires of 2011

In this business, we most often judge coaching hires on the coach. While they are (obviously) an integral part of the process, it's the athletics director that has a heavier weight on his shoulders. Whether it's time to pull the plug on an unsuccessful regime or maintain the success of a departing head coach, the athletic director has to hire the right coach for the university at that time.

The hiring class of 2011, hired after the 2010 season, saw prime examples of both. Schools like Stanford and Northern Illinois kept a good thing going with hires from inside and outside the program, while Arkansas State, Michigan and Vanderbilt flipped their programs' fortunes with hires that excited their respective fan bases. And then there's Connecticut, coming off a 2010 Big East championship, who made a hire that cost the athletics department its largest booster and the jobs of the head coach and athletic director. 

When taking stock three years later, it's clear in all but two of the 24 coaching changes whether or not the athletics director in charge made the right decision. Here's how we evaluate the hiring class of 2011. 

Arkansas State
Steve Roberts
Hugh Freeze

Great hire for the University - This is the type of hiring you dream of at a place like Arkansas State. Freeze pumped this program so full of energy it's still buzzing two years, and two coaches, later. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Arkansas State went 10-3 and won the Sun Belt in Freeze's one-year stay in Jonesboro, went 10-3 and again won the Sun Belt in Gus Malzahn's one season, and sits on a 17-game conference winning streak under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin. 

Ball State
Stan Parrish
Pete Lembo

Excellent hire - Like Freeze, Lembo has proven to be a simply fantastic hire. After a 6-18 dip following Brady Hoke's departure, Lembo has grown the Cardinals' win total from six in 2011 to nine last year to this season's 7-1 start. Lembo has installed an incredibly strong base and could meet Northern Illinois in the ultimate MACtion game for a spot in the MAC title game on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

OUT: Dan Hawkins
IN: Jon Embree

Unsuccessful - The Buffaloes didn't get what they thought they were promised in five seasons under Dan Hawkins, and reached out to get a former player (good) who had no experience above position coaching (bad) in Embree. A 4-21 mark two seasons in cost both the head coach and athletics director their jobs. 

OUT: Randy Edsall
IN: Paul Pasqualoni

Unsuccessful - There are some jobs like Texas and Florida, where a head coach's success is dependent on his ability to develop the talent that falls into his lap by virtue of his location. And then there are jobs like Connecticut, where the only path to success is going out and convincing players to come play for you. Pasqualoni isn't that guy, and it was clear upon his hiring. After starting the 2011 calendar year in the Fiesta Bowl, Connecticut is now in search of Pasqualoni's replacement. 

OUT: Urban Meyer
IN: Will Muschamp

Good hire - Muschamp is a very good coach who has done an admirable job ridding the program of some issues, but has now run the risk of letting a punchless offense write his reputation for him. A 22-11 record under Muschamp feels like a perfect compromise between a nationally elite defense and a directionless offense.

OUT: Bill Lynch
IN: Kevin Wilson

Good hire - Installing a offense popular with recruits and convenient for winning with sub-elite talent, Wilson has done a nice job turning around a stagnating program. As promised, the Hoosiers are putting up points (no less than 28 through seven games) and have a realistic chance at playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Kent State
OUT: Doug Martin
IN: Darrell Hazell

Successful hire for the University - Jumping from five to 11 wins in Hazell's first year, the Flashes proved wise for hiring a branch off the Jim Tressel coaching tree. Hazell used last season's 11-3, MAC East-championship season to take the Purdue job before this year.

OUT: Rickey Bustle
IN: Mark Hudspeth

Excellent hire - Hudsepth brought home the Cajuns' first bowl win in school history in his first year on campus, and then did it again in year two. Hudspeth has won as many games in his first 32 tries as Louisiana-Lafayette won in its previous 56 outings.

OUT: Ralph Friedgen
IN: Randy Edsall

Undecided - One of the two coaches on this list for whom the jury has not returned a verdict. The program certainly wasn't broken under Friedgen - the Terps went 9-4 and won the Military Bowl in 2010 - and fell to 6-18 over Edsall's first two seasons. Maryland is 5-2 to date in 2013, but those wins came against four teams that won't win 10 games between them, plus reclassifying Old Dominion, and the Terps have been pummeled a combined 97-10 in setbacks to Florida State and Wake Forest.

OUT: Randy Shannon 
IN: Al Golden 

Successful hire - No coach jumped into a messier situation, and Golden could not have handled it better. Sanctions are bad, but for two and a half years Golden has battled something even worse: the unknown. The black cloud was there, and Golden couldn't tell recruits when it was leaving. And finally, with his team undefeated and in the top 10 with a massive game at Florida State waiting on November 2 waiting, the NCAA plans to announce its decision on Tuesday. 

Miami (Ohio)
OUT: Mike Haywood
IN: Don Treadwell

Unsuccessful hire - Like Colorado, the Treadwell hiring as a homecoming that turned into a nightmare. Treadwell's tenure was ended after 29 games and a 1-11 record in the RedHawks' last dozen games. Miami (Ohio) has scored as many points in 415 snaps this season as Baylor scored in 92 snaps on Saturday night.

OUT: Rich Rodriguez
IN: Brady Hoke

Successful hire - After stepping outside the Michigan Man mantra, the Wolverines hired a Lloyd Carr assistant and it's proven to be a very, very good hire. Hoke is 25-8 with two New Year's Day bowls to his credit with a good shot at a third. He's the right guy for that place. 

OUT: Tim Brewster
IN: Jerry Kill

Successful hire - Funny to see the patterns programs follow. After ridding itself of first-time head coach Tim Brewster, the Gophers tabbed a guy with 127 wins in 17 years at four different schools. The health issues are a challenge no one could've foreseen, but Kill is well respected in the coaching community and has the program on stable footing.

North Carolina
OUT: Butch Davis
IN: Everett Withers

Appropriate - The academic fraud mess of the Butch Davis era forced a hasty transition to interim head coach Everett Withers before the hiring of Larry Fedora after the 2011 season. The Tar Heels won five of their fist games under Withers, but then dropped five of their final seven. Withers performed admirably under the circumstances. 

North Texas
OUT: Todd Dodge
IN: Dan McCarney

Successful hire - In another dramatic field reversal, North Texas ridded itself of a Texas high school football whiz kid in favor of 25-year veteran of the college coaching ranks. McCarney brought the program a needed credibility from day one, and a win at Southern Miss on Saturday will have the Mean Green bowl eligible for the first time since 2004. 

Northern Illinois
OUT: Jerry Kill
IN: Dave Doeren

Successful hire - Doeren did a nice job shepherding the program on its path to becoming the Boise of the Midwest. Twenty-three wins, a conference championship and an unprecedented BCS berth later, Doeren was off to N.C. State and the program hasn't skipped a beat with a 7-0 start in Rod Carey's first full season.

Ohio State
OUT: Jim Tressel
IN: Luke Fickell

Successful hire - Fickell's 6-7 record disguises what a great job he did in keeping that program together during the extended baton pass from Tressel to Urban Meyer.

OUT: Dave Wannstedt
IN: Mike Haywood, Todd Graham

Unsuccessful hire(s) - 2011 will go down as a year everyone close to the Pittsburgh football program would rather just pretend never happened. Messy as that period was, the Panthers are now 4-2 in year two under a coach that wants to be there and (most importantly) in year one of ACC membership.

San Diego State
OUT: Brady Hoke
IN: Rocky Long

Successful hire - Rocky Long's first two seasons at San Diego State were better than Brady Hoke's two year stay, improving from 13-12 from 2009-10 to 20-12 and a share of the Mountain West crown in 2011-12. The 0-3 start raised eyebrows, but the Aztecs' three straight wins since indicate the train is still on the tracks. 

OUT: Jim Harbaugh
IN: David Shaw

Extremely successful hire - A picture perfect transitioning from Harbaugh to Shaw, with nothing but BCS bowls to show for it. The right guy was right there on campus, and the Cardinal never lost sight of it. Shaw has a 29-5 record with the first Rose Bowl victory since just about anyone at Leland Stanford Junior University first stepped foot on campus. The Cardinal have a chance to return to Pasadena this season - on January 1 or January 7. 

OUT: Al Golden
IN: Steve Addazio

Successful hire - Addazio cashed a high-profile spot on Urban Meyer's staff into taking over for Al Golden at Temple. Golden brought this program from the depths of irrelevance and Addazio kept the Owls from falling back there before taking the Boston College job after last season.

OUT: Todd Graham
IN: Bill Blankenship

Successful hire - The last hire of the 2011 class (not counting a case we'll get to in a minute), Tulsa was fortunate to have such a capable head coach sitting on staff. This year's 2-4 start is difficult to comprehend, but a 16-3 record in Conference USA play, including a league championship in 2012, proves this has been an excellent hire.

OUT: Robbie Caldwell
IN: James Franklin

Extremely successful hire - What has Franklin done besides completely change the paradigm of what was thought possible for Vanderbilt football and usher in a level of success not seen for nearly 100 years? Not much. The Commodores couldn't have engineered a better coaching hire if they'd tried.

West Virginia
OUT: Bill Stewart
IN: Dana Holgorsen

Undecided - And now we come to the second coach for whom the jury is still in serious deliberations. After perhaps the clumsiest regime change in recent college football memory, Holgorsen won 15 of his first 18 games, but has won five of his next 15. We simply don't know the answer yet.