Every job is different, every coach is different, but one truth stretches across the industry: by Year 3, you generally know. Third-year coaches, the hiring class of 2014, have crossed the 30-game barrier. The majority of the roster signed under their banner. The culture is theirs, for better or worse.
With that in mind, we took a dive into each third-year coach to see which way the arrow points.
Bob Diaco, Connecticut. Record: 11-22 (6-15 American). High point: Beating Houston 20-17 last November.
|2-10 (1-7)||6-7 (4-4)||3-5 (1-4)|
Is the program in a better place than he found it? Unequivocally yes. Did I expect him to have more than 11 wins by this point? Also yes. Diaco took down Houston last season and carried the Huskies to the St. Petersburg Bowl, but returning to a bowl game would require winning three of their last four games — and they’ll be underdogs in their next two. For better or worse, Diaco’s biggest legacy mark at this point is the silly Civil ConFLiCT rivalry which, if nothing else, gets people talking about UConn football, which is far more than you could say when he arrived.
Bobby Petrino, Louisville. Record: 23-10 (14-7 ACC). High point: Blowing out Florida State 63-20 this September.
|9-4 (5-3)||8-5 (5-3)||6-1 (4-1)|
Not only has Petrino ridden the wave of the talent Charlie Strong left behind, he’s crested upward. Finding and developing Lamar Jackson has been the most important accomplishment by any coach in the 2014 class — Jackson is the clear Heisman favorite, he’s positioned the Cardinals as CFP outsiders with a great shot at an Orange Bowl berth at worst, and he’s only a sophomore.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest. Record: 11-20 (4-16 ACC). High point: Starting 4-0 this season.
|3-9 (1-7)||3-9 (1-7)||5-2 (2-2)|
This has fallen exactly according to the Clawson Curve as shown in previous stops at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green: a couple down seasons while everything builds, then a massive jump. After going 3-9 in 2014 and ’15, Clawson has Wake at 5-2 with a realistic shot at an 8-4 finish — and that’s without counting on possible upsets over Louisville or Clemson. The Deacons are tied for 16th nationally in scoring defense and held Florida State to 17 points in Tallahassee.
Charlie Strong, Texas. Record: 14-18 (10-12 Big 12). High point: Beating Notre Dame 50-47 to open this season.
|6-7 (5-4)||5-7 (4-5)||3-4 (1-3)|
More than anyone else in this class, Strong’s situation has been studied extensively by now. Eight wins was the unofficial benchmark for this season, and the ‘Horns are 3-4 after dropping four of their last five games.
James Franklin, Penn State. Record: 19-14 (9-11 Big Ten). High point: Upsetting Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday.
|7-6 (2-6)||7-6 (4-4)||5-2 (3-1)|
The shackles of the Jerry Sandusky fallout are just now begging to loosen, meaning Franklin should be thrown some necessary slack. But, still, it didn’t quite click the way it was supposed to at the onset, with a native Pennsylvanian returning home to a job he — unlike his predecessor — desperately wanted. Natives were restless, to the point AD Sandy Barbour felt the need to throw her support behind him on multiple occasions, even though Franklin took Penn State to bowls in his first two seasons. The tenor of this season has turned in Franklin’s favor after stunning Ohio State on Saturday. Now he has to build on that.
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky. Record: 25-10 (15-5 C-USA). High point: Upsetting undefeated Marshall in 2014 or winning the 2015 C-USA title.
|8-5 (4-4)||12-2 (8-0)||5-3 (3-1)|
While Petrino is lifting his new school to greater heights, Brohm has done the same at the school Petrino left behind. The Hilltoppers finished last season 12-2, won the conference and their bowl game and earned a No. 24 final ranking by the AP poll. With all-timer quarterback Brandon Doughty gone to graduation, Brohm has WKU in contention to defend their championship this season.
Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic. Record: 7-24 (5-14 C-USA). High point: Beating Western Kentucky in 2014.
|3-9 (2-6)||3-9 (3-5)||1-6 (0-3)|
Partridge came in preaching family after Carl Pelini was dishonorably discharged in the middle of the 2013 season, but his program hasn’t clicked on the field yet. The Owls booked back-to-back 3-9 seasons in 2014 and ’15 and stand at 1-6 this fall.
Jeff Monken, Army. Record: 10-21. High point: Opening this season with a 28-13 win over Temple.
Monken’s 4-8 and 2-10 debut seasons looked like more of the same for a program with one winning season since 1997, but the Black Knights appear to have broken through this season. They started 3-0 and have topped 60 points twice in the same season for the first time since the 1950’s. At 4-3, Army will need to beat Air Force and Morgan State at home to avoid needing to upset Wake Forest, Notre Dame or Navy to reach a bowl game.
Mark Whipple, Massachusetts. Record: 7-25. High point: Beating Kent State and Eastern Michigan in back-to-back weeks in 2014.
The Minutemen jumped from one win a season from 2012-13 to three in 2014-15. Now, without MAC membership, the team has dropped to 1-7 this season. This is a chicken-egg scenario: where do you assign responsibility to Whipple or a program competing in FBS Siberia?
Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio). Record: 7-25 (6-14 MAC). High point: The RedHawks’ current 2-game winning streak.
|2-10 (2-6)||3-9 (2-6)||2-6 (2-2)|
Martin inherited a winless team and has inched them to two wins in 2014, three in 2015 and now a 2-7 mark to this point in 2016. Five of Martin’s wins have come over Kent State or Massachusetts.
Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan. Record: 8-24 (3-17 MAC). High point: A 3-game winning streak this season.
|2-10 (1-7)||1-11 (0-8)||5-3 (2-2)|
Much like Monken at Army, Creighton suffered through two more in a continued string of bad seasons — 2-10 in 2014, 1-11 in ’15 — only to uptick this fall. The Eagles are 5-3, a win total this program has only topped once in the past two decades. Creighton has positioned Eastern Michigan to reach the second bowl game in program history this winter.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State. Record: 28-6 (15-4 MW). High point: Beating Arizona in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl
|12-2 (7-1)||9-4 (5-3)||7-0 (4-0)|
Remember when people were trying to write Harsin off as a disappointment? A Mountain West title and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2014, a 9-4 mark with a bowl drubbing of Northern Illinois in 2015, and now a top-15 ranking and a 7-0 mark in 2016. The Broncos are odds-on favorites to reach the Cotton Bowl this year, meaning Harsin will have claimed two of the possible three Group of 5 New Year’s Six berths. For those not fluent in the bowl industry’s buzz word language — that’s really, really good.
Craig Bohl, Wyoming. Record: 11-20 (7-12 MW). High point: The Cowboys’ current 3-game winning streak
|4-8 (2-6)||2-10 (2-6)||5-2 (3-0)|
It appears the greatest experiment of the 2014 class is now taking hold. While North Dakota State ripped off two straight FCS titles, Bohl suffered through a 6-18 start in Laramie. This year’s Cowboys are 5-2 and in the midst of a 3-game winning streak, on the brink of their first bowl trip since 2011.
Chris Petersen, Washington. Record: 22-12 (12-10 Pac-12). High point: This entire season
|8-6 (4-5)||7-6 (4-5)||7-0 (4-0)|
Petersen started 4-0, dipped to 8-12 over the end of the 2014 and most of the ’15 seasons, and has now ripped off an ongoing 10-game winning streak. As evidenced by 44-6 and 70-21 beatdowns of Stanford and Oregon, the Pac-12 North — at the very least — is his. The only question: When will he give it back?
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt. Record: 11-21 (3-17 SEC). High point: Beating Georgia in Athens for the first time since 2006.
|3-9 (0-8)||4-8 (2-6)||4-4 (1-3)|
Whether it be a bare cupboard, a steeper-than-expected learning curve or a combination of the two, the Mason era in Nashville did not start well. Vanderbilt went 3-9 in 2014. They ticked upward to 4-8 in 2015 after Mason took over defensive play-calling duties, and now sit at 4-4. Even assuming a win at Missouri, a bowl game still seems unlikely — the ‘Dores would have to beat Auburn in Auburn, Ole Miss or Tennessee to get there. Mason has improved as a head coach, but managing of the offense has been a sore point, particularly in a 13-10 season-opening loss to South Carolina that could prove the difference between a bowl game and an empty December.
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State. Record: 18-14 (15-3 Sun Belt). High point: An 8-0 Sun Belt championship in 2015.
|7-6 (5-3)||9-4 (8-0)||2-4 (2-0)|
The record says it all, doesn’t it? Anderson is 3-11 outside the Sun Belt but 15-3 inside the league, including an ongoing 11-game winning streak. Anderson has stabilized a program that endured a turbulent — and successful — period with three straight one-and-done coaches and embraced life in Jonesboro. As long as he continues to do that while whipping up the Sun Belt, everything will be fine.