Yesterday, we spotlighted 10 coaches primed to make the most of a potential second chance at leading a college football program with names like Bret Bielema, Steve Sarkisian, Gene Chizik, Don Brown, Rich Rod, and a host of others on the list.
The Group of Five and FCS level is full of guys that are cutting their teeth as head coaches after a great run as coordinators and assistants with the hopes of getting to the Power Five level, but it’s also spotted with second-chance coaches building up programs in the hopes of landing another major college opportunity.
Today we’re taking a look at those guys. Coaches who have been head coaches at the major college level before, and who have built programs and put themselves in position to warrant consideration for another shot at the major college, and Power Five level.
A number of these guys have had a taste of football at an elite football-crazed institution and now find themselves at stadiums that fit a ten or twenty thousand fans on Saturdays. Some surely have a taste to return to the highest level of college football, while others may have the perspective to be perfectly happy with their current setup.
A number of coaches come to mind that fit that bill, but here are some of the top guys.
Current Position: First year Liberty head coach (6-4 in 2019)
Previous head coaching position(s): 20-5 as the head coach at Lambuth from 2008-09, 10-2 as head coach at Arkansas State in 2011, and 39-25 at Ole Miss from 2012-16 (before having 27 wins vacated by the NCAA).
The case for Hugh:
Wherever Hugh has gone, he’s quickly built a winner. At Lambuth (NAIA – TN), he took over a team that had managed one-win prior to his arrival to an 8-win season in year one and a 12-win season in year two. He spent 2010 as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State before taking over as head coach in 2011. Once again, Freeze inherited a 4-win program and immediately sparked a huge turnaround with 10 wins in year one to go along with a Sun Belt title. Before the Red Wolves GoDaddy.com bowl game, Freeze decided to leave for the head coaching job at Ole Miss, where he had previously spent the 2006-07 seasons as an assistant.
Freeze really made a splash during his time in Oxford. Taking over for a team that hadn’t won an SEC game in two years, Freeze and his staff immediately made a difference on the recruiting trail and led the program to 7, 8, 9, and 10 wins in his first four seasons. Perhaps most impressively, is that Freeze’s Rebels were Alabama’s kryptonite and were able to knock off the Tide during what many would consider the height of their success not once, but twice.
In his one season at Liberty, Freeze has battled a serious health scare, coached games from a hospital bed, and led the program during their transition from an FCS program to FBS has currently has Liberty at 6-4 and nearing bowl eligibility.
With transgressions in the rearview mirror, programs willing to take a shot and hire Freeze are getting a proven program builder, an elite recruiter, and most importantly – a winner who has proven to deliver fast results. A job like Arkansas would make a lot of sense for a guy like Freeze.
Current Position: Third year FAU head coach (23-13 from 2017-19)
Previous head coaching position(s): 7-6 at Tennessee in 2009, 5-15 in just over a season with the Raiders in 2007-08, 28-15 at USC from 2010-13
The case for Lane:
At just 44 years old, Lane Kiffin has a wealth of head coaching experience, and experience at the highest levels of college football. A graduate of the Nick Saban School of Head Coaching Prep, Kiffin helped transform and modernize Nick Saban’s preferred pro style method and brought in more spread philosophies that aimed to take advantage of the wealth of skill players on their roster and on their recruiting radar and set the course for the future of Alabama football we see today.
Kiffin has been a part of, and led college football blue blood programs in Tennessee and USC, and has done a remarkable job building the FAU program into a C-USA contender while also making them part of the national conversation. Kiffin went 11-3 his first season at FAU, followed by a bit of a down 5-7 year, and currently has the Owls sitting at 7-5 and 5-1 in league play heading into the tail end of the season.
He’s been at programs with all the allure and bells and whistles, won national titles as a coordinator, recruited some of the best talent in the country, and has also seen a great deal of success taking a step back to a non-Power Five. Programs willing to give Kiffin a shot at leading their program are getting someone with the unique blend of experience, perspective. All of that is pretty rare in a young head coach like Lane. Florida State is one program currently open that certainly makes some sense that fare well with the shot in the arm that Kiffin hire would bring.
Current Position: Austin Peay (FCS – TN) head coach
Previous head coaching position(s): 66-21 at North Alabama from 2002-08, 51-38 from 2011-17 at Louisiana Lafayette (before having wins vacated).
The case for Hudspeth:
During his first opportunity to lead a program, Mark Hudspeth won double-digit games five out of seven seasons at North Alabama, advancing to at least the the Division II quarterfinals each of those seasons.
A longtime college assistant, with experience as the offensive coordinator at Navy and passing game coordinator at Mississippi State, Hud has plenty of reasons to draw attention from folks with a head coaching position to fill at the major college level.
At ULL, Hud led the program to nine-win seasons and bowl wins in his first four seasons, but after year seven, and a disappointing 5-7 record, the school decided to move things in a new direction. Hud landed on his feet as a member of Joe Moorhead’s first staff, and was named assistant head coach / tight ends coach in his return to Starkville, but after a season back in the SEC, a solid head coaching opportunity beckoned at Austin Peay
In his one season since taking the job at AP, Hudspeth has been able to build on, and keep momentum rolling from the program’s impressive turnaround from what was once largely considered one of the worst Division I jobs in college football. The Governors are currently 8-3 and 6-1 in the ultra-tough Ohio Valley Conference.
Hud has built each program he’s led in his own image – with humbleness, an obvious passion, and a killer work ethic at the forefront. Decision makers looking to rebuild a program with those qualities in mind would be smart to take a long look at coach Hudspeth.
Current Position: First year Central Michigan head coach (7-4)
Previous head coaching position(s): 22-15 at Colorado State from 2012-14, 22-12 at Florida from 2015-17
The case for McElwain:
If experience is what a college football program is looking for, Jim McElwain can deliver it in droves. He’s served as a coordinator under Nick Saban, been named conference coach of the year in the Mountain West and SEC, and has turned around the Central Michigan program from 1-11 prior to his arrival to bowl eligible, on the verge of the MAC West title, and 7-4 currently.
McElwain went 4-8 and then 8-5 and 10-2 in three seasons building the Colorado State program before Florida came in and swooped him away. With the Gators, McElwain wasn’t able to sustain his fast start in season one, going 10-4 and 9-4, winning the SEC West in each of his first two seasons before a slow 3-4 start in 2017 led to his midseason dismissal.
After spending a season coaching the receivers for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, McElwains was in prime position for the Central Michigan job when it came open, and his hire has given a much-needed spark to a program that had struggled mightily the year before.
Current Position: First year (and second stint) leading Utah State (6-4)
Previous head coaching position(s): 4-7 at Southern Utah in 2003, 26-24 at Utah State from 2009-12, 19-7 at Wisconsin from 2013-14, 7-23 at Oregon State from 2015-17
The case for Andersen:
Not long ago, Gary Andersen was one of the hottest rising names in the coaching profession after building Utah State before landing the Wisconsin job following the departure of Bret Bielema. His return to the Pacific Northwest for the Oregon State job didn’t go as many would have hoped, going 2-10, 4-8 and 1-5 before a midseason departure where he infamously decided to leave $12.6 million of his buyout on the table to walk away.
Luring Andersen away from the comfort of a familiar job at Utah State, which he’s already built into a Mountain West contender once, won’t be easy, but Andersen impressed administrations enough to be the choice to take over a program coming off three straight Rose Bowls like Wisconsin so it would be smart to not count him out if a return to the major college level is something he covets.
Current Position: Second year head coach at SMU (14-8 not counting bowl game he stepped in for upon taking the job in 2017)
Previous head coaching position(s): 22-15 at Louisiana Tech from 2010-12, 19-30 from 2013-16 at Cal and 14-8 at SMU from 2017-19.
The case for Dykes:
A number of folks have said that each coach that has taken over the SMU program since the infamous death penalty handed down by the NCAA years ago has left it in better shape, and Dykes may be the one leader of the program in prime position to use the slow build as a platform to get back to the Power Five level.
Dykes built the Louisiana Tech program from five wins to eight wins, and finally to nine wins in 2012 before leaving to become the head coach at Cal. In Berkeley, the process was a bit of a slower build, going 1-11 (and 0-9 in Pac-12 play) in year one, then 5-7 in year two before jumping to 8-wins and a bowl game in year three. But things regressed back to 5-wins in year four and the school decided to make a change.
Dykes is a well thought of offensive mind that has shown the ability to develop NFL-caliber quarterbacks like Rams signal caller Jared Goff, and his offensive acumen and proven ability to put up points and turn programs around will be valued highly.
Other guys worthy of consideration: Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, Ohio head coach Frank Solich, and Youngstown State’s Bo Pelini (well…wait and see for yourself on that one)
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