Gary Andersen and Oregon State mutually agreed to pull the plug on Monday, ending his tenure exactly two and a half seasons in. With that in mind, it feels like the appropriate time to evaluate where things stand with Andersen’s fellow members of the 2015 hiring class.
It’s a small list, with only 14 names after two — Andersen and Tom Herman — have moved on already.
Let’s work down the list conference by conference.
Chad Morris, SMU (11-19, 5-13 AAC): This feels like the perfect place to start, since Morris, Herman and the next coach on this list arrived in the AAC West at the same time, which started the clock for who would be the first to move on to a Power 5 job. As we know, Herman won that race, but Morris isn’t far behind — as evidenced by the interest Baylor showed in him last winter.
Morris’s 11-19 record is extremely misleading; he took over one of the most lifeless programs in all of FBS upon his Dec. 2014 arrival. He went 2-10 in 2015, 5-7 last season and sits at 4-2 at the midpoint of this season. In the meantime, Morris has climbed a full 100 spots off the Ponies’ offensive ranking, from 127th in yards per play in the year prior to his arrival to 26th this season. Eight to nine wins seems like a real possibility this season. Morris is a Texas A&M alum, and he’ll be a natural candidate should his alma mater choose to move on from Kevin Sumlin. If not, someone else will scoop him up in due time.
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa (17-15, 9-9 AAC): Montgomery was a year ahead of Morris on the Coaching Life Cycle through last season. After inheriting a 2-10 team, Montgomery took Tulsa to a bowl game at 6-6 in 2015 and then broke through for a 10-3 season in 2016. But instead of climbing forward to the upper echelon of the fiercely competitive American, Tulsa has backslid in 2017.
The Golden Hurricane is 1-5 to date this year with a defense that ranks at the bottom of FBS. Tulsa allows 8.16 yards per play; no other FBS team allows more than 7.7. No other opponent epitomizes Tulsa’s fall more than Tulane. A year ago, Tulsa waxed Tulane, 50-27. On Saturday, the Green Wave flipped the tables with a 62-28 blowout (the score was 48-7 at halftime).
Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh (18-14, 11-7 ACC): The two previous coaches’ records aren’t indicative of their success at their respective schools. Narduzzi’s is. Pitt has been good under Narduzzi — nothing more, nothing less.
The Panthers went 8-5 in each of his first two seasons, coming one 26-19 loss to North Carolina shy of reaching the ACC Championship in his first season. The Panthers slipped a game in ACC play last season, from 6-2 to 5-3, and are now 2-4 this season. Pitt has never ranked highly in yards per play defense under Narduzzi, but seeing a Pat Narduzzi team rank 123rd in that metric, as they do now, is downright bizarre.
David Beaty, Kansas (3-26, 1-19 Big 12): Well, what can you say? The record is what it is. If you want to build a case to move on from Beaty, the numbers are right there in front of you.
But why on earth would Kansas even entertain moving on from David Beaty? The man is as good and earnest as there is in college football and, more importantly, is excited to represent Kansas football. This isn’t a 3-year rebuild.
Jim Harbaugh (24-7, 14-5 Big Ten): I’m sure you know the score by now. If not, Pete Finebaum is more than happy to remind you.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 9, 2017
And yeah, the fact Harbaugh has the same record as Brady Hoke and is 1-4 against Ohio State and Michigan State makes for some fun point-and-laugh material. And Lord knows Harbaugh makes it easy.
But here’s the thing: is there anyone on earth — let alone anyone in maize and blue — that would trade Harbaugh for Hoke? Didn’t think so. Harbaugh and Hoke both went 24-7 in their first 31 games. Hoke went 7-13 over his final 20. Feel free to tell yourself Harbaugh will follow a similar path.
Harbaugh has not been perfect at Michigan. It’s fair to ask, after the magic he worked with Andrew Luck at Stanford and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, why Michigan isn’t better on offense and at quarterback.
Harbaugh has lost seven games in two-and-a-half seasons in Ann Arbor. Six of them were by one score and five of them by four points or fewer. Just chill, everybody.
Mike Riley, Nebraska (18-14, 11-9 Big Ten): The verdict on the Riley hire came in after the loss to Northern Illinois, when Nebraska held Shawn Eichorst accountable for hiring him. Riley hasn’t been a disaster in Lincoln, but he has played to the exact level everyone thought Nebraska was getting when they hired a coach that went 29-33 over his final five seasons at Oregon State. Everyone except Eichorst, that is.
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (26-6, 14-4 Big Ten): Chryst has picked up exactly where Gary Andersen left off, which is where Bret Bielema left off, which is where Barry Alvarez left off. Wisconsin is the most consistent program in college football — between seven and 11 wins in every season except one since 1996.
Chryst went 10-3 his first season and 11-3 in 2016, but beat two teams that finished in the AP Top 25 — a pre-Les Miles firing LSU in 2016 and Western Michigan in last season’s Cotton Bowl. Wisconsin, No. 7 in the AP poll now after a 5-0 start, hasn’t played a ranked team this season and doesn’t have one scheduled until No. 17 Michigan on Nov. 18.
Lance Leipold, Buffalo (10-20, 5-13 MAC): After bashing his way through Division III with a 109-6 record and six national championships in eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater, inherited a 5-7 Buffalo team and went 5-7 again in 2015, then slipped to 2-10 last fall.
The Bulls are 3-3 to this point, with a 10-point loss at Minnesota, a 4-point loss at Army and then a hard-luck seven overtime loss to Western Michigan on Saturday. The MAC is as wide open as it’s ever been, so Buffalo appears primed to reach its third bowl game ever this fall.
John Bonamego, Central Michigan (16-16, 10-8 MAC): Bonamego worked 28 years before he got his first head coaching job, then found out he had cancer four months into the job. Thankfully the cancer was caught and treated early, and Bonamego announced in August he was cancer free.
Bonamego shared the MAC West title with a 7-6 mark in his first season, then see-sawed back to 6-7 with a bowl appearance last fall. The Chips have hung around .500 so far this fall with a 3-3 record and a 1-1 mark in MAC play.
Mike Bobo, Colorado State (18-14, 12-6 MW): Bobo turned in identical report cards in his first two seasons — a 7-5 regular season, a 5-3 record in conference play, and a loss in a bowl game.
This season began with a 31-point blowout of Oregon State and comfortable wins to open conference play. Playing in the opposite division of conference heavyweight San Diego State, Colorado State gets Boise State at home and has a great chance to meet the Aztecs in the MW title game.
Tony Sanchez, UNLV (9-20, 6-12 MW): After Bobby Hauck won exactly two games in four of his five seasons (including 2014), Sanchez bumped UNLV to 3-9 in 2015 and 4-8 last fall. This year’s Rebels are 2-3 with understandable losses to Ohio State and San Diego State and an awful loss to Howard.
UNLV’s offense has improved steadily under Sanchez, from 96th in yards per play in the year prior to his arrival to 14th this season. With three winnable home games and attainable road trips to Fresno State and Nevada ahead, a bowl game is possible.
Clay Helton (20-8, 15-4 Pac-12): What a strange ascension Helton had to the USC head job. Hired to join Lane Kiffin’s staff as quarterbacks coach in 2010, Helton was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013, then served as interim head coach for the Las Vegas Bowl after the Trojans’ first interim head coach Ed Orgeron left the team when Steve Sarkisian was hired over him. Helton remained on with Sarkisian, then took over for Sark when he was placed on a leave of absence and later fired.
Helton went 5-1 in Pac-12 play and led the Trojans to the Pac-12 South title, was named full-time head coach on Nov. 30, 2015, then lost five of his first six games as the head man. Enter Sam Darnold as the Trojans’ starting quarterback, and Helton is now 14-1 since. USC won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in the AP poll last season, and is now very much in the thick of the Pac-12 and College Football Playoff race.
Jim McElwain, Florida (22-10, 16-4 SEC): And here we arrive to the hardest coach to evaluate of the entire 2015 class. On the one hand, McElwain has won every SEC East championship he’s been eligible to win, only to fall to Alabama in the SEC title game. Who outside of Clemson isn’t losing to Bama these days?
On the other, the SEC East was as down as ever in 2015-16, and McElwain has lost both of his meetings with Florida State by a combined score of 58-15.
McElwain was hired for his offensive prowess, but his quarterbacks have ranked 72nd, 86th and, now, 65th in passing efficiency. That struggle has been compounded by the fact that former Florida quarterback Will Grier, who left at McElwain’s encouragement, is now at West Virginia — and ranks sixth in passing efficiency.
Neal Brown (18-12, 10-7 Sun Belt): Still only 37, Brown is primed to field interest from SEC athletics directors until he says yes to one of them. Brown took over a program that had atrophied under the legendary Larry Blakeney and, after a 4-8 debut, spring-boarded to a 10-3 season in 2016 — the program’s first 10-win season since joining FBS in 2002.
This season’s Trojans are 4-1, losing their opener at Boise State and then ripping off four straight and counting, including one you may have heard about: at LSU. Most impressive from that 24-21 win at Death Valley is, as Brown said afterward, Troy won by going belly-to-belly with LSU, running for 206 yards and winning 19 of the 27 combined third downs.
Thanks to the Sun Belt’s unbalanced schedule, Troy will be heavily favored in every game until the season finale at Arkansas State.