We’ve ranked the 10 best games of the 2010s, and but this is a website that tracks coaching hires, first and foremost.
So, with the decade now into its final hours, it’s only natural that we rank the 10 best hires of the 2010s. Since 1999, we’ve chronicled dozens of hires a day and thousands each year, most of those come and go. They win some games, they lose some, and they change some lives along the way. These then, though, stand above the rest.
Scroll back far enough and you’ll find Scoop entries for every one of them. It wouldn’t have taken an expert to predict that some of these hires would echo through history, but others brought changes that no one could have seen coming.
10. PJ Fleck, Western Michigan
Hire date: Dec. 17, 2012
Record: 30-22 in four seasons | 29-11 in final three seasons | Undefeated regular season in 2016
I’ve watched dozens of introductory press conferences in this job, and as long as I’m in this job Fleck’s will always remain one of the most memorable. Here was this unknown NFL wide receivers coach in his early 30s giving off Extreme New Youth Pastor Energy: hair gelled to a point, new catchphrases debuting every other sentence, and lots of talk about how lives were about to change. You got the feeling WMU was about to flameout dramatically or hit a moonshot home run, with very little in between.
After a 1-11 start in 2013, it appeared WMU was indeed on its way to a spectacular flameout, but Fleck’s 2014 recruiting class was, arguably, the best in MAC history, and the results on the field bore that out: a 7-win leap in 2014, a share of the MAC West title and a bowl win in ’15, and then the best season in school history in 2016.
Prior to 2016, WMU had never won 10 games in a season — and they’d only won nine twice. Their last conference championship had come in 1988, and they hadn’t appeared in the MAC Championship since 2000. Those Broncos’ 13-0 regular season brought College GameDay to Kalamazoo for the first and only time ever, sent WMU to its first and only New Year’s Day bowl game, brought an unprecedented amount of attention to the university, and cemented that one of the game’s brightest new personalities was here to stay.
9. David Shaw, Stanford
Hire date: Jan. 13, 2011
Record: 86-34 in nine seasons | three Pac-12 championships | two Rose Bowl victories
David Shaw joined his alma mater in a professional capacity ahead of the 2007 season, but the Tree could have hired anyone when Jim Harbaugh scooted up the 101 to San Francisco in January of 2011. They chose Shaw.
Coming off a 12-1, Orange Bowl-winning, No. 4-ranked season, Shaw’s early successes could have been forwarded to his old boss, as Stanford went 34-7 with two Pac-12 titles, a share of three Pac-12 North titles, a Fiesta Bowl berth and two Rose Bowl trips from 2011-13.
However, by 2013 it was abundantly clear Stanford was now Shaw’s program, and in 2015 Stanford reached a higher peak than it ever did under Harbaugh: a second Rose Bowl victory in three seasons, a third Pac-12 crown in four seasons, and a No. 3 AP finish, only bettered in Stanford history by a No. 2 finish in 1940.
Shaw owns three of the seven Pac-8/10/12 titles in Stanford history, two of the seven Rose Bowl wins and the only Rose wins post-1971.
8. Chris Petersen, Washington
Hire date: Dec. 6, 2013
Record: 55-26 in six seasons | two Pac-12 championships | College Football Playoff appearance in 2016
Okay, so it wasn’t quite “Late 2000s Boise, but in the Pac-12” like we all assumed it would be, but Petersen vaulted Washington from the middle of the conference right to the front from the moment he arrived in Seattle. He was — talking about Pete’s coaching career in the past tense is going to take some getting used to — one of just two coaches to take a Pac-12 team to the College Football Playoff, and he led Washington to Pasadena for the first time since the 2000 season.
In stepping away earlier this month, Petersen made the case that Washington will get better under Jimmy Lake’s leadership — and recent history says he’s probably right.
7. Matt Rhule, Baylor
Hire date: Dec. 6, 2016
Record: 19-19 in three seasons | 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl berth in 2019 | from 1-8 to 8-1 in Big 12 play from 2017 to ’19
Just imagine where this program would be if they hadn’t nailed this hire. The brand and the roster were in the absolute gutter when Rhule arrived in Dec. 2016, and the program appeared headed back to where it was before the Art Briles years: the top half of the 2016 recruiting class walked before they arrived on campus and the 2017 class consisted of just one commit.
The 1-11 record in 2017 was unavoidable, but the 18-6 record since is only possible thanks to extreme competence in the head coaching chair. Rhule nailed his initial coaching staff, concocting the perfect mix of Temple staffers and Texas high school coaches, and that group has built a team that can keep up with the Big 12’s best offenses while at the same time not sacrificing a sound, hard-hitting defense.
In May of 2016, no one had anything good to say about Baylor football; today, it’s the exact opposite.
6. Joe Brady, LSU
Hire date: Jan. 28, 2019
Record: 13-0 in one season | Broyles Award winner | Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award winners
For evaluation purposes, it was like LSU’s hiring of Joe Brady was done in a lab. The head coach was the same, the rest of the staff was the same, even the players were largely the same. Only Brady was new — allowing us to see, really, how much of an impact one assistant coach can have.
Turns out, the right hire can transform an entire program.
Ed Orgeron’s first two LSU teams went 19-7 overall and 0-2 against Alabama, scoring 10 combined points in the most important games of those seasons. His third team is 13-0, it leads the nation in total offense and ranks third in yards per play, passing efficiency and scoring, and it dropped 46 points on the Crimson Tide.
8 months later:
✅ 13-0, #1 Playoff spot
✅ SEC Champs
✅ Top 3 Passing Offense
✅ Top 3 Scoring Offense
✅ NCAA Record: Pass %
✅ Heisman Trophy
✅ Walter Camp
✅ AP Player of Year
✅ AP Coach of Year
✅ Eddie Robinson Award
✅ Broyles Award
✅ Biletnikoff https://t.co/36vcIuaE2O
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 26, 2019
As of this writing, LSU is two wins away from perhaps the most impressive, most celebrated national title turn in college football’s modern era, and none of that is possible without Brady.
5. Lane Kiffin, Alabama
Hire date: Jan. 9, 2014
Record: 40-3 in three seasons (minus one game) | Three SEC championships | 2015 national champions
It’s shudder-inducing to think where Lane might be if Nick Saban hadn’t taken a chance on him following his 2013 firing at USC — because no one else was, at least not at that level.
Though it ended horribly (was it ever going to end any other way?) and the personalities weren’t a perfect match, the 43 games Kiffin spent in Tuscaloosa completely transformed Saban’s program. Alabama doesn’t win the 2015 national title without Kiffin… and they probably don’t win in 2017 either, because who knows if Tua Tagovailoa signs up to quarterback the Doug Nussmeier version of Alabama’s offense.
Alabama won three SEC titles in Kiffin’s three seasons, a feat matched only once during the league’s championship game era, and did so while producing the SEC offensive player of the year all three seasons… who happened to be three different players… who played three different positions. Amari Cooper won the honor in 2014 (becoming the only wide receiver to win an SEC player of the year award since 1987), Derrick Henry did it en route to the Heisman in 2015, and Jalen Hurts made it a three-peat as a true freshman in 2016.
That’s the mark of an elite offensive coordinator, and as a result Alabama’s offense is now elite in his absence.
4. Ryan Day, Ohio State
Hire date: Jan. 3, 2017
Record: 38-3 (16-0 as head coach) in three seasons | three Big Ten championships | College Football Playoff appearance in 2019
Urban Meyer hired Ryan Day in the aftermath of a 2016 Fiesta Bowl semifinal in which his passing offense produced the following line: 19-of-33 for 127 yards (3.8 yards per attempt) with two interceptions in a 31-0 loss.
In the 41 games since that setback, Buckeye quarterbacks completed 68 percent of their 1,361 passes for 12,143 yards (8.9 yards an attempt) with 137 touchdowns against 19 picks. And that’s the least impressive log line from his resume thus far.
In the true sign of an excellent hire, Day immediately demonstrated competence well beyond his initial task. He was promoted from co- to lead offensive coordinator after the 2017 season, then named the Buckeyes’ interim head coach for training camp and the first three games of the 2018 season following Urban Meyer’s suspension. Those three games went so well that Meyer handed the entire program over to him last December, and since then Ohio State is 13-0 with a third consecutive Big Ten title and, proving God has a sense of humor, a berth opposite Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
Pretty good for a guy hired to fix the downfield passing game.
3. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Hire date: Jan. 12, 2015
Record: 47-7 (36-5 as head coach) | Five Big 12 championships in five seasons with the program | Four College Football Playoff appearances | Two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, one runner-up
It’s easy to forget it now, but the Oklahoma’s star was fading when the 2014 season ended. The Sooners won just one Big 12 co-championship over their past four seasons, and they’d just completed six full seasons removed from the nationally elite. The 2014 campaign was rock bottom: an 8-5 record, a fourth place finish in the Big 12, the third unranked finish of the Bob Stoops era, and they’d been blown out twice in the same season for the first time in Stoops’ tenure — a 48-14 loss to the budding Baylor dynasty on their home field, and a 40-6 whipping at the hands of Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. (Sound familiar?)
Enter Lincoln Riley.
In his five seasons in the program, Oklahoma has yet to not win the Big 12, and they’ve missed the College Football Playoff only once. His first two starting quarterbacks won the Heisman and were picked No. 1 in the draft, and his third finished second. Here’s how Riley’s offenses have ranked in terms of yards per play: 13th, 2nd, 1st, 1st and 1st.
The 2018 stands as the most explosive and efficient in college football history: 928 plays for 7,984 yards for an FBS record 8.60 per snap. One in nine plays went for 20 yards or more, and 29 percent went for at least 10 yards.
Riley’s teams have yet to produce a defense that can keep up with his offense, but good news arrives on two fronts: 1) the 2019 defense is Riley’s best yet, and 2) at just 36 years old and with no stated intention to leave, Riley has a couple more decades to keep tinkering.
2. Brent Venables, Clemson
Hire date: Jan. 18, 2012
Record: 100-11 | Five ACC championships | Two national championships | Ongoing 28-game winning streak
We’ve covered how blowout bowl game losses to Clemson led Ohio State and Oklahoma to make transformational hires. Now it’s time to reverse the whip.
Seventy West Virginia points later, it was time for Clemson to hire a new defensive coordinator.
The 2011 Tiger defense tied 71st nationally in yards per play; Venables’ first unit rose all the way to 69th. Since then: 23rd, 1st, 17th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd and 2nd.
But Venables’ value to the Clemson program is far greater than simply transforming the Clemson defense. Plenty of assistant coaches turned their unit from bad to great, but only Venables has proven himself to be a true, in-the-flesh unicorn: an elite defensive coordinator who’s happy being a defensive coordinator.
Thanks to Venables (and some equally transformative hires on the other side of the ball), Dabo Swinney has been afford the opportunity to do something totally unseen in this day and age: to truly build a program.
Entering the 2019 College Football Playoff, Clemson has risen from a pretty good program to one on the cusp of entering the historically elite. The present-day Tigers have become what Florida State was to the ACC in the 1990s, and with two more wins they’ll have three titles in four seasons with a real shot challenging Oklahoma’s record 47-game winning streak.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Hire date: Nov. 28, 2011
Record: 83-9 in seven seasons | Three Big Ten championships | Back-to-back undefeated regular seasons | 2014 national champions
The best hire of the decade was also, by far, the easiest. Ohio State just happened to implode at the same time a future Hall of Fame coach, who considers Ohio State his dream job, found himself on the market. Rotten luck, eh?
Ohio State football has proven itself to be recession-proof, and in a universe where Urban is locked in at Florida and Ohio State turns to, say, Mark Dantonio, the Buckeyes would continue winning. But they wouldn’t have won like they did under Urban:
- A 24-game winning streak to begin his tenure
- A 30-game winning streak in regular season Big Ten games
- Seven consecutive outright or shared Big Ten East championships
- Three Big Ten titles (plus a 12-0 season in 2012 where Ohio State was barred from the Big Ten title game)
- Five AP Top 5 finishes
- Six AP Top 6 finishes
- Three College Football Playoff appearances
- Six BCS/New Year’s Six bowl trips (again, not including the 12-0 season in 2012)
- A 14-5 record vs. AP Top 10 teams
- A 24-5 record vs. AP Top 25 teams
- The 2014 national championship
And a special section for Urban’s proudest accomplishment:
- A 7-0 record vs. Michigan
Urban quickly rescued Ohio State from the post-Tressel mess, brought home the program’s eighth national championship, forced the entire Big Ten to join the rest of major college football in the 21st century, drove a stake into the heart of Michigan football and then handed his successor the keys to a Ferrari with a fresh oil change, a full tank of gas and nothing but open roads ahead of him.
At age 55, Meyer is still young enough where, he can remain a major college football figure into the next decade, if he so chooses. A seminal figure in post-Millennium college football history, he could have appeared on this list twice in the 2000s after going 22-2 at Utah and 65-15 at Florida, and he’d be on the list of top 10 college football media hires as well.