Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Silly Season’s Most Intriguing Hires

By Jean Neuberger

The moment Florida State players ran on the field to celebrate their national title, it began.

The silly season. That crazy little time period right after the last game in which coaching changes run rampant and recruiting chases become national news. That time period in which bold new predictions are made, hope springs eternal and questions arise from all corners.

And it's been just that so far. Quite silly. Even without discussion of the new college football playoff, it's been a newsworthy first couple of weeks. There's been several coaching changes so far that have altered the landscape of next year's season already. The most intriguing hires? Those are below...

1) Wyoming: Craig Bohl (replaces Dave Christensen)

Craig Bohl is good enough to coach in one of the top conferences. He left North Dakota State with three national titles, a visit from College GameDay, several upsets over BCS level teams and putting the Bison in the minds of casual college football fans. If you can recruit kids to Fargo, ND and coach them into becoming a FCS dynasty, that makes for one impressive body of work. The fact Wyoming landed Bohl is a tremendous coup for the folks in Laramie. While there is no doubt Nebraska fans will turn their attention his way should Bo Pelini endure more drama in Lincoln, Wyoming will benefit immediately from Bohl being in charge.

2) Washington: Chris Petersen (replaces Steve Sarkisian)

Credit goes to the Huskies for finally prying Petersen out of Boise. He inherits great facilities that were renovated just a year ago and a team that's not short of talent as well. It's going to be interesting watching Petersen's recruiting over the next month (as of right now Washington has just nine commits) and it will be interesting to watch the coaching battles he'll face in the Pac-12, as there's many more than one or two tough games he'll have each year. Nevertheless, he built Boise into a household name and should make the Huskies pretty tough to handle.

3) Penn State: James Franklin (replaces Bill O'Brien)

Vanderbilt has been to six bowl games in the entire history of their football program. Franklin is responsible for half of them. He built a winner at a school that epitomized the term "cellar dweller." Franklin beat Georgia. He beat Tennessee. He beat Florida. He recruited out of his mind. If he takes that same passion and mindset to Happy Valley, he will do big things for the Nittany Lions. Franklin will ignite a campus and a fan base that's more than ready to leave the horrors of the recent past behind. And, contrary to the doubts of some writers who criticized PSU for looking at Franklin, I believe Franklin will do the best he can to run the program the right way.

4) Texas: Charlie Strong (replaces Mack Brown)

Strong is a shrewd hire for Texas, despite what Red McCombs thinks. He took a program with very little in the cupboard at Louisville and built them into winners in fairly quick time. Did he face a lot of ranked teams? No. Did he win the games he was supposed to win. Pretty much. Strong will run a clean program and keep his players focused on the tasks at hand. While Strong lacks the charisma of Mack Brown, his extremely focused football mentality should win over Longhorn fans who are tired of mediocre seasons.

What makes this hire shrewd though is that, by hiring Strong, Texas sets forth a new identity in their football program. Brown's teams were more finesse than physical and that's a big trend amongst the schools around Austin. Baylor is high octane offense. So is Tech. So is Oklahoma State. A&M offers high powered finesse with a SEC touch. Strong's philosophy: tough and physical. That should tilt a few more heads in-state towards what the Longhorns are fixing to do.

5) Southern California: Steve Sarkisian (replaces Lane Kiffin/Ed Orgeron)

This one is intriguing as USC could have gone a lot of different ways with this hire. They settled on familiarity and went with Sarkisian, who took Washington from bad to good and now has the task of turning the Trojans from good to great. While Sark should bring some immediate punch to the SC offense (despite Marquis Lee heading to the NFL), this isn't the same situation as it was once before. During the heyday of the Pete Carroll era, SC was the premier program in the city, state and conference. Now, it's facing some serious competition. Jim Mora, Jr. has UCLA on the rise and Stanford is certainly going to take its share of in-state talent as well. The conference slate will be little to no transition at all; it's the expectations that make next season one to watch for USC.

6) Louisville: Bobby Petrino (replaces Charlie Strong)

What do you know ... you can go home again. I don't think many would've thought Tom Jurich would bring the controversial Petrino back to Louisville, yet there he was, ready to grab the reins of the Cardinal program yet again. Whether you believe Petrino has changed or not, one thing rings clear: this choice sent the message that Louisville is out to win at any cost necessary. Hiring a coach with as much baggage as Petrino, some of which belonged to Louisville in the first place, says it all. Regardless, Petrino is an offensive genius and will continue the success that Louisville fans have come to expect in recent years. The one question isn't whether he will leave (he won't ... seriously).

The question will be long-term success. Petrino hasn't coached anywhere for more than four years and in both occasions, the cupboards were bare of defensive talent, causing immediate collapses at both Louisville and Arkansas. Petrino must be able to recruit aggressively to succeed in the long-term and so far, that's one area in his career that he's yet to make strides.

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