Even though the start of college football season is more than five months away, it’s never too early to start discussing the 2016-17 campaign. Throughout the offseason, senior writer Kevin Causey will join associate editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson to discuss or debate what’s going to happen on the gridiron this fall. They’ll kick things off by talking about the top coaching hires of the offseason.
Question: Who had the best head coaching hire this offseason?
Terry Johnson: On Twitter @SectionTPJ
Without question, the answer is Miami’s hiring of Mark Richt. His arrival in Coral Gables makes the Hurricanes a contender in the ACC and national championship race.
Make no mistake about it: Richt is one of the top coaches in the game today. In 15 seasons at Georgia, he guided the the Bulldogs to a 145-51 record, two SEC championships, and eight Top-10 finishes. His .740 winning percentage is the sixth-highest among active coaches with more than 10 years of experience, trailing only Urban Meyer (.850), Chris Petersen (.815), Bob Stoops (.799), Nick Saban (.762), and Gary Patterson (.751).
There’s no reason to think that he won’t post similar numbers with the ‘Canes. After all, Richt promised to be more “hands on” as the Miami head coach, working with the quarterbacks and calling the plays. Given his highly successful track record in both of these areas, that’s only going to make an already talented Hurricane team even better.
Don’t be surprised if Miami captures the Coastal Division title this fall. Richt is that big of a difference maker.
Bart Doan: On Twitter @TheCoachBart
Being a bleeding heart proponent of the FCS-to-FBS coaching hire, this one comes as no surprise from me, and it rhymes with Schlitz and coaches at Tulane. Willie Fritz has been in the FBS for two years now, amassing a 17-7 record at Georgia Southern. What makes that record so impressive is that it was compiled in the Eagles’ first two years as an FBS member.
The first season, Fritz guided the team to an 8-0 Sun Belt record and a 9-3 mark overall. However, due to the NCAA being the NCAA, schools moving up are not eligible to play in bowl games. Sadly, Georgia Southern wasn’t able to pull out the magic wand to make the NCAA change that sort of thinking.
Fritz’s deeper past is just as successful. In 2001, he led Central Missouri to its first ever bowl game, a win in the Mineral Water Bowl. After his time there, he moved to Sam Houston State, where he became the Bearkats’ winningest coach with 97 victories. He led them to back-to-back FCS Championship Game appearances within his first three years. In his final season in Huntsville, the Bearkats again made the FCS playoffs.
There’s nothing more encouraging than hiring a guy who’s done it all — and in unprecedented ways — to come to your neck of the woods. Fritz is an elite hire who apparently got the itch to climb the career ladder all in one fell swoop. This will be his third job in the past four years, but he wins wherever he darn well pleases to go.
Kevin Causey: On Twitter @CFBZ
Based on the situation in which Bill Cubit found himself with the Illinois Fighting Illini, I thought he did a pretty good job. I also thought Cubit got a raw deal when he was fired in March after Josh Whitman took over as athletic director.
That being said, when the right situation lines up, you sometimes have to make tough decisions. Because of its timing, the decision to move on from Cubit was difficult. When the Illini named Lovie Smith head coach, no matter the timing or how the trigger was pulled, it was an absolute home run.
Illinois is not a hot landing spot for college football coaches. The last time the Illini won a bowl game was 2011. The last time the Illini won the Big Ten was 2001. The last Illini head coach to post a winning career record at the school was John Mackovic (1988-1991).
NFL coaches moving to college football don’t always work out, but moving from recent coaches like Tim Beckman, Ron Turner and Ron Zook to Lovie Smith is a huge upgrade. Smith comes aboard after National Signing Day, so it will be an uphill battle for him — none of the players on his roster have been specifically recruited to fit his systems. It won’t be an easy task for Smith, but the Illini are in much better hands then they have been in quite some time.