1. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Everything coming out of Lincoln indicates this could be the type of hire that defines an era of a program. The sting of the Bill Callahan experiment/fiasco/disaster might have a little something to do with that, but at least Pelini has injected life back into a once proud program. The excitement has returned because Bo Pelini has a defensive pedigree that leads me to believe the “Blackshirt” tradition will be restored as early as August 31, 2008. Plus he’s got a fancy new National Championship ring, and I guarantee you he wants another one as soon as he can get a shot at it.
2. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
It’s still weird to me how much Arkansas fans despised Houston Nutt. He did nothing but win in Fayetteville, which is tough to do in the SEC as consistently as he did. Now he takes over a decently stocked Ole Miss squad ready to get some competent coaching again. Ed Orgeron may not have had a clue how to get a football into the end zone, but he could recruit. Nutt left a bad situation and walked into a good situation where he can essentially pick up right where he left off. And do you think he’ll have a hard time recruiting running backs any time soon?
3. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
This was a very quiet, calculated hire that is flying under a lot of radars. After making a big splash the last time around with Dennis Franchione, it might be exactly what the Aggies need. Sherman will bring fundamentally sound, smashmouth football back to College Station – and not “smashmouth” in the form of a 280-pound offensive guard playing running back. Sherman’s specialty is the offensive line, which is a great place to start in terms of building a program. With a little luck, he might be able to coach the Aggies back into the thick of the Big XII South discussion, which will get them back into the recruiting battles they’ve been missing out on in the state of Texas the last several years.
4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson won me over when I saw him win a Division 1-AA national title with Georgia Southern. He featured a ridiculously sound option attack that I have always been a sucker for. Then he got a shot at Navy, which at the time of his hire was considered to be a sinking ship (so to speak) in the modern college football world where recruiting speed is all that matters. Not only did he win at Navy, he did it by playing “old fashioned” football. He enters the ACC now where he’ll actually be able to recruit D-1A talent to run his schemes. You can bet on Georgia Tech being fundamentally sound and being one of the best rushing attacks in the nation when he finally gets all his players in place. That might just be enough to take over the ACC during it’s down years.
5. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
Skippy gets this spot based more on his assistant coach hires than on his own merits. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. He brings enthusiasm everywhere he goes, and he’s won too. But he’s also left two programs in bad shape and his act might be growing a little tired. Hiring Norm Chow to coach the offense was one of the smartest moves he could make. Chow brings instant credibility to the staff, as well as the ability to coach quarterbacks – that is, if there’s still a healthy quarterback on the roster. Neuheisel knows a thing or two about grooming quarterbacks as well. However, deciding to retain defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker (and then talking him into staying) might turn out to be his best move. Over the past couple seasons, Walker has quietly turned UCLA into one of the premier defenses in the west. Granted, that’s not saying a whole lot in the defensively-challenged Pac-10, but it’s still an accomplishment. Neuhesel has set himself up nicely to accomplish his goal of competing with crosstown rival USC.
6. Kevin Sumlin, Houston
This is a strong hire that will keep the momentum going in Houston.
7. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
There will be several bumps in the road to installing his spread offense at Michigan, but they’ll be more competitive against Ohio State.
8. Bill Stewart, West Virginia
Stewart gives the program stability while it positions itself for a rare run for the national title. He also brings Jeff Mullen over from Wake Forest to run the offense.
9. tie - Steve Fairchild, Colorado State; Larry Fedora, Southern Miss
Both of these non-BCS schools have tradition, and both made solid selections to replace long-time, successful coaches.
10. tie - David Cutcliffe, Duke; Art Briles, Baylor
These are two bright offensive minds, but will it really matter? These are programs where coaching careers have gone to die lately.