There were 28 head coaching changes in college football this offseason. History (and basic logic) tells us some of these new coaches will hit the ground running in their new positions, while others will struggle to implement the plan for success that was no doubt laid out to school administrators during the interview process.
A handful of these hires occurred at traditional powers and/or involved high-profile coaches with pressure to win immediately. With that in mind, here are the five biggest coaching hires in college football for 2016.
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Georgia (2015 record: 10-3)
Out: Mark Richt
In: Kirby Smart
After eight years serving as the mastermind of the Alabama defense, Smart returns to his alma mater for his first-ever head coaching gig. Smart, who was by far the most sought-after coaching candidate of the offseason, inherits an array of talent for his maiden voyage. The Bulldogs may have the best one-two punch in the nation at running back with Nick Chubb and the explosive Sony Michel and also return both starting receivers (Terry Godwin, Reggie Davis) and tight end Jeb Blazevich.
Smart had the benefit of learning from one of the greatest college coaches of all time during his time at Alabama. But that doesn't necessarily assure success, obviously. Still, Smart couldn't ask for a better situation given the returning talent. Don't be surprised if he claims an SEC division title upon his return to Athens.
Miami (2015 record: 8-5)
Out: Al Golden
In: Mark Richt
Richt also returns to his alma mater following 15 successful seasons as the head coach at Georgia in which he compiled a record of 145-41. This is an absolutely huge hire for Miami, which has been a largely rudderless program the past decade. Richt is a dynamite recruiter who's well-known for holding his players to high standards both off and on the field. This type of culture change, headed by a former Miami player to boot, is just what's needed in Coral Gables.
Richt gets 14 starters back from last year, including one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brad Kaaya. Last year, Kaaya threw for 3,238 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions as a sophomore.
It's hard to fathom the 'Canes have never reached the ACC Championship Game in its 11-year history. Don't be surprised if that streak ends this year.
USC (2015 record: 8-6)
Out: Steve Sarkisian
In: Clay Helton
Sarkisian's firing midway through last season snapped the final branch of the Pete Carroll coaching tree at USC. It's about time, Trojan Nation. Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, both assistants during Carroll's glory days in Los Angeles, were unmitigated disasters when given the keys to Troy. Now USC turns to Helton. Yes, Helton was brought to USC as the quarterbacks coach by Kiffin in 2010, but that's where the connection ends. Unlike his predecessor, Helton is a no-nonsense leader with a preference for physicality over finesse; discipline over flash. In other words, the exact things that have been missing since Carroll's departure.
USC is bursting with talent. If Helton can establish a culture of toughness and work ethic, the sky could be the limit for the Trojans.
Virginia (2015 record: 4-8)
Out: Mike London
In: Bronco Mendenhall
This may be our favorite hire of the offseason. Mendenhall is a proven winner who went 99-43, claimed multiple conference titles and reached a bowl game in all 11 seasons he served as head coach of BYU. Meanwhile, London was a very good recruiter who couldn't match that same acumen on the field during six seasons.
Though just five starters are back both on offense and defense, there is quality talent returning. The offense has several dynamic playmakers back, including running back Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell and receivers Olamide Zaccheaus and Doni Dowling. The new up-tempo offense Mendenhall and his staff plan to install should fit that trio to a tee.
Though it has been a while, Virginia football has had pockets of success in its nearly 130-year history. Mendenhall could be just the man to return the Cavaliers to glory.
Virginia Tech (2015 record: 7-6)
Out: Frank Beamer
In: Justin Fuente
Fuente replaces the legendary Beamer after spending the previous four years as the head coach of Memphis. After posting losing records his first two seasons in Memphis, Fuentes turned the Tigers into a conference champion and bowl winner with a combined mark of 19-6 over the last two campaigns.
Fuente brings a no-huddle, pass-happy offense to Blacksburg. He inherits 14 starters from last year's team, which includes four offensive lineman and two receivers with NFL potential (Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips). However, one of Fuente's shrewdest moves may have been retaining long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster. A previous winner of the Frank Boyles Award as the nation's top assistant, Foster has been at Virginia Tech since arriving with Beamer in 1987. He became defensive coordinator in 1996, and since then his units have led the nation in total defense multiple times.
Fuente is an up-and-comer. Between he and Mendenhall, these could be exciting times for college football in Virginia.
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