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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Midseason Grades for the New Guys

There are 24 first-year head coaches doing work on the F.B.S. level, not counting the three interim coaches keeping seats warm at Arizona, New Mexico and North Carolina. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where that trio — Tim Kish, George Barlow and Everett Withers — become full-time replacements in 2012, though the way Withers has kept U.N.C. afloat through the first half of the regular season certainly bodes well for his future coaching opportunities, whether with the Tar Heels or otherwise. So how are the new faces doing at their new stops? Let’s hand out some midseason grades for the new hires, and include the grade each coach received over the winter’s hiring recap.

Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State (Hiring grade: A; Midseason grade: A) Freeze’s single season as Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator has clearly come in handy, as the Red Wolves, ranked 34th nationally in total offense, have continued to make strides on that side of the ball. The built-in comfort level, a major positive during the winter, has come in handy.

Pete Lembo, Ball State (Hiring grade: B-; Midseason grade: B) Lembo’s team has been very physical, which most expected based on way his teams experienced success on the F.C.S. level. Lembo led Ball State to a 3-1 September, but the Cardinals have suffered back-to-back lopsided losses to open October.

Jon Embree, Colorado (Hiring grade: C+; Midseason grade: C-) There were bound to be growing pains, and much of Colorado’s struggles should be tied back to the poor job Embree’s predecessor, Dan Hawkins, did in compiling a roster suited for the B.C.S. conference level. But the Buffaloes have already suffered losses to Hawaii and Washington State, not to mention a one-sided loss to undermanned Ohio State.

Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut (Hiring grade: A-; Midseason grade: D+) Regardless of how the Huskies went to the Fiesta Bowl, this was still a team fresh of a Big East championship. There will be no repeat in 2011. And there may not be a bowl bid, based on how Connecticut has played over the first half.

Will Muschamp, Florida (Hiring grade: A; Midseason grade: A-) Back-to-back losses to Alabama and L.S.U. were expected. Even with those setbacks, Muschamp has done a great job getting this roster to buy into what he’s selling. The defense took a step back against the Tide and Tigers, but it seems like Muschamp is making an impact in this area as well.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana (Hiring grade: B-; Midseason grade: D) Wins are always hard to come by in Bloomington, but even the most pessimistic bystander wouldn’t have predicted that Indiana would lose to both Ball State and North Texas heading into the midway mark. There should be progression under Wilson at some point; we haven’t seen it through six games.

Darrell Hazell, Kent State (Hiring grade: A; Midseason grade: C-) Ugly. Fine. Fine. Ugly. The Golden Flashes alternate distressing performances with heartening performances, such as when they follow up a 17-10 loss to Ohio with a 40-10 loss to Northern Illinois. Kent State is not a program accustomed to winning, so the first step for Hazell will be reversing a losing culture. That’s not something you’ll see in the win column, so it’s hard to judge whether he’s been successful in that regard through the first half of 2011.

Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette (Hiring grade: A; Midseason grade: A+) A coup when hired, Hudspeth has more than lived up to his potential through the first half of 2011. He’s your first-year coaching star at the midway point: with six games to go, U.L.L. needs only two wins to reach the seven-win mark — a point that proved unreachable for Hudspeth’s predecessor.

Randy Edsall, Maryland (Hiring grade: C; Midseason grade: D+) That opening win over Miami (Fla.) still looks strong, but reports that some Maryland players are chafing at Edsall’s domineering coaching style is cause for concern. Those players will leave before Edsall, of course, but can the former Connecticut coach keep this specific team afloat and earn a bowl bid?

Al Golden, Miami (Fla.) (Hiring grade: B+; Midseason grade: B) There have been injuries, not to mention the suspension of several key players back in August. Golden has done a nice job maintaining the course in his debut season, even if the record isn’t where he’d like it to be. I know the Hurricanes are 2-3, but this team is one or two plays away from being 4-1, if not 5-0.

Don Treadwell, Miami (Ohio) (Hiring grade: A+; Midseason grade: C) There’s no escaping the fact that Miami (Ohio) returned enough of last year’s team — the MAC champions — to expect at least a similar result in Treadwell’s first season; if not nine wins, maybe six or seven. There’s still a chance to get there. The RedHawks hung tight with B.C.S. conference foes like Missouri and Minnesota, and have shown enough to be considered a MAC contender down the stretch. But the end result, wins and losses, has been a disappointment.

Brady Hoke, Michigan (Hiring grade: B+; Midseason grade: A+) It’s not just the perfect start, though that’s a key component. It’s mainly about how Hoke has been able to install his philosophy, on the field and off, as Michigan works its way to 6-0 at the midway point. It’s about getting back to basics for the Wolverines — that may sound simple, but it’s not. Hoke has done a tremendous job getting his team lined up in his system, not taking any shortcuts on either side of the ball, and the results have been outstanding.

Jerry Kill, Minnesota (Hiring grade: A-; Midseason grade: Incomplete) It’s hard to say what’s behind Minnesota’s putrid play through the first half of 2011, but it would be unfair, based on his health issues, to place full blame on Kill for the way the Golden Gophers have looked en route to 1-5. How have they looked? Absolutely terrible. The choice is either give Kill a failing grade or give him the benefit of the doubt, citing his seizure-related issues as reason why the Golden Gophers haven’t hit their stride. The jury remains out.

Dan McCarney, North Texas (Hiring grade: A+; Midseason grade: B) One of a handful of coaches who had been around the block before being hired — or rehired, in his case — after the 2010 season, McCarney is clearly familiar with how to build a winning program nearly from scratch. So while the Mean Green are only 2-4, I think the flashes of potential we’ve seen — such as in the win over Indiana — bode well for the future.

Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois (Hiring grade: A-; Midseason grade: C-) Enough of last year’s 11-win team returned to expect Northern Illinois to not lose to Kansas or Central Michigan, which it has done thus far. The offense has been pretty good, as expected, but it’s a bit surprising to see how the Huskies have failed on defense, considering Doeren’s background on that side of the ball.

Todd Graham, Pittsburgh (Hiring grade: B; Midseason grade: C) The consistency just isn’t there. It was a struggle to get to 2-0 against Buffalo and Maine. Then the Panthers coughed up second half leads to Iowa and Notre Dame. Then the Panthers dominated South Florida, only to get dominated themselves against Rutgers a week later.

Rocky Long, San Diego State (Hiring grade: B+; Midseason grade: B+) San Diego State is just what we thought it’d be, which is a solid, eight-win team in the Mountain West. Long has the program in a good place through five games; the Aztecs are 3-2 heading into this Saturday’s key game against Air Force.

David Shaw, Stanford (Hiring grade: B+; Midseason grade: A) Shaw and Stanford have made it look easy through the first half of the year, rolling out to 6-0 without, it seems, exerting too much effort. Yes, Andrew Luck can make any coach look good. But Shaw has done exactly what Stanford expected from him when it chose him as Jim Harbaugh’s replacement: keep this train rolling along.

Steve Addazio, Temple (Hiring grade: B; Midseason grade: B+) The Owls have looked terrific, minus that ugly loss at home to Toledo. That defeat stands out. But outside of those 60 minutes, Temple has a huge win over Maryland and a near-win over Penn State on its resume. Addazio’s doing work with Golden’s players, but he’s done a nice job so far.

Bill Blankenship, Tulsa (Hiring grade: C-; Midseason grade: C) I have a feeling that Tulsa will one day regret not hiring Chad Morris instead of Blankenship — not quite Tulsa-not-hiring-Rich-Rodriguez regret, but the program could have had Morris on the cheap, and the opportunity won’t come around again. Now, on Blankenship: he’s 2-3 after a very tough start, but the two wins, Tulane and North Texas, aren’t much to write home about.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt (Hiring grade: C+; Midseason grade: A) Franklin’s been a breath of fresh air for Vanderbilt, which was in dire need of a new voice after Bobby Johnson’s abrupt retirement led to a disastrous 2010 season. The off-field excitement is reason enough for Franklin’s high grade; that the Commodores have won some games only makes his first half all the more impressive.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (Hiring grade: None; Midseason grade: A-) Holgorsen didn’t get a hiring grade because of his late promotion. His offense has hit the ground running despite Holgorsen’s added duties, and the only thing you can really nitpick over through his start is his team’s penchant for in-game lulls. We saw that in September. And the trend continued against Connecticut, though in vintage 2011 form, the Mountaineers turned on the jets in the second half.

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  1. jordan s says:

    re: kill

    you’re right that you can’t really blame him for the season being derailed by his seizure-related issues, but i think at some point some blame might have to be placed on the minny administration for hiring him in the first place. whether or not ppl there want to consider the potential ramifications of his health in the long run, this season has been lost due to kill’s health, and if it’s something that continues to be a distraction/detriment, i think it’s reasonable to question why the program hired a coach with a history of health issues in the first place.

    Paul: Totally right. I don’t remember it being mentioned at all when he was hired. I assume Minnesota looked into it, but it obviously wasn’t anything they thought warranted taking his name out of consideration.

  2. Blookie says:

    Coach Hud is the man!! GEAUX UL

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