Revisiting the Coaching Class of 2007
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 21, 2012
We’re now five years removed from the coaching class of 2007. This 24-member group included Neil Callaway, who was discussed yesterday today as part of the U.A.B. preview, as well as more than a few coaching luminaries: Nick Saban, Brian Kelly, Mark Dantonio and Jim Harbaugh, for example. Callaway, who won 18 games over five years with the Blazers, is the impetus for the idea behind the post, as well as just one member of the class of 2007 who never came to close to matching the promises made at their initial press conference. No coach loses his introductory press conference; for many, however, it’s all downhill from there.
Of the 24 coaches hired heading into the 2007 season, only seven remain in the same position: Troy Calhoun, Saban, Mario Cristobal, Robb Akey, Dantonio, Tom O’Brien and David Bailiff. Another five still hold head coaching jobs on the F.B.S. level, just not in the same spot as in 2007 – Todd Graham is on his third job since 2007, including two since last September.
Five years seems like enough time to stamp a label on a coach’s tenure, especially with league-wide expectations having reached such outrageous heights. After five years, you can say that a head coach has either surpassed, met or fell short of expectations. You can also decide if a coach – whether he’s still around or not – has, as we head into the 2012 season, left the program in a better place than when he arrived. Or, in contrast, if a coach has set the program back.
Four names stand above the rest: Saban, Kelly, Cristobal and Harbaugh. Saban has won a pair of national titles. Before heading to Notre Dame in 2010, Kelly led Cincinnati to back-to-back B.C.S. bowls. Cristobal has taken Florida International off the trash heap into contention for a B.C.S. conference-sized promotion. Before leaving for the N.F.L., Harbaugh made Stanford into the title contender it is today.
This quarter transformed their respective programs. Alabama hadn’t factored into the national mix for a decade; Alabama’s now the nation’s best program – again. Kelly’s three-year run with the Bearcats was the finest in school history. The Golden Panthers are where they are today solely because of Cristobal’s effort. It’s not too hard to remember where Stanford stood in the years prior to Harbaugh’s arrival.
Just below this group is another four members of the class of 2007: Calhoun, Butch Jones, Dantonio and Graham. Calhoun has led Air Force to five straight bowl games and 41 wins overall. Jones exceeded Kelly’s success at Central Michigan, though he did have a nice starting foundation. After a back-and-forth start, Dantonio has won 22 games over the last two years at Michigan State. Graham might have his detractors, but he did win at least 10 games in three of his four seasons with the Golden Hurricane.
So let’s split the 24 coaches into five categories. The first group are those who one could say rank among the best coaches in school history. The second group are those who exceeded expectations – though not quite to an unprecedented level – while aiming the program in the right direction. The third are those coaches who tasted off-and-on success, but have or did not necessarily move the program in either direction, whether higher or lower. Group four: regardless of record, it’s difficult to say whether this coach left with the program’s arrow pointing up. And group five: lost and lost and lost, and left the program worse off than when he began.
Nick Saban, Alabama (50-12, 2007-present)
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati (34-6, 2007-9 – also 2006 bowl)
Mario Cristobal, F.I.U. (24-38, 2007-present)
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford (29-21, 2007-10)
Troy Calhoun, Air Force (41-24, 2007-present)
Butch Jones, Central Michigan (27-13, 2007-9)
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (44-22, 2007-present)
Todd Graham, Tulsa (36-17, 2007-10)
Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College (20-8, 2007-8)
Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech (17-20, 2007-9)
Randy Shannon, Miami (28-22, 2007-10)
Tom O’Brien, N.C. State (33-30, 2007-present)
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State (31-31, 2007-11)
Robb Akey, Idaho (19-43, 2007-present)
Butch Davis, North Carolina (28-23, 2007-10)
David Bailiff, Rice (23-38, 2007-present)
Stan Brock, Army (6-18, 2007-8)
Bill Lynch, Indiana (19-30, 2007-10)
Gene Chizik, Iowa State (5-19, 2007-8)
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville (15-21, 2007-9)
Tim Brewster, Minnesota (15-30, 2007-10)
Todd Dodge, North Texas (6-37, 2007-10)
Bob Toledo, Tulane (15-40, 2007-11)
Neil Callaway, U.A.B. (18-42, 2007-11)
Obviously, those coaches still with the same program have the ability to move up – or down, I suppose – over the next few years. O’Brien and the Wolfpack started slow, but N.C. State has won 17 games over the last two years. If Akey performs a minor miracle and wins six games this fall, he’ll become the first Idaho coach since the program moved to the F.B.S. in 1997 to so three times.
What about Randy Shannon? He didn’t win enough games, that’s true, but he did clean up some of Miami’s off-field issues. On the other hand, he didn’t leave Al Golden with much talent to work with beyond last season. Part of me wants to move Stan Brock up a level: while he won six games over two years, Brock did begin moving Army towards the option offense, which smoothed the program’s transition to Rich Ellerson.
Tags: Air Force, Alabama, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Florida International, Idaho, Mario Cristobal, Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, Nick Saban, Robb Akey, Todd Graham, Tom O'Brien, Troy Calhoun, Tulsa
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