There were numerous head coaching hires in the past several weeks, some more high-profile than others. The DMB Report in our “The Tipping Point” segment, takes a look at which hires will be looked back on as a pivotal moment in their program’s history.
While there were certainly more hires than the ones we are going to talk about, these five will have the greatest impact on the “Power 5” championships to come over the next several years. Virginia Tech, Georgia, South Carolina, Southern California and Miami all made headlines with their hires. We wanted to know who made the best hire. See below for who’s trending up, who’s treading water and who will doing this all over again in just a few short years.
First of all, remember this segment is called “The Tipping Point.” We’re not talking about which hire might just keep things going in the same direction or which coach might find an extra win or two over the next 3 years. We are looking for which new front man will be the catalyst in that program taking things to the next level. For some, that will mean a return to winning seasons and Top 25 recruiting classes. For others, it will mean a National Championship.
Secondly, these are my opinions and they come with my internal biases and experience. Take that into account. I have already seen numerous “coaching hire grades” articles on the web. I’m not interested in grades. I’m interested in which coach will make the biggest impact on his program, whether that means taking a school from mediocrity to notoriety or taking a perennial 9-win team to the College Football Playoff. I will list these 5 hires in order of least to greatest positive impact. A hire can have a great impact, but it might be a negative one. This is about turning the tide to greater things.
#5: Will Muschamp – South Carolina
Let’s be honest, South Carolina has been irrelevant in football for most of the past 50 years – save the Steve Spurrier era. They had a brief several year run at the adult table when the Head Ball Coach was on the sidelines. If you are going to replace Spurrier, it had better be with the next Spurrier and Will Muschamp is the opposite of that.
Carolina’s only hope was to bring Tom Hermann to Columbia along with his exciting 21st century version of the “Fun and Gun.” It didn’t happen. The Gamecocks will fall back into that space where no one knows or cares about them. This hire will only move the needle in the negative direction and South Carolina will be looking for a new coach all over again 4 years from now.
#4. Clay Helton – Southern California
This hire is interesting in the fact we know so little about Helton other than his players love him. That’s great, but can he lead one of the most storied programs in college football history? If we just base our opinion on the past administrative moves USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has made, this hire looks suspect at best.
Here’s what I know about coaches that players love to play for: they usually do a decent job of winning games they shouldn’t. The players rise up for the coach and find a way to win a couple of games where they are vast underdogs. But championships are not won on this. Championships are won by recruiting elite-level players and then coaching them up to make elite-level plays. Helton reminds me of Mark Richt and that’s great if you want 9 and 10-win seasons. USC wants more than that. He will be gone in four years when he can’t make the playoffs and bring a trophy back to Troy.
#3: Justin Fuente – Virginia Tech
This hire is different than Helton at USC in that I think Fuente can really coach and lead a team to prominence. At least at a mid-tier program like Memphis. Going into Oxford, MS and beating a strong Ole Miss program got my attention. But things are different when you are the Hokies and you aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise. Can Fuente get it done against the best programs in the country week-in and week-out? We’ll see.
This hire carries the largest risk-reward scenario. Could be big or could be a bust. Fuente helped his cause by retaining long-time DC Bud Foster. He’s one of the best in the business and will help balance out the new coach’s fast-paced offense. You see, these up-tempo offenses can put their defense in bad situations several times in a game. Whether it’s going three-and-out on 3 passes that took only 10 seconds off the clock or even scoring too quickly, again giving the defense no time to rest. Foster is a veteran that will have his players bow their neck when these things happen.
Can Fuente recruit to Blacksburg and bring Va Tech back to championship-caliber? One thing to remember, Frank Beamer never won a championship and only played for one. Until the past year or two, they have been in a weak conference and have had every opportunity to represent the ACC in the BCS. The reason I think this hire may not have the positive impact of the two ranked above is the job itself. I just don’t think VT is a program that can win a championship – no matter who the coach is.
#2: Mark Richt – Miami
I love this guy, I really do. I will jump in line with the masses that say “I would want my son to play for Mark Richt.” In fact, I am at the front of that line. But if you are a member of “The U” family and you are thinking Richt will bring the national championship to South Florida once again, you are mistaken. The good news is the Hurricanes need to crawl again before they can walk. Mark Richt will get them there and beyond.
When you’ve been the disaster that has been the Miami football program the last decade or so, this hire is somewhat of a tipping point. Mark Richt will recruit and bring talent back to Coral Gables. He will most likely call the offensive plays and he is very good at that. The Canes will score points and will compete in year 2 or 3 for the ACC title – mark that down! So get excited about that, but don’t expect a spot in the CFP. Richt may be rejuvenated by this new adventure, but he and his program will still lack the intangible things needed to win it all. However, if I’m “The U,” I’m happy about becoming relevant again. This hire will accomplish that and then some.
#1: Kirby Smart – Georgia
Call me biased, but this guy has the “it” factor. Sure, he’s learned from the best in Nick Saban and yes, he played at UGA. But Kirby Smart was born and bred to be the head coach at the University of Georgia. He knows the expectations of the Bulldog Nation. He knows how long it has been since Dooley and Herschel won it all. Most of all, he, unlike Mark Richt, has the intangibles necessary to take the one college football program closest to a “tipping point” moment to the final level. UGA has been poised at the cusp of greatness for many years now, even falling just short of a national championship appearance just 3 years ago. Kirby Smart will blow the lid off the Bulldog program and win a National Championship within 4 years.
You can see it already in his ability to keep top recruits in the fold with just a week on the recruiting trail. You can see it with the methodical, precise manner in which he has begun to assemble his staff. Over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama they call this “the process” and it has worked out pretty well for them lately. There have been two things missing from the Georgia football program the past 10 years: recruiting depth and winning the big game. Smart will change those and it won’t take him long.
UGA consistently ranks in the Top 10 of the recruiting rankings, but finishing #8 usually means you’re 3rd, 4th or even 5th in the SEC. As Bama’s top recruiter, expect UGA to now consistently finish in the Top 5 and even grab the top spot with a full recruiting cycle for Smart and his staff in the upcoming years. Want proof? Just take a look at the last 10 days and ask the Eason family about their experience with the new Bulldog head man.
As for winning the big game, this was Georgia fans’ biggest complaint about Mark Richt the past 10 years. The Dawgs won these games in 2002 and 2005, when they went on the win the SEC Championship. But since then, UGA teams have been miserable against Top 25 opponents. Count on Kirby to rely on his 9 years with Nick Saban and the “process.” I don’t know exactly what the process is, but I know it produces consistent big-game wins and championship trophies. I don’t need to know the details, I can see the results.
Indeed, Kirby Smart taking over the reins of the UGA football program will be “The Tipping Point” we all look back on 5 years from now. Richt will do good things at Miami, Helton will keep USC relevant and might in fact win a Pac 12 title. But the only coach on this list that will bring a national championship to his new program is Kirby Smart. And he won’t bring just one to Athens either. Rejoice Bulldog fans! Your time is coming soon.