McMurphy's Law: Let's Grade How the New Faces Did in Their New Places
Last weekend marked the debut of 23 coaches in their first games at new schools. For some, it was their first game as a head coach. For others, it was only their first game at a new location.
It typically takes two or three years for a new coach to install his schemes and recruit his own players and realistically judge whether he has been successful.
But, quite frankly, who can wait that long in today's instant information age?
So here are my grades for each coach based strictly on their debuts. A lot of it is based on each school's expectations of winning their first game and not necessarily a forecast for the season. After the season, I'll revisit the first-year coaches and evaluate the entire season. But for now, let's take a one-game snapshot. And, sorry Larry Porter, I did not grade on a curve:
Akron's Rob Ianello: One preseason magazine described Ianello as a "recruiting whiz." He better be. The Zips nearly lived up, or down, to their nickname if not for one field goal in Saturday's 29-3 loss to Syracuse. Akron was limited to 166 yards on offense, had 10 penalties and nine first downs. Ianello, who came to Akron after five seasons as an assistant at Notre Dame, takes over a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2005. Grade: F
Buffalo's Jeff Quinn: After spending the past three seasons as offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, Quinn got his first head coaching opportunity with the Bulls. Buffalo rolled Rhode Island 31-0, outgaining the Rams 427-203. Turner Gill did a remarkable job turning around the program from 1-10 in 2005 to a bowl game three years later. Now Quinn takes over after finally cutting the cord from Brian Kelly. He was an assistant under Kelly for nearly the past two decades. On his own, Quinn is bullish about Buffalo's future. Grade: A
Central Michigan's Dan Enos: Try to keep up with how Enos became the head Chip. A former Michigan State assistant, Enos came to CMU to replace Butch Jones, who originally replaced Brian Kelly at CMU, but then Jones went to Cincinnati to replace Kelly again when Kelly went to Notre Dame. It's probably easier to figure out Enos' six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. On Thursday, the Chippewas posted a 33-0 shutout of Hampton, the school, not the Inn. Can Enos maintain CMU's recent success, which includes four consecutive bowls and three of the last four MAC titles, and will Enos move to Cincinnati when Jones replaces Kelly at Notre Dame when he moves on? Stay tuned. Grade: A
Cincinnati's Butch Jones: After last year's undefeated regular season, there was nowhere for Cincinnati to go but down. And down went the Bearcats, 28-14, at Fresno State. Losing at Fresno State is nothing to be ashamed about -- the only teams to win at Fresno the past four seasons are Oregon, Colorado State, Hawaii, Boise State, Wisconsin and Nevada. Jones can still accomplish something former coach Brian Kelly didn't: remain in Cincinnati until his first recruits reach their senior years. Grade: C
East Carolina's Ruffin McNeill (pictured above): His purple shirt may have been soaked, but McNeill's debut on Sunday was no sweat. Just your basic 51-49 come-from-behind victory with a fourth-down, 33-yard Hail Mary jump ball in the end zone to 6-foot-8 receiver Justin Jones for the winning score with no time remaining. The 1980 East Carolina alum has a tough job replacing the charismatic -- and successful -- Skip Holtz, but he made a great first impression. Grade: A
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher: The coach-in-waiting must wait no more. It might take a while -- or never -- to emerge from Bobby Bowden's shadow, but the Seminoles' 59-6 rout was exactly what Fisher needed. The opponent was not important -- it might as well been Samford or Sanford and Son. However, the overall dominating performance was imperative in convincing a fractured fan base this was the right choice. It was. Grade: A
Kansas' Turner Gill: Poor Gill. His debut was an absolute disaster. Three points in a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State, an FCS school that went 3-9 last season. But at least he has the support of his athletic director, right? Sorry. His athletic director retired immediately Tuesday, a year earlier than planned. Having to fill Mark Mangino's shoes -- and shirts for that matter -- was going to be tough anyway. A debacle in the home opener and a new athletic director on the horizon won't make Gill's job any easier. Grade: F
Kentucky's Joker Phillips: Before his first game as a head coach, Phillips said he probably would be hugging a toilet somewhere before kickoff. Turns out the only things Phillips hugged last Saturday were his players and the game ball after winning at rival Louisville 23-16. After spending 23 years as an assistant, Phillips' debut was impressive. Despite joking about his nerves getting the best of him, they never did and the Wildcats followed suit. UK resembled its head coach: cool, calm and collected. Grade: A
Louisiana Monroe's Todd Berry: The Warhawks did not play last week and open the season Saturday against Arkansas in Little Rock.
Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes: After three seasons as offensive coordinator at Arizona, Dykes debuted with a 20-6 victory over Grambling. The Bulldogs did just enough to hold off the Tigers. Dykes takes over for Derek Dooley, who went to Tennessee. Dykes and Dooley have one thing in common: they're both the son of former head coaches -- Spike Dykes and Vince Dooley. Grade: B
Louisville's Charlie Strong: Billboards all over town are promoting the Cardinals' new coach using variations of the word "Strong." After a shaky start against Kentucky -- UL trailed 6-0 after 35 seconds and 20-6 at the half -- the Cardinals made some Strong adjustments in the second half. Ultimately, the Cards rally fell short. The cupboard may be low on talent right now at the 'Ville, but the effort, like their coach, was Strong. Grade: B
Marshall's Doc Holliday: Fumbling the opening kickoff. On the road. At Ohio State. That's probably not the start Holliday envisioned in his first game as a head coach after 31 seasons as an assistant. The 45-7 loss to No. 2 Ohio State wasn't a big surprise, considering the Thundering Herd had lost their past eight games against ranked opponents. Holliday only has to wait six days for another opportunity against No. 23 West Virginia, where he spent the past two seasons as an assistant. Grade: D
Memphis' Larry Porter: Cannon Smith, who just happens to be the son of FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith, got the start at quarterback against Mississippi State. He was pulled by Porter after three inconsistent series, but returned in the fourth quarter. Last year, Smith transferred from Miami to Memphis, I'm guessing, because he absolutely positively had to be there. If Fred Smith really wants to help Porter, he might ship him some defensive players overnight: the 42-point loss tied as the Tigers' largest losing margin since 1998. Grade F
Notre Dame's Brian Kelly: A softball coach at Assumption (Mass.) College to the head football coach of Notre Dame: yep, the degree of difficulty has drastically increased for Kelly in the past 23 years. The Fighting Irish won Kelly's debut, defeating Purdue 23-12, but Kelly knows he was brought to South Bend to win even bigger games. At Cincinnati, he won consecutive Big East titles, guiding the Bearcats to where the Irish want Kelly to lead them: to a BCS bowl. Grade: B
San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre: The former Duke assistant opened with a 48-3 loss to defending national champion Alabama. The Spartans had 175 yards, nine punts, eight completions and seven first downs. It could have been worse, as Igor from Young Frankenstein says, "it could have been raining." Cue the down pour: the Spartans visit Wisconsin Saturday. Grade: D
South Florida's Skip Holtz: Four consecutive bowl bids and two Conference USA titles at East Carolina earned Holtz a long-anticipated opportunity as a head coach at an automatic qualifying BCS school. Holtz replaces Jim Leavitt, who was fired by the school, and has done a remarkable job uniting a splintered squad. The Bulls rolled past overmatched Stony Brook 59-14 Saturday, but Holtz knows he'll ultimately be judged by how the Bulls finish the season. He may not sprint out of the tunnel as fast or bloody his forehead by head-butting helmets like Leavitt did, but Holtz's arrival in Tampa has literally been a breath of fresh air. Unlike his predecessor, Holtz actually wears shoes when walking inside the school's athletic department facility. Grade: A
Tennessee's Derek Dooley: Even before Dooley's debut at Tennessee, he had already gotten SEC commissioner Mike Slive to forget what the former Tennessee coach's name was. Crippen? Kiper? Kifner? Slive won't mention Lane Kiffin by name and, if Dooley's 50-0 victory over Tennessee-Martin is any indication, he'll never need to. The Vols allowed only three first downs in the rout. Last year, what's his name guided UT to a 63-7 season-opening win against Western Kentucky only to lose the next week at home to a Pac-10 team. Does history repeat? The Vols and Dooley welcome Oregon to Knoxville on Saturday. Grade: A
Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville: TT's debut at TT was probably a little closer than the folks in Lubbock wanted or expected, but the Red Raiders held off stubborn SMU, 35-27. There were supposed to be major differences in philosophies between former coach Mike Leach and Tuberville. However, Tech looked pretty similar to last season: slingin' the ball around on offense (Tyler Potts was 38 of 53 for 359 yards) and hoping the defense can make just enough stops. Ultimately, it did Sunday. Grade: B
UNLV's Bobby Hauck: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas -- especially the head football coaches' future job prospects. Of UNLV's nine head coaches, only one -- Ron Meyer -- was a head coach again after leaving Las Vegas. The Rebels were waxed 41-21 against Wisconsin as the Badgers outgained UNLV by a 475-217 margin. Before UNLV, Hauck was at Montana, compiling an 80-17 record, including reaching the last three FCS title games. It will be an even bigger challenge to deliver the Rebels their first winning season since 2000. Grade: C
USC's Lane Kiffin: This much is certain: by the end of the season Kiffin will have the nation's best team ... at attempting two-point conversions. Along with Kelly at Notre Dame, Kiffin will easily be the most scrutinized new coach. Give Kiffin this much: his debut against Hawaii was certainly entertaining. USC rolled up 524 yards of offense and, for good measure, allowed 588 on defense in the Trojans' 49-36 victory. Call Kiffin what you wish -- and he's been called pretty much everything you can think of by Tennessee fans -- but don't call him boring. Grade: B
Vanderbilt's Robbie Caldwell: In his first game leading the Commodores, the former turkey inseminator's team outplayed -- and outgained -- Northwestern, but lost 23-21. The Commodores' comeback hopes ended when they were penalized for a controversial late hit that allowed Northwestern to run out the clock. Grade: B
Virginia's Mike London: Saturday's 34-13 victory over Richmond certainly was an emotional one for London. In his debut with the Cavaliers, he opened against the Spiders, the team he coached the past two seasons and where he won the 2008 national FCS championship. Virginia rolled up 488 yards on offense to make London's debut an easy one. The going gets much tougher Saturday when the Cavs head to the west coast to face USC. Grade: A
Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart: This was no way to treat an alum, by making Taggart begin his head coaching career at Nebraska. The Hilltoppers lost 49-10, marking their 21st consecutive loss. Taggart was an outstanding option quarterback at WKU from 1995-98 and showed he still knows a thing or two about establishing a running game. Despite the lopsided defeat, Bobby Rainey rushed for 155 yards against the Cornhuskers' rush defense that ranked ninth nationally against the run last season. Grade: B
What Caught My Eye
• Since joining the Big East in 1991, Pittsburgh has never gone undefeated in non-conference play. And the Panthers won't do it this season either after Thursday's opening-night loss at Utah. In the contest, Pitt sophomore running back Dion Lewis was held to a career-low 75 yards rushing. The preseason league favorites, Pittsburgh still might end up being the best of the Big East, but with remaining non-league games against Miami and Notre Dame, the Panthers could limp into Big East play at 2-3.
• Like a lot of mascots, Oregon's Duck does one push up for every point scored. Saturday, he got quite the workout in Oregon's 72-0 seal-clubbing of New Mexico. Oregon's Duck did 506 push ups -- or about 503 more push ups than Kansas' Jayhawk mascot. ... TCU quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown five interceptions in his last two games -- the same number of interceptions he threw in the first 12 games of 2009. ... No place like home: Michigan State's first seven games will be played in state of Michigan, while Texas will play its first five and 10 of its 12 regular season games in the Longhorn State.
• Since I'm making myself an easy target to be ridiculed with my college football picks each Friday (although I was, ahem, 5-2-1 against the spread last week), why not make some other folks squirm as well? So each week as a public service to college football fans everywhere, I'll keep a running tab and chronicle the accuracy of the predictions made by ESPN College GameDay's Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. In week one: Corso went 5-4, Herbstreit was 2-5 and the guest picker (Big Boi, pictured right) was 8-1. No further comment needed.
• Why has Boise State been so good? Perhaps it's because the Broncos are a little, uh, paranoid about sharing the secret of their success? During the summer, it's quite common for coaching staffs to visit other staffs around the country to learn from each other. When Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham was at South Florida, the Bulls were the only defense to consistently stop West Virginia's spread offense. So when Rich Rodriguez went to Michigan, Burnham was visited by coaches from Ohio State, Minnesota and Colorado seeking how to stop Rodriguez's offense.
As far as Boise State is concerned, Navy's coaching staff contacted the Broncos about visiting last summer. However, Navy was told by the Broncos they don't share anything with other coaching staffs. Not even helping out the Navy? C'mon. That's un-American.
• Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter was on pace to shatter Barry Sanders' school record of 332 yards against Washington State, but was pulled after his 39-yard touchdown run with 12:10 remaining -- in the third quarter. Hunter finished with a career-high 257 yards.
Sanders' record may be broken one day, but certainly what happened to Sanders that day never will be duplicated -- a player being awarded the Heisman on a game day. Sanders was in Japan when he was named the 1988 Heisman winner at 8 a.m. Toyko time. The Cowboys played Texas Tech later that day in Toyko. Hours after winning the Heisman, Sanders carried 44 times for a school-record 332 yards.
• Hunter was one of three Big 12 backs, along with Kansas State's Daniel Thomas (234) and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray (218) to exceed 200 yards on the same day Saturday, only the second time it happened in Big 12 history. The other time was Oct, 24, 1998 by Kansas' David Winbush (268), Texas' Ricky Williams (259) and Oklahoma's De'Mond Parker (220).
Traveling Through the Twittersphere
• On Twitter, Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times suggested some proposed names for USC's defense after the Trojans allowed 588 yards at Hawaii: "Other terms for USC defense that came in dreams: Tampa Twothless, Cover Up, Honolulu Scaries, Diamond Shred, Frykiki, Spam-a-LOT, Don Whoa, Pipeline(backers), SPF 588, Konked-tiki, Poly-lesion, Uh-oh Oahu, Giant Bubbles and Cockel-shelled." ... Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel tweeted about Florida's offensive struggles against Miami, Ohio: "I think the Gators' entire offense is having esophageal spasms!" ... When Cincinnati jumped to a 14-0 lead at Fresno State, Cincinnati senior associate athletic director Mike Waddell tweeted: "Offense scoring great but I'm really enjoying real defense for the first time in few years. Thanks Coaches Banks and Jancek." Was that a shot at Brian Kelly? Perhaps, but Cincinnati was outscored 28-0 the rest of the game.
• Perhaps USC coach Lane Kiffin thought it was a 2-for-1 Happy Hour in Hawaii on Thursday. How else could you explain the Trojans going for two points after each of their first three touchdowns (and four times out of seven touchdowns)? My reasoning on Twitter: "Secret NCAA penalty against USC that was not announced: Trojans not allowed to kick PATs all season."
• Needless to say, the Big East has had better debuts than last week. Three of the league's top four teams lost: Pittsburgh at Utah, UConn at Michigan and Cincinnati at Fresno State. With Fresno State in control against Cincinnati, I tweeted: "With Fresno up 28-14 on Cincinnati, the Big East would like to remind everyone that Big East basketball media day is Oct. 20 in NYC."
• FanHouse's John Walters on what Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany would have done if he was an early 19th century U.S. president: "We're gonna stick with '13 Colonies' because that's what we've always been called."
Final Thoughts From the Road
I got a chance Saturday to see Louisville's Papa John's Stadium, which underwent a 13,000-seat expansion on the east side that includes 33 suites/skyboxes and a club level. They also added a south party deck terrace that holds 2,500. Athletic director Tom Jurich said that deck is modeled after Tampa's Raymond James Stadium -- minus the pirate ship. For each game, Louisville holds a "happy hour and a half" with adult beverages at happy hour prices 90 minutes before kickoff. As far as on-campus stadiums go, this is definitely tops in the Big East and one of the finest in the nation. ... Even though we had plenty of warning and FanHouse colleague Jim Henry and I still arrived several hours before Monday night's kickoff between Boise State and Virginia Tech, FedEx Field in Landover, Md., lived up to its advance billing: a gridlock nightmare. Once we got within a mile of the stadium, it would have been much faster to get to the stadium if we had gotten out and walked -- on our hands.
And We'll Close With Steve Hill's View of the College Football World
Brett McMurphy is a national college football writer for FanHouse. Contact him at email@example.com or please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY