Merry Christmas Everyone!… Here’s a picture of a Dancing Santa for your amusement.
The College Football regular season is over and we are now in the middle of Bowl Season. Sure it is always a lulled time before New Year’s Weekend, when the best bowl games take place.
However, this period has seen plenty to analyze from the perspective of College Football Branding, thanks to this year’s “Coaching Carousel”. When Willie Taggert was named the head coach of Oregon earlier this month, he talked about how impressed he is with the brand that Oregon Football has built and how this brand is ready to win a national championship. “The unique and innovative qualities that the Oregon brand poses over the national landscape provide us with the opportunity to be successful at the highest level on a consistent basis,” Taggert said at his press conference.
The brand of the Oregon Ducks has become synonymous with innovation and success since the turn of the century. So when their head-coaching job became open after firing Mark Helfrich, I wondered why 90 – 95% of coaches wouldn’t throw themselves into the mix? How did Oregon’s opening compare to the other openings with College Football?
So I took at look at the 17 FBS (Division 1) Head Coach openings and wanted to rank them based on their program’s brand notoriety, in my personal opinion, both before and after they hired their new coach. Below are my rankings –
- (Before Coaching Hire 16). San Jose State
The Spartans hired Brent Brennan, who previously worked at the university for 5+ years, so they get a guy that has experience with the school. However, there is just nothing special to me about this hire. Especially for a team that has had a losing record over the past four seasons, including making a bowl with a 5-7 record.
- (15). Georgia State
– The reason why they are higher on the list than San Jose State is because the school will be switching to an Under Armour school starting next school year. A new apparel provider and new head coach can help the football program begin a brand revamp for next season.
- (13). Nevada
– Another hire that doesn’t really do anything for me in my impression of the Nevada football brand. Right now, all I know them for is as Colin Kaepernick’s alma mater. However, they went to bowl games in 2014 and 2015 with their previous coach Brian Polian, Bill Polian’s son. So, they fired a guy with a football pedigree for Arizona State’s offensive coordinator… As a representation of the Wolfpack’s brand, this is a move down in my book.
- (17). Florida International
– Before this past month, I could not tell you where Florida International was located in the state? (It is Miami by the way) The Panthers made an impact by hiring former Miami and North Carolina head coach Butch Davis to take over the program. With the rise of the other mid-tier Florida schools like South Florida, Central Florida and Florida Atlantic, FIU made a move by hiring a guy who has experience recruiting in the state and it give the Panthers some brand recognition given Davis’ coaching history. It deserves a rise in my rankings thanks to this move!
- (12). Fresno State
– Athletics Director Jim Bartko had talked about how important it was to find a new coach that had Fresno State ties after one of the worst stretches in Bulldog Football history. Hiring former QB Jeff Tedford sounds exactly like the type of coach Bartko is looking for. The Bulldogs have gone through a very rough stretch over the last three seasons, going 10-28 after winning two straight Conference Championships in ’12 and ’13. The alma mater of the Carr brothers has developed a great brand reputation over the years thanks to their consistent success. Having an alumnus take over the program is a positive, but we will see if Tedford can be as successful as his first eight years at California.
12 (11). Purdue
– Purdue has had a problem maintaining a presence for their brand in the Big Ten since Joe Tiller left the school after the 2008 season. They have not qualified for a bowl game since 2012, let alone ten years since they have had a better regular season than 6-6. In the crowded Big Ten Conference, the Boilermakers did not do their brand any favors when they were not able to secure a “bigger” name that they were rumored to be after, Les Miles and PJ Fleck. However, their hire of Jeff Brohm from WKU is great for the program, who has said that the challenge of building back up the Purdue brand was one of the reasons for taking the job! Coming from a program with a successful program pedigree over the past decade with such an impressive offensive mind (45.1 PPG this season; 2nd in the Country), this should bring a sort of firepower and fear to Purdue’s offense that they have been missing (100th in the Country).
- (10). Cincinnati
– Why would a program that has a new Under Armour apparel contract, 9+ wins in seven out of the last ten years, and a previous coaching tree featuring Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) be this low on my list? Under Tommy Tuberville, it feels like the program has regressed, dropping from 9 wins in his first two years, to three straight bowl losses and a 4-8 season this year. The Bearcats are a long way away from their previous accomplishments under the three coaches listed above. But their new coach, Luke Fickell, comes from Ohio State learning under Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel. He even has head coaching experience, taking over the 2011 Buckeyes after Tressel resigned due to the fallout of an NCAA investigation. Fickell has bided his time and learned from some of the best coaches in the sport, waiting for his opportunity to lead a program. Is he the one to lead the Bearcats to non-Power 5 dominance and New Year’s Six appearances? We shall see, but his pedigree is a plus for the Cincinnati brand!
- (14). Florida Atlantic
– Do you remember a time where the announcement of the new head coach of the Florida Atlantic Owls was the top story on Sportscenter? Or that their first commitment is a top story on ESPN.com last week! Yes, Lane Kiffen is known as a “pariah” by some in the NCAA and within the minds of College Football fans. But this is a coach that will receive constant national attention, allowing Florida Atlantic to become known to the casual college football fan. The former Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC head coach also has a chance to turn FAU into the Florida chapter of Alabama, considering he “intends” to hire some Crimson Tide personnel once the CFP has completed! With regards with turning the Owls into a national brand, this was the biggest hire during the 2016-17 coaching carousel.
- (7). Indiana
– Maybe the reasoning is a little harsh, but my primary reason for Indiana falling is because they could have done so much better than Tom Allen. Look at some of the names that were/”could have been” on the market at that time – Strong, Fleck and Miles were on the market, but didn’t even get a chance to interview. I understand that they wanted to keep the program’s momentum after making their second Bowl appearance in a row since 1991, but IU seemed like it would be a job some of these coaches would be very interested in. I understand why they hired the “in-house” Hoosier, but I just wonder if they settled too quickly…
- (8). Western Kentucky
– Look at the last three head coaches of the Hilltoppers and where they are at now – Willie Taggart (South Florida; Oregon), Bobby Petrino (Louisville), Jeff Brohm (Purdue). A combined record of 54-34 between these three coaches. The WKU brand has become a job that is desired for coaches who are ready to take their next steps towards a Power 5 job, as confirmed by their hiring of Notre Dame OC Mike Sanford. Look for Sandford to be up for a Power 5 job within the next 2-3 years based on the WKU reputation.
- (9). South Florida
– I believe that Charlie Strong did not get enough of a chance at Texas. He helped give Louisville a brand revamp when they were known only as an offensive specialist under Bobby Petrino, to being efficient on both sides of the ball. Strong has always been an excellent recruiter, had the respect of the players he coached and always had a goal of turning his players into “young men”. Ever since the first day Strong was hired at Texas, he was facing an uphill battle after one of their biggest boosters claimed that Strong could be a great “coordinator” for the Longhorns… Strong will get his chance to continue the momentum built at South Florida and their 10-2 season. Strong’s history at Florida and recruiting expertise will only help him make his mark in this football rich state. The question will be whether the Bulls will start to compete with Miami, Florida and Florida State with Strong leading their program.
- (6). Temple
– Temple’s profile as a football brand has risen higher than I think the program expected over the past couple of seasons. Winning 10 games over the past two seasons, two conference championship game appearances (one title) and rising to the national stage after ESPN’s College Gameday visited Philadelphia for their ESPN Saturday Night Football matchup with Notre Dame. They lost the game, but they opened many national eyes. The average college football fan forgets that the previous Owl coaches Al Golden (Miami) and Steve Addazio (Boston College) built this program, but Rhule helped them rise to national respect. Now, they have a significant enough brand where Florida’s DC Geoff Collins is becoming their head coach and Under Armour has a great relationship with the school. The Owls are built to stay!
5 (5). Houston
– The program decided to go the safe route by hiring internally, their OC Major Applewhite, the side of the football that led to much of their success over their Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman eras. These coaches returned the Cougars as a recognizable brand across college football, but the question will be whether Applewhite can maintain this momentum? The Cougars could have risen in my rankings if they took a chance on another finalist (look at how much Florida Atlantic’s profile has grown in the past week), but they made the safe call and are giving a staff member, and Texas legend, his first head coaching opportunity. If Applewhite can use his reputation in the state to successfully recruit top talent, the Cougars’ brand momentum can continue to grow, even outside of the Big 12.
- (3). LSU
– LSU is still a top brand name, but I don’t think they are as much of a major player in the College Football landscape as the Baton Rouge fans think they are. Case in point, the two coaches they went after, Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, declined the job. The Tigers are still looking up in the SEC to Alabama, Florida, Auburn, Georgia, maybe even Texas A&M in brand recognition. They just haven’t been able to win that much in the last decade, especially this season. With so much hype at the beginning of the year, they lost their first game to Wisconsin, Leonard Fournette was injured for most of the year and then there was the Florida game fiasco. Which they ended up losing anyway! LSU has a long way to go and we will see how Ed Orgeron performs after actually finally getting an “interm” tag removed.
- (4). Baylor
– Wait, I have put Baylor this high even before their new coaching hire? After everything that has come out about the program in the last year? True, but any football fan knows about the Baylor brand in today’s landscape, both for the scandal and on-field performance. Which means that this vacancy was going to result in a lot of coverage and analysis of their chosen coach. The Bears needed a coach that has the respect and coaching prowess to build back the brand’s reputation in the eyes of the casual fan. I believe they have done that. Matt Rhule is coming off an impressive turnaround of the Temple program that included a Conference Championship, 10-win seasons and a “Saturday Night Football” appearance in the last two seasons. This is exactly the type of “good” hire that the Bears’ brand needed, both on-the-field and off, with fans in Waco agreeing.
- (1). Oregon
– Oregon’s brand isn’t greatly affected with the hire of Willie Taggart. What they have built in Eugene given everything from their uniforms, marketing strategy and Nike partnership, Oregon football is built to last and overcome an occasional 4-8 season. I think it is a good hire, but not the great one that would keep the Ducks at the top spot in my eyes for two reasons. One, rumor has it that Phil Knight was willing to donate $10 Million Dollars (!!!) to help with the coaching search, which I believe could get ANY coach he really wanted. Secondly, yes Taggart led South Florida to a very impressive 10-2 season after an 8-5 year in 2015. But his overall record with the Bulls was still 24-25 in four seasons there; so he wasn’t exactly dominate in the American Conference, including the lack of a conference title. That said, I will be very interested to see what type of culture Taggart will bring to the Ducks.
- (2). Texas
– Plain and simple, Texas got the guy they wanted in Tom Herman. It is who the boosters have been drooling over for the past year and he is a “Texas Guy”, being a former Graduate Assistant at the school. They have one of the largest Nike contracts in the College Football market and produce the second-most athletics revenue within the entire NCAA. These numbers will not change for the foreseeable future and these factors is what led to me putting them number one on my list of the notable brands needing a new head coach.