Rules for Hiring Coaches

It’s that time of year. The time for athletic department administrators and college presidents all across the country to begin hiring their new football coach.

If you can’t hire Chuck Neinas to help with your search, at least use this list of rules for hiring coaches to help you.

1) Never hire a coach whose best years correspond to those of a once in a lifetime player. The old saying goes “it’s the Jimmies and Joes, not the Xs and Os.” Trust the old saying. Chances are, that type of player will never come along again for the coach you’re considering. This also applies to assistant coaches being considered. One coach that might fall into this category is Houston’s Kevin Sumlin whose time with the Cougars corresponds with that of Case Keenum. Remember what happened to the Cougs last year after Keenum was hurt?

2) Never hire a coach that doesn’t specialize in something. Well, specifically, the coach needs to specialize in offense or defense. Sure, some coaches get hired because they’re great recruiters, but the coach needs to know how to coach the players. Don’t hire they guy if he’s not proficient a particular area. I wouldn’t have hired Derek Dooley at Tennessee based on this rule.

3) Never hire a coach based on one good game. You’ll see this situation a lot with interim coaches taking over for a bowl game. Lots of times the team will respond and play hard for the interim coach. But don’t buy into this, especially if the interim coach fails rule #2 above. I’m looking at you, West Virginia.

4) Never hire a coach based on one good season, especially if the coach is a first-year coach. This can also be applied to granting contract extensions. I wouldn’t have given Vanderbilt’s James Franklin a raise and extension based on this rule.

Of course, these aren’t the only factors to consider and certain ones can mitigate those listed above.

Given these rules, I wouldn’t have hired Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, but now that he’s been there three years he certainly has added to his body of work to be considered. He has a 20-17 mark at State after being Tim Tebow’s offensive coordinator for three years at Florida.

I would probably consider Larry Fedora, another former Florida offensive coordinator, over Sumlin. Fedora has a 33-19 career record after four years as a head coach (all at Southern Miss). Sumlin sports a 35-17 career mark, also after four years (all at Houston). Again, Sumlin’s time at Houston overlaps that of Keenum.

Would I hire Alabama’s Kirby Smart or Jim McElwain? Well, I guess it would depend on the situation. Smart is the understudy to Nick Saban, but the longer he stays under Saban I think the more comfortable people are that he’s a defensive whiz.

McElwain is more of a puzzle. Wherever he goes he most likely won’t have the offensive talent that Bama has, and, you have to wonder if Bama’s run-pass ratio is McElwain’s call or Saban’s.

What about hiring Gus Malzahn? Well, last year I wouldn’t have because his statistics were so heavily based on one of the best players in college football history, Cam Newton. This years numbers have obviously cooled off his status as one of the hottest assistants in the game.

What about Hugh Freeze? No, I would not have hired him. One great year at a school like Arkansas State doesn’t exactly merit a promotion to an SEC school. But, on the other hand, Ole Miss seems to think other factors mitigate his lack of experience.

For the sake of having another example, I did like the hire of Paul Rhodes at Iowa State. Rhodes was a local boy who had had 10 years of experience as a defensive coordinator (nine at Pittsburgh and one at Auburn) and the hire has seemed to work for the Cyclones. He’s a good young coach that won’t be quick to jump to the next green pasture.