About two months ago, we ranked the 13 first-year Power 5 head coaches on how they were doing halfway through the season. Needless to say, a lot has changed between now and then, so let’s go back and re-rank them.
13. Chad Morris, Arkansas (2-10, 0-8 SEC)
Previous Job: SMU, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 13th
What a horrendous start to Morris’ career at Arkansas. He was ranked at the bottom of the first set of rankings, and that is where he will remain for the foreseeable future. Arkansas didn’t get a single SEC win, they lost to North Texas at home by almost four touchdowns, and their only wins came against their homecoming opponent (Tulsa) and an FCS team (Eastern Illinois). And don’t forget Morris whiffed on Kelly Bryant last week. The Morris Era at Arkansas doesn’t exactly look promising, so far.
12. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State (2-10, 1-8 PAC-12)
Previous Job: Washington, Offensive Coordinator
Previous Ranking: 11th
Good thing expectations are pretty low in Corvallis, because Smith didn’t inspire much confidence in his first year there. The only reason he is ahead of Morris on this list is because he actually beat a Power 5 opponent in Colorado, but even that game needed overtime. Other than that, Oregon State beat Southern Utah. That’s it. And outside of a two point loss to Nevada, they were never really close to beating anyone else.
11. Chip Kelly, UCLA (3-9, 3-6 PAC-12)
Previous Job: San Francisco 49ers, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 10th
Kelly’s first year in Los Angeles went much better than the 3-9 record indicates. UCLA managed to beat Arizona and rivals Cal and USC. And of all nine teams they lost to, only two of them had more than four losses. Everyone knew going into this season that there was going to be quite a transition period between Jim Mora and Kelly, but that won’t lessen the blow of a disappointing season for UCLA.
10. Scott Frost, Nebraska (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten)
Previous Job: UCF, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 12th
When we did the first round of these rankings, Morris was 13a and Frost was 13b. Neither had gotten off to a decent start, combining for a 1-12 record. But while Morris’ team managed to stay poor the rest of the year, it looked like things were starting to turn around for Frost and the Huskers as the season went on. After starting 0-6, Frost managed to lead his team to a 4-2 finish. He probably won’t get back to his undefeated ways from his previous job, but Frost will probably be around his alma mater for a while.
On The Right Track
9. Willie Taggart, Florida State (5-7, 3-5 ACC)
Previous Job: Oregon, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 9th
All you need to know about how Taggart’s first season at FSU is that, after 36 straight seasons, the ‘Noles aren’t going to a bowl game this year. Maybe Kendal Briles will come in and save Taggart before it’s too late.
8. Matt Luke, Ole Miss (5-7, 1-7 SEC)
Previous Job: Ole Miss, Interim Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 2nd
Maybe Luke belongs on this list (this was technically his second full season at the helm, following last season as interim head coach), maybe he doesn’t. But one thing about Luke is for sure: he blew this season all to Hell for the Rebels. He earned the No. 2 spot in our previous round of rankings, due to a 5-2 start. Then, his team proceeded to lose five straight to finish the season 5-7. In that first seven-game stretch, Ole Miss was averaging 41.6 points per game. In the final five games, they averaged 23.2. Woof.
7. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona (5-7, 4-5 PAC-12)
Previous Job: Texas A&M, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 8th
Sumlin’s first year in the desert was all over the place. They lost to good teams, like Washington State, and they beat good teams, like Oregon. They also lost to bad teams, like UCLA, BYU, and USC. Therefore, it is hard to get a read for the direction of this team. Sumlin has proven he can recruit with the best in the SEC before. He’ll have to prove he can do it at Arizona if he wants to improve from a middling 2018 season. It would also probably benefit him to keep quarterback Khalil Tate around.
6. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC)
Previous Job: Alabama, Defensive Coordinator
Previous Ranking: 6th
Pruitt earns his place ahead of the names above strictly because of the two wins over top-25 teams Auburn and Kentucky. Outside of those two games, this season was the mess that most everyone knew it was going to be at the start. Depending on who Pruitt brings in as offensive coordinator, next season should be better. If not, the fanbase on Rocky Top will likely be restless. Again.
5. Herm Edwards, Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 PAC-12)
Previous Job: Kansas City Chiefs, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 7th
Of all the coaches on this list, this one is the most surprising to me. Remember at the beginning of the year when Edwards would always just spout off some nonsense to the media about how he wanted to run this program? And how everybody was laughing at him? Well he got to a bowl game in his first season, with a handful of wins over some good teams along the way (Michigan State, Utah).
Right Out Of The Gate
4. Mario Cristobal, Oregon (8-4, 5-4 PAC-12)
Previous Job: Oregon, Interim Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 3rd
Oregon blew a handful of games they should have won this season. But the fact of the matter is, eight wins in Cristobal’s first season is an unmitigated success. Especially considering the mess that Taggart must have left on his way out after one season.
3. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
Previous Job: Penn State, Offensive Coordinator
Previous Ranking: 5th
Either you admitted you had questions about this hire to start the season, or you’re a liar. There were no sure bets that Moorhead would show up in Starkville as a first time FBS head coach and be worth a damn. But, sure enough, this season turned out well for him. His only losses were to teams that finished the season in the top-25. Everyone else, he could apparently manage. Time will tell if quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is to thank for this season, or if Moorhead is a legitimate SEC-caliber head coach.
2. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
Previous Job: Florida State, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 1st
To this day, I do not understand why Florida State let Fisher leave after last season. You could see this season that he is legitimately one of the top coaches in football. Three of their losses were on the road against quality SEC West opponents, with the fourth coming at home against No. 2 Clemson. If anything else, he deserves the No. 1 spot after that thriller against LSU, which will go down as one of the wildest regular season college football games of all-time.
1. Dan Mullen, Florida (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
Previous Job: Mississippi State, Head Coach
Previous Ranking: 4th
It hurts to write anything good about Mullen and Florida, so I won’t write much. Credit where it is due, Florida wasn’t a very good team this year, but Mullen somehow managed to get them to the end of the season with a 9-3 record. And since he has the best record on this list, he can have the No. 1 spot.
Don’t let any of this distract you, though, from the fact that Mullen is possibly the second coming of Butch Jones in the SEC East…