Bringing in a new head coach to any program can draw mixed reactions from the fan base. On one hand, you get the fans that are saying “good riddance” to the guy who just lost his job, then you have the ones that are complete skeptics and aren’t sure if the new guy can deliver as promised, and finally, you have the fans that are perhaps a little too optimistic with hopes a program can become a championship-caliber team overnight.
Either way, each coach comes in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, wanting to prove that he is the right man for the job. With 15 first-year head coaches working tirelessly as the summer gets rolling, we’ll take a look at a handful of these guys and see exactly what they have to prove while taking over a new squad.
Coach: Tom Herman
Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Coming into the offseason, Herman was one of the most talked about coordinators headed for an upgrade in 2015. He lead Ohio State to a national championship and built an offense that looked nearly unstoppable as it bowled right on through Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the national championship game. Herman finally landed in Houston taking over a Cougars program that finished tied for fourth in the American Athletic Conference last season.
Houston had one of the better defenses in the country last season, ranking 15th in scoring defense (20.6 points per game) and 20th in total defense (343.4 yards per game). So that’s clearly not an issue. The issue lies along the offensive line where the Cougars gave up 2.62 sacks per game which was next to last in the conference. So Herman’s got to prove that he can keep the momentum he has going from his days as a Buckeye and turn around the Houston offense and get this team back to being a contender for a conference title.
Coach: Mike Riley
Previous Job: Head Coach, Oregon State
If there was one thing that Bo Pelini had at Nebraska, it was consistency. In all seven seasons that Pelini was the head coach in Lincoln, he won at least nine games, three of which were 10-win seasons. However, signature wins always evaded him and he was never able to capture a conference crown.
For Riley to prove that he’s the right guy to take over a prodigious job such as Nebraska, he’s not only got to win in bunches like Pelini did, but he’s got to win the big game as well. Fortunately, 2015 may prove to be the year he can make an early and great impression. Playing in the Big Ten, naturally the schedule isn’t too difficult, but it also helps that two of the Cornhuskers’ biggest conference games are at home against Wisconsin and Michigan State. Riley also gets an early shot to prove his worth when Nebraska travels to Miami on September 19th.
Coach: Jim McElwain
Previous Job: Head Coach, Colorado State
One of the top jobs to inherit in the college game, Florida has fallen into a tailspin of mediocrity and even below that after the glory days of the Urban Meyer era. There was a time when opponents feared playing the Gators, now they just look at them as any other team, especially with the way the offense fails to produce.
Enter Jim McElwain, who, before turning Colorado State into a relevant team, was the offensive coordinator for Alabama and led the Crimson Tide to a pair of national titles. An offensive guru, McElwain’s been hired to turn Florida’s sputtering offense back into the well-oiled machine it used to be under Meyer and Steve Spurrier. Florida’s offense never ranked higher than 10th in the conference in total offense during former coach Will Muschamp’s four year span. The Gators’ defense will help put the offense in good field position as it was one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers (30), but the offense will still have to execute and do its part. McElwain’s got his work cut out for him in his first year in Gainesville, but lucky for him, the SEC East still isn’t that great.
Coach: Pat Narduzzi
Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
It was only a matter of time before Pat Narduzzi got a shot to run his own program. His time has come after former Pitt coach Paul Chryst decided to return home to coach at his Alma mater, Wisconsin. Narduzzi’s already got an offense that can hold its own within the ACC, and he’s been charged with fixing what his specialty entails: the Pitt defense.
Although not terrible, the Pittsburgh defense still ranked in the lower half of the ACC in scoring defense (11th), rush defense (8th), and total defense (8th). However, the real problem for the defense was its lack of getting to the quarterback, only coming up with 19 total sacks all season, which ranked T-103rd in the country. It only gets worse when you look at the defense’s inept ability to force turnovers coming up with just 14 turnovers, ranking T-116th in the country. Clearly that’s where Narduzzi must prove his worth as his Spartan defense ranked third in the country at forcing turnovers (34) and tied for ninth in the country in sacks (42).
Coach: Jim Harbaugh
Previous Job: Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
It was a hard move for Jim Harbaugh to come back down to the college level after having success in the NFL, but after parting ways with the 49ers, Harbaugh finds himself in Ann Arbor ready to revive a Michigan program that truly needs to be invigorated. For Harbaugh, it’s a question of whether he can transfer seamlessly back to the college game and if he can transform Michigan’s offense into something that can compete with Ohio State.
In Harbaugh’s last two seasons at Stanford (2009 and 2010), his offense was one of the top units in the country. The offense ranked 11th in scoring offense (35.5 points per game), 11th in rushing yards per game (218.23) and 18th in total offense (427.6 yards per game) in 2009. Moving forward to 2010, his offense ranked ninth in scoring offense (40.3 points per game), 17th in rushing yards per game (213.77) and 14th in total offense (472 yards per game). Of course, Andrew Luck was his quarterback during those years and he had Heisman finalist and human wrecking ball, Toby Gerhart, as his running back.
Now at Ann Arbor, Harbaugh still hasn’t settled on a quarterback for the upcoming season and has plenty of questions on the o-line and in the backfield. He takes over an offense that ranked 111th in the nation in scoring offense (20.9 points per game), 112th in passing offense (170.2 yards per game) and 115th in total offense (333 yards per game). It’s not going to be easy to turn this offense around right away, but Harbaugh’s proven in the past he can mold signal callers and turn an offense into a juggernaut.