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The coaching carousel never really ends. Bob Stoops retired last June. The NFL hiring season commences in January, which could potentially affect college programs. You never know when a health issue or off-field scandal might force someone to step down.

But for the most part, the college coaching cycle of 2017 is over. As of Tuesday morning, only two FBS programs -- Kent State and Louisiana-Lafayette -- were still looking for a head coach.

Though the big story lines were Chip Kelly coming back to the college game and the SEC getting six new head coaches, here are five takeaways from a wild reshuffling of the deck in the coaching ranks.

1. It wasn't as crazy as it could have been

Whenever a big job opens up, there's a potential chain reaction that could theoretically affect three or four schools. Multiply that by the number of big jobs that opened this year, and the 2017 coaching cycle could have been complete chaos. What happened, though, wasn't nearly that dramatic. A surprising number of Power Five schools hired assistants or coaches who were out of work -- UCLA getting Kelly, Arizona State hiring Herm Edwards, for instance -- thus slowing the amount of upheaval.

The most impactful move was Jimbo Fisher going to Texas A&M, which pulled Willie Taggart from Oregon to Florida State. In theory, the Ducks could have hired a sitting head coach such as Bryan Harsin, which would have opened up the Boise State job. Instead, they simply promoted co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal, basically bringing the carousel to a close.

2. Things pretty much went according to form

As much as we like to prognosticate about who's going where all year long, the actual hires typically don't work out the way you expect. This year was different, with a lot of schools hiring obvious candidates. Fisher to Texas A&M? Besides being rumored for months, there was a perfect storm of his displeasure with the Florida State administration and his longtime relationship with athletics director Scott Woodward, who put together a monster 10-year, $75 million offer. Dan Mullen to Florida? That made complete sense, given his history as an offensive coordinator there and the fact he worked with athletics director Scott Stricklin at Mississippi State.

Scott Frost to Nebraska, his alma mater? Of course. Taggart to Florida State? People in the industry were calling that one week ago in the event Fisher actually left, being a native of the Tampa area and his track record recruiting the I-4 corridor. Chip Kelly and UCLA? A match made in heaven. We'll see how all these hires work out -- history says a number of them won't -- but a lot of the big ones at least make sense on paper.

3. The SEC got stronger

Apologies in advance to those of you who love to hate the SEC, but it sure looks like the league purged itself of some shaky coaches and found some much better fits this cycle. While it's true the SEC has two teams in the Playoff this season, that's not a testament to its top-to-bottom strength. The league, in fact, has rarely been this average in the middle and this bad at the bottom, largely due to the cumulative effect of several mediocre hires. That trend probably got reversed this year.

There's no doubt Texas A&M upgraded, bringing in a national championship-level coach. There's no doubt Florida upgraded, with Mullen getting the opportunity to build the same type of program he did at Mississippi State only with much better recruiting resources. Arkansas also upgraded, as Chad Morris will bring an offensive identity more suited to being competitive at that particular program and make the Razorbacks a factor in Texas recruiting. Though evaluating Morris requires looking past his overall college head coaching record (14-22), anyone who paid attention to his career has tremendous respect for how he turned around a really bad situation at SMU and injected life into a Clemson program as offensive coordinator that helped set its current trajectory.

As far as the other SEC hires? We'll see. Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State is a fun idea, bringing his creative offensive from Penn State. And he's off to a good start hiring staff members with ties to the Southeast. Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee has potential, but it's not like big-time schools were knocking down the door to hire him off Alabama's staff. Matt Luke at Ole Miss feels like a school making the most convenient hire possible amid NCAA sanctions, but he did a solid job keeping the team together this past season as an interim. Overall, it sure feels like the SEC is in a better place than it was a few weeks ago.

4. Tennessee search will reverberate for a long time

Coaching searches are far more art than science, and there are always unique dynamics at each individual school that can complicate matters. But the Tennessee search will be remembered in this industry for years, and not in a good way. Whether Tennessee fans agreed or disagreed with the choice of Greg Schiano after Dan Mullen chose Florida, the idea that a social media fan uprising could essentially spook the school into reneging on a signed agreement is still mind-blowing. Former athletics director John Currie did his due diligence on the search. He knew who was available and who wouldn't take the job. Right or wrong, he made the determination that Schiano was the best coach he could reasonably hire. And as imperfect as it might have been in the eyes of some fans, he was prepared to make a tough decision and sink or swim with the results on the field. That's the way it's supposed to work when you hire people to leadership positions and let them lead.

At Tennessee, though, the response was different. And for whatever reason, the people who were supposed to have Currie's back instead decided to sweep him aside and let former coach Phillip Fulmer run the athletics department and complete the coaching search. Maybe the end result might work out for Tennessee -- we'll see -- but the process to get to Pruitt was messy. Within college athletics circles, the school's brand was far more damaged over the last two weeks than Currie's. He'll certainly resurface somewhere soon. Whether this fiasco helps make Tennessee a contender again is far more uncertain.

5. UCLA, Iowa State were biggest winners

UCLA football instantly matters again with Kelly. That is the big takeaway after he spurned Florida among others to sign with the Bruins. It seems like a perfect fit and a terrific legacy hire for athletics director Dan Guerrero, whose department has won big in everything but football during his tenure. In order to get the deal done, the Bruins had to move quickly to fire Jim Mora and put together a package attractive enough to lure the best coaching free agent since Urban Meyer went to Ohio State. While Arizona State touts its NFL-style "New Leadership Model" under Herm Edwards, the Bruins also put in a more attractive new leadership model by hiring a better coach who will make them relevant -- and soon.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Cyclones were going to have to potentially fight off multiple suitors for Matt Campbell after a 7-5 season that included wins against Oklahoma and TCU. Instead, athletics director Jamie Pollard signed him to an extension that should keep him in Ames for a while. Though Iowa State already had a prohibitive buyout in place should another school pursue Campbell, he signed a new six-year deal worth $22.5 million with raises for his staff. The buyout next year will be $7 million, so while you can never say never, it will still be hard for another school to poach him after the 2018 season. Don't look for him to go anywhere until one of the true heavyweights in the Midwest such as Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame comes calling.

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December 13, 2017
 
 
 

 

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