Sean Pendergast

2018 College Football Coaching Hire Report Card

Kevin Sumlin landed on his feet.... in Tucson!
Kevin Sumlin landed on his feet.... in Tucson! Screen grab from YouTube
You look at Kevin Sumlin's 2017 season at Texas A&M, and the way that it ended, and at first blush, you feel badly for Kevin Sumlin. You do, don't you? I mean, in the very first week of the season, his team blew a five touchdown lead in a little over a quarter to UCLA, and that set the tone for a very ho-hum 7-5 season. 7-5 had unfortunately evolved into the bar for Sumlin at A&M, and thus he was fired at the end of the regular season.

Poor guy, right? Um, not really.

The latest in a litany of contract extensions that Sumlin had received while in College Station dictated that he was owed the full remainder of his deal — about $10.4 million — within 60 days of termination. Even better for Sumlin, he was not required to offset any of that buyout money if he got another job for this coming season.

So when Kevin Sumlin signed his new 5 year, $14.5 million contract to take over the reins at the University of Arizona this week, he knew that he was still getting and keeping every penny of his A&M buyout money. Welcome to the crazy world of college football head coaching, where getting fired is actually good business.

Think about it — if Sumlin wins, say, nine games last season and keeps his job at A&M, he would make around $5 million in 2018. Instead, now, because he failed at A&M and is still thought of well enough to be hired at Arizona, he will make (presumably) $13.3 million, buyout plus new job salary. For Sumlin, the only thing that paid bigger than winning was losing (and having SWAG.... hey, does Arizona have a helicopter?).

Now that the dust seems to have settled, let's hand out grades on all the Power Five head coaching hires this offseason. The list of job openings filled is below, with a grade for the hire and a grade for how good a job that coach is inheriting.

Let's do this....

ARIZONA, Kevin Sumlin (Rich Rodriguez fired)
This job opened up when an investigation into Rodriguez sexually harassing an office assistant brought to light an affair Rodriguez had been having with a woman not associated with Arizona. The school cut him loose a couple weeks ago, and Sumlin got the job. This is an easier path for Sumlin to get to a College Football Playoff than fighting with Nick Saban every year, and he inherits a Heisman candidate in QB Khalil Tate. Circle September 8 this coming season, when Sumlin brings the Wildcats to TDECU Stadium to face his old employer, the University of Houston.
Hire Grade: B+
Job Grade: B

ARIZONA STATE, Herm Edwards (Todd Graham fired)
This hire will be an unmitigated disaster. The AD at ASU has a prior relationship with Edwards and, I guess, wants to get him one last big payday. Edwards first press conference as Sun Devil head coach was bizarre, to say the least. Apparently, he is going to be more of a CEO and let his assistants run things. What could possibly go wrong? This might be a nice hire if Edwards had been a decent head coach at any level previously.
Hire Grade: F-
Job Grade: B-

ARKANSAS, Chad Morris (Bret Bielema fired)
Morris makes a lot more sense here than his predecessor, Bielema, did when he was hired a few years ago. As a former high school coach, Morris has deep connections to the state of Texas, and he will bring an exciting offensive style to Fayetteville. His 14-23 record at SMU doesn't properly convey the quality of the job he did after inheriting an 0-12 team three seasons ago.
Hire Grade: A-
Job Grade: B

FLORIDA, Dan Mullen (Jim McElwain fired)
It's funny how certain jobs are viewed — Kevin Sumlin was 51-26 at Texas A&M and he was fired, Dan Mullen was 69-46 at Mississippi State and he winds up with the Florida job. Florida wins the P.R. battle by bringing in someone from the Urban Meyer Era, as Mullen was the OC during the Tebow years. The stakes are high right now in the state of Florida, with all of the FBS schools employing relatively new head coaches. Put it this way — with two seasons at Miami, Mark Richt is the most tenured FBS head coach in the state of Florida.
Hire Grade: A-
Job Grade: A

FLORIDA STATE, Willie Taggart (Jimbo Fisher left)
Taggart, the former USF head coach, is back in the state of Florida after one season at Oregon. Call me crazy, but I wouldn't hire a guy who willingly wanted to leave a school after just one season, but I'm not FSU. Taggart inherits the program at a precarious time, coming off of a season in which they finished 7-6.
Hire Grade: B-
Job Grade: B

MISSISSIPPI, Matt Luke (Matt Luke interim)
I guess 6-6 as the interim head coach was good enough to give the job to Luke, who will now have to deal with the full fallout of the Hugh Freeze NCAA mess, including his QB Shea Patterson's transferring to Michigan.
Hire Grade: C
Job Grade: C-

MISSISSIPPI STATE, Joe Moorhead (Dan Mullen left)
Moorhead was the brains behind the Penn State offenses that lit up the Big Ten the last two seasons. If he lives up to the hype surrounding him, Mississippi State may have actually upgraded over Mullen, who left to take the Florida job.
Hire Grade: A-
Job Grade: B-

NEBRASKA, Scott Frost (Mike Riley fired)
In just two seasons, Frost worked a miracle at Central Florida, turning a team that was 0-12 around to 13-0 with a win over Auburn in their bowl game — the same Auburn team that beat BOTH participants in the national title game. Frost now returns to his home state to take over the only extracurricular activity that matters in the entire state of Nebraska. There will be a TON of pressure on Frost to work similar magic on a program that may not be fully salvageable.
Hire Grade: A
Job Grade: C+

OREGON, Mario Cristobal (Willie Taggart left)
Taggart's exit left Oregon in a tricky spot, searching for a coach for the second time in two seasons, but all things considered, they landed on their feet. Cristobal isn't a super sexy hire, but he did good work as the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and is considered a pretty dynamic recruiter. He also has head coaching experience and a ton of resources at his disposal.
Hire Grade: B
Job Grade: A-

OREGON STATE, Jonathan Smith (Gary Anderson resigned)
All I know about Smith is he was the QB of those Dennis Erickson coached Beaver teams that racked up ungodly amounts of personal foul penalties. This hire is as ordinary as Smith's name.
Hire Grade: C-
Job Grade: D+

TENNESSEE, Jeremy Pruitt (Butch Jones fired)
After the lunatic fringe in Knoxville (and on Twitter) managed to overturn the original Volunteer hire of Greg Schiano, the school conducted a head coaching search that should be reviewed at every athletics director convention so that administrators can learn how NOT to go about hiring a head coach. Tennessee was rejected by no fewer than a half dozen candidates before finally settling on Alabama's defensive coordinator Pruitt, who may be just fine..... but it's certainly debatable that he is a better hire than Schiano would have been.
Hire Grade: B-
Job Grade: C+

TEXAS A&M, Jimbo Fisher (Kevin Sumlin fired)
Fisher seemed ready to get out of Florida State, and you could argue that he got out one season too late, as his 6-6 record in 2017 took a little of the shine off an overall great body of work in Tallahassee. There are only four active FBS head coaches who have won an FBS national title, and the Aggies hired one of them in Fisher. Like Mora at UCLA, Sumlin did a great job of stacking recruits, but a poor job developing them. Like Chip Kelly at UCLA, Fisher will need to convert recruits to wins in order to earn his massive $75 million, full guaranteed 10-year deal.

Hire Grade: B+
Job Grade: A-

UCLA, Chip Kelly (Jim Mora, Jr. fired)
The best hire of the entire offseason, Kelly returns to the Pac-12, where is familiar with the landscape, and does so at a school smack dab in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting territories in the country. Kelly will recruit similar talent to Westwood as Mora did, but unlike Mora, Kelly will actually win double digit games on a routine basis.
Hire Grade: A
Job Grade: B

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast