The wild coaching carousel should benefit BYU, Utah and Utah State next season
The Cougars, Utes and Aggies are guaranteed to face off against seven first-year FBS head coaches during the 2022 college football season.
There is near unanimous acceptance that the movement of college football head coaches this fall and winter is unprecedented.
Starting with the resignation of now former UConn head coach Randy Edsall, there have been 28 head coaching openings at the FBS level this year (all have now been filled).
Power Five, Group of Five, it hasn’t mattered. Coaches have been fired, forced to resign or left their current job for other opportunities in numbers that the sport simply hasn’t seen before.
The state of Utah has largely escaped the wrath of the coaching carousel, though.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake flirted with Oregon a bit, but he and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Utah State’s Blake Anderson will be back to lead their respective team’s next season (barring a major surprise somewhere).
All three programs could, maybe even should, benefit from the general upheaval around the sport. The Aggies, Cougars and Utes are guaranteed to compete against a combined seven first-year FBS coaches during the 2022 season, with the chance for even more.
Generally, first-year head coaches don’t have inordinate amounts of success right off the bat, Anderson and USU’s surprise 2021 season notwithstanding. While the Aggies won 10 games in Anderson’s first year at the helm, his fellow first year coaches combined to finish 74-118 this season. Only UCF’s Gus Malzahn (8-4), Boise State’s Andy Avalos (7-5) Marshall’s Charles Huff (7-5) and Tennessee’s Josh Heupel (7-5) finished the regular season with a winning record.
By and large, first-year head coach are rebuilding down programs, not reloading great ones (that obviously isn’t always the case), which should only bode well for the Aggies, Cougars and Utes.
Here are all the first year coaches BYU, Utah and Utah State could see on the opposing sideline next season:
Dan Lanning, Oregon
Lanning will coach against two Utah schools (both the Utes and Cougars are scheduled to play the Ducks) and he is one of the biggest unknowns of the new head coaches. The former defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs, Lanning was responsible for building and leading one of the best defenses in the modern era of college football this past season (Georgia was No. 2 in the country in total defense and allowed an almost unbelievable 9.54 points per game).
Lanning takes over an Oregon program that had been on the rise under former head coach Mario Cristobal, but he has never been a head coach and at 35 is one of the youngest coaches to lead a premier program.
Lanning is not lacking for confidence, though. When asked about his lack of head coaching experience at his introductory press conference, Lanning jested, “Well, I hate to cut you off but I’ve been a head coach before. When I was in high school, I coached the third-grade basketball team and we were damn good. I mean, we were good.”
- 2008–2010 — Park Hill South High School (Missouri) (Special teams/defensive backs/wide receivers).
- 2011 — Pittsburgh (Graduate assistant).
- 2012 — Arizona State (Graduate assistant).
- 2013 — Arizona State (Recruiting coordinator).
- 2014 — Sam Houston State (Defensive backs/co-recruiting coordinator).
- 2015 — Alabama (Graduate assistant).
- 2016–2017 — Memphis (Inside linebackers/recruiting coordinator).
- 2018 — Georgia (Outside linebackers).
- 2019–2021 — Georgia (Defensive coordinator).
- 2022–present — Oregon (Head coach).
Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame
Freeman is similar to Lanning in a lot of ways: A young (35 years old) former defensive coordinator without previous head coaching experience who has taken over a premier college football program (Notre Dame will play BYU in 2022).
Freeman has the added benefit of having coached Notre Dame this season, and retains much of the same staff that former Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly left behind when he went to LSU.
Freeman has been considered one of the up-and-coming stars in the coaching field and is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country.
“I’m ready to lead this program to the greatest heights,” Freeman said in his introductory press conference. “Being the leader of this program, it isn’t about one person, and it never will be,” Freeman continued. “Being the leader of this program is about understanding, to be successful on this journey, it’s going to take others. We’re going to have to do this as a team.”
- 2010 — Ohio State (Graduate assistant).
- 2011–2012 — Kent State (Linebackers).
- 2013–2015 — Purdue (Linebackers).
- 2016 — Purdue (Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2017–2020 — Cincinnati (Defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2021 — Notre Dame (Defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2021–present — Notre Dame (Head coach).
Billy Napier, Florida
Like Lanning and Freeman, Napier took over one of the nation’s premier programs (in name), but that is about where the similarities end. Unlike the Ducks and Fighting Irish, Florida struggled in 2021, finishing 6-6 overall (Utah travels to Florida Week 1 next season).
The 42-year-old Napier, meanwhile, just spent four seasons as a head coach, leading Louisiana to heights it hadn’t seen, including an outright 2021 Sun Belt championship.
Napier and Florida are in a rebuild and it could take some time to right the ship.
“These jobs will chew you up and spit you out if you let them, right?” Napier said in his introductory press conference. “I think we’ve got to keep perspective. We got to have balance. I think that’s one of the reasons that I believe in the infrastructure that we’re going to create. ... It’ll be the most difficult early, but once we get this machine up and running, I think we’ll be able to have some pace to life where we can enjoy.”
- 2003–2004 — Clemson (Graduate assistant).
- 2005 — South Carolina State (Quarterbacks).
- 2006–2008 — Clemson (Tight ends/recruiting coordinator).
- 2009–2010 — Clemson (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2011 — Alabama (Analyst).
- 2012 — Colorado State (Assistant head coach/quarterbacks).
- 2013 — Florida State (Tight ends).
- 2013–2016 — Alabama (Wide receivers).
- 2017 — Arizona State (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2018–2021 — Louisiana (Head coach).
- 2022–present — Florida (Head coach).
Lincoln Riley, USC
There is no bigger name on this list than Riley, whose Trojans will play the Utes during Pac-12 conference play. The former Oklahoma head coach is one of the true stars of the industry, having taken over the Sooners after Bob Stoops retired. Riley led Oklahoma to multiple College Football Playoff appearances, coached multiple Heisman Trophy winners and regularly has spearheaded one of the most electric offenses in the sport.
USC is not Oklahoma, though. Riley will have to rebuild the once dominant Trojans program (it shouldn’t take too long given the sheer amount of talent available), which has been surpassed by multiple Pac-12 teams in terms of on-field success.
Expectations are sky high, rebuild or no.
“We plan on building the best roster in the country, and inside that locker room, the best culture in the country,” Riley said in his introductory press conference. “(The Coliseum) is gonna be full. This will be the mecca of college football.”
- 2003–2005 — Texas Tech (Student assistant).
- 2006 — Texas Tech (Graduate assistant).
- 2007 — Texas Tech (Wide receivers).
- 2008–2009 — Texas Tech (Receivers).
- 2010–2013 — East Carolina (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2014 — East Carolina (Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2015–2016 — Oklahoma (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2017–2021 — Oklahoma (Head coach).
- 2022–present — USC (Head coach).
Jake Dickert, Washington State
Dickert, whose Cougars will play Utah during Pac-12 conference play, may or may not deserve a spot on this list, having served as Washington State’s interim head coach for five games in 2021, after Nick Rolovich was fired. Washington State went 3-2 with Dickert at the helm, and he was rewarded with a five-year deal that made him the program’s permanent head coach.
“We are thrilled to have Jake Dickert step into the head coaching role,” WSU president Kirk Schulz told media at a formal new conference. “Coach Dickert was able to bring together a team that has been through so much in the past two seasons and inspire them to not only keep going, but to fight harder. Coach Dickert loves Pullman, understands what it means to be a Coug, and most importantly, puts his players first. He is an asset to this program, and to WSU.”
- 2007 — Wisconsin–Stevens Point (Graduate assistant).
- 2008 — North Dakota State (Graduate assistant).
- 2009–2010 — North Dakota State (Safeties).
- 2011 — South Dakota (Special teams/defensive backs).
- 2012 — Southeast Missouri State (Defensive backs).
- 2013 — Augustana (Defensive coordinator).
- 2014–2015 — Minnesota State (Defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2016 — South Dakota State (Co-special teams/safeties).
- 2017–2018 — Wyoming (Safeties).
- 2019 — Wyoming (Defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2020–2021 — Washington State (Defensive coordinator/linebackers).
- 2021 — Washington State (interim head coach).
- 2021–present — Washington State (Head coach)
Jim Mora, UConn
Mora is no stranger to college football, having served as the head coach at UCLA from 2012 to 2017. After that job, Mora took a break from coaching, but he is back as the head coach of Huskies, one of Utah State’s nonconference opponents in 2022.
UConn has been one of the worst FBS programs over the last couple years and as such Mora has work to do to make the Huskies respectable and competitive.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to become the head football coach at the University of Connecticut,” Mora said in a statement following his hire. “UConn possesses a nationally-recognized academic and athletics brand and I am thrilled to become a member of the community that makes up UConn Nation. This program is loaded with potential, and I look forward to getting to know the student-athletes on the team and am eager to get to work!”
- 1984 — Washington (Graduate assistant).
- 1985 — San Diego Chargers (Defensive quality control).
- 1986–1988 — San Diego Chargers (Assistant defensive backs).
- 1989–1991 — San Diego Chargers (Defensive backs).
- 1992–1996 — New Orleans Saints (Defensive backs).
- 1997–1998 — San Francisco 49ers (Defensive backs).
- 1999–2003 — San Francisco 49ers (Defensive coordinator).
- 2004–2006 — Atlanta Falcons (Head coach)
- 2007–2008 — Seattle Seahawks (Assistant head coach/defensive backs).
- 2009 — Seattle Seahawks (Head coach).
- 2012–2017 — UCLA (Head coach).
- 2021 — UConn (Offensive analyst).
- 2022–present — UConn (Head coach).
Jay Norvell, Colorado State
Norvell might be one of the most interesting new coaches on this list. He takes over a Rams program that struggled mightily under Steve Addazio, but by almost accounts has the potential to be one of the best Group of Five programs in the country.
Norvell was very successful as the head coach at Nevada, building the Wolfpack into a legitimate contender in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division, on par with San Diego State and Fresno State.
That is the expectations for Colorado State going forward, only in the Mountain Division.
“I am humbled, thankful, but most importantly excited to begin this process of building Colorado State into the championship contender we all know it can be,’ Norvell said when he was introduced as CSU’s new head coach. “My family and I are ecstatic and cannot wait to get to Fort Collins to get started.”
- 1986–1987 — Iowa (Graduate assistant).
- 1988 — Northern Iowa (Wide receivers).
- 1989–1994 — Wisconsin (Offensive line/wide receivers/tight ends).
- 1995–1997 — Iowa State (Quarterbacks/Wide receivers).
- 1998–2001 — Indianapolis Colts (Wide receivers).
- 2002–2003 — Oakland Raiders (Tight ends).
- 2004–2006 — Nebraska (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2007 — UCLA (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2008–2010 — Oklahoma (Assistant offensive coordinator/wide receivers).
- 2011–2014 — Oklahoma (Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers).
- 2015 — Texas (Wide receivers).
- 2016 — Arizona State (Passing game coordinator/wide receivers).
- 2017–2021 — Nevada (Head coach).
- 2022–present — Colorado State (Head coach).
While the aforementioned coaches all are on the upcoming schedule for either BYU, Utah or Utah State, the Aggies have the chance, were they to make the 2022 Mountain West Conference championship game, to play another first-year head coach, given the coaching movement that happened in the Mountain West. The Utes too, could face another first year coach, only in their case, in the 2022 Pac-12 championship game.
Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
Tedford is the most experienced head coach of the new hires and he’s been the head coach at Fresno State before, building the Bulldogs program into one of the best in the MW. He is back, after Kalen DeBoer left to take the Washington Huskies opening (more on him later).
Tedford stepped down as Fresno State’s head coach in 2019, needing a break from the sport, but that break is over and the idea is that he will be able to maintain the success the Bulldogs have had in recent seasons.
“I am incredibly excited to welcome Jeff Tedford back as the head coach of Fresno State Football,” athletic director Terry Tumey said in a statement. “Jeff is a true Bulldog alumnus, an incredible coach and leader, and has continued to be a vital member of our Valley community. The pride and tradition of Bulldog Football is alive and well.”
- 1989–1991 — Calgary Stampeders (Offensive assistant).
- 1992 — Fresno State (Quarterbacks).
- 1993–1997 — Fresno State (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 1998–2001 — Oregon (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2002–2012 — California (Head coach).
- 2014 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Offensive coordinator).
- 2015 — BC Lions (Head coach).
- 2016 — Washington (Offensive consultant).
- 2017–2019 — Fresno State (Head coach).
- 2022–present — Fresno State (Head coach).
Ken Wilson, Nevada
Norvell’s departure from Nevada created an opening in Reno, which was filled by former Oregon co-defensive coordinator Ken Wilson.
Like Lanning and Freeman, Wilson has never been a head coach before, but he has a great deal of experience with Nevada, having coached in one capacity or another at the school from 1989 through 2012.
Nevada is a dream job for Wilson.
“I couldn’t be happier about becoming the 27th head coach in Nevada football history,” Wilson said in a statement. “It’s a dream come true and a job that I have always hoped and worked toward becoming a reality like this is fantastic.”
- 1986 — North Central (Graduate assistant).
- 1987–1988 — New Mexico (Graduate assistant).
- 1989–1990 — Nevada (Outside linebackers/defensive eds).
- 1991–1995 — Nevada (Inside linebackers).
- 1996–1998 — Nevada (Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers).
- 2004–2006 — Nevada (Assistant head coach/linebackers).
- 2007 — Nevada (Defensive coordinator/safeties).
- 2008–2009 — Nevada (Assistant head coach/linebackers).
- 2010–2011 — Nevada (Assistant head coach/defensive ends).
- 2012 — Nevada (Assistant head coach/linebackers).
- 2013–2019 — Washington State (Linebackers).
- 2020 — Oregon (Linebackers).
- 2021 — Oregon (Co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers).
- 2022–present — Nevada (Head coach).
DeBoer has to be considered one of the rising stars in the industry. After a successful stint as the offensive coordinator at Indiana, DeBoer led Fresno State to one of the best stretches in the modern history of the program, maintaining and building upon the success of Tedford.
This past season, DeBoer’s Huskies upset UCLA and had Oregon on the ropes on Eugene, and were in contention for the Mountain West title (a somewhat inexplicable loss to Hawaii kept the Bulldogs out of the conference championship game).
DeBoer arrived in Washington with the reputation of being a great offensive mind and the expectation is that he will restore Washington to the top of the Pac-12.
“My family and I are so grateful for the opportunity to lead such a storied program and be part of this prestigious institution,” DeBoer said in a statement. “The tough, hard-nosed tradition of Washington football speaks for itself, and it was obvious throughout this process that UW is committed to competing at the highest level.”
- 1997 — Sioux Falls (Wide receivers).
- 1998–1999 — Washington High School (South Dakota) (assistant).
- 2000–2004 — Sioux Falls (Offensive coordinator).
- 2005–2009 — Sioux Falls.
- 2010–2013 — Southern Illinois (Offensive coordinator/wide receivers).
- 2014–2016 — Eastern Michigan (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2017–2018 — Fresno State (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2019 — Indiana (Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks).
- 2020–2021 — Fresno State (Head coach).
- 2022–present — Washington (Head coach).