Every season, a bunch of new coaches change jobs, whether by choice or not. Each situation they find themselves in now is unique. Here are the new college football coaches in new places for 2021.
No new coaches
Illinois Fighting Illini- Bret Bielema
The Lovie Smith hire got Illinois to one bowl game, but they had a 17-39 record over five years. Bielema had success at Wisconsin years ago, but had a losing record at Arkansas. Since his departure, he has spent time as an assistant in New England. Illinois is projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten after going 4-8 last season. They have 13 returning starters, but they are going to need to recruit hard to climb the ranks in the Big Ten. With a relatively easy schedule, Bielema could pick up more wins than expected this year.
Kansas Jayhawks- Lance Leipold
Leipold posted a 37-33 record, but really turned around Buffalo’s program during his tenure. In his last three seasons with the team, Leipold went 24-10. The Kansas job isn’t easy, as they are once again projected to come in last in the Big 12. They have 15 returning starters, which may not be the most positive thing given the results from last season. The Jayhawks do have a young team and quarterback Jalon Daniels who can develop under Leipold though. It may just take some time.
Texas Longhorns- Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian was Alabama’s offensive coordinator the past few seasons and helped keep their offense humming. He has spent time getting over his personal problems, which is ultimately why he was let go from USC. At Texas, big things will be expected, especially with the school moving to the SEC. For the short-term future, Sarkisian will need to get the most out of running back Bijan Robinson, who is one of the best in the country. He’ll also need to find a quarterback to help run his offense, but that could be Casey Thompson. The Longhorns should finish near the top of the Big 12 this year, but they need to start revving up for their jump to the SEC.
Arizona Wildcats- Jedd Fisch
Fisch has been an assistant all around football and now is getting his first job as a head coach. He’ll have 12 returning starters to work with, but it won’t be easy for the Wildcats to start climbing the Pac-12 standings. Arizona has a very young roster with only five projected senior starters, but they really need some of their current players to step up. On top of that, they’ll really need to improve their recruiting, as they finished 77th by 247 sports for 2021 recruiting.
Auburn Tigers- Bryan Harsin
It was a bit surprising that Harsin would leave his alma mater at Boise State to go to Auburn. He posted a 69-19 record with the Broncos. Now that he is there, he has some tools to work with including running back Tank Bigsby. With 13 other starters returning, including the hot and cold quarterback Bo Nix, the Tigers have a chance to have some success. If Auburn chooses to grade his performance on his ability to beat Alabama, it won’t go well. But if Auburn gives him a few years, Harsin may be able to build a consistent winner, even if Auburn doesn’t top the SEC.
South Carolina Gamecocks- Shane Beamer
The last name Beamer should be familiar for college football fans, as Shane is Frank Beamer’s son. Beamer has spent his career as an assistant so far and will be getting his head coaching debut with the Gamecocks. His youth could bring some more energy to the program, especially on the recruiting trail. Beamer will need to bring in some impact recruits very soon, as the Gamecocks only bring back nine starters from a two-win team last year.
Tennessee Volunteers- Josh Heupel
Tennessee has had some rough years and are hoping that UCF’s former head coach Heupel can help turn things around. He posted a 28-8 record in four seasons as the head coach of the Knights. His main job was sustaining the success that Scott Frost started. It will be different at Tennessee, where Heupel has to bring the Volunteers from near the bottom of the conference up. As with all new coaches, recruiting will be key, but especially for Heupel, who had several key players transfer out. He has just 10 returning starters to work with, which could make the rebuild take a bit longer than the Volunteers would like.
Vanderbilt Commodores- Clark Lea
The Commodores had a winless season in 2020 and made a change to bring Clark Lea in as head coach. He is the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator who is also an alum of Vanderbilt. Coaching at Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but Lea does have 12 returning starters. He’ll have to find diamonds in the rough on the recruiting trail, as Vanderbilt isn’t a destination school for top recruits. If he finds these players and develops them well, Vanderbilt could start making bowl games in a few years, much like they did under James Franklin.
Group of Five
Boise State Broncos- Andy Avalos
Avalos is a former Boise State linebacker and assistant who also was the defensive coordinator at Oregon. This is his first head coaching job, but the Boise State brand and his love for the program should help him keep the Broncos among the best group of five teams in the country.
Buffalo Bulls- Maurice Linguist
The former Baylor safety and defensive assistant coach at several stops, Linguist inherits a solid job at Buffalo. They have 14 returning starters and ranked fifth as a scoring offense in 2020. They have a chance to compete for the MAC title the next few years.
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks- Terry Bowden
Bowden has had two coaching stints: One at Auburn and the other at Akron. In his career, he has a 82-69-1 record in his career. He will have a tough situation to walk into at ULM. The Warhawks lost every game in 2020. Returning 13 starters may help, but it will be hard to turn the program around.
Marshall Thundering Herd- Charles Huff
Huff has been an assistant coach just about everywhere, but most recently was with Alabama. He inherits the best situation after Marshall went 7-3 last season. They return 16 starters, including quarterback Grant Wells. The Thundering Herd have the talent to win the C-USA this year and beyond if Huff can keep things stable.
South Alabama Jaguars- Kane Wommack
Wommack has been an assistant coach at the FCS and FBS level. He was an assistant at South Alabama then Indiana. Now back at USA, Wommack has 12 returning starters from a four-win team last season. For short-term success, he’ll need former Utah Ute and South Carolina Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley to play well. With only four projected senior starters, Wommack also needs to develop the players on his roster for long-term success.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles- Will Hall
Hall worked a few different levels of football, but has worked his way up to being Southern Miss’ head coach after being Tulane’s offensive coordinator. He has 17 starters back from last year’s team. Although they won three games last season, there is a chance for improvement, especially with running back Frank Gore Jr. back after rushing for over 700 yards last season.
UCF Knights- Gus Malzahn
The Knights lost Jeff Heupel to Tennessee, but got one of the best hires possible in Gus Malzahn. Malzahn’s offensive mindset should help keep the offense rolling at UCF. Dillon Gabriel is poised for a big season in Malzahn’s system and UCF will likely challenge for the AAC again.
Utah State Aggies- Blake Anderson
Blake Anderson did a great job at Arkansas State and now has a new challenge at Utah State. The team won one game last season, but they do return 16 starters. Anderson does a great job of developing talent, so he will likely make Utah State competitive, even if it isn’t right away.
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