Forde-Yard Dash: 10 Intriguing Coaching Debuts This Fall

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Alabama Fauci Cup trophy photo ops sold separately, masks mandatory:

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The 10 coaching debuts The Dash is most interested in seeing this fall:

State of Mississippi (11). This was already the weirdest state in America when it comes to college football, and now they’ve added Lane Kiffin in Oxford and Mike Leach in Starkville. Let the eccentricity ripple. Kiffin has a quarterback battle to sort out between dual-threat John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral; Leach seems likely to go with Stanford grad transfer K.J. Costello but has holdover Garrett Shrader as well. The battle for fifth place in the SEC West has never been dull—especially last year, when Elijah Moore memorably lifted his leg—but now there are fresh personalities added to the shenanigans. From Kiffin’s smarm to Leach’s oddball tangents, bring it on.

Mike Norvell (12), Florida State. Despite the massive underachievement of an 18–20 record the past three seasons—the end of the Jimbo Fisher Era and the beginning and end of the Willie Taggart flop—the presumption remains that the Seminoles aren’t far from a rebound. Norvell, after doing spectacular work at Memphis, gets the chance to prove it. He hasn’t gotten off to a great start with the players, though; will some of the off-season discord manifest itself when it’s time to play? Norvell’s Memphis teams rank first, second, fourth and fifth in school history in total offense. Now he tries to find some consistency in junior quarterback James Blackman.

Dave Aranda (13), Baylor. Rookie head coach arrives from defending champ LSU as a defense-first guy, but now he has to totally rebuild a unit that allowed the fewest yards per play and points per game in the Big 12 last year. Aranda brings in Larry Fedora to coordinate the offense, a hire that could pay immediate dividends. Jury is out on Aranda long haul—can he recruit?—but this is a much more stable job after Matt Rhule’s three seasons than it was in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown at the end of Art Briles’s tenure.

Scott Cochran (14), Georgia. The most intriguing assistant coaching move of the offseason was Kirby Smart swiping Cochran from Nick Saban. Smart made the former strength coach his special teams coordinator, but is he really going to coach? Or is this just a sham title while Cochran continues his (undeniably valuable) Alabama role as the Juice Guy in practice and on game day? As if Georgia and Alabama don’t have enough recent history, this adds another layer of intrigue to the Bulldogs’ Oct. 17 visit to Tuscaloosa.

Bo Pelini (15), LSU. Ed Orgeron replaces the more reserved and cerebral Aranda with a Tasmanian Devil. At least that’s the way Pelini used to be. Orgeron was that guy once, too, but he’s become a calmer sideline presence. Pelini isn’t going to completely submerge his personality, but it will no longer be his role to tear apart the nearest official after every iffy call—that falls to the head coach. Pelini wants to be a Power 5 head coach again, and a successful stint at LSU can help make that happen.

Chris Ash (16), Texas. Tom Herman’s third season was a big backslide, and the biggest reason was the defensive side of the ball. Texas finished 2019 ranked 97th in total defense, 90th in pass efficiency defense and having registered just 18 sacks in its first 11 games—hence the firing of Todd Orlando. Ash, rebounding from his own firing as head coach at Rutgers, reunites with Herman after both were on Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State. Ash said he wants “a defensive unit that’s fanatical about getting the ball.” Texas has had diminishing takeaways under Herman, going from 26 to 20 to 19.

Rhett Lashlee (17), Miami. After playing for and coaching under Gus Malzahn, Lashlee took his coaching whistle to the American Athletic Conference for three seasons—one at Connecticut and two at SMU. Last year with the Mustangs he linked up with Shane Buechele, and the Texas transfer had the best season of his career. Miami is hoping the same scenario plays out this season with Lashlee and Houston transfer D’Erik King. The Hurricanes have had pretty abysmal QB play for the past three seasons, and marked improvement at that position could have a huge impact.

Mike Bobo (18), South Carolina. After going from nine wins to seven to four the past three seasons, Will Muschamp could use some help hanging onto his job. Enter Bobo, a long-time Georgia assistant who busted as a head coach at Colorado State—and he brought a quarterback with him. South Carolina likes sophomore Ryan Hilinski, but he has competition from CSU grad transfer Collin Hill. Whoever wins the job will be tasked with upgrading an offense that ranked 12th in the SEC in scoring and 11th in total offense.

Justin Hamilton (19), Virginia Tech. How do you replace one of the all-time great defensive coordinators? With a guy who played for him and has made a rapid ascent through the coaching ranks. Bud Foster’s retirement has led to the promotion of 37-year-old Justin Hamilton, entering just his second season as a full-time FBS assistant coach. (Last year he coached safeties at Virginia Tech, and the year before that he was director of player development.) Hamilton’s only other stint as a defensive coordinator came at then-NAIA Virginia-Wise, where he worked for then-coach Dewey Lusk while drawing up defenses on a whiteboard. “He had soaked up everything Bud Foster had ever taught him or ever said,” Lusk told the Roanoke Times. Seems like an ideal plan for coaching defense in Blacksburg.

Jeff Scott (20), South Florida. He’s a 39-year-old rookie head coach with a 27-year-old offensive coordinator in Charlie Weis Jr., and they’re in charge of invigorating an offense that ranked 115th in scoring and 112th in yards nationally last season. (If they need help, call dad. Scott is also the son of Brad Scott, former South Carolina head coach, and Weis Jr., is obviously the son of the former head coach at Notre Dame and Kansas.) But Scott brings some championship pedigree with him from Clemson, where he worked alongside Dabo Swinney for 12 seasons.

Other debuts The Dash would have been looking forward to if, well, you know: Greg Schiano at Rutgers; Jimmy Lake at Washington; Mel Tucker at Michigan State; Nick Rolovich at Washington State; and the Mountain West retread brigade (Steve Addazio at Colorado State, Brady Hoke at San Diego State, Todd Graham at Hawaii).

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