The 2021-22 college football coaching carousel has officially turned hot now that we are on the verge of entering the month of December. USC coach Clay Helton was handed his walking papers in September, LSU told Ed Orgeron that this would be his last in October and TCU split with Gary Patterson on Halloween. In mid-November, Washington fired Jimmy Lake near the end of his second season, and Virginia Tech followed that up by parting with Justin Fuente in his sixth season.
Most recently, Florida coach Dan Mullen, who won the SEC East and led the Gators to three straight New Year's Six bowl games, was let go on Nov. 21 -- one week before the rivalry game vs. Florida State. Billy Napier was tabbed as his replacement one day after the Gators topped the Seminoles to improve to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.
On Nov. 28, the big one hit. Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley shocked the world and took the job at USC, shocking everybody in Norman and around the country. One day later, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly left his program -- despite being alive in the College Football Playoff race -- to accept a monster contract at LSU. Marcus Freeman, Kelly's defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, was elevated to take his place on Dec. 30. Dec. 5 was a big day, as Oklahoma that Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who has been one of the hottest head coaching prospects for more than a half-decade, has been tabbed to replace Riley. One day later, Miami fired Manny Diaz and hired Oregon's Mario Cristobal, which opened one of the biggest jobs in the Pac-12.
Virginia filled its vacancy on Dec. 10 when it lured Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott away from Dabo Swinney's program. Another big one popped on Dec. 11, when Oregon hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to take over for Cristobal.
And there could be more before the coaching cycle comes to a close.
Coaching changes are part of the game and with the early national signing period a pivotal part of a recruiting class, athletic directors are getting their ducks in a row to make sure that their programs don't miss a beat despite changing leadership. Here's a look at the updated coaching changes and analysis.
College football coaching carousel
|Stan Drayton (Texas RB coach)||Rod Carey||This is Drayton's first head coaching job, but he has plenty of experience as an assistant at major college football programs. He's worked at Texas, Ohio State, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Those connections will be critical in rebuilding the Owls football program. Temple was a relevant Group of Five program just a few years ago, so Drayton will have to hit the ground running. That's not an easy thing to do. Grade: C+|
|Dan Lanning (Georgia DC)||Mario Cristobal||This is Lanning's first head coaching gig, and he's going to be doing it on the other end of the country with a national power. With that said, he's a relentless recruiter who will further increase the talent gap between the Ducks and the rest of the Pac-12 North. If he can handle the responsibility of a head coach, he'll be great. That is an unknown though. Grade: B|
|Mike Elko (Texas A&M DC)||David Cutcliffe||Elko has never been a head coach at this level, but his defensive acumen can't be denied. With that said, the challenges he will face at Duke are much different than what he has had to deal with in other, higher-profile gigs. Grade: C+|
|Tony Elliott (Clemson OC)||Bronco Mendenhall||Elliott has been one of the hot names on the coaching circuit for several years and landing with Virginia is a perfect spot for him. Elliott is a proven offensive mind who, as the leader of an ACC Coastal squad, won't have to deal with Clemson on a regular basis. However, Virginia will expect reasonable success, which puts pressure on the first-time head coach. Grade: B+|
|Ken Wilson (Oregon ILB coach)||Jay Norvell||Wilson has never been a head coach before but has been on staffs at Washington State and Oregon. Perhaps more important is his familiarity with the Wolf Pack. He spent 19 years as an assistant coach with the program, and knows the culture that was created under Chris Ault. With that said, the unknown factor has to be taken into consideration. Grade: C+|
|Mike MacIntyre (Memphis DC)||Butch Davis||MacIntyre has head coaching experience, which is big for FIU considering its future in FBS is uncertain due to conference realignment. With that said, he has sub-.500 records in seven of his nine seasons as a head coach. I'm not sure why FIU didn't go with an up-and-coming coach that can at least build a competitive team. Grade: D-|
|Jeff Tedford||Kalen DeBoer||Tedford led the program to back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, but ultimately resigned due to health issues. With those apparently behind him, Tedford is a solid hire with great familiarity of the school and landscape. He's won everywhere he has coached. Running things back is not necessarily an inspired decision, but it could be a correct decision. Grade: B|
|Mario Cristobal (Oregon)||Manny Diaz||Miami fired Diaz (finally) to roll out the green and orange carpet for Cristobal, who is as embedded in the community as any coach in the country. Cristobal is a strong recruiter and had plenty of success at Oregon. Time will tell if this is a match made in heaven but there's no doubt he was Miami's guy. Grade: A|
|Jay Norvell (Nevada)||Steve Addazio||Norvell was 33-26 in five seasons at Nevada with plenty of postseason appearances. He also oversaw the development of one of the better quarterbacks in college football in Carson Strong. Norvell is an established Mountain West coach who hasn't had a losing conference record since 2017. Grade: A-|
|Brent Venables (Clemson DC)||Lincoln Riley||This is Venables' first stint as a college head coach after serving as Dabo Swinney's defensive coordinator since 2012. He was on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma from 1999-2011, which gives him some familiarity with the program. Oklahoma has had success with first-time head coaches (Stoops, Lincoln Riley), but it's still a risk. After all, Venables has been a hot name on the coaching circuit for more than a half-decade. Grade: B-|
|Michael Desormeaux (Louisiana co-OC)||Billy Napier||Louisiana opted to stay internal and promote Desormeaux -- a former UL quarterback -- to the head job. The Ragin' Cajuns are betting on continuity and hoping that keeping the program infrastructure in place can continue the unprecedented success in Lafayette. Grade: B|
|Joe Moorhead (Oregon OC)||Tom Arth||Moorhead's experience as a head coach at Mississippi State from 2019-20 will certainly help revitalize a program that needs a boost. How many times can Akron say that its hire is a highly-regarded assistant with experience who's on multiple lists going into the offseason? Grade: A-|
|Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame DC)||Brian Kelly||Freeman knows South Bend from his time as Kelly's defensive coordinator, and has been widely-regarded as one of the future stars of the coaching industry. With that said, this is his first head coaching job and he's doing it at one of the most storied schools in college football history. Grade: B|
|John Sumrall (Kentucky ILB coach)||Chip Lindsey||Sumrall was on Neal Brown's staff at Troy from 2015-18. His experience there, as well as Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tulane, gives him plenty of recruiting connections. With that said, Troy expects to be one of the top Group of Five teams in the country on an annual basis. It's going to have to give Sumrall some time to figure out how to be a head coach at this level. Grade: C+|
|Brent Pry (Penn State DC)||Justin Fuente||Pry has connections up and down the east and southeast, and served as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech from 1999-97. Bottom line ... he knows how Frank Beamer built the culture of the program. With that said, he has never been a head coach and this is a team that demands ACC contention every year. That's not realistic in the short term, and we'll see what happens after that. Grade: C+|
|Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)||Ed Orgeron||LSU landed one of the better coaches in college football as Kelly ranks No. 3 among active FBS coaches in wins. Conversely, he has never coached further south than Cincinnati. There might be some growing pains as Kelly, 60, tries to learn the ways of the SEC, but his winning pedigree speaks for itself. His coaching acumen combined with more recruiting resources in the SEC makes this a home run hire. Grade: A|
|Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech OC)||Skip Holtz||Cumbie follows the model of the young, up-and-coming assistant that helped take rival Louisiana -- and Louisiana Tech under Sonny Dykes -- to prominence. He has a knack for recruiting quarterbacks, which will win him plenty of fans in Ruston. Grade: B|
|Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma)||Clay Helton||Riley has made three CFP appearances and led Oklahoma to its most successful stretch in recent memory. He'll bring creativity, offensive success and recruiting prowess to a program in desperate need of a boost. Grade: A+|
|Sonny Dykes (SMU)||Gary Patterson||Dykes travels just 40 miles across the Metroplex to take over the program he beat in September. He took SMU to 10 wins for the first time since 1983 and went 25-10 in his last three years. It's a safe hire, but his success is transferrable at TCU. Grade: B+|
|Kalen DeBoer (Fresno State)||Jimmy Lake||DeBoer isn't a big name, but the former Fresno State coach has won everywhere, from NAIA to the Big Ten. He has a way with quarterbacks and will be tasked with fixing one of the worst offenses in the Power Five. Grade: B|
|Rhett Lashlee (Miami OC)||Sonny Dykes||Lashlee, the offensive coordinator at Miami, helped bring SMU back to prominence as an assistant in 2019. He has done strong work with quarterbacks at each of his stops and should be able to continue much of the brand campaign that has reenergized SMU. Dykes, meanwhile, is expected to be named the next coach at TCU in the coming days. Grade: A-|
|Billy Napier (Louisiana)||Dan Mullen||Napier was 39-12 in four seasons with the Ragin' Cajuns, including three straight double-digit win seasons. His recruiting prowess throughout the southeast is a perfect fit for what Florida needs. Grade: A|
|Jerry Kill||Doug Martin||Kill joins the program weeks after the Aggies announced plans to join Conference USA. He's an experienced coach with a 154-101 record while climbing from D-II to the Power Five. It's as good a hire as could have been expected at a program with one winning record since 2002. Grade: B+|
|Jake Dickert (interim)||Nick Rolovich||Dickert led Washington State to a 3-2 record in place of Rolovich this year, including a 40-13 evisceration of Washington in the Apple Cup. The combination of success down the stretch and continuity he brings to the program makes this a solid hire given the market this silly season. Grade: B+|
|Clay Helton (USC)||Chad Lunsford||The Eagles landed a coach who was 46-24 at USC and won a Rose Bowl. That's not just a home run, it's a grand slam. Grade: A+|
|Jim L. Mora||Randy Edsall||On one hand, it's great that UConn got a coach with a history of at least some success at the NFL and college levels. On the other hand, he Mora also has a history of allowing his teams to regress. What will happen at UConn? It's hard to imagine him building it into a power, but at least he brings some buzz to Storrs. Grade: B+|
|Don Brown||Walt Bell||Brown, recently the Arizona defensive boss, was 43-19 as the coach at UMass from 2004-08. He led the Minutemen to two FCS playoff appearances, and lost in the national championship in 2006. His familiarity with the program and experience as a top-tier defensive coordinator is perfect for the program. Grade: B+|
|Joey McGuire||Matt Wells||McGuire isn't a household name as Baylor's former linebackers coach, but he will fit in perfectly with what Texas Tech needs. He has been on Baylor's staff since 2017, promoted to associate head coach, and is also a hall of fame high school coach after leading Cedar Hill (Texas) to 12 straight playoff appearances and three state titles. Those ties will come in handy on the recruiting trail. Grade: A-|
Notable retentions, extensions
|Kalani Sitake||Extension||BYU announced that coach Kalani Sitake has received an "unprecedented" contract that runs through the 2027 season. He is 48-28 in six seasons, and has developed BYU into a consistent top-25 program. The stability that he provides will be huge as BYU transitions to the Big 12.|
|Mike Houston||Extended||East Carolina and coach Mike Houston agreed to an extension through 2026. Houston is 14-19 in three seasons in Greenville, posted a 7-5 record this year and helped ECU earn a bowl berth for the first time since 2014.|
|Mark Stoops||Extended||Stoops is 58-53 in nine seasons with the Wildcats, and transformed the program into a consistent threat in the SEC East. His new contract runs through the 2027 season.|
|Jeff Hafley||Extended||Hafley has signed an extension that will keep him at Boston College through the 2026 season. He has led the Eagles to a 12-11 record in his first two seasons and reached bowl eligibility both years.|
|Hugh Freeze||Extended||Liberty extended Freeze's contract through the 2028 season as the third-year coach neared the end of another winning season. He will reportedly make an average of more than $4 million.|
|P.J. Fleck||Extended||Fleck signed a seven-year extension after a 6-2 start that saw the Gophers debut at No. 20 in the CFP rankings. The new deal is worth $5 million annually. |
|Scott Frost||Retained||Frost has been retained by athletic director Trev Alberts despite a 15-27 overall record and 10-23 record in Big Ten play. His contract was restructured, and he was given a vote of confidence by Alberts.|
|Mike Gundy||Extended||The long-time Cowboys coach received a five-year contract extension in perpetuity.|
|Jonathan Smith||Extended||Oregon State signed Smith to an extension that will keep him in Corvallis through 2028. Smith led Beavers to their first bowl appearance since 2013. The new deal includes assistant salary increases. |
|James Franklin||Extended||Amid rumors he may depart Happy Valley for USC or LSU, Franklin inked a massive 10-year extension with Penn State worth $75 million guaranteed. Franklin holds a 67-32 record as Nittany Lions coach through almost eight full seasons, and won the Big Ten championship in the 2016 season. |
|Jeff Traylor||Extended||The Roadrunners burst onto the college football scene in 2021 and rewarded Traylor with an extension through 2031 in hopes of keeping him from major programs.|
|Dave Clawson||Extended||Wake Forest announced a "long-term" extension for Clawson on Nov. 26 with the Demon Deacons sporting a 9-2 record in Clawson's eighth season as coach. |