After a period of relative tranquility, the coaching carousel kicked into overdrive in the Big 12 this offseason.
In addition to splashy head coaching hires at places like Kansas and West Virginia, teams such as Bedlam rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State made big moves on the coordinator front.
Which Big 12 teams will get the best ends of their deals? Here are some preliminary grades of the moves made to secure new head coaches and coordinators around the conference.
Head coach - Les Miles
Offensive coordinator - Les Koenning
Defensive coordinator - D.J. Eliot
One way to read this hire: The worst program in major college football just enlisted a charismatic coach with a national title on his resume to right its ship. Miles is zany in an endearing way, and having him on the sidelines will get the KU faithful revved up for football in the short run.
A less charitable interpretation: Athletic director Jeff Long botched an opportunity to bring a higher-upside candidate to Lawrence, one who could do more with the program than simply get it back to something resembling respectability.
Even Miles’ coordinator choices are good news and bad news. D.J. Eliot established a subpar track record as the defensive coordinator at Colorado and Kentucky, and he has offered little reason to believe he’s prepared for the challenges posed by Big 12 offenses. Meanwhile, Koenning has a solid reputation as an offensive mind.
In sum, this feels about as average of a result as you could ask for.
Head coach - Chris Klieman
Offensive coordinator - Courtney Messingham
Defensive coordinator - Scottie Hazelton
For all the good Bill Snyder did for K-State football, which is a lot, he was starting to claw back some of those gains. The Wildcats needed change.
Is Klieman the right guy to pick up the torch? You can’t really argue with this track record on the FCS level. He knows the region, and his style will pose the kind of changeup that was such a pain in the ass to prepare for when it was Snyder’s show.
Klieman clearly must respect Messingham’s work from the past two seasons as North Dakota State’s offensive coordinator. Having that level of comfort with the offensive scheme seems important in this kind of transition.
Klieman landed a solid defensive coordinator in Hazelton, who did admirable work in the last two seasons for the Wyoming Cowboys. They ranked 36th and 41st in Defensive S&P+ in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Hazelton also coached at NDSU, including for a season when Klieman was on the staff, so the cultural overlap is there.
The coaching acumen looks high enough here. Can Klieman and his staff acquire the necessary talent? That’s a big unknown.
Defensive coordinator - Alex Grinch
Grinch’s arrival at OU and the potential impact on the defense have already been talked to death, so I won’t spend much time on him here.
Lincoln Riley reportedly coveted Grinch’s services for years. It should warm the hearts of Sooner Nation to know the head coach now has his staff aligned as he wants it. Grinch’s body of work at Washington State speaks to why Riley wanted to go that direction. His relatively short track record and lack of involvement in one season with Ohio State, however, indicate the hire deserves a measure of caution for now.
Offensive coordinator - Sean Gleeson
Mike Gundy made another off-the-beaten-path hire at offensive coordinator, plucking Gleeson from Princeton. Football savants are pumped.
Given Gundy’s own background as an offensive coordinator, he deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to picking out innovative strategists. On the other hand, Gleeson isn’t dealing with the same type of players he had in the Ivy League. You’re rolling the dice that Gundy and Gleeson are going to mesh.
In light of the track record at OSU, this feels like a win for the Pokes.
Head coach - Matt Wells
Offensive coordinator - David Yost
Defensive coordinator - Keith Patterson
Not so long ago, you’d hear Wells’ name mentioned as one of the hottest young coaches in college football. Not surprisingly, his star faded after a stretch in which Utah State went 15-23 between 2015 and 2017.
Wells parlayed his bounce-back year in 2018 into a new gig, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s more the coach we saw during that three-year period or the one who went 29-11 in the other three seasons with the Aggies.
Historically speaking, Keith Patterson’s defenses haven’t set the world on fire. His unit did climb up to 35th in the country in Defensive S&P+ last season. However, if the idea here is to get away from being the Red Raiders of old, Patterson doesn’t instill much confidence.
Yost has his quirks, but his offenses have a long-running track record of solid production dating back to the 12 seasons he spent at Missouri. His presence as offensive coordinator should help Wells maintain a sense of continuity in Tech’s offense while still transitioning to a new regime.
I imagine Tech fans will be happy just trying something different, and that’s what they’re getting with this new staff.
Head coach - Neal Brown
Co-offensive coordinators - Matt Moore, Chad Scott
Defensive coordinator - Vic Koenning
The attractiveness of West Virginia as a destination tends to draw widely diverging opinions. In that sense, landing Brown seems like a coup for the Mountaineers.
Troy shook off a 4-8 record in Brown’s first season as head coach to produce records of 10-3, 11-2 and 10-3 in the next three years. The Trojans pulled off wins against Nebraska and LSU during that stretch and put a scare into eventual national champion Clemson in 2016.
Despite the co-coordinator titles for Moore and Scott, Brown truly runs the offense. His credentials are well-established. More importantly, WVU hit a home run when Brown retained his defensive coordinator from Troy, Vic Koenning. A career defensive mastermind, the 59-year-old Koenning oversaw units at Troy that finished in the top 50 in S&P+ in the last three years. That kind of more-with-less experience is a must in Morgantown.
Frankly, the Mountaineers may have significantly upgraded their staff with the departure of Dana Holgorsen.