Midseason report card for college football’s 29 first-year coaches

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

Halfway through the college football season, what stands out about this year’s group of first-year coaches are the extremes.

Southern California’s Lincoln Riley has been very good, somewhat predictably, while his replacement, Brent Venables, has presided over one of the worst stretches in recent Oklahoma history, lowlighted by a 49-0 loss to rival Texas. Brian Kelly, whose exit from Notre Dame and landing spot at LSU left many dazed and confused, has seen a bit of everything in his first seven games. So has the man he just faced on Saturday, Florida first-year boss Billy Napier. Meanwhile, the excitement surrounding Kelly’s replacement, Marcus Freeman, has turned to unease after an unsettling first half. The much-anticipated return of Mario Cristobal to Miami is off to a tough start, while the program Cristobal departed, Oregon, continues to win with Dan Lanning.

I usually wait until the end of the cycle to evaluate first-year coaches. But given the names and programs involved right now, midterm grades make a lot of sense. Final grades will still be posted, and coaches have time to bump up a letter grade or perhaps two — or go the other way.

Not every first-year coach stepped into the same situation, so they are graded somewhat on a curve. Still, performance and program oversight ultimately carried the day. Overall, I’m surprised by how many poor grades (C-minus or worse) I awarded through the first half, especially for Group of 5 coaches and hires that I really liked (and still could work out fine).

Let’s take a look at the midterm grades.

Sonny Dykes, TCU: A

2022 record: 6-0 | TCU’s 2021 record: 5-7
Previous job: SMU head coach
Grade when hired: A-

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