Which high-profile add was the best?

December 21, 2021
From top left, clockwise: USC's Lincoln Riley, LSU's Brian Kelly, Miami's Mario Cristobal and Florida's Billy Napier
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No shortage of quality college football jobs came open during this year’s coaching carousel.

LSU ranks among the top five jobs in the sport. It came open. So did another marquee SEC job: Florida.

And four of the best jobs west of the Mississippi River also came on the market: Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon.

Four of those schools hired guys with head coaching experience (three of whom were coaching at Power Five programs), while Oregon and Oklahoma went the coordinator route.

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On this edition of “SEC Football Unfiltered,” a podcast from the USA TODAY Network, hosts Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams rank the hires for these six high-profile jobs.

Here’s how their ranking shakes out:

1. Lincoln Riley (USC, from Oklahoma): California produces an abundance of talented quarterbacks, and Riley knows how to develop QBs. That should be a good match. He worked with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Caleb Williams at OU. Riley’s exciting brand of offense should be a hit in So. Cal, where fans expect to be entertained.

2. Mario Cristobal (Miami, from Oregon): Cristobal couldn’t get Oregon back to the footing it had under Chip Kelly, but he restored the Ducks to a place among the West Coast’s best programs, highlighted by a Rose Bowl victory to cap the 2019 season. This hire gets a boost for the fit. A Miami native, he’s a skilled recruiter who played for the Hurricanes during their heyday. He should elevate this program’s talent.

3. Billy Napier (Florida, from Louisiana): A roll of the dice? Somewhat, considering Napier has not been a Power Five head coach. But he has a well-rounded résumé. He’s been an assistant under both Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban, and he successfully ran his own program at Louisiana, leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 40-12 record throughout his four seasons. He’s also a potential value hire, coming cheaper than Riley, Cristobal or the next guy on this list.

4. Brian Kelly (LSU, from Notre Dame): We’re grading this hire on a curve considering LSU was the best job available. LSU reportedly pursued Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher. Fisher or Riley would have been a better fit for the Tigers. In Kelly, LSU hired a proven winner – but he has a track record of flopping in big games. At Notre Dame, 10-win seasons against an independent schedule is fine. At LSU, a national championship is the expectation. Kelly, a Massachusetts native with no SEC ties, also profiles as an odd fit.

5. Brent Venables (Oklahoma, from Clemson): Venables has been a respected defensive coordinator for many years. But Oklahoma is taking a risk by hiring someone with no head coaching experience for one of the most high-profile jobs in the sport. Of course, Riley also was a rookie head coach, and he fared fine.

6. Dan Lanning (Oregon, from Georgia): Lanning is a Midwest native who spent the past four seasons in the SEC. So he winds up in … Eugene, Oregon. Huh. To Lanning’s credit, Georgia’s defense thrived during his time as coordinator. Is that because he’s a defensive guru, because Kirby Smart is a defensive guru, or because of Georgia’s incredible recruiting? We’ll find out. Of course, if Lanning can recruit players like Nakobe Dean to Oregon, he should be OK.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is a senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel.



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