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Grading college football coaching hires at Auburn, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado, more

Here’s how we feel the schools involved in coaching searches this offseason did.

LendingTree Bowl - Liberty v Eastern Michigan
Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Liberty Flames reacts during the LendingTree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Mobile, Alabama.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

It’s not quite the coaching carousel that we saw last offseason as high-profile coaches Brian Kelly and Lincoln Riley quit their high-profile jobs and left total chaos in their wake, but we do have some key new hires at head coach in college football this year. We’re going to be grading each one. Here’s a look at how we feel the new coaches at Auburn, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado and other schools shape up going forward.

Hugh Freeze, Auburn

Grade: D

Freeze has no reason to turn down the gig when it was offered to him, so this isn’t really about him. This is about Auburn putting their reputation as an institution on the line for a guy who committed major NCAA violations, lied about them to players, attempted to push those allegations onto a former coach, and in the end had to resign due to a scandal involving his connection with an escort service. He had some trouble with Twitter DMs as the Liberty head coach, which further clouded his character. Let’s be clear: Auburn only cares about winning football games when they make a hire like this. And if Freeze doesn’t do that, this becomes a F hire. The Tigers had plenty of choices without red flags. They chose this and they will have to own it if things don’t work out.

Deion Sanders, Colorado

Grade: A

Sanders might not work out at Colorado. But this program was on the brink of irrelevance after five straight seasons without a bowl game. “Coach Prime” has injected life back into this school, which does have some resources and will invest in Sanders. The former Jackson State coach has proved he can recruit, and will now be able to tap into California and Arizona in addition to his Southeast ties. It will be a tougher go than at JSU but Sanders is exactly what Colorado needed to get back in the national conversation.

Matt Rhule, Nebraska

Grade: B+

Nebraska have made a long-term commitment to Rhule, who is widely seen as a program builder and turnaround artist in the college football realm. His stint with the Carolina Panthers didn’t help his cause but it’s hard to ignore the job he did at Temple and Baylor. Nebraska is dealing with an identity and culture crisis. Rhule can fix that if given time, and it appears the Cornhuskers are willing to do that this time around.

Luke Fickell, Wisconsin

Grade: A

Fickell has been in every coaching carousel conversation since Cincinnati made it onto the national stage a few years back, and his name has finally been called. He’ll head to the Big Ten, where he’ll hope to revive a stagnant Wisconsin program. He was able to beat some very good teams and big-name programs and make it to a CFP with Cincinnati’s G5 resources and recruiting power, so the rest of the Big Ten should be feeling the heat from this hire.

Jeff Brohm, Louisville

Grade: A

It may not be an A for Brohm, but it’s absolutely an A for Louisville. Snagging a Big Ten coach who just led his team to the conference championship game to come to a lower-tier ACC school is no easy feat. Brohm’s 36-34 record at Purdue may not seem like much to look at, but he had eight wins in each of his last two seasons with several wins over ranked teams. In an ACC that has been fluctuating over the past several years in its power dynamics, Brohm could bring something big to. Louisville.

Kenny Dillingham, Arizona State

Grade: B+

Dillingham comes into a flailing Arizona State program with no head coaching experience, but plenty of high-level OC jobs under his belt in the ACC, Pac-12, and SEC. Dillingham inherits a program that desperately needs a shock to the system. The Sun Devils’ potential is there — they beat a ranked Washington team this season — but hiring an OC as their head coach when their biggest issue has been defense makes me hesitate to give the hire an A before I see who he brings onto his defensive staff. ASU allowed 30 or more points in nine games this season.

Scott Satterfield, Cincinnati

Grade: C+

Cincinnati has had some excellent coaches in its history. Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, Tommy Tuberville and Luke Fickell all had major success there and parlayed that into bigger gigs. Satterfield does have success at Appalachian State, but he comes from Louisville after three poor seasons. Despite having his job secure, Satterfield decided to move on. With Cincinnati jumping to the Big 12, Satterfield doesn’t inspire much confidence after his recent struggles in the Power 5.

Brent Key, Georgia Tech

Grade: B

Key was promoted to interim head coach partway through the season after Georgia Tech fired Geoff Collins and did a respectable job with the rest of the season, going 4-4 with wins over UNC and Pittsburgh. But Key is a first-year head coach at a Power 5 program that can be difficult to recruit to, and he’ll certainly face some trip-ups and obstacles in his first few seasons. Head coach and interim are very different jobs. The Nick Saban coaching tree grows!

Jamey Chadwell, Liberty

Grade: A

Chadwell worked miracles at Coastal Carolina, so what better spot for him to land than Liberty? (Kidding, kidding.) He made the Chanticleers into a household name in the world of college football, leading Coastal to two 11-win seasons and a Sun Belt Conference Championship appearance in just four years as a head coach. Liberty is the perfect step up for Chadwell, who will be able to build off their recent offensive success.