Greeson: Meyer hiring clearly best this offseason

Greeson: Meyer hiring clearly best this offseason

December 17th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Most of the big college football head coaching jobs outside the state of Pennsylvania have been filled. Penn State continues to deal with the fallout of the scandal that cost Joe Paterno his job and has rocked that university to its core, and Pittsburgh looks to pick up the pieces after being lied to and ditched by its former coach.

There's been more moving and shaking this year than most. No fewer than 26 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs have made moves at the top. Let's hand out some grades to some of the bigger names and bigger programs that have changed zip codes (and possibly tax brackets, although for Gus Malzahn, not in a good way):

Ohio State hiring Urban Meyer -- A

Meyer's family may feel otherwise, but it's not often there's a two-time national champion coach just hanging out ready to step in and try to salvage a proud program in turmoil.

But that's where Ohio State is and how Meyer will step in. He won't take the reins until after the Gator Bowl -- which pits Ohio State against Meyer's former team, Florida, in what Orlando columnist Mike Bianchi dubbed "Urban Renewal against Urban Decay." Meyer's impact on the program, the fan base and in recruiting, where the Buckeyes have already swiped at least two high-profile commitments from Big Ten rivals, already has delivered big dividends.

North Carolina hiring Larry Fedora -- B-plus

Fedora led Southern Miss to an upset win over Houston in the Conference USA title game. His teams always played hard, and he and his staff seemed to get maximum effort and production.

Here's a telltale sign in favor of Fedora, who was 33-19 in four years in Hattiesburg: Almost to a person, every Golden Eagles fan I know is upset about losing "The Hat."

Ole Miss hiring Hugh Freeze -- B

Freeze has been on a rapid rise. He was a Memphis high school coach less than a decade ago and now he's in the SEC, which is not unlike going from the Chattanooga City Council to the U.S. Senate in eight months.

Still, he's energetic, hungry, a proven recruiter with ties around the South. He was the Ole Miss recruiting coordinator under former Rebels head coach Ed Orgeron when the talent was landed in Oxford that led to back-to-back Cotton Bowl trips.

Arkansas State hiring Gus Malzahn -- B-minus

The offseason's most surprising hire. Malzahn turned down the Vanderbilt job and a reported $3 million last year and was rumored to be a finalist for several more prominent jobs this offseason. He also took a reported pay cut in the pricey neighborhood of $450,000 to jump from being Auburn's offensive coordinator to the top job at ASU.

It definitely made a splash for Arkansas State, but other than the quick headlines, how much can the Red Wolves expect from Malzahn?

He'll have a fun, productive and high-paced offense. He'll chew a ton of gum. And Arkansas State has the talent for another 10-win season, but there seems to be two outcomes for Malzahn at ASU. Either he wins 10-plus games and leaves in two years for a bigger gig, or he struggles in his first college head coaching gig. Neither has the making for long-term success for ASU.

Texas A&M hiring Kevin Sumlin -- C-minus

Sumlin has enjoyed a quick rise and had Houston one win away from a BCS bowl berth. That's certainly worth a promotion, a raise and a pat on the back. That said, it's a big-time risk for a Texas A&M program that was among the most disappointing in college football this fall and is headed to the not-for-the-faint-of-heart SEC West next fall. Sumlin's success mirrored the success of record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. Without an injured Keenum in 2010, Sumlin's Cougars finished 5-7 in Conference USA.

This was one of the five best openings this offseason, and the Aggies may have taken an unnecessary chance with a coach who has proven nothing more than he can win 10-plus games with college football's most prolific passer. OK, good luck with that.

UCLA hiring Jim Mora -- D-plus

Mora is Lane Kiffin-light, and for a Bruins program desperate to break from USC and Kiffin's dark shadow in L.A., Kiffin-light is not good enough. Especially considering that Mora has spent exactly one season in college football, and that was being a grad assistant at Washington in 1984.

His NFL experience is a fine starting point, but college football today is far different than during Mora's first -- and ever-so-brief -- tour around the Pac-12.

Arizona State hiring Todd Graham -- F

Graham may win a million games, but he will have to be in Tempe for more than a decade before shaking the tag of being a fly-by-night mercenary coach. Arizona State is Graham's fourth program in six years -- and his third in the last 12 months -- and his departure from Pittsburgh leaves behind a wake of lies, deceit and hypocrisy.

In fact, all of the sketchy coaching departures now are fighting for second-worst. All of the cheesy non-denial denials that seem Shakespearean compared to the out-and-out lies coaches and administrators have spewed for various reasons during coaches' searches seem forthright in comparison. All the sleazy, sneaky, hypocritical exits until this day would have been called a "Kiffin"; now they could be called a "Graham."

In the last week, Graham chastised other coaches for leaving good jobs, he met with recruits and players and told them he was at Pitt for the long haul, and he spoke at the "Coaches Corner," a Pittsburgh-area banquet. He reportedly approached ASU despite being denied permission to talk about other job opportunities.

This guy makes Jim Tressel seem reliable and Bruce Pearl look like babysitting material. Who's going to be this guy's recruiting coordinator, Nevin Shapiro? Plus, Graham had the class and dignity to inform his team with a statement through a text message that was relayed through a second party. Even Bobby Petrino, who left the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the night with a note to the players on the locker room wall, would think that was cowardly.