Around the Coaching Carousel: Rhule to Nebraska, Freeze to Auburn and thoughts on hires 

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The regular season is over, and some schools that are not bowl-eligible are looking to make a change of head coach in an attempt to make their football program better for the future. Some were fired midway through the season, such as Scott Frost at Nebraska. We’ll recap and grade some of the biggest hires and firings so far in the 2022 season, as many Power 5 football programs, including Nebraska and Auburn, made changes this season. 

Scott Frost fired three games in, former Panthers head coach Matt Rhule takes over at Nebraska 

Nebraska is one of the most successful programs in college football history, but since the firing of Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers have not found success. The last time Nebraska made a bowl game was in Mike Riley’s second season, and Riley was fired the season after that when the Cornhuskers went 4-8. Scott Frost, a two-time national champion, was hired to lead in 2018. Frost had a very successful two years at UCF before Nebraska, where he led the Knights to an undefeated season in 2017, winning the Peach Bowl. Ever since he took over at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers have failed to reach a bowl game and the best record he had was 5-7 in 2019. After Georgia Southern pulled off the upset on Sept. 10, the Nebraska athletic department had enough. Despite the lower buyout on Oct. 1, Frost was fired. Earlier this week, former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule accepted the job for the 2023 season. Rhule had been a head coach at Temple and Baylor, where he took both programs to a combined three 10-win seasons, including a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2019 with Baylor. In his two full seasons and five games in the NFL as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Rhule did not find the same success he found briefly at Temple and Baylor. If Rhule stays for more than a few seasons and brings Nebraska out of irrelevancy, it’s a good hire. 

Grades: 

Firing Scott Frost – A- 

Hiring Matt Rhule – B- 

Bryan Harsin fired with four games remaining, former Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze returns to SEC at Auburn 

In his first season as head coach, Bryan Harsin took Auburn to the Birmingham Bowl with a 6-6 record but lost to Houston. Auburn’s athletic department was quick on the trigger as Harsin was fired before his second season could finish. The Tigers need to find a coach that can stay longer than that, and the athletic department believes they have found that coach in Hugh Freeze. Freeze was the head coach of Ole Miss from 2012 to 2016, but had all of his wins, except in 2015, vacated by the NCAA for fielding ineligible players. Before the wins were vacated, the Rebels were good under Freeze, winning three of the four bowl games they played in, including the Sugar Bowl in 2015. They made the Peach Bowl in 2014, losing in a blowout to TCU. Freeze returned to coaching in 2019 as the head coach of Liberty and instantly found success. Under him, the Flames produced an NFL quarterback in Malik Willis and won three bowl games. Freeze left for Auburn after the regular season concluded, where Liberty lost three straight games to end the season. That includes games against UConn and New Mexico State where the Flames were heavy favorites. I’m not sure about this hire due to the poor ending to this season, but if Freeze can bring the same success that he found at Ole Miss and Liberty, then Auburn is in good hands. 

Grades: 

Firing Bryan Harsin – B 

Hiring Hugh Freeze – B 

Paul Chryst fired at Wisconsin despite successful tenure, former Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell replaces 

Paul Chryst finished his Wisconsin tenure with a 67-26 record and I was very surprised to see him fired only five games into the 2022 season. Chryst led Wisconsin to an era of dominance in the Big Ten West, finishing first in the division three times. In his seven full seasons in Madison, the Badgers made a bowl game each year and won all but one, in the Rose Bowl in 2019. Bowl wins include the Cotton and Orange Bowls in back-to-back seasons. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in those two seasons. Luke Fickell brought Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff in 2021 as the only team in the four-team field with an undefeated record. Fickell brought the Bearcats to four-straight bowl seasons, winning and losing two. He brought them to back-to-back New Year’s Six Bowls and the Bearcats were two wins away from a third. Fickell is a strong hire to replace Chryst and has a chance to face his alma mater, Ohio State, on the opposing sideline. 

Grades: 

Firing Paul Chryst – D+ 

Hiring Luke Fickell – A 

Georgia Tech fires Geoff Collins, promotes Brent Key from interim coach 

In his two seasons at Temple, Geoff Collins brought the Owls to a bowl game each year but quickly left for Georgia Tech to find even more success. However, the Yellow Jackets did not get more than three wins in their three full seasons under Collins. Georgia Tech fired him after beginning this season with a 1-3 record. Former Georgia Tech right guard Brent Key served as interim coach after Week 4 and led the team to a five-win season. The players were hyped to see their leader for most of the season become the permanent head coach, and I’m eager to see how Key does in his first full season as head coach. 

Grades: 

Firing Geoff Collins – A 

Hiring Brent Key – B- 

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