Grading The New FCS Coaching Hires

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 12: Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino talks with officials in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma on September 12, 2020, in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki-Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sue Ogrocki-Pool/Getty Images)

Since late in the 2019 Football Championship Subdivision season, there have been 18 coaching changes within the level. Some were firings, some coaches moved on to other coaching positions in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and in one instance, the program just folded (Jacksonville University).

This fall, with fewer than 20 FCS programs attempting to play a football game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only four of those new coaches were able to have their coaching debuts. Those four programs combined to go 3-15, but most of those losses came to FBS competition in payout/blowout games — as the college football odds clearly predicted.

Here’s how the fall went for the four new coaches:

THE FOUR

Austin Peay (Marquese Lovings – 0-3 fall season) — Lovings was named the interim head coach in the summer after Mark Hudspeth’s resignation for reasons that were never made public. In 2019, Hudspeth had led the Governors to their best season in school history, winning 11 games and going deep in the playoffs. Lovings, a respected assistant, faced a strong Central Arkansas team in the FCS Kickoff Classic, leading most of the game before a UCA comeback win. The other two losses were blowouts to Pitt and Cincinnati. After the season, Austin Peay hired Southern Miss assistant Scotty Walden.  GRADE: Incomplete

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 12: Austin Peay Governors defenders combine to make a tackle during a game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on September 12, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Panthers won 55-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Eastern Kentucky (Walt Wells – 3-6 fall season) — The Colonels made a change after their 7-4 season in 2019 under Mark Elder, and then were one of the few FCS schools that opted to try to max out the fall schedule. Wells’ team managed three impressive FCS wins against The Citadel, Central Arkansas, and Western Carolina while dropping three games to FBS teams and three to FCS schools. The Colonels defied college football betting odds by nearly upending an FBS team in their trip to Troy on Oct. 17, falling by only two points on a last-second field goal. GRADE: B+

Mercer (Drew Cronic – 0-3 fall season) — The Bears made a trip up to West Point (a 49-3 loss to Army) but then played two FCS programs tight before falling, Jacksonville State (by six) and Abilene Christian (by three). Cronic, a successful head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne prior to coming to Mercer, was nine points away from two victories, but there’s still too little to do a full evaluation. GRADE: Incomplete

Missouri State (Bobby Petrino – 0-3 fall season) — Petrino would probably earn a nice grade here if one just considered what he did with recruiting early on. But when it comes to the fall season — a home-and-away with Central Arkansas and a road trip to play the Oklahoma Sooners — there wasn’t much to grade on. Both UCA games were relatively close. GRADE: Incomplete

BIG BUZZ HIRES

While these schools didn’t play a game in 2020, they made big news with their hirings and are making a splash on the recruiting trail and attracting off-the-field buzz that is much needed at this level. 

Northern Colorado — The Bears hired former Denver Broncos star receiver Ed McCaffrey and immediately saw an uptick in recruiting over the past year. UNC has struggled mightily over the years, battling a tough Big Sky Conference to try to become relevant. 

Cal Poly — The Mustangs brought on California offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, who led Eastern Washington to a ton of success between 2008-16, along with a national title in 2010. He knows the Big Sky Conference.

Jackson State — Deion Sanders? Are you kidding? The Tigers snagged the big-name NFL Hall of Famer to help resurrect this struggling program, and his exploits on the recruiting trail are already making national headlines. He even lured a top JUCO talent away from the SEC’s Georgia when the December national signing day period opened up. 

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Deion Sanders of the NLF 100 All-Time Team is honored on the field prior to Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Brian McLaughlin is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of BMac and Herd’s FCS Podcast. He has written for The Sporting News, headed up the PARADE Magazine High School All American teams, covered the FCS for HERO Sports, and wrote for so many newspapers he lost count. Follow BMac on Twitter @BrianMacWriter. 

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