The 2020-21 college football coaching carousel produced 15 coach changes.
There were seven new hires in the Power 5 and eight in Group 5. This cycle revolved around the SEC – past, present, and perhaps future.
There are four new coaches to the SEC, including Josh Heupel from Tennessee, Bryan Harsin from Auburn, Clark Lea from Vanderbilt and Shane Beamer from South Carolina. Four former SEC coaches also accepted new jobs. That group is Bret Bielema from Illinois, Butch Jones from Arkansas State, Terry Bowden from UL-Monroe and Gus Malzahn from UCF. Malzahn’s hiring filled the last vacancy in this year’s cycle, at least for now.
MORE: Ranking of the best games outside of the September 2021 conference
Sporting News ranks coach changes. Meet the new coaches for 2021:
Back in the Power 5
Steve Sarkisian, Texas
Sarkisian won the Broyles Award for Top Country Assistant in Alabama. The offense averaged 48.5 points per game, and that earned Sark his third chance as a coach with the Longhorns. Texas has enjoyed just a 10-win season since Mack Brown retired, and expectations will not change with the arrival of Sarkisian. Sarkisian, however, becomes the most interesting branch of Nick Saban’s coaching tree with this move.
Bret Bielema, Illinois
Bielema is back in the Big Ten where he belongs. He served as an assistant coach in the NFL for the past three seasons. Bielema played at Iowa and was 68-24 at Wisconsin. Now, the task is to catch up with those schools with an Illinois program that has endured nine consecutive losing seasons. Look for Bielema to improve the offensive and defensive lines, but it could take a few cycles to compete in the Big Ten West.
Power 5 Beginner Trainers
Josh Heupel, Tennessee
Heupel is Tennessee’s fifth coach since 2008, and will join former UCF athletic director Danny White in Knoxville. Heupel is 28-8 in the last three seasons with the Knights, and UCF averaged 43 points per game in that stretch. Heupel was also successful as Missouri’s offensive coordinator. Expectations in Tennessee are always high and patience is never a virtue. The Vols are just 10-24 in SEC play in the past four years. Heupel faces a challenge in his first job as a Power 5 coach.
Bryan Harsin, Auburn
Harsin led Boise State to three Mountain West Conference championships, and the 44-year-old coach is advancing after compiling a 69-19 record with the Broncos. Level up with Auburn, and the challenges of a first-time Power 5 coach at SEC West are daunting. Note that Gus Malzahn won three Iron Bowls in eight seasons against Alabama. Harsin deserves a fair chance, but he’ll have to prove it on the recruiting route first.
Clark Lea, Vanderbilt
Lea, 38, is the perfect hire for Vanderbilt. He played fullback for the Commodores from 2002 to 2004 before launching an impressive career as an assistant. That peaked as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator the past three seasons. The Irish have ranked in the top 15 in defense for the past three seasons. Vanderbilt has made five bowl appearances in the past 10 seasons. Lea faces challenges knowing that success came with only one winning season in the SEC, but the fact that Lea chose to return demonstrates her commitment to the show for the long term.
Shane Beamer, South Carolina
Beamer is another hire that fitting into is a good start. He is the son of former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and was an assistant in South Carolina from 2007 to 2010. He also worked as an assistant in Georgia and Oklahoma, learning from some of FBS’s elite programs. You will bring those lessons to hard work. The Gamecocks are 14-20 in SEC play the past four seasons. Beamer will have to beef up recruiting, and that won’t be easy against his in-state rival, Clemson, to get South Carolina back in pursuit of the SEC East.
Jedd Fisch, Arizona
Fisch spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Rams and Patriots. Fisch knows the offense and was a solid offensive coordinator at UCLA and Michigan. He’s had multiple stops in both college and the NFL, but he’s never been in the same place for more than four years. That’s the challenge with Arizona, which has hit bottom at Pac-12 South in recent seasons. Fisch’s biggest immediate challenge is reshaping an offense that averaged just 17.4 points per game last season. It will not be an easy rebuild.
From Power 5 to Group of 5
Gus Malzhan, UCF
This is a big name signing for UCF, and Malzahn should be able to maintain, and probably increase, the success that Scott Frost and Heupel have had in the American Athletic Conference. Malzahn was 68-35 at Auburn and led the Tigers to a BCS championship appearance in 2013. The Tigers averaged 39.5 points per game that season, a standard to be expected with UCF in the American Athletic Conference. It’s a great hire for the Knights, one that other SEC schools will be watching closely.
From group of 5 to group of 5
Blake Anderson, Utah
Anderson, an Arkansas native, won two Sun Belt championships at Arkansas State during a successful seven-year season. The 51-year-old last coached in the Mountain West Conference in 2001. The Aggies fell to 1-5 last season, but the show had made one bowl game in eight of the last 10 seasons. It’s kind of a lateral move for Anderson, but he should be able to build a program with similar results.
Back at the FBS
Butch Jones, Arkansas State
Jones is Saban’s second assistant to take a head coaching job this cycle. Jones spent the past three seasons as an analyst / assistant with Alabama, and is back in the ranks of the head coaches. Jones is 84-54 in stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee, and should be able to maintain success at Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference. Jones, 53, could use this as an audition for another shot at a Power 5 job.
Terry Bowden, UL-Monroe
Bowden, who took his first FBS head coaching job with Auburn in 1993, is back for another career with the Warhawks, who finished 0-10 in 2020. Bowden’s last shakeup was in Akron, where he led the Zips. to a couple of bowling pins. appearances in 2015 and 2017. Bowden, 64, is the oldest coach among the new hires.
FBS coaches for the first time
Andy Avalos, State of Boise
Avalos’s name appeared in coach searches in recent seasons, and it was a logical choice to return to Boise State. He played linebacker there from 2001 to 2004 and was an assistant coach for the Broncos from 2013 to 2018 before taking the defensive coordinator job with Oregon for the past two seasons. The standards for one of the most successful Group of 5 programs shouldn’t change with Avalos.
Charles Huff, Marshall
Marshall made the surprise move of cutting ties with Doc Holliday, who had led the Thundering Herd to four consecutive winning seasons. Huff is Saban’s third former assistant to accept a head coaching job this cycle. He was an associate head coach / running back coach for Alabama the past two seasons. Huff, 37, inherits a team that can compete for a United States Conference championship in 2021.
Kane Wommack, South Alabama
The 33-year-old Wommack quickly rose through the coaching ladder after a three-year stint as an assistant coach in Indiana. Wommack was the defensive coordinator for the past two seasons. The Hoosiers evolved into a top-20 defense that allowed just 20.2 points per game in 2020. Wommack was the defensive coordinator in South Alabama from 2016 to 2017, so familiarity with the program is an asset.
Will Hall, southern Mississippi
Hall, 40, is a good fit in a southern Mississippi show that flopped in recent seasons. He is a native of Mississippi with ties to the entire state, and worked as an offensive coordinator on multiple stops, most recently with Tulane from 2019 to 2020. The Golden Eagles ranked 87th in points per game last season. That should change with Hall.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.