The Mountain West had a great deal of turnover in the head coaching department this winter. By the time all was said and done, half the teams in the conference had a coaching change for one reason or another. With so much new blood entering their first seasons, the question becomes: which new coach do you think will be most successful in their first year? And which new coach will experience the biggest struggles?
I may be a tad biased as I am the main contributor for all things SDSU, but I believe Brady Hoke will be the most successful new hire this upcoming season. In all honesty, it is not even about Hoke’s coaching or schemes. The roster he is inheriting is coming off a 10-3 season while returning eight starters on each side of the football. As defensive line coach for the Aztecs last season, he aided in them being one of the most dominant d-lines in the conference. The defense is losing two studs in Kyahva Tezino and Luq Barcoo but they still have so much talent on that side of the ball. If the offense catches their rhythm rushing the football and finds stability from the QB position, Hoke and his team should have a very strong season.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I believe new Colorado State head coach Steve Addazio will endure the most amount of first-year struggles. Under Mike Bobo, the Rams have finished 3-9 and 4-8 over the past two seasons, with the three before them all being 7-6. After so many years of mediocrity the fanbase was hoping for an upgrade at head coach which I am not sure they got. Addazio was average at best while at Boston College, posting a 42-42 record during his time with the Eagles. The roster has some talent but is still in need of rebuilding key positions and will need to get their players acclimated to their new coach’s systems so do not expect more than another 4-8/5-7 year out of CSU in 2020.
I think Hoke will have the most wins, but I think Addazio will be the biggest surprise. Not necessarily because of his coaching ability, but because Colorado State has a ton of talent and had a rather young squad last year. They grew a ton defensively and have a lot of offensive talent returning. If the Rams can figure out the quarterback situation, they are a lock for a bowl game.
On the other side of the things, I think Marcus Arroyo will have the biggest struggle at UNLV. The Rebels had a great recruiting class in 2019, but they will need a couple of years to marinate and their schedule is brutal this fall. It is hard to see the Rebels getting more than three of four wins.
I see Colorado State and Coach Addazio having the surprise turnaround season. Their offense was good last season and could be even better with some scheme adjustments to maximize the targets in their passing game. If there are any improvements on the defensive side of the ball, that would be an extra 1-2 victories right there. I think the Rams can get a surprise bowl season due to their personnel before the new transition really starts to take place.
Looking at the struggle side, I’ll have to go with Coach Gonzales and his new Lobos. I’ve been as impressed as anyone with their recruiting efforts the past five months and they are playing the long game to be sure, rebuilding the failing program. New Mexico is going to be the definition of it has to get worse before it gets better and the getting worse will start next year.
I would say the easier pick is the struggle side, where Coach Gonzales doesn’t inherit near as much talent as some of the other coaches. He does have Rocky Long alongside to help, but their non-conference schedule includes USC and Mississippi State. It will be tough getting to four wins, and as Mike said above the rebuilding will probably include steps backward in order to install a new system.
As to who will have the most success, I think it depends on your definition of success. If success means most wins, I think Hoke is pretty well set up for that, even with the question marks at quarterback. But if success is defined by biggest improvement, I would say Addazio at Colorado State will fit the definition. I can easily see a 3 win improvement with an improved defense and a passing attack that should be in the top tier of the Mountain West, even though Addazio tends to favor the rushing game.
The new Mountain West coach that I expect to find the most success in the 2020 football season is Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer. The guy is a proven winner who has had success at Fresno State in the recent past. DeBoer compiled a 67-3 record (no, that’s not a typo) as the head coach at NAIA Sioux Falls, and has had success everywhere he’s coached. That success includes two years as Fresno’s offensive coordinator which resulted in consecutive Mountain West Championship game appearances.
In 2019, DeBoer left Fresno State to take the OC job at Indiana where he led Indiana to the second highest rated offense in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Fresno finished with a disappointing 4-8 record in DeBoer’s absence. With Fresno’s talent, DeBoer’s winning culture, and a manageable schedule, I expect the Bulldogs to flip the 2019 record and bounce back with an 8-4 record in 2020.
The coach I predict to have the most disappointing first year as the head man is Todd Graham. While I think Graham is a good hire for the Warriors, he could struggle to meet expectations out of the gate. Hawaii is coming off a season where they made a Mountain West Championship game appearance, so expectations should be higher than they are at a UNLV or UNM.
Graham has been out of coaching for the last two seasons, has no history at Hawaii, and is replacing a coach that created a…unique winning culture. Add in the fact that contact with players and practices have been limited while dealing with COVID-19, and it may well add up to an initial stumble for the Rainbow Warriors in 2020.
Fresno State coach, Kalen DeBoer, will be the biggest success in his first season. I think the path to 6 or 7 wins is there for this Fresno State team to bounce back to bowl-eligible this season. In doing so, that would be a nice success for a coach that is taking over a team that dropped to 4-8 last season. As such, I’m viewing ‘success’ as based in comparison to 2019 results. I’m not sure that Todd Graham will be able to reach 10 wins for Hawaii like they did in 2019. I’m not sure that Brady Hoke can reach 10 wins for San Diego State, matching the 2019 win total. As such, let’s just assume that Hawaii, San Diego State and Fresno State all win 7 games in 2020. Judging by the most improvement record-wise, DeBoer would be the one deemed to have a successful season.
UNLV coach, Marcus Arroyo, will struggle the most in his first season. The Rebels play 9 teams that made a bowl game in 2019. The Rebels did not get any spring ball with practices cancelled. If the season comes together on time, they have to play Cal on August 29th for a Week 0 game. UNLV has to be ready right away. Arroyo is a first-time head coach who is bringing in new coordinators on both sides of the ball. All of this appears to be the makings of a tough, rebuilding year for UNLV. The Rebels went 4-8 last season, but they might take a step back this season, winning only a couple of games.
The newest coach I predict will endure the most struggles next season Danny Gonzales. It has been difficult for the Lobos to succeed in the past, and it won’t be easy at the start of Gonzales’ tenure. He inherits a program that finished 2-10 last year and 3-9 in the two seasons, prompting the firing of Bob Davie. Per Bill Connelly’s metric of returning production, the Lobos will return 61 percent of their returning production, ranking fourth in the Mountain West. Personnel continuity is important, but implementing new schemes and systems could cause setbacks for a rebuilding program.
The newest coach I predict will endure the most struggles next season is Danny Gonzales of New Mexico. It has been difficult for the Lobos to succeed in the past, and it won’t be easy at the start of Gonzales’ tenure. He inherits a program that finished 2-10 last year and 3-9 in the two seasons, prompting the firing of Bob Davie. Per Bill Connelly’s metric of returning production, the Lobos will return 61 percent of their returning production, ranking fourth in the Mountain West. Personnel continuity is important, but the implementation of new schemes and systems could cause setbacks for a rebuilding program like New Mexico.
Kalen DeBoer will have the most success among the new head coaches. DeBoer was just at Fresno State for two seasons, 2017-2018, as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before he went to Indiana to be their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. It will be a benefit for him that most of the guys on the roster are familiar with him, and that he likely recruited some of them too. While the Bulldog’s offensive coordinator, they won 22 games, won two MW West Division championships and a Mountain West championship. After a down year last year, I expect Fresno State to pick up where they left off when DeBoer was the offensive coordinator and win the West division and have plenty of success this season.
There are a lot of candidates that would fall under the struggle category. Danny Gonzalez has a tough rebuilding job at New Mexico, but he has Rocky Long as his defensive coordinator who will help out. And Marcus Arroyo at UNLV had a great recruiting class, but has a difficult non-conference schedule to begin the year. But, I am going to go with the most head scratching hire among the Mountain West school, Steve Addazio at Colorado State, for who will struggle the most next year. I was surprised when they announced him as the head coach and still am. He has a tough non-conference schedule, and the current situation will not help him get as prepared as he wants for the season, resulting in struggles for the Rams this season.