As college football kicks off this weekend, and most of the premiere programs ready for the start of their seasons next week, here are five high-profile coaches taking the helm at new programs this year.
Bryan Harsin, Auburn
Auburn went outside of the box with this hire, picking the successful former Boise State coach (and quarterback in his playing days) who lacked any SEC experience. It hasn’t been a particularly smooth first summer for Harsin — who tested positive for COVID-19 recently, had to coach virtually for a week and has declined to say if he is vaccinated. Coincidence or not, Auburn’s program has not reached the 85 percent vaccinated threshold that would lessen testing protocols. This is worth remembering, since the conference will force teams to forfeit if they don’t have enough players to play due to the virus.
Josh Heupel, Tennessee
Heupel picked up where Scott Frost left off at Central Florida, going 28-8 in three seasons, but his second job will be a completely different challenge. Tennessee’s once-proud program has become an SEC punching bag, without a double-digit win season since 2007 and a 20-27 record over the past four years.
Bret Bielema, Illinois
Bielema is returning to his roots, back in the Big Ten where he led Wisconsin to four seasons of 10 wins or more in seven years from 2006-12. The former Giants outside linebackers coach, Bielema replaces Lovie Smith, who never won more than six games in further burying this program that hasn’t finished a season ranked since 2007.
Gus Malzahn, Central Florida
UCF was very fortunate to land the underrated Malzahn. He never had a losing season in eight years at Auburn, finished tied atop the rugged SEC West twice and compiled a 68-35 record despite constant rumors of job security. Malzahn will continue the recent winning tradition at Central Florida.
Steve Sarkisian, Texas
He won more than he lost at Washington and flopped at USC, in part due to personal issues that reportedly included alcohol abuse. After stints as an offensive coordinator with the Falcons and at Alabama, Sarkisian is getting another shot as a head coach, tasked with restoring glory at Texas. He thrived with the Crimson Tide, helping Nick Saban win his seventh national championship last year, but Sarkisan also had a significant talent advantage that won’t exist at Texas.