Ranking the 2024 college football hires: You’ll be surprised where Jeff Lebby lands

Ranking the 2024 college football hires: You’ll be surprised where Jeff Lebby lands

Here are the 30 college football head coaching changes for 2024, ranked from worst to best. (Hint: No. 1 is a familiar name to football fans.)

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Apr 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Apr 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

(Berry Tramel produces two newsletters every week. To receive his newsletters, go here.)

The college football coaching carousel extended into late February this year and includes 30 changes, which is a 22.6 percent turnover among the 133 Division I-A jobs.

Some of the hires seem like home runs. Others seem like duds. We’ll never know, of course, for a year or three.

But my annual ranking of the hires always educates me on what’s going on around the country, and I hope you find it informative, too.

The carousel included 13 or 14 power-conference programs, depending on how you want to count Oregon State, which is dropping from that distinction.

Don’t lose your religion over my rankings. I had Mario Cristobal as the best hire for 2022; so far, Cristobal hasn’t ignited Miami football. I had Joey McGuire 28th out of 29 that year; so far, McGuire has done quite a solid job at Texas Tech.

So here’s the ranking for 2024, from worst to best:


Feb 13, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; DeShaun Foster answers questions from media after he was introduced as the UCLA Bruins head football coach during a press conference at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

30. UCLA: De’Shaun Foster, replacing Chip Kelly

Foster is a renowned football name. A UCLA star and an 11-year tailback in the National Football League. He went into coaching in 2013 as a UCLA student assistant and spent one year, 2016 at Texas Tech, away from Westwood. When Chip Kelly left UCLA for the offensive coordinator job at Ohio State, it signaled that the Bruin job had lost all kinds of luster. The hiring of Foster didn’t change that.


Feb 26, 2024; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia State Panthers head football coach Dell McGee addresses the media at the press conference announcing his hiring at Center Parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

29. Georgia State: Dell McGee, replacing Shawn Elliott

McGee was an Auburn cornerback who played in the NFL and didn’t enter college coaching until 2013, when he was an Auburn analyst. Since then, he’s spent two years at Georgia Southern (and was the Golden Eagles’ interim coach in a 2015 bowl game) and eight years at Georgia, as the tailback coach. Georgia State was hit with a late hiring window; Elliott resigned in mid-February to join the South Carolina staff. The hiring pool wasn’t great, and it shows.


Dec 30, 2022; Tucson, AZ, USA; Wyoming Cowboys defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel against the Ohio Bobcats during the 2022 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

28. Wyoming: Jay Sawvel, replacing Craig Bohls

Bohls was a solid coach who retired, and the Cowboys elevated his defensive coordinator. Sawvel has been at Wyoming for four years. He’s never been a head coach. Sawvel was Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator in 2017 but was fired early in the 2018 season. He played at Division III power Mount Union and has extensive experience, much of it with Jerry Kill, following Kill from Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois to Minnesota. Wyoming is banking much on the good defense the Cowboys have played in recent years.


Trent Bray is formally introduced as Oregon State football’s head coach during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

27. Oregon State: Trent Bray, replacing Jonathan Smith

Bray was Jonathan Smith’s defensive coordinator. Bray is an Oregon State alum, so that’s good. He might be more loyal to a program staggered by the demise of the Pac-12. But the Beavers might have just hired a stopgap, in this age of an uncertain future and decreased resources.


Nov 19, 2022; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; UAB Blazers interim head coach Bryant Vincent talks to the side judge against the LSU Tigers during the second half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

26. Louisiana-Monroe: Bryant Vincent, replacing Terry Bowden

Vincent did a solid job at Alabama-Birmingham as interim coach, going 7-6 in 2022 after Bill Clark retired in the summer. Vincent grew up in Alabama and coached high school there before working at South Alabama and UAB. He spent last season at New Mexico. That year as interim coach is at least intriguing.


Sep 6, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Mississippi Rebels offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby talks to the crowd after a victory against the Louisville Cardinals in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

25. Mississippi State: Jeff Lebby, replacing Zach Arnett

I was stunned when Lebby emerged as a candidate at Mississippi State. I thought he was a good offensive coordinator. Not yet great. The combination of young (40), not yet a fully-proven coordinator (Josh Heupel at Central Florida and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss were head coaches who had a major hand in their offenses), plus the baggage from the Baylor scandal (Lebby is Art Briles’ son-in-law), makes Lebby a little questionable as a top-shelf candidate. His Southeastern Conference ties, with Ole Miss, are a plus.


Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney blows his whistle to end warmups before Saturday's game at Fitton Field.

24. James Madison: Bob Chesney, replacing Curt Cignetti

Chesney clearly is a good coach. He’s got a combined record of 111-46 at Division III Salve Regina, Division Assumption and Division I-AA Holy Cross. But those are New England schools. Chesney grew up in Pennsylvania and stayed in-state to play at Dickinson College. I know James Madison is not in the Deep South (Harrisonburg, Virginia), but the Dukes are in the Sun Belt, a rising mid-major league with Deep South schools. He’s not at Holy Cross anymore. Can Chesney handle the culture shift?


Dec 5, 2023; Syracuse, New York, USA; New Syracuse Orange head football coach Fran Brown addresses the crowd during a timeout in the first half of a basketball game between the Syracuse Orange and the Cornell Big Red at the JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

23. Syracuse: Fran Brown, replacing Dino Babers

The hiring of Georgia’s defensive backs coach has drawn rave reviews. But it’s always a little shaky hiring someone who never has been so much as a coordinator. Brown grew up in New Jersey and coached at Temple and Rutgers, so he’s got East experience. Kirby Smart hires sharp guys, but this feels like a stretch.


Nov 18, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker talks to players during warmups before the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

22. Troy: Gerad Parker, replacing Jon Sumrall

Parker never has been a head coach, outside of going 0-6 as Purdue’s interim coach in 2016. But he was Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator in 2023. Parker was born and raised in Kentucky, and was a UK wide receiver. He has a solid resume’, having also coached at West Virginia, Duke, Penn State and Marshall.


New head UTEP football coach Scotty Walden held their second spring practice on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at the Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso.

21. Texas-El Paso: Scotty Walden, replacing Dana Dimel

Walden is just 34, but youth and energy probably is what UTEP needs. The Miners’ last three head-coach hires were 55 (Dana Dimel), Sean Kugler (46) and Mike Price (57). UTEP is a tough job; lots of energy probably is needed. Walden did a good job at Division I-AA Austin Peay, 26-14 over four years, and he has Texas ties — born and raised in Cleburne, played at Sul Ross in Alpine and Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, worked at East Texas Baptist in Marshall.


Tony Sanchez, the new head coach of the Aggie football team, speaks to the audience and news media during a news conference on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at New Mexico State University.

20. New Mexico State: Tony Sanchez, replacing Jerry Kill

A couple of things to like about Sanchez, promoted from NMSU receivers coach: he’s an Aggie alum so he knows the challenges and he’s got head-coaching experience at a I-A program (Nevada-Las Vegas) void of many resources. But Sanchez was 20-40 at UNLV. And bummer for Sanchez; he’s the first New Mexico State hire since forever who takes over with some expectations, courtesy of Kill’s great building.


Dec 9, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils new football head coach Manny Diaz greets fans during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

19. Duke: Manny Diaz, replacing Mike Elko

Diaz is a college football enigma. As a defensive coordinator, Diaz was a near-disaster at Texas but did a solid job at Penn State. As a head coach and local hero — his father, Manny Diaz Senior, was mayor of Miami — Diaz went 21-15 at Miami and was fired. But Mario Cristobal, his replacement, is 12-13. Diaz is an intriguing candidate at Duke; he played at Florida State and has coached at North Carolina State and Miami, so he knows the Atlantic Coast Conference well. Does Duke know what it’s getting in Diaz? If so, is that a good thing?


Middle Tennessee head football coach Derek Mason corrects players during an MTSU spring football practice on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

18. Middle Tennessee: Derek Mason, replacing Rick Stockstill

Mike Gundy’s 2022 defensive coordinator is back in the game, replacing Rick Stockstill, fired after 18 seasons with the Blue Raiders. Mason was a seven-year head coach at Vanderbilt, 2014-20, who was fired with a 27-55 record. But Mason’s Commodores beat Tennessee three straight years. I know the Volunteers were down, but a coach who leads Vandy past Tennessee for three straight years is doing something right.


Sep 24, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA; Navy Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo looks on before a game against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

 17. San Jose State:  Ken Niumatalolo, replacing Brett Brennan

Niumatalolo was a Navy icon, coaching the Midshipmen for 16 years. But he was surprisingly fired after the 2022 season, with a 109-83 record. In the last 60 years, only Paul Johnson (45-29, .608) had a better winning percentage at Navy than Niumatalolo’s .568. Navy is a tough job, and San Jose State is a tough job, but they are vastly different tough jobs. And the last time Niumatalolo coached football somewhere besides Annapolis, he was a 1994 graduate assistant at Hawaii, his alma mater. So it’s a little bit of a gamble for the Spartans. Niumatalolo isn’t even implementing the option offense for which Navy is known.


Dec 9, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs football coach Sean Lewis applauds during the first half of the game between the Aztecs and the UC Irvine Anteaters at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

16. San Diego State: Sean Lewis, replacing Brady Hoke

Lewis would rank much higher if he had any California ties. But until Lewis was Deion Sanders’ offensive coordinator for part of the 2023 season at Colorado, he never coached west of Omaha, and even that was a one-year stint as a graduate assistant at Nebraska-Omaha. But Lewis was an uptempo, high-octane offensive coordinator at Bowling Green and Syracuse, then took that offense to Kent State, where he was 22-21 in his final four seasons, at a school with long stretches of failure. The Aztecs have been playing solid defense. If Lewis can retain that culture and incorporate his offense, he could do something swell In San Diego.


Michigan State coach Jonathan Smith talks the media on the first national signing day for college football recruits Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

15. Michigan State: Jonathan Smith, replacing Mel Tucker

Smith was an excellent head coach at Oregon State (34-35) and might have stayed had the Pac-12 not crumbled. But Michigan State’s money came calling. The main question is, can Smith adjust to Big Ten life? He’s a career Westerner. Grew up in California, a four-year starting quarterback at Oregon State and an assistant coach at Idaho, Montana, Boise State and Washington. The Spartans have high expectations and even made the College Football Playoff in 2015. But the job is tough, and Smith is out of his element.


Dec 16, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Boise State Broncos head coach Spencer Danielson looks on during the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins in the Starco Brands LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

14. Boise State: Spencer Danielson, replacing Andy Avalos

Danielson has been on the Bronco staff since 2017, most recently as defensive coordinator, and twice has served as interim head coach, including after Avalos was fired last November. Danielson led Boise State to the Mountain West title. So Boise State knows what it’s getting in Danielson. But does Danielson know what he doesn’t know? He’s 35, and his football life since high school days in California consists of one year playing at San Diego, three years playing and four years coaching at Azusa Pacific, and Boise State. That’s not an expansive portfolio.


Oct 27, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars head coach Major Applewhite looks on during the second quarter against the South Florida Bulls at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

13. South Alabama: Major Applewhite, replacing Kane Wommack

A blast from the past. Applewhite was the Texas quarterback under Mack Brown (1998-2001), and he’s experienced as a head coach, going 15-11 at Houston, before he was fired to make way for Dana Holgorsen (who was 31-28 in five years). Applewhite has spent the last three years as Wommack’s offensive coordinator, so he knows the program well and offers stability.


Indiana's newly announced head coach of football Curt Cignetti speaks to the media on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.

12. Indiana: Curt Cignetti, replacing Tom Allen

The son of former West Virginia coach Frank Cignetti, Curt Cignetti maintained James Madison as a powerhouse, with three straight trips to the Division I-AA national semifinals, winning once. Then JMU went 19-4 in its first two seasons in Division I-A, going 13-3 in the Sun Belt. Cignetti is 119-35 as a head coach at Indiana-Pennsylvania, Elon and James Madison. He has no Indiana ties, not that that matters much in the basketball-crazy state. Cignetti also was on Nick Saban’s first four staffs at Alabama.


Jan 27, 2024; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines head football coach Sherrone Moore addresses the basketball crowd during a time out against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

11. Michigan: Sherrone Moore, replacing Jim Harbaugh

Give Michigan credit for sticking with its history. Much like OU, the Wolverines don’t automatically go after the biggest name on the market, and it often works out well. Bennie Oosterbaan, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr all were successful, after being promoted. It doesn’t always work; Bump Elliott was 51-42-2 in 10 years. Moore, 38, was an OU offensive lineman under Bob Stoops. He filled in quite ably during multiple Jim Harbaugh suspensions in 2023, including victories over Penn State and Ohio State. So Moore is a hero for now. But following Harbaugh, who is off to the Los Angeles Chargers, is not easy. For anyone.


Mar 21, 2024; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama head coach Kalen DeBoer gives directions during practice at the University Alabama Thursday.

10. Alabama: Kalen DeBoer, replacing Nick Saban

DeBoer is a whale of a football coach. Of that there is no doubt. DeBoer’s teams were 67-3 at NAIA Sioux Falls, 12-6 at Fresno State and 25-3 at Washington. Alabama got a winner. Just one nagging thought: DeBoer grew up in South Dakota, played at Sioux Falls and never has worked in the South. The cultural differences are vast. The farthest south that DeBoer has worked is Southern Illinois. Keep an eye on culture shock in Tuscaloosa.


Mar 9, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars football head coach Willie Fritz addresses the crowd before the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

9. Houston: Willie Fritz, replacing Dana Holgorsen

Fritz is a premium football coach. He won at Blinn Junior College (44-14), Central Missouri (97-47), Sam Houston State (40-15), Georgia Southern (17-7) and Tulane (54-47, including 23-4 the past two years). Fritz grew up in Greater Kansas City and played at Pittsburg State in Kansas, but he’s coached enough in Texas (a combined 13 seasons in high school and college) to be a good fit in Houston. But one problem. Fritz is 64. That’s old for a coach trying a rebuild, especially in the portal era.


Memphis Tigers special teams coach Pete Lembo leads his players during practice at the Billy J. Murphy Athletics Complex on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Jron3223

8. Buffalo: Pete Lembo, replacing Maurice Lingquist

In 22 non-Lance Leipold years as a Division I-A program, the Bulls have had three winning seasons. So it’s a tough job. But Buffalo made a good hire in Lembo. He’s got New York ties, having grown up on Staten Island and getting a Master’s degree from Albany. Lembo, 54, played football at Georgetown and has coached all over the East and mid-Atlantic region. Lembo was a head coach at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State, with winning records at each stop. Lembo had a 23-17 Mid-American Conference record at Ball State, so he’s well-versed in the MAC, of which Buffalo is a member. He most recently was a kicking game coordinator at South Carolina; Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer is from a kicking-game family, so you know the Beamers hold Lembo in high regard.


Aug 26, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Jose State Spartans head coach Brent Brennan watches game action against the Southern California Trojans during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

7. Arizona: Brent Brennan, replacing Jedd Fisch

Brennan’s seven-year record of 34-48 at San Jose State won’t set off celebrations. But San Jose State is a desolate job, and after a 3-22 start with the Spartans, Brennan finished off 31-26. Not bad at all. He worked at Arizona in 2000 as a graduate assistant and has coached all over the Pacific region — Hawaii, Washington, Cal Poly, Oregon State. Brennan kept the talented Arizona battery of Noah Fitita and Tetairoa McMillan. Seems like a really good hire.


New Nevada head football coach Jeff Choate helps fire up the crowd while taking on UC Davis at Lawlor Events Center in Reno on Dec. 6, 2023.

6. Nevada: Jeff Choate, replacing Ken Wilson

Wilson went 4-20 in his two years after succeeding Jay Norvell. So Choate does not have a high bar to meet. But the Wolf Pack has had a decent program in the past and should be a relevant program in the Mountain West. Choate seems like a good place to start. He built Montana State into a good Division I-AA program, then spent the past three years as co-defensive coordinator at Texas under Steve Sarkisian. Choate knows the West. He grew up in Idaho, played at Montana Western and has worked at Utah State, Boise State, Washington State and Washington. Smart hire in Reno.


Dec 28, 2023; San Antonio, TX, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Jedd Fisch reacts at the end of the Alamo Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. Washington: Jedd Fisch replacing Kalen DeBoer

When Arizona hired Fisch before the 2021 season, I panned the move. Fisch’s background suggested no optimism for success. But I was wrong. Fisch built up the Wildcats to a 10-3 season in 2023 and was rewarded with the Washington job. Before Arizona, Fisch was mostly an NFL assistant, including one season as the Seattle Seahawks quarterback coach. So at least he knows about Puget Sound. Nine players followed Fisch from ‘Zona to Washington, though quarterback Noah Fifita was not among them.


Nov 18, 2023; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko looks on from the sidelines against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

4. Texas A&M: Mike Elko, replacing Jimbo Fisher

Let’s be honest. Aggieland is a unique place. Outsiders can do well there, but it’s best if you know what you’re in for. Elko should since he was Fisher’s defensive coordinator from 2018-21. In two years at Duke, Elko proved to be an excellent head coach, taking the Blue Devils to a 16-9 record. A&M went with substance over flash. That’s always a good move.


Oct 14, 2023; West Point, New York, USA; Troy Trojans head coach Jon Sumrall during the second half against the Army Black Knights at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tulane: Jon Sumrall, replacing Willie Fritz

Here’s a way to gauge coaching hires. Did a school hire above its status? Tulane did. Sumrall prominently was mentioned for the Mississippi State job and might have been a better choice than Lebby. Sumrall coached Troy to a 23-4 record the past two seasons and two Sun Belt championships. Sumrall grew up in Alabama, played at Kentucky and has coached on staffs at Kentucky and Ole Miss, so the geography fits great.


Nov 20, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall looks on from the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. New Mexico: Bronco Mendenhall, replacing Danny Gonzales

New Mexico is a tough job. Some prominent names have given the Lobos a whirl. The last New Mexico coach to leave Albuquerque with a winning record was former New York Giants halfback Joe Morrison, who went 18-15-1 in 1980-82. Marv Levy — yes, that Marv Levy — went 14-6 in 1958-59. Dennis Franchione’s teams were 33-36 from 1992-97. Those coaches were on their way up. Bob Davie was on his way down, from Notre Dame, when he went 35-64 from 2012-19. But Mendenhall seems like he can be different. Gonzales didn’t produce much, 11-32 in four seasons. Can Mendenhall? He was a consistent winner at Brigham Young (99-43 in 11 seasons), then was decent at Virginia (36-38 over six years), a tough job. Mendenhall was a New Mexico assistant from 1998-2002 when Rocky Long was building the Lobos into something competitive. Mendenhall is a native of Utah and played at Oregon State. He knows Western football. Tremendous hire for New Mexico.


Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien directs the office on a drill during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

1. Boston College: Bill O’Brien, replacing Jeff Hafley

Hard to imagine how a program could make a better hire. O’Brien did yeoman’s work at Penn State, going 15-9 in the two seasons after the Joe Paterno scandal and settling the Nittany Lions’ foundation. Then he was a winning head coach (52-48) with the Houston Texans; there’s nothing easy about busting above .500 in the NFL. He’s worked for Nick Saban at Alabama and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. O’Brien was born and raised in Greater Boston, then played at Brown University in Providence. BC is perhaps the sleepiest power conference program in America. Landing a coach like Bill O’Brien is a godsend on Chestnut Hill.

(Photo credits: Eric Canha, Charles LeClaire, Danny Wild, Geoff Burke, Kirby Lee, Jason Bean, Gary A. Vasquez, Joe Rondone, Troy Taormina, Gary Cosby Jr., Rick Osentoski, Rich Janzaruk, Nick King, Orlando Ramirez, Dale Zanine, Jayne Kamin-Oncea, James Guillory, Helen Comer, Rob Kinnan, Meg Potter, Gaby Velasquez, Matt Cashore, Alan Arsenault, Mark Konezny, Brett Davis, Stephen Lew, Abigail Dollins, Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports Network)

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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