The job has never been more difficult. The rewards have never been greater.
As for job security, let’s just say it’s best to have a real estate agent on speed dial.
But even if it’s only for a few years, the chance to run a major college football program is an opportunity just about any coach would take.
“It’s tougher because we’re being held accountable and responsible for these young men 24 hours a day,” said South Florida’s Skip Holtz, the son of Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz who is entering his 14th year as a head coach.
“We’re held to a higher standard academically. We’re being asked to win. And win now. We’re not quite as patient as we once were. So I think it’s changed a little bit. I don’t think it’s for the bad. I think if you’re the head coach, you should be held responsible for those things.”
This season, 28 of the 124 schools that play in the Football Bowl Subdivision will have a new man being held responsible for the program, including Penn State, where Bill O’Brien takes a job the late Joe Paterno held for 46 years and then lost in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
That list also includes some big names returning to the sideline, such as Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Mike Leach at Washington State.
Meyer’s six-year deal with the Buckeyes pays almost $4.5 million annually, the most among the 28 coaches starting new jobs. At the other end is former Notre Dame assistant Charley Molnar, who will make $250,000 to lead Massachusetts in its first season as an FBS program.
Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is getting a second chance to lead a program at Kansas. Terry Bowden is finally back in major college football 19 years after he was pushed out at Auburn, though Akron is a long way from the Southeastern Conference.
Kevin Sumlin took his rising star from Houston to Texas A&M, where he’ll lead the Aggies into the SEC.
Getting their first crack at leading a program are several well-regarded assistants, including Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State and Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh.
The 46-year-old Chryst, a longtime offensive coordinator who was previously at Wisconsin, said he was never in a rush to become a head coach.
“I never felt like I needed to get that to define me,” he said. “You always want to prepare yourself if that opportunity ever presents itself. But at the same time (it) wasn’t going to create any stress in my life that I’m not getting it.
“Never wanted to be one just to be one.”
Kyle Flood takes over at Rutgers, where Greg Schiano left unexpectedly for the NFL just a few days before signing day in February. The 41-year-old Flood might not have gotten the job under less hectic circumstances, but he says he’s ready.
He’s been preparing for years.
“From a young age in this profession, I wanted to be a head football coach,” he said.
Several of the first-year coaches are still at a young age in the profession.
Memphis hired 36-year-old Justin Fuente away from TCU, where he was co-offensive coordinator, and Toledo promoted 32-year-old Matt Campbell from offensive coordinator to head coach after Tim Beckman left for Illinois.
Inexperience is not likely to buy extra time for the newbies. After last season, three coaches were fired (Larry Porter by Memphis, Rob Ianello by Akron and Turner Gill by Kansas) after only two years on the job.
The top jobs at Ohio State and North Carolina, where former Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora ended up, opened because of NCAA violations committed by the previous regimes.
Outside of Penn State, Arkansas had the most tumultuous coaching transition, with John L. Smith taking over after Bobby Petrino was caught lying about an affair with a member of the athletic staff.
Unlike most of the new coaches, Smith, the former Michigan State and Louisville coach, takes over a team primed to contend for a national championship.
Flood’s Scarlet Knights, who play at Arkansas in September, aren’t quite national title contenders, but they are among the favorites in the Big East.
While most new coaches have to rebuild, he only needs to guide a program that’s been running well.
“The key to it is, the last thing you want to do is try to be the prior guy because your personality and his might not be identical,” said Flood, who was Schiano’s assistant head coach for five years. “I admire Greg. Greg is a friend of mine and a mentor. But Greg and I don’t have the same personality. For me to try to be Greg Schiano would have never worked.”
Where Flood provides a smooth transition to a stable situation, Chryst will try to bring stability to Pittsburgh. No program has gone through more coaching turmoil in the past few seasons.
Chryst is the Panthers’ third head coach in the past three seasons after Dave Wannstedt and Todd Graham, who left after less than a year on the job. That doesn’t include Mike Haywood, who was fired without ever coaching a game after a run-in with the law. Pitt has also used two interim coaches for its past two bowl games.
After all that, it would seem Chryst would take over with a little less pressure to win now. But not necessarily. He knows it, but he has no complaints.
“We’re pretty lucky to be doing what we’re doing,” he said.