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Do alumni hires work in college football?

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The coaching carousel is closed. … I hope I didn’t jinx it. Today, Bruce Feldman joins us to pull back the curtain on UCLA’s head coaching hire. Here we go …


UCLA’s Hire

Bruins make quick move to replace Kelly

Just three days after UCLA head coach Chip Kelly left to become the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, the Bruins hired DeShaun Foster as Kelly’s replacement. I know what you’re thinking: Wait … how did we get here? Let’s start with a timeline of the past few weeks and the college football job openings it created:

  • Jan. 19: Ohio State hires Bill O’Brien — who spent 2023 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the New England Patriots — to the same roles in Columbus.
  • Jan. 31: Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley leaves the Eagles to become the defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.
  • Feb. 9: Just three weeks after being hired by the Buckeyes, O’Brien is hired as Hafley’s replacement.
  • Feb. 9: Ryan Day hires Kelly — a longtime friend and former assistant coach of Day’s at New Hampshire — away from UCLA to lead the Buckeyes’ offense.
  • Feb. 12: UCLA hires Foster, a former star player and assistant coach for the Bruins, as its head coach. Foster recently took a job as the running backs coach with the Las Vegas Raiders but opted to return to his alma mater in light of its opening.

Got all that? Luckily, Foster’s hire should close the college football coaching carousel, which was left running much longer than anticipated.

Bruce is here to explain how UCLA’s hire came together and how it compares to other hires of this cycle:


Feldman’s Files

How UCLA landed on Foster

What do you know about UCLA’s hiring process during the past few days that brought Foster to this role?

UCLA AD Martin Jarmond really was looking for someone who had head coaching experience. Early on, according to program sources plus an industry source, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck was a target of the search and was in Cabo on vacation. Jarmond flew down there to meet him. There were several other head coaches in the mix.

You listed Foster as one of your initial candidates to watch. How did UCLA’s interest in him compare to other candidates?

Foster left a few weeks ago to become the Raiders running backs coach, and before he left, he had dinner with Jarmond. There, the prospect of Kelly leaving and the job opening up was discussed. Jarmond, according to program sources, was candid and told Foster he preferred someone with head coaching experience, but Foster did interview Friday right after the job came open. His connection inside the program was strong. Players loved him. So did the staff. He likely won’t cost UCLA a fortune as would most of the head coaching candidates Jarmond met with. Now, UCLA can take a lot of the money and redirect it to other aspects.

How do you grade this hire next to others made this cycle?

Given all the timing and circumstance issues, this was a good move for the Bruins. It’s not a splashy hire, but it makes some sense on a lot of levels. Now, there’ll be two big keys: One, who does Foster hire as his OC/play caller? Two, can he fire up the money people around UCLA to get its NIL operation going? Some schools the Bruins were competing with in the Pac-12 had an NIL war chest in the eight figures. UCLA wasn’t even in seven figures on that front.

Stewart Mandel also has his coaching grades today.


Alma Mater Hires

How successful are programs led by alumni?

Foster will be the ninth active Power 4 head coach to lead his alma mater. Here are the others:

  • Brent Key — Georgia Tech, hired 2023
  • Kenny Dillingham — Arizona State (didn’t play CFB), hired 2023
  • Jeff Brohm — Louisville, hired 2023
  • Mario Cristobal — Miami, hired 2022
  • Clark Lea — Vanderbilt, hired 2021
  • Kalani Sitake — BYU, hired 2015
  • Kirby Smart — Georgia, hired 2015
  • Mike Gundy — Oklahoma State, hired 2005

In this transfer-frenzy era of college football, loyalty can feel scarce. Still, many alums emerge as candidates for head coaching openings, even if alumni-led programs have a mixed bag of success. Some like David Shaw at Stanford fizzle into mediocrity or Scott Frost at Nebraska just don’t work while others like Jim Harbaugh at Michigan pay off with titles. Maybe we’re on the verge of a trend as the last three national championships have been won by coaches leading their alma maters (Smart in 2021 and 2022, Harbaugh in 2023). That hadn’t happened since Phillip Fulmer led Tennessee to a championship in 1998, per ESPN.

A 2019 research story from ABC’s FiveThirtyEight dove into the success rate of alumni-led college football programs. From 1975 to 2018, there were 146 alumni head coaches. Those coaches won 52.6 percent of their games while non-alumni head coaches won 51.1 percent of their games. The moral of the story is that you can’t necessarily predict a program’s success based on whether it’s coached by an alum.

Generally, does hiring an alum as head coach feel like the safe move with little upside or a big swing that could go either way? Tell us your thoughts in today’s Until Saturday poll. We’ll share the results on Thursday.


Quick Snaps

Newly hired Washington coach Jedd Fisch joined the Until Saturday podcast to discuss his controversial departure from Tucson.

Michigan writer Austin Meek had a great deep dive yesterday into what made Sherrone Moore Michigan’s only choice to replace Harbaugh. It’s a new era in Ann Arbor, and Austin sets the stage.

Deion Sanders didn’t conduct a complete overhaul of his roster like he did last year, but Colorado still enters 2024 with new pieces on its roster and staff. Entering Year 2, one of college football’s most buzz-worthy coaches says: “We made noise, but now we’re going to make some sounds.”

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(Top photo of DeShaun Foster: Jordon Kelly / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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