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Idaho, NMSU out as Sun Belt members after 2017

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Apparently, Idaho’s sales pitch wasn’t as compelling as they’d like.

Two weeks ago, Idaho unveiled a 19-slide presentation aimed at continuing their football membership in the Sun Belt Conference, membership that was initially granted to both themselves and New Mexico State on four-year terms that are set to expire following the 2017 season.  Looking for an extension, both football programs will instead be looking for new homes in a couple of seasons.

What does the denial of extension do to the two football programs impacted by the decision? For the Vandals, it likely means dropping down to the FCS level and joining the Big Sky conference, where there other varsity sports are currently housed. For the Aggies, whose other sports play in the WAC, which doesn’t offer football, another go as an FBS independent will likely be in the offing.

With the impending departures of Idaho and New Mexico State after the 2017 season and the addition of Coastal Carolina for that season, the SBC will settle in with 10 members two years from now.  That 10-member lineup would feature teams from Texas (Texas State), Arkansas (Arkansas State), Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe), Alabama (South Alabama, Troy), Georgia (Georgia Southern, Georgia State), North Carolina (Appalachian State) and South Carolina (Coastal Carolina).

With the recent decision by the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games, the SBC will still be able to conduct such games with just 10 members instead of the previously-mandated 12.

UPDATED 2:51 p.m. ET: Idaho confirmed in a press release that the Sun Belt Conference has opted to go with a 10-team league following the 2017 season, putting them and New Mexico State on the outside of the conference looking in two seasons from now.  The release also stated that the university will now decide whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Sky of the FCS or compete as an independent at the FBS level.

Matt Wells makes tweaks, addition to Utah State staff

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 09:  Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies watches his team warm up before their game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Utah State won 28-24.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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A couple of tweaks to coaches already in the building as well as an addition from outside the program has given Matt Wells‘ Utah State a different look heading toward spring, the school announced Tuesday.

Passing-game coordinator and wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight has been promoted co-offensive coordinator of the Aggies. Bouknight, entering his eighth season at USU, will continue to coach receivers.

The other co-coordinator, Luke Wells, brother of the head coach, will continue to serve in that capacity, but will give up his job as tight ends coach. Instead, the co-OC will take over as quarterbacks coach from Josh Heupel, who left Logan last month to become the coordinator at Missouri.

“We are excited to announce Jovon and Luke as our co-offensive coordinators,” said Matt Wells in a statement. “They both have extensive experience in our offense and have been successful position coaches during their time at Utah State.

“As we move forward with our offense, I will be heavily involved in the game planning and will call the plays during games. We have time during spring ball to work through this and I am excited to work with Jovon and Luke in making our offense better.”

In addition to the shuffling on the offensive side, Wells made an addition on that side as Steve Farmer was introduced as USU’s line coach.  The past six seasons, Farmer served as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Louisiana-Monroe.

“We are excited to announce the hiring of Steve Farmer as part of our coaching staff,” said the head coach. “Steve has an extensive background in playing and coaching the offensive line, as well as success as an offensive coordinator. He fits very well into our scheme and has had experience in spread offenses and coordinating the run game. We welcome Steve, his wife Amy, and their two children to the Aggie family.”

Smart, Richt currently pace all new head coaches in recruit rankings

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
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In somewhat of an ironic twist, the head coach who was forced to leave Georgia and the coach who replaced him are doing quite well on the recruiting trail at their new programs.  In fact, they’re doing better than any other who found a landing spot in the 2015-16 spinning of the coaching carousel.

As it stands now, Miami’s Mark Richt has the 19th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com, the second-best of any of the  27 head coaches hired in the past three months.  The best?  Georgia, which has the No. 15 class thanks in part to Kirby Smart, Richt’s successor in Athens.

UGA right now, though, and fully understanding that there are nearly two weeks left until National Signing Day, is nine spots behind the No. 6 class Richt signed in 2015.  The U, meanwhile, was ranked 26th for Al Golden‘s last class, a full seven spots behind were Richt stands now.

Not surprisingly, a significant number of programs have seen their recruiting rankings dip from a year ago.  One of the most glaring is that of USC.  Despite offensive coordinator Clay Helton taking over as interim head coach in mid-October and then taking over permanently in late November, USC has just the 23rd-ranked class; last year at this time, the Trojans were well on their way to having Rivals’ No. 1 class under Steve Sarkisian.

Of the 27 head coaches new to their teams, 17 have classes that are ranked lower than their predecessors from a year ago.  The biggest drop belongs to Seth Littrell‘s North Texas (127th currently, 90th in 2015), while that ignominious honor for Power Five programs goes to Dave Odom and Missouri (59th, 27th).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Matt Campbell has taken his new team on one of the biggest rises, lifting Iowa State from No. 69 under the departed Paul Rhoads to No. 52.  Interestingly, Campbell’s successor at Toledo, UT offensive coordinator Jason Candle, has the Rockets at 73rd, 17 spots higher than his predecessor’s 90th-ranked class of a year ago.

Below are the 27 newest head coaches, with where their teams rank now in the recruiting rankings compared to a year ago:

2016 New HC Recruit Rankings

Spinning of 2015-16 coaching carousel comes to a halt (probably)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans before the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The 2015-16 head-coaching carousel began spinning August 28 of last year with Illinois’ firing of Tim Beckman. Exactly 141 days later, the hiring of Frank Wilson by UT-San Antonio has brought it to a halt. Probably.

Barring an unexpected firing by an FBS program or an NFL team swooping in to steal a coach, it’s come time, I think, to sit back and take a look at how this year’s version of the carousel has shaken out.

All told, 26 FBS teams will head into the 2016 with head coaches who did not begin the 2015 season in that capacity — Bill Cubit, the Illini’s interim coach after Beckman’s firing, was ultimately named as the permanent head coach and would be considered a 27th. That’s a significant jump from the recent past, with 2013 yielding 19 changes and “just” 15 in 2014. Of this cycle’s changes, 13 came at Power Five programs — nine as the result of dismissals, four because of retirements.

That, of course, means 14 openings came from the Group of Five schools; not surprisingly, the Power Five movement had an impact on that group as four G5 head coaches left for the same job with P5 teams, while another, Ball State’s Pete Lembo, left to become an assistant at a P5 program. Six of the remaining holes were created by firings, while two more jobs in that group came open because of retirements. The lone remaining? Willie Fritz left Georgia Southern to take over at Tulane.

Of the openings, eight were filled by coaches who were defensive coordinators in 2015, and another eight by offensive coordinators.  That is quite the turnaround from a year ago, when just one DC, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh, became a head coach, while five of their offensive brethren landed head-coaching jobs.

The next group could be called the Noah’s Ark of the carousel, coming from their 2015 jobs in twos: interim head coaches (Cubit, USC’s Clay Helton), FCS head coaches (Louisiana-Monroe’s Matt Viator, Texas State’s Everett Withers) and running backs coach (Bowling Green’s Mike Jinks, Wilson).

Finally, one NFL assistant made the move back to the collegiate ranks: Mike Neu, who left the New Orleans Saints to take over for Lembo at Ball State.

And with that, I (probably) wash my hands of the ’15-’16 carousel, knowing full well that it’ll all begin again another 10 months or so — or seven months, if another program decides to pull a preseason Illini.

Louisiana-Monroe finds its coach, hires McNeese State’s Matt Viator

Matt Viator
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A month after firing Todd Berry in November, Louisiana-Monroe will hire McNeese State’s Matt Viator as its next coach, according to multiple reports. KTVE/KARD’s Gene Ponti was the first to report Viator’s hiring.

The 52-year-old Viator coached FCS-level McNeese State to a 77-33 record since taking over in 2006. McNeese State went 10-1 in 2015 and was the No. 4 seed in the FCS Playoffs, but were knocked out in the second round by Sam Houston State Dec. 5.

Under Viator, McNeese State reached the FCS Playoffs five times and won the Southland Conference four times. Prior to 2006, Viator served on Tommy Tate’s staff at McNeese State from 1999-2005 and spent a dozen years as a high school coach in Louisiana.

ULM has only made one bowl appearance in its 29-year program history (the 2012 Independence Bowl, which it lost, 45-14, to Ohio). Berry coached ULM to a program-best 8-5 record that year. ULM has only won six or more games six times and has a 120-212-2 all-time record.