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Grading the Mountain West football head-coaching hires

Andy Avalos
Andy Avalos was one of two hires among Mountain West schools this offseason (Daniel Saline/Boise State athletics)

Unlike last offseason, the Mountain West football coaching carousel didn't spin all that much this winter. Only two MW jobs opened — at Boise State and Utah State — after six jobs were vacant the cycle before — at Hawaii, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State. Like we did last season, we'll grade the hires this offseason starting with Boise State, which has the crown jewel program in the conference.

Boise State

The move: Andy Avalos replaces Bryan Harsin, who left for Auburn

The grade: A-minus — Boise State football doesn't miss on coaching hires, with each of its last five ascending to the Power 5 level, including Houston Nutt, Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins, Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin, who was hired by Auburn after a successful seven-season run (69-19 overall, 45-8 in conference, three MW titles). Boise State turned to an alum for the second straight time, only this time opting for a defensive player in Andy Avalos, a Broncos linebacker from 2001-05 and assistant coach from 2012-18, including the last three as coordinator. Avalos was Oregon's defensive coordinator the last two years, doing a terrific job with the Ducks. Former Boise State star quarterback Kellen Moore would have been the galaxy brain hire, although that would have come with risk given Moore's coaching has all come in the NFL. The 39-year-old Avalos has spent 15 seasons in the college ranks, including five as a coordinator and two in the Pac-12. The résumé, and ties to Boise State, are impeccable, the only potential issue being Avalos has never been a head coach before, although the same was true of Koetter (who started Boise State's FBS success) and Petersen (who took the Broncos to unprecedented heights). Boise State has so many built-in advantages given its history of winning and community support, it's hard to see Avalos not being successful, although the Broncos' standard tends to be New Year's Six bowl or bust.

Utah State

The move: Blake Anderson replaces Gary Andersen, who was fired in November

The grade: B — Utah State went from one Andersen to another Anderson, the only difference being the last vowel in their surname. Gary Andersen's second tenure with the Aggies was bad, and the search to find his replacement wasn't much better as Utah State's players opted out of the regular-season finale over alleged religiously biased comments made by the university president against interim coach Frank Maile. With all that in the past, Blake Anderson brings stability. He's a proven winner with some Mountain West experience (he was an assistant coach at New Mexico from 1999-2001). Anderson was Arkansas State's head coach for seven seasons, going 51-37 overall and 38-18 in conference play with two Sun Belt titles. Anderson reached a bowl in his first six seasons with the Red Wolves, posing between seven and nine wins each year, before falling to 4-7 in 2020. Anderson's three predecessors at Arkansas State each spent one year on the job before leaving for greener pastures, those coaches being Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. The 51-year-old Anderson wasn't able to replicate that, but he won 58 percent of his games and gets a fresh start out West after his wife, Wendy, died of cancer shortly before the 2019 season. I would have hired somebody with Utah roots given how important knowledge of the state is with BYU and Utah getting first dibs on in-state prospect. Weber State's Jay Hill made a lot of sense as he was born in Utah, played his college ball there and has coached in the state since 2001. But Anderson is a solid choice who should make Utah State a regular bowl team.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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