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Grading the Mountain West's new head football coaches (Hawaii's Todd Graham added)

Kalen DeBoer
Kalen DeBoer has returned to Fresno State, this time as head coach. (Fresno State athletics)

We'll start by saying nobody really knows how a coaching hire will turn out, whether that is at the NFL level or the college level. It's the reason we see so much turnover with these jobs. Athletic directors don't know. Fans don't know. And the media sure as hell doesn't know. Heck, Nick Saban didn't win at the NFL level but could be the best college coaches ever. Bill Belichick, the greatest football coach in history, got fired by the Cleveland Browns. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of work and a lot of luck to win. So we don't know how the six new head coaches in the Mountain West will turn out over the long haul, and neither do the people who hired them, but here's our best guess with grades for each coaching change.

* Kalen DeBoer, Fresno State, A-: As soon as Jeff Tedford stepped down, everybody fingered DeBoer as his replacement, and that ended up being the case. DeBoer has been an offensive coordinator at three FBS schools, including Fresno State from 2017-18. His offenses the last two years, including 2019 at Indiana, have been superb. He also has head-coaching experience, albeit at the NIAA level where he led Sioux Falls to a 67-3 record and three national championships in five seasons. Since he's never been a head coach at the FBS level, there's some risk, of course, but this hire is my favorite of the offseason in the MW. Tedford's hire wasn't highly praised (I liked it), but he was great in three seasons, so the shoes DeBoer must fill are big. He should be up to the task.

* Todd Graham, Hawaii, B+: I know some people have thrown out the "retread" tag with Graham, but that doesn't fit. He's been a very good head coach over the years, going 95-61 in 12 seasons. Now, he's been one-and-done at two schools (Rice and Pitt), so that's a concern. But he's also won at every stop, including a 36-17 record in four seasons at Tulsa and a 46-32 mark in six years at Arizona State (31-23 in the Pac-12). Graham has five 10-plus-win seasons and 10 bowl campaigns in 12 seasons, so there's no doubt he is a winner. The Hawaii job is unique and he doesn't have any ties there (or in the West except for his time at Arizona State), but I like the hire. Hawaii actually might have upgraded at this position.

* Danny Gonzales, New Mexico, B+: This hire has been well received, and it's easy to see why. Gonzales is an Albuquerque native and New Mexico alum, having played there from 1994-98, and was mentored by Rocky Long. He was the defensive coordinator at San Diego State in 2017 and at Arizona State from 2018-19, with good results at both stops. Between his playing days and coaching career, Gonzales spent 15 years at New Mexico, so he knows the program as well as anybody. Who knows if he'll be given the resources and support required to win at a program that has long struggled, but the hire makes a ton of sense. Gonzales could have waited for a better opportunity to come along, but he opted to try and fix his alma mater. Good luck.

* Marcus Arroyo, UNLV, B: There's a lot to like about the Sacramento native who has served under coaches like Jeff Tedford, Todd Monken, Lovie Smith, Mike Gundy and Mario Cristobal. He's a strong offensive mind who has had experience at the Group of 5, Power 5 and NFL level and has coordinator experience at four colleges. I thought it was an OK hire when it was made, but have warmed to it a little more as his staff has been pieced together. UNLV really opened the pocketbook with a five-year, $7.7 million contract, which is part of my issue. With that kind of financial commitment, you figure UNLV could have hired somebody with positive head-coaching experience, a little surer bet, but I still like the hire.

* Brady Hoke, San Diego State, C: This grade is largely about losing Rocky Long, the MW's all-time winningest coach who won three conference titles, three coach of the year awards and 81 games in nine seasons at San Diego State before "retiring." The Aztecs said they tried to keep Long from leaving, but there also were reports of "drama" with administration. Long is an excellent defensive coach, and while Hoke has a solid résumé, including being coach of the year in three conferences, the move is a downgrade. With UNLV and Colorado State giving first-year coaches $1.5 million annually, SDSU should have doubled Long's $878,228 salary to try and keep him (maybe they did). Will SDSU keep up the 10-win seasons under Hoke? I doubt it.

* Steve Addazio, Colorado State, D: This hire didn't make much sense, and has been roasted by everybody, including Colorado State fans. Addazio isn't a bad coach. He has a 57-55 career record in two seasons at Temple and seven at Boston College. But he also went 22-34 in the ACC (which is not a good football conference) and has just one season with more than seven wins (that coming in his first year as a head coach, going 9-4 at Temple). He has been bowl eligible in seven of nine seasons. But he hasn't gotten rave reviews from ex-players and has never coached west of Indiana, so he's a weird fit in the MW. Part of the reason Colorado State fired Mike Bobo was to boost attendance in its new stadium. The Addazio hiring doesn't do that.

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