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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

These college football coaches could be hires of a higher order

Good things might well be expected of Colorado's Mike MacIntyre, Oregon's Mark Helfrich, Sonny Dykes of Cal, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Gus Malzahn of Auburn.

August 01, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Cal's Sonny Dykes could be one of the best offseason hires in college football this year.
Cal's Sonny Dykes could be one of the best offseason hires in college… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

There is a reason why top college football coaches demand top dollars:

They matter.

Forget trying to figure out how to hire a great one, as there seems no reliable formula.

Pete Carroll was an ordinary, out-of-work NFL coach in 2001 when he took the USC job and led the Trojans to consecutive national titles.

Alabama foundered for years until Nick Saban, flailing in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, arrived in Tuscaloosa.

How do you explain San Diego State?

The place was an avocado pit until unheralded Brady Hoke arrived from Ball State and, inexplicably, turned those losers into winners. Hoke parlayed his success into the head coaching job at Michigan.

Athletic directors have lost their hair trying to bottle the magic potion.

Didn't Rick Neuheisel seem the perfect choice to turn UCLA around? He was a former player, a great recruiter and had previous success at Colorado and Washington.

It just didn't work. But Jim Mora just might.

Hiring the right coach can turn half-filled stadiums into sold-out houses.

The wrong hire, conversely, can be disastrous (think John Mackovic at Arizona).

Here are, in my opinion, the best five off-season hires:

1. Mike MacIntyre (Colorado). You can't put into words how great a job MacIntyre did at San Jose State. They were talking about shutting the program down less than a decade ago. MacIntyre got there and pulled a mini miracle. He takes over a Colorado program that is rich in tradition but woefully inept after the tenures of Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree.

If MacIntyre can't make Colorado relevant again, maybe it's time to invest more resources into the ski team.

2. Mark Helfrich (Oregon). No one does seamless transition like the Ducks, who have had three head coaches since the 1970s: Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly. It will be a stunner if Helfrich, promoted from within, doesn't keep Oregon humming.

3. Sonny Dykes (California). Ousted coach Jeff Tedford transformed Cal a decade ago from laughingstock to within yards of No. 1 in the country. Tedford, though, was unable to develop a quarterback after Aaron Rodgers, and his style started to grate on players. Dykes is as laid-back as they come, but his high-octane offense at Louisiana Tech led the nation last year.

4. Gary Andersen (Wisconsin). Again, there is no explaining some of this pixie-dust stuff. What Anderson did at Utah State was mind-boggling and worthy of an ascent into the Big Ten.

5. Gus Malzahn (Auburn). Auburn went winless in the Southeastern Conference last year only two years after winning the national title. Gene Chizik was an odd hire from the outset but rode Florida transfer quarterback Cam Newton to one amazing Bowl Championship Series title.

Malzahn was that team's offensive coordinator and he returns after a year at Arkansas State.

Other hires I like: Mark Stoops (Kentucky), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Willie Taggart (South Florida), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech).

Hires that don't move my needle (yet):

Bret Bielema (Arkansas). Anyone is an improvement over interim John L. Smith, who ran a title contender into the ground last year. Bielema made no friends the way he left Wisconsin before the Rose Bowl and seems an out-of-place fit to lead a program that has never won the SEC.

Tommy Tuberville (Cincinnati). You can't blame someone for wanting out of Lubbock, but this move cannot even be considered lateral. Texas Tech is a Big 12 team in one of the Power Five conferences. Cincinnati is a member of the new American Athletic Conference, which will become a second-level league in 2014.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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