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Predicting which first-year coaches will be most successful in 2021

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Not all coaches are immediately successful at their new gigs — and you don’t need to look any further than 2020 for proof of that. 

Faced with extremely challenging circumstances, only nine of the 23 first-year head coaches in the FBS improved upon their school’s winning percentage from the previous season. Twelve of the 23 coaches led those programs to records at or above .500, and only eight had winning records.

Jimmy Lake pushed Washington to the cusp of the Pac-12 Championship Game before COVID-19 protocols barred the Huskies from participating. Ole Miss’ offense improved by nearly two touchdowns per game and finished 14th nationally in scoring in Lane Kiffin’s first season, which ended with a 5-5 record and a victory against top-10 Indiana in the Outback Bowl. Mike Norvell led Memphis to double-digit wins in 2019, took over a messy Florida State roster and went 3-6. 

Overall, the 23 new head coaches in 2020 finished with a combined winning percentage of 44.6. Those 23 schools combined to win 48.2% of their games in 2019.

Sometimes coaches lead their new program to a quick, successful turnaround. Some coaches need more time to rebuild, recruit and develop rosters. Others just don’t work out after three or four seasons of lackluster results.

Not all jobs open because of a need for change. Four coaches left for better jobs after successful seasons in 2019, and two more retired after winning seasons.

What does this mean for the 15 new head coaches across the FBS in 2021? We examined each roster, the situation behind the scenes and the new head coaches’ success rate at previous gigs to rank which teams will be the most successful this fall (as compared to the previous season at the same school).

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