Last week, Houston promoted offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to become its head coach. The hire marked the second made over the span of two days in which a former assistant to Arizona State head coach Todd Graham took over an FBS program; the first being Jay Norvell’s hiring at Nevada.
It’s not unfamiliar territory.
Last offseason, Graham lost former ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to Memphis, whose beckoning also lured former co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Chip Long away with him. Norvell had served under Graham for eight years before moving on.
There’s a few other recognizable names who formerly worked under Graham that are now directing Division I teams: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Kansas’ David Beaty and Southern Methodist’s Chad Morris complete the group of six former Graham staffers currently holding head-coaching positions.
Three lead programs in the American Athletic Conference (Houston, Memphis, SMU). One is stationed in the Mountain West Conference (Nevada), one in the Big 12 (Kansas), and the other in the Southeastern Conference (Auburn).
Only one former assistant of Graham who became a Division I head coach is no longer serving in that capacity—Bill Blankenship.
Blankenship became the head coach at Tulsa (The American) in 2011 following Graham’s departure to Pittsburgh after joining his original staff there as a receivers coach in 2007.
The Golden Hurricane went a combined 24-27 over the course of Blankenship’s four-year tenure despite winning eight and 11 games in each of his first two seasons, respectively. Blankenship is now coaching at the high school level following a year-long break.
Meanwhile, the active group of head coaches has had mixed success (sans Applewhite and Jay Norvell, who have yet to officially coach a game).
Prior to arriving in Auburn in 2013, Malzahn’s first head-coaching gig was with Arkansas State in 2012. He’s currently a combined 40-22 overall in his career, and coached the Tigers to the 2013 BCS Championship Game during his first season.
In his first year at Memphis, Mike Norvell went 8-4 during the regular season. The Tigers accepted an invite to play Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20.
Morris has struggled to turn things around for SMU. Through two seasons, the Mustangs are a combined 7-17 under him (the two seasons prior to Morris being named head coach, the Mustangs were a combined 6-18, winning just one game in 2014).
It hasn’t gone much better for Beaty, who is 2-22 in two seasons with the Jayhawks, winning just one game in his first year and two in 2016.
In total, Graham staffers-turned-head-coaches are a combined 81-92, with a 2-3 postseason record.
Is it on par with the tangible legacy of Urban Meyer or Nick Saban? Nope, but only coaches considered legendary, elite and/or upper-tier such as Meyer (nine former staffers who are currently FBS head coaches), Saban (six), Jim Harbaugh (four), and Bob Stoops (four) can boast having near to or as many former assistants who are currently head coaches somewhere in the Division I rank. It’s quite the group to be able to associate Graham with, even if the results to this point differ.
He has done one of the better jobs in the nation in regards to assembling coaching staffs over the course of his career, despite last year’s unit being unable to put it together.
After one season which featured new faces at offensive coordinator (Chip Lindsey, who has been offered a head coaching gig before), receivers coach (Jay Norvell), defensive backs coach (TJ Rushing), and defensive line (Joe Seumalo)—-not withstanding the fact ASU’s defensive coordinator duties were altered—it would be surprising to not see a more cohesive team in 2017. That is, if the staff can be kept together without losing any more integral parts.