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51 Days Until Kansas Football: Comparing the Big 12’s First-Year Coaches

A breakdown of the four new coaches to the conference

NCAA Football: Jacksonville State at Louisiana State Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The sidelines of Big 12 football stadiums will look a bit different this year. The conference saw a 40% turnover rate in its coaches, including some of the biggest, longest-tenured names in the Big 12.

Bill Snyder has retired after 27 program-altering years at K-State. Dana Holgorsen is now drinking Red Bull in Houston after eight years at West Virginia. Kliff Kingsbury could have been fired but instead chose to leave on his own to coach Kyler Murray in the NFL after six years at Texas Tech. And...then there was David Beaty.

There’s been a changing of the guard of sorts over the past few years. From a coaching standpoint, the Big 12 Les Miles is walking into isn’t the same as it was three or four years ago.

How do Miles and the other first-year coaches compare? There are some interesting correlations.

The New Faces

Chris Klieman, KSU: Has dominated opponents as part of North Dakota State’s dynasty at the FCS level, but will be coaching in the FBS, let alone a power 5 school, for the first time.

Neal Brown, WVU: Spent the past four years at Troy, where he led a turnaround from 4-8 in year one to 10-3 in year four. This is also his first power 5 gig.

Matt Wells, Texas Tech: Previously the head coach at Utah State for the past six seasons. Are you sensing a trend? You guessed it, this is his first power 5 job.

Les Miles, KU: This is...not Miles’ first power 5 job. This isn’t even his first Big 12 job. The Mad Hatter has been around a minute. And he’s had his fair share of success. Just Google “LSU 2007 national championship.”

Coaching Success

This year’s crop of new coaches may not be familiar with top-tier college football—Miles being the exception—but they are used to winning.

Klieman has an impressive 72-13 record as a head coach, Brown is 35-16, and Wells is 44-34. Miles, meanwhile, is 142-55 in 17 seasons, making him the second winningest coach in the Big 12 behind only Gary Patterson (167-63 in 19 seasons). The only coach in the conference with a losing record is Baylor’s Matt Rhule (36-40).

Big 12 Background

Most of the new coaches may not have previous power 5 head coaching experience, but most do have Big 12 ties in their background.

Klieman was the defensive backs coach at Kansas in 1997, while Brown spent three years from 2010-2012 as the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Texas Tech. And Miles’ first head coaching job was for Oklahoma State. The only one without a Big 12 connection is Wells, who spent time at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico (two stints), and Louisville before becoming a head coach.

Three of a Kind...and Les

There was a clear type of coach that Big 12 teams locked onto this year. Klieman, Wells, and Brown are all guys that have been winning head coaches (Klieman being the most accomplished of the bunch, winning titles at the FCS level), but still are unproven at the top level of the sport. They are also taking over programs that have all had recent success in terms of bowl-eligible seasons.

Miles in a different boat. He is by no means unproven at a major conference. His challenge is the situation he is walking into is not nearly as stable as the other three.

It’ll be interesting to look back at the 2019 season in three years and see where each of these coaches, and programs, have risen—or fallen.