Sunday, November 9, 2014

Coaches Making Strides

I do tend to concentrate weekly on the negative aspect that is the business of major college football. I focus weekly on coaches who are in a position to lose their jobs, and track it religiously throughout the season and beyond.
This week, I'd like to take a different tact and start a piece that I call "Coaches Making Strides". This piece will focus on coaches who are handling difficult jobs in a manner that reflects excellence and improvement, especially in programs that need significant building. Let us take a look at coaches who are doing an excellent job in college football this season.

Justin Fuente, Memphis
It took some time, but all building projects do. Memphis has been a joke of a football program at a basketball school as long as I've been alive, and that's saying a little something. Fuente has done a miraculous job of not only making Memphis football relevant, but has given the Tigers a shot to win a conference title this season in the AAC.

Matt Ruhle, Temple
The Owls may not be competing for the AAC title this season, but that could be right around the corner. 2015 looks promising for the Owls under Ruhle, who is in the midst of a massive turnaround for a program that has long suffered, not including a couple of decent seasons under Al Golden.

David Cutliffe, Duke
Duke has been forever awful. Cutliffe has changed the culture around Duke football, and has everyone believing that football can be a winner in Durham. I believed enough to tag Duke for 10 wins back in August. They may just get there yet.

Art Briles, Baylor
It may be easy to take Briles for granted after what he has accomplished at Baylor, unless of course you are as old as I am or older and remember all the decades of futility that this program underwent prior to his arrival. Not only has Briles built a program, he looks like he intends to stick around and see it through.

Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson is in the same boat as Briles. Everyone expects him to win annually at TCU without realizing just how bad this program was before he arrived. TCU and Baylor are both pushing for a Big 12 title over league stalwarts like Oklahoma and Texas. Never would have said that back in the day.

Bill Snyder, Kansas State
See Briles and Patterson. Snyder wins year and year out without having the talent of the major players in his own conference. Snyder just coaches his kids just a bit better most seasons, and now K State is competing for conference and national titles. Remember that this program was an annual doormat before Snyder came calling.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State
I will take some heat for this selection, but who in the world would have believed that the Buckeyes would be where they are now after Braxton Miller's injury during fall camp's earliest weeks. Meyer is a board master, and he just keeps on winning.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Despite falling to Ohio State, Dantonio doesn't always get the star players that end up at Ohio State and Michigan, but he gets around that by coaching strongly and winning, and keeping the drama out of his program. Despite the loss, still one of the best teams in the nation.

Randy Edsell, Maryland
Edsell has never been one of my favorite coaches, but what he has done in keeping Maryland relevant in year one of Big 10 play is an outstanding job. Edsell may just have Maryland turning the same kind of corner Missouri has turned in the SEC.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Pelini was close to being fired last fall, and now the Huskers are 8-1, and are pushing their way to a Big 10 West title. This guy laughs at adversity, apparently.

Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Not only has Kill overcome all odds to win at Minnesota, he has stayed healthy this season after several scares last fall led him to miss time on the field. Kill has done an amazing job getting people to believe in Minnesota, where football hasn't seen consistent success since 1960.

Gary Anderson, Wisconsin
One of my favorite guys in the business, Anderson has kept Wisconsin in the title race in the Big 10 despite not having a QB that's worth a damn. Anderson is simply coaching his ass off this season.

Doc Holliday, Marshall
Marshall was expected to be as good as they are this season, but it's still an amazing job that Holliday has done with the herd during his tenure. Marshall was awful prior to this hire, and Holliday has this team clicking.

Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Holtz has had an up and down career, but this season has been a nice ride for the Bulldogs, who are lining up a shot to win the CUSA West. People in Ruston put a ton of heat on him after last season, and Holtz has responded leaps and bounds.

David Bailiff, Rice
One of my annual targets of ire, Bailiff has done a very nice job this season with his Owls, and so will live to see another season. It's actually kind of nice to see him off of my Hot Seat list for a while.

Sean Kugler, UTEP
Kugler, like Ruhle at Temple, is trying to lift a program back from the dead. He has done an amazing job in two years, and UTEP looks like they could be a player in 2015 and beyond in CUSA play.

Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Babers just wins games. He rebuilt a train wreck of a program at Eastern Illinois, and he is about to win a divisional title at BGSU after a tough start to the season. Babers may not be at Bowling Green long if this keeps up.

Matt Campbell, Toledo
Campbell suffered a bumpy start to the season, but the Rockets are 5-0 in conference play, and could very well win the MAC West. One of the youngest coaches in FBS football, it is only a matter of time before other programs come calling.

PJ Fleck, Western Michigan
One of the youngest coaches in America had quite a mess to clean up at WMU after Bill Cubit's stale exit. Fleck has turned the Broncos into a MAC contender in two short years, and may not be around very long as bigger programs come calling.

Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Carey joins a long line of coaches at NIU that just keep on winning. He will absolutely be a candidate at some bigger jobs this winter after doing amazing work with the Huskies the last two seasons.

Brian Polian, Nevada
The Pack isn't all the way back just yet in MWC play, but they are damn near there, and that is because of Polian, who had to clean up the mess after Chris Ault hung on just a bit too long. Polian is doing a solid job at a tough place to win.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State
With time spent at Alabama as OC under Nick Saban, wouldn't any SEC school with an opening be crazy not to call eventually? Florida, re you listening? McElwain is a winner, hands down, and the Rams have turned a major corner. Now, build that on campus stadium!

Bryan Harsin, Boise State
There were some questions about his experience coming in, but Boise has not missed much of a beat under Harsin, and the Broncos could win the Mountain Division in the MWC. Boise will be making national waves again very soon.

Matt Wells, Utah State
Wells has lost Chuckie Keeton two straight seasons to injury, and somehow he keeps on winning. Wells, another young coach, should be lining up soon for a bigger job, as the Aggies are hanging on in the MWC Mountain race.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Calhoun was as good as gone when the season started, as there were investigations into the program, and he was losing like a maniac. Fast forward to now, and the Falcons are flying high, and Calhoun is as safe as can be, not speaking for the investigations.

Mark Helfrich, Oregon
He's smart enough to realize that he is in a line of torch bearers for this program that has only known success for the last 15 to 20 seasons. Helfrich has done an amazing job keeping Oregon flying high with the departure of Chip Kelly, and Mike Bellotti before him.

Sonny Dykes, California
Dykes made huge strides at Louisiana Tech, and in two short seasons at California has rebuilt a program that was floundering under Jeff Tedford. Dykes is one of my favorite guys in the game, and he is building Cal into something special.

Chris Petersen, Washington
OK, I know the Huskies are 6-4 this season, which is not better than what Steve Sarkisian did before. However, if you watched the Husky loss to UCLA (I did), you can see the talent massing in Seattle. With Marcus Mariota gone next season at Oregon, Washington is priming themselves to take out the Ducks in the North. It may be 2015 or 2016, but the day of the Husky is coming.

Todd Graham, Arizona State
Not only is Graham winning at ASU, he's staying at ASU. One of the game's legendary mercenary may be setting down roots in the desert. ASU has become a perennial contender now under Graham's guidance, which is something that has never been the case.

Jim Mora, UCLA
Sure, the Bruins have won nothing yet under Mora of value, but what he has done is make the Bruins relevant again after two decades of being a joke. He has brought stability and consistency in along with discipline, and the results are evident. The media jumped the gun when picking UCLA as a national title contender this fall, but it may not be long.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Arizona has never been to the Rose Bowl since joining the conference in the late 70's. Minus a couple of losses to USC and UCLA, Arizona was so close to getting there. They will make it eventually, as I see Rodriguez having the Wildcats primed to win regularly from here on out.

Gary Pinkel, Missouri
When Mizzou joined the SEC, laughter erupted all over the nation. Who were these Tigers to test those waters? Who's laughing now? Pinkel has outdone himself.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It took some serious time, but Mullen's Bulldogs have blown the roof off of the good old boy aristocracy of the SEC this season. They still have some challenges to meet this fall, but the great job Mullen has done in 2014 has been undeniable.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Freeze has always been a winner, and even though the Rebels will fall a bit short in the SEC West race, he has made the Rebels relevant, and that is no easy matter in a loaded SEC West.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sure, it's been up and down with the Aggies this season, but there is no denying that Sumlin is a star in the profession. He just has to win the West in the SEC now. That's all.

Nick Saban, Alabama
The master is at it again. Alabama just keeps on winning, and will be a national title payer every season as long as he stays.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn
After the disaster that was the final year under Chizik, Malzahn is a breath of fresh air. The drama is gone an the winning is back.

Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Long one of my favorite coaches in college football, Fritz is showing America why he is so strong. He has brought the Eagles to a national stage, on a higher level, and yet has them playing better than they have in years. Fritz may not be in Statesboro too long.

Mark Hudspeth, UL-Lafayette
His name will be popping up all over the country this winter wherever an open job sits. All he has done in Lafayette is win, and compete for conference titles.

Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
ASU had five coaches in five seasons. They needed stability. They have most likely found it in Anderson, who is winning, and wants to build long term stability.

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