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Mountain West Conference Preview: A Look at the 2011 Head Coaches

We've taken a quick look at some of the key player positions inside the Mountain West Conference over the last few months, but with the 2011 season just weeks away, now its time to take a look at the ranks of the head coaches. Two of them are gridiron giants; two are rock-solid performers who are rising stars in the MWC; two are intriguing coaches in the their second or third years, and one or two are in flaming hot seats. The Mountain West Conference coaches are eight men, each with different history, and each displaying a different coaching style and different game plan.

At the top of the conference are two of the winningest coaches in college football: TCU's Gary Patterson and BSU's Chris Petersen. The departure of Utah and BYU may have hurt the conference in the short term when it comes to the top level coaches, and it will take an even bigger hit next season with the departure of TCU, but the long term effects of those coaching losses is still to be determined. The MWC has recently aquired a number of head coaches with winning histories at San Diego State, UNLV, and at the Air Force Academy. Those rising talents within the present conference and the future additions of Nevada-Reno's Chris Ault, Fresno State's Pat Hill, and Hawaii's Greg McMackin in 2012, will be a game-changer for the MWC coaching talent going forward.

So let's take a quick look at the MWC coaches who will be calling the shots from the sidelines this season.

The Air Force Academy has a top head coach with Troy Calhoun, himself a graduate of the AFA. Calhoun started as an assistant coach with the Falcons 20 years ago, in 1990. He moved on to Ohio University as the QBs coach in 1995, but within two years he moved up to the offensive coordinator position, which he held until 2001. That's when he left for Wake Forest University to take over as their OC.

In 2003, Calhoun headed to the Pros for the Denver Broncos as a defensive assistant, and later worked with both the offense and special teams. In 2006, Calhoun was with Gary Kubiak at Houston and working as be the offensive coordinator and QBs coach, That was just before Calhoun took the head coaching job at Air Force that same year. In his four seasons with the Falcons, the team has gone a combined 34-17, with bowl appearances each season, and won the highly coveted Commander-in-Chief Trophy last season.

Calhoun's Falcons last year finished ranked the 27th best team in the nation, largely due to great coaching behind a tough offensive line that carries out a run-dominated option offense. His team rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in 2010, and had close losses to San Diego State, Utah, and Oklahoma.

Boise State University's Chris Petersen is now in his 6th year as head coach after being promoted in December 2005 to succeed Dan Hawkins who left for Colorado. Petersen was the former offensive coordinator at Boise State for five seasons and has been twice nominated for the Broyles Award. In his first year as head coach, Petersen led the Broncos to an undefeated regular season and the program's first ever BCS bowl game in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos defeated Big 12 Champion Oklahoma in that game and was only the second non-BCS conference school to play in a BCS bowl, after Utah in 2004. In his five years as head coach he has accumulated an astounding 61-5 record.

On January 1, 2010, after leading Boise State to another top ten finish, Petersen signed a new five-year contract extension, which will pay Petersen $8 million over the course of the five-year deal, or $1.6 million per year, which should keep him with the Broncos for a few more years.

Colorado State Univeristy head coach Steve Fairchild is starting his fourth year in the MWC as the Rams head coach. He has a long history at CSU. The former CSU QB (1978-80) spent eight seasons as an assistant coach (1993-2000) before leaving. In December 2007, he was hired as the 19th head football coach in Colorado State's 115 year football history. Fairchild has 13 years at the university. During the eight-year stretch with Fairchild as an assistant, CSU won five conference chamipionships, went to five bowl games and ended three seasons ranked among the nation's top 16 teams. But that was then. This is now.

With a pair of 3-9 years in a row, he knows the heat is on to get something to hang a career on. His overall record of 13-24 in three years reflects a program that has struggled and last season finished ranked near the bottom at 107th nationally. Last year was supposed to be a breakout year, and obviously that didn't happen due to several factors. But this year, however, could be the breakout season everyone has been predicting. The Rams have everything in place to take them to a bowl game: a solid team of good, recruited talent, a favorable schedule, and a returning, expereinced QB to carry the Rams forward. Fairchild's job could be in question if it doesn't happen this year.

The University of New Mexico Lobos have had Mike Locksley as their head coach since Rocky Long stepped down from an improving program in 2008. Locksley is a football veteran with over 19 years of experiece to fall back on. An outstanding recruiter, he was the former offensive coordinator at Illinois (4 years), had six seasons (1997-2002) at the University of Maryland and served another two years under Ron Zook at Florida (2003-2004). There was a lot of fanfare when he took over as the 29th head coach in December 2008. The Lobo fan base was expecting the team to continue improving under his leadership. But Locksley has failed to produce a winning team and instead the Red Menace has gone 1-11 for two consecutive seasons, and finished last year ranked 119th of 120 teams in the nation.

The Lobos are a disaster, both offensively and defensively, and to be fair some of it has been beyond his call. Massive injuries affected a program that has been short on depth, especailly at QB. But Locksley's personal troubles don't help. Lawsuits involving an assault on an assistant coach and charges of sexual harrassment from a former secretary have sidetracked the once proud program. The only thing that prevented Locksley from being fired last season was a shortfall in the UNM's budget. The Lobo athletic director, Paul Krebs, made the decision to retain Locksley and expects improvement in the 2011 season. If things don't improve dramatically this season, the Lobos need to be looking for coach #30 to lead them into the 2012 season, budget crunch or no.

San Diego State Univeristy finished last season ranked 32nd nationally and a team full of future promise. Suddenly, they end up with a new head coach in Rocky Long, the 18th head coach in San Diego State football history. But Long is only new to the Aztecs as head coach. He was their defensive coordinator for two years before that. And Long brings a lot to the sidelines: 37 years of coaching experience and the second-winningest coach in the Mountain West Conference. He is also the one who coached the Aztecs in the 35-14 win over Navy in last season's Poinsettia Bowl.

Long started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at New Mexico in 1972. Its also where he once played football. As the head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2008, the 2002 Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year compiled 65 victories and led the Lobos to five bowl game appearances in his final seven seasons with a team that had only three winning seasons the previous 15 years. His Lobo teams were bowl eligible in seven of his final eight campaigns.

Among Long's extensive experience was serving as defensive coordinator for two years at UCLA (1996-1997), five years at Oregon State (1991-1995), and for five seasons at Wyoming (1981-1985). He also served as an assistant coach at TCU, and spent time at the CFL's British Columbia team.

Texas Christian University finished last year ranked #2 in the nation thanks to one of the best football coaches in America. In eleven years as the Horned Frogs head coach, Gary Patterson has posted a 98-28 career record. But he actually began his coaching career in 1982 as an assistant at Kansas State. After serving at a number schools as an assistant coach, Patterson was hired as Defensive Coordinator at the University of New Mexico in 1996. Two years later he left to take the same position at TCU in 1998. He was named TCU's head coach in December 2000.

In 10 seasons at TCU, Patterson's 98 victories place him right behind Dutch Meyer on the TCU career victory chart and the only coach in TCU history to have six 10-win seasons. His Frog teams have only missed one bowl game (2004) and have finished in the top 25 seven times. Last year's BCS Rose Bowl victory over #5 Wisconsin caps a MWC career best as Patterson and his Horned Frogs prepare to move to the Big East Conference in 2012.

The Univeristy of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels head coach Bobby Hauck has one year under his belt and has a 2-11 record to show for it. This year could be another year of rebuilding a depleated team of good, experienced players. But if anyone can get the job done, Hauck is the coach who can do it. Unfortunately, his first year ended last year ranked 113th in the nation, so its going to take some time to get it done.

Hauck is not used to losing and the 2-11 record last season left a bitter taste in his mouth. Prior to joining the Rebels, Hauck was the winningest coach in Division One FCS football. He spent the previous seven seasons as the record-setting head coach of the University of Montana and compiled a record of 80-17, and lead the Grizzlies to three NCAA Div I-AA national championship games (FCS). He was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2006, 2007 and 2009. "It's my belief that Bobby Hauck is one of the great young coaches in America today" UNLV Athletics Director Jim Livengood has said about his coach. "His ability to direct a program, his history of success in recruiting and his love for the game of football clearly project him as having an exciting future here at UNLV."

University of Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen is starting his third year as head coach with the Cowboys. The former offensive coordinator has plenty of experience to draw from after serving as an assistant coach at the college level for 24 years. While serving as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, he was named the 2007 National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by and was also runner-up for the 2007 Frank Broyles Award. In 2007, and again in 2008, Christensen helped lead the Missouri Tigers to the Big 12 Championship game.

But this is his first gig in a head-coaching position. In 2009, he led the Cowboys to a bowl vicory, but in his first two years he has a 10-15 record and his spread offense has failed to get the team ranked inside the top 100 teams in the nation. They finished last season at 103rd. To be fair he has been struggling to rebuild a team that has experience issues. This year, like he did in 2009, Christensen will once again field a team of Pokes with an inexperienced freshman as QB. The Cowboys have only a slim chance of reaching a bowl game this year, but Christensen's Pokes should improve over last year's 3-9 record.

If they don't, the Cowboy head coach could find himself in the coaching hot seat for the 2012 season.