clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Peak Perspective: Evaluating MWC Coaches

New, 9 comments

A look at each of the 12 coaches based on how they stack up in a few key categories.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

What does it take to be a successful college football coach? The two main components are probably a winning coaching strategy and success in recruiting. However, a Group of 5 program needs to look at more than just those two things, are coaches often get better-paying offers and jump ship after a successful season or two. Thus, for a team in the Mountain West looking for a coach, they need some combination of good coaching, good recruiting, and longevity, as in someone who won’t leave for the first higher-paying job. The article is an exercise in looking at each of the 12 MWC coaches and identifying where they fall in each of those three categories.

For the sake of this article, this is how the following terms will be defined:

Coaching:

This pertains to on the field performance. The schemes and innovation they install in practices and making the best use of their personnel. Is the coach winning games? Can he make the right decisions, manage critical moments, and overall prepare his team for victory more weeks that not?

Recruiting:

Can the coach bring in talented high school players or not? To a greater point, do they have that relational aspect of connecting and with young men entering college football and have them buy into the program? Do players want to play for this coach and program?

Longevity:

This one is a bit harder to really pin down but is also an essential factor to consider in the world of college football, especially in the Group of 5. This isn’t saying the coach is staying forever. Unless it’s Saban at Bama or another blue-blood school, most coaches will jump for another job if the right one comes up. Rather, this is saying does the coach view the program as a stepping stone or do they have roots in the program? Have they stayed at least a few years, and perhaps even turned down offers to move on because they think the current situation is a good fit. (It should be noted this category will rely on guesswork more than the others).

There was a saying in college (at least when I was in college) that you could have good grades, a social life, and enough sleep, but you could only pick two out of three. Seemingly, it holds true here as well. If a coach has high marks in coaching and recruiting, he’s likely to get poached by a bigger school before too long. If he is great in games and is committed to staying but can’t recruit, slowly the success will dry up or be inconsistent, having big seasons every once in a while. Likewise, if a coach is rooted in the program and is a great recruiter, but just an average coach, their on the field success has a ceiling most years, while occasionally eclipsing their plateau mark. Those seem to be the options, so pick a scenario from there.

Lastly, for the purposes of this post, grades will be stated as: High, Medium, Low

Troy Calhoun

  • Coaching: Medium
  • Recruiting: Low
  • Longevity: High

Coach Calhoun gets the most out of the cadets at the academy, who are often undersized on the lines. Of course, it takes certain types of skill players to fit into the triple-option as well. All of that to say he has a system and has been able to turn an academy school into a program that has more winning seasons than not as of late. Recruiting is tough, due to the reasons mentioned above. He recruits some nice players but not at the same level as much of the rest of the conference. Calhoun is the longest-tenured football coach in the conference and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Bryan Harsin

  • Coaching: Medium
  • Recruiting: High
  • Longevity: High

Harsin has made a tremendous mark in recruiting during his Boise State tenure. He raised the bar at Boise State early in his tenure and has raised it again the past two years, securing 10 four-stars in his last two classes. The on the field success hasn’t quite been at the same level, but they still have two MWC championships and a NY6 win under their belts. That ranking is lowered due to annual random conference losses. Still, he’s returning for a sixth season, and though he’s rumored to have inquired about open jobs in the past, he’s still there which counts for something.

Mike Bobo

  • Coaching: Medium
  • Recruiting: High
  • Longevity: Low

If this were done a year or two ago, perhaps some of the ratings would be different. The on the field success has basically been average, until last season’s debacle that is. He and his staff have been quite the recruiters; however, regularly securing one of the top classes in the conference over the years. The biggest change seems to be in the longevity area though. It probably would have been a medium, until last season. Now Bobo is likely fighting for his job.

Jeff Tedford

  • Coaching: High
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: High

Tedford is another interesting combination here. His coaching is off the charts, turning around the one-win team he inherited and leading them to back-to-back MWC championships, winning this past one. When he came in, he was regarded as a big recruiter, but that hasn’t yet been the case in his time at Fresno State. Like others, he’s been rumored for Power 5 jobs, and likely he’s at least picked up the phone when teams inquire. However, he’s said he wants Fresno State to be his last job and so far hasn’t given a reason to doubt that statement.

Nick Rolovich

  • Coaching: Medium
  • Recruiting: Low
  • Longevity: High

Coach Rolo has brought Hawaii back to the land of being relative in the college football world, which is no small feat on the islands. However, the program is still in transition, and even though this past season was a success, it was still closer to a .500 record than not. Recruiting is also a challenge at Hawaii, and they seemed to take a step back this past year, at least in the rankings. To be fair, they are being more selective intentionally. Despite the challenges, Rolovich appears to be invested for the long haul and being an alumni of the program is a big part of that.

Jay Norvell

  • Coaching: High
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: Medium

Coach Norvell has only completed two seasons at the helm for Nevada, so it is difficult to peg him. His coaching rating may be a bit higher and recruiting perhaps a bit too low. On the other hand, he guided the Wolf Pack to a bowl game in just his second season and, he’s recruited pretty well for his air-raid and 3-3-5 system. Also, although this isn’t the goal, he isn’t quite yet good enough to be an attractive name in Power 5 coaching searches, so as of this moment, he’s an ideal Group of 5 candidate.

Bob Davie

  • Coaching: Low
  • Recruiting: Low
  • Longevity: High

Coaching would’ve been rated better for Davie a few years ago when his triple-option offense was at its peak. Now, times are tough on and off the field. The play on the field has hit rock bottom, recruiting is almost solely junior college players, meaning the team is turning over every two to three seasons. If it weren’t for the athletic department being a financial mess, he likely would’ve been fired a few months ago. From that angle, the high score in longevity isn’t a good thing.

Rocky Long

  • Coaching: High
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: High

Coach Long’s ratings are about what you would expect. He recruits well, but not too well. Last year aside, they can be penciled in for consistent winning and successful seasons more often than not. Perhaps the recruiting is a bit low, and the coaching is a bit high, but coaching is the apparent strength. Rocky has been at SDSU forever, and though he is likely in his last years, his gets a high score here for the time he has been here and how he has earned the right to go out on his own terms.

Brent Brennan

  • Coaching: Low
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: Low

Coach Brennan is still young in his career at SJSU, so small sample size guesses abound. He’s playing the long game, building a new culture and program from the ground up, but has also accumulated three wins in two seasons, so he has to be assessed on that in the coaching category. His recruiting, on the other hand, has been surprisingly pretty solid and should help him in year three. With only two seasons under his belt and a lot of work still to do on the winning front, his longevity has to stay low as well as he has a lot to prove. But don’t be surprised if this looks different a year from now.

Tony Sanchez

  • Coaching: Medium
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: Medium

Coach Sanchez is perhaps in some ways the most Mountain West-ish MWC coach. He’s improved his victory total each season, but only incrementally and has yet to reach a bowl game. He recruits middle of the conference recruiting classes that produce a few nice players each year. He’s been at UNLV for a few years now, and it seems to be a mixed bag or people who think he’s doing a great job and ones who are ready to move on.

Gary Andersen

  • Coaching: Low
  • Recruiting: Medium
  • Longevity: Low

Anderson is one of the harder ones to peg as he hasn’t coached a game yet in his second stint with the team. His low coaching score is going off of his most recent job with Oregon State and his 26-24 record at Utah State. Recruiting wise, he doesn’t struggle but doesn’t blow anyone away either. Andersen gets a low rating (fair or not) in the longevity mainly because he is in his first year back with Utah State and given how he’s already left once before.

Craig Bohl

  • Coaching: High
  • Recruiting: Low
  • Longevity: Medium

Coach Bohl sure turned around the Wyoming program in a short amount of time once he made the jump from NDSU. His on the field coaching and player development are unquestioned. His ability to recruit hasn’t made believers of recruiting sites, but getting players for his system and developing them remains a strong skill. He doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, but one would think a mid-level P5 school would take a chance on him.

Conclusion:

There is no perfect combination of scores, and as can be seen above, there is certainly a vast range of scores among Mountain West coaches. They are choices to be sure, but no perfect option. Is the on the field winning and longevity of Coach Tedford worth the step behind in recruiting? Or would it be smarter to take the best recruiting and solid longevity but have to overcome some bumpy losses in the Harsin era? Or maybe the well-rounded but limited program that Coach Long built? Are the slow but steady forward paces of a Norvell or Bohl a safe bet? Or will they turn out to be false gold like Davie or experience setbacks like Bobo?

If nothing else, it’s very interesting to see what each coach and each program prioritizes and compromises in their approach of building a consistent college football.

Your turn: Is there a specific coach of general combination you would prefer in for your favorite team?