Last September, 247 Sports unveiled their annual list of the top 30 college football coaches who were under 30 years old. The Mountain West Conference had six of their assistant coaches make the list, which bodes well for the conference’s collective ability to identify young coaching talent. Equally noteworthy, those six coaches come from six different programs, which shows the young talent is evenly spread around the conference. Today’s post will review their impact on their respective 2020 seasons and discuss their specific outlooks for 2021.
Matt Miller (Boise State, WR coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): Boise State’s all-time receptions leader, Miller, rejoined the program this offseason as passing game coordinator. His jump to the FBS followed a four-year stint at Montana State, where he spent most of the last two years as offensive coordinator. The Bobcats’ offense was among the best in the FCS last season, ranking 25th nationally in total offense during a campaign in which they reached the playoff semifinals. The former three-star prospect also served a stint as Montana State’s recruiting coordinator.
2020 recap: Miller oversaw the breakout season of Khalil Shakir, who took on the mantle of the Bronco’s number one wide receiver, although Shakir’s talent was evident before Miller came on staff. CT Thomas had a fine season but trailed off as the year went on. Be it scheme or talent development, no other BSU receiver stepped up.
2021 outlook: From the outside looking in, Miller seemed to have an average showing last year. Many factors go into that, and he was retained for 2021, where his coaching talents will hopefully be more evident. He is still young in his coaching career but didn’t add to his resume much last year.
Kenny Guiton (Colorado State, WR coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): Guiton has already moved across the coaching map despite being only 29 years of age. He spent two seasons at Houston (2017-18), where he coached all-AAC wide receivers Marquez Stevenson and Steven Dunbar. Last year, he had a pair of All-Conference USA honorable mention honorees (Adrian Hardy, Malik Stanley) as the wide receiver coach for a Louisiana Tech team that finished with 10 wins for the first time in decades. Now, the former Ohio State quarterback has joined Steve Addazio at Colorado State.
2020 recap: Guiton inherited a talented wide receiver unit when he came to Colorado State a year ago. Things could have gone south in a hurry when Warren Jackson, the best wide-out in the conference, opted-out of the season. However, he was able to lead the group admirably and helped Dante Wright break out as the next great CSU Rams star wide receiver.
2021 outlook: Guiton added the Ram’s reputation for developing receivers and played a big role in helping Wright take the next step as a player. He took his productive year as one of the few bright spots at Colorado State and turned into a job at Arkansas, where he will now be the wide receivers coach there.
Roman Sapolu (Fresno State, OL coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): One of the best young offensive line coaches in college football, Sapolu earned a dual promotion this offseason to offensive line coach (he previously assisted new OC Ryan Grubb with the unit) and run game coordinator. The Bulldogs ranked 34th nationally last season in rushing yards per play, while finishing in the top 50 nationally in pass protection. Sapolu, a former Oregon State player, came to Fresno State from Idaho State, where he led an o-line that had two all-conference performers and paced an offense that tailed 5,403 yards.
2020 recap: Sapolu led a unit that did a good job keeping Jake Haener upright where he could be a dangerous passer and a great job opening holes for star running back Ronnie Rivers. The offensive line position wasn’t other-worldly, but it is solid, and the players do their job more often than not.
2021 outlook: There is no reason to believe that Sapolu’s offensive line unit will have anything else besides a strong season in 2021. As for how long he stays at Fresno State before accepting an offer with a big pay increase, that’s anyone’s guess. However, he should get his fair share of offers next off-season.
Jordan Thomas (SDSU, DL coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): Brady Hoke built his reputation on coaching defensive linemen, and Thomas is the coach he tapped to replace him in that role for San Diego State. A former three-year starter for the Aztec, Thomas worked under Hoke last season as a GA. The Aztec defense finished the year second in the FBS in scoring defense and in rushing yards allowed per game. Thomas previously worked with the Aztec linebackers in 2018 and had prior coaching stints at Texas A&M – Kingsville and Mission Hills High School (CA).
2020 recap: Thomas oversees one of the best defensive line units in the conference. With Cameron Thomas, Keshaun Banks, and Jonah Tavai in the fold, there is no production shortage for the Aztec’s d-line. They displayed that in 2020 and Thomas deserves some of the credit for that.
2021 outlook: All three of those players return in 2021 and will continue under the tutelage of Thomas. If their production matches the previous season or even takes a step forward, Thomas could be in line for a nice raise or his choice of offers if he decides it’s time to move on.
Kevin Cummings (SJSU, WR coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): Few position groups have seen more growth over the last few seasons than San Jose State’s wide receivers. The Spartans ranked 87th nationally in passing yards per game in 2017 when Cummings took over the position group. Last year, San Jose State finished fourth nationally with a pair of all-conference wide receivers helping to lead the way. That group included Tre Walker, who caught 79 passes for 1,161 yards. He’s a potential draft pick in 2021.
2020 recap: Cummings had arguably the best 2020 showing of any coach on this list. His outstanding wide receiver unit was one of the main reasons why San Jose State won the conference championship this year. He oversaw Tre Walker’s development into one of the best wide receivers in the conference and guided him into a potential NFL draftee. Also, Cummings can take some credit for the emergence of Bailey Gaither into a big-play threat and a receiver who put up impressive numbers last season in the pass-heavy attack. All in all, Kevin compiled quite the resume.
2021 outlook: Cummings was smart to sell high on himself after the banner year for the Spartans and their WR unit. He took his talents to the new Arizona staff and will try his hand as the wide receivers coach for the rebuilding PAC-12 program.
Tre Watson (UNLV, CB coach)
Why he made the list (via 247): Watson spent the last two years as a graduate assistant at Oregon, where he worked with the defensive backs, many of which are likely to be drafted come 2021. Sources around that program say Watson made a huge impact in that room. Watson played the final season of his playing career at Washington, earning a scholarship as a walk-on after transferring from Central Washington. Watson moved to UNLV with former Ducks defensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.
2020 recap: Watson took the helm of the cornerback position for the first year, coming from Oregon, which had an outstanding secondary while he was there as a GA. Nothing really went right for the Rebels in 2020, but Watson shouldn’t shoulder the blame for that.
2021 outlook: This upcoming season should be a better indicator of Waton’s impact on the unit. He should have a nice blend of veteran players and incoming talent and a chance to show the cornerbacks can take a step forward and turn into a strength. Watson is still young in his career, so he isn’t in jeopardy of losing his job anytime soon.