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Peak Perspective: Evaluating the First-Year 2021 MWC Coaches

How did these 6 coaches fair in their first year at the helm?

New Mexico Bowl - Central Michigan v San Diego State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The Mountain West conference experienced a significant turnover in head coaches during the 2019-2020 offseason. When all was said and done, six head coaches, or half of the teams in the conference, had been replaced. With so much new blood entering the conference, people did not know what to expect from the six new coaches. Now, with a season under their belts, today’s Peak Perspective will take a look back at the 2020 season and review each of the six new coaches and their first years at the helm.

This post is without a doubt painted with a broad brush. Each coach is examined for a small sample size of one (covid) year under their belts, which admittedly isn’t the best season to evaluate. With all of them being coaches fresh off their first year, the sample size is small for a reason. All of the coaches listed here have good reasons to have the growth areas they do because many of them are challenging to accomplish in just one season. Take a look at their bright spots and growth areas from the 2020 season.

Steve Addazio (Colorado State)

Record: 1-3

Bright Spots: Guiding the transition

Growth Areas: Winning, Developing his players.

Before the season even began, Steve Addazio had to prove wrong those who thought he was a questionable hire. Then Covid hit, his best player declared for the NFL, and the team only played half the games they were scheduled to for one reason or another. Despite all of that, the Rams were able to hold their own offensively thanks to the conference’s best tight end, a breakout season from a wide receiver, solid quarterback play, and a steady run game. While none of that translated well to the win column, it did demonstrate how Addazio’s offense can play in years to come. With the old core phasing out, developing a new core full of his players is the next and most prominent item on Addazio’s to-do list.

Kalen Deboer (Fresno State)

Record: 3-3

Bright Spots: Utilizing Star Players, Recruiting

Growth Areas: Consistency, Player Development.

Deboer’s return to Fresno State didn’t go poorly, but it wasn’t quite a return to dominance either in his debut season as a head coach. He stuck to what worked on offense, featuring heavy doses of workhorse running back Ronnie Rivers and showcasing do-it-all receiver Jalen Cropper in what ended up being a breakout season for him. The growth areas listed weren’t glaring deficiencies last season per se, but they are still tasks that have yet to be seen. Coach Tedford excelled in player development, and if Deboer can recruit at the level he did in the 2021 with anything resembling the development of the former regime, the rest of the conference will be on notice.

Todd Graham (Hawaii)

Record: 5-4

Bright Spots: Prevented a major dropoff, scheming offensive playmakers

Growth Areas: consistency, recruiting

Hawaii had a slow fall back to earth last season, which is a plus. On the other hand, they were by far the most inconsistent team in the Mountain West. Some weeks, Chevan Cordeiro, Calvin Turner, and the rest of the offense were firing on all cylinders. In other games, they struggled to score points and gave up quite a bit. Graham oversaw the first year of a transition and got a passing grade. However, transitions become harder in years two and three, and he seems to be neglecting recruiting, so the real test is yet to come.

Danny Gonzales (New Mexico)

Record: 2-5

Bright Spots: Culture, competitive play

Growth Areas: Defense

Coach Gonzales faced an uphill battle going into his first season at New Mexico, basically restarting a program that had been on life support for years. All in all, he and his team checked all the boxes in their first season. The Lobos were able to play a specific style of football all season, with players buying into the culture. Even more impressive, they were competitive in nearly every game. On the other hand, their defense left something to be desired, and there were only two wins on the season. Still, it was hard to complain too much about how things went in year one.

Brady Hoke (San Diego State)

Record: 4-4

Bright Spots: Consistency, Defense

Growth Areas: Offense/Passing Game

Coach Hoke completed his first season in his second stint with the team. During the 2020 campaign, he had his Aztecs looking like pretty much every other Aztec team over the past few years. SDSU possessed a stifling defense, game-changing special teams, a stable of running backs, and because of a non-existent passing game, the offense struggled to score points. Still, Hoke was able to keep the program afloat in the first season post-Rocky Long, and he navigated the season through Covid and injuries to keep offensive players. It’s hard to argue against or nitpick things in this initial season, although expectations will increase each year going forward.

Marcus Arroyo (UNLV)

Record: 0-6

Bright Spots: Recruiting

Growth Areas: Winning, QB Consistency, Player development.

Not much went right for Coach Arroyo in his initial season at the helm for the Rebels. For starters, they did not produce a win in six tries. Much of that was due to a lack of quality quarterback play, along with teams stacking the box against the run game. It is undoubtedly a multi-year building attempt Arroyo and co have on their hands. They are building though, with back-to-back excellent recruiting classes, especially on defense. This staff has proven they can recruit as well as anyone in the conference, and the next step is to develop that talent on the field.

Those are the impression of each of the six coaches following their first year as a Mountain West head coach. Each of them has a task list to improve upon going into year two. Keep these things in mind once the 2021 season starts in a few months.