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Spring 2011 - Ranking The Sun Belt Coaches
FIU head coach Mario Cristobal
FIU head coach Mario Cristobal
Posted Apr 21, 2011

What coach would you want to run your program? Who's on the hot seat? As part of the 2011 Spring Preview, CFN ranks all the Sun Belt coaches based on the future and not necessarily on how good they are right now.

2011 Spring Preview - No. 13
Ranking the Sun Belt Coaches

Here's the drill. You have to hire a head coach right now to lead your program for the next several years; whom would you choose? Forget about what happened in the past and forget about legendary status - you wouldn't hire Joe Paterno to build the franchise - you want a guy who can be the head man for a long, long time.

2011 Spring Preview  

- No. 20 Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50)  

- No. 19 - Is a smaller Big 12 better? 
- No. 18 - Who doesn't want to be Independent?  
- No. 17 - Should the SEC champ play in the BCS Champ?  

- No. 16 Top 50 Conf. Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Conference Games (No. 41-50)  

- No. 15 The Preseason Polls Will Probably Be ...

Schedules and Too-Early Spring Picks
ACC | Big East
Big Ten | Big 12
C-USA | Ind | MAC   
Mountain West | Pac-12
SEC | Sun Belt | WAC 
Age is a factor, recruiting talent helps and the ability to do big things with mediocre talent doesn't hurt. So with that in mind, this isn't a ranking of the best coaches in the Sun Belt; this is a ranking of the coaches you'd want to lead the program for the next five years or more.

- ACC Coaches | Big East Coaches | Big Ten Coaches
- Big 12 Coaches | C-USA Coaches | Ind Coaches
- MAC Coaches | M-West Coaches | Pac-12 Coaches
- SEC Coaches | Sun Belt Coaches | WAC Coaches

- Top 15 | No. 16 - 30 | No. 31 - 45 | No. 46 - 60
- No. 61 - 75 | No. 76 - 90 | No. 91 - 105 | Bottom 15 

  1. Mario Cristobal, FIU
Career Record: 16-33

Talk about your builder of teams, Cristobal made Florida International into a real, live player in the Sun Belt chase taking the program from scratch and making it work. It took a few years, but he got the Golden Panthers to a bowl game with his tireless energy and ability to know the Miami area. The overall record might not look great, but he’s doing a terrific job.
Hot Seat Status: Zero. FIU is lucky to still have him. He would’ve been the better choice over Al Golden for the Miami gig.
The Coaching Change Will Come … 2012. FIU was able to get him for one more year, but at only 41 in October, he’s young, talented, and rising.

2. Dan McCarney, North Texas
Career Record: 56-85

It’s not like things got that stale at Iowa State. McCarney had come up with five seven-plus winning campaigns in seven years at a tough place to consistently win, and then he was dumped. After bouncing around as a defensive line coach, he’s getting another shot at North Texas and he might be fantastic. Only 58 when the season starts, there’s still time for him to make the Mean Green shine.
Hot Seat Status: None. After the Todd Dodge disaster, McCarney will get at least three years to make everything better.
The Coaching Change Will Come … In ten years. At his age, McCarney isn’t going anywhere, but he’s young enough to build up the program and make it his for the next decade. It was an underappreciated hire.

3. Larry Blakeney, Troy
Career Record: 161-82-1

One of the nation’s best coaches that no one has heard of, he has put together great season after great season at Troy on the way to being named the Sun Belt’s 10th Anniversary Most Outstanding Coach. Troy has won at least a piece of five straight conference titles and has gone to five bowl games in seven years. His only issue is age turning 64 this year.
Hot Seat Status: None. There should be streets and stadiums named after the guy. The statue is coming.
The Coaching Change Will Come … In five years. He’s still going strong, but he’s not going to be rolling into his 70s. At this point he’s not going to leave for a bigger gig.

4. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana
Career Record: 66-21

A tremendous high school coach who went 25-1, and excellent at D-II North Alabama going 66-21 with six ten-plus winning seasons in eight years, he’s ready to show what he can do. A receiver coach at Mississippi State before getting the job, his offense will be strong from the start.
Hot Seat Status: Little. After two straight 6-6 seasons, ULL went 3-9 making it time for a change. He’ll get one year, but then he has to start winning.
The Coaching Change Will Come … Quickly. He was phenomenal when he got to run his own program at South Alabama, and he’ll be great for a few years until the next big opportunity opens up. Only 43 this year, he’s going to be a high riser.

5. Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky
Career Record: 2-10

Just wait. He only went 2-10 in his first year, but the WKU job is a marathon, not a sprint. The running back coach at Stanford who helped make Toby Gerhart a near-Heisman winner, he has a star in Bobby Rainey to make a national name and should make the young team far better. Taggart is a former WKU quarterback who’s young and fired up to make his program shine.
Hot Seat Status: Little. He’ll get as much time as he needs for a relatively new FBS program that might need a little while to be consistently solid.
The Coaching Change Will Come … In a while. Again, he went to WKU and isn’t going to just jump at the first opportunity he’ll get. However, he’s a talented, smart coach who’ll get a great next-step gig within the next five years.

6. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State
Career Record: 20-5

A terrific head coach at Lambuth for two years and the coach at Briarcrest High, highlighted in the movie The Blind Side, he was great as the offensive coordinator for Arkansas State last year. Now it’s his gig after taking over for Steve Roberts, and the offense should blow up. Can he make the program a consistent winner? He’ll get plenty of time to figure it out.
Hot Seat Status: More than it might seem. Roberts was good at ASU, winning the Sun Belt title in 2005, but two straight 4-8 seasons led to the change. Freeze will be fine for a year, but then he needs to get to a bowl game.
The Coaching Change Will Come … Soon. Young and talented, he’s as upwardly mobile as they come in the Sun Belt. He’ll take the first good job he’ll get a chance at.

7. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
Career Record: 33-30

The former Florida State quarterback has done a good job with the Blue Raiders finishing in the Sun Belt’s top two three times in five years. A strong offensive coach, he has been able to get big numbers on a regular basis, but he only has two winning seasons and is mostly known for not being able to win the big one needed to take over the Sun Belt.
Hot Seat Status: A little warm. It’s not like he has been bad, but it would be nice if there was an outright Sun Belt title. Just two years removed from a ten-win season, he’ll get another few seasons to show what he can do.
The Coaching Change Will Come … In ten years. He’s not exactly a hot prospect, and turning 54 this year, Middle Tennessee might be his destination. He’ll be good enough to not get canned.

8. Todd Berry, ULM
Career Record: 34-67

He did a good job turning Illinois State into a power in the late 1990s with his high octane offense, and he parlayed the success into the Army job going a disastrous 5-36. He landed on his feet at ULM, working as the offensive coordinator before moving to Miami and UNLV as an assistant. He came back to ULM as the head man last year and went 5-7. Turning 51 this year, he has to quickly prove he can produce a winner.
Hot Seat Status: Not as much as it should be. He hasn’t come up with a winning season as a head coach since the 1990s and has a 10-43 record since leaving Illinois State. On the plus side, the five wins last year were as many as had in close to four years at Army.
The Coaching Change Will Come … In a while. ULM hasn’t had a winning season since moving up to the D-I/FBS ranks, and Berry will get at least a few years to try to make something happen.

9. Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic
Career Record: 157-140-3

He came up with one of the all-timer of building jobs making Miami into a superpower in the 1980s thanks to his famously putting a fence around the “State of Miami” to keep most of the top talent at home. He wasn’t able to come up with the same success at Louisville or Oklahoma, but not done, he created the Florida Atlantic program from scratch and came up with four winning seasons in six years highlighted by a Sun Belt title in 2007. He has never lost a bowl game, going 6-0 including the 1984 Orange Bowl victory for the national title, and he’ll go down as one of the most successful, most interesting characters in college football history. However, he’s 77.
Hot Seat Status: None. This is his program. He’s the president, emperor, creator, head coach, and everything else. He can stay until he’s 90 if he wants to.
The Coaching Change Will Come … Within the next few years. His recruiting classes aren’t strong and the success isn’t there. At his age, his great run is finally winding down.

- ACC Coaches | Big East Coaches | Big Ten Coaches
- Big 12 Coaches | C-USA Coaches | Ind Coaches
- MAC Coaches | M-West Coaches | Pac-12 Coaches
- SEC Coaches | Sun Belt Coaches | WAC Coaches

- Top 15 | No. 16 - 30 | No. 31 - 45 | No. 46 - 60
- No. 61 - 75 | No. 76 - 90 | No. 91 - 105 | Bottom 15