2012 M-West Coaches
The Hot Seat Factor
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Picture this. You're a beleaguered athletic director with an opening at the top of the football organizational chart. Your checkbook is open, and your fan base is glaring at you with unwavering anticipation. Which of the Mountain West's current head coaches would you put in charge of the program for the next five or so years? Knowing that your own job hangs in the balance, to which man would you entrust your future?
This is NOT necessarily a ranking of how good the head coaches are. This is a ranking based on who would be best to take over a program and build it up, so age is a major factor. A coach might be legendary, but he might not have another five years of greatness left. So with that in mind, who are the top candidates to run your program?
10. Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Alright, so this isn't fair. He's young, turning 48 this year, and he was wildly successful at Montana going 47-6 with three national championships and seven D-IAA playoff appearances and seven Big Sky titles. He can coach, and he knows how to crank out good teams, but he left Montana to try to make a step up in his career, and after a controversy over charges against several players for various alleged crimes. Now he's in the abyss of the UNLV program where no one seems able to come up with any sort of success. He had to completely tear down the Rebels to try to build it back up, and the results haven't been positive going 4-21 in his two years, and there's not too much hope on the horizon.
Hot Seat Status: Toasty. A major rebuilding job needs to be done, and UNLV needs more time and some decent recruiting classes, but the record has been too poor. If this doesn't work, he's going to be someone's defensive coordinator, the reputation will be built back up, and he'll get another chance somewhere.
9. Rocky Long, San Diego State
Long did a great job of making New Mexico relevant, but his era ran stale. However, by stale that means a 4-8 season after winning six or more games seven years in a row. Now he's taking what Brady Hoke did at San Diego State and is keeping it going with a nice 8-5 season. His running games always work, and he's good at cranking out productive defenses without a ton of talent to work with. The knock might be that he has never taken a program to another level after making it good, but he's a solid coach who produces competitive teams. He has only been with the Aztecs for one season so far, but he's still going strong at 62.
Hot Seat Status: It's a bit tenuous. San Diego State isn't used to consistent success – hello, Chuck Long – but it's not going to stand for a big slip after the fun of the last few seasons. Long is a bit of a stopgap, and while the Aztecs are going to be fine under his watch, with a move to the Big East coming, a bad year could mean a move to a hotter, higher profile head man.
8. Norm Chow, Hawaii
This is where the argument and the debate kicks in. Do you hire a coach who's going to be 66 years old when the season starts to rebuild the program? If it's Norm Chow going home to Hawaii, yeah. Will he be around as the head coach for the next five years? That might not matter as long as he can crank up the offense for a few seasons. He's a legendary offensive coordinator and quarterback guru, but the bloom is off the rose a bit after struggling at UCLA under Rick Neuheisel and not doing too much with Utah last year. However, now that he's finally a head coach – a long overdue move – he should turn it loose with the perfect program to fit his talents.
Hot Seat Status: Fine for right now. He can have one bad year to start, but the offense had better rock. At his age there's a small window on what kind of a stamp he can put on the program and he has to produce.
7. Chris Ault, Nevada
Already in the College Football Hall of Fame, there's no questioning Chris Ault's credentials. He's also shown that his system works and keeps on working no matter who he brings in; the Wolf Pack running game is always impressive. His teams are in the hunt for the conference title on a regular basis, and a bowl bid is always a sure thing. Yeah, he's 2-7 in bowls, but the 226 career wins offset that and the 13-1 2009 season stands out in Nevada football history. So why is he so low? He'll turn 66 during the football season, and while he's not showing any signs of slowing down, he already retired once after 1995 and isn't likely to still be the head man five years from now.
Hot Seat Status: Absolute zero. He is Nevada football. Things will be named after him once he's done.
6. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
Here's the big question; can McElwain produce a strong offense without a slew of NFL talent? A success as Alabama's offensive coordinator, he was helped by having Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and several NFL-caliber linemen to play around with. More importantly, his offenses didn't have to do much thanks to a defense that allowed big plays as often as Nick Saban smiles. He was able to parlay the team's success over the last few years into the Colorado State gig and a huge salary to go along with it, but now he has to try to restore the glory after Steve Fairchild couldn't turn the corner.
Hot Seat Status: It's on. Colorado State is desperate for a winner again and it's paying the price in hopes that McElwain can be the right fit. With a base salary of $1.3 million and the chance to make enough to boost the overall package closer to $1.5 million, he won't get too much of a grace period.
5. Bob Davie, New Mexico
It might seem like Davie is being dragged out of coaching obscurity – even with his strong work as a TV analyst – but he's only going to be 58 during the football season and, despite the perceptions, he wasn't that bad at Notre Dame. His crime was that he didn't make the Irish a national superpower again, but as it's becoming more and more obvious in the decade since getting canned, that wasn't really his fault. He had two nine-win seasons and a BCS appearance in his five campaigns, and he set the foundation for Ty Willingham to step in and shine right away. Now he has to take over the impossible task of righting the ship after the Mike Locksley disaster.
Hot Seat Status: None. He's a class act who's exactly what the Lobos need. This has been one of the worst teams in America over the last few years, and Davie will need a while to have any sort of success, but at the very least the defense will be far, far stronger.
4. Dave Christensen, Wyoming
With two winning seasons in his first three campaigns at Wyoming, Christensen is proving to be a miracle-worker of sorts. Last year's team had no business making any noise in the Mountain West, but instead it went 8-5 and got to a bowl game. Now the needle is pointed up with a terrific young quarterback in Brett Smith and just enough experience to get by. However, he used a little bit of smoke and a lot of mirrors to get it done with no run defense and a passing game that was mediocre at best. While the Cowboys were terrific in the WAC in the 1990s, it's a new world in the tougher Mountain West. However, if Christensen can come up with a winner last year, going forward won't be so tough.
Hot Seat Status: None. Despite being 18-20 for his career he has a job for a while and can afford a few down years. He's only 51 and is a good enough offensive mind to get the attack rolling a bit more with Smith at the helm, but one big season could mean a step up to a midlevel BCS job.
3. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Defense, defense, defense. DeRuyter is a defensive coach with an Air Force playing background and a great résumé of attacking, aggressive defenses that always got to the quarterback. His Aggie defense led the nation in sacks even after the loss of Von Miller to the NFL, and while the secondary got torched and didn't come up with enough key stops, that was life in the Big 12. Only 49, this is his first head coaching gig – not counting the bowl win over Northwestern after taking over for Mike Sherman – and he should make the Fresno State defense shine from Day One.
Hot Seat Status: Zip. He's a good coaching prospect who should be a nice fit for Fresno State at just the right time. Coming of a 4-9 season with a defense that finished 100th in the nation in yards allowed and 106th in scoring, he's just the coach to come up with an instant turnaround in the program's first year in the Mountain West.
2. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
He's Air Force through and through, coming back to his alma mater where he plays quarterback in the late 1980s. The program had gone stale under Fisher DeBerry and there was some thought that it couldn't be competitive anymore at a midrange to high level. While the Falcons aren't going to the BCS any time soon, under Calhoun they've occupied a decent space just below the Boise States and TCUs over the last few years. That the team went 7-6 and was a disappointment shows how strong the Calhoun era has been with five winning campaigns in five tries and a 41-24 record. Remember, the talent pool Calhoun has had to work with is about six inches – he's doing this with a lot of players that aren't necessarily FBS talents.
Hot Seat Status: That he's still around Colorado Springs is a minor miracle. He might be an Air Force guy, and there's some question about whether or not his coaching would translate to a bigger program, but he has had success at every stop, and that includes as the offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.
1. Chris Petersen, Boise State
From the UCLA vacancy, to the Pitt job, to the greeter gig at Wal-Mart, if there's a job opening, someone has Petersen as a front-runner for it. But time and again he has taken himself out of the running for bigger jobs at higher profile places, even though he can call his shot and name his price. He's getting paid a solid $2 million a year, but after going a ridiculous 73-6 in his six seasons – with three of the losses coming in one season - with two BCS appearances and a few flirtations with a BCS championship bid, he's leaving at least another million on the table and could probably command close to $5 million a year with the right package at the right opening. However, he has a great job, and he might have learned from history. Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins were brilliant at Boise State, too, but they failed miserably once they moved on. That's not to say he couldn't succeed elsewhere, but the program will soon be off to the Big East and the profile will get even higher. He's already a big-time head coach, and his team will be in a big-time conference.
Hot Seat Status: It's his job for as long as he wants to live in Boise. It would take several clunker seasons, or a major scandal, for there to be any heat whatsoever on his job. At just 48 years old this October, he's one of the best coaches in all of football and has the potential to go down as one of the all-time greats if he can somehow come close to keeping up this incredible pace. How amazing has this run been? Of his six losses, one came in the final moments against TCU last year, one came on a missed kick against Nevada, and one game by one point in to TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State is three plays and five points away from four straight unbeaten seasons, five in six years, and a run of 40 straight wins.