TQ: The Most Underappreciated Head Coaches
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer
Posted Apr 2, 2012

Tuesday Question: Who are the most underappreciated head coaches?

Tuesday Question 

Underappreciated Coaches

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TQ: Who are the most underappreciated head coaches?

By Richard Cirminiello   
By "underappreciated", I'm reading that term as a macro or national perception, and not on the coach's respective campus. Each of the five men below is having zero issues earning the respect, admiration and appreciation of local students, fans and administrators.

5. Bill Snyder, Kansas State – If last year's clear-out-of-left-field 10-win season in Manhattan wasn't proof enough that Snyder is a bona fide magician, nothing will be. Even at 72, he's still able to connect with teenagers, and coach them up to unexpected levels. A decade from now, Snyder could go down as one of the most underrated college coaches of all-time.

4. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin – Folks outside of the Big Ten have yet to fully embrace just how good Bielema has been over the past six years. He's really come of age, and has grown into his role on the sidelines, leading the Badgers to 60 wins and back-to-back conference championships. And not to be forgotten, Bielema has elevated the program after succeeding a legend at the school, Barry Alvarez.

3. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas – If Petrino could simply vacate his 2007 season as if some NCAA violation was committed, he wouldn't be on this list be on this list. However, for a small segment of the population, he's still just the guy who quit on the Atlanta Falcons after a 3-10 start. Too bad. As a college head coach, he's been fantastic at molding young, while amassing a 75-26 record at Louisville and Arkansas. Just once in eight years has he won less than eight games.

2. Kyle Whittingham , Utah – If Whittingham was any more under the radar, he'd be travelling on four wheels. He has very quietly won 66 games over the past seven seasons, including seven bowl games and a pair of BCS bowl games. The Utes never get the same caliber of recruits as major programs, yet were ranked in three of the last four years. Whittingham took what Urban Meyer started in Salt Lake City, and helped bring it to a new level. And without his stewardship, Utah probably doesn't get the invite to join the Pac-12 a year ago. Few fans truly know Whittingham's body of work. Athletic directors who've been trying to lure him out of the state, though, have had him on speed dial since 2007.

1. Gary Patterson, TCU – Has it really been more than a decade since Patterson replaced Dennis Franchione in Fort Worth? He's become an institution for the Horned Frogs, totaling 109 wins and five conference championships. He's excelled with a blueprint that consistently transforms good, hard-working athletes from Texas into all-stars and NFL draft picks. Patterson has resisted the temptation to leave TCU, and coach schools from major conferences. Now that his program is set to join the Big 12, maybe he'll finally start to get the national respect befitting one of the game's premier head coaches.

By Matt Zemek

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: It was plainly apparent in the 2011 Music City Bowl that Grobe did far more with his assemblage of Demon Deacons than Dan Mullen did with his Mississippi State squad. Grobe is constantly making more out of less. That's what a quality head coach does… in the obscurity of Winston-Salem or in the spotlight of Baton Rouge. Grobe resides in Winston-Salem, so he's not the national name he should be in the coaching profession.

Mile Riley, Oregon State: Riley, like Grobe, coaches in an off-the-radar corner of the college football world, but that doesn't take away from his body of work. Two straight disappointing seasons have diminished the shine on his record, but certainly not eliminated it. Riley's ability to consistently become a nemesis for Pete Carroll's USC teams will remain an enduring testimony to his talents as a coach. You try and win on a regular basis in Corvallis.

Mark Richt, Georgia: Grobe and Riley are coaches who are underappreciated because they don't perform squarely in the public spotlight. Richt and the next two coaches on this list are underappreciated because their immense achievements haven't bought them as much political capital or as much fan adulation as one would hope. Richt is the man who lifted Georgia from its 19-year-long doldrums, back into the SEC winner's circle. He restored what Ray Goff and Jim Donnan couldn't quite bring to Athens (though Donnan came close; close, though, isn't the same as finishing the job): SEC championship glory and honor.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: Yes, the Hokies had no business being in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan. Yes, they didn't play well in that game and blew a chance to win it comfortably, thereby putting themselves in position to lose when receiver Danny Coale was cheated out of a touchdown reception he earned in overtime. However, Beamer – like Richt – is often spoken of in mocking tones and on unfavorable terms. Winning a division almost every year and winning a conference in most years should never, ever result in such a comparatively meager national reputation.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: He is to college football what Roy Williams is to college basketball. He receives a higher volume of criticism, and a more withering brand of criticism, than any other coach with his body of achievements. We should all have his track record of failure, shouldn't we? It's fair game to point out the times when he falls short of the mark; it's not fair to ignore the high-level consistency he has produced in Norman for more than a decade.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

These type of questions are never easy…there are so many directions one can go, and there are entire sites dedicated to the purpose when it comes to CFB coaching. My favorite – indeed, I think the best site on the matter – is Coaches By The Numbers. They break it down in great detail, after which you can simply pick your poison.

But we'll go outside the norm and take the following five (in no particular order):

James Franklin, Vanderbilt – No, not Missouri's QB of the same name, but rather the ‘Dores firebrand. He may have benefited from a defense littered with seniors/depth, but he took a team bowling that was 4-20 over the previous two seasons (including 1-16 in conference). That's a traditionally under-staffed team playing in a conference that last year sported the first, second and third place teams in the nation. Vandy was also in nearly every game, and but for a whisker could have beaten Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Franklin has also been recruiting like he and Vandy have a lot to offer - which apparently they do.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force – Say what you will about supporting the Ol' Alma Mater, but Calhoun's talents are being wasted in Colorado Springs. He took over a struggling Falcons program in December 2006, and his rushing attack has been top five in the nation every year since. He's a leader of men, a tireless recruiter, and with the right talent around him could win a national championship.

Gary Andersen, Utah State – Another product of the coaching factory that has been Northern Arizona (seriously), Andersen has done more with less than perhaps any coach in America. He was Asst. Coach/Defensive Coordinator at Utah from 2004-2008, culminating in the Utes' Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. He has taken an Aggies program mired in a FBS tradition of mediocrity since the 1980's, and completely turned around that perception. With a true freshman under center, Andersen's talents shined in the 2011 season…State should have beaten Auburn on the road to start the season, and Big Blue and the Aggies were in virtually every game last year.

Ed Orgeron, Asst, USC – Giggle all you want, and yes, he may be slightly high strung to be a head coach…but Orgeron is vastly underrated as both a DL coach and more importantly, a recruiter. The only man able to recruit on par with Orgeron is Alabama's Nick Saban. If recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, than the crazy Cajun is the sports' ultimate defibrillator.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah – Staying in the state of Utah… "But Utah played in a Non-AQ conference until last season," you say? True, but look deeper… The Utes were 39-20 (66%) in the five years before Whittingham took over (and that included one Meyer, Urban). With Whittingham calling the shots? 65-25 (72%). Against Top 25 teams he's 6-8. Against teams over .500 at season's end he's 24-17, and he's 6-1 in bowl games. That's Utah, state of. Where yes, they know how to play a little football.

Side Note: Mark Richt?? The goal here is underappreciated. Richt's team played four squads in 2011 with a pulse, and it lost all four. UGA backed into the SEC Championship game and got blasted by a team without a quarterback, in about half a game. He was 6-7 the year before with a bowl loss to UCF, in which they couldn't score a touchdown! He hasn't had a signature SEC win since the 2007 "End Zone Dance" game vs. Florida. In the 2008 season, when the Dawgs were preseason #1, they played three teams that finished the season in the Top 25 and lost to ALL THREE, giving up nearly 150 points in the process.

If that and the complete lack of discipline in Athens isn't enough, how about this: even including his VanGorder-aided first five seasons, against the Top 5 (Time of Game), Richt is 2-8. That's 2 wins to 8 losses. Against Top 25 (End of Season) he's 17-28.

As for Frank "Big Game" Beamer:

Against Top 5 (Time of Game): (1-9)
Against Top 25 (End of Season): (19-22)
Against Rivals: (10-1)
Bowl Record: (4-7)
BCS Record: (1-4)

The best thing you can say about Frank is that he dominates the ACC. But that and $3.80 will buy you a latte at Starbucks.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN   

As the college football calendar flips from year to year, there are many things that come in and out of favor. The perception of coaches are no different. In a "what have you done for me lately" and pinnacle measuring profession, there are some coaches that get it done year after year, but because of various reasons never get the appreciation they would in another alternate universes. Here's a look at five of the most under-appreciated, underrated coaches in college football today.

No. 5- Chris Peterson, Boise State
I know, I know, Petersen gets plenty of accolades by way of his name surfacing for almost every job opening, but that's only half the story. There's still a large contingent of fans and followers of college football who feel that Petersen's success is largely predicated on his domination of an inferior conference. The reality though, is that Chris Petersen has put a Boise State program not only on the map, but has made them the darlings of the college football universe--with fringe national title aspirations on an almost yearly basis. And no matter what league you're in, winning more games than any other team in FBS over the last decade should count for something. Beginning in 2013, with the move to the Big East, the Broncos and their General will get every opportunity to prove that they, and the coach that has caused Boise State to be a polarizing topic, deserve more appreciation.

No. 4- Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Prior to Dantonio taking over in Spartyville, Michigan State was known for having more than capable athletes that simply did not perform up to expectations. It took Dantonio a year or two to get things cooking in East Lansing, but for the last two years, the Spartans have been one of the two best programs in the Big Ten. Prior to that, he started the momentum towards a football remodeling project at Cincinnati that has continued to a large degree. Part of the reason that Dantonio doesn't get enough credit is for his unassuming demeanor and humility. Still, Mark Dantonio has perhaps even ratcheted the talent up a wee bit on campus by recruiting hard, but most importantly, he has been able to plug all the right holes, develop the talent, and have them perform up to potential on the field. The hard part will be keeping it there, but he should not be overlooked for his body of work thus far.

No. 3- Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
The man who is now a little over forty is starting to get more recognition-- mainly because of coming within an eyelash of winning a national title last year. But it wasn't Gundy's first rodeo. Since his innovative, pass-first, offensive attack was brought to Stillwater, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have taken a back seat to nobody in the Big Twelve (and that includes Oklahoma and Texas). Year after year, one of the only programs that has a live ammunition toting mascot has produced elite receivers and quarterbacks and made it difficult for the scoreboard operator to take a bathroom break. The machine is up and running, and Gundy would be considered a bigger name guy if only folks could get used to the idea of defense being less resistant than a wet paper towel. Bottom line--his teams are winning at an impressive clip and the notoriety should come with it.

No. 2- Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Is Georgia Tech a basketball school, or a football school? Despite a slight speed bump last year, in recent times with Paul Johnson at the helm, it's no contest. Johnson was seen patrolling the sidelines of Navy for years with his triple option attack, and many wondered what kind of success the same style would have in a BCS conference once hired on at Georgia Tech. The result--the offense works just fine and is not just a way of creating a more even playing field for a talent gap. You have to give the man credit for coaching what he believes in, recruiting his guys and getting them to buy in, while piling up wins. The games are not much fun to watch, but it's more enjoyable than gazing at losing football. If Johnson could get over the hump and win a BCS bowl game, the recognition would be flowing like milk and honey to the yellow jackets.

No. 1- Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Talk about polarizing. There are many Va Tech fans who get frustrated at "Beamer Ball" because there is the continued let down of losing on the biggest of big stages. But what speaks volumes more than anything is to remember where Hokie football was prior to the emphasis on special teams, defense, and opportunistic offensive game plans that Beamer brought to town. The Frank Beamer/Michael Vick marriage was clearly the start of really good things, and ever since then, Virginia Tech has been a staple of BCS bowls, perennial top ten teams, but unfortunately for Beamer and gang, heartbreak when on the doorstep of really big things as well. There has yet to be a national title in the trophy case, and it may just take the addition of one for Beamer to silence his critics and finally get the recognition and appreciation that he deserves. About 110 other teams would love to pluck him away.
By Terry Johnson
Please follow me on Twitter @TPJCollFootball

While many head coaches deserve a place on this list, five candidates stand out from the others.

Chip Kelly is the country's fifth most underappreciated coach. Usually the first thing that critics say about Kelly is that he inherited a great situation from Mike Bellotti. While he did walk into a program on the rise, Kelly has taken Oregon to unprecedented new heights, leading the Ducks to three consecutive BCS bowls. Despite this success, he still receives a considerable amount of criticism about his spread offense, specifically that it does not work when teams have more than one week to prepare. Even if this criticism is true, Oregon has more conference titles (three) than conference losses (two) during Kelly's tenure.

That statistic alone ought to put Kelly on the same level as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

Ohio University's Frank Solich qualifies for fourth place on this list. Despite winning 58 games in six seasons and guiding the team to an appearance in the National Championship Game at the end of the 2001 season, Solich never measured up to the lofty (and perhaps, unrealistic) expectations of the Husker Nation, which ultimately resulted in his firing at the end of the 2003 season. Two years later, Solich took the job at Ohio University, and instantly turned the Bobcats into a consistent winner. During his seven-year tenure, OU has appeared in the MAC Championship Game three times, and won its first-ever bowl game this season.

Surprisingly, Solich has not had another offer from an AQ school. If that does not cry out "underappreciated", what does?

Jim Grobe finishes in third place as the nation's most underappreciated coach. No coach in the country gets more out of his players than Grobe, who has taken perennial doormats and turned them into legitimate contenders. At Ohio University, Grobe took an underachieving Bobcat team, and guided them to five consecutive winning records in conference play (something Solich has yet to accomplish). After moving on to Wake Forest, he led the Demon Deacons to four bowl games, and an ACC Championship in 2006.

While these accomplishments at Wake might not seem very impressive, even Jim Caldwell – who won a Super Bowl with Colts – only posted one winning season, and one bowl game during his tenure in Winston-Salem.

With very little fanfare outside of Columbia, Gary Pinkel has very quietly established himself as one of the nation's elite coaches, and the second most underappreciated coach in the game today. While the Tigers have not won a conference championship during his tenure, they did represent the Big 12 North in the conference title game twice and won at least 10 games three times. More importantly, under Pinkel's watch, Missouri continues to crank out some of the best QBs in the land, including Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, and Blaine Gabbert. With James Franklin operating the controls to the Pinkel's high-octane offense, the Tigers might wind up playing for the SEC title this season.

That is quite a step up for a coach who has traditionally played second fiddle to Bob Stoops and Mack Brown.

In order to win the SEC title, Missouri would have to defeat Mark Richt, the nation's most underappreciated coach. Heading into last season, the Bulldogs had six seasons with ten or more wins, won two SEC Championships, and won two Sugar Bowls with Richt roaming the sidelines. Despite all of his success, many Dawg fans started calling for his head after a subpar seasons in 2009 and 2010. This heat intensified last season as the Dawgs dropped their first two games to Boise and South Carolina (who each finished in the Top 10). Instead of panicking, Richt made some adjustments, which sparked the Bulldogs to another 10-win season, giving him the same number of ten-win seasons as the legendary Vince Dooley.

Not bad for a guy that many fans wanted to see fired in mid-September!