2012 Coaching 5-Year Plan - No. 26 to 50
USC head coach Lane Kiffin
USC head coach Lane Kiffin
Posted Apr 4, 2012

You have to pick a coach to build your program for the next five years.

2012 Coaching Analysis

The 5-Year Plan, Part 2

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2012 Hot Seat Status
- No Pressure - Can Afford Two Bad Years
- No Real Worries. - Can Afford A Clunker
- Need To Win, Or The Pressure Is On
- Clunk In 2012, Worry In 2013
- The Pressure Cooker. The REAL Hot Seat 

It's simple: you have to hire a coach for your program with a five-year plan to build it up. Who'd be the best coach to take? No, this isn't a ranking of the best coaches in college football right now; this is a ranking of who'd be best to take over and be in for the relative long haul.

That's why age plays a huge factor - it's not a lock that a coach will still want to do this in his 70s - but it's mostly about who can get the job done. The younger, though, the better.

2012 5-Year Plan Coaching Rankings
- Part 1 - The Top 20 | Part 2 - 21-50
- Part 3 - 51-75 | Part 4 - 76-100
- Part 5 - The bottom 24 
21. Lane Kiffin, USC
For the first time in his star-crossed career, Kiffin is showing signs of blossoming into a quality head coach. It hasn't been an overnight process. Prior to guiding the Trojans to a 10-2 record, and back to the precipice of national championship contention, he'd been an assistant with a loaded USC program, spent 20 forgettable games with the Oakland Raiders and left Tennessee after just one season. However, at 36, the loose cannon appears to be showing signs of maturity as he successfully guides Troy off NCAA probation. He possesses an insatiable appetite to dominate his opponents, hitting the film room, practice field and recruiting trail with equal intensity. These next few seasons in Los Angeles will be critical ones for Kiffin, who has a shot to really put his career into overdrive.

22. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The Ball Coach pulled it off. This run South Carolina is on is by far the greatest in the history of its shockingly mediocre program, highlighted by a fantastic 11-2 2011 coming off an East title in 2010. His run at Florida was legendary, and while the disaster with the Washington Redskins hurt his legacy and reputation, the last seven years got it all back. Not only has he done the nearly impossible by giving the success-starved Gamecock fans a consistent winner, but he is going stronger than ever with a few loaded recruiting classes beefing up the talent level. Now, because of Spurrier and what he's been doing, there's a legitimate reason to throw out the idea that USC could be good enough to be in the BCS championship chase. However, he's turning 67 this year and probably wouldn't be the coach you'd want to rebuild a program. At the immediate moment, though, he's still among the best in the business.

23. Gene Chizik, Auburn
How much was it Chizik, how much was it Gus Malzahn, and how much was it bringing in Cam Newton? Chizik has a national title forever stamped on his résumé however the sausage was made, and while there will always be skeptics, none of the various charges and allegations against Newton and the program stuck. Going forward, 2011 was major rebuilding year, but he and the Tigers weren't all that bad in the brutal SEC West. With some terrific recruiting classes, Chizik is bringing in the talent level to stay with the Alabamas and LSUs of the conference.

There might be more seasoning needed and a little more work to do with this year's team, but he's showing staying power. Newton came up with a transcendent season – possibly the greatest year by any quarterback ever – but Chizik deserves credit for keeping the ship steady through all the turmoil. While he needs to get the Tigers back in the SEC West title hunt soon, all the anger and all the doubters after his 5-19 run at Iowa State are gone.

24. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Getting the right head coach is all about finding the best fit. That has never been truer than with Rodriguez, who rocked at West Virginia, yet reeked in Ann Arbor. His spread option, the bedrock of his success, was the catalyst for six consecutive winning seasons with the Mountaineers and three straight top 10 finishes. By the end of 2007, he was one of the most coveted young coaches in America. Three dismal years with the Wolverines may have derailed his career trajectory, but the Arizona gig provides a great chance to get back on track. Odds are that his style of play, both offensively and defensively, has a better chance to flourish in the Pac-12 than it did in the Big Ten. Rodriguez is still only 48 years old, and will be operating with a little extra determination to restore his sagging post-Michigan reputation.

25. Will Muschamp, Florida
It's only been one year, and he did a nice job on the recruiting trail, but he was handed a heater by Urban Meyer and did nothing with it. Remember, Florida had some epic recruiting classes during Urban's final years, and the new coaching staff didn't do anything with it. There are four and five-star talents across the board; Florida should roll out of bed and win ten games. To be fair, going on the road to LSU, Auburn, and South Carolina, along with the dates with Georgia, Alabama, and Florida State, didn't make it easy, but the Gators lost ALL of those games. Turning 41 this summer, Muschamp is still one of the most talented young coaches in college football, but he really, really needs a good 2012. His defenses will always be special, but he needs the offense to follow suit. 105th in the nation in total offense isn't going to cut it.

26. Mario Cristobal, FIU
Cristobal took over a floundering program that was trying to find its footing and trying to establish a footprint in a state loaded with top college football teams. Even Florida Atlantic was hotter when Cristobal took over FIU in 2007, and he struggled early on going 9-27 in his first three seasons. However, there were inklings that he was building a good foundation, and everything worked in a Sun Belt-winning 2010 season, finishing up with a bowl win, and a nice follow-up last year going 8-5. Only 41 years old, he's a young, energetic coach with a tremendous future.

27. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
From 1984 to 2002 Missouri had just two winning seasons. Pinkel took over the program in 2001 with his no-nonsense approach and did a great job of building up the talent level, but it took a little while with three losing seasons in his first four years. And then Mizzou became special with a three Big 12 North titles in four seasons, highlighted by a special 2007 with the puck on its stick in the conference title game for a chance to play in the BCS championship. The seven straight winning seasons under Pinkel has made him one of the best coaches in the program's history, but things are about to get a whole bunch tougher in the SEC East. Turning 60 this year, there are no signs of slowing down as he takes the program to a whole other level. However, he's going to have to ramp up the recruiting to compete keep the winning seasons rolling.

28. Gary Andersen, Utah State
In 1996, Utah State went 6-5 and had a nice year in the Big West. That was just one of two winning seasons for the since 1980, and it wasn't like the prospects were all that bright with Andersen at the helm. After all, his one year as a head coach was a 4-7 season at Southern Utah, and his first two 4-8 seasons at Utah State were the norm for the program. And then everything clicked. The spread rushing attack started to work with big play after big play, and the Aggies came up with a winning season and the team's first bowl bid since 1997. But can he come up with the unthinkable at Utah State and a second straight winning campaign?

29. Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech
Dykes is getting paid like a good midrange head coach – with a deal coming in at around $750,000 per year – and he's producing up to the paycheck. No, the WAC might not have been the WAC of old when Boise State was ruling the roost and Fresno State and Hawaii were stronger, but Dykes was able to come up with a title last season and a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl. While his offenses haven't been dominating like many hoped, considering his success as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Arizona, the needle is pointing way up.

30. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
Paul Johnson worked a minor miracle by implementing the right system to fit the personnel that Navy can get. Niumatalolo has kept the machine working, while putting his own stamp on the program and the team with a hard-nosed style and a physical attitude that helped the Midshipmen go into Notre Dame and win in 2007 and come up with a 10-4 season with a bowl win over Missouri in 2009.

However, it's still Navy, and while the system might work, the school can't get the players that other places can get. Last year the team just didn't have enough on either side of the ball to win all the close games in a 5-7 season, but Niumatalolo has vowed that Navy will get back to doing what made the team so successful. With one more big year, he's destined to get the chance at a bigger program like Johnson got at Georgia Tech.

31. Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois
After years of Northern Illinois coming really, really close to winning a MAC title, only to come up just short, Doeren was the one who got the job done. Just 40 years old going into the season, he's a young, no-nonsense head coach who worked with the linebackers at Kansas under Mark Mangino before guiding the Wisconsin defense. Considering his defensive background, his Huskies weren't exactly up to snuff last year, but he took a page from the Badger offense and helped crank out a terrific running attack while utilizing the talents and skills of QB Chandler Harnish. Very, very hot, DeKalb might not be able to keep him around for too much longer.

32. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It's Mississippi State. There's only so much any coach can do with the Bulldogs right now in the way-too-loaded SEC West. No program would've done much in a division with Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas, but he set the bar high with a 9-4 2010 season showing what he could do with his excellent offensive system. But there will always be a talent gap and there will always be a hard ceiling on what the program can do without a lot of luck. That doesn't mean Mullen isn't a top-shelf coaching talent and isn't going to be one for a long, long time – he's turning 40 this year. As long as his MSU team is competitive, going to bowls, and occasionally pulling off a few big upsets here and there, he'll be doing his job.

33. Mike Leach, Washington State
He sure is quirky, and he's an acquired taste, but Leach appeals to an AD's senses on myriad different levels. Not only does he have a proven track record on a big stage, but his wide-open offensive playbook and magnetic personality bring instant publicity to his school. Leach equals increased ticket sales and higher TV ratings, all of which sells well to future recruits. Although his demeanor can be erratic, his teams at Texas Tech rarely were, delivering a winning season and a bowl game in each of his 10 years on the sidelines. He has perfected the Air Raid system, which, as the name suggests, attacks opposing defenses vertically—and relentlessly. Unless you're an opposing defensive coordinator, Leach is simply a fun character to have back in the game.

34. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
A true believer, the Wildcat legend has said from the start that Northwestern can and should be in the Rose Bowl chase on a regular basis and strong enough to be a power. Call it youthful fire, but the 37-year-old is willing to do all the work needed to try to make his beloved program successful. However, at the moment, just winning a bowl game might be enough. Going into his seventh year, he has gone a commendable 40-36 overall and has been decent in Big Ten play. Considering the recruiting restraints he's under and what he has had to work with, though, there might be a hard ceiling on what he can accomplish. Yes, Northwestern was able to be a factor under Gary Barnett and Randy Walker, but that was because the spread offense was taking everyone by surprise and defenses were reeling. It's a different time now, and while the attack still works in Evanston, getting consistent wins without the top-shelf talents is going to be tougher and tougher.

35. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
After all the controversy with the transition from the Bill Stewart era, and after the rocky start, Holgorsen did exactly what West Virginia fans hoped he would with a Big East title, or at least part of one, and a dominant blowout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Even more importantly, last year appeared to be a jumping off point with the big move to the Big 12 coming. The offense worked, the pieces are coming into place, and Holgorsen appears to be the right man to get back to the level of the Rich Rodriguez heyday. There are few better offensive minds in college football, and he appears to be just getting started. His attack cranked out 460 yards and 35 points per game, but it wasn't game-in-and-game-out consistent. Even so, it put up big numbers on LSU, bombed away when it had to, and, of course, there was the Orange Bowl explosion. Now Holgorsen and West Virginia are red hot.

36. Al Golden, Miami
Golden surely lost some followers a year ago, which is too bad. Not long ago, he was one of the up-and-comers in the ranks, which should not change because he grabbed the reigns of an overrated Miami program that was besieged with scandal and NCAA scrutiny. Jumping the gun on Golden is a huge mistake. He's the same guy who did the impossible for five years in Philly, guiding perennial doormat Temple to back-to-back winning seasons. The Owls' bowl win in 2011 and subsequent invitation to return to the Big East had the previous regime's fingerprint all over them. The guy can spot talent, coach it up and make sure that it never becomes complacent or veers off course. He's a tireless worker, who at the age of 42 has the full tank of gas needed to be a 12-months-a year head coach.

37. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Call this a wait-and-see ranking. He was terrific at Arkansas State, taking the program to a dominant run and a Sun Belt title as a one-and-done rent-a-coach, and now he's back home. Born in Oxford, this is his program and he's ready to try to do the near impossible and make it a player in the SEC West race. David Cutcliffe, helped by Eli Manning, made the Rebels good, but that wasn't enough. Ed Orgeron recruited well, but he was dumped before his era got time to mature. Houston Nutt benefitted from Orgeron's efforts, but stunk over the last two years. Now the cupboard is bare for Freeze, who'll turn 43 this season, to make be the coach the Rebels have been searching for. With a 30-7 career record in two years at Lambuth and one at Arkansas State, he's ready for the big-time.

38. Willie Taggart, WKU
Western Kentucky went 2-22 in 2008 and 2009. Taggart stepped in as an untested assistant out of Stanford and struggled a bit in his first year going 2-10, but the team became more competitive. Last year, after an 0-4 start with good performances in losses to Kentucky and Arkansas State – along with a stunning clunker against Indiana State – the Hilltoppers ripped off seven wins in eight games – with the lone loss at LSU – with Taggart doing a wonderful job. At 35 he's the youngest head coach in major college football, and he's destined for a much bigger program in the near future.

39. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
The biggest knock on Johnson is that he comes prepackaged with the triple-option offense, which is going to turn off some schools and some recruits. His results, though, stand on their own. Whether it's been Georgia Southern, Navy or Georgia Tech, the guy has always won a ton of games, and vexed defenses with his system. In fact, in 15 seasons as a head coach, his teams have finished below .500 just twice. In only his second year on the Flats, the Yellow Jackets represented the ACC in the Orange Bowl as conference champs. His system may be an acquired taste, but it still works in an age of spread offenses and freewheeling passing games. Johnson has yet to touch a program he's been unable to elevate, making him an appealing candidate for openings.

40. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz isn't as hot a name now when it comes to job openings, but he's still among the most respected coaches in football. His teams always play hard, they always produce, and he's great at producing with the talent he's able to bring in. However, 2004 is a long time ago. That's the last time he was able to win a share of the Big Ten title, and he has yet to get the Hawkeyes to Pasadena in his 13 years. Worse yet, it doesn't look like there will be any out-of-the-blue runs into national prominence any time soon.

A young 56, turning 57 this summer, he still has plenty of coaching life to go. There a few better at putting together and developing offensive lines; he'd be snapped up in a heartbeat by some NFL team as an assistant if anything ever happened and things went south in Iowa City. It would be interesting to see what he could do at an elite program with a pipeline of four and five-star talents flowing in, but he appears to be settled in. If he didn't strike while the iron was hot following some of his bigger years, he's not going to jet now.

41. Mike London, Virginia
London may be just two years into his Cavaliers tenure, but he's already one of the rising young stars of the coaching ranks. Practically overnight, he's infused new life into a program that had been wallowing under Al Groh. He's a terrific recruiter, a must to be successful at this level, quickly earns the respect of his players and is an outstanding defensive tactician. The fact that Virginia was in the 2011 Coastal Division hunt until the final weekend of the regular season had an awful lot to do with London's ability to maximize the talent around him. At the age of 51, he's in his coaching prime, and has already won a national championship while at Richmond. At the current pace, he'll perennially be on AD's short lists of coaching candidates.

42. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Pelini stopped the slide. It was the exact thing past Nebraska administrators were worried about – a dip into mediocrity – and it was the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Pelini who took over the job and brought three Big 12 North titles and a 30-12 record to Lincoln. However, his first year in the Big Ten wasn't exactly a positive with the defense falling flat and the offense too predictable and without many options. As much as everyone around the program didn't want to make a big deal out of going to the new league, it was a big deal and there's still and adjustment period.

Pelini has to be given a pass, though, for last season. Every game was a big moment in the inaugural campaign, and just when things appeared to be dying down in terms of the novelty, the Huskers were thrown into the Penn State ugliness with the first game following the scandal. It might have been a disappointing year, but 9-4 still isn't anything to be upset about.

43. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin took what now-Baylor head man Art Briles put together and ran with it. While Sumlin didn't have to rebuild Houston, he came up with two tremendous seasons and helped make Case Keenum the greatest statistical passer in NCAA history. His offense was unstoppable last year against everyone but Southern Miss, but his defense was effective, too. A former assistant and offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, he's ready to try to be the one who finally makes the program a national player. Good, but not elite as it was dwarfed in the shadow of Texas and Oklahoma, now A&M gets to find its own niche as the Texas program in the SEC. If nothing else, he should bring a fun attack to a league that's missing some offensive pizzazz.

44. Jim Mora, UCLA
Mora is going to be a real wild card in the Pac-12 this season and beyond. Is he Pete Carroll coming off a long stint in the NFL, or is he Mike Sherman? Take your pick. Although the real test will come when games start being played in September, the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach is off to a very nice start in Westwood. He's brought a no-nonsense approach to the Bruins, emphasizing accountability, discipline and hard work. He also filled the cupboard in February with one of the school's best recruiting classes in recent memory. If he's able to make a smooth transition from the NFL game, Mora has interesting long-term potential in the NCAA. And an opportunity to make a big splash at a school that has the resources to turn the corner quickly.

45. June Jones, SMU
Jones is one of the ultimate program builders in the game. Armed with his time-tested run-and-shoot offense, he transformed Hawaii before leaving the islands in 2007, and is at it again with the Mustangs. He's almost singlehandedly infused life into SMU over the past four years, taking the program to an improbable three consecutive bowl games. Beyond the bells and whistles on offense, he has such a magnetic personality and passion for winning that it's hard for the players and the fans not to get swept up in the movement. At 59, he may be on the back nine of his coaching career, but that didn't stop Arizona State from making a hard run at him last December. If he chooses to do so, Jones still has one more major move left in him.

46. Mack Brown, Texas
Brown hasn't received nearly enough credit for what he has done with Texas. Yeah, now the place can open up the doors and sign all the elite in-state prospects it wants, and yeah, it's Texas, the monster empire with its own network and all the attention that goes with being the big football school in the big football state, but it's Brown who brought all of those things back to Austin. Remember, even with a Big 12 title under John Mackovic the program wasn't the consistent superpower that Texas was supposed to be. And then Brown showed up and everything changed.

But Brown is turning 61 this year and there have been persistent, but unfounded, rumors for years about how he's planning on retiring soon. The program lost Will Muschamp to Florida because Brown didn't show many signs of slowing down, but now the production and the wins aren't there like they were when he won ten games or more in nine straight seasons. At this point, could he go to another school and recruit like he can at UT? Probably not, but he's obviously not going anywhere else. The question now is whether or not he can return the program to its lofty status.

47. Skip Holtz, South Florida
Given time, Holtz will produce a winner. He's spent more than a decade creating a trail of success down the Eastern Seaboard. From Connecticut in the 1990s to East Carolina for five seasons, he's built a reputation for leaving programs in better shape than when he arrived. In his final season in Storrs, the Huskies won 10 games. In his last two years in Greenville, his Pirates won the Conference USA championship. His newest challenge in Tampa has brought mixed results, eight wins in 2010 followed by a 5-7 collapse a year ago. Last season being an exception, Holtz's teams have traditionally performed well on the road and in the underdog role. He's just a rock, on and off the field, to have in the position of chief executive.

48. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Wilson is a no-nonsense, gruff, and brutally honest coach – and he's exactly what Indiana needs. He's not making any bones about the fact that the program needs to improve the talent level in a huge way before it can make any sort of a move, complaining from the start that the players aren't in place to do much. He was either right, or he did a lousy job with a 1-11 first season without a victory over an FBS school. However, he started a slew of young players and he's trying to build up the infrastructure through his recruiting classes. It might take awhile.

While past coaches like the late Terry Hoeppner were able to sell the idea of winning at an unwinnable football school, Wilson is trying to completely and totally change the overall attitude. He did a brilliant job as the offensive coordinator at Miami, Northwestern, and Oklahoma, and he knows how to get an offense moving. He just missed out on getting top quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel, but he doesn't need the best high school quarterback to make an offense go. As he said from the first day on the job, he needs more players.

49. Jeff Tedford, California
There are two very distinct sides to Tedford, depending upon where you stand with his evaluation. He's the guy who helped lead the Bears from a ditch 10 years ago to a place where the postseason became the norm. There's no doubt that he rescued this program when it was at its lowest point. However, he's also a coach who has reached a frustrating plateau, a glass ceiling in the Pac-12. For all of the progress, Cal is just 12-13 over the last two seasons, and hasn't been ranked in the final AP poll since 2006. Over those last five years, Tedford's team has wallowed in the middle of the conference pack, drifted behind rival Stanford and failed to produce a playmaking quarterback. Any future suitor would need to decide whether the coach has maxed out the Bears' potential, or was slightly overrated during the first half of his career.

50. Butch Jones, Cincinnati
It has yet to be determined just how high the ceiling is for Jones, though he has done a nice job on the sidelines so far. In five seasons as a head coach, three at Central Michigan and two with the Bearcats, he's 41-24 with a couple of Top 25 finishes. The lone stumble occurred in his 4-8 debut with Cincinnati, but that season was quickly offset with a 10-3 rebound and a tie atop the Big East Conference. Even better, he and his staff have excelled at preparing for league games, winning 27 of 37 since 2007. Jones' offense is innovative, fast-paced and appealing to young recruits for its penchant to spread the field and increase the tempo. If he thrives in the Big East after succeeding in the MAC, the next rung on the ladder could be a promotion into the ACC or Big Ten.

2012 5-Year Plan Coaching Rankings
- Part 1 - The Top 20 | Part 2 - 21-50
- Part 3 - 51-75 | Part 4 - 76-100
- Part 5 - The bottom 24