2013 Sun Belt Coaches
The Building Factor
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1. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Career Record: 75-26
The controversy at Arkansas really was silly. It was an embarrassing incident, and it was a bit of a shocker when he was actually let go, but the program won’t be able to find a better head coach over the next 20 years, including Bret Bielema. After paying his penance, he’s working at Western Kentucky as a rental before getting a high-profile job again. However, after the all-timer was he left the Atlanta Falcons, and with the problems at Louisville and at Arkansas, it’s a wee bit of an understatement to say he has baggage, but he’s a whale of a college football head coach.
Hot Seat Status: Zip. However, anything less than a Sun Belt championship in the weakened league will be a major disappointment.
The Coaching Change Will Come … next year. Illinois would be the perfect next step, but he’ll be the No. 1 option for every BCS league opening.
2. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana
Career Record: 84-29
After doing big things with North Alabama winning two Gulf South championships, he did a nice job as an assistant at Mississippi State before taking over ULL. How good has he been? His 5-5 2004 season is the only campaign with fewer than nine wins, coming up with two straight 9-4 seasons and two straight New Orleans Bowl wins for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Throw in the 25-1 run as the Winston Academy head coach, and he’s 109-30 as a head man.
Hot Seat Status: Zip. The program is lucky to have him this long.
The Coaching Change Will Come … next year. How is he still coaching in the Sun Belt? Just 45 this season, he’s a superstar-in-the-making who’s going to be a college football household name very, very soon.
3. Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State
Career Record: 0-0
Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn … Bryan Harsin? The former Boise State quarterback and Bronco and Texas offensive coordinator knows how to get an offense moving and he’s considered by insiders as the next big thing in the coaching circuit. Turning 36 this season, he’s going to have a long career with lots of big opportunities coming his way, but first he has to do a bit of a reloading job. Arkansas State loses several key parts and isn’t going to be quite the team Freeze and Malzahn had to work with.
Hot Seat Status: Way too hot for Arkansas State. After two straight 10-3 seasons and high-octane offenses, the pressure is on Harsin to keep the momentum going. Returning to the days of 4-8 won’t do.
The Coaching Change Will Come … within three years. He’s not going to be one-and-done like the last two head coaches, but he’s a red hot prospect who’ll be on every mid-level BCS team’s short list.
4. Todd Berry, ULM
Career Record: 46-79
How did this happen? Just okay at Illinois State, an utter disaster at Army, and lousy at ULM in his first two seasons, eight of his first ten seasons as a head coach weren’t just losers, they were miserable. And then, all of a sudden, ULM started to rock with a win over Arkansas and a few big close calls last season on the way to an 8-5 season and a bowl appearance. Now Berry’s career path is going up, and now he has gone from being a sure-thing fire to a potential candidate for low-level BCS teams.
Hot Seat Status: It’s still a little bit toasty. One losing season would make 2012 seem like an aberration.
The Coaching Change Will Come … within three years. Either he’ll go back to struggling to field a winner and he’ll get canned, or he’ll strike while the iron is hot with one more decent year to take a slightly bigger job.
5. Dennis Franchione, Texas State
Career Record: 197-115-2
It’s been an interesting career. He was the head man at TCU before Gary Patterson took over took the program to another level. He was the Alabama head coach before he famously bolted for Texas A&M, where he was mediocre before getting the boot. Now he’s trying to make Texas State into a decent program with a good offense and nice potential. He’s not getting paid much at around $350,000 per year, but he has a shot to put his stamp on the program.
Hot Seat Status: None. Texas State was thinking big when it made the hire a few years ago, looking at some other decent names to kickstart the program. Franchione can’t afford to completely clank, but he needs to come up with a few big wins soon.
The Coaching Change Will Come … in more than five years. At 62 and with the rocky road to get to this point, this is it. However, he’ll do a solid job and should make TSU into a decent Sun Belt program before it eventually and inevitably moves to a bigger conference.
6. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Career Record: 20-36
The longtime receiver coach at places like Green Bay, Notre Dame and Washington before taking over the Indiana State head coaching job, he managed to turn things around after starting out 1-22 in his first two seasons with three straight winning seasons. Easily one of the worst FCS teams in 2008 and 2009, ISU under Miles managed to be far more effective and far better on both sides of the ball. Only the second head coach at GSU, he has a chance to make this his program.
Hot Seat Status: None. After going 1-10 and considering it’s only been around since 2010, Georgia State isn’t exactly in a position to make any demands.
The Coaching Change Will Come … within three years. With a strong coaching staff in place and plenty of time to mold the program, Miles will need a little while, but Year Three should be just good enough to get a look for a next-step job.
7. Joey Jones, South Alabama
Career Record: 25-14
The former Alabama wide receiver has worked his way around the lower ranks of the coaching world, starting out as a high school head man for several years up until 2005, and then he got his shot at Birmingham-Southern, going 3-7 before the program was disbanded. However, he was able to latch on two years later at USA and has quickly become fantastic starting out 17-0 in his first two seasons before a 6-4 2011 and struggles going 2-10 in the program’s first season at the FBS level.
Hot Seat Status: Fine. Even after a two-win season, he’s still getting the program started at the next level, and it’s going to be a process. A long, long process.
The Coaching Change Will Come … in more than five years. He has a habit of hanging around jobs, and at 51 this season, he should make the program truly his as it tries to find its way in the Sun Belt world.
8. Larry Blakeney, Troy
Career Record: 168-99-1
The former Auburn quarterback and longtime assistant has been special at Troy with 15 winning seasons and five straight Sun Belt titles helped by one of the most exciting offenses in college football. However, the problems on defense have caught up to the program going 3-9 in 2911 and 5-7 last year. The offense is still fun, but the wins aren’t coming after so many successful seasons. 66 this season, he might be a fixture for the program, but the transition is coming.
Hot Seat Status: None. He is Troy football, so while the wins might not be there, he’s not going to be done until he says he’s ready.
The Coaching Change Will Come … within three seasons. However, he’ll have at least one more big campaign.