Louisville's Charlie Strong ranks as the No. 1 coach in the Big East for 2013.
Coaching is one of the driving forces in building a national championship team or program. No matter how much talent a program has, it can’t win a national title if the coaching is questionable.
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how each conference stacks up with its head coach rankings for 2013.
Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an X's and O's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference.
Ranking the Big East (American Athletic Conference) Head Coaches for 2013
1. Charlie Strong, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 25-14 (2010-present)
Record at Florida: 0-1 (2004 Peach Bowl)
Overall Record: 25-15 (3 full years)
Strong had to wait a while for his first head coaching gig, but the Arkansas native has shown in just three full seasons he is one of the top 25 coaches in the nation. After stops as an assistant at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong was hired as Louisville’s head coach in 2010. He didn’t inherit a full cupboard from the previous coaching staff, so it was no surprise Strong went 7-6 in each of his first two years in Louisville. However, the Cardinals took flight in 2012, winning 11 games (including an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Florida). Strong turned down overtures from other BCS programs and will be tough to pry away from Louisville. If the Cardinals finish in the top 10 as most expect in 2013, expect to see Strong’s name move even higher on the list of the nation’s best coaches.
2. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Texas Tech: 20-17 (2010-2012)
Record at Auburn: 85-40 (1999-2008)
Record at Ole Miss: 25-20 (1995-98)
Overall Record: 130-77 (17 years)
First, Tuberville has coached at three power conference jobs and has a winning record at all three. Second, he has an undefeated season in the SEC to his credit and is 50 games over .500 in the country’s toughest league. Third, he has a bizarre off-the-field resume that includes traffic accidents, ponzi schemes and questionable recruiting tactics as well as two strange departures from quality jobs. He was never a clean fit at Texas Tech and the program’s first losing season since 1992 led to an unsettling relationship with the fans. He improved the Red Raiders' atrocious 2011 defense enough to return to a bowl game last fall but could see the handwriting on the wall and bolted for the Bearcats. If the Cincy fans can handle the good with the bad, Tuberville should be able to keep the Bearcats competing for league championships.
3. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Record at South Florida: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Western Kentucky: 16-20 (2010-12)
Overall Record: 16-20 (3 years)
After a three-year stint as Western Kentucky’s head coach, Taggart essentially returns home to take over the top spot at South Florida. Taggart went 16-20 during his three years with the Hilltoppers, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. The 14 victories during that stretch was the best two-year stint for Western Kentucky since 2004-05. Taggart played his high school ball at Manatee in Bradenton, Fla., which is just an hour outside of USF. The 36-year-old coach is clearly one of college football’s rising stars in the coaching ranks and should help the Bulls be one of the most-improved teams in the conference in 2013.
4. June Jones, SMU
Record at SMU: 31-34 (2008-present)
Record at Hawaii: 76-41 (1999-2007
Overall Record: 107-75 (14 years)
Jones inherited two programs that were in need of major repair prior to his arrival. And despite his losing record at SMU, it’s clear the Oregon native has made the Mustangs a better team. Jones began his coaching career in 1983 as an assistant at Hawaii, before spending the next 14 seasons at the professional level, which included a 22-36 record as an NFL head coach. In Jones’ first season at Hawaii in 1999, the Warriors made a nine-game improvement in the win column. Hawaii played in a BCS bowl in the 2007 season and recorded three seasons of 10 or more victories during Jones’ tenure. He took over SMU in 2008, and the Mustangs went 1-11 in his first year. However, SMU has at least seven victories in each of the last four years, which is the best stretch in school history since the Mustangs won 10 games every season from 1981-84. Considering Jones has elevated two struggling programs to new heights, SMU has to be encouraged about competing in its new conference home in 2013 and beyond.
5. George O'Leary, UCF
Record at UCF: 60-55 (2004-present)
Record at Georgia Tech: 52-33 (1994-2001)
Overall Record: 112-88 (17 years)
Like Tuberville, O’Leary has a similarly bizarre resume. He has been a consistent winner at both coaching stops in his career, including three conference championships and four division titles in eight years in C-USA. His teams play well against upper tier competition and he took an 0-11 team and turned them into a division champ in one season. Yet, he also is infamously known for lying on his resume which got him fired from Notre Dame before coaching a game, as well as the death of Ereck Plancher — a player who passed away after being over-worked on the practice field. His teams have lacked consistency from year to year, going from 10 wins to four and back since 2007, but that doesn't change his overall winning percentage (.560) over his 17 years as a head coach.
6. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Overall Record at Rutgers: 9-4 (2012-present, 1 year)
When Kyle Flood was given the head coaching job at Rutgers, it was his first leadership position since 1994 at St. Francis Prep. The offensive line coach has heavy ties to the Northeast and has proven to be an excellent recruiter for the Scarlet Knights. And all he did in his first season was win a share of the Big East title after being picked fourth in the conference in the preseason. Having said that, Flood’s bunch could have clinched an outright crown had they defeated either Pitt on the road or Louisville at home. Needless to say, the jury is still out on Flood’s long-term future at The Garden State’s state school.
7. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Overall Record at Memphis: 4-8 (2012-present, 1 year)
Fuente inherited a mess when he arrived at Memphis. The Tigers were coming off a disastrous two-year stint under Larry Porter, which resulted in a 3-21 record. And under Fuente’s watch, the Tigers showed big improvement in 2012. Memphis went 4-8 last season, which included a three-game winning streak to finish the campaign. The Tigers lost three games by 10 points or less and got better as the season progressed. Before taking over at Memphis, Fuente spent five years as an assistant at TCU, including the last three as the co-offensive coordinator. With the move to the American Athletic Conference (new name of the former Big East), Fuente’s job will get a little tougher in 2013. Memphis doesn’t quite have the talent to push for a bowl game this year, but the Tigers will continue to take another step forward under Fuente’s watch in 2013.
8. Paul Pasqualoni, UConn
Record at UConn: 10-14 (2011-present)
Record at Syracuse: 107-59-1 (1991-2004)
Record at Western Connecticut: 34-17 (1982-1986)
Overall Record: 151-90-1 (21 years)
Like Temple's Matt Rhule (see below), Pasqualoni entered the coaching ranks after starring at linebacker for Penn State. He has deep ties to the Northeast and is on his third coaching stop in the region. After 11 consecutive winning seasons to start his Syracuse tenure, the program began to erode and the Orange made a move following the 2004 season. Pasqualoni went to work in the NFL as a defensive coordinator for both Dallas and Miami before returning to the college ranks two years ago at UConn. Clearly, he has been around the game for a long time and is in the twilight of his career — as his last winning season as a head coach was in 2001 — but the resume also clearly indicates that the man can coach (see UConn’s No. 1-rated Big East defense). He likely needs to adapt to a new era of college football if he wants to succeed and must do so quickly in order to prove he is still capable of winning in the current NCAA landscape.
9. Tony Levine, Houston
Overall Record at Houston: 6-7 (2011-present)
Levine received a curious promotion to the top spot after Kevin Sumlin departed for Texas A&M. The Minnesota native had no head coaching experience prior to taking over at Houston, as his resume consisted of stops as an assistant at Texas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisville and the Cougars. Levine also was an assistant strength and conditioning coach for two years with the NFL's Carolina Panthers from 2006-07. He was a popular pick to be head coach among Houston’s players, but the move didn’t work out well for the Cougars in 2012. Levine led Houston to a bowl victory over Penn State after Sumlin departed, but the Cougars were 5-7 last year. Losing quarterback Case Keenum was a tough blow for an offense that was one of the best in the nation in 2011, but Houston had too much talent returning to miss on a bowl game. Levine made good adjustments to the coaching staff in the offseason, and the Cougars return the bulk of their personnel. Levine still has a lot to prove, especially as Houston makes the move to the conference formally known as the Big East.
10. Matt Rhule, Temple
Overall Record at Temple: 0-0 (First Season)
There is plenty to like about the former Penn State linebacker’s resume. He is from the Northeast, has rich ties to the Temple program and was hired to work for respected coaching names like Tom Coughlin and Al Golden. Yet, he has never been a head coach at any level and is a complete unknown when it comes to leading a program. Temple is a brutally tough place to win, but the Owls posted three seasons in a row with at least eight wins from 2009-11 under both Golden and Steve Addazio. Rhule is in for a uphill battle if he expects to return Temple to the postseason after a 4-7 debut in the Owls' return to the Big East last fall.
by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
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