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College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Rise

Tom Herman

Tom Herman

College football’s coaching carousel never stops, as programs are always looking for the next big thing or rising star when it comes to finding its head coach. All 128 coaches enter the season with the pressure to win at a high level, but there’s a hierarchy of jobs within each conference that set the level of expectations each season. And of course, there’s always some exterior factors than just the win and loss record that impacts a coach and his future with a particular program.

With the immense pressure on coaches to win every season, there’s always a handful of jobs open by December. Which coaches could athletic directors look to fill voids at the Power 5 level? Here’s a breakdown of the college football’s top 10 coaches on the rise, followed by the next tier and a few other names to watch in 2015.

College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Rise in 2015 

1. Justin Fuente, Memphis

2015 Record: 5-0

Career Record: 22-20 (4th season)

Fuente inherited a program that went 3-21 in two seasons (2010-11) under Larry Porter and has transformed Memphis into one of the American Athletic Conference’s top teams over the last two years. The Tigers are 15-3 since the start of 2014 and finished No. 25 in last year’s final Associated Press poll. Prior to taking over at Memphis, Fuente worked for five seasons as an assistant under Gary Patterson at TCU.

Related: Are the Texas Longhorns Falling Apart on Twitter?

2. Tom Herman, Houston

2015 Record: 4-0

Career Record: 4-0 (First Season)

Herman was a key cog in Ohio State’s national championship run last season as the team’s play-caller and quarterback coach. And the California native is already turning plenty of heads in his first year as Houston’s head coach. The Cougars are 4-0 – which includes a win over Louisville in Week 2 – average 45.8 points per game and won three out of their four contests by at least 14 points.

3. Matt Wells, Utah State

2015 Record: 2-2

Career Record: 20-11 (3rd season)

Utah State didn’t miss a beat after Gary Anderson left for Wisconsin following the 2012 season. Wells was promoted to head coach and guided the Aggies to a 19-9 mark in his first two seasons at the helm. Despite numerous injuries at the quarterback position from 2013-14, Utah State played in the Mountain West title game in 2013 and won 10 games last year. The Aggies are 2-2 through four contests in 2015 and should be the biggest threat to Boise State in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division.

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4. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette

2015 Record: 1-3

Career Record: 103-39 (12th season)

UL Lafayette has become a consistent Sun Belt power under Hudspeth’s direction, finishing with a 9-4 record in each of the last four seasons. Additionally, the Ragin’ Cajuns have earned a bowl trip in all four of Hudspeth’s years on the sideline. Prior to taking over in Lafayette, Hudspeth was a successful coach at North Alabama and spent time as an assistant under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Hudspeth built a consistent winner at UL Lafayette and is ready for the opportunity to run a Power 5 program.

5. Matt Campbell, Toledo

2015 Record: 4-0

Career Record: 30-13 (4th season)

Campbell worked as an assistant at Toledo from 2009-11 and was promoted to head coach after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. The Ohio native and former Mount Union player has claimed 30 victories over the last four seasons, including a win over Air Force in 2011 in the Military Bowl in his first game as the head coach. Campbell has recorded a winning record in all three of his full seasons at the helm, including two nine-win marks in 2012 and 2014. Toledo already has a victory over Arkansas this year and ranks No. 24 in the latest Associated Press poll. 

Related: Nebraska's Alex Lewis Becomes Anti-Captain in Matter of Moments

6. Bryan Harsin, Boise State

2015 Record: 4-1

Career Record: 23-8 (3rd season)

After Chris Petersen left Boise State for Washington, Harsin was the perfect choice as the program’s next coach. As a Boise native, a former quarterback for the Broncos and a full-time assistant with the program from 2002-10, Harsin knows what it takes to win at a high level at Boise State. The Broncos were the top Group of 5 program last season by reaching the Fiesta Bowl and defeating Arizona, and Harsin’s team is already off to a good start with a 4-1 mark through five games in 2015.

7. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

2015 Record: 1-3

Career Record: 10-19 (3rd season)

Fleck’s tenure at Western Michigan got off to a rocky start with a 1-11 record, but the Broncos finished 8-5 last season and should push for a finish in the top three of the MAC West in 2015. Fleck played at Northern Illinois as a receiver from 1999-03 under Joe Novak and had a short stint in the NFL with the 49ers. Fleck quickly moved through the assistant ranks after a year as a graduate assistant with Ohio State in 2006, spending time at Northern Illinois (2007-09), Rutgers (2010-11) and in the NFL with the Buccaneers (2012). Fleck is known as an ace recruiter and isn’t short on enthusiasm. He should be a name to watch for Power 5 jobs over the next few seasons.

8. Matt Rhule, Temple

2015 Record: 4-0

Career Record: 12-16 (3rd season)

Temple has made steady improvement under Rhule’s direction, and the Owls are one of the frontrunners to win the American Athletic Conference title in 2015. Rhule is a former Penn State linebacker and was hired as Temple’s head coach after spending time as an assistant with Buffalo, UCLA, Western Carolina, Temple and the Giants from 1999-11. Rhule was brought back to Philadelphia after Steve Addazio left for Boston College and is 12-16 over the last three years. While Temple was 2-10 in 2013, the Owls lost seven of those games by 10 points or less. And over the last two seasons, Temple is 10-6 and has wins over Penn State and Cincinnati in 2015.

9. Dino Babers, Bowling Green

2015 Record: 3-2

Career Record: 30-15 (4th season)

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Bowling Green has already made plenty of noise nationally this season, as the Falcons knocked off two Power 5 programs – Bowling Green and Maryland – and gave Tennessee plenty of headaches in the opener. Babers went 8-6 in his first season with Bowling Green and still managed to win the MAC East despite losing star quarterback Matt Johnson in the first game of the year due to a hip injury. With Johnson back under center, the “Falcon Fast” offense is firing on all cylinders. Prior to the last two years at Bowling Green, Babers spent two seasons as the Eastern Illinois’ head coach and also has a wealth of experience as an assistant from stops at Baylor, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, Arizona and Purdue.

10. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern

2015 Record: 4-1

Career Record: 189-71-1 (22nd season)

Fritz was a successful coach at three previous jobs prior to taking over at Georgia Southern in 2014. And after 17 games with the Eagles, it’s clear Fritz has already emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s top coaches. Fritz is 13-4 since taking over in Statesboro and 10-0 in conference games. Expect Fritz to have the Eagles in a bowl and in contention for the Sun Belt title this season.

The Next Tier

Blake Anderson, Arkansas State

Anderson was Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five seasons in 2014 and is 9-9 through the first 18 games of his career in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves should be one of the favorites to win the Sun Belt in 2015.

Jeff Brohm, WKU

Brohm guided WKU to an 8-5 record in his first season, and the Hilltoppers are poised for even bigger things in 2015. WKU defeated Vanderbilt in the opener and barely lost to Indiana in Week 3. Brohm has the Hilltoppers positioned as the top team in Conference USA and a threat to win double-digit victories for the first time since joining the FBS ranks.

Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois has been the MAC’s top program in recent years, and despite a slow start (2-3), Carey should get this team back in contention for the West Division title. Carey is 25-9 in three seasons with the Huskies.

Bill Clark, UAB

Even though UAB isn’t fielding a team until 2017, let’s not forget what Clark accomplished in 2014. After the Blazers went 5-19 from 2012-13 under Garrick McGee, Clark guided UAB to a 6-6 mark last season. He’s the right coach to rebuild this program.

Doc Holliday, Marshall

Holliday was known as an ace recruiter when he was hired at Marshall in 2010, but the West Virginia native is doing more than just assembling talent. The Thundering Herd is 27-6 since the beginning of the 2013 season.

Joey Jones, South Alabama

Jones was the first coach in South Alabama’s program history and guided the Jaguars to a successful transition to the FBS level. He’s 40-30 in seven seasons with South Alabama, including an appearance in the 2014 Camellia Bowl.

Lance Leipold, Buffalo

Leipold was one of the offseason’s best hires, and the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach is already making a difference in Buffalo. The Bulls are 2-3 after five games but two losses came by six points or less, and this team gave Penn State a fight in Happy Valley before losing 27-14.

Pete Lembo, Ball State

Lembo has been a successful coach at three different stops (Lehigh, Elon and Ball State). He’s 32-23 in five seasons with the Cardinals and is looking for a rebound year after a 5-7 mark in 2014.

Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

Montgomery was hired away from Baylor after working under Art Briles in Waco from 2006-14. The Texas native has a strong track record on offense, and the Golden Hurricane is 2-2 through his first four games.

Chad Morris, SMU

SMU is only 1-4 this season, but the Mustangs have made improvement in Morris’ debut. The former Clemson assistant should rebuild SMU into a consistent bowl team over the next few seasons.

Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

Satterfield has successfully transitioned Appalachian State from the FCS ranks to the FBS level. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in Satterfield’s debut, but finished 7-5 last season and is off to a 3-1 start in 2015. Appalachian State should be a factor in the Sun Belt title picture this year.

Three to Watch in 2015

Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

Martin followed Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State and guided the program to a 74-7 mark through six seasons before joining Notre Dame’s staff in 2010. He was hired at Miami (Ohio) in 2014 and inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2013. The RedHawks showed progress in 2014 and are starting a handful of young players this season.

Todd Monken, Southern Miss

Southern Miss is finally back on track after suffering through an 0-12 season under Ellis Johnson in 2012 and a 4-20 mark in Monken’s first two years. The Golden Eagles are 3-2 after five games in 2015 and should make a push for a bowl this season.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV

Sanchez made the jump from high school coach to running a college program this offseason. So far, there are encouraging results in Las Vegas, as Sanchez has guided the Rebels to a 2-3 record, including a win over rival Nevada.