The American Athletic Conference ranks as the top Group of 5 league in college football. UCF and Houston have combined to play in three of the five appearances by Group of 5 teams in New Year's Six bowls since the start of the College Football Playoff prior to the 2014 season. Considering UCF, Houston, USF and Houston are some of the top jobs at the Group of 5 level, this league has been a stepping stone for coaches in recent years. Every program outside of Navy has changed head coaches at least once prior to the 2015 season.
Ranking the jobs for every FBS conference is no easy task. After all, the rankings are subjective based upon numerous factors, but we have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money, ability to recruit talent — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
Ranking the AAC Football Coaching Jobs
UConn was in a BCS league as recently as 2012 and played in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season. Now, less than a decade later, the Huskies are coming off of a 1–11 season with a defense that set records for futility. The school’s athletic department is in terrible financial shape, calling into question the school’s long-term commitment to the football program.
Tulane’s biggest issues are a lack of tradition (five winning seasons since 1982) and a lack of fan support (a majority of the locals are focused on the Saints and LSU). But the Green Wave do have a new stadium and the right coach in place.
Several coaches have had some success at Tulsa, but it’s one of the more difficult jobs in the league. The fan base is small — Tulsa has the smallest enrollment of all of the FBS schools — and the recruiting base isn’t great (it’s more than four hours from Dallas).
Navy is not a job for everyone, but it’s a great situation for the right coach. And the Midshipmen have been fortunate to have the right coach in place since 2002, starting with Paul Johnson and continuing with Ken Niumatalolo. Recruiting will always be the toughest part of this job.
Something is missing at SMU, a program that has had only five winning seasons since returning from the death penalty in 1989. It’s a school with a great recruiting base, and — unlike many other Group of 5 schools — there is some tradition at SMU from its days in the Southwest Conference. But for some reason — and the lack of fan support doesn’t help — the Mustangs have been a non-factor on the college football landscape for the past three decades.
Four different coaches have had winning seasons at Temple this decade, so clearly this job gives you the opportunity to enjoy some success. There is a decent recruiting base (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the metro D.C. area), but Philadelphia is a professional sports town and Temple struggles for attention — both in the media and with fans.
6. East Carolina
This program has fallen on hard times — the Pirates have won a total of nine games the last three years — but there is no doubt you can win at East Carolina. Unlike many other schools in the AAC, ECU is not located in a big metropolitan area; it’s the only game in town and a big reason the Pirates ranked third in the AAC in attendance in 2018 despite winning only three games.
Few programs have changed its spot in the college football food chain more than Memphis in the past decade. The Tigers have hired good coaches (starting with Justin Fuente in 2012) and have tapped into a nice recruiting base that gives them access to some of the top players in the Southeast who aren’t snapped up by SEC schools. One knock: The Liberty Bowl, despite some upgrades, is not ideal. This program could use an on campus stadium.
You know you have a quality program when multiple coaches have enjoyed success at your school. Dating back to the Mark Dantonio era of the mid-2000s, each of the last five coaches has won at least eight games in a season, including three (Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and Luke Fickell) who won at least 10. Nippert Stadium was renovated in 2005 and is regarded as one of the best of its size (capacity 40,000) in the nation.
South Florida shares many of the same advantages as its neighbors at UCF, but the Bulls don’t have the luxury of an on-campus stadium and haven’t won quite as much in recent years. Still, this is a desirable job that will never have trouble attracting a quality coach.
The Knights are located in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country and have established a winning tradition in recent years. The 25–1 record over the last two years has grabbed the nation’s attention, but UCF has won at least 10 games on four other occasions dating back to 2007. Access to players combined with commitment from the university makes this a premium job.
No school in the AAC has made a bigger commitment to winning big than Houston. The Cougars have a new stadium (opened in 2015) and are paying a coach — who, they hired away from a Power 5 school — a guaranteed $20 million over the next five years. On the field, Houston has enjoyed six straight winning seasons, highlighted by the 13–1 mark recorded by Tom Herman in 2015.