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Ranking the American Athletic Conference's College Football Coaches for 2019

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy Midshipmen Football

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy Midshipmen Football

The American Athletic Conference has experienced its share of coaching turnover in recent years. Only four of the league's coaches - Willie Fritz, Mike Norvell, Philip Montgomery and Ken Niumatalolo - have spent the last three years at their current school. Niumatalolo takes the top spot in Athlon's American Athletic Conference coach rankings for 2019, but the gap has closed to Norvell, Fritz and new Houston coach Dana Holgorsen. The AAC boasts a strong second tier with Cincinnati's Luke Fickell and UCF's Josh Heupel rounding out the league's top six coaches. 

Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

How did we compile the rankings for American Athletic Conference coaches? For starters, it’s an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky.

Every team has a different variety or built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.

Again, wins and the career biography to this point are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for the American Athletic Conference:

Ranking AAC's College Football Coaches for 2019

12. Randy Edsall, UConn

The Huskies have struggled in Edsall’s second act in Storrs. UConn is only 4-20 over the last two years and a deeper look at the team’s performance in 2018 shows just how far this program needs to come to be competitive in the AAC. The Huskies surrendered 50.4 points and 617.4 yards a game – both records at the FBS level – and averaged only 22.2 points a game. Edsall and his staff are building with youth, so there could be some noticeable progress by the end of 2019. While progress has been hard to find in Edsall’s second stint, he previously went 74-70 with the program from 1999-2010 and 22-34 at Maryland from 2011-15.

College Football Rankings: UConn

11. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

The 2019 season could be a make-or-break year for Montgomery’s tenure at Tulsa. After guiding the program to back-to-back bowl trips in 2015-16 and recording a 10-win season in 2016, the Golden Hurricane are just 5-19 over the last two years. Additionally, Montgomery’s offense has slipped significantly on the stat sheet after averaging 42.5 points a game in ’16.

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10. Mike Houston, East Carolina

Houston is likely to rank much higher on this list in the coming years, as the former James Madison coach was a home-run hire for East Carolina this offseason. Houston spent the last three years with the Dukes, guiding the program to a 37-6 mark, three playoff trips and a FCS national title in 2016. Prior to the stint at James Madison, Houston went 14-11 at The Citadel (2014-15) and 29-8 at Lenoir-Rhyne (2011-13). Houston’s stint at The Citadel is notable, as the Bulldogs made a four-game jump in wins after a 5-7 debut. East Carolina enters the year with question marks on both sides of the ball, but Houston could propel this team to be among the league’s most improved by the end of 2019.

College Football Rankings: East Carolina

9. Sonny Dykes, SMU

SMU just missed a bowl in Dykes’ first full year at the helm last season. The second half of 2018 provided optimism for this staff, as the Mustangs won three out of their final six games, with the three defeats all coming by 10 points or less. Dykes is known for offensive acumen, and SMU’s attack could take off with Texas transfer Shane Buechele leading the way in 2019. Dykes previously went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech (2010-12) and 19-30 at California (2013-16). He’s 46-53 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.

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8. Rod Carey, Temple

Temple’s coaching search after Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech certainly didn’t lack for intrigue. Manny Diaz was originally hired to replace Collins, but he left to be the head coach at Miami after Mark Richt retired. The school had another brief search and eventually pulled Carey away from Northern Illinois. The Minnesota native went 52-30 and posted five winning records over six seasons (2013-18) in his tenure with the Huskies. Northern Illinois claimed the 2014 and ’18 MAC titles and posted two double-digit win seasons (2013-14). Carey’s teams were usually strong on defense, and while the Huskies struggled on offense in 2018, this unit ranked in the top four of the MAC in scoring every year from 2013-17.