Athlon ranks every coaching job in Conference USA
Conference USA is arguably the most random — for lack of a better word — FBS conference in the nation. It stretches from west Texas to the Virginia coast, from West Virginia to the southern tip of Florida. There one program that has been playing football since the 1910s yet several others that have been around less than 20 years. There are several schools in which football is very important to the community and others where it is an afterthought. We settled on Marshall as the top job in the league, but there are compelling reasons for several other schools to rank No. 1 on this list.
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 Conference USA Coaching Jobs
Rice seems more out of place in Conference USA than Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. It’s the only private school in the league and has by far the most difficult admission standards. It is in Houston, which has a ton of players, and the reputation of the school allows it to recruit nationally. But it’s been difficult to enjoy sustained success; only once since the early 1950s has Rice had three straight winning seasons (2012-14).
Simply put, it’s been difficult to win at UTEP. The Miners have had only seven winning seasons since they made the move from independent status to the WAC in 1968, and only once (in 1987-88) have they had back-to-back winning seasons. Being in Texas is nice, but El Paso is a remote outpost that is 346 miles from Phoenix, 503 miles from San Antonio and 571 miles from Dallas.
The Hilltoppers enjoyed a nice run of six straight winning seasons (with three different coaches) from 2011-16, but this job is more difficult than most would expect. The recruiting base is arguably the weakest in the league, and the program had trouble attracting big crowds even in the glory days of the Jeff Brohm era.
11. Old Dominion
There is one significant downside at Old Dominion as it relates to its rivals in Conference USA: no tradition. Other than that, there is a lot to work with, most notably a recruiting base in the Tidewater area of Virginia that produces a ton of talent. The school also spends money on the program; USA Today reported that ODU’s expenses for football in 2016-17 (the most recent year reported) were $46 million, about $13 million more than any other school in the league. S.B. Ballard Stadium is also underdoing a major renovation.
There are a lot of positives about this job: nice home field (the Alamodome), good fan support (C-USA-high 24,710 per game in attendance), location (right in the heart of Texas) and strong commitment from the school (coach Frank Wilson made $1.1 million in 2018). But it’s also a program with no tradition that has yet to prove it can be a consistent factor in the league.
Some consider Charlotte a sleeping giant — and the school made a great hire this offseason (Will Healy) — but there is no tradition (the program has been around for five years) and very little fan support. It will take a period of sustained success before Charlotte can claim a spot higher on this list.
FIU’s location in South Florida gives the program great access to players, but there is a lack of tradition and not much interest locally in the program. The Panthers broke through with a school-record nine wins last fall yet averaged only 15,685 fans per game.
Shut down following the 2014 season due to budgetary constraints (as well as some questionable political motivations), UAB is back and better than ever. The Blazers won 11 games in 2017 and will move into a new 45,000-seat stadium in 2021. UAB has a decent local recruiting base and is a short drive from the metro-Atlanta area.
6. Middle Tennessee
This job is a bit difficult to assess since the school has had only two coaches since making the jump to the FBS ranks in 1999. The recruiting base is solid — especially since the metro-Nashville area has grown so much over the last two decades — but clearly not as good as many of the other schools in the league. The stadium is old and support isn’t where it should be for as much as the program has won in recent years.
5. North Texas
Seth Littrell is the first coach to have back-to-back winning seasons at North Texas since Darrell Dickey did so in three straight years from 2002-04. But Littrell shouldn’t be the last. Thanks to its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the school’s recent plan to upgrade facilities, there is no reason the Mean Green should not contend for C-USA West Division titles on a consistent basis.
4. Southern Miss
Few programs have won on a consistent basis as much as Southern Miss has over the last two-plus decades. The Golden Eagles enjoyed 18 straight winning seasons from 1994-2011 and, after a horrendous three-year stretch (4–32 from 2012-14), are on a current stretch of four straight. The school has always done a nice job attracting players from the SEC footprint who, for various reasons, aren’t recruited to SEC schools.
This ranking is based as much on potential as anything else because Florida Atlantic has had only four winning seasons since its first full season in the FBS (2004) and only one since joining Conference USA in 2013. That potential is directly tied to the school’s location in talent-rich South Florida.
2. Louisiana Tech
Resources aren’t great at Louisiana Tech, and there is a lot of competition for players (with four Group of 5 schools in the state), but Skip Holtz has found the right formula and built a consistent winner in Ruston. The Bulldogs have had only one losing season since 2011.
It’s the northernmost school in the league and it’s located in a state that doesn’t produce many Division I players, but Marshall is still one of the top jobs in the league. The reason? People care (the Herd ranked third in C-USA in attendance last season) and there is a history of success (five 10-win seasons since joining the FBS ranks in 1997).