Conference USA has experienced its share of turnover among its head coaches over the last couple of seasons, but the league features quality depth at the top, as UAB's Bill Clark, FIU's Butch Davis and North Texas' Seth Littrell lead the way in coach rankings for the 2019 season. Clark takes the top spot after guiding UAB to a conference title last fall, but Davis and Littrell also rank among the top Group of 5 coaches. Marshall's Doc Holliday, FAU's Lane Kiffin, Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz and MTSU's Rick Stockstill round out the next tier. Conference USA has two new coaches for 2019 and only four of the 14 have at least five seasons of on-field results at their current program.
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 Conference USA 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 Conference USA:
Ranking Conference USA's College Football Coaches for 2019
14. Tyson Helton, WKU
Helton was hired to get WKU back on track and in contention for Conference USA titles after Mike Sanford went 9-16 from 2017-18. The former Houston quarterback has no previous head coaching experience, but he’s worked as an assistant at a handful of programs – Hawaii, Memphis, UAB, Cincinnati and USC – in addition to last year’s stint as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Under Helton’s direction, the Volunteers averaged 22.8 points a game and 5.5 yards a play. He was also a key assistant on Jeff Brohm’s staff from 2014-15 at WKU, helping the Hilltoppers average over 40 points a game in both seasons.
13. Mike Bloomgren, Rice
Rice is one of the toughest jobs in college football, so it will take another year or two to evaluate Bloomgren’s rebuilding effort. The Owls went 2-11 in Bloomgren’s debut last fall, finishing near the bottom of Conference USA in most statistical categories. Bloomgren and his staff played a handful of young players last season and a similar plan is likely to be in place for 2019. Prior to Rice, Bloomgren worked as the offensive coordinator and line coach at Stanford (2011-17).
12. Dana Dimel, UTEP
Just like his C-USA West counterpart Mike Bloomgren, Dimel inherited a major rebuilding project last season. And as expected, UTEP struggled to generate massive improvement in Dimel’s first year. The Miners went 1-11 but were a little more competitive than the previous season by losing four games by nine points or less. UTEP brings back 12 starters, so some slight improvement should be noticeable in Dimel’s second year. Dimel arrived at UTEP after stints as an assistant at Arizona (2006-08) and Kansas State (2009-17). He also went 22-13 as Wyoming’s head coach from 1997-99 and 8-26 at Houston (2000-02). Dimel is 31-50 in eight overall years as a head coach.
11. Frank Wilson, UTSA
Wilson’s tenure at UTSA started off on a high note with a 6-7 mark and the program’s first bowl trip in 2016. The Roadrunners went 6-5 the following year but slipped to 3-9 last fall. The primary culprit in UTSA’s three-win 2018 campaign is an offense that averaged only 14.2 points a game. Wilson is known for his recruiting prowess, and the program’s roster rank has climbed to No. 6 in the conference. The 2019 season will be a crucial one for this staff to show the program is back on track after a disappointing three-win campaign.
10. Will Healy, Charlotte
Charlotte hit a home run with its hire of Healy this offseason. The Tennessee native started his coaching career as an assistant at Chattanooga in 2009 and stayed with the Mocs until he was hired as Austin Peay’s head coach prior to the ’16 season. Prior to Healy’s arrival in Clarksville, the Governors went 1-34 from 2013-15. Austin Peay finished 0-11 in Healy’s first year but showed marked improvement with an 8-4 mark in 2017. The Governors finished 5-6 last season, with two defeats by four points costing the team another winning record. Charlotte is a program with a ton of upside. Healy is the right coach to help the 49ers take a big step forward over the next five years.