Air Force's Troy Calhoun ranks among the league's best.
The Mountain West features a solid group of coaches for the 2017 season. Air Force's Troy Calhoun, San Diego State's Rocky Long and Wyoming's Craig Bohl rank as Athlon's top three coaches, but Boise State's Bryan Harsin isn't far behind, and Colorado State's Mike Bobo is a coach on the rise.
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.
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. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins 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 Mountain West:
Ranking the Mountain West's College Football Coaches for 2017
12. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Norvell has been an assistant in the NFL and college ranks since 1986 and finally landed his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level following the 2016 campaign. After Nevada parted ways with Brian Polian, Norvell was hired to help the program return to the top of the Mountain West. As an assistant, Norvell made stops at Northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Iowa State, while calling the plays or sharing the co-offensive coordinator title at Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. Additionally, he’s garnered valuable information from working under standout coaches like Bob Stoops and Barry Alvarez, while playing at Iowa under Hayden Fry. Norvell has a wealth of experience as an assistant, but the first-year coach figures to have a transition period in his debut in Reno.
11. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
As a California native with strong roots on the recruiting trail, Brennan seems like the right coach to get San Jose State back on track after the program failed to post a winning record under former coach Ron Caragher. While the 2017 season is Brennan’s first as a head coach, he’s no stranger to the program. From 2005-10, Brennan worked under Dick Tomey (2005-09) and Mike MacIntyre (2010) at San Jose State as an assistant coach. The California native spent the last six seasons at Oregon State as a receivers coach and also has previous stint at Cal Poly (2001-04).
10. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Entering his third year in charge, Sanchez has UNLV trending in the right direction. The Rebels went 3-9 in his debut but improved to 4-8 last season and could push for a bowl game in 2017. Prior to taking over at UNLV, Sanchez had a successful run as the head coach at Bishop Gorman High School. From 2009-14, Sanchez guided the high school to an 85-5 record and posted three undefeated seasons. Making the jump from high school coach to the collegiate ranks has been relatively seamless for the California native. Expect Sanchez to climb this list in future seasons.
9. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
After a four-year absence, Tedford is back as a head coach at the FBS level at his alma mater. While Tedford’s tenure at California ended with a 3-9 record in 2012 and his dismissal, he accumulated an 82-57 record from 2002-12 and guided the Golden Bears to nine winning seasons. Additionally, Tedford’s 82 wins are the most in California school history. Following his departure from Berkeley, Tedford had a limited role with the Buccaneers in 2014, worked as the head coach for the BC Lions in 2015 and was an offensive consultant for Washington last year. The state of California is familiar territory for Tedford and his background on offense should provide immediate help for a Fresno State attack that managed only 17.7 points per game last season. However, Tedford posted two losing records over his final three years as California’s head coach and has not worked in an on-field role at the college level since 2012.
8. Matt Wells, Utah State
Is 2017 a make-or-break year for Wells at Utah State? The former Aggie quarterback was promoted to head coach in 2013 after Gary Andersen left to take the top spot at Wisconsin. Wells guided the program to a 19-9 record in his first two seasons, which included a trip to the Mountain West Conference title game in 2013. However, Utah State is just 8-16 over the last two years and finished 1-7 in league play in 2016. Adding to the difficulty of a significant turnaround in 2017 is a depth chart that returns only nine starters. Can Wells get Utah State back in contention for a bowl in 2017?
7. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
Hawaii showed marked improvement in Rolovich’s first season. The Rainbow Warriors improved their win total by four games from 2015 and claimed the program’s first bowl bid since 2010. And with 13 returning starters in place for 2017, Rolovich’s team could be the biggest threat to San Diego State and the top spot in the Mountain West’s West Division. Prior to taking over at Hawaii, Rolovich worked as Nevada’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15 and had a previous stint at Hawaii from 2008-11. The former Rainbow Warrior quarterback is a coach on the rise.
6. Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie inherited a program in need of major repair after Mike Locksley’s three-year stint (2009-11) in Albuquerque. After winning just three games in that span, the Lobos won four in Davie’s debut (2012) and followed that season with seven victories over the next two years. While the rebuilding process wasn’t easy, New Mexico has now posted back-to-back winning records and claimed a share of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title in 2016. The Lobos are 16-10 over the last two years and the nine-win campaign in 2016 was the program’s highest since 2007. Prior to New Mexico, Davie went 35-25 in five seasons at Notre Dame and has a career 62-61 record.
5. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Colorado State has finished 7-6 in each of Bobo’s two seasons in Fort Collins and seems poised to turn a corner in 2017. The Rams started 2-3 last year but rallied to win four out of their last six, including a 63-31 victory over Mountain West champion San Diego State. Additionally, four of Colorado State’s losses in 2016 came by 11 points or less. With most of the core returning for 2017, Bobo’s team should be able to push Boise State and Wyoming for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title. Another positive sign for Bobo: Colorado State is opening a new stadium this season. That certainly won’t hurt his efforts on the recruiting trail or ability to elevate this program in the Mountain West.
4. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
After Chris Petersen left for Washington, the Broncos turned to a familiar face to lead the program. Harsin – a former Boise State quarterback – was hired as the head coach in 2014 and has guided the Broncos to a 31-9 record over the last three years. Prior to taking over at Boise State, Harsin worked as an assistant with the program from 2002-10 and spent two seasons as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12). Additionally, Harsin recorded a 7-5 record in one season (2013) as the head coach at Arkansas State. One number to watch: Boise State has not finished in the top 25 of the final Associated Press poll in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01. Additionally, the Broncos have lost at least three games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99.
3. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
After transforming North Dakota State into a FCS powerhouse, Bohl has Wyoming on track to become a factor in the Mountain West on an annual basis. The Cowboys went 6-18 in Bohl’s first two seasons but finished 8-6 last year and claimed the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Bohl is 14-24 over the last three seasons in Laramie. In 11 years at North Dakota State, Bohl recorded a 104-32 record and guided the Bison to three consecutive FCS national titles from 2011-13. With quarterback Josh Allen returning, along with Bohl’s overall roster development, the Cowboys will be one of the Mountain West’s top teams in 2017.
2. Rocky Long, San Diego State
The Aztecs are coming off one of – if not the best – two-year run in school history. Long has guided San Diego State to back-to-back Mountain West titles, 22 wins, two bowl victories and a No. 25 finish in the Associated Press poll from 2015-16. And since 2011, Long is 54-26 with the Aztecs with no losing seasons. Prior to taking over as head coach, Long worked as Brady Hoke’s defensive coordinator at San Diego State from 2009-10 and went 65-69 as New Mexico’s head coach from 1999-08. Long is also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football.
1. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Calhoun enters his 11th season at his alma mater with a 77-53 overall mark and nine winning records over the last 10 years. The Falcons also have nine bowl trips under Calhoun’s direction and claimed the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title in 2015. He’s also guided Air Force into two seasons of double-digit victories, with only one losing mark (2013). The former Air Force quarterback has a huge task in front of him in 2017. The Falcons return only seven starters and have a significant rebuilding assignment ahead on defense. However, as Calhoun’s tenure has indicated, Air Force should remain near the top of the Mountain West this year.