The Mountain West was the only Group of 5 league to not have a coaching change following the 2017 season. And that’s good news for the conference, as the depth in the head coaching ranks within the Mountain West is deep headed into 2018. San Diego State’s Rocky Long takes the top spot in Athlon’s Mountain West coach rankings for 2018, with Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Wyoming’s Craig Bohl, Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin rounding out the top five. Any of those four coaches have a compelling case to be ranked as the No. 2 coach behind Long. There’s a gap to the next tier of coaches, which is headlined by Colorado State’s Mike Bobo and Utah State’s Matt Wells. UNLV’s Tony Sanchez and Nevada’s Jay Norvell rank outside of the top eight, but both coaches have their programs on the right track.
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 the Mountain West 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 Mountain West:
Ranking the Mountain West's College Football Coaches for 2018
12. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
Brennan inherited a program in need of major repair, so it was no surprise his debut resulted in a 2-11 season. Conference play wasn’t kind to San Jose State, as the Spartans lost five games by 20 or more points and notched their only Mountain West victory against Wyoming with quarterback Josh Allen injured and unable to play. Brennan was regarded as a good recruiter prior to his arrival, and San Jose State has inked the No. 7 class in the Mountain West in back-to-back years. The California native knows what it takes to win at this program. He previously worked under Dick Tomey (2005-09) and Mike MacIntyre (2010) with the Spartans as an assistant coach. With a full year under his belt, Brennan should be able to guide this program to a better 2018 season.
11. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Nevada’s final record for 2017 was only 3-9, but the Wolf Pack lost four games by 11 points or less and made considerable progress over the course of the season. Also, Nevada won two out of its final three games, including a 23-16 win over rival UNLV in the season finale. The 2017 season was Norvell’s first as a head coach, and there are plenty of signs this program could be poised to push for a bowl game in 2018. Prior to taking over in Reno, Norvell worked as an assistant coach at a handful of programs, including Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. If the Wolf Pack pick up where they left off, Norvell could move up this list by a couple of spots by next offseason.
10. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Sanchez came to UNLV after a successful run at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Through three years, Sanchez has brought improvement to the UNLV program, guiding the Rebels to a 12-24 overall mark. After a 3-9 record in his first year, Sanchez went 4-8 in 2016 and finished 5-7 last fall. Of UNLV’s seven losses last season, four came by 10 points or less, and the program finished on a high note by winning three out of its final five games. With 14 returning starters in place for 2018, Sanchez has a chance to build off last year’s finish and guide the Rebels to their first bowl game since 2013.
9. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
Hawaii’s long-term outlook is secure with Rolovich at the controls, but the program is looking to rebound following last year’s 3-9 mark. The Rainbow Warriors were hit hard by injuries and struggled to get stops on defense, leading to a significant regression from the 7-7 record in 2016. The 2016 campaign was Rolovich’s first at the helm, which resulted in a Hawaii Bowl victory over MTSU and the program’s first non-losing season since 2011. A revamped coaching staff should help Rolovich’s quest to get the Rainbow Warriors back on track in 2018.
8. Bob Davie, New Mexico
The 2018 season is a critical one for Davie’s future in Albuquerque. The Lobos are 30-45 under Davie’s watch and claimed back-to-back winning seasons in 2015-16. New Mexico also earned two bowl trips in that span and tied for first in the Mountain Division with a 6-2 mark in league play in 2016. However, Davie was suspended 30 days in the spring for a violation of school policy and is under pressure to rebound from last year’s 3-9 campaign. Davie worked as an ESPN analyst prior to taking over at New Mexico but also has a previous stint as Notre Dame’s head coach (1997-01) and worked as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator from 1989-93.
7. Matt Wells, Utah State
Wells was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Gary Andersen left Utah State following the 2013 season. The Aggies went 19-9 in Wells’ first two years at the helm and played in the 2013 Mountain West title game. However, Utah State has recorded three consecutive losing seasons since a 10-win campaign in 2014. The Aggies finished 6-7 in 2015, followed by a 3-9 record in ’16. Wells’ team took a step forward last fall, finishing 6-7 overall and 4-4 in league play. The Aggies had some bad luck in close games last year, losing three by six points or less. With 16 starters back, along with the development of quarterback Jordan Love, Utah State is poised to improve off last year’s six wins in 2018.
6. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Colorado State has finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in Mountain West play in all three seasons with Bobo at the helm. That’s good for consistency, but the Rams want to aim higher in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Bobo has guided the program to three consecutive bowl games and helped the offense rank No. 1 in the conference in scoring last fall. The former Georgia quarterback worked in Athens from 2001-14 prior to replacing Jim McElwain as Colorado State’s head coach. Bobo’s ability to reload on offense will be tested in 2018. Quarterback Collin Hill is sidelined indefinitely due to a knee injury, with Washington graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels stepping into the lineup. Can the Rams exceed seven wins? Or is this a rebuilding year to a bigger (and better) 2019 season?
5. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
When Calhoun ranks as the No. 5 Mountain West coach on this list, it’s a sign the league is deep at the top. Air Force’s 5-7 mark last season is just the third losing record in Calhoun’s 11 years at the Academy. Since taking over in 2007, Calhoun is 82-60 overall and claimed the Mountain Division title in 2015. Air Force also has two 10-win seasons and has played in nine bowl games under Calhoun’s direction. The Falcons return only 10 starters and have to improve a defense that allowed 32.4 points a game last season in order to return to a bowl in 2018.
4. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
Tedford engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history last season. After Fresno State finished 1-11 in 2016, Tedford (in his first season at the helm) guided the Bulldogs to a 10-4 record in ’17. The nine-win improvement was the biggest of any FBS team last fall. Also, Fresno State claimed the West Division title and won the program’s first bowl game since 2007. Tedford previously worked as the head coach at California from 2002-12, recording a 82-57 record and eight bowl trips over 11 years.
3. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Wyoming has made considerable improvement after a 6-18 start to Bohl’s tenure. The Cowboys finished 8-6 and won the Mountain Division in 2016, followed by an 8-5 campaign last fall. Bohl guided Wyoming to a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which was the program’s first postseason win since 2009. Additionally, the eight-win campaigns represented the program’s first back-to-back winning records since 1998-99. Bohl’s success at Wyoming comes as no surprise. From 2003-13, he guided North Dakota State to a 104-32 record and won three consecutive FCS titles (2011-13).
2. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Harsin was the perfect replacement for Boise State once Chris Petersen left for Washington. And through four seasons, Harsin has maintained the high level of success that the program has been accustomed to in recent years. The Broncos are 42-12 and have claimed two Mountain West titles since 2014. Additionally, Boise State has posted at least 10 victories in three out of Harsin’s four years. The Broncos claimed the Group of 5 bowl spot in the New Year’s Six in 2014 and could be the early favorite to reach that level once again in 2018. Harsin also spent one year as Arkansas State’s head coach in 2013 (7-5) and had previous stints as an assistant at Boise State (2002-10) and Texas (2011-12).
1. Rocky Long, San Diego State
Long has transformed San Diego State into an annual Mountain West title contender and one of the top Group of 5 teams in the nation. The Aztecs are 64-29 under Long’s direction, earning a bowl trip in all seven seasons and claiming two Mountain West titles since 2011. San Diego State has recorded seven double-digit win seasons in program history, with three of those coming under Long. Also, the 11 victories in 2015 and 2016 tied the best mark in school history. Long also has a previous stint as New Mexico’s head coach, recording a 65-69 record from 1998-08. He also has stops on his resume from stints at UCLA, Oregon State and TCU as an assistant coach.