Boise State's Bryan Harsin is one of the top Group of 5 coaches
The Mountain West has a solid overall collection of coaches in place for the 2019 season, with a close call at No. 1 between Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Fresno State's Jeff Tedford. Harsin gets the edge in Athlon's Mountain West coach rankings, but Tedford isn't far behind. San Diego State's Rocky Long checks in at No. 3, with Wyoming's Craig Bohl up next.
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 Mountain West 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 Mountain West Conference:
Ranking Mountain West's College Football Coaches for 2019
12. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
Brennan – a native of California – inherited a major rebuilding project when he arrived in San Jose prior to the 2017 campaign. Progress has been hard to identify through his first two years on campus, as the Spartans are just 3-22 in that span. Brennan arrived at San Jose State after working as an assistant coach at Oregon State and previously worked with the Spartans from 2005-10.
11. Bob Davie, New Mexico
The 2019 season is a make-or-break campaign for Davie. The Lobos peaked with a 9-4 record in 2016 but have regressed to 3-9 in back-to-back years. Under Davie’s watch, New Mexico has been to two bowl games but is 33-54 overall. Of Davie’s seven years in Albuquerque, five resulted in two or fewer wins in Mountain West play. Davie also went 35-25 in a stint at Notre Dame from 1997-01.
10. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
With no bowl appearances through four years, and a new shared stadium with the Raiders opening in 2020, this will be a crucial year for Sanchez. UNLV is 16-32 under Sanchez’s watch, with the program’s best year coming in 2017 and a 5-7 mark. Sanchez was a successful high school coach in Las Vegas prior to taking over at UNLV. From 2009-14, he went 85-5 at Bishop Gorman High School and won six NIAA 4A Championships.
9. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Bobo started his tenure in Fort Collins with three consecutive 7-6 campaigns. The Rams went 15-9 in Mountain West play and earned three bowl trips in that span. However, Colorado State regressed to 3-9 last fall and won just two matchups in conference action. Improving the defense was a priority last offseason, but the Rams gave up 36.8 points a game and ranked last in the conference versus the run. A healthy year out of quarterback Collin Hill and six starters back on defense could help this team improve in 2019.
8. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Norvell’s first season at Nevada resulted in a 3-9 finish in 2017, but the Wolf Pack showed marked improvement last fall. Nevada went 8-5 and finished second in the West Division with a 5-3 record in league action. The Wolf Pack also earned the program’s first bowl trip since 2015, knocking off Arkansas State 16-13 in overtime in the Arizona Bowl.
7. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
Rolovich is the Mountain West’s top coach on the rise for 2019. The former Hawaii quarterback took over at his alma mater in 2016 and went 7-7 in his first year. The Rainbow Warriors slipped to 3-9 in 2017, but the program rebounded in a big way last fall. Hawaii finished 8-6 overall – the program’s first winning record since 2010 – and earned a trip to the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors also earned a winning mark in Mountain West action with a 5-3 record after beating San Diego State in the regular season finale. Hawaii returned to its run-and-shoot scheme last fall, which helped the offense average 30.8 points a game and rank first in the conference in passing offense.
6. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
With 12 years on the sidelines in Colorado Springs, Calhoun is the Mountain West’s longest-tenured coach. After back-to-back 5-7 campaigns, Calhoun hopes his 13th season marks the return of Air Force into the postseason. That should be attainable with 14 returning starters and a favorable slate of home games in 2019. Calhoun is 87-67 during his tenure at Air Force and has guided the program to nine bowl appearances. The Falcons also posted two double-digit win seasons (2014 and ’16) and claimed the ’15 division title under Calhoun’s direction.
5. Gary Andersen, Utah State
Utah State turned to a familiar face to replace Matt Wells this offseason. Andersen is back in Logan after spending the 2018 season as an assistant at Utah. He previously went 26-24 with the Aggies from 2009-12, and a closer look at the record shows how big of an impact he had on this program. Utah State went 4-8 in each of Andersen’s first two years but finished 18-8 over the last two seasons. In 2012, Utah State went 11-2 – the program’s first double-digit win total – and finished No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. Andersen previously went 4-7 at Southern Utah (2003) and 20-7 at Wisconsin (2013-14) and had a 7-23 stint at Oregon State. While Andersen’s tenure in Corvallis didn’t go as expected, the guess here is his second act at Utah State should be as successful as his first one in Logan.
4. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
After a 6-18 start to his tenure at Wyoming, Bohl has guided the program to three seasons of at least six wins. The Cowboys won the Mountain Division and finished 8-6 in 2016, followed by an 8-5 mark in ’17 and a 6-6 record last fall. Although Bohl’s overall record is only 28-35, Wyoming is one of the toughest jobs in the Mountain West and the program has made significant strides over the last three years. Prior to Wyoming, Bohl went 104-32 at North Dakota State with three consecutive national championships (2011-13).
3. Rocky Long, San Diego State
Long just continues to churn out winning seasons at San Diego State. The Aztecs have posted eight consecutive winning records under Long’s direction and clamed two outright conference titles during that span. San Diego State also recorded three straight years of double-digit victories (2015-17) and has not posted a losing record in conference play under Long’s watch. Before his promotion to head coach at San Diego State, Long went 65-69 as New Mexico’s head coach from 1998-2008. He’s also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the nation. The Aztecs finished 7-6 last fall, but it’s safe to assume Long will have this program going back in the right direction this season.
2. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
As we mentioned in Bryan Harsin’s writeup, it’s a close call for the top spot in the Mountain West coach rankings. Harsin got the nod at No. 1 but little separates these two coaches. Tedford inherited a Fresno State team that went 4-20 in the two years prior to his arrival. The Bulldogs showed marked improvement under Tedford’s direction. The Bulldogs went 10-4 with a West Division title in 2017, and the encore was even better in ’18. Tedford guided the program to a 12-2 finish and a win over Boise State in the conference title game for the Mountain West Championship. Fresno State also ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll – the program’s first top-25 finish since 2004. Tedford previously had a successful stint at California, recording an 82-57 mark with just two losing seasons from 2002-12.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2019
1. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
It’s a close call between Harsin and Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford for the No. 1 spot in the Mountain West coach rankings. Harsin – a former Boise State quarterback – returned to his alma mater after spending the 2013 season as the head coach at Arkansas State. Harsin went 7-5 in his lone season with the Red Wolves and had big shoes to fill in replacing Chris Petersen on the blue turf. However, Boise State has continued to win at a high level under Harsin. The Broncos are 52-15 over the last five years and won at least 10 games in four of those seasons. Boise State also claimed two Mountain West titles (2014 and ’17) and has three top-25 finishes under Harsin’s direction.
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