Boise State's Bryan Harsin takes the top spot in the Mountain West for 2020
The Mountain West experienced its share of turnover in the coaching ranks for 2020, as six new coaches will roam the sidelines this fall. While half of the league has a new head coach, the top of the conference remains the same. Boise State's Bryan Harsin once again takes the top spot, followed by Air Force's Troy Calhoun at No. 2 and Wyoming's Craig Bohl at No. 3. Although Utah State's Gary Andersen ranks fourth, a strong argument could be made for Nevada's Jay Norvell, San Diego State's Brady Hoke or Hawaii's Todd Graham.
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 2020
12. Marcus Arroyo, UNLV
With UNLV moving into a shared stadium with the Raiders, the 2020 season marks a critical point for the program to establish momentum or progress on the gridiron. Arroyo arrives in the Sin City after spending the last three years at Oregon, including the last two as offensive coordinator. The Ducks averaged 6.3 yards a snap in 2019, which marked a steady increase from 5.86 in ’18. The former San Jose State quarterback spent time as an assistant at his alma mater from 2006-08 and had additional stops at Wyoming (2009-10), California (2011-12), Southern Miss (2013), Oklahoma State (2015-16), and in the NFL with the Buccaneers (2014). Arroyo signed one of the Mountain West’s top recruiting classes for 2020, but the first-time head coach has a lot of work ahead as UNLV has just one winning season since 2001.
11. Danny Gonzales, New Mexico
Gonzales is a perfect fit at New Mexico, and it’s only a matter of time before he moves up this list. The Albuquerque native played his college ball at New Mexico under Rocky Long from 1994-98. Gonzales joined Long’s staff as a graduate assistant in 1999 and was promoted to a full-time role in ’06. He worked with safeties and special teams from 2006-08 and eventually landed on Long’s staff at San Diego State in 2011 coaching safeties. Gonzales was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017 and remained in that role for one season. Herm Edwards hired Gonzales to coordinate Arizona State’s defense in 2018, and this unit made significant progress under his watch. The Sun Devils gave up 32.8 points a game in the year prior to his arrival. However, that total dropped to 25.5 in Gonzales’ debut and fell to 22.4 last fall. Gonzales doesn’t have any experience as a head coach, but he seems like the perfect fit to help New Mexico take a step forward in the win column over the next couple of years.
10. Steve Addazio, Colorado State
Addazio is an interesting fit in Fort Collins, as he has never coached west of Indiana. The Connecticut native started his collegiate coaching career at Syracuse (1995-98) and made other stops at Notre Dame (1999-01), Indiana (2002-04), and Florida (2007-10) before taking over as Temple’s head coach in 2011. The Owls went 13-11 in Addazio’s two seasons (2011-12) at the helm, and he parlayed that success into the top spot at Boston College. The Eagles never won more than seven games in each of Addazio’s seven seasons. However, only two years had fewer than seven and just one (2015) resulted in a losing mark. Addazio is 57-55 as a head coach at the FBS level.
9. Kalen DeBoer, Fresno State
DeBoer is back at Fresno State after spending the 2019 season as Indiana’s offensive coordinator. The Hoosiers had an uptick in offensive production under DeBoer, averaging 31.8 points a contest – up from 26.4 in ’18. DeBoer inherited an offense at Fresno State that averaged only 17.7 points a contest in ’16 but brought instant help. The Bulldogs upped that total to 27.1 in ’17, followed by a 34.6 mark in ’18. Prior to those two stops, DeBoer worked as the offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois (2010-13) and Eastern Michigan (2014-16). He also went 67-3 at the head coach at Sioux Falls from 2005-09. DeBoer is a home-run hire for Fresno State and should move up this list in the next couple of seasons.
8. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
The Spartans showed marked improvement in Brennan’s third year at the helm. After going 3-22 from 2017-18, San Jose State finished 5-7 last season. The Spartans scored a huge upset win at Arkansas and lost by two to Mountain West West Division champion Hawaii. Additionally, four of the team’s other six losses came by 10 points or less. Statistically, San Jose State has displayed marked improvement on both sides of the ball over the last three years. Provided a quarterback emerges, another push for a bowl game should be a reasonable expectation in 2020.
7. Jay Norvell, Nevada
With four new coaches in 2020, the Mountain West’s West Division won’t lack for intrigue this fall. Norvell had a lengthy resume as an assistant prior to his arrival in Reno. After his playing career ended, Norvell spent time as an assistant at Wisconsin (1989-94), Iowa State (1995-97), Nebraska (2004-06), UCLA (2007), Oklahoma (2008-14), Texas (2015), Arizona State (2016), and in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders. Norvell finished 3-9 in his 2017 debut at Nevada, but the program has made steady gains over the last two years. The Wolf Pack finished 8-5 in 2018 and went 7-6 last fall. Norvell is 9-7 in Mountain West play over the last two seasons and has guided Nevada to back-to-back bowl games.
6. Brady Hoke, San Diego State
Hoke is back on the sidelines at San Diego State following Rocky Long’s decision to step down following the 2019 season. His first stint in San Diego followed a 34-38 run at Ball State (2003-08), which saw the program finish 12-1 with a MAC West title during the regular season. The Aztecs went 13-12 from 2009-10 under Hoke, and he left after two years to take the top spot at Michigan. The Wolverines got off to a good start under Hoke’s watch with a 19-7 record through two years. However, he went just 12-13 over the next two seasons and was dismissed following the 2014 campaign. Overall, Hoke is 78-72 as a head coach at the FBS level. Can he keep San Diego State into contention for the Mountain West title on an annual basis?
5. Todd Graham, Hawaii
Hawaii marks the fifth stop at the FBS level for Graham. The Texas native has been away from the sidelines for two years after his dismissal at Arizona State following the 2017 campaign. Graham’s first FBS stint took place at Rice – one of the most challenging jobs in college football – and he guided the Owls to a 7-6 finish in his only year on campus. He left for Tulsa in 2007 and won at least 10 games in three out of his four years, finishing his tenure with the Golden Hurricane at 36-17. Graham departed for the Steel City in 2011 and guided Pitt to a 6-6 record in his only season with the Panthers. The well-traveled Graham got off to a fast start at Arizona State, winning 18 games and a Pac-12 South title in his first two years in Tempe. However, after a 10-3 mark in 2014, the Sun Devils went 18-20 over the next three seasons. Graham’s overall record going into 2020 is 95-61. Graham has won at difficult jobs (Rice and Tulsa), and Hawaii will present a similar set of challenges with its recruiting territory and limited resources. The lack of ties to the state of Hawaii and the program makes Graham’s fit in Honolulu an interesting one.
4. Gary Andersen, Utah State
Behind first-round pick and quarterback Jordan Love, Andersen’s second act at Utah State resulted in a 7-6 showing. The Aggies went 6-2 in Mountain West play, and the team’s five regular-season losses came at the hands of Wake Forest, LSU, Air Force, BYU and Boise State – all bowl teams in 2020. In his first stint in Logan, Andersen inherited a program in need of repair. Utah State started out 8-16 under Andersen but turned that around for an 18-8 run over his last two seasons, including an 11-2 mark in 2012. Andersen took over as the head coach at Wisconsin in 2013 and went 19-7 over two seasons. He left Madison for Oregon State after the 2014 campaign but resigned after a 7-23 start (2015-17). Andersen’s overall record as a head coach sits at 63-67 going into the 2020 season.
3. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Bohl’s overall record at Wyoming sits at 36-40 entering 2020, but that’s not a good indicator of just how effective he’s been since taking over in ’14. After a 6-18 start to his tenure, Bohl has posted four non-losing seasons in a row and is 19-13 in Mountain West play in that span. Additionally, the Cowboys have played in three bowl games over the last four years and claimed the 2016 Mountain Division title under Bohl’s direction. Prior to his arrival at Wyoming, Bohl guided North Dakota State to a 104-32 mark from 2003-13. The Bison won three consecutive FCS titles (2011-13) and lost only two games in that three-year window. Wyoming isn’t an easy job, but Bohl continues to get the most of this program.
2. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Air Force rebounded after back-to-back 5-7 seasons (2017-18) to post one of the best one-year campaigns in school history. The Falcons finished 11-2 – just the third season in program history with that many wins – last season and ranked No. 22 in the final Associated Press poll. The top-25 finish was Air Force’s first postseason ranking since 1998. Under Calhoun’s watch, Air Force has just four losing records since 2007 and has played in 10 bowl games in that span. Additionally, the Falcons won the 2015 Mountain Division title.
1. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Harsin enters 2020 entrenched as one of the top Group of 5 coaches in college football once again. Since taking over at his alma mater in 2014, the Broncos are 64-17. Boise State has four division titles and has claimed three outright Mountain West titles under Harsin’s direction. Additionally, the Broncos played in a New Year’s Six bowl in 2014 as the top Group of 5 team that season and have only one year (2015) with fewer than 10 victories. Boise State has also finished in the top 25 for three consecutive seasons and has just two regular-season losses in Mountain West play since 2017. Counting a one-year stint at Arkansas State in 2013, Harsin is 71-22 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
(Top photo courtesy of broncosports.com)
Podcast: Ranking the Group of 5 Coaches for 2020