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 Sun Belt:
Ranking the Sun Belt's College Football Coaches for 2016
1. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
Replacing a coaching legend like Jerry Moore wasn’t easy for Satterfield, but the former Appalachian State quarterback has settled in and emerged as the top coach in the Sun Belt. Satterfield went 4-8 in his debut with the Mountaineers in 2013 but guided the program to a 7-5 mark in its first year at the FBS level. Appalachian State fell just short of a Sun Belt title last season with an 11-2 record and also earned the program’s first bowl victory with a 31-29 win over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Appalachian State, Satterfield worked from 1998-08 as an assistant under Moore and also had short stints at Toledo (2009) and FIU (2010-11).
2. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth opened his tenure at UL Lafayette with four straight 9-4 campaigns and four consecutive trips to the New Orleans Bowl. Even though the Ragin’ Cajuns had personnel losses to overcome for 2015, this program wasn’t expected to suffer too much in the win column. However, Hudspeth’s team slipped to 4-8 and finished the year with a four-game losing streak. Was 2015 just a small speed bump for Hudspeth? The guess here is yes, as the Ragin’ Cajuns should rebound back into a bowl this fall.
3. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
After cycling through four different full-time head coaches in four years, Arkansas State has stability at the top. Anderson enters his third season with the Red Wolves and has guided the program to back-to-back bowl appearances and a 16-10 record. Arkansas State claimed the Sun Belt title last season and begins 2016 as one of the favorites to win the league crown once again. Prior to Arkansas State, Anderson worked for two years under Larry Fedora at North Carolina and also has stops on his resume as an assistant from Southern Miss, UL Lafayette, MTSU and New Mexico.
4. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Georgia State is the second program Miles has brought significant improvement to in a short amount of time. He took over at Indiana State in 2008, and after a 1-22 mark through the first two years, Miles guided the Sycamores to 19 wins from 2010-12. Miles was picked as the second coach in Georgia State program history and inherited a team in need of major repair. The Panthers were still transitioning to the FBS level and were short on depth and overall talent. This program has made significant strides over the last three seasons, as Miles guided Georgia State to a 6-7 record last season and an appearance in the Cure Bowl. Even though Miles’ record in Atlanta is just 7-30, he’s a coach on the rise for 2016.
Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 for 2016
5. Joey Jones, South Alabama
Jones was instrumental in getting South Alabama’s football program started and also guided the Jaguars to the FBS ranks in 2012. South Alabama went 7-0 in its first season in 2009 and finished 16-4 over the next two years. The Jaguars moved to the FBS ranks in 2012 and struggled to a 2-11 finish. However, Jones quickly brought the program up to a competitive level, recording back-to-back six-win seasons from 2013-14, including the program’s first bowl trip in 2014. The Jaguars slipped to 5-7 last year, but Jones should have this team back in the mix for a winning mark in 2016.
6. Neal Brown, Troy
Expect to see Brown move up this list over the next few seasons. In his debut at Troy, there were signs of progress for the Trojans, as this team finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in league play. Brown is a disciple of the Air Raid offense and learned under two of the best offensive minds in Mike Leach and Tony Franklin. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Troy, Brown spent two years as Kentucky’s play-caller (2013-14) and three seasons as Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator (2010-12). Additionally, he also worked as an assistant under Larry Blakeney at Troy from 2006-09. Brown’s first year was promising, and more progress should be notable in 2016.
7. Matt Viator, ULM
ULM quietly made one of the best coaching hires of offseason in Viator. The Louisiana native takes over in Monroe after a successful 10-year run at McNeese State. From 2006-15, Viator guided the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five appearances in the FCS playoffs. Additionally, McNeese State did not have a losing record in Viator's tenure and posted three seasons of double-digit victories. 2016 could be a struggle for ULM, but Viator should help this program take a step forward over the next few years.
8. Everett Withers, Texas State
Withers was a long-time assistant at a handful of stops before landing his first full-time head coaching opportunity at James Madison in 2014. Over the last two years, Withers guided the Dukes to an 18-7 record and led the program to back-to-back playoff berths. Prior to James Madison, Withers worked as an assistant under Urban Meyer for two years at Ohio State and also worked as the interim coach at North Carolina in 2011. He also has stops as an assistant at Minnesota, Texas, Southern Miss, Louisville and in the NFL with the Titans. Texas State finished 3-9 last year, but there’s a lot of promise for this program with Withers at the helm.
9. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern
Willie Fritz set the bar high for Tyson Summers. Fritz helped Georgia Southern transition to the FBS level, as the Eagles finished 18-7 over the last two years and lost only two conference games in that span. Summers has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but he’s a Georgia native and has previous coaching experience at the school as an assistant (2006). Summers also has stops on his resume from stints at UAB, UCF and Colorado State. Georgia Southern returns a strong core of talent for 2016, so Summers will be expected to keep this team near the top of the Sun Belt.
10. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Idaho has made some progress under Petrino’s watch. After winning two games from 2013-14, the Vandals finished 4-8 last season and could push for a .500 record in 2016. Petrino’s also deserves credit for the developing the offense, which averaged 30.3 points a game in 2015. However, Petrino’s job isn’t going to get any easier over the next two years, as the Vandals are dropping to the FCS level after the 2017 campaign.
11. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
This is a tough job, and Martin’s outlook at New Mexico State is only getting tougher with conference uncertainty. The Aggies are slated to be a FBS Independent in 2018, which is not an easy road for a program that has only one winning record since 2000. Martin is 7-29 in three seasons at New Mexico State, but there was progress in 2015. The Aggies finished 3-9 overall but won three games in conference play and lost four by nine points or less. With 11 returning starters – including one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Larry Rose – the Aggies could push for a .500 mark in league play.