The offseason wasn't kind to the Sun Belt coaching rank. The league heads into 2019 with four new head coaches - Chip Lindsey, Jamey Chadwell, Eli Drinkwitz and Jake Spavital - and only one coach (Blake Anderson) has spent more than four years at his current job. Anderson clearly ranks No. 1 in Sun Belt coach rankings for 2019, followed by Louisiana's Billy Napier and ULM's Matt Viator.
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 Sun Belt 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 Sun Belt Conference:
Ranking Sun Belt's College Football Coaches for 2019
10. Jake Spavital, Texas State
Spavital is only 34 years old, but he has already assembled an impressive resume at the FBS level. The Oklahoma native landed his first full-time job on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia as the program’s quarterback coach from 2011-12. He left Morgantown to call the plays at Texas A&M from 2013-15 and worked as the offensive coordinator at California in 2016. After one season with the Golden Bears, Spavital returned to West Virginia to work as Holgorsen’s offensive coordinator. Under Spavital’s watch, the Mountaineers ranked third in the Big 12 in scoring in 2017 (34.5 ppg) and second in ‘18 (40.3). Spavital doesn’t have any previous experience as a head coach, but this is a solid hire for a Texas State program looking to make a jump in the Sun Belt.
9. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
Elliott’s tenure at Georgia State started in 2018 with a 7-5 mark and a postseason victory over WKU in the Cure Bowl. However, the Panthers didn’t build on that momentum last year, finishing 2-10 overall with just one win in Sun Belt action. A young roster was largely to blame, but the experience should pay dividends for this program in 2019 and beyond. Counting his interim stint at South Carolina in 2015, Elliott is 10-20 overall as a head coach.
8. Chip Lindsey, Troy
In terms of fit for a new coach, it doesn’t get much better than Lindsey at Troy. The 44-year-old coach is a native of Alabama and played his college ball at North Alabama. Lindsey also worked as a high school coach at Colbert Heights, Hoover and Spain Park in the Yellowhammer State. His collegiate coaching career began in 2010 with a stint as quarterbacks coach under Larry Blakeney at Troy and a one-year run in an off-field role at Auburn (2013). Lindsey was hired as offensive coordinator at Southern Miss (2014-15), Arizona State (2016) and Auburn (2017-18) prior to taking over at Troy.
7. Steve Campbell, South Alabama
Campbell was hired to elevate South Alabama’s standing in the Sun Belt, and as expected, the former Central Arkansas coach will need a year or two to mold this program. The Jaguars finished 3-9 and 2-6 overall in Campbell’s debut last fall but finished the season on a high note with a win over Coastal Carolina. Campbell previously worked as the head coach at Mississippi Gulf Community College (87-22 from 2004-13), Delta State (27-8 from 1999-01) and Central Arkansas (33-15 from 2004-17). In Campbell’s career as a head coach, he’s had only one losing record (2018).
6. Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State
Drinkwitz inherits a tough job replacing Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State, but the Mountaineers should be in good shape with the Oklahoma native taking over in 2019. Drinkwitz arrives in Boone after spending the last three seasons as NC State’s offensive coordinator. The Wolfpack finished ninth in the ACC in Drinkwitz’s first year but improved to fourth in the conference in 2017 and third last fall. Prior to his stint at NC State, Drinkwitz worked at Arkansas State (2012-13) and Boise State (2014-15). Drinkwitz has no previous experience as a head coach, but all signs point to Appalachian State winning at a high level under his watch.
5. Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell was promoted to the full-time role after Joe Moglia’s retirement following the 2018 season. The Tennessee native already has one season of experience in this role, as he guided the Chanticleers to a 3-9 mark as an interim coach while Moglia was on medical leave in the 2017 campaign. Prior to joining Coastal Carolina’s staff in 2017, Chadwell spent four years as the head coach at Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers went 35-14 with two FCS Playoff bids under Chadwell’s watch. He also spent one year (2012) as the head coach at Delta State and three at North Greenville (2009-11).
4. Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern
In his first full season as Georgia Southern’s head coach, Lunsford led the program to an eight-game jump in wins from the previous year. The Eagles finished 10-3 overall, with the only defeats coming against Clemson, Troy and ULM. Lunsford is 12-7 in his overall tenure in Statesboro and clearly has this program back on track going into 2019.
3. Matt Viator, ULM
ULM is one of college football’s toughest jobs, but this program has made steady gains under Viator’s tenure. The Warhawks finished 4-8 in Viator’s debut in 2016 and again in ’17. However, the program went 6-6 last fall to earn ULM’s first non-losing record since 2013. Viator had a successful run at McNeese State from 2006-15, as he guided the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five FCS Playoff trips.
2. Billy Napier, Louisiana
Napier’s first season in Lafayette was a successful one. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 7-7, won the Sun Belt’s West Division and earned a trip to the Cure Bowl. The Georgia native has assembled an impressive resume since the start of his coaching career in 2005. Napier has worked under Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Nick Saban at Alabama and also spent time at Colorado State and Arizona State in assistant roles. Louisiana is a program with upside, and Napier looks like the right coach to tap into that in 2019 and beyond.
1. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Anderson is the unquestioned No. 1 coach in the Sun Belt going into the 2019 season. In five years at the helm in Jonesboro, Anderson has guided Arkansas State to a 39-25 overall record and five bowl trips. The Red Wolves also have an impressive 31-9 mark in conference play under Anderson’s watch. Additionally, the program claimed at least a share of two conference titles (2015-16) and finished as the West Division’s runner-up to Louisiana last fall.
(Photo of Blake Anderson courtesy of AStateRedWolves.com)
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