The American Athletic Conference is a gestalt of Big East leftovers and schools that have climbed up and out of Conference USA. And now Navy. It's a young conference and its membership has been different in each of the three years it has existed.
The AAC is a strange conference -- no doubt -- but certainly an interesting one. We here at Underdog Dynasty think there's a case to be made that the AAC has the most intriguing collection of coaches of any conference in college football. Some of them for the excitement that they bring to the field. Others for their bizarre professional histories. We start our review here with:
George O'Leary (UCF)
Chas Short: If you like college football as much for the stories off the field as the stories on, George O'Leary should be on your radar. When a coach lands at a school because he made a false statement on his resume and had to resign five days after being hired elsewhere, it's pretty much guaranteed he'll wind up being the conference heel (and as fodder for less successful rivals looking to score cheap points). "Heel" is a role that UCF's marketing embraced in O'Leary's first year on campus:
His on-field success and program building at UCF has been undeniable despite his rocky start. O'Leary's first year saw the Knights go winless, prompting the moniker ‘Oh and 11 O'Leary.' Embarrassingly, UCF's marketing that year was very focused on look-at-this-big-name-coach-we-got-here. The 2004 UCF poster featured a close up of a shouting O'Leary and the unfortunate phrase, "Change is nothing to FEAR. The Coach, now that's another story." Seriously, that's what it said in a year the Knights would ultimately go 0-11.
GOL now fills the rare role of being both UCF's interim athletic director and its head football coach.
Willie Taggart (USF)
Ryan Smith: Here's the thing with Willie Taggart: The fact that he's still one of college football's most engaging personalities despite going 6-18 in his first two seasons at USF speaks to how entertaining he really is. At 38 years of age, he's one of the youngest head coaches in college football, and he reeks of youthful enthusiasm. He burst onto the scene in his opening press conference with his famous "Get On the Bus" slogan and song and hasn't stopped since, making literal blue-collar shirts for his team during summer practices, singing Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" after his first win against Cincinnati, and bringing rapper Plies to practice to give a message to the team. "This is the coolest coach in Division I football," Plies said afterward. You'd be hard-pressed to disagree.
Taggart's antics have diminished as his team has been treading the waters of mediocrity-- and that's putting it politely-- for the last two seasons, but he's still a press conference wonder, frequently tossing out nuggets like his signature catchphrase #DoSomething, or the Harbaugh-aping chant of "Who's got it better than us?" He enters the 2015 season on a very toasty seat, but cross your fingers that he finds a way to turn things around this year-- college football is a much more exciting place with Willie Taggart in it.
Bob Diaco (UConn)
Chas Short: When you're the kind of coach who unilaterally proclaims a non-existent and nonsensical rivalry, you're pretty much going to qualify as interesting. That's exactly what Bob Diaco did earlier this summer when UConn announced a rivalry with UCF, complete with the unveiling on Twitter of a countdown clock and trophy (the trophy lists only the most recent meeting between the teams). It's a rivalry in which the opposing fan bases have "literally no overlap in interests or cultural stakes." But it is pretty funny. And it creates interest around a yearly match-up that would otherwise be utterly unremarkable.
No, Bob Diaco hasn't done much on the field so far. But he's energized fans and created interest among recuits. Diaco's brought a level of excitement to a moribund UConn football program. His comments with regard to the "Civil Conflict" seem more broadly applicable to his time at UConn thus far:
For us it's exciting and I think it's fun. If you embrace it, you embrace it. If you don't, you don't. There was nothing before, so if you don't embrace it there would still be nothing. And if you do, even a little bit, it's more energetic and exciting.