Last year we saw 21 FBS head coaching jobs flip over. Out of the 21 head coaching changes, only two Group of Five head coaches made the jump to a Power Five school (Scott Frost and Chad Morris).
Before last year, the G5 experienced a mass exodus of coaching talent. Out of the 23 FBS schools in search of a new head coach, seven G5 head coaches left to be the face of a P5 football program.
While we definitely prefer the former, the latter is usually more likely to take place during the silly season that is the coaching carousel. While the the star power from two years ago (Willie Taggart, Tom Herman, Matt Rhule) isn’t quite there entering 2018, there’s still some great head coaches in the G5.
Often G5 head coaches are seen as rising stars when they become successful and despite the recent results where a few of them have turned out to be busts, we should still expect P5 athletic directors to keep poaching the G5 ranks despite last year’s low turnover.
Being that the head coaching talent from the G5 remained the same for the most part, this year’s crop of G5 head coaches entering the 2018 football season is loaded. Very loaded. The coaches on this list have a proven track record of building a winner and as a result, we should hear these names in the rumor mill often once the first coaching change in the P5 occurs.
I split the G5 coaches into two pools: Head coach and coordinator. I also added FCS head coaches, where our FCS guru Jonathan Willis was kind enough to offer input on which head coaches should be of interest to G5 athletic directors.
Note: The names who appear on this list are coaches who have yet to have a gig at a P5 school as a head coach, offensive or defensive coordinator, so coaches such as Lane Kiffin and Rhett Lashlee will not appear on the list. Meaning head coaches can have experience as a P5 coordinator but not as a P5 head coach. Coordinators can not have experience as P5 coordinator or as a P5 head coach.
Group of Five Head Coaches
1. Neal Brown, Troy - In the four years prior to Neal Brown’s arrival the Troy Trojans were 17-31 and finished no better than 6-6 under Troy legend Larry Blakeney. In three years Brown has been able to resurrect the Trojans and turn them into a Sun Belt power by posting back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time as an FBS member. Last year the Trojans earned a Sun Belt title while notching a monumental win over LSU in 2017. Not to mention Brown’s Trojans became the first Sun Belt team to appear in the AP Poll. It was odd to not hear Brown’s name come up immediately for the Tennessee job or any other P5 job last year.
The Hal Mumme/Mike Leach disciple is only 38 years old and has made stops at Texas Tech and Kentucky. Brown will have to reload this year as the Trojans will be without four-year starting quarterback Brandon Silvers, but there’s enough talent on the team for the Trojans to still compete for a conference title.
2. Bryan Harsin, Boise State - Many see Harsin as the benefactor of a great foundation laid by former head coach Chris Petersen. As a result of Petersen’s ridiculous 92-12 record in eight seasons, a few folks think Harsin is underachieving a bit. The former Arkansas State head coach won his second Mountain West title in four years in 2017 and is 42-12 at Boise (49-17 overall). This year the Broncos return just about everyone after going 11-3 last year and should be seen as the favorite to earn the G5 bid for the New Year’s Six.
3. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State - Since transitioning from the FCS to the FBS, the Mountaineers have been the steadiest program in the Sun Belt. Satterfield has won two conference titles and has guided App to 10-plus winning seasons twice since taking over in 2013. Satterfield has seen his profile rise due to nearly upsetting Tennessee a few years ago and came close to earning a P5 win over Wake Forest last season. Just like Neal Brown, Satterfield will have one of the best rosters in the Sun Belt in 2018 and should contend for a conference title.
4. Craig Bohl, Wyoming - Unlike his peers, Craig Bohl has the unique distinction of molding not one, but two lightly recruited quarterbacks into first round NFL Draft picks (Carson Wentz and Josh Allen). What also separates Bohl from the names on this list is that he’s a lot older than them, as Bohl will turn 60 in July. He turned North Dakota State into an FCS powerhouse and rebuilt Wyoming into a formidable program, taking the Cowboys to the Mountain West title game two years ago while winning eight games last year. His age will likely prevent him from being in the running for a lot of P5 schools but given his recent stops, he would be an ideal fit at a school such as Kansas State.
5. Jason Candle, Toledo - Now that PJ Fleck is at Minnesota, Candle is the biggest coach on the rise in the MAC. Candle has only been a head coach for two years and is 21-7. Last year he led Toledo to their first MAC title since 2004. Given the MAC’s homogeneous identity between its members, Candle isn’t as flashy as the other names on the list. Candle has an opportunity to change that with a Top 10 Miami team visiting Toledo in Week 2. Under his watch Toledo’s offenses have been among the best in the nation and despite losing quarterback Logan Woodside, the Rockets are still seen as a favorite to win the MAC again.
6. Seth Littrell, North Texas - After an encouraging 5-8 debut season in 2016, North Texas burst on to the scene last year with a surprising 9-5 record and captured their first C-USA West division title. Littrell’s Air Raid offense has been a perfect fit for UNT and the Mean Green should be in store for another dynamite season as star players Mason Fine, Jalen Guyton and Michael Lawrence all return. Littrell has turned around North Texas without the recruiting success you’d expect from a coach who’s located in the talent-rich DFW metroplex, nor the coaching stability as his staff was raided by P5 schools before last year’s breakthrough season. The former tells me that Littrell is a great developer of talent who knows how to get the most out of his players, while the latter shows that Littrell has a good eye for coaching talent.
7. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy - After turning down BYU two seasons ago, its fair to wonder whether Niumatalolo is a G5 lifer. His track record is tremendous as he’s 84-48 with two 10-plus win season and three nine-win seasons in 10 years. He’s overseen a terrific transition to the AAC, a decision manny scoffed at working in favor for the Midshipmen, and has won two AAC West division titles.
However, due to running the option offense, P5 schools have been slow to come Niumatalolo’s way. Paul Johnson’s 75-54 record in 10 years at Georgia Tech hasn’t done much in favor of P5 schools entertaining coaches known to run the option. After the debacle last year where Arizona appeared to have Niumatalolo in consideration for the job only for star quarterback Khalil Tate to denounce the idea, I’m putting my bets on Niumatalolo being at Navy for a couple more years.
8. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State - You could make the argument that Anderson is just as successful as Satterfield and Brown. In four seasons, Anderson has won the Sun Belt twice and almost won the conference for a third straight year before losing to Troy to close the season. Unfortunately for Anderson, his teams dominate during conference play but haven’t come close to shocking a P5 team in non-conference play. If you’re going to move up the ranks from the Sun Belt to a P5 school your teams must have better showings in those type of games or the coach must have SEC/P5 connections like Gus Malzahn.
Anderson is 31-20 at stAte and will coach a team that is considered by many to be this year’s Sun Belt favorite thanks to having the best quarterback in the conference in senior Justice Hansen. Anderson is one of the more colorful coaches in college football as he’s not afraid to make jokes at a program’s expense and has provided a lot of stability to Arkansas State.
9. Mike Norvell, Memphis - Norvell is in the same case as Bryan Harsin, though to a lesser extent. He inherited a great foundation by his predecessor Justin Fuente and has won 18 games in two years. However, I can’t help but wonder how good he really is. We’ll certainly find out if Norvell is a program builder in 2018 as the makeup of his roster will now essentially be guys he recruited. In a wide open AAC West, another division title to go with a 10-win season in 2018 will remove any doubts as to whether Norvell can build a program.
10. Willie Fritz, Tulane - Willie Fritz was phenomenal at Georgia Southern, winning 17 games in two years. At Tulane his rebuild is going well as the Green Wave just signed one of their best classes in ages. Considering Fritz is known as an option coach and the stigma that follows option coaches on the recruiting trail, that’s a tremendous feat. Tulane should be seen as a dark horse candidate to win the AAC West and could return to a bowl game this year. If things go the wayside in Atlanta and Paul Johnson retires, Georgia Tech might come calling due to their familiarity with employing an option coach. Similar to Niumatalolo, Fritz could win enough to warrant a P5 job but not get that many looks due to the option offense.
Group of Five Assistant Coaches
1. Graham Harrell, North Texas - Remember what I said about Seth Littrell having an eye for coaching talent. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (yes, that Graham Harrell) has helped Littrell turn UNT around by introducing a wide open Air Raid offense. If Littrell moves on after the season Harrell should be the favorite to be UNT’s next head coach.
2. Travis Trickett, Georgia State - The 33-year old offensive coordinator is known for running an explosive spread offense and is starting to develop a reputation as an excellent recruiter in Florida, too. After guiding two explosive Samford offenses in 2014 and 2015, Trickett became the offensive coordinator at FAU and was in charge of a unit that set school records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Given his familiarity with FAU, Trickett could be in contention for the head coaching job whenever Lane Kiffin moves on.
3. Scottie Hazelton, Wyoming - Hazelton reunited with Craig Bohl and returned to the college ranks after spending three seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars assistant linebackers coach. Hazelton produced a defense that led the country in takeaways in his first year in Laramie. Hazelton’s NDSU defenses were routinely one of the best in the FCS and with a bunch of starters slated to return, he should have another top-flight defense in Wyoming this season.
4. Tony Peccaro, FAU - FAU’s new defensive coordinator has made a reputation for producing an aggressive defense after spending two years at Southern Miss. The 40-year old Florida State alum inherits a talented defense and another big year could result in another promotion.
FCS Head Coaches
1. Mike Houston, James Madison - Houston has shot up the coaching ranks. He got his start at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne earlier this decade and has had a ton of success at James Madison in just two years. He won the national title in his first season with the Dukes and took the team to the FCS National Championship Game again last year.
FBS programs have already come calling. In an interview with the Washington Post last year, Houston let it be known that multiple FBS programs had tried to pry him away from James Madison. The administration keeps giving him raises, and he seems content to wait for the right situation. He is just 46 years old, so he has plenty of time to make the leap.
2. Jay Hill, Weber State - Before Hill arrived on campus in 2014, the Weber State’s program was at rock bottom. Weber State won a total of four games in 2012 and 2013, and Hill had a massive rebuilding job ahead of him. He slowly re-built the program, getting Weber State to the playoffs in 2016 and led the Wildcats to the quarterfinals last year, where they nearly defeated No. 1 James Madison.
Weber State knows that Hill’s name is making the rounds. The university made him the Big Sky’s highest-paid coach shortly after they were eliminated from the playoffs. He has deep ties to Utah, playing and coaching in the state for more than two decades. That has led to speculation that Hill may end up replacing Matt Wells at Utah State if Wells has another sub-par season.
3. Russ Huesman, Richmond - It was only last year that Huesman moved from Chattanooga to Richmond, but a strong season without now-New York Giants QB Kyle Lauletta could lead to interest from schools at the next level. Huesman is one of the top defensive minds in the FCS. Richmond hired him away from Chattanooga to fix that side of the ball, and the Spiders defense got better as the season went on last year.
Richmond has a favorable schedule and the defense returns its four leading tacklers from last season. That might lead to the Spiders turning things around quickly, and that would make Huesman a hot commodity.