Welcome back to Part 2 of the AAC coaches preview. To remind you of the rankings, there is Elite for the premier coaches, Second Tier for good coaches, Wait and See for coaches that have a chance to go in either direction, and Room for Improvement is a struggling coach.
Memphis - Mike Norvell: Memphis is starting to gain a track record of hiring good coaches. They hit a home run with Justin Fuente, who is now at Virginia Tech. Now, they have another premier coach in Norvell. He has led Memphis to huge seasons in the past two years. Now that Riley Ferguson is gone, he is going to have to mold Brady White into the next Memphis star. My concern with Memphis is similar to SMU, except Memphis is in much better shape. Offensively, Anthony Miller carried the load. The offense that we have come to know could always overcompensate for the defensive flaws Memphis had. Overall, I am watching to see how Norvell will respond now that the roster is consists of players he recruited and developed.
Navy - Ken Niumatalolo: This guy is elite. Navy is the most overlooked team in the conference. When Keenan Reynolds left we thought that the great Navy run was over. Niumatalolo proved us all wrong with Will Worth the next season. This past season he turned to Zach Abey and now recently Malcolm Perry. I don’t care what the situation is, Niumatalolo knows how to flat out coach. Similar to Tulane, I do not believe this is the most talented team, or anywhere near close. However, because Niumatalolo is coaching, I have confidence that he can get the job done and deliver another solid year with a potential AAC Title game berth.
Tulane - Willie Fritz: This team is going to be sneaky good. Yes, there are some pieces that are gone like Parry Nickerson. But this team has potential to sneak up on a lot of teams. Their style of play is quite unique as we have seen how powerful the offense can be (vs. Tulsa and USF). Tulane has also taken a large step in recruiting and is not the easy pushover that they used to be. I completely attribute that to what Willie Fritz is doing. While Tulane is still far from being the most talented team in the AAC, I expect Fritz to get the Green Wave back to a bowl game.
Wait and See
Houston - Major Applewhite: I guess last season was considered successful (sort of)? When Applewhite was initially hired, there were questions coming from all over if he was the right hire. Early on with Kyle Allen not living up to the hype, the answered seemed like a big no. But once they gave D’Eriq King the ball, it was like Greg Ward and Tom Herman was back. With King as the spark plug, it seemed that the season was saved. They defeated a very good USF team and managed a decent bowl. However, after being ousted by Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl, the questions started coming back. Because of this, he drops from a rising coach to a coach in question. He clearly has the kids on his team to make a run for the AAC Title.
SMU - Sonny Dykes: Another coach that has questions surrounding him. The fit seems like a good one, but the bowl game loss against Louisiana Tech may have shown otherwise. I get that Dykes was not entirely in charge of the offense and he coached just a few days after getting hired, but it seemed like a rather ominous start to the coach’s tenure. I actually like the hire a lot and I believe we will still see some Chad Morris principles mixed in this offense. Dykes is going to have to prove this is a reload and not a rebuild.
Room for Improvement
Tulsa - Phillip Montgomery: What happened here? He was one of the hottest coaches a few years ago, but that has simmered down quite a bit. Last season’s poor performance landed Tulsa from one of the top teams in the conference to pretty much a bottom feeder. Tulsa has not impressed on the recruiting trail checking in at number 10 in the AAC for the 2018 recruiting class, according to 247. It seems to me that Montgomery’s window to hop to the P5 is over. I do not necessarily believe that he is fully responsible for the poor performance last year, but he does have to take some responsibility. It may be harsh to drop him from a rising coach to a falling coach, but last season and poor recruiting are not going unnoticed.