Division I football is coming to the Rio Grande Valley. A borderland region in South Texas with a population nearing 1.5 million, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the largest and most-populated regions of the United States without Division I football.
That will change come 2025 when the UTRGV Vaqueros take the field for the first time in what will be a special moment for the university and its larger community. The university’s students voted to raise their tuition fees by a 60.5 to 39.5 margin to fund the creation of the football program, women’s swimming and diving programs, as well as marching bands (yes plural bands), and spirit squads.
At this time, the university is planning to split their games between stadiums in Edinburg and Brownsville, the two largest cities in the Rio Grande Valley. UTRGV has campuses in both locations, and is planning to have separate marching bands on both campuses.
The Vaqueros will compete in the Western Athletic Conference, where they will compete with Abilene Christian University, Dixie State University, Lamar University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Tarleton State University, University of the Incarnate Word, Utah Valley University, and Southern Utah University. With current members New Mexico State and Sam Houston State heading to Conference USA, the WAC may seek a 10th football member to create two five-team divisions.
While UTRGV VP and Director of Athletics Chasse Conque will have his hands full with planning and logistical decision making over the next three years, one of the most critical decisions Conque will need to make is to determine the university’s first head coach. With an anticipated four year gap between official approval and the program’s inaugural game, UTRGV is operating on a slower timeline than previous startups such as UTSA, South Alabama, and Georgia State, all of which started play within two years of receiving approval to launch their programs.
Should UTRGV follow in the footsteps of the previously-mentioned startups, they should be looking to hire a head football coach within the next few months. Even if the program doesn’t begin practice for another two years, bringing on a head coach early in the process will be a huge boon to the success of the program as the head coach will be able to assist in making key decisions such as practice facility construction, uniform design, and other areas which will define the program’s culture and identity.
I believe Underdog Dynasty was the first football blog to write about UTRGV’s football feasibility study way back in 2016, and we’ll now by the first site to bring you guys a head coach candidate list for the upstart Vaqueros. It’s hard to know exactly how much money UTRGV will be able to allocate to their head coach, or what level of candidate they’ll be able to attract, so I’ve provided a few different coaches with varying degrees of experience.
Gary Patterson - Former TCU Head Coach
It’s hard to imagine a candidate that could be more of a grand slam for UTRGV than Gary Patterson. The legendary coach built TCU’s program from a struggling G5 afterthought into one of the best programs in the Big XII. From program building experience to legitimate X’s and O’s expertise, Patterson checks every single box twice over. With Patterson receiving a large contract buyout from TCU, income isn’t likely to be a major concern for Patterson for several years.
Patterson seems like the type of veteran head coach who would enjoy the chance to build a program from scratch in the twilight of his career. As TCU rose higher in the recruiting rankings, Patterson seemed to become disenchanted with high-end collegiate football. Moving down to the FCS will allow Patterson to do what he loves most — coach football without the drama, glitz, and glamor of Power 5 politics. It’s probably unlikely that Patterson would take the UTRGV job, but Conque has to make Patterson say no. If he’s uninterested in taking the head coach position, perhaps he could serve as an advisor to the Vaqueros for a few years like Dan Reeves did for the Georgia State Panthers.
David Bailiff - Texas A&M Commerce Head Coach
While football talent in the Rio Grande Valley is woefully under-recruited, the Vaqueros will need to recruit Houston, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and the Coastal Bend hard to field a competitive Division I roster. Few men in the state of Texas know the South Texas recruiting scene quite like David Bailiff, a man who has probably had a Dairy Queen Blizzard in every town south of I-10.
Like Patterson, Bailiff will provide immediate legitimacy to the UTRGV program as a house-hold name among Texas high school football coaches thanks to Bailiff’s time at Rice University.
The only catch here is that UTRGV will need to poach Bailiff from his current role at Texas A&M Commerce. The Lions are about to make the jump from Division II to Division I — Would Bailiff want to take on another program build in Edinburg? Could UTRGV make the jump financially viable for Bailiff? The Vaqueros will be in a better FCS conference and likely have a better long-term forecast than A&M Commerce, but this would be a difficult move for Bailiff.
Ephraim Banda - Utah State Defensive Coordinator
Most start-up programs will look for a highly-experienced veteran to guide the program through its formation. And for good reason — veteran coaches have extensive coaching networks to locate potential assistant coaches, and generally know what works and what doesn’t work at different programs.
Ephraim Banda is far from a coaching veteran, but he’s a perfect fit for the UTRGV program. As one of the most successful Hispanic coaches in college football, Banda could be a great ambassador for UTRGV within the Rio Grande Valley, where 94% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
Banda is one of the top recruiters in the nation, and has coached many players into the NFL. While Banda has national experience (Florida, Utah, Mississippi), he also has strong roots in Texas. A San Antonio native, Banda was a member of Incarnate Word’s first football team and stayed on to coach for the Cardinals after he graduated. Banda then took a graduate assistant position at the University of Texas to further his coaching career.
While Banda’s current salary at Utah State is unknown to me, a G5 coordinator usually receives pay on-par with that of an FCS head coach. Banda likely wouldn’t receive much of a raise at UTRGV, but this would be a rare opportunity to receive the keys to a program in a part of the country that Banda is very familiar with.
Justin Carrigan - University of Texas Permian Basin Head Coach
The University of Texas system has been pumping out new football programs recently. While UTSA and UTRGV jumped straight into Division I play, the University of Texas Permian Basin successfully launched into Division II in 2016. Head Coach Justin Carrigan has quickly built an impressive program in Odessa as the Falcons have facilities which most FCS (and several FBS) programs could be envious of. The investments are starting to pay dividends, as UTPB is 10-5 over their past two seasons despite a current three-game losing streak.
While Carrigan’s roots in West Texas run deep, he’s proven his ability as a program builder in the state of Texas and would certainly be qualified to build UTRGV’s foundation should he look to make the jump to Division I.
Marco Regalado - Washington State Director of On-Campus Recruiting
If UTRGV wants to get creative with its first head coaching hire then Marco Regalado could be an exciting option. A native of Zapata, Texas, Regalado played college ball at Texas State before taking a graduate assistant position at Texas A&M Kingsville, the college program closest to the Rio Grande Valley. After receiving his master’s degree at TAMUK, Regalado coached as an assistant at several high school programs in South Texas.
Regalado became TikTok-famous in coaching circles after going viral with a series of hilarious short videos posted to the social media platform over the past few years. Regalado was able to capitalize on his exposure by landing a spot on Nick Rolovich’s recruiting staff at Washington State. With Rolovich’s employment terminated due to his decision to not comply with the state of Washington’s vaccination policy, Regalado may be out of a job come December if WSU’s next head coach re-hauls the off-field staff.
While Regalado does not have any head coaching or coordinator experience, he is extremely familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and would be fully capable of building strong relationships with local coaches and recruits.