I produced my list of overrated coaches not too long ago. Now for the 10 most underrated coaches in college football.
1. June Jones, SMU–He’s the ultimate turnaround artist. When he arrived at Hawaii, the Warriors were 0-12. When he left, they were in the Sugar Bowl. Now he’s turning around once-left-for-dead SMU. What would he do at a place with a lot more talent?
2. Gary Patterson, TCU–He’s turned TCU into a real powerhouse. His teams have won 11 games or more in five of the last seven years. But for some reason you don’t really hear his name that much when coaching jobs come up, or at least not as much as it should be considering his success. He should be a household coaching name.
3. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy–In just his second year, Niumatalolo got Navy to a school record-tying 10 wins and that included a 35-13 ripping of Missouri in the Texas Bowl. And is anyone surprised anymore if the Middies beat the Irish? The transition from Paul Johnson was seamless and you have to wonder if anyone is noticing.
4. Kevin Sumlin, Houston–It could be that Sumlin’s success is merely tied in with the rise of Case Keenum, but I think he’s a fine young coach who is on his way to building a C-USA powerhouse. Houston’s fate will depend on whether they can keep him around much longer.
5. David Cutcliffe, Duke–Anyone who can get Duke to be competitive deserves accolades. His staff has been agressive on the recruiting trail and it looks like the Blue Devils have a chance to get to their first bowl since 1994. Cutcliffe has shown he can get it done anywhere. That’s the sign of a very good coach.
6. Randy Edsall, Connecticut–Edsall has built this program to the point where it keeps getting to bowls and is surprisingly competitive. What’s more, it’s been producing pretty good NFL talent, too–no easy feat when the Northeast is our recruiting base. This could be another big year for the Huskies and you have to wonder how much longer Edsall will stay in Storrs.
7. Butch Jones, Cincinnati–There’s a reason people keep hiring Jones to take over for Brian Kelly. He did so at Central Michigan and now he’s doing it at Cincinnati. He gets a lot out of his players and runs a fun-to-watch offense. I don’t think there will be a whole lot of dropoff with him coaching the Bearcats.
8. Al Golden, Temple–In his first year with Temple, he went 1-11. By year four, he was 9-4 and giving UCLA all it could handle in a bowl game. At this rate, he won’t be on this list for very long.
9. Bo Pelini, Nebraska–Some saw him as an afterthought hire. Certainly not the blockbuster coach that people thought could bring the Cornhuskers back. But if you watch Nebraska under Pelini, you see how hard his teams play, especially compared to the Husker squads of the last decade. There are different recruiting realities at play in Nebraska compared to the old days, but Pelini is adjusting well.
10. Mack Brown, Texas–This seems an odd pick for a coach who has won a national title and been on the verge of others. But I don’t think Brown gets enough credit for the incredible level at which the Longhorns have played for the past few years. He’s not an esteemed game coach, but his managerial skills have produced the most reliable machine in college football. You always know the Longhorns are going to be in the top five talent-wise and even the down years only dip to 10 wins. With a couple twists and turns, he’d have two more titles under his belt. And there’s no signs of things slowing down.
Just missed the cut: Bobby Petrino, Arkanas; Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; Robb Akey, Idaho; Skip Holtz, USF