Power Ranking College Football Conferences by Coaching Stability

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014

Power Ranking College Football Conferences by Coaching Stability

0 of 10

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The debate over which conference is better than another in college football is one that has existed for years and no doubt will rage on forever. And there are many ways to compare the apples of one to the oranges of the other in an effort to arbitrarily determine superiority.

    Overall team performance? Check. National champions? Way ahead of you. Player quality? Sure. Size of stadiums and lavishness of football facilities? Yup, that too.

    Comparing leagues by their coaches is also a common approach to the "my conference is better than yours" battle, but it's usually done by looking at what each coach has accomplished. We've decided to take a different angle and tackle this dispute through a different statistic: stability.

    Coaching turnover at the FBS level remains at a critically high level, with hirings, firings and bolting from one program to another more prevalent than ever before. That coach was great at one place, but how will he be at the next? And how long can he be expected to stick around?

    Of the 128 schools set to play in FBS this fall, 48 of them have coaches in either their first or second year on the job. Two more (Louisville's Bobby Petrino and Mark Whipple of Massachusetts) are making their return to those programs after previously coaching there.

    With almost constant newness, determining which conference is tops in terms of its coaches is a tough task to tackle. But we're nothing if not up for the challenge, so check out our power ranking of all 10 FBS conferences based on coaching stability.

10. Sun Belt Conference

1 of 10

    USA TODAY Sports

    Longest-tenured coach: Larry Blakeney, Troy (24th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 6

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 2

    Coaches on the hot seat: Trent Miles, Georgia State; Paul Petrino, Idaho

     

    The Sun Belt Conference is the unofficial bottom feeder of the FBS, both in terms of its teams and coaching pool.

    As the landing spot for most of the recent programs jumping up from the FCS—five of the 11 teams are in their first, second or third year of FBS play—it tends to feature a lot of first-time head coaches or ones making their first foray into major college football.

    Yet somehow, Troy's Larry Blakeney has managed to stick around since 1991, making him the second-longest-tenured active coach in the FBS behind Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer. Blakeney has been with the Trojans since they were a Division II program, and since moving into the FBS in 2002, he's produced seven .500 or better records and gone to five bowl games.

    The stability drops off significantly after that, with South Alabama's Joey Jones and his five years at the transitioning FBS program ranking second in the Sun Belt.

    The Sun Belt tends to lose its best coaches before you can get used to them being in the league, especially if they're at Arkansas State. Blake Anderson, hired from North Carolina's staff this offseason, marks the fourth straight season the Red Wolves will be guided by a new coach, as previous ASU coaches moved on (and up) after just one year to Mississippi, Auburn and Boise State, respectively.

    Amazingly, though, the conference's hottest coaching prospect, Mark Hudspeth, is set for his fourth year at Louisiana-Lafayette despite three straight 9-4 seasons that each ended with a bowl victory. Hudspeth's name is mentioned for numerous coaching openings each offseason, and the school will be hard-pressed to hold on to him after 2014 if he puts together another strong year.

9. Mid-American Conference

2 of 10

    USA TODAY Sports

    Longest-tenured coach: Frank Solich, Ohio (10th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 7

    Coaches with five or years at current school: 2

    Coaches on the hot seat: None

     

    The Mid-American Conference has developed a reputation over the years for producing some very good professional talent, as evidenced by Buffalo's Khalil Mack going fifth overall in the 2014 NFL draft. If there were a coaching draft, though, the MAC would fare even better.

    Six coaches currently running power-conference programs (Illinois' Tim Beckman, Wake Forest's Dave Clawson, North Carolina State's Dave Doeren, Purdue's Darrell Hazell, Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Missouri's Gary Pinkel) landed in those jobs after successful stints in the MAC.

    And that list doesn't include the many other active coaches throughout the FBS who spent time running a MAC program, including Michigan's Brady Hoke, Tennessee's Butch Jones, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and even Alabama's Nick Saban

    And that's just in the last 25 years.

    But with all that success comes the unfortunate byproduct of constant coaching turnover. Outside of Frank Solich, who landed at Ohio in 2005 (after managing to get fired from Nebraska with a 58-19 record), the rest of the league's coaches were all brought in during this decade.

    And most of the league's coaches were actually replacements for fired coaches, as seven of the league's 13 teams let the previous coach go (including three of the four first-year coaches).

    It's kind of a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don't land in the MAC, where either winning or losing seems to lead to a search for a new coach. But Paul Quinn of Buffalo and Ball State's Pete Lembo are still around despite winning a combined 18 games last season and each reaching bowl games, so there's some hope for future stability. Not much, though.

8. Mountain West Conference

3 of 10

    USA TODAY Sports

    Longest-tenured coach: Troy Calhoun, Air Force (8th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 5

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 1

    Coaches on the hot seat: Calhoun, Air Force; Norm Chow, Hawaii

     

    When Troy Calhoun, the Mountain West's most "senior" coach, was hired at Air Force in 2007, it was quite a different league he was jumping into. BYU was a national power, annually contending for a spot in the national rankings, while TCU and Utah were in the midst of turning themselves into BCS-busting programs.

    All three of those schools have moved on, while others have come in to balloon the league up to 12 teams. And none of the current lineup has had its coach in place for anywhere near as long as Calhoun's eight-year tenure, another sign of how fluid and fickle the Mountain West has become over the years.

    Like the Mid-American, the MWC's coaching roster is a mix of recent replacements for fired or departed coaches, with 11 of them choosing or being forced to make a new hire since 2010.

    The league has lost Gary Andersen (Utah State) to Wisconsin, Brady Hoke (San Diego State) to Michigan, Mike MacIntyre (San Jose State) to Colorado and Chris Petersen (Boise State) to Washington in the past four years, while Nevada had to replace longtime coach Chris Ault after he retired for a second time in 2012.

    The rest of the schools canned their top guys, with mixed results to this point.

    While the league as a whole is lacking in active tenure, it's not very quick on the firing front for coaches who don't succeed right away. Bobby Hauck won six games in his first three years at UNLV, but the school stuck with him, and he responded by going 7-6 in 2013 and taking the Runnin' Rebels to their first bowl game since 2000.

    Additionally, Hawaii's Norm Chow and New Mexico's Bob Davie have yet to have a winning record between their four combined years at their current jobs, while Calhoun has managed to survive a performance drop-off that has seen the Falcons go from 9-4 in 2010 to 7-6, then 6-7 and a program-worst 2-10 in 2013.

7. Conference USA

4 of 10

    USA TODAY Sports

    Longest-tenured coach: Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee (9th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 7

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 3

    Coaches on the hot seat: Ron Turner, Florida International

     

    To truly determine the stability of Conference USA's football coaches, you first have to take into account the league's seeming inability to keep its own lineup from constantly fluctuating.

    Of the 13 teams that will play this fall, a whopping five of them were in C-USA as recently as 2012. The league added eight new teams in 2013 and two more this year, with Charlotte set to join the ranks for football in 2015. In that same time span, seven have jumped ship, all to the conference formerly known as the Big East, now referred to as The American but what could easily be called The New C-USA.

    Now that your brain has been thoroughly scrambled, we can talk about the current C-USA coaches. It's a group that, as a whole, is more stable than most other second-tier FBS leagues but still has seven schools whose leaders are in their first or second year at the helm.

    The elder statesmen of the league, Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill, requires an asterisk since 2014 is only MTSU's second year in C-USA. The unofficial patriarch of the league would be David Bailiff of Rice, who has been at the school since 2007 (with all of those years amazingly as part of C-USA), while Marshall's Doc Holliday is considered a grizzled veteran with his four years of service at his school entering the fall.

    The schools with the newest coaches, hired in either 2013 or 2014, are a near-even mix of replacements for fired coaches or ones who went elsewhere. It even includes a school, UAB, that had to make a hire after coach Garrick McGee decided being an offensive coordinator at Louisville was a better gig than running a program with only three winning records since joining the FBS in 1996.

    C-USA also has a surprising number of retread coaches who previously ran power-conference programs with varying levels of success. The granddaddy of that group, in more ways than one, is 65-year-old Larry Coker, who won a national title with Miami (Florida) and since 2009 has been transforming UTSA from a theory into a potential future powerhouse.

6. Pacific-12 Conference

5 of 10

    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Longest-tenured coach: Mike Riley, Oregon State (14th season overall, 12th consecutive)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 5

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 2

    Coaches on the hot seat: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

     

    The Pac-12 Conference has managed to send eight or more teams to bowl games in each of the past three seasons and has a roster of coaches that, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval, is among the most impressive in college football.

    But the league coaching lineup is still relatively new, with nine of the schools having hired their current guy since 2012 or sooner.

    As a power conference, the stakes are higher, and the patience tends to be lower, yet there are some coaches who have managed to weather the storm of subpar seasons.

    Mike Riley, since returning to Oregon State in 2003, has had three losing records (including two in back-to-back seasons following an eight-win campaign in 2009) and didn't appear to be in any long-term trouble last year after watching the Beavers start 6-1 and then finish the regular season with five straight losses.

    At Utah, Kyle Whittingham appears to have built up a lot of leeway from a 33-6 stretch at the tail end of the Utes' time in the Mountain West. Since then, his teams have gone 8-5, 5-7 and 5-7 with a combined 9-18 mark in Pac-12 play.

    The league is doing its best to try to lock up its coaches, as since November contract extensions have been awarded to Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State's Todd Graham, UCLA's Jim Mora and Washington State's Mike Leach. And the only two openings that occurred this offseason were the result of each other, as USC plucked Steve Sarkisian away from Washington.

5. American Athletic Conference

6 of 10

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Longest-tenured coach: George O'Leary, Central Florida (11th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 4

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 2

    Coaches on the hot seat: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa; Matt Rhule, Temple

     

    The coaching stability within The American explains perfectly the overall league's stability in that its most veteran coaches are all part of the wave of schools that have joined the league in the past 18 months.

    George O'Leary brought Central Florida in last year and promptly won the conference title and served as the last guaranteed representative from the league formerly known as the Big East in any sort of major postseason college football competition.

    After O'Leary, the most senior coaches (SMU's June Jones, Ruffin McNeill of East Carolina and Bill Blankenship) have a combined eight career AAC games under their belt, and those are all from Jones during SMU's first season in the league last year.

    Everyone else in the AAC is entering his first, second or third year at his school, including Big East holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida.

    The instability of the league hasn't contributed to coaches not sticking it out long, though, as only three of the 11 schools hired their current coach as a replacement for one that jumped ship. It's been mostly ineffectiveness that's led to coaching changes, so it remains to be seen how patient athletic directors will be with this newer crop as the conference settles into life as a non-power league.

4. Atlantic Coast Conference

7 of 10

    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Longest-tenured coach: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (28th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 5

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 4

    Coaches on the hot seat: Mike London, Virginia

     

    How disparate is the longevity of coaches in the ACC? Frank Beamer, with his 27 years of service at Virginia Tech, has more than the next five longest-tenured coaches in the league. Only four of the conference's 15 coaches (including Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, since the Fighting Irish are de facto members) were employed at the same place during the 2009 season.

    But while the current tenures aren't that long for most coaches, this isn't a league that's had a history of quick triggers, at least not recently. The lone firing/resignation from last year, at Wake Forest, came after Jim Grobe had been there 13 years and had finished under .500 in each of his last five seasons.

    Of the post-2012 firings, Tom O'Brien had lasted six seasons at North Carolina State, while Frank Spaziani survived four rapidly worsening years at Boston College before getting let go.

    Duke didn't flinch as David Cutcliffe amassed just 15 wins in his first four seasons. The extra latitude has resulted in two straight bowl appearances, a first for the program, and a trip to last year's ACC title game.

    And even Mike London, with 18 wins overall and just eight in the league since 2010, has earned a fifth season at Virginia.

    Head to the top of the heap in the ACC and you'll find coaches who are prized by their schools and won't be given up on anytime soon, namely Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and Dabo Swinney at Clemson, while Miami's Al Golden and North Carolina's Larry Fedora could survive a bad year or two without worry.

3. Big Ten Conference

8 of 10

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Longest-tenured coach: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (16th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 3

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 4

    Coaches on the hot seat: Tim Beckman, Illinois; Randy Edsall, Maryland; Kyle Flood, Rutgers; Kevin Wilson, Indiana

     

    The Big Ten welcomes three new coaches this season, but only one who's new to his program. That would be Penn State's James Franklin, while Randy Edsall at Maryland and Kyle Flood at Rutgers have been on the job for a few years each but are moving over from other leagues.

    Only four of the league's coaches have anything that would constitute a lengthy tenure, but that quartet of Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Nebraska's Bo Pelini are good examples of how the Big Ten is mostly patient when it comes to coaching success. 

    Ferentz has been mostly mediocre since a three-year run from 2002 to 2004 when he won 31 games, yet he's under contract until 2020 and has a hefty buyout. Fitzgerald has never won more than five conference games in eight seasons, and Dantonio has backslid a couple of times after big years at Michigan State but has never lacked for job security.

    Even Pelini, who works for a school that fired Frank Solich despite a 58-19 record, appears safe despite seeming to produce the same 9-4 or 10-4 record every year.

    This is not to say the Big Ten doesn't jump the gun and dump some coaches too quick. Rich Rodriguez improved his win total in all three years at Michigan before getting canned, and his replacement, Brady Hoke, shouldn't feel too comfortable going from 11-2 in his first season to 8-5 and then 7-6.

    And after letting Glen Mason stick around for 10 uninspiring years, Minnesota gave up on Tim Brewster after three-plus and might have been looking to do the same with Jerry Kill had he not won eight games in 2013.

2. Southeastern Conference

9 of 10

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Longest-tenured coach: Gary Pinkel, Missouri; Mark Richt, Georgia (14th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 5

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 6

    Coaches on the hot seat: Will Muschamp, Florida

     

    There are two hard-to-dispute facts about SEC football coaches: They don't often go elsewhere, and they don't usually get to stick around long if they don't win a lot.

    In the past 10 years, the only coach to exit an SEC job for another college head coaching position was James Franklin, who this offseason made a major upgrade from Vanderbilt to Penn State. Urban Meyer ended up at Ohio State after leaving Florida—but not immediately. And the only departure to an NFL job was Nick Saban, but he just ended up coming back a few years later to a different school, just like Steve Spurrier did before him.

    On the other end of the spectrum, though, the window to succeed isn't the same as in other conferences, nor is the benchmark. Derek Dooley was gone from Tennessee after two years, same with Joker Phillips at Kentucky, winning a combined 28 games between them. Houston Nutt was out at Ole Miss following four seasons, same as Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, though that was pre-SEC for the Aggies.

    Sylvester Croom was a virtual grizzled vet via his five years at Mississippi State before getting canned, but it helped that he won eight games in his fourth season. 

    The guys who replaced each of those recently removed coaches won't get long to prove they're better, and what constitutes an improvement is more than elsewhere. That's why Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, with 36 wins and four bowl appearances in five years, shouldn't feel safe. Same goes for Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, who, despite 15 wins and bowl trips in both seasons, can't afford to finish under .500.

    But despite all the uncertainty at the bottom, few leagues are as solid and safe at the top as the SEC. An FBS-best four coaches are entering their 10th year or more in the same job, and all look like lifers in that gig, and the fifth-longest-tenured coach—Saban—just signed an incredibly lucrative extension through 2022 that he'd be foolish to walk away from.

1. Big 12 Conference

10 of 10

    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Longest-tenured coach: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (16th season)

    Coaches in first or second year at school: 2

    Coaches with five or more years at current school: 6

    Coaches on the hot seat: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia; Paul Rhoads, Iowa State; Charlie Weis, Kansas

     

    While pretty much every league has gotten bigger in the last few years and continues to look for ways to somehow increase in number even more, the Big 12 seems content at staying small at 10 teams. It also seems rather at ease with its coaching register, making it the top league in the country in terms of coaching stability.

    Not only does it have one of just four coaches employed in the same place since the 20th century in Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, but it also sports the most coaches with five or more years at their current job. Sixty percent of the league's teams have been run by the same guy since at least 2009, and this decade there has been only one firing.

    (It's Turner Gill, booted from Kansas in 2011 after winning five games in two seasons, in case you're a trivia buff or do lots of sports-themed crosswords.)

    The retirement of longtime Texas coach Mack Brown resulted in the only change in the Big 12 this offseason, while the year before, the only newbie was Kliff Kingsbury after Tommy Tuberville bolted from Texas Tech for Cincinnati. As a whole, the league is one where coaches will still feel pressure to win but don't necessarily feel the need to check the temperature under their seat on a regular basis.

    It's why Paul Rhoads is still at Iowa State after going 3-9 last year or why Charlie Weis still has the Kansas job despite last season's 3-9 effort being a 200 percent improvement on his first year.

    And when it comes to the top of the standings, besides Stoops there are a series of coaches who appear untouchable at this point, including Baylor savior Art Briles, Oklahoma State alum Mike Gundy and TCU's Gary Patterson, who has earned a pass on the Horned Frogs' slow start to their Big 12 era after piloting the program successfully through three other conference upgrades.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP