College Football's Top 10 Coaching Jobs of 2009: From Low Expectations to Spectacular Results
The 2009 football season is almost over; just a few more weeks and everything will have ironed itself out in the BCS, Heisman, and various other postseason awards.
But as we look back on the fabled season that was 2009, we must look back to some of the best coaching jobs in the nation. Some have probably not been talked about, others have been raved about from season's beginning, and still others are just starting to gain steam.
So who are the best coaching stories of 2009?
What follows is what one wannabe sportswriter thinks. In my opinion, these have been the best coaches in this 2009 season. Feel free to respond and comment in kind, but remember, this is just the opinion of one man.
10. Mike Stoops
6-3 may not be a stellar season to some of us, especially after a disappointing 24-16 loss to the California Golden bears.
However, for a team that was picked in many circles to land somewhere between sixth and eighth in the Pac-10, the fact that they are still alive to win the conference championship is amazing.
Mike Stoops has maximized his talent while out-coaching most of the teams he plays against. In fact, the final three games on the schedule may seem daunting, but they are all winnable, starting with Oregon at home.
Win these three, and a team that was ranked 58th in the preseason according to Athlon will have gone 9-3 and 7-2 in the Pac-10.
Stoops has this program clawing its way back into the national scene, and we should all take notice.
9. Steve Sarkisian
I know it's weird to put a 3-7 (probably soon to be 4-7) team on this list, but it's the manner in which Steve Sarkisian has won his games.
In fact, Sarkisian is a blown call away from being 4-6 and vying for a spot in a bowl game if they won out.
That blown call came against Notre Dame in the waning seconds of the game when video clearly showed that the Irish running back was down before getting into the end zone. However, the referees didn't see it that way, and the Huskies lost the game.
Sarkisian has instilled hope in the once proud program, beating USC, Idaho, and Arizona, three teams that will all be bowling this postseason. This is a program that won zero games last season and should have won four games by now and probably will have at least that by season's end.
Sarkisian is a star coach on the rise at a genuinely good program. Maybe he will be able to do what Charlie Weis was unable to do at Notre Dame: clean up Ty Willingham's mess.
8. Chip Kelly
There was one way this program was supposed to go after the Boise State/LeGarrette Blount incident, and that was down.
Instead, Chip Kelly's team rallied around him and Jeremiah Masoli. It helped that freshman running back LaMichael James burst onto the scene with a 1,000-plus-yard season, averaging over seven yards a carry.
While the performance has been good, the coaching has been better. I am a known Kelly critic concerning the entire Blount situation, but there is no denying the direction of this program under Chip is only upward.
In fact, what appeared to be a dismal failure in Boise may be soon forgotten if Oregon can finish the season with a few wins and a Rose Bowl bid.
Of course, then fans may start the "what if" train of thought about that loss to the Broncos. What if the Ducks had pulled that one off? Would we be talking BCS championship game in the Rose Bowl instead?
7. Bill Snyder
Everyone knows that Ron Prince ran this team into the ground the past few years. For some reason, K-State has only been able to beat Texas in those dismal years for the Wildcat faithful.
Apparently, Snyder took it personally. A team that should have lost to the likes of UMass earlier this year gave a good, albeit down, Oklahoma team all it could handle just a few weeks ago.
From unable to gain a winning record to 6-5 with a chance to win the Big 12 North this weekend, it is no doubt that this may be one of the best stories in the Big 12 this season.
Snyder has proven that he hasn't lost his touch in the coaching world, and that while coaches like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are being asked to leave, fans in Manhattan, Kansas are terrified of the time when Snyder leaves...again.
6. Les Miles
Following one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Tiger history, Les Miles has reacted well the next season.
8-2 is always a good record in the SEC, especially when your lone losses are to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation in Florida and Alabama, respectively.
Barring a botched replay call in the Alabama game, we may be talking Tigers for yet another run at a national title.
The poster child for consistency rolls on in Louisiana, and if they can win out and complete a 10-2 season, Tiger fans will be left to wonder, "What if?"
5. Robb Akey
The Idaho Vandals have been taking a backseat to perennial Idaho powerhouse Boise State in recent years, but Robb Akey at least has the offense moving in the right direction.
The words Idaho and bowl eligible are odd to see in the same sentence, but that is what they are this season at 7-4. If they can find any defense against Utah State, they may just end with an 8-4 record and the team's first bowl bid in a long while.
Akey has done a brilliant job creating a winning team out of a losing program in Moscow, Idaho. Watch out Blue Turf—there may be another player in the business soon.
4. Paul Rhoads
Whenever you take a team that won zero games in conference a year ago and make them bowl eligible the next season, you deserve to be in the top five on a list like this, especially if it's in the Big 12 or SEC conference.
Rhoads hasn't just made Iowa State a respectable program again; he also beat Nebraska away from home for the first time in decades and should have beaten both Kansas State and Kansas.
If a few bounces go the Cyclones' way a few more times this season, they are 8-3 and on top of the Big 12 North. It seems that Iowa State has found their man, and the Rhoad seems to be leading to the top.
The only downside to this season is that Rhoads will be expected to do the same next season, if not better. That may not be a problem for him, but nothing is for certain in the Big 12—just ask Art Briles.
3. Al Golden
This may be one of the least talked about success stories in the NCAA this season, most likely because it involves the MAC conference.
A loss to Villanova at the beginning of the season seemed to spell doom for the Temple program. Penn State didn't provide much of a reprieve from the scrutiny either after they pounded the Owls into the ground 31-6 in the second game of the season.
The Owls and Golden had a choice to make after starting a disappointing 0-2. They could either sit down and wait for next season, or they could seize the moment and improve on the season.
Golden's troop chose the latter option and have gone 8-0 since and climbed to the top of the MAC East.
They did this on the legs of true freshman Bernard Pierce, who may be the best running back that you haven't heard of this season. Pierce has amassed over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns this year.
Golden's troop looks to win its first MAC championship since joining the conference and is looking to go to its first bowl game since 1979.
That is a far cry from the team that we saw lose to 'Nova at the beginning of the season in a heartbreaker. This may be the best coaching job of the season thus far in college football.
2. Kirk Ferentz
Sure, losing to Northwestern and Ohio State may not be coaching gems, but the loss of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi had at least a little something to do with the losses.
However, Kirk Ferentz's team has run through injuries and depth problems all season long while continuing to compete, if not win.
In fact, Ferentz's group is a dropped pass away against Ohio State from sealing the Big Ten Championship and its first BCS bowl since 2002.
The Hawkeyes may have lost two straight, but no one thought they would even be here after losing their offense to the draft this past summer in Shonn Greene.
If they beat Minnesota this weekend, they will end the season as second in the Big Ten and solidify a place among the Big Ten elites for next season.
1. Jim Harbaugh
From Pac-10 laughingstock to Rose Bowl contender, Jim Harbaugh and Toby Gerhart have brought back the "Fear of the Cardinal."
I'm going to go ahead and say this right now: Give Gerhart the Heisman. I'm sorry fellow Nebraska fans, but this guy is just too good to overlook. He shredded Oregon and USC in back-to-back weeks and has made Harbaugh look like a genius.
Picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the Pac (pun intended) at the beginning of the year, the Stanford Cardinal have ridden the legs of Gerhart and an opportunistic defense to a No. 14 rating and an Oregon loss away from going to the Rose Bowl, a place they haven't been to since 2000.
At 7-3 for the year and 6-2 in the conference, this team looks primed for the spotlight to shine on them. They can see an opportunity against the Buckeyes on the horizon, and with a running game like Gerhart's, I'm not sure they couldn't win.