College Football: Big East's Best Coaches By Rank
In recent years, the Big East has become a jumping-off point for talented young coaches to build their résumés until a better job opens up.
Mike Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State, Bobby Petrino bolted from Louisville to the NFL, Rich Rodriguez famously abandoned his alma mater at WVU for Michigan, and just last season Brian Kelly left Cincinnati to replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.
Although it's disappointing to see the Big East turn into something like a coaching farm system for the big-time schools to exploit whenever they need to make a change, it does show how well Big East schools have done hiring in recent years.
Even with the raids, there are still a number of very solid, established coaches in this league, along with some promising up-and-comers.
So here are my coaches rankings for the Big East.
First off, a sort of honorable mention to the four most recent coaches to join the fraternity of Big East coaches:
Doug Marrone of Syracuse, Charlie Strong of Louisville, Butch Jones of Cincinnati, and Skip Holtz of USF.
It's simply too early to give these four fair rankings. Three of them—Strong, Jones, and Holtz—are new to the conference this season, and Marrone is in his second year of a massive cleanup project that, in fairness, is probably going to take another year or two.
The Orange did take some positive steps last season, especially in terms of attitude, but it will probably be another year or two until we can fairly assess his work.
Strong looks like a great hire for Louisville, coming to them from Florida where he was the defensive coordinator.
Cincinnati and USF also snagged a couple of good-looking coaches this offseason. The Bearcats hired formed Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones, and USF hired former East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz.
Considering each of these guys already has head coaching experience, the hope is that their respective teams won't skip a beat this season.
No. 4: Bill Stewart—West Virginia
Despite the departure of Rich Rodriguez, in 2008 West Virginia seemed to be riding high after its Fiesta Bowl annihilation of Oklahoma.
Despite having to play with an interim head coach, Bill Stewart, the Mountaineers had no problems executing on both sides of the ball. Afterwards, the game's MVP, Pat White, said of Stewart, "He needs that job. He deserves it, the head coaching job."
White was a phenomenal football player for the Mountaineers, but perhaps he didn't have the greatest eye for coaching talent.
Despite having exceptional talent left over from the Rodriguez era, the Mountaineers have been fairly average under Stewart. Although they were clearly the flagship program of the Big East before, they haven't won the Big East since Rodriguez moved on to Michigan.
This season they've been picked to finish second in the conference. West Virginia still has as much talent as anyone else in this league, so anything less than another Big East title will be a disappointment.
It might be a matter of overcoming Stewart's coaching though.
No. 3: Greg Schiano—Rutgers
While Rutgers had a dream season in 2006, coming out of nowhere to win 10 games in the regular season and then annihilate Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, they've been relatively mediocre since.
Don't get me wrong—Schiano did a fantastic job of turning the Rutgers program around. The program was a perennial bottom feeder before 2006. However, they haven't been able to capture the same kind of magic.
They've gone 8-5, 8-5, and 9-4 in the three seasons since then, but a large part of that comes into question when you realize that Rutgers routinely plays one of the weakest schedules in football.
Last season, when they were 9-4, their wins came over two FCS teams—Howard and Texas Southern—then FIU, Maryland, Army, UConn, USF, and Louisville. The mid- and low- major schools speak for themselves, but the four BCS schools they beat (Maryland, UConn, USF, and Louisville) only combined for 22 wins last year.
Rutgers also got annihilated by a depleted Syracuse team.
The post-2006 success that the Knights have enjoyed has been largely a smoke and mirrors act; they feast on the cupcakes, and then they can't keep up with the Big East's elite.
No. 2: Dave Wannstedt—Pittsburgh
The Pitt Panthers have been building to this point, seemingly forever now. They're the favorites to win the Big East this year, and, unlike last year, Brian Kelly isn't standing in their way.
Under Dave Wannstedt, top-20 recruiting classes have been the norm, and after five years of building the Panthers up, they're finally the team to beat in the Big East.
However, they haven't done it yet, and that spot in the trophy case that they've been holding open for a Big East championship trophy must be gathering dust by now. Until then, Wanny still has something to prove.
He's easily out-recruited every other program since he arrived, but with all of the four- and five-star recruits failing to bring the Panthers to the BCS, you have to question Wannstedt's coaching ability.
That question is going to remain until he finally claims a Big East title for Pittsburgh.
No. 1: Randy Edsall—UConn
Amazingly, Randy Edsall is the only coach still in the Big East who can claim to have won at least a share of the conference title.
In that regard, he's almost the polar opposite of Dave Wannstedt. The recruiting classes aren't going to impress anyone, yet Edsall manages to consistently win and put players into the NFL.
If you buy into recruiting rankings (I don't), then you'd probably have a tough time finding a coach who does more with less. Either he's an absolute genius at finding diamonds in the rough, or he's so good at coaching athletes up that he can take a bunch of two-star prospects and mold them into NFL players.
This season, after a tumultuous 2009 in which the Huskies had to overcome the death of their teammate, Jasper Howard, UConn should be considered a dark horse candidate to win the Big East title.
There are a lot of good teams in the conference this year, but with Randy Edsall at the helm, UConn might be as good as any of them.