College Football 2011: Power Ranking the Top 10 Under-the-Radar Coaches
When we talk about college football coaches, it seems like all the chatter usually surrounds the most criticized ones, like Rich Rodriguez, or the best ones, like Nick Saban.
But hardly anyone ever addresses the low-key guys, the headmen who consistently lead their teams to victory or turn around lower-tier programs without all the hoopla surrounding the nation's bigger programs.
Though, like Brady Hoke at Michigan, these coaches often enter the spotlight once they're recognized for their coaching skills, there are plenty more who go unnoticed or unheralded.
Not today, though—because we're here to celebrate the top 10 under-the-radar coaches for 2011.
Let's get right to it, shall we?
10. Kevin Sumlin (Houston)
Don't let Houston's 5-7 record in 2010 fool you—Kevin Sumlin is still a good football coach.
The Cougars simply played most of the season with a third-string quarterback, which explains the team's subpar season, and Sumlin did well in just keeping that team from completely imploding in 2010.
In fact, he's done an excellent job keeping up the pass-happy tradition at Houston, leading the Cougars to 18 wins in his first two seasons there (2008 and 2009).
Sumlin has also led the school to bowl appearances in two of three seasons and a Conference USA West Division title in 2009.
With quarterback Case Keenum coming back from injury in 2011, I'd fully expect Sumlin's squad to revert to the form of his first two seasons at Houston.
9. Jerry Kill (Minnesota)
The 2011 season will be Jerry Kill's inaugural year at Minnesota, but his track record at his previous two stops—Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois—indicates that the Golden Gophers might have a quick turnaround with him at the helm.
When Kill took over at Southern Illinois in 2001, the school won just one game that season. But before he left in 2007, the Salukis went 12-2 and made it to the FCS semifinals.
He then made the in-state switch to Northern Illinois, where he won six games in his first season (2008) before winning 10 games in his final season as coach of the Huskies in 2010.
Kill currently has a career coaching record of 127-73—which is good, but not great—but the obvious trend on his résumé is the steady improvement his teams have shown.
He should do wonders for a Minnesota football program that needs nothing short of a miracle to have a magical turnaround in 2011.
8. Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State)
Here's the deal: If it wasn't for the whole "I'm a man! I'm 40!" debacle, Mike Gundy's name probably wouldn't even ring a bell.
But since that fiasco happened and the name does sound familiar, let's give some props to this man for being a pretty damn good football coach too.
Since taking over for Les Miles in 2005, Gundy has gone 47-29, with five straight bowl appearances (and a 3-2 record in those bowls) since 2006.
He's also helped develop one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks at Oklahoma State, one that ranked second in passing yards and third in scoring in 2010.
In the last three seasons under Gundy's direction, the Cowboys have won nine, nine and 11 games respectively and have quickly risen to the top of the Big 12.
7. June Jones (SMU)
While at Hawaii, June Jones made double-digit win seasons and Hawaii Bowl victories a habit before bolting for SMU in 2008.
After a rough first season there, in which the Mustangs went just 1-11, Jones led the school to an 8-5 record in 2009 and a 7-7 mark in 2010.
The 2009 season saw SMU win more games in a season than it had since the 1980s and make its first appearance in a bowl game since the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
Jones truly has done great things in just a three-year span at SMU, and there's really no reason to think that trend won't continue.
6. Ken Niumatalolo (Navy)
Since becoming the full-time head coach at Navy starting with the 2008 season, Ken Niumatalolo has been a consistent winner.
In three full seasons there, he's led the Midshipmen to 27 total wins, with eight wins in 2008, 10 wins in 2009 and nine wins in 2010.
During the 2008 campaign, Niumatalolo also led Navy to a victory over No. 16 Wake Forest, which was the school's first victory over a ranked opponent in 23 years.
Some may call his early successes a fluke or "beginner's luck," but it's pretty clear that Niumatalolo knows what he's doing on the sidelines.
Look for him to lead the Midshipmen to another double-digit-win season again in 2011.
5. Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)
Considering that Mark Dantonio is 0-4 in bowl games at Michigan State, it's easy to dismiss him as a coach who "can't win the big one."
But let's put this into perspective. In the final three seasons before Dantonio took over there (in 2007), the Spartans won all of 14 total games and never won more than five games in a season.
In his four seasons at Michigan State, however, Dantonio's Spartans have won 33 total games, including nine wins in 2008 and 11 wins (along with a Big Ten title) in 2010.
Dantonio has taken Michigan State from a four-team to an 11-win squad in a four-year span, and that's about as much as you can ask for from your head coach.
4. Chris Ault (Nevada)
Since 1976, Chris Ault has been the on again, off again coach at the University of Nevada-Reno, all in all spending 26 seasons as the school's head coach.
During that span he has compiled a career record of 219-97-1, won nine conference titles and led the Wolfpack to 23 winning seasons.
Though Ault is one of only three active coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame (along with John Gagliardi and Joe Paterno), he doesn't get the credit befitting a man who's accomplished so much.
He's hardly, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as the sport's greatest coaches, yet he has taken Nevada to six straight bowl games—nine bowl games in 10 seasons at the FBS level too—and is coming off a 13-win season.
Not to mention Ault is credited with the invention of the "Pistol" offense, a version of the shotgun system that has spread across the country since Ault introduced it at Nevada in 2005.
So maybe it's time we all recognize this guy for what he is: one heck of a football coach.
3. Derek Dooley (Tennessee)
When Derek Dooley took over at Tennessee last year, he became the school's third head coach in as many years, taking over a program that was seemingly in shambles because of Lane Kiffin's abrupt departure.
But in his first year with the Volunteers, Dooley led one of the youngest teams in the nation, a freshman-filled squad with hardly any experience, to a six-win regular season and a bowl berth.
He did this just two years after leading a struggling Louisiana Tech program (in just his second season there) to its first bowl appearance in seven seasons and its first bowl win since 1977.
It appears that Dooley has all the makings of a coach who can turn a program around quickly. If his initial early success at Louisiana Tech was any indication, Tennessee is on track to becoming a player in the SEC this season.
2. Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
Dan Mullen is one of those coaches who was so good when he was under the radar that he may be over the radar now, so to speak.
Regardless, he's going on this list, because he's seemingly on his way to making the once totally irrelevant Mississippi State a very tough team to beat in the SEC.
Since taking over for Sylvester Croom—who only won more than four games in a season once in his five seasons there—Mullen has gone 14-11, including a nine-win season in 2010 that was capped off with a Rich Rodriguez era-ending destruction of Michigan.
All in all, from recruiting to play on the field to the general culture in Starkville, Mullen definitely has the Bulldogs on the right track.
Look out for them in 2011.
1. Gary Pinkel (Missouri)
Stuck in a conference with top-tier programs like Texas and Oklahoma, it's easy to see why not too many people care about Missouri, or its head coach for that matter.
But Gary Pinkel has been stellar since taking over the Tigers program in 2001. After a rough early stretch, he's led the school to seven winning seasons since 2003, ending all seven of those seasons with a bowl appearance.
He's really kicked it up a notch over the last few years, though, winning 40 total games and recording three 10-plus-win seasons since 2007.
Yeah, Pinkel hasn't taken Missouri to the Promised Land, but he's undoubtedly turned the Tigers into one of the better teams in the Big 12 Conference.