College Football 2011: 5 Coaches Who Are Poised To Have Breakout Seasons
Few administrators in athletics receive as much attention, both positive and negative, as college football coaches.
This single individual is tasked with keeping tabs on his 85-plus players, managing their personalities and needs, and making sure that they adhere to their responsibilities both on the football field and off of it.
He also has to get his team prepared to play games in September, starting in late March.
To do so, a successful coach will drive his players to succeed. He'll work their tails off in the weight room and run them in the early hours of the morning.
He'll pick apart their flaws and mistakes and break players down to their lowest points.
Then, as the season nears, he'll build the players back up again in the most effective way possible.
With their confidence restored, and their bodies in the best shape of their lives, these players will finally be ready to hit the gridiron and play for the glory of their university.
If the coach did things the right way, his team should be the better conditioned and the more focused and disciplined unit on the field in each and every game.
The rest is up to game-planning, execution and luck regarding injuries.
Sometimes it takes a few years for a good college coach to get his program where he wants it to be.
Very seldom does a guy come in and take a program from nowhere to BCS contention right away. Just look at the steady build-up jobs that Jim Harbaugh did at Stanford and that Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina.
What follows is a list of five coaches, each of whom have been at their schools for at least three seasons, and all of whom have their programs on the rise heading into the 2011 campaign.
June Jones, Southern Methodist University
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When June Jones arrived in Dallas three years ago, expectations were pretty low for SMU's football program.
The team was coming off of a 18-52 stretch over six seasons under previous head coach Phil Bennett. The low point, a 1-11 season in 2007, led to Bennett's firing.
Jones left a Hawaii program where he had just gone 12-1 in 2007, their only loss coming in a 41-10 Sugar Bowl blowout to Georgia.
He won 10 or more games three separate times during his nine-year tenure in Hawaii. Two of the three came in his final two seasons, proving that BCS berths don't always come together quickly.
But June Jones has righted the ship for the SMU Mustangs about as fast as anyone could've asked. After finishing 1-11 in his first year, Jones went 8-5 in 2009, snapping the university's 25-year bowl drought.
They defeated Nevada 45-10 in the Hawaii Bowl.
In 2010, Jones led SMU to a 7-7 mark, including a loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
But SMU will return 18 starters for 2011, including junior quarterback Kyle Padron, who threw for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions last year.
Junior running back Zack Line, who rushed for 1,494 yards and averaged over six yards per carry, will also be back with the team.
Jones is considered to be among the best offensive minds in the college game. With playmakers at his disposal, he can take SMU to great heights.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats
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At 36 years old, it's easy to forget that Pat Fitzgerald is already entering his sixth season as the head coach of Northwestern football.
The former Wildcats linebacker, who took over the team in 2006 following the unexpected death of coach Randy Walker, has instilled his hard nosed and hard working attitude in his players.
During his college career, Fitzgerald was a two-time winner of both the Bronco Nagurski and the Chuck Bednarik awards as college football's best defensive player.
He was also a two-time winner of the Big Ten's defensive player of the year award.
After a brief stint in the NFL, Fitzgerald decided that coaching was his true calling.
He's performed admirably thus far in his time as Northwestern's head man, racking up a 34-29 record and receiving three bowl bids in the past three years.
Northwestern will return 16 starters in 2011 (nine on offense, seven on defense), including all-conference selections Dan Persa at quartback, leading receiver Jeremy Ebert, defensive end Vince Browne and safety Brian Peters.
Fitzgerald has been very impressed thus far with his team's focus at the outset of spring practice. He thinks that their squad is miles ahead of where it was at this time last year.
If Northwestern is going to improve in 2011, they'll have to plug some of those defensive holes that saw them allow 163 points over their final three games last season, all in losses.
Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies
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Fans in College Station probably didn't know what to think when Mike Sherman was hired prior to the 2008 season.
Sherman was the Aggies offensive line coach for two separate tenures during the late '80s and early to mid '90's.
He eventually ascended to the Green Bay Packers head coaching job, winning a Wild Card berth and three consecutive NFC North division titles.
But a 2-4 record in the playoffs with a failure to even reach the NFC Championship Game and a 4-12 finish in 2005, his only losing season, forced Sherman's ouster.
After two seasons with the Houston Texans as an assistant, Sherman accepted Texas A&M's offer. He has steadily improved the program in each of his seasons, from 4-8 in 2008, to 6-7 in 2009 and 9-4 in 2010.
Texas is obviously a recruiting hotbed, and Sherman has built this program the way he wants it. The Aggies will return 18 of their 22 starters in 2011.
On offense, this includes senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill and senior running back Cyrus Gray, who led the team to a 6-0 record down the stretch following their ascension to starting roles.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies will have to find a way to replace departed linebackers Von Miller and Michael Hodges, who helped Texas A&M to a surprisingly solid defensive season under first-year coordinator Tim Deruyter.
If Sherman can continue on the trend that he has set, look for the Aggies to win at least 10 games and compete for the BIg 12 title in 2011.
Steve Sarkisian, Washington Huskies
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Just two years into his head coaching career, Washington's Steve Sarkisian is already one of the hottest young names in the game.
Maybe it's the fact that he was an immensely talented offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC, grooming two Heisman winners and three future NFL players in Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez.
Or it could be that during his short time in Washington, Sarkisian has taken what was a winless program (0-12) in 2008 and gone 12-13 in two seasons.
The Huskies finished 7-6 in 2010, including a 19-7 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
The win was retribution for Sarkisian's seniors, who had fallen to the same Cornhuskers team 56-21 in just their third game of the season.
His teams have had a penchant for winning big games. In his two seasons, Sarkisian has gone 5-6 against ranked opponents, including two wins over the much-maligned USC program.
His 2011 squad will return eight starters on either side of the ball. Although quarterback Jake Locker will surely be missed, Sarkisian is an offensive guru who should be able to groom either Keith Price or Nick Montana into the starting role.
The Huskies will likely rely on returning 1,400-yard rusher Chris Polk on the offensive side of the ball.
Additionally, their defense is enormous on the line and loaded in the secondary, assuring that this Washington team should be able to play close in almost every game.
Look for Sarkisian and his Huskies to surprise a lot of people and stick their nose in the first Pac-12 title hunt.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Gamecocks
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Say what you want about the old ball coach, but he's actually this close to making a second college football program relevant.
If you were born in the late '80s or early '90s, you grew up in an era when the Florida Gators appeared to be an established college football program with a long standing history.
You would be surprised to find, however, that before Spurrier arrived in Gainesville in 1990, the Gators had never won an SEC championship. They've been a part of the conference since 1933.
What happened next is history.
Spurrier won six SEC championships and reached the SEC title game eight times before leaving for the NFL in 2002. He won one national championship in 1996.
Since Spurrier took over the Florida Gators program, they have had more victories than any other college football team.
Now he's on his second "build-up" project, in the same division of the same conference as his former team.
Whatever little history the Gators had when Spurrier took over, the Gamecocks had less in comparison. South Carolina has only won one conference championship in school history, when they were still a part of the ACC in 1969.
They have a 4-12 record overall in bowl games, and have never played in a major BCS bowl.
Heading into his seventh season with the team, Steve Spurrier has a core in place that reached the SEC title game for the first time in school history last season.
Although he only owns a 44-33 career record with the Gamecocks, the recruits Spurrier has brought in suggest that this is definitely a program on the rise.
South Carolina will return bruising sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore and the SEC's leading receiver in Alshon Jeffery.
Spurrier also brought in a bunch of highly touted freshmen this year, including No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney.
With senior quarterback Stephen Garcia at the helm, and a relatively weak schedule that avoids dates with SEC West powers Alabama and LSU, South Carolina should be favored to repeat as division champs and make it back to the SEC title game for a second straight year.
If they can win, getting to a BCS game with South Carolina may be as much of an accomplishment as winning a national title at Florida.
Times in Columbia are only going to get better.