College Football

College Football 2011: The 24 Best Coaches Under Age 50

David LutherFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2011

College Football 2011: The 24 Best Coaches Under Age 50

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers poses with the Coaches trophys during a press conference for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn on January 11, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Coaches in college football enjoy a position almost unique in American sports.

    For the most part, coaches have complete control over their teams. There's no general manager. There's no superstar player that really controls the team. There's no owner to whom the coach must answer.

    There's only the athletic director and the throngs of alumni and fans to which coaches are ultimately accountable.

    Although a college football coach may not be pushed out because he doesn't coach a system for which a star player particulars cares, the coach is still expected to deliver in the wins column. Obviously, some do that better than others, and some do it earlier in their careers than others.

    We all know Joe Paterno reached 400 wins in 2010. But what about the younger generations? Who are the top coaches who aren't baby boomers?

    Here are the best coaches under the age of 50.

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State, 45

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach JimboFisher of the Florida State Seminoles is doused with water in the final seconds of their 26-17 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlan
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Okay, so the guy only has one season as a head coach under his belt. It was still an impressive rookie year.

    Impressive enough to be named to the Freshman All-American Team by the Football Writers Association of America.

Gene Chizik, Auburn, 49

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers reacts on the sideline against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo b
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Gene Chizik makes the list, but just barely.

    Sure, he led Auburn to a BCS title in 2010, but beyond that, what else is there?

    His fourth place SEC-West Division finish in 2009?

    His 5-19 overall record at Iowa State?

    His mediocre (at best) 27-24 overall head coaching record?

    In a few years, Chizik might become one of the top coaches in the nation. But right now, his only claim to fame is the 2010 Auburn team.

Butch Jones, Cincinnati, 43

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04: Butch Jones the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats watches play during the Big East Conference game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

     

    Some might argue that Jones has been riding Brian Kelly's coattails all the way from Mt. Pleasant.

    Jones followed Kelly as head coach of the Central Michigan Chippewas and posted a 27-13 record of his own, with two MAC championships over his three seasons.

    He then followed Kelly as head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats but finished his first season at Cincy with a disappointing 4-8 record.

    Kelly and Jones were also connected during Jones' college playing career. Jones was a running back for Division II Ferris State while Kelly was a young graduate assistant and assistant coach at rival Grand Valley State.

Turner Gill, Kansas, 48

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Turner Gill of the Kansas Jayhawks coaches from the sidelines during the game against the Missouri Tigers on November 27, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

     

    Turner Gill is one of only 13 black head coaches in the FBS.

    Apart from that superficial distinction, Gill has 23 career wins over five years. While that doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: Gill single-handedly took a 2-10 Buffalo team and led them to their first-ever MAC Championship and first-ever bowl berth.

    His reward was a job offer from Kansas, which he intelligently took.

    The Kansas stint didn't start off great, as the Jayhawks lost to FCS North Dakota State. Gill quickly rebounded, though, with an upset of then-No. 15 Georgia Tech the following week.

    Given appropriate time, Gill should find success at Kansas.

Todd Graham, Pittsburgh, 46

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    PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 11:  The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach, Todd Graham (center), poses for a photograph with members of his family and University of Pittsburgh athletic director, Steve Pederson (far left), during a press conference on
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

     

    Todd Graham began his coaching career in 2006 at Rice before quickly moving on to coach Tulsa from 2007 to 2010.

    He was named as the new head coach at Pitt this past January.

    Graham is 43-23 overall, including a 3-1 bowl record. While he doesn't have any conference championships on his resume yet, he did guide Tulsa to two C-USA West Division titles, and the Golden Hurricane finished the season ranked in the final AP poll of last season (No. 24).

Pete Lembo, Ball State, 41

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    After coaching for the past 10 seasons in the FCS, Pete Lembo has broken into the FBS with his new gig at Ball State.

    Lembo has 79 career wins to just 36 losses in five years each at Elon and Lehigh. His tams have also finished ranked in the coaches' poll at season's end five times over that 10-year span and had three NCAA playoff appearances.

    Now at Ball State, Lembo looks to return a touch of the past success Ball State enjoyed under current Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.

Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana, 42

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    Mark Hudspeth got his head coaching start at Division II regional power North Alabama. After compiling two conference championships, four NCAA playoff runs (none of which ended prior to the national quarterfinals) and a 66-21 record over seven seasons, he caught the eye of Dan Mullen at Mississippi State.

    After spending a few years as an assistant coach, Louisiana's football program came calling and offered him the head position.

    While 2011 will be his first season back at the helm of a program since leaving North Alabama after the 2008 season, Hudspeth has the resume to be a success.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV, 46

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    LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 18:  Head coach Bobby Hauck of the UNLV Rebels celebrates on the sideline after his team scored a touchdown against the Air Force Falcons at Sam Boyd Stadium November 18, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Air Force won 35-20.  (Photo by Etha
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

     

    Yes, UNLV was 2-11 in Hauck's first season. But first impressions can be deceiving.

    And it's not really a first impression.

    While Hauck has two FBS wins, he has 82 total wins as a head coach.

    Hauck first began coaching at FCS power Montana, and over his seven seasons as head coach, he never once failed to win the Big Sky conference championship.

    He also led the Grizzlies to the NCAA playoffs each year and three NCAA championship games.

    While 2-11 won't cut it for long at UNLV, his 82-28 overall record is easily good enough to put him on this list.

Lane Kiffin, USC, 36

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans watches warmups for the game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Imag
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

     

    Coach Kiffin is included in this list for one reason—and one reason only.

    It's clearly not his lackluster 15-11 record or his Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss with Tennessee, but rather it's his 8-5 (5-4) record in the Pac-10 with USC.

    Here's the reasoning behind the selection: Lane Kiffin was enough of a leader and head coach to absolutely refuse to allow USC falling into the abyss after the devastating NCAA sanctions were imposed.

    After Pete Carroll fled USC like a rat from a sinking ship, Kiffin stepped in to a program in complete disarray with a serious bout of depression.

    Rather than packing it in for the next few seasons, Kiffin and the Trojans stepped on to the field, and refused to roll over for anyone.

    That moxie will serve Kiffin and USC well once the sanctions expire.

Greg Schiano, Rutgers, 44

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    PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 08:  Head coach Greg Schiano of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights looks on against the Connecticut Huskies at Rutgers Stadium on October 8, 2010 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

     

    The head coach at Rutgers since 2001, Greg Schiano may have missed the career advancement boat when he refused to ride the “Pandemonium in Piscataway” of 2006 into a better coaching gig.

    Of course, a lot of people gave him credit for giving up obvious avenues of advancement and remaining committed to the Scarlet Knights program.

    Schiano has led the Knights to five bowl games in the past six years, and Rutgers is 4-1 in those games.

    Surprisingly, even including the 2006 season in which Rutgers finished the year ranked No. 12 in most polls, Rutgers has yet to win a Big East championship with Schiano at the helm.

Larry Fedora, Southern Mississippi, 48

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    NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 21:  Head coach Larry Fedora of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles celebrates after defeating the Troy Trojans in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 21, 2008 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Eagles defe
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

     

    In his three years as a head coach, Larry Fedora has guided the Golden Eagles to three consecutive bowl games.

    While still searching for an elusive C-USA championship, Southern Miss is headed in the right direction, finishing tied for second in the East Division in 2010 (moving up from their third place finishes the previous two seasons).

    Fedora is 22-17 at Southern Mississippi, but if the current trend continues, expect his win percentage to shoot up over the next few seasons.

Skip Holtz, South Florida, 47

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the USF Bulls celebrates after a 31-26 victory over the Clemson Tigers at Bank of America Stadium on December 31, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

     

    Skip Holtz certainly has the right genes for college football coaching.

    If you haven't easily guessed it, Skip is the son of living legend Lou Holtz.

    Holtz playing career at Notre Dame is a nearly direct mirror to that of the famed Rudy story, with the notable exception that it was his father who accepted him as a walk on once Skip gained transfer admission to Notre Dame.

    Now the head coach at South Florida, Skip has put together a decent 80-55 record and was 8-5 with a bowl win in his first season at the Bulls' head coach.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, 36

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats encourages his team takes on the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27.  (Photo by Jona
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

     

    When Pat Frizgerald was hired as the head coach at Northwestern, he was 31 years old—by far the youngest FBS coach at the time.

    Lane Kiffin is now the youngest, by a few months, but that doesn't mean Fitzgerald's story is finished.

    The Wildcats have won 24 games over their past three years and have been to three consecutive bowl games.

    Recruiting players like Dan Persa don't hurt matters, either.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force, 44

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    FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Head coach Troy Calhoun of the Air Force Falcons leads his team on the field against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

     

    In his four years at the US Air Force Academy, Troy Calhoun has never failed to guide the Falcons to a bowl game.

    While posting a 34-18 overall record, Calhoun and the Falcons are still chasing a Mountain West title—a task made more difficult by the addition of Boise State to the conference.

    Still, Air Force has never finished lower than fourth in the conference (2008, 2009) and has been has high as second (2007).

Bronco Mendenhall, BYU, 45

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    FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 16:  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall of the BYU Cougars heads his team against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  TCU beat BYU 31-3. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

     

    After finishing his sixth year as a head coach—all at BYU—Bronco Mendenhall found himself with a 56-21 overall record.

    Just as impressive is the fact that the Cougars, under Mendenhall, have never failed to receive a bowl berth, going 4-2 over Mendenhall's tenure.

    Last season was also just the second time (first since Mendenhall's first season) that BYU finished the season unranked in the major polls.

    While BYU does have two conference championships under its belt in the past six years, that objective is now gone as BYU moves to the ranks of the independent football programs.

    Still, BYU will continue to be a force out west as long as they're under the guidance of Mendenhall.

Jeff Tedford, California, 49

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    TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Head coach Jeff Tedford of the California Golden Bears on the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona.  The Wildcats defeated the Golde
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

     

    The 2011 season will be Jeff Tedford's 10th season as a head coach. Over the past nine years at Berkley, Tedford has accumulated a 72-42 record, including one Pac-10 co-championship (2006).

    He's also led the Golden Bears to bowl games in seven of those nine years and has a 5-2 record in those games.

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy, 46

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    COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Ken Niumatalolo of the Navy Midshipmen checks the clock during a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

     

    Coach Niumatalolo will enter his fourth season as head coach at the US Naval Academy with a 27-14 overall record. Averaging nine wins per season will definitely get you mentioned on this list.

    Navy also has never failed to earn a bowl berth under Niumatalolo, and their worst finish was 8-5.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, 39

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 16:  Coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs  questions a call during play against the Florida Gators  October 16, 2010 Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

     

    In just two seasons, Dan Mullen has brought Mississippi State to the brink of breaking through in the SEC.

    A 9-4 finish in 2010 was certainly helpful, but all four losses were in conference.

    A dominating win over Michigan in the Gator Bowl probably cemented Mullen in the minds of Bulldog fans. Now all he has to do is convince the rest of the SEC that Mississippi State is deserving of fear and respect within the SEC.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska, 43

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornhuskers leads his team against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners beat the Cornhuskers 23-20.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

     

    Since taking over for the 2003 Alamo Bowl as interim, and then in 2008 as the full-time head coach, Bo Pelini has guided Nebraska to a 31-12 record in his three seasons. He's also never failed to win at least a share of the Big 12 North Division title while at Nebraska.

    Nebraska is moving to the Big Ten Legends Division, and Pelini's next big objective will be to navigate the always stormy waters of a Big Ten regular season.

    Winning a Big Ten championships could propel Pelini into the college football coaching elite.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin, 41

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Bret Bielema of the Wisconsin Badgers stands on the field during the game against the TCU Horned Frogs in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

     

    Bret Bielema certainly got out of the gate quickly at Wisconsin, posting a 12-1 record in his first year as head coach, and finishing the year ranked No. 5 in the coaches' poll.

    Last year, Bielema led Wisconsin to a Big Ten co-championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Wisconsin finished 11-2 and ranked No. 8 in the final poll.

    Bielema is 49-16 as a head coach (all at Wisconsin), and it doesn't appear that the Badgers will be falling off anytime soon.

Chip Kelly, Oregon, 47

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks looks on against the Auburn Tigers in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/G
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

     

    Chip Kelly has only been a head coach for two seasons (both at Oregon), but those two seasons have been absolutely impressive.

    Two seasons, two Pac-10 championships. Two seasons, two BCS bowls.

    The problem: two BCS bowls, two disappointing defeats.

    Still, Kelly is 22-4 as Oregon's coach, and although it's a little early to call him one of the greats in college football, he's clearly on the right path.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State, 43

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    STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Bob Stoops (L) of the Oklahoma Sooners talks with head coach Mike Gundy (R) of the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Imag
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

     

    Mike “I'm a Man” Gundy has had an interesting start to his coaching career.

    Whether it's his feud with Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman (the author of the now infamous article overly critical of Bobby Reid that Gundy called “fiction”) or his turnaround of a program that was just 4-7 in his first season.

    Gundy is 47-29 as a head coach, and has become of the best college football coaches in the entire country.

Chris Petersen, Boise State, 46

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 04:  Head coach Chris Petersen of the Boise State Broncos celebrates after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 4, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo b
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

     

    In five seasons, the only thing Chris Petersen has done is lead a non BCS-AQ school to two undefeated seasons, four WAC championships and two BCS bowls (both wins).

    He's 61-5 over those five seasons, which places him a position to break numerous head coaching records in terms of quickest to x number of wins, best win percentage over x years and numerous others.

    And it's not like Boise State doesn't have a bright future. The upcoming 2011 season could be another BCS-busting banner year for the Broncos.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame, 49

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 25: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on September 25, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 37-14.  (Photo by Jo
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    Do we really need a run-down of Brian Kelly's resume to this point?

    Well, just in case you're been under a rock for the past few years, here's a quick snapshot of the man called “BK.”

    He's only 49, but has 179 career victories, and just 62 losses since his first year as a head coach (1991).

    He's won eight combined conference championships.

    He's won two national championships at Grand Valley State University.

    He turned Central Michigan University into a MAC powerhouse.

    He turned Cincinnati into a national championship contender (at least while he was there).

    His teams have earned six consecutive bowl berths, including two BCS bowls.

    His .740 win percentage easily puts him on track of a College Football Hall of Fame career.

    He unexpectedly led the Fighting Irish to a bowl game in 2010 and looks to follow that up in the next few years by leading Notre Dame back to national promenence.

    In 20 seasons, he's had just one losing season (his first season at CMU, 2004, finishing 4-7).

    All before the age of 50.

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