College Football 2011: 13 Coaches Who Look Like They Could Still Play
Football is certainly a young man's game.
It's fast. It rough. It takes extraordinary talent and courage.
Most college coaches are well past the age where they could don a helmet and set of pads and make it back off the field in one piece.
But there are a select few that look as if they just played their last game—or could even still be ready to play tomorrow.
It's not often you have a head coach that looks as if he could still play the game, but here are 13 examples of guys who look as if they could still compete.
Since taking over at Nebraska for the 2003 Alamo Bowl as interim, and then as the full-time head coach since 2008, Pelini has posted a 31-12 record.
Pelini is also just 43 years old, making him one of the younger coaches in the FBS. There's also no jacket and tie for this coach. He can frequently be seen wearing a hoodie and cap as he paces up and down the sidelines during games.
Pelini also maintains his fit physique reminiscent of his playing days at Ohio State as a free safety. Buckeyes fans remember Pelini as a two-year starter and a defensive co-captain during his senior season in 1990.
Butch Jones is just 43 years old, and has the unenviable task of following up on the exploits of Brian Kelly at Cincinnati.
But this isn't Jones's first time taking over for Kelly. Jones was named Kelly's successor at Central Michigan when Kelly left for Cinicinnati.
Jones has strong Michigan connections, as he was born in the west Michigan coastal city of Saugatuck. He played football at Ferris State University in Michigan, where his team faced off against perennial rival Grand Valley State—where Brian Kelly was a young assistant coach at the time.
Still young, Jones can run around the field with the best of them. And, being from Michigan, he's not afraid of a little cold weather. Jones can usually be seen in a jacket or light coat on even the coldest and snowiest of days. Like the linemen who go without sleeves on such days, Jones shows that he's still a tough guy, and no amount of cold weather will slow him down.
Bronco Mendenhall is 45, and he's been a head coach for six years—all at BYU.
Mendenhall has led the Cougars to six-straight bowl games, and is 56-21 overall.
Like Pelini, Mendenhall likes to maintain a relatively casual style, frequently wearing t-shirts or sweatshirts on the sidelines.
At 45, Mendenhall looks fit enough to return to his days as a defensive back at Snow College and Oregon State.
Derek Dooley is just 42 years old, and doesn't look like he's lost too many steps since his playing days at the University of Virginia.
Dooley walked on at Virginia, but soon proved his worth and earned a scholarship after his sophomore year. Dooley was part of Virginia's back-to-back ACC championships in 1989 and 1990.
Dooley's first coaching gig was at Georgia, where he was a grad assistant while earning his law degree. He went on to become the head coach (and athletic director) at Louisiana Tech before taking over at Tennessee last season.
While a 6-7 season at UT isn't exactly the things of which dreams are made, Dooley still looks as if things get too bad, he could suit up himself and get back into his old wide out position.
But he probably doesn't have any eligibility left.
It hasn't been that long since Al Golden was winning varsity letters at Penn State.
His playing career is probably best remembered for a late fourth-quarter touchdown receiption against then-No. 1 Notre Dame to tie the game—a game that Penn State eventually won.
He also played on Penn State's '91 team that finished the season 11-2 and was ranked No. 3 in the nation in the final polls after topping Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.
Al Golden doesn't look like the typical 41-year-old. In fact, his fit physique and his muscular build are probably the things coaches look for in players.
Golden's only mistake early on was proclaiming that the University of Miami was the “most recognizable brand in college football” at his introductory press conference. Notre Dame had something to say about that shortly afterward, thumping Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl (although Golden was not coaching in that game).
The 2010 season certainly turned up aces for Gene Chizik and his Auburn Tigers. After much debate about whether Chizik was the right man for the job at Auburn (after all, Gene Chizik was just 5-19 all-time as a head coach when he was hired), he has proven that he not only was the right choice, but was also the best choice for Auburn, posing a 22-5 record in his first two seasons.
Not only has Gene Chizik proven that he's a force to be reckoned with at Auburn, he looks as if he could cut his critics in half from a three-point stance.
Troy Calhoun has been the head coach at Air Force for four years, and his Falcons have played in four bowl games.
Air Force has also finished no worse than fourth in the Mountain West since his arrival, and in 2010 his Falcons won the coveted Commander-in-Chief's Trophy—awarded to the winner of the three-way series between the three FBS service academies.
Calhoun is familiar to many Air Force fans and former cadets, and he was the starting quarterback for the Falcons from 1986 to 1988. He was also awarded a varsity letter during Air Force's 1985 12-1 season.
Anyone watching videos from Air Force practices knows that Calhoun can still fly the ball down field with impressive accuracy. He clearly hasn't lost much since his days as the Falcons quarterback.
Sticking with the service academies, we'll swing down to Annapolis for a look at Ken Niumatalolo.
Niumatalolo grew up in Honolulu, and attended the University of Hawai'i where he became the Rainbows' starting quarterback.
Niumatalolo brought his experience in spread-option offenses to Navy, where he's since guided the Midshipmen to a 27-14 record since taking over for the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl. His three full seasons also includes three wins over Army and has won the last two games against Notre Dame.
At just 46 years old, Niumatalolo has established himself as one of the best coaches in the FBS under the age of 50.
One of the youngest coaches in the FBS, Bret Bielema is just 41.
Well suited for the Big Ten, Bielema is a former nose guard from from Illinois who play for the Iowa Hawkeyes in college.
His entire college experience, save for two years as a defensive coach at Kansas State, has been in the Big Ten. He spend six years as the linebacker coach at Iowa and two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin before being named the Badgers' head coach in 2006.
Since taking over, Bielema has guided Wisconsin to a 49-16 record, which included the Badgers' first BCS appearance last year in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
Bielema's tough appearance is accentuated by his penchant for dressing down. His familiar Wisconsin windbreaker has become a very popular seller in Madison.
While Bielema may not be as large as some the linemen of today, his intensity and stern glare can match any player.
In contrast to some of the other coaches on this list, Mario Cristobal is typically roaming the sidelines in shirtsleeves and a tie.
Cristobal brings a wealth of experience with success to Florida International. He was a four-year letter winner at Miami, and he was also part of the Hurricanes' two national championship teams in 1989 and 1991. He was also an All-Big East selection as a senior.
After spending a few seasons playing in NFL Europe, Cristobal moved on to coaching. He was a graduate assistant at Miami before being named offensive line coach at Rutgers. He returned to Miami a few seasons later to fill the same role for the Hurricanes.
In 2007, Cristobal was named the head coach for the Panthers at FIU.
In just four years, Cristobal has taken a team that went 1-11 in his first season to a program that won a share of the 2010 Sun Belt conference championship, finishing the season 7-6 with a Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl win.
Cristobal's seemingly endless energy as he runs and bounds up and down the sidelines during a game could certainly be used by many of his players. While FIU probably isn't going to be winning any BCS games in the near future, their cause could certainly be helped by a player with the energy and enthusiasm of their head coach.
One could certainly understand confusing Charlie Strong's introductory press conference with a press conference introducing a new player.
Strong is a big, intimidating presence, and he certainly looks to have all of the intensity he demands of his players.
At 51 years old, Strong doesn't look to be a day over 35. He's also kept himself in shape to a degree where one would think he just retired from playing professional football.
Surprisingly, Strong doesn't have much playing experience. He played from 1980 to 1983 for the University of Central Arkansas, then a NAIA program.
But Strong's coaching pedigree is, as his name implies, strong.
He began as a grad assistant at Florida in 1983, and after stops at Texas A&M, Southern Illinois, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and South Carolina, Strong was finally given the command of his own program when Louisville annouced him as head coach for the 2010 season.
In his first season, he guided the Cardinals to a St. Petersburg Bowl victory, finishing off a 7-6 season that exceeded many people's expectations.
Strong is also one of just a small handful of black coaches in the FBS. With his coaching pedigree and his ability to win games, he may soon find himself to be one of the most successful black coaches in history.
Lane Kiffin is the youngest head football coach in the FBS.
At just 36 years old, Kiffin is not that far removed from his playing days in college, where he was the signal caller for the Fresno State Bulldogs.
After graduating in 1996, Kiffin stayed at Cal State-Fresno to become an assistant coach before moving on to Colorado. After a brief stint as an NFL assistant, he came to Los Angeles to take over as USC's wide receiver coach and offensive coordinator. He was soon offered the head coaching position for the NFL's Oakland Raiders, which ended after Kiffin went just 5-15.
After guiding Tennessee to a 7-6 record in 2009, Kiffin was hastily hired to replace Pete Carroll who was beating tracks out of LA as fast as humanly possible as the NCAA's investigation into USC neared its conclusion.
Kiffin bravely took on a USC program that was facing multiple NCAA sanctions. Even so, Kiffin guided the Trojans to an impressive 8-5 record in 2010, which of course didn't include a bowl game due to the sanctions against USC.
Still a young guy compared to his contemporaries, Kiffin can design plays as only a quarterback could. He's also young enough to be younger than a number of quarterbacks in the NFL today.
Prior to Lane Kiffin's hiring at Tennessee, Pat Fitzgerald was the youngest coach in the FBS.
Just a few months older than Kiffin, Fitzgerald returned to his alma mater, Northwestern, to take over as head coach in 2006.
Since then, Fitzgerald has posted a 34-29 record, and has led the Wildcats to three bowl games in the past three seasons.
This former Dallas Cowboys linebacker has rediscovered his home at Northwestern, and he appears to have the backing of not only his players, but the university and alumni as well. As the only private school in the Big Ten, and by far the smallest, Northwestern has unique challenges in the conference. Northwestern's student population of 16,000 is half the size of the next-smallest school, Iowa (Nebraska will become second smallest in 2011, with 24,000). Northwestern frequently plays in a stadium with plenty of empty seats.
Maybe if Fitzgerald laced up the cleats one more time, Fitzgerald could lead the Wildcats back to the Rose Bowl—something that hasn't happened since Fitzgerald actually played for the Wildcats.
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