Best College Football Coaches Under Age of 40
Coaching is a profession of paying dues and working hard, long hours. It can take years—decades—before someone can climb to head coaching status.
Others, however, have found the coaching fast track and have thrived in a short amount of time. These are the brightest, youngest minds that college football has to offer.
Being a head coach at a young age isn't easy. It's as much about being the CEO of a program and handling all of its details as it is about coaching football. In the following slides are head coaches—and some assistant coaches—who have done a noteworthy job.
Records, accolades and in some cases, assistant coaching history, were taken into consideration. And, of course, everyone on here is under 40.
Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury
Third-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn't been a head coach for long, but it's been filled with ups and downs. Since going 7-0 to start the '13 season, Kingsbury's team is 5-13 and went 4-8 a year ago. Inexperience and mistakes have been a costly reason why. In two seasons, the Red Raiders have finished near the bottom of college football in turnover margin and penalty yards per game.
Additionally, Tech finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in 2014 in major defensive statistical categories like yards per pass attempt allowed, rushing yards per game allowed and points per game allowed. The Red Raiders had a tumultuous time with coaching turnover last year. Matt Wallerstedt resigned in September and was replaced on an interim basis by Mike Smith. David Gibbs was hired in January as the new defensive coordinator.
Despite all of that, there are plenty of reasons to like Kingsbury. He has a good history as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin. Kingsbury also returns a Red Raiders team that could post the biggest turnaround in the Big 12 from '14 to '15.
Western Michigan Coach P.J. Fleck
The youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision has done a remarkable job turning around Western Michigan. After going 1-11 in his first year in 2013, P.J. Fleck led the Broncos to an 8-5 record in '14. Shortly after completing the regular season, Fleck agreed to a six-year contract that would make him the highest-paid coach in the Mid-American Conference.
Fleck not only got the Broncos on the winning side of things, he did so in style. Western Michigan posted one of the top offenses in the MAC, leading the conference with 9.3 yards per pass attempt.
“We really haven't done anything,” Fleck told Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. “We've won nine games in two years. That's an average of four-and-a-half per year. That gets coaches fired.”
Looking at it that way is good motivation, but there's no way Fleck is getting fired anytime soon barring a major controversy.
Memphis Head Coach Justin Fuente
When Justin Fuente took over the Memphis program for the 2012 season, the Tigers hadn't been to a bowl game since 2008 and hadn't had a winning season since '07. It took Fuente a couple of years to get things turned around, but Year 3 under the former TCU assistant was a breakout season.
The Tigers went 10-3 and won the American Athletic Conference while Fuente was a unanimous selection for American Athletic Conference's 2014 Coach of the Year. Two of those losses came in hard-fought battles to Ole Miss and UCLA.
Fuente's success spans beyond his time as the head coach of the Tigers. He was TCU's co-offensive coordinator from 2009-11 and led the Horned Frogs to the top offense in the Mountain West in two of those three years.
Toledo Head Coach Matt Campbell
Toledo has experienced consistent success under fourth-year head coach Matt Campbell in the post-Tim Beckman era. Counting a postseason bowl win in 2011, the Rockets are 26-13 under Campbell.
Not only that, Toledo has been one of the Mid-American Conference's most exciting teams. The Rockets have posted a more potent offense in each of Campbell's three full seasons, finishing atop the conference in points per game in 2014.
The next step for Campbell would be to bring home a divisional or conference title.
Boise State Head Coach Bryan Harsin
Bryan Harsin's climb up the coaching ladder has included a ton of memorable moments in a relatively short amount of time.
Let's start with his head coaching accomplishments. In Year 1 with Boise State, Harsin led the Broncos to a Mountain West championship and Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona. In 2013, his very first year as a head coach anywhere, Harsin led Arkansas State to a 7-5 record, claiming a share of the Sun Belt title.
Prior to becoming a head coach, Harsin was Chris Petersen's offensive coordinator at Boise State during the miraculous 2007 Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma. That game that featured the three trick plays—the hook-and-ladder, halfback pass and Statue of Liberty—that would define one of the great bowls of all time.
Harsin was a finalist for the 2009 Broyles Award and had a brief stint as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas.
We're not done yet. Though we've specifically highlighted head coaches of the under-40 variety, there are several coordinators who are on the verge of becoming head coaches themselves because of what they've accomplished.
Texas A&M OC Jake Spavital: He works for Kevin Sumlin and has worked with: Dana Holgorsen, Kliff Kingsbury, Todd Graham and Gus Malzahn. A&M continually has one of the best offenses in the SEC.
Arizona State OC Mike Norvell: Norvell has been tied to the hip with Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham. At 33 years old, he's already been named Deputy Head Coach—which is probably more about money than anything—in addition to his coordinator duties.
Oklahoma OC Lincoln Riley: Riley hasn't coached a down for Oklahoma yet, but his success at East Carolina is well documented. The Pirates finished with a top-25 scoring offense in three of the five years Riley was with the program.
Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee: Gus Malzahn is considered the offensive genius at Auburn, but Lashlee is his protege. Lashlee is well versed in the Tigers' hurry-up, no-huddle attack and was the offensive coordinator during the 2013-14 national championship appearance.
Now, it's the defensive coordinators' turn in the spotlight.
Alabama DC Kirby Smart: According to Steve Berkowitz of USA Today, Smart recently received a raise to $1.5 million, which would keep him among the highest-paid assistants. It's hard to say he hasn't earned it. The Tide routinely have one of the top defenses in the country—Alabama led the nation in points per game allowed in 2011 and '12—and should have another stellar group this year. Smart is annually a part of the coaching rumor mill.
Wisconsin DC Dave Aranda: Wisconsin's defensive dominance under Dave Aranda has been impressive. Over the past two seasons, few programs have been better in total yards per game (299.4) and points per game (18.6). Keeping Aranda in Madison when Gary Andersen left for Oregon State was a huge win for new Badgers coach Paul Chryst.
Michigan DC D.J. Durkin: Durkin is in his first year with Michigan after spending the last five seasons at Florida—the final of two of which he acted as defensive coordinator. During those two seasons, Florida gave up 21 points per game. Florida struggled under head coach Will Muschamp, but it certainly wasn't the defense's fault.
USC DC Justin Wilcox: Wilcox is another one of Chris Petersen's former assistants at Boise State that have gone on to do great things. He transformed Washington's defense from one of the worst in the Pac-12 in points allowed 2011 to one of the better ones in '12 and '13.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.