Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:04 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:51 pm
As we get close to the end of the regular season, it's time to get into our year-end awards. This week's Top 10: the best coaching jobs of 2011.
1. Bill Snyder, K-State: If the Wildcats beat Iowa State at home, they'll finish 10-2, which would be remarkable given there were such modest expectations for this team every place outside the KSU football complex. K-State was, after all, predicted to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 before the season began. Snyder's team had only two starters back on the O-line and uncertainty at QB, yet here they are in the Top 15. The Cats have had an absurd number of tight games and they've won a head-turning amount, going 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less. Before this year, the KSU program hadn't won more than seven games since 2003 when Snyder led them to an 11-3 record.
2. Les Miles, LSU: Yeah, I know his team may have more talent than any other squad in the country. But to make it through a season without a stumble, especially one with as many formidable opponents as they had is very, very impressive. Nothing seems to deter this guy or his damnfineteam. Lose the best defensive player in college football (Patrick Peterson)? No worries. Suspensions to key players? No big deal. Hostile road environments? No problem. Potential QB controversy? Who cares? The Tigers are steam-rolling their way to the BCS title game. They faced seven teams that were ranked in the top 25 when they played -- and only two of those games were in Baton Rouge -- and they won all seven with an averaging victory margin of 19 ppg.
Fans, you can voice your opinion for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year by voting HERE
3. Kevin Sumlin, Houston: This is the hottest coach in the country with a bunch of intriguing jobs coming open. Sumlin should be their first call. He has done a terrific job elevating this program. The Cougars, who only had 12 starters back, are 12-0 and in the top 10. He has made some brilliant coaching hires that are paying off in a big way on both sides of the ball. They are averaging over 53 ppg, but also are playing pretty solid defense, ranking No. 30 in scoring D and No. 3 in TFLs. The knock (because there almost always has to be some knock) is their schedule featured no ranked opponents, but the Cougars could only play who was on their schedule, and no one has been able to catch them.
4. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State: On the eve of this season, a member of Freeze's staff predicted this team would win the Sun Belt. Bold talk for a program that went 4-8 last year and hadn't had a winning season since 1995. The Red Wolves also only returned one starting O-lineman. But the assistant, D-line coach Chris Kiffin, had that much confidence in Freeze and what he was doing there. Monte Kiffin's younger son knew what he was talking about. ASU is 9-2 and 7-0 in Sun Belt play and Freeze's name is hot. He's either going to be the next head coach at Ole Miss, Southern Miss or Memphis. This is good offensive team and also only one of two squads that kept Va. Tech's great David Wilson under 5.0 yards per carry or under the 100-yard mark this season.
5. James Franklin, Vandy: I wrote in more detail about the transformation job the first-year head coach has done in Nashville in the Big Picture Sunday. In a nutshell, here's his case: A program that had won two games each of the past two years and then loses its best player to injury before the season (Warren Norman) yet still finds a way to go 6-6 in the SEC, and came very close to going 10-2. They lost games against Arkansas, Georgia, and at Florida and at Tennessee by a combined 19 points. If the Commodores win two of those, Franklin's No. 1 on this list.
6. Brady Hoke, Michigan: The Wolverines finally beat Ohio State after almost a 3,000-day stretch, and they won 10 games this season. Hoke deserves plenty of credit, although he did inherit a good situation with an explosive offense led by a dynamic QB and an experienced O-line. The biggest change came on defense where the Wolverines were lacking. His hire of Greg Mattison as DC is why Hoke's on this list. Mattison sparked a metamorphosis in this bunch, taking a unit that was No. 108 in scoring defense last season and turning it into the No. 9 D in the nation.
7. Willie Taggart, WKU: The former Jim Harbaugh assistant has transformed arguably the worst program in FBS to a respectable one this season. WKU, which had gone 4-32 the previous three years, looked like it was headed for more misery after the first month of the 2011 season. The Hilltoppers opened 0-4, even getting blown out by an average FCS team, Indiana State. But then they got rolling, winning seven of their last eight, which included wins over ULL and FIU, a couple of 8-4 teams.
8. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: A cult hero for his locker room speeches, Rhoads is emerging as a hot commodity, thanks in large part to his ability to contain potent offenses in big games and pull huge upsets. He was the architect behind the Pitt Panthers' stunning upset as a four-TD underdog of WVU when the Mountaineers were on the cusp of going to the BCS title game a few years ago. Earlier this month Rhoads' team did something similar by sparking the victory of another four-TD fav, Oklahoma State. In reality, it's a stunner this team is even bowl eligible if you asked Vegas experts before the season. Almost as impressive is his team's 5-0 record in games decided by six points or less.
9. Lane Kiffin, USC: At the mid-year point of this season, the people in Kiffin's corner seemed to be dwindling. The Trojans had looked shaky against some lowly opponents (Minnesota, Syracuse and Arizona) and got blown out at ASU. A road trip to Notre Dame was coming. ND played it up big. Outsiders talked about how Brian Kelly would out-coach Kiffin and the Irish would maul the Trojans. The opposite happened. Despite the shadow of the NCAA sanctions and no post-season bowl hopes, USC's been rolling ever since, picking up momentum. They ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak, which had been the longest in the country. The Trojans finished the season hammering UCLA 50-0, meaning they beat their two archrivals by a combined score of 81-17.
10. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: I was close to putting UVA's Mike London in this spot but opted for Spurrier, who led the school to only its second 10-win season in Gamecocks history, despite losing his most valuable player, RB Marcus Lattimore early in the season, and on top of that had issues with his starting QB Stephen Garcia.