Ranking every football coach in the AAC from 1-12 ahead of the 2019 season
A look at all 12 coaches from the American Athletic Conference with spring practice in the books
The CBS Sports staff has ranked the coaches of the American Athletic Conference from best to worst heading into the 2019 season. Every voter was allowed to establish his or her own criteria, ranging from on-field results to future potential or even intangibles that might make a coach a desirable pick should an athletic director be in need of a new hire.
The AAC is among the most interesting conferences in college football when it comes to the men on the sideline because the league has become both a launching pad to the Power Five conferences and simultaneously a landing spot for coaches following a previous Power Five tenure. Numerous coaches have also turned down such opportunities, preferring to remain with strong up-and-coming AAC programs. In fact, Dana Holgorsen joins the AAC ready to take on a new challenge after leaving West Virginia following eight successful seasons at the helm.
So with history, expectations and more subjective factors in play, here's our consensus from the voting for the best coaches in the AAC heading into 2019.
|Ken Niumatalolo: Even after a disappointing 3-10 showing in 2018, our experts still consider Niumatalolo the top dog in the league. Despite the step-back season, Navy has gone 20-12 in conference play since joining the AAC, and his 87 wins in 11 seasons as head coach of the Midshipmen make him one of the coaches with the most success at his current post. Last year's AAC ranking: T1|
|Mike Norvell: Widely regarded as one of the best game planners and offensive minds around, Norvell had a much more challenging path last year before securing a second-straight division title. The Tigers had losses to Navy, Tulane and UCF before the middle of October but rallied with an undefeated November to clinch a share of the division title, win the tiebreaker and set up a rematch against UCF in the AAC title game. Last year's AAC ranking: T1|
|Dana Holgorsen: Sometimes it's difficult with these coach rankings to determine a balance between success at previous stops, impact on a coach's current program and projection of what's to come. Holgorsen won 61 games in eight years at West Virginia, missing the postseason only once (2013) and finishing in the top 25 three times. That success at the Big 12 level combined with a decade of experience as an assistant in Texas has set up a potentially fruitful second chapter of Holgorsen's career. Last year's AAC ranking: NR|
|Charlie Strong: After a wildly successful 10-win season to start his AAC career, Strong's Bulls took a step back in 2018 with just seven wins and a sub-.500 conference record. Like Holgorsen, this ranking carries experience from previous stops as a factor and those 70 combined wins from nine seasons as a coach has him decidedly locked in as a top-half coach in the AAC. Last year's AAC ranking: 3|
|Josh Huepel: Talk about a swing and a miss by us. Our ranking of AAC coaches a year ago had Huepel, then heading into his first year as a head coach after being the offensive coordinator at Missouri for the prior two seasons, next to last at No. 11. The former All-American Oklahoma quarterback had no problem maintaining the level of success established by Scott Frost, leading UCF to a 12-1 season, another AAC title, a Fiesta Bowl appearance and a top 12 final ranking in the polls. Last year's AAC ranking: 11|
|Luke Fickell: Another course correction here after Fickell led one of the most impressive one-year turnarounds in college football in 2018. The Bearcats went from 4-8 in 2017 -- Fickell's first year with the program -- to 11-2, going undefeated at home and finishing the year with a win against Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. Now a team that was once heavily reliant on younger players is starting to look like one of the title contenders in the AAC. Last year's AAC ranking: 10|
|Rod Carey: Under Carey's leadership, the Northern Illinois won four division titles in six years with two conference crowns, including the 2018 MAC title. His challenge here at Temple will be similar to what he had at NIU, looking to build on the success of his predecessor to maintain a top-tier status in the league. Last year's AAC ranking: NR|
|Willie Fritz: The 2018 season was a breakthrough season with a share of the division title and the program's first bowl win since 2002. Cobbling together that success was particularly challenging after a 2-5 start to the season, and reconciling the difference between the poor start and the strong finish will be the challenge for Frtiz in helping the Green Wave take the next step. Last year's AAC ranking: T4|
|Sonny Dykes: Having Dykes come take over for Chad Morris conjured up fantasies of wildly productive offenses, but outside of hanging 60-plus on Houston Baptist and UConn the results were very average compared to the rest of the conference. SMU ranked No. 8 in the AAC in yards per play, No. 6 in points per game. And while the Mustangs ranked near the top of the league in pass attempts per game, they ranked No. 9 in yards per attempt. Last year's AAC ranking: T4|
|Mike Houston: Hard to judge how Houston, a national championship-winning coach at James Madison, is going to fare at ECU, a program that has gone 3-9 in each of the last two seasons. It's the second try for the Pirates to identify a rising star that will boost their standing among their AAC peers, and it could take some time to crack into that top half of the conference. Last year's AAC ranking: NR|
|Philip Montgomery: It's Year 5 for Montgomery -- a former assistant under Art Briles at Houston and Baylor -- and the results have been somewhere between "pretty good" and "bad." A 10-win season in 2016 is anchoring his 21-29 overall record, and Tulsa has just three conference wins since that apparent breakthrough at the Miami Beach Bowl at the conclusion of his second year. Getting back on track has to start in conference play, and unfortunately, the Golden Hurricane are lined up in the tougher of the two divisions. Last year's AAC ranking: 6|
|Randy Edsall: No one expected UConn to contend for the playoff in 2018, but last year's campaign statistically had the Huskies ranking among the four or five worst football teams in all of FBS. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today had 1-11 UConn down at No. 180 among all Division I teams at the end of the year, ranking behind 50 FCS teams. The good news for Edsall is that there's plenty of room for improvement! Last year's AAC ranking: 9|
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