College football is nothing if not unpredictable. But there are some things that fans can expect every year. One of those “known knowns” is the emergence of a few Group of Five coaches as hot commodities. The guys that will ascend to a Power Five coaching vacancy for a program that makes a change. Who are the top Group of Five head coaches that will be moving up next season? Here are the five most likely.
Not For Long: Top Group of Five Head Coaches
The coaching landscape in college football has changed significantly over the last decade. Athletic Directors are less likely to recycle older coaches. ADs are looking for younger coaches that can relate to the recruits, have the energy to run a 24/7/365 operation, and can be the face of the program. Championship winning coaches like Phillip Fulmer, Mack Brown, and Les Miles have found it difficult to get another head coaching slot. Meanwhile, young upstarts are getting opportunities that most at their ages didn’t get decades ago.
The perfect training ground? Getting a few years at the helm of a Group of Five school. It has everything an Athletic Director needs for evaluation. You recruit against other good schools, you have to manage a large program and budget, and your Xs and Os show up on film.
So who are the next bumper crop of G5 coaches?
Frank Wilson, UTSA
At the top of the list is Frank Wilson, current head coach at University of Texas-San Antonion (UTSA). Wilson is a tremendous recruiter. During his stint at LSU (2010-2105), he was ranked in the top five nationally as a recruiter by 247sports three different times. He was the Rivals.com National Recruiter of the Year in 2011, NFL.com recruiting of the year in 2014, and Scout.com SEC recruiter of the year in 2015.
In his first season in San Antonio, he was ranked first in Conference USA (as a head coach) by a mile. 247sports industry composite ranked the UTSA recruiting class 69th overall and tops in C-USA. The Roadrunners had never before had a class in the top one hundred.
Wilson is a native of recruiting hot-bed New Orleans as well. He grew up playing in New Orleans and got his start coaching high school in New Orleans after playing at Nicholls State. There’s no one that recruits New Orleans and southeast Louisiana better than Wilson.
Wilson also has had the opportunity to work under several different coaches. Ed Orgeron pulled him up from the high school ranks and hired him at Ole Miss for two seasons in 2005. He also spent a season at Tennessee under Lane Kiffin before moving to Baton Rouge for five seasons under Les Miles. At 43 years old, he’s the perfect balance of experienced and young.
Wilson clearly knows his Xs and Os. Wilson led the Roadrunners to their first ever bowl game in his first season. And Wilson is known as a guy that relates well to his players as well as the administration. Another successful season in the Alamo City and you’ll have no problem remembering Frank Wilson’s name. Athletic Directors around the country already know him.
Mike Norvell, Memphis
Memphis Tigers fans knew Justin Fuente wouldn’t last long in Bluff City. His offenses lit up American Athletic Conference defenses behind Paxton Lynch from 2012-2015. But Mike Norvell came in last season and the Tigers picked up where Fuente left off. Norvell’s strength is his Xs and Os. He’s an offensive-minded coach that has stops at Pittsburgh, Tulsa, and Arizona State.
Presidents and Athletic Directors love Norvell’s type of up-tempo, high scoring offense. That coaching philosophy puts people in the stands, especially at a place that might not be a blueblood program. It’s also appealing to top skill position athletes like quarterbacks and wide receivers.
At 35, Norvell has risen up the assistant coaching ranks quickly. Much like Wilson, another successful season at Memphis and Norvell could be a Power Five head coach well before his 40th birthday.
Doc Holliday, Marshall
The lone exception to the youth movement is Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. Holliday’s only realistic chance at coaching at a Power Five school is at West Virginia if the Mountaineers part ways with Dana Holgorsen.
Holliday has coached Marshall for seven seasons and has one C-USA conference championship and an additional division championship. Between 2013-2015, Holliday led the Thundering Herd to a 33-8 record, including 13-1 and a national Top 25 ranking in 2014. While the Herd regressed in 2016 (3-9), there’s no doubt about Holliday’s offensive prowess. As with Norvell, Holliday’s teams routinely put up big numbers.
Another consideration for Holliday is his exposure. 22 of 27 seasons as an assistant coach were at West Virginia. Two short stints at North Carolina State and Florida are the only coaching he’s ever done outside of the state of West Virginia.
But his window isn’t quite closed yet. If the West Virginia job opens in the next season or two, Holliday will definitely be on the short list.
Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
There’s probably no program that does more with less than Appalachian State. “The football team that could” is located in tiny Boone, North Carolina. There’s not a lot of draw for top athletes. But all the Mountaineers have done since moving to FBS in 2014 is go 28-10 with a Sun Belt Champhionship and two bowl wins.
The Mountaineers, after scoring one of college football’s biggest upsets a decade ago against Michigan, took Tennessee to overtime to start the 2016 campaign.
Satterfield’s biggest weakness is that he’s never been around a Power Five program. He’s spent 16 of his 19 seasons in Boone. The remaining three seasons were split between Florida International and Toledo. That will be a big question mark for some ADs.
What Satterfield lacks in recruiting credentials, he makes up in other areas. His experience transitioning Appalachian State from FCS to FBS would make him valuable to a program in transition. And his misdirection offensive attack would be ideal for a program that doesn’t have a big city or “The Program” kind of draw for athletes. Think Purdue, Utah, or maybe Iowa State. And being only 44, Satterfield still has plenty of years ahead of him. Satterfield seems like a perfect fit for Appalachian State. But he might be curious about what he can on a bigger stage.
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
Much like Holliday, Mark Hudspeth has been around in his current job for a few years. Hudspeth is another offensively-focused mind. Hudspeth’s first season in Lafayette was a true turn-around job. The Ragin’ Cajuns went from 3-9 the previous season to a 9-4 season and a bowl victory. That’s touch to do in any conference.
Hudspeth has an on-field record of 45-31 at ULL with a Sun Belt Confernece co-championship to his name. Additionally, Hudspeth led the Ragin Cajuns to four bowl wins in that time. While that doesn’t stick out at first, remember he’s recruiting against LSU and Texas A&M in the local area as well as Louisiana-Monroe, Lousiana Tech, and Nicholls State. There’s a lot of talent in Louisiana, but that’s a tough task.
There is one big red flag with Hudspeth. ULL was forced to vacate 22 wins over the 2011-2014 seasons. In the wake of several high profile NCAA and national college football scandals, athletic directors and presidents are very hesitant to bring on coaches with baggage. If he finds the right place and can convince the administration that he can run a clean program, Hudspeth might have a chance to break in to a Power Five program. At 48, he still has some time to clean up his resume. More than likely, though, he’s a guy that ADs will pass over for a top coordinator.
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