Early Coach of the Year Candidates

1. Mark Stoops- Kentucky. If you watched the Kentucky Spring Football Game, you probably noticed that the Kentucky Wildcats looked like a very improved team. That carried over into the Fall and the Kentucky Wildcats are sitting at 5-1 midway through the season. You could say that Kentucky Quarterback Patrick Towles has made a huge difference and he has. But, the entire team has stepped up including the young Offensive Line and Wide Receivers and Running Backs.

The defense has been sensational with guys like Linebacker Josh Forrest and Defensive End Alvin Dupree leading the way. The Wildcats are young, but talented and well coached and that goes back on Mark Stoops and his coaching staff.

Mark Stoops is the younger brother of Bob and Mike Stoops of Oklahoma. Mark was the Defensive Coordinator at Arizona for his older brother Mike and then he moved on to the same position at Florida State before taking the Kentucky head coaching job. His first season at Kentucky was forgettable with a 2-10 record. But, before the team went 2-10, Stoops and staff brought in the best recruiting class in the history of Kentucky football. The following year, they brought in an even better recruiting class.

The Kentucky Wildcats face a formidable task in Baton Rouge this week taking on the LSU Tigers. The Tigers have lost 2 games and have Quarterback problems, but they are still a tough team.

Kentucky is still in the thick of things in the SEC East which is far inferior to the West Division.

If the season ended right now, Mark Stoops probably would be my coach of the year. But, there is a lot of season yet to be played.

2. Sonny Dykes- California. Like Mark Stoops, Sonny Dykes inherited a mess at Cal Berkeley. His first season at Cal, in 2013, saw the Golden Bears win only one game. The bright side of the first season disaster for Dykes, is that true freshman Quarterback Jared Goff. Goff threw for over 3,500 yards last season and is well on his way to an even better season in 2014. This kid is 6-4, 210 if he’s wearing leg weights and has a bunch of physical maturing to do yet. But, last season he had 18 Touchdowns and 10 Interceptions and after 6 games this season he has 22 Touchdowns so far and only 3 Interceptions.

Sonny Dykes is the son of former Texas Tech Head Coach Spike Dykes. Spike was old school. He loved to run the ball and play good, solid defense. Sonny Dykes is more along the lines of the Hal Mumme and the Mike Leach types of coaches. Loves to throw the ball around but doesn’t care much about the defense.

Cal is 4-2 right now with reeling UCLA coming to town. After UCLA, the Bears have Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Stanford and BYU. It’s going to be tough to win enough games to become bowl eligible, but the California Golden Bears have improved dramatically.

If Cal can manage to make a bowl game, then Sonny Dykes deserves some consideration for coach of the year after the last few seasons at Cal.

3. Dan Mullen- Mississippi State. Wow, what else can be said about both SEC Mississippi schools this year. The Mississippi State Bulldogs were a very mediocre 7-6 last season, but now they are number 1 in the nation on a lot of polls and impressing the nation at 6-0. They beat LSU, Texas A%M and Auburn in 3 consecutive weeks.

Dan Mullen was Quarterback coach for Urban Meyer when he was at Utah and there he developed #1 draft pick Alex Smith. Mullen followed Meyer to Florida and there he coached Tim Tebow. Whether Tebow was ever developed is debatable, but the Florida Gators won the national title with Tebow while Mullen was coaching there.

Dan Mullen moved to Starkville to take the Mississippi State job in 2009.

Mullen and the Bulldogs struggled in 2009 going 5-7. But, that was his last losing season. In 2010, the Bulldogs went 9-4. That was his best season at MSU until now.

Mississippi State is off this weekend, but then they have Kentucky at 5-1. Better than expected Arkansas is next. They are only 3-3 on the season but are a tough out for anyone.

Then comes Alabama and Ole Miss. If the Bulldogs can make it through this season undefeated, nobody deserves a national championship more than they would.

Dan Mullen is obviously a great coach.

4. Hugh Freeze- Ole Miss. The other outstanding coach in Mississippi now days. Ten years ago, Hugh Freeze was coaching high school football in Memphis, Tennessee. He was head coach at Briarcrest Christian School where he coached Michael Oher. After Oher signed with Ole Miss, Freeze followed and became the Rebels’ Tight End coach.

Freeze left Ole Miss to take a head job at Lambuth University a small school in Jackson, Tennessee. Hugh Freeze went a very impressive 20-5 in 2 seasons at Lambuth.

But, he left the small college to take the Offensive Coordinator job at Arkansas State. After one season, Freeze took over as Head Coach at Arkansas State. Freeze went 10-2 in his only season at Arkansas State before getting the job at Ole Miss in 2012.

Ole Miss went 7-6 in his first season and then 8-5 in 2013. This year, like Mullen at Mississippi State, the Ole Miss Rebels are 6-0.

Freeze is 51-18 in 6 1/2 years as a head coach. Hugh Freeze was 126-37 as a high school football coach.

The man can definitely coach some football and he’s a great recruiter, also.

5. Bret Bielema- Arkansas. Many were shocked when Bielema left his established job at Wisconsin to take the Arkansas job. For one thing, he was 68-24 at Wisconsin and had led his team to 2 Rose Bowls. Plus, Arkansas was a mess since the Bobby Petrino fiasco.

Petrino was a great coach and he had Arkansas rolling. After going 5-7 in his initial year at Fayetteville, the Razorbacks went 8-5, 10-3 and 11-2. Petrino getting caught with a pretty young coed ruined the Razorback program. It just left them in a shambles as he left in disgrace.

The Hogs brought in John L Smith for a quick fix at the last moment and that was another disaster, leaving Arkansas with a 4-8 record and little talent leftover.

The Razorbacks pretty much shocked everyone by grabbing Bielema away from the Badgers. Many thought this was not a good fit since Bielema was not a Southerner and was from the little respected, at least by the SEC and it’s fans, Big 10.

As expected, the Razorbacks went 3-9 during his first season at Fayetteville. But, what was not expected was the recruiting that Bielema and his staff had done. His first class was filled with future stars and particularly his Offensive Line which is the biggest and most powerful Offensive Line in the country. A couple of those Offensive Linemen started as true freshman as the Hogs struggled a bit with a new system.

Arkansas opened the 2014 season with a loss against Auburn, but the Auburn Tigers were ranked #3 in the country. Arkansas is only 3-3 on the year, so far, but the improvement on this team is pretty dramatic from last season. Last week, they took Alabama all the way to the final gun before losing, 14-13. This week, they host highly ranked Georgia. They have games remaining with top ranked Mississippi State, then LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri.

I have no idea what kind of record the Razorbacks end up with and even if they are eligible for a bowl game. But, this team looks really good and they are fun to watch.

If not this season, then the next the Arkansas Razorbacks are going to be a force to be reckoned with and for that Bret Bielema deserves at least some mention as coach of the year.

6. Jimbo Fisher – Florida State. Some folks may raise an eyebrow or two over my pick of Jimbo Fisher as a candidate for coach of the year. Well, Fisher and his Seminoles won the national title a year ago, obviously. But, the off season was a disaster for the Noles. Jameis Winston, instead of looking like a repeat of the Heisman Trophy, looks more like a future inmate at a local correctional facility.

Props go out to Jimbo Fisher for just holding this team together through all of the turmoil. That, in itself, is a good coaching job.

I shouldn’t need to tell anyone reading this blog that Clemson doesn’t like Florida State and the Tiger defense is pretty stout. Jameis Winston had to pick that week to make a fool of himself and was suspended for one of the more important games on the Florida State schedule. Florida State survived that game behind back up Quarterback Sean McGuire and an Overtime victory.

But, true leaders never put their own teams in that type of situation.

Florida State, at the beginning of the year, looked like a cinch to make it to the playoffs and probably repeat as national champions. Now, if the Seminoles make the playoffs it will be a magnificent job by Jimbo Fisher holding this team together and he at least deserves some consideration for coach of the year.

7. Chris Peterson- Washington. Personally, I was not all that thrilled with the Huskies hiring of Chris Peterson. Peterson, while at Boise State, was always talked about as a possible replacement at several schools and I never understood why he was such a hot commodity.

I am basing my opinions on the success, or lack of success, of previous coaches at Boise State. Dirk Koetter went 26-10 at Boise and moved on  to Arizona State. Koetter was average in Tempe and was let go after a few seasons.

Koetter’s replacement was Dan Hawkins. Hawkins killed it at Boise State, going 53-11. The Colorado Buffaloes thought it would be fun to steal him away from Boise, but they soon regretted it and Hawkins time at Boulder was a complete catastrophe.

Why should Peterson be any different than the guys he coached under? Maybe I was wrong. The Washington Huskies lost some good talent from last season including their good Quarterback and even better Running Back.

Chris Peterson and the Huskies haven’t missed a beat and the defense even looks a little better this season with Nose Guard Danny Shelton and DE Hau’oli Kikaha having outstanding seasons as well as Linebacker Shaq Thompson and true freshman Defensive Back Budda Baker.

My guess is that each of these coaches that left Boise State were tired of looking at that blue turf. There should be a rule against that.

8. Gary Patterson – TCU. Patterson has been the head coach at Texas Christian University since the end of 2000. He has done really well year after year and his name always comes up when a coaching vacancy is announced. Before Patterson got the head coaching job at TCU, he was their Defensive Coordinator.

Patterson has coached some really good teams at TCU. His 2010 team went 13-0, but they were in the Mountain West Conference so no national championships for TCU. In 2009, the Frogs went 12-1. Other than those 2 seasons, he had 1 11-1 season and 4 11-2 seasons. He sprinkled in a 10-2 season and one at 8-5 and 7-6. Point is, Patterson has done really well in Fort Worth, Texas at TCU. So, when he went 4-8 last season, his second in the Big 12, people were started to wonder if things had passed him by.

Apparently not, because the TCU Horn Frogs opened up this season at 4-0, beat Oklahoma and were in the top 10 on some polls.

Last week, they had their first loss to also unbeaten Baylor, 61-58. That couldn’t have sat well with Gary Patterson who has always been known for his defenses.

Taking a 4-8 team and leading them into the polls and showing the remarkable improvement that the Horny Toads have shown us this year makes Patterson a legitimate candidate for coach of the year.

9. Darrell Hazell – Purdue. I am extremely impressed with this guy. Too bad he is already 50 years old because he looks to be a guy with a bright future. Hazell bounced around as an assistant coach at several small colleges before he finally got a big break and got a job as the Running Back coach at West Virginia. From there, he got a job at Rutgers and then moved up to Ohio State as Wide Receivers coach.

Kent State took a chance and hired him as head coach. Hazell’s first season, Kent State went 5-7. The following season, Kent State went 11-3 and won the Mid American Conference.

The Purdue Boilermakers snatched him up quickly and hired him to coach before the 2013 season. They may have quickly regretted that decision because the Boilermakers went 1-11 and 0-8 in the Big 10. The 2014 football season promised to be more of the same for the Purdue Boilermakers. They did win their first game, but it was against Western Michigan and it was not an impressive win for the Boilermakers. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Purdue Boilermakers of the Big 10 Conference lost to Central Michigan of the MAC 38-17. No offense to Central Michigan, but they are not good. Since their game with Purdue, they lost 40-3 to Syracuse and to Kansas, 24-10. Plus, Akron beat them 42-28. For Purdue to lose to them bordered on humiliation.

The following week, Purdue lost to long time rival, Notre Dame. But, they looked a little better on the field and showed some heart.

They beat Southern Illinois, but lost to Iowa. Then, Darrell Hazell got his first Big 10 victory when the Boilermakers beat Illinois. Last week, the Boilermakers lost to 8th ranked Michigan State but they showed again a lot of heart and the Spartans are a good team.

The Purdue Boilermakers are only 3-4 on the season, but they have a shot at winning a few more games.

Darrell Hazell is an inspirational type of guy and he could have the Boilermakers competing against the Big 10’s best from this year on out. He definitely deserves some recognition and I even wonder how long he will stay at Purdue before being grabbed by a bigger football school.

10. Mike London – Virginia. Mike London is another coach that might deserve some mention for coach of the year if the season keeps going as it currently is. London is 54 years old and got something of a late start in coaching. He won a national championship at Richmond at a lower level and went 24-5 in 2 seasons. He has found the sledding to be much rougher in D1 going 18-31 in his first 4 seasons and posting only one winning season and that was only 8-5.

This season, the Cavaliers are off to a 4-2 start. It was pretty clear during the first game against UCLA that this team was going to be better on defense than they were a year ago.

The Cavaliers have a few tough teams yet to play but if they can win a few more games, then London might be in the running for honors.

11. Butch Jones- Tennessee. Tennessee is not going to win a lot of games this season. The SEC is just too tough to allow it. The Volunteers are 3-3 on the season, but they have Ole Miss on the schedule this next weekend. After Ole Miss, they have Alabama and then South Carolina. Kentucky and Missouri follow and then they close with in-state rival Vanderbilt.

If I as picking games right now, I would pick the Vols in only one of those games. Still, the Tennessee Volunteer coaching staff has recruited lights out and they are the youngest team in America. If Butch Jones isn’t the coach of the year this season, then he very well could be next season when all of this young talent begins to mature.

Tennessee and Kentucky look like the up and coming schools in the SEC East and hopefully, Butch Jones will be around to keep coaching them.

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