This will be the final time I rate Mountain West coaches. It's something I've done annually for four offseasons now and I'm sure I'll take it on over to the Pac-10 when we move there next year.
You can view my past ratings here: 2009, 2008 and 2007.
It's interesting to see how much has changed since the first rankings in 2007. That was only two full seasons into the Kyle Whittingham era and I think there were some legitimate questions surrounding the coach, as his teams had gone 7-5 and 8-5.
I said this about Whittingham:
5. Kyle Whittingham (2 seasons, 15-10).
Biggest Wins: TCU in 2006, Georgia Tech in 2005
Kyle, like Bronco, has a lot to prove. Unlike Bronco, however, he still hasn't had an impressive season. Winning only 60% of your games won't cut it over the long haul and if the Utes continue toiling in mediocrity, Kyle won't be this high on the list for long...if he's on the list at all.
A lot has changed, right?
In 2008, I said this:
3. Kyle Whittingham (3 seasons, 24-14).
Ok, so he didn't leap into 2nd place, but he's pretty close. Whittingham proved once again you can never count his teams out, as they looked dead after an embarrassing loss to the Rebels last year, only to find new life by way of a 7-game winning streak. Unfortunately for Whittingham, he still hasn't figured out how to win the Mountain West and is now 1-2 against Bronco and the Cougars. If you're going to cut it at Utah, one of those is going to have to change.
Now Whittingham is starting to make his mark on the Ute football program.
1. Kyle Whittingham (4 seasons, 37-14):
Whittingham was third in last year's rankings, but shot up the list with a 13-0 campaign. The Utes not only went undefeated, they broke into the BCS and won the 2009 Sugar Bowl over 4th ranked Alabama. That was a huge victory for the Utes -- program defining, in fact. That season provided Whittingham something no other coach can claim in the conference and until another does, it's hard to put any of them ahead of him.
So, he went from 5th to 1st in two seasons. Not bad for a guy I was often embarrassingly critical of throughout most of 2006 and the early part of 2007 (I'll never live that down).
From the 2007 list, all but Bronco Mendenhall, Gary Patterson and Kyle Whittingham remain.
Here is how I officially ranked them in 2009:
1. Kyle Whittingham
2. Gary Patterson
3. Bronco Mendenhall
4. Troy Calhoun
5. Steve Fairchild
6. Mike Sanford
Mike Locksley (New Mexico), Brady Hoke (San Diego State) and Dave Christensen (Wyoming) were all new coaches and thus left off the list. They'll make their first appearance in this year's list. Which you can find after the jump...
1. Kyle Whittingham (5 seasons, 47-17) :
Whittingham holds on to the top spot because no coach in the Mountain West has been able to replicate the Utes' 2008 season. TCU came close last year, but eventually fell to the Boise St. Broncos in the Fiesta Bowl. So while Gary Patterson might have a more dominant overall record and Bronco Mendenhall has strung together more consecutive ten-plus win seasons, they don't have the luster of a BCS bowl victory.
2. Gary Patterson (10 seasons, 85-28):
Patterson came close to knocking Whittingham from the top spot. Had his Frogs won the Fiesta Bowl and finished undefeated, I don't think there would be a case for not putting him at number one. However, he didn't and because of that, TCU failed to attain what many of their fans had hoped was building for quite some time - a perfect season.
With Whittingham on his way out, it's hard to imagine Patterson won't find his way to the top. Especially if his Frogs finally find a way to go undefeated.
3. Bronco Mendenhall (5 seasons, 49-15):
He owns a better overall record than Whittingham and has one more conference title than Whittingham, but has largely been overshadowed by Whittingham's Utes since 2007 ended. That's not a knock on Bronco, though. I think he's a very good coach who has proven to be one of the most consistent in the Mountain West.
Under his leadership, BYU has won ten or more games and finished in the top-25 four consecutive times. But he lacks a BCS busting season and while his Cougars were the elite Mountain West team from 2006 to 2007, since they've been an afterthought behind both TCU and Utah - even though they were picked to win the championship in 2008.
That lack of success, specifically recently, has really knocked him down. In 2008's rankings, prior to Whittingham's true emergence, he was number one. Now he's eased into that third spot, even though he might be the most consistent of the Mountain West coaches.
With Chris Petersen joining the conference next season, you've got to wonder if he'll have what it takes to leap back into the top-two.
4. Troy Calhoun (3 seasons, 25-14):
Calhoun had an amazing inaugural season with the Falcons, going 9-4 and finishing second in the conference. He's leveled the last two years, as Air Force has produced consecutive 8-5 seasons and finished fourth both years. However, he's a good coach and will always keep the Falcons competitive.
It's just unlikely he'll be able to mold them into a true conference powerhouse. Fourth, with the occasional second place finish, might be his ceiling in Colorado Springs.
5. Dave Christiansen (1 season, 7-6):
Like Steve Fairchild a year earlier, a rookie coach takes over the fifth spot. In fact, his first season mirrors Fairchild rather remarkably. It started with low expectations after the last coach moved out and ended with a huge and surprising win in the New Mexico Bowl over Fresno State.
Of course, Fairchild followed up that 7-6 campaign with a 3-9 season. So hopefully, for Cowboy fans, that comparison ends with the New Mexico Bowl victory.
6. Steve Fairchild (2 seasons, 10-15):
Fairchild saw initial success in his first year at Colorado State, as he guided the Rams to a New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State. However, last season was a disaster. After starting 3-0 (including big wins over Colorado and Nevada), the bottom fell out and Colorado State finished the year losers of nine straight.
If Fairchild doesn't get things turned around quickly, he'll continue to tumble down this list.
7. Brady Hoke (1 season, 4-8):
Hoke took over a slumping Aztecs program and made them fairly respectable last year. They still failed to qualify for a bowl game and had a couple bad losses down the stretch that cost them any chance of a bowl berth. But he's created buzz again for a program that lacked it.
This season will be a huge test as to whether or not Hoke is actually getting San Diego State's floundering program off the ground.
8. Mike Locksley (1-11):
His first season couldn't have gone any worse. The team suffered through bad play and worse, off the field problems involving their head coach. Locksley will enter 2010 on a short leash and anything resembling last year's results could get him canned after only two seasons.
Mike Sanford, who was ranked 6th last year (last of the coaches ranked), was fired from UNLV and replaced by Montana's head coach Bobby Hauck. Hauck is left off this year's list because he's it'll be his first season.