With the month of November in full swing and teams looking to finish their campaigns strong, I thought it would be appropriate to look at the guys that got them there; the coaches. And with the Home Depot Coach of the Year award up for grabs, there are several names worthy of it. I don’t think Scott Frost will be taking home the trophy once again (although Nebraska has been playing good football lately), so let’s look at some of the guys that have a shot at Coach of the Year in 2018.
Bill Clark, UAB
Clark took home the 2017 CBS Coach of the Year and the 2017 Conference USA Coach of the Year. This year, he has made an excellent case to win the national award. UAB is off to a 9-1 start and received 78 AP Top 25 votes this week, finding their way just outside the rankings. Following an early-season slip-up against Coastal Carolina, the Blazers ripped off 8 straight wins. Considering UAB shut its entire football program down in 2015, they are in a great spot. Coach Bill Clark stayed loyal to the program and rebuilt it, earning him a legit shot at Coach of the Year this season.
Mike Leach, Washington State
Going into 2018, the PAC 12 probably wouldn’t sniff the College Football Playoff. And if it did, it would most likely be Washington or Stanford that brought them there. Instead, it’s Moustache Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars. Their only loss came 39-36 on the road against USC, a game they led most of. Although they played a very weak non-conference schedule, tough wins in conference against the likes of Oregon and Stanford keep the Cougs in the playoff hunt. If they can win out, win the Pac 12 Championship Game, and some teams in front of them lose, we could see Washington State sneak in as a 4 seed. Leach even got College Gameday to finally come to Pullman, not to mention he gives some of the most entertaining press conferences of all-time. Throw Leach’s name into the Coach of the Year contenders.
Dino Babers, Syracuse
From inspiring postgame speeches to incredible on the field coaching, Dino Babers has inserted himself into the Coach of the Year conversations. He took a Syracuse football team projected for 4 to 5 wins and has them sitting at 8-2 and No. 12 in the nation. Although Babers’ first two seasons with the Orange yielded 4-8 seasons, year three has them back on track. Babers said his mission was to bring Syracuse football back to the glory days and the pieces are in place to do just that. Babers has the quarterback in Eric Dungey and the up-tempo offensive philosophy to compete with any team on any weekend. This weekend against fellow nominee Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will be a true test of how far Babers has brought this team.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
The aforementioned Kelly has won the award two times, once in 2009 with Cincy and again in 2012 when the Irish went undefeated before their eventual blowout loss in the National Championship against Alabama. Kelly once again has his team right on the cusp of a playoff appearance. Wins against Syracuse and USC to end the year would certainly see the Irish holding onto a playoff spot. The Irish began the season ranked 12, and have climbed their way to No. 3 in the nation with a 10-0 record. Kelly made the right choice giving Ian Book the starting quarterback job, and the Irish have coasted through their schedule thus far. Although winning the award three times is unlikely, Kelly deserves a look.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
As much as the college football world likes to rag on Jim Harbaugh, he has stepped up big time this year. After the opening loss against Notre Dame, Michigan has not lost. Those wins included a 21-7 win over rival Michigan State and a 42-7 drubbing of Penn State. Although Ohio State still remains on the schedule, the Wolverines defense is lockdown. Harbaugh has the Wolverines firing on all cylinders and they sit in the final CFP spot as of this week. The narrative isn’t quite finished for this Michigan team, but it feels different than the previous Jim Harbaugh squads. For one, they have a legit starting quarterback in Shea Patterson. And second, Harbaugh has won the big games this year, excluding Week 1 against Notre Dame.
Matt Wells, Utah State
Matt Wells has done an absolutely fantastic job with this Utah State team. Their lone loss came against Michigan State, 38-31, in a game they honestly should have won. The Aggies have put up an eye-popping 51.3 points per game and they don’t give up a lot on defense either. Their average margin of victory this year is 32.2 points. Oh, and they’re also ranked No. 14 in the country right now. Wells transferred from QB coach to Head Coach of Utah State in 2013, and they haven’t eased off the gas pedal one bit. Wells deserves serious props and a legit look as Coach of the Year.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
After a 1-3 start to the 2018 campaign, things were looking pretty bleak for Northwestern. But head coach Pat Fitzgerald wasn’t worried. He led the Wildcats to win 5 straight conference wins to clinch a spot in the Big 10 Championship game. Their offense hasn’t produced at a very high level, but it’s the defense that Fitzgerald pins his pride on. That defense has allowed 23 points a contest and kept them in several tight games. Clayton Thorson has done enough to keep Northwestern in the win column, and they will certainly be a tough out for whoever comes out of the Big 10 East. Fitzgerald has been a big part of the Northwestern football program’s recent success.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Dana Holgorsen, WVU
Steve Addazio, BC
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Luke Fickell, Cincy
Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Neal Brown, Troy
Although there are a lot of narratives yet to play out, I feel like those 7 coaches are the front-runners for the award. If I had a vote, it would most likely go to Dino Babers or Mike Leach. The jobs those two have done changing programs around and exceeding expectations would give them my vote. I also believe Matt Wells deserves a legit look for the special season he has put together at Utah State. With a few weeks to go, will there be any darkhorse contenders to spring up, or will it one of these guys? Drop some comments below on who I may have missed out on.