The more things change, the more they stay the same. Never was this adage more true than this crazy year in the Western Athletic Conference. Boise State predictably skated through the WAC with minimal effort, but coaching shakeups and letdowns punctuated an interesting year in this workaday conference the Broncos call home. Some coaches earned their exorbitant salaries in 2009, and well, some coaches may want to get their resumés in order (I hear Tennessee has an opening...quick, Tomey...pull a Favre!). Without further ado, I present to you my WAC Coaching rankings for 2009 (and ONLY 2009).
9) Dick Tomey-San José State
Some may be surprised to find Dick "Sock it" Tomey at the bottom of this venerable list, but let's be honest—Tomey didn't get younger and San Jose State didn't get any better. Tomey still represented a considerable upgrade from his predecessor Fitz Hill, and he did take San Jose State from a perennial joke to a perennial they-might-stay-within-40 team. This year, the Spartans managed just two wins—one over a game Cal Poly squad, and the other over WAC punching bag New Mexico State. The Spartans bumpy year started with a 56-3 beatdown at USC and culminated with a 55-20 beatdown at Louisiana Tech. Of course, they were sure to sprinkle a few more blowouts in between as well, losing 45-7 to Boise State and 62-7 to Nevada the following week. Tomey's best coaching move of the year was announcing his retirement and subsequent fleeing of the sinking ship that is Spartan football. Here's to Mike MacIntyre topping (bottoming?) this list next year.
We hardly knew ye, Cryptkeeper.
8) Greg McMackin-Hawaii
The Diet Coke swilling McMackin didn't have the worst year...on the field, that is. The Warriors went 6-7 with a 9th-string QB for much of the season and might have made it to a bowl had they not gotten curb-stomped by Wisconsin in their final game of the year. Yes, things went surprising so-so for a Hawaii squad that returned only one starter on defense and had more QB troubles than Jessica Simpson. Alas, it was Big Mack's off field antics that allowed him to sew up the 8-spot. Using gay slurs at WAC media days is one thing...furiously backpeddling and pleading with the reporters to "be cool" is another. McMackin started the season meekly fielding calls from BGLAD and Human Rights groups—not the best way to spend the waning days of Fall camp.
7) DeWayne Walker-New Mexico State
Walker gets bonus points for uninstalling Hal Mumme's ridiculous Air Raid offense in favor of a more balanced offensive scheme. The immediate dividends to the new philosophy weren't clear this year since Walker will toil for a year or two under the weight of Hal Mumme's recruiting, but the Aggies did have their first 1,000 yard rusher since the 2000 season in Seth Smith. Walker might have swung the pendulum too far from the pass-happy scheme that Mumme buttered his bread with...New Mexico State's leading passer had less than 800 yards on the year. The Aggies didn't improve their doormat status this year—finishing 3-10—but they did beat a much improved Utah State team, and got by in-state rival New Mexico to boot. Their season-ending 42-7 loss to the Broncos wasn't pretty, but it represented the first time they'd scored on the Broncos since 2006. Baby steps, right?
6) Pat Hill-Fresno State
It was an interesting year for the Fu Manchu. Hill's Bulldogs started the season as maybe the scariest looking 1-3 team in the nation, giving Wisconsin and Cincinnati all they could handle and causing Boise State fans to rush for the TUMS during a surreal 15 minute stretch where Ryan Matthews went berserker style on the secondary. After that, things looked up for a spell as Hill's squad rattled off 5 straight wins over the WAC's powder puff teams but then got absolutely embarrassed by Nevada 52-14. Ok, so a WAC title wasn't in the cards for Pat Hill, what else is new? Well, after finishing the season with a miraculous win over Big Ten also-ran Illinois, the Bulldogs got paired with Wyoming in maybe the least compelling bowl game of the season...then subsequently crapped the bed against a Wyoming team that they had no real business losing to. Sure, Hill's tenure at Fresno has been marked with incredible highs and depressing lows...but this year kinda cemented his legacy. Hill doesn't seem to be able to win the big games anymore and seems rather content just hanging around. Hill's Bulldogs have now been passed by Nevada as the clear 2nd best team in the WAC and for all his recruiting advantages and "anyone, anywhere" mystique...that's just not cutting it.
5) Derek Dooley-Louisiana Tech
You've probably come to realize at this point that wins aren't everything in this poll...that's why Vince's kid comes in at #5. Dooley had a bit of a rough year in Ruston, pulling in just 4 wins and 8 losses...but man, were they exciting losses! During a late season slide, the Bulldogs lost 5 straight matchups...but lost those games by an average of just 4.5 points. Factor in that during that stretch they hung with eventual #4 Boise State till late in the game and nearly knocked off LSU. Ok, so we won't give Dooley style points for moral victories...but the Bulldogs year wasn't as depressing as the record indicates. Dooley has helped hone Ross Jenkins skills into something a tad less disastrous and they certainly had no problems putting points on the board. Make no mistake, though, Dooley's squad had a down year in 2009 and 2010 will show if Dooley is deserving of the praise most have heaped on him since taking over for Jack Bicknell in 2007. Winning at a 44% clip won't get him any contract extensions...even if he is the A.D.
4) Gary Anderson-Utah State
Generally a 4-8 record isn't something to brag about...but we are talking about Utah State here and Gary Anderson didn't Brent Guy things up too bad in his first year at the helm. The Aggies didn't quite get over the hump this year, but they showed that they are no longer a "gimme" putting up solid efforts against every opponent on the schedule. The fact that Boise State's 52-21 win over Anderson's squad was their worst defeat of the season—a season that saw them take on Utah, Texas A&M, BYU, and Nevada—showed that the Aggies are moving in the right direction under the first year coach. The fact is, the Aggies actually looked pretty darned good on offense this year with bruising RB Robert Turbin running people over and Diondre Borel becoming a legitimate dual threat QB. The Aggies only lost to Fresno State and Nevada by a combined 7 points and capped off their season by dropping over 50 points on eventual Humanitarian Bowl champ Idaho. Anderson's got a ways to go, but the Aggies look like they could be at the precipice of being mediocre next year...and we all know that's a whole lot better than terrible.
3) Chris Ault-Nevada
This one's a toughie. Yes, Chris Ault's Wolf Pack finished second in the WAC and yes they looked nigh unstoppable during a terrifying stretch in October and November that saw them score 413 points on their hapless foes. The bottom line, however, is this: Chris Ault lost every big or statement-making game of the year, and some in spectacular fashion. The bookends on their 8-5 season were 35-point losses to Notre Dame and SMU. Who loses to SMU by 35 points? WHO I ASK? Keep reminding yourself that Chris Ault is a Hall of Fame coach, because the only reason he landed the 3 spot is his 7-1 conference record in 2009. They put up a good fight against the Broncos and destroyed conference rival Fresno, but their 0-3 start and big game meltdowns cost Ault a championship, a bowl victory, and national credibility. With arguably the best rushing attack in the history of the universe, you'd think Ault could squeeze more out of his squad. Agree?
2) Robb Akey-Idaho
Don't look at me...I'm as surprised as you are. Robb Akey actually looked like a competent coach this year—something no one has said since Chris Tormey skulked around in the late 90s. Now, let me first say that Akey's team had one heckuva lot of luck this year. They mounted 4th quarter comeback after 4th quarter comeback...and many of them weren't against the great of teams—but at the end of the day, Akey's Army (the biggest insult to the armed forces since Pauly Shore's In the Army Now, by the way) found ways to win and kept on fighting. I suppose that is as good a reason as any to throw Akey into the 2-spot...he kept the downtrodden Vandals fighting and even appeared to have them believing in themselves. Don't think for a second that Akey's team couldn't have folded up their pup-tents and called it a season after finishing the season on a 1-4 slide and losing badly to Boise State and choking against Utah State...they could have. They didn't. Akey rallied his troops and got enough believin' out of his team to mount a last second TD/2-pt conversion win in the Humanitarian Bowl (of course, the defense decided to hang back in Moscow...but that's beside the point). Robb Akey quadrupled his win total from 2008 and made and won a bowl game...at Idaho. 'Nuff said. If the mustachioed one can grab another 8 wins next year with a much more difficult schedule and the obvious setbacks of coaching in Moscow I may put him at #1.
1) Chris Petersen- Boise State
What more can be said of Chris Petersen? Boise State's fearless leader is a pure beam of glorious light who makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Ok, so I went a tad too far...but for Pete's Sake the man is 49-4 as the head coach of the Broncos. He's won 3 WAC championships in 4 years and completed two complete perfect seasons and 3 perfect regular seasons. He is, quite frankly, the best coach in the country and the Broncos are darn lucky to have him. Perhaps the biggest testament to Coach Pete's awesomeness is that he looked so doggone displeased with his perfect squad for the better part of the year. If you get perfection out of a group of kids not once, but twice, in your tenure and you aren't truly satisfied...you may just be Chris Petersen (not to step on your toes, Jeff Foxworthy). Pete keeps the guys hungry and focused week in and week out and simply does not lose games that he has no business losing. Pete may have the biggest challenge of his career next year trying to keep a likely top 5 team with 21 returning starters focused on the task at hand: a national championship. Given Pete's track record, I say he's up to the challenge. Prediction: Pete wins his second Bear Bryant Award on Thursday...then donates it to an orphanage.
How would you have ranked'em, OBNUGers? Keep in mind, Robb Akey and his mustache must be ranked together.