Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Current FBS Coaches Coaching at Their Alma Maters

Kliff Kingsbury, the most photogenic coach in college football, coaches where he played college football.
In the midst of a coaching search that has a lot of "insiders" believing Jim Harbaugh will return to Michigan as its head football after playing in Ann Arbor in the 1980's, I thought I would take a look at current college coaches who are at their alma mater. Harbaugh could be the first Michigan player to return as head coach since Bump Elliott, who played at Michigan in the 1946-1947 and then compiled a 51-42-2 record as the head coach from 1959-1968.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force (59-44 since 2007): Calhoun was a Falcon quarterback from 1983-1986. After a career as an assistant in both college (Air Force, Ohio, Wake Forest) and the NFL (Broncos, Texans), he returned to Air Force in 2007. The Falcons made an impressive turnaround from a 2-10 season in 2013 to completing a 10-3 year with a win over Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl a few days ago.

Hit the jump for the ten other coaches on the list.

Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State (11-13 since 2013): Satterfield was a Mountaineer quarterback from 1991-1995. He has spent most of his coaching career as an assistant for ASU, with brief trips to Toledo and FIU. Hired as the new head coach in 2013, he went 4-8 in his first year but improved to 7-5 this year, which included a loss to Michigan in the Big House. The Mountaineers are ineligible for a bowl game after moving up from FCS.

Bryan Harsin, Boise State (11-2 since 2014): Harsin was a Broncos quarterback from 1995-1999. He returned to Boise State in 2001 as a graduate assistant and worked his way up the ranks, eventually going to Texas as co-offensive coordinator and then to Arkansas State as head coach in 2013, where he went 7-5. When Chris Peterson got the job at Washington, Harsin was brought back home to Boise, where the Broncos will play Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl on December 31.

Paul Haynes, Kent State (6-17 since 2013): Haynes was a safety at Kent State from 1987-1991 and has since spent over 20 years in the coaching ranks, including as an assistant for Kent State, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Louisville, Michigan State, and Ohio State. His first head coaching gig is not going particularly well, as the Golden Flashes went 2-9 this past season.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (60-53 since 2006): Fitzgerald was a stellar linebacker for Northwestern in the mid-1990's, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice, being a consensus All-American twice, and winning the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards twice each. He began coaching linebackers at Maryland, moved on to Colorado, and then Idaho, before returning to Northwestern under head coach Randy Walker. When Walker tragically passed away, Fitzgerald was promoted to head coach. He has one 10-win season under his belt but has gone 5-7 for the past two seasons.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (83-44 since 2005): Gundy was an Oklahoma State quarterback from 1986-1989. After former Oklahoma State coach Les Miles moved on to LSU, Gundy was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach; he had previous stops at Baylor and Maryland as an assistant. Since then Gundy has shown a pretty steady ability to put points up on the board and has three double-digit winning seasons. He has also been mentioned in Michigan's coaching search, although it seems unlikely that he would leave his alma mater, despite a disappointing 6-6 season in 2014 (his worst record since going 4-7 in his firat year).

David Shaw, Stanford (41-12 since 2011): Shaw played high school football at Rochester (MI) Adams when his dad was an assistant coach for the Detroit Lions. He then went on to play wide receiver at Stanford from 1991-1994, as well as joining the basketball and track teams. After some small-time jobs and quality control stints, he worked in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens before joining Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford, where he was the offensive coordinator from 2007-2010. When Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, Shaw was promoted. He won 11, 12, and 11 games in his first three years before falling off to 7-5 this past season; the Cardinal will play Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl on December 30.

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (12-13 since 2013): Kingsbury was a record-setting quarterback at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. After a meandering NFL career, he started coaching at Houston, moved on to Texas A&M to help Kevin Sumlin and Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel in 2012, and then took the Red Raiders job in 2013. A promsing 8-5 season in 2013 fell to a disappointing 4-8 record this past year, including an embarrassing 82-27 loss to TCU.

Matt Wells, Utah State (19-9 since 2013): Wells was a quarterback at Utah State from 1993-1996 and then coached at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico, and Louisville before returning to Utah State as an assistant in 2011 under Gary Anderson. When Anderson left for Wisconsin after the 2012 season, Wells was promoted and has since gone 9-5 and 10-4. The 2014 season culminated with a win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl a couple days ago.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (229-115-2 since 1987): Beamer was a cornerback for the Hokies in the late 1960's. After some coaching stops at The Citadel and Murray State, he got the job in Blacksburg in 1987 and is now the longest tenured coach in the FBS. He had eight  consecutive years of double-digit wins from 2004-2011, but has since gone 21-17, including a 6-6 record in 2014. The Hokies will play Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on December 27.

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin (0-0 since 2015): Chryst was a quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980's. He has lived the nomadic life of a coach for most of his professional career with stops at Oregon State, the San Diego Chargers, and Wisconsin, among others. He was the offensive coordinator for the Badgers from 2005-2011 but booked it for Pitt's head coaching job in 2012. He went 19-19 in three seasons there, but when Gary Anderson left Wisconsin for Utah State, the Badgers came calling again. He was just announced as Wisconsin's new coach and has yet to coach a game there, although it seems likely that he will be able to continue their success since he was a big part of it for seven seasons.

Not many. Most of these guys have been pretty successful at their alma maters, although unsuccessful coaches usually find themselves without jobs pretty quickly. It would be great if a potential Jim Harbaugh hire could result in a Frank Beamer-like run that lasts about 30 years, but Harbaugh is too old for that and could feasibly bolt back to the NFL after a few years. Interestingly, none of the above guys ever turned into even mediocre NFL players. Almost all of them returned to college to coach within a couple years of graduating, and Harbaugh's solid NFL career would immediately be the most impressive on this list. That's not really meaningful, but it's a little interesting.

Also interesting is that 7 of the 11 players on the list were quarterbacks; the others were a cornerback, a wide receiver, a safety, and a linebacker. A lot of coaches played quarterback in their athletic days, probably because they're used to leading and they're generally pretty intelligent guys. Quarterbacks also have to pay attention to everyone on the field because they have to understand backfield play, blitzes, coverages, protections, route combinations, etc.

Regardless of his potential level of success, it would be an extremely interesting homecoming for Harbaugh if he were to take the job. It's not often that elite football players return to their alma maters as head coach, and this could be the best homecoming story since Heisman winner Steve Spurrier developed a powerhouse as the Florida Gators' head coach.


  1. Probably my favorite Albom column ..... after the Iditarod series.


    Jim "You'll never play a down at Michigan!!!!!" Harbaugh

  2. Virginia Tech is playing Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on Dec 27th. 22nd straight bowl for them...

    1. Well, phooey. I thought I read that they were passed over for a bowl game this year. Thanks!

    2. I love Frank Beamer's teams, even the not outstanding ones run to the football and hit people. Maybe the only Head Coach in the country who also takes the Special Teams.

    3. Even though I hate the guy...doesn't Urban Cryer also coach special teams?

    4. I dunno, to be honest, I don't pay the attention to the
      Buckeyes that I once did.

  3. Matt Wells followed Gary Anderson at Utah State - Ault coached at Nevada (invented the pistol offense).

    1. I knew that. I can't believe my editor missed that. He's fired!


  4. Could also include (somewhat) Steve Spurrier playing and coaching at Florida. Although he's not currently at his college like others on the list, he did have a really good run there.

  5. While everyone is at it ..... I'll pile on
    Boise State plays Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl - not ASU

    Happy Holidays!