Keeping Score

C-USA Top 5: USM's Bower stands tall among C-USA coaches

Jeff Bower is without question the best football coach to ever walk the sidelines in Conference USA.

When comparing the records of other coaches in the league's 20-year history, they all pale in comparison to Bower's run from 1996-2007 at Southern Miss after the program entered C-USA.

USM won four conference titles under Bower. No other program has more than three C-USA titles to this point.

Bower had a 119-83-1 overall coaching record and went an impressive 93-54 in Conference USA, putting up winning marks in all 12 seasons while in the league. Against league competition, Bower was 63-24.

C-USA has been home to a lot of coaching talent, but none of them built a winner like Bower did.

Here are the top five coaches in the league's history:

1. Jeff Bower (Southern Miss, 1996-2007): Under Bower's watch, Southern Miss was the dominant program in C-USA from the outset. In the Golden Eagles' first four years in the league, they went a combined 21-2 against league competition and won two conference titles. USM developed a reputation as a consistent winning program, and no coach at the school can be credited more for that tradition than Bower. When he was forced out as head coach in 2007, it caused a heated debate in the USM community that still rages today.

2. Kevin Sumlin (Houston, 2008-11): Possibly the most dynamic personality to coach in C-USA, Sumlin built on Art Briles' success and took the program to new heights of popularity in the city of Houston. Sumlin deserves a great deal of credit for the new stadium that the Cougars will be playing in this year. He went 35-17 in four years in C-USA, making a big impact in a relatively short period of time.

3. Todd Graham (Rice, 2006 & Tulsa, 2007-10): Graham took over a woeful Rice program that went 1-10 in 2005 and turned it around in one year for a 7-6 season in 2006. He only lasted at Rice one year, taking over at Tulsa in 2007 for a successful four-year run. The Golden Hurricane hit the 10-win mark in three of Graham's four years there for a 36-17 mark.

4. George O'Leary (UCF, 2005-12): He may be no stranger to controversy, but there's no denying that he can coach. O'Leary took over at UCF in 2004 in the program's last year in the MAC and the Knights went 0-11 in that first campaign. The next season, the Knights went 8-5 and played for a C-USA title. O'Leary went 60-44 in his time in C-USA, keeping watch over a program that may be the fastest growing in the nation.

5. Tommy Bowden (Tulane, 1997-98): He was the head coach at Tulane for just two seasons, but he did an incredible job in that short stint. The Green Wave went 7-4 and 5-1 to finish in second place in C-USA in his first year. The next season, Tulane went an incredible 12-0. Bowden's two years at Tulane should go down as one of the best coaching jobs in college football history.

Just missing the cut: John L. Smith (Louisville), Bobby Petrino (Louisville), Larry Fedora (Southern Miss), Dave Bailiff (Rice), June Jones (SMU), Gary Patterson (TCU), Skip Holtz (East Carolina).