Patrick Magee

C-USA football features a deep lineup of head coaches, but who tops the list?

Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin led the Owls to an 11-3 season in his first season.
Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin led the Owls to an 11-3 season in his first season. Sun Sentinel

Often a stepping stone for young coaches, Conference USA's current lineup of head coaches is arguably the best it's ever had with a mix of youth and experience.

The list ranges from 35-year-old Mike Sanford Jr. at Western Kentucky to 66-year-old Butch Davis at FIU. Some of the coaches are considered up-and-comers like UTSA's Frank Wilson, but there are also well-established winners within the conference like Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech.

The league was picked apart from 2011-13 with six members leaving for the American Athletic Conference. While it has seen TV revenue drop and attendance numbers take a dip, the league has remained fairly competitive in football.

Of C-USA's 14 members, 10 reached bowl eligibility this year and nine received bids. While the teams finished 4-5 in bowl play this season, C-USA squads are 14-8 over the last four years in bowl games against other Group of 5 conferences.

There was plenty of speculation surrounding Lane Kiffin at FAU and UAB's Bill Clark, but most of the coaching lineup will stay intact for 2018.

UTEP fired Sean Kugler in the middle of a winless season and hired former Houston and Wyoming head coach Dana Dimel as his replacement.

Rice seemed to make a quality hire with Mike Bloomgren taking over as its head coach, replacing David Bailiff after a 1-11 season.

With the C-USA football season now at an end, I give you a ranking of the conference's head coaches headed into 2018:

1. Bill Clark (UAB) – There's no questioning that Bill Clark has done an outstanding job in Birmingham. He's been coaching the Blazers for four years, but in only two of those did they field a football team. He jump started UAB football in 2014 with a 6-6 season, only to have administration shut it down after one season. Later in 2015, UAB decided that it would field a team for 2017. All Clark did was lead the Blazers to an 8-5 season and the second bowl game in school history. He is 25-15 overall as a college head coach and 14-11 at UAB.

2. Lane Kiffin (FAU) – The former Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC head coach made it look easy in his first season in C-USA. The Owls had a slow start in non-conference play, but rolled to an 11-3 mark, including a perfect 8-0 in C-USA play. Kiffin got the most out of the players he had this season. He is 46-24 overall as a college head coach and 11-3 at FAU.

3. Seth Littrell (North Texas) – The Mean Green have made major progress in Littrell's two seasons as head coach. He took over a team that finished 1-11 in 2015 and went 5-8 in his first year. In 2017, he led UNT to a 9-5 record and a C-USA West title. The future is bright in Denton as long as Littrell is in charge. He sports a 14-13 record as a college head coach.

4. Skip Holtz (La. Tech) – After 18 years as a head coach, a couple of rough seasons at South Florida in 2011-12 are his only real blemishes. He won C-USA titles in 2008 and 2009 during a time when Larry Fedora was at Southern Miss and Kevin Sumlin was at Houston. After returning to C-USA at La. Tech in 2013, Holtz is 38-28 and has four bowl victories. Holtz is 126-99 all-time as a college head coach.

5. Doc Holliday (Marshall) – The Herd's 33-8 run from 2013-15 ranks as one of the more dominant stretches for a program in C-USA history. After falling to 3-9 in 2016, Holliday's squad rebounded to go 8-5 this year. He is 61-42 as the Marshall head coach and a perfect fit in Huntington.

6. Butch Davis (FIU) – Davis would have been a strong candidate for C-USA Coach of the Year any other season after leading the Panthers to an 8-5 mark in his first year. Davis, who led Miami to a No. 2 final ranking in 2000, is 71-48 all-time as a college head coach.

7. Jay Hopson (Southern Miss) – It's worth noting that Hopson is a combined 4-0 against Holtz and Holliday after two years on the job, but the three coaches ranked ahead of him all have the edge based on career resume. No past USM head coach has more wins in his first two seasons than Hopson, who is 15-11. The Vicksburg native is 47-28 as a college head coach.

Southern Miss won 34-27 at Louisiana Tech in double OT.

8. Frank Wilson (UTSA) – The New Orleans native would have been higher on this list if not for the Roadrunners falling short of expectations this year with a 6-5 mark. The 2018 season should tell us a great deal about what Wilson, a strong recruiter, is capable of as a head coach. He is 12-12 at UTSA.

9. Bobby Wilder (Old Dominion) – The Monarchs dipped to 5-7 after a breakout 10-3 season in 2016. Wilder has done a good job at ODU with a record of 72-37, helping the team make a solid transition from FCS to FBS.

10. Rick Stockstill (Middle Tennessee) – Stockstill's Blue Raiders have been competitive in C-USA since first joining the league in 2013. The Blue Raiders had to overcome injuries to several key players to finish 7-6 this year. Stockstill sports a 79-72 record at MTSU.

11. Mike Bloomgren (Rice) – He has yet to coach a game, but Bloomgren, 40, appears to be a solid hire for the Owls. He had been the Stanford offensive coordinator since 2013.

12. Mike Sanford Jr. (WKU) – The hiring of Sanford a year ago seemed to be a great get for the Hilltoppers, but his first season on the job was an underwhelming 6-7. WKU underachieved in Sanford's first year despite having one of the conference's best quarterbacks in Mike White.

13. Dana Dimel (UTEP) – UTEP's decision to bring on Dimel was not exactly an inspiring one. He did have a successful three-year run at Wyoming from 1997-99 with a record of 22-13, but his time at Houston as head coach from 2000-02 was unimpressive. He went 8-26 at Houston, including an 0-11 mark in 2001. Dimel, who previously served as the Kansas State offensive coordinator, is 30-39 as a head coach.

14. Brad Lambert (Charlotte) – It was surprising that Charlotte decided to retain Lambert after going 1-11 this season. The 49ers showed some progress in 2016 with conference road wins at FAU, Marshall and Southern Miss, but they took another step back in 2017. Lambert, who is 17-41 at Charlotte, will be on a very hot seat in 2018.

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