Ranking Mountain West football head-coaching jobs from best to worst

Boise State
Boise State is the best football job in the Mountain West by a healthy margin. (Kyle Green/Idaho Statesmen/AP file)

The Mountain West has four current head football coaching vacancies with Fresno State, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State searching for somebody to lead their program. So this seemed like an appropriate time to break down the MW's football head jobs from best to worst. Those rankings are below with categories for football budget (per the self-reported numbers to the U.S. Department of Education, which can always be a little iffy); the coaching salary pool per school for the head coach and 10 assistants; the team's performance record over the previous 20 seasons; and my rankings for where their facilities rank among MW programs. Enjoy.

1. Boise State

Budget: $11,803,457 (fourth)

Coach salaries: $4.815 million (first)

Last 20 years: 218-42; 19 bowls; 12 Top 25 seasons (final poll only)

Facilities: First

In short: There is no debate for the top choice. This is a slam dunk. Boise State's success among Group of 5 programs over the last 24 seasons (since the Broncos moved to the FBS) is unmatched. The program has won 83.8 percent of its games over the last two decades and has 13 conference championships since going to the FBS. The program's last four head coaches have made the jump to the Power 5 level and current coach Bryan Harsin could do so whenever we wants. The facilities are great, the fan base is the most passionate in the MW, the job pays well and the tradition makes it possible for Boise State to recruit over the top of most of the Pac-12, which isn't possible at any other MW. There's nothing bad about this job outside of the over-sized expectations that come with it, but you'd rather have everybody needed to win at your disposal with a 10-win standard than have to fight and claw for resources.

2. Fresno State

Budget: $17,870,018 (second)

Coach salaries: $3.843 million (fifth)

Last 20 years: 149-111; 15 bowls; Two Top 25 seasons

Facilities: Fifth

In short: This job surprisingly opened after Jeff Tedford resigned due to health reasons following three seasons on the job. But Tedford showed why this position has so much potential with back-to-back 10-wins seasons and two MW title game berths (the Bulldogs won one of them). Fresno State has been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in seven of the last 19 seasons and has won conference championships under four relatively recent coaches (Jim Sweeney, Pat Hill, Tim DeRuyter, Teford), so multiple coaches have had success here. Fresno State has the MW's second-best win percentage over the last 20 years and second-highest budget. The fan base is good. You can pack the stadium when you're winning. The recruiting terrain is a plus with plenty of recruits in and around the San Joaquin Valley. The team has a new football facility, although a $60 million stadium renovation has been shelved. Yes, you have to live in Fresno, but it's a great job.

3. San Diego State

Budget: $15,531,066 (third)

Coach salaries: $3.910 million (fourth)

Last 20 years: 127-122; 10 bowls; One Top 25 season

Facilities: Ninth

In short: This job (along with Colorado State) has risen the most over the last decade. Prior to 2009, SDSU went 11 straight years without a winning season and had three straight decades of minimal success. But the last decade has been strong with the Aztecs going 80-42 and showing you could win conference titles with three MW crowns since 2012 and 10 straight bowl berths. The budget and coaching pool is substantial and it can't be that hard to recruit to San Diego, America's Finest City. The stadium is off campus and dilapidated, which isn't ideal, but the school is working on a new stadium and got a $15 million lead donation on the project this week. Once that's done, this position will look even better. With San Diego possessing only one major pro sports team (the Padres) and having a huge population, drawing a sizable crowd to a new stadium shouldn't be tough. Plus, the quality of living in San Diego is hard to beat.

4. Colorado State

Budget: $21,696,561 (first)

Coach salaries: $4.527 million (third)

Last 20 years: 117-132; 11 bowls; One Top 25 season

Facilities: Second

In short: There's a ton to love about this job. The Rams' football budget is the largest in the MW (double many conference opponents) and lot of that money comes from the university/state, so it's not reliant on the whims of crowd sizes/donations. Colorado State will fork out big money for its coaches as was evident with Jim McElwain and Mike Bobo, who both made in excess of $1.5 million annually. Toss in a beautiful new 36,500-seat stadium that opened in 2017 and the Rams should be able to woo a high-level coach. The on-field results have been just so-so with more losses than wins over the last two decades and with its last conference title coming in 2002, the sixth and final one won by legendary coach Sonny Lubick. Results have been mixed since he retired, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing because the level of expectations aren't over-sized while the resources and support are there to win big.


Budget: $9,982,684 (10th)

Coach salaries: $2.859 million (eighth)

Last 20 years: 76-166; Two bowls

Facilities: Fourth

In short: This is the toughest job to gauge because a lot of big names are always interested when it opens, so they must like the possibilities. But the Rebels' position has been more about the possibilities than the results. UNLV has the worst record over the last 20 years among MW schools (a 31.4 percent winning mark), so much so Tony Sanchez was arguing his 19-40 record was good given UNLV's history. This isn't a recent downturn, either. The Rebels have never won consistently. They have just four bowl appearances in their history and one of those was vacated by the NCAA. It has one conference championship, that coming in 1994. So nobody has won here. But UNLV has a new football facility, will start playing in a state-of-the-art NFL stadium in 2020 and is poised to increase the budget, which is the second lowest in the MW. Las Vegas produces tons of FBS-level players and Southern California's fertile recruiting terrain is within a drive. This job seems like a sleeping giant, but it's been that way for a long time, so perhaps we're overrating it a little by placing UNLV this high.

6. Utah State

Budget: $10,370,950 (seventh)

Coach salaries: $3.815 million (seventh)

Last 20 years: 106-138; Eight bowls; Two Top 25 seasons

Facilities: Sixth

In short: Utah State is basically a little below the middle of the pack in most metrics. Seventh out of 11 programs in budget (Air Force doesn't provide numbers since it is a private school). Seventh out of 10 programs in coaching salary pool (Hawaii and Air Force don't provide numbers). Sixth out of 12 teams in facilities with a newly renovated Maverik Stadium being a big plus. Eighth out of 12 teams in victories over the last 20 seasons. One thing potential coaches would probably look at is the fact the team's last two head coaches (Gary Andersen and Matt Wells) both won enough to jump to Power 5 programs. John Smith did the same in the late 1990s. So there's proof Utah State can be a springboard program. The local population is small and there are a lot of colleges that play football in Utah, so drawing big crowds isn't easy and there's a battle for in-state recruits, but this is a solid job. I might have it a tad high.

7. Air Force

Budget: Not available

Coach salaries: Not available

Last 20 years: 140-109; 12 bowls

Facilities: Seventh

In short: Truly, it's hard to know where to pinpoint Air Force. For one thing, the job hardly ever opens. The Falcons have had two coaches since 1984 (Fisher DeBerry and Troy Calhoun). Both have been successful and have had longevity, so it certainly isn't a bad job. It's just a different job as you're dealing with different kinds of athletes. There's basically a size ceiling, but you know you're going to get tough and smart kids. The option offense is tried and true. Building a successful defense is more difficult given you're not going to get 300-pounders. Air Force has had only nine losing seasons since 1982 (that's 38 seasons in total), and the Falcons made a bowl game in one of those sub-.500 years. So there's a long history of winning at Air Force, but the job requires a certain kind of person. It's a special job with unique pluses and minuses that don't fit your average coach.

8. Nevada

Budget: $10,037,079 (ninth)

Coach salaries: $2.611 million (ninth)

Last 20 years: 127-123; 12 bowls; One Top 25 season

Facilities: 10th

In short: Nevada is not as bad a job as some former coaches have made it out to be, but it'd be hard to argue it is a job that sits in the top half of the MW. For starters, the pay isn't good, both for the head coach and for the coordinators, which makes them tough to retain if you have success. The tradition of winning is good with 12 bowl appearances in the last 16 seasons and seven conference titles since moving to the FBS in 1992, although only two of those have come in the last 22 years. Almost all of the winning has been done under Hall of Famer Chris Ault, who is 95-56 overall and 65-26 in conference during Nevada's FBS tenure. The team's other four coaches in that period are 87-103 overall and 56-60 in conference. That's not bad, but coaches haven't had upward mobility at Nevada and we've yet to see anybody but Ault win big. The location and recruiting terrain are good (close to the Bay Area and Southern California), but the lack of an indoor practice facility is a killer. All other cold-weather MW schools have such a facility.

9. Wyoming

Budget: $10,168,112 (eighth)

Coach salaries: $4.617 million (second)

Last 20 years: 97-145; Six bowls

Facilities: Third

In short: Wyoming is the only FBS football program in the state, so the support (from fans and donors) is strong. That's shown in Wyoming's ability to give Craig Bohl a lucrative long-term deal. So if you win, they'll pay. Bohl has certainly elevated the position. Prior to 2016, Wyoming had just three winning seasons in the previous 16 years. In the late 1990s, Dana Dimel and Joe Tiller both used Wyoming as a springboard to better jobs. Dennis Erickson also began his head-coaching career at Wyoming before making his way to the Power 5. While Bohl led the Cowboys to the MW title game in 2015, a three-point loss to San Diego State, Wyoming hasn't won a conference championship since 1993. And look at that record over the last 20 years. The 97 wins beat only UNLV, San Jose State and New Mexico. The facilities are excellent, so the support is there. But recruiting to Laramie can be tough.

10. Hawaii

Budget: $11,177,559 (fifth)

Coach salaries: Not available (Head coach Nick Rolovich makes $600,004)

Last 20 years: 134-127; 10 bowls; One Top 25 season

Facilities: 12th

In short: Hawaii has an identity, and that's what every program needs, so that's a plus if you stick with it (Norm Chow did not stick with it). The Rainbow Warriors' run-and-shoot offense will lead to good quarterbacks being interested. Go grab a couple of speedy wide receivers and the your offense is set with the unique scheme. The big question is whether you can keep the Hawaii high school players at home well enough to build a quality defense. The islands produce a lot of good players, but a lot of them want to go to the mainland to play for Power 5 schools. The travel makes this job difficult because it's hard to win titles when your kids log so many miles over the season. Hawaii typically pays its head coach OK, but it certainly isn't in the upper echelon of the MW there. Hawaii's history of recent winning is impressive (fourth-most wins in the last two decades among MW teams). The facilities are a big negative, though. Those need to be upgraded.

11. New Mexico

Budget: $9,682,160 (11th)

Coach salaries: $3.840 million (sixth)

Last 20 years: 96-150; Seven bowls

Facilities: Eighth

In short: Rocky Long has thrived at San Diego State. He was so fed up with New Mexico he decided to quit despite strong job security. That should tell you everything you need to know about this program. Long went 65-69 in 11 seasons in Albuquerque, and that might not be the best you can do, but it's probably close. New Mexico is basketball territory, both with the Lobos and the NSMU Aggies. New Mexico ranks last in football budget among MW schools, although it was sixth in coaching salaries. The Lobos also splashed a good amount of money to hire Mike Locksley as Long replacement's, although that was a disaster. Bob Davie ranked seventh in head-coaching salary this season. So New Mexico is competitive there and has solid enough facilities. But the program isn't supported like others in the conference. Outside of Long's tenure, New Mexico has played in only three bowls since it moved to the WAC in 1962. Its last conference title came in 1964.

12. San Jose State

Budget: $10,921,731 (sixth)

Coach salaries: $2.459 million (10th)

Last 20 years: 90-153; Three bowls; One Top 25 season

Facilities: 11th

In short: The Bay Area is dominated by pro sports. And when it comes to college sports, SJSU pales in popularity behind Stanford and Cal. The Spartans have the second-fewest wins over the last 20 years among MW schools ahead of only UNLV. It has just three bowl appearances since 1991 and only three winning seasons since 1993. So there's not a lot of proof you can win here of late, although SJSU won five Big West titles from 1981-91. The geography for recruiting isn't bad. The current facilities are not good, but the university hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the future construction of a new football center in April. The project is budgeted at $40 million, so that will be a huge improvement. Mike MacIntyre did springboard from this job to the Pac-12, so it's possible. But the coaching salary pool isn't big, and that's exacerbated by the cost of living in Silicon Valley, which makes it hard to hire good coaches and retain them. Tough call between New Mexico and SJSU for this bottom spot, but when in doubt, I usually put the Spartans on the bottom of my lists.

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