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On the eve of the season, ranking the Mountain West's football coaches

Troy Calhoun
Troy Calhoun's 101 wins at Air Force rank as the second most in Mountain West history. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Prior to last season, I ranked all 12 of the Mountain West football coaches based on their résumés. San Jose State's Brent Brennan came in 12th place out of 12. What a difference a year can make. Brennan has skyrocketed up this year's preseason coaching ranking following last year's Mountain West championship season. Here are our rankings of the coaches in the conference entering the 2021 campaign.

12. Marcus Arroyo, UNLV: Arroyo went 0-6 in his first season at the helm of the Rebels, but Brennan's ascension in year four at San Jose State should be instructive. Arroyo inherited a similar rebuild as Brennan, and while year one was a disaster with no explosiveness on offense and the same old bad UNLV defense, the former Oregon offensive coordinator deserves time to turn around the program. Four years at minimum. Still, we can't put him higher than 12th given the résumé to date, which is yet to include a win as a head coach.

11. Steve Addazio, Colorado State: It was tough to get a read from Addazio's first season at Colorado State considering the team played just four games (it went 1-3). And the Rams are an underdog to FCS team South Dakota State in its season opener, which should never been the case. Overall, I wasn't a fan of Colorado State hiring Addazio, whose pre-Fort Collins résumé was mediocre. In his career, including stints at Temple and Boston College, Addazio is 58–58 overall, albeit with seven bowl berths in 10 seasons. That's not bad, but his teams also are 30-45 in conference games. He's a safe bet for a .500 record and nothing more.

10. Danny Gonzales, New Mexico: Gonzales was one of three first-time head coaches in the MW last season, and he inherited a similar rebuild to UNLV's Arroyo. Gonzales' team was more competitive in year one with the Lobos winning their last two games to finish 2-5, and the victories were over solid MW programs (Wyoming and Fresno State). On top of that, New Mexico played out of Las Vegas last year due to local COVID-19 restrictions. The team could have quit on the season, but Gonzales' group did not, also losing close games to bowl teams Hawaii and Nevada. The early returns on hiring Gonzales are positive.

9. Andy Avalos, Boise State: It's hard to rank a first-time head coach too high. They have to earn it first, but I wouldn't be surprised if Avalos is in the top four on this list entering the 2022 campaign given the roster he's inherited. It's difficult to not win at Boise State, although the expectations are the highest in the conference by far. Anything shy of 10 wins and a MW title is a disappointment. A Boise State alum, Avalos has good pedigree and was most recently the defensive coordinator at Oregon, where he did an excellent job. Every head coach who has come through the Treasure Valley the last four decades has been a success. Avalos should be, too.

8. Brady Hoke, SDSU: I'm not a big fan of schools re-hiring their former head coach, although it worked with Chris Ault at Nevada. That's what SDSU is hoping for with Hoke, who went 4-4 last season, which was disappointing given the Aztecs had another elite defense spoiled by a mediocre offense. Overall, Hoke is 82-76 (56-47 in league), including stops at Ball State (34-38), SDSU (17-16), Michigan (31-20) and Tennessee (0-2 on interim basis). He's solid, but will he win SDSU a MW title like his predecessor, Rocky Long, did three times from from 2012-16? I would bet against it.

7. Blake Anderson, Utah State: Anderson is one of two new hires in the MW this season (compared to six entering the 2020 campaign), although he's got a lengthy history of being an FBS head coach. After stints as an offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Louisiana, Southern Miss and North Carolina, he was hired by Arkansas State in 2014. He went 51-37 overall and 38-18 in the Sun Belt in seven seasons, winning two conference titles (2015, 2016) and reaching six bowl games. He's a proven winner, albeit in a lesser league, and should succeed in Logan.

6. Kalen DeBoer, Fresno State: I loved Fresno State's decision to hire DeBoer last season as the heir apparent to Jeff Tedford (DeBoer was Tedford's offensive coordinator at Fresno State from 2017-18). Year one was so-so, with the Bulldogs going 3-3, although it dealt with a ton of adversity in terms of COVID-19 issues, both with spring/summer/fall practices being curbed and then during the season. This year's schedule is tough, so getting to seven or eight wins won't be easy. DeBoer went 67-3 as a head coach at NAIA school Sioux Falls, and I believe he is a future Power 5 head coach.

5. Jay Norvell, Nevada: Norvell gets the award for biggest bang for your buck in the MW. He's the conference's lowest-paid head coach at $650,000 a year but has the Wolf Pack primed for a breakthrough season after going 7-2 last year. He's put together the MW's best roster in his fifth season at Nevada and was one poor half away against San Jose State from reaching the MW title game in 2020. Anything short of a title game appearance in 2021 would be a huge disappointment, so a lot hinges on this year. He's already interviewed for multiple Power 5 jobs and should get an offer from that level if the Wolf Pack puts together a Top 25 season. At 25-22 overall and 18-14 in the MW, a conference title game appearance is lacking.

4. Brent Brennan, SJSU: It took four years for Brennan to build up San Jose State, but it paid off last season when the team went 6-0 in the regular season, won the MW championship and finished the year in the final AP Top 25 despite an ugly bowl loss to Ball State. In Brennan's first three seasons at SJSU, he went 8-29 overall and 4-20 in the MW, so he more than doubled his conference win total in one year. Brennan was a finalist for the Arizona job last offseason and would be in line for a Power 5 opportunity if his team can hit double-digit wins in 2021, which is a realistic goal given most of the team's roster is back. He's the only coach on this list to win a MW title.

3. Todd Graham, Hawaii: Graham has been a nomad, skipping around often enough that the Hawaii gig is his fifth as a head coach. He went 5-4 and took Hawaii to a bowl game, a win over Houston, in his debut season with the Rainbow Warriors. He's also had tenures at Rice (7-6), Tulsa (36-17), Pitt (6-6) and Arizona State (46-32). Graham has never won a conference championship, although he's won his division four times (three times at Tulsa and once at Arizona State). He's 100-66 overall, 67-44 in league play and has five 10-plus win seasons with three Top 25 finishes.

2. Craig Bohl, Wyoming: Bohl's ranking depends on how much weight your put on his tenure at North Dakota State, where he built a dynasty, going 104-32 overall with three straight national titles before taking on the challenge of winning at Wyoming. He's been a little under-.500 with the Cowboys, going 38-44 overall and 25-29 in conference, so if you want to argue this is too high, I'm fine with that. But Wyoming isn't an easy place to win, and Bohl does have three eight-wins seasons in the last four full years, not to mention a MW title game berth in 2016. Add in the FCS résumé, and I put Bohl in the MW's top tier.

1. Troy Calhoun, Air Force: The MW's longest-tenured coach, Calhoun is 101-72 overall and 61-46 in MW play since being hired by Air Force in 2007. He has 10 bowl appearances in 14 full seasons, going 5-5 in those games, and was the 2007 MW coach of the year. He could have won that award in 2016 (a 10-win season) and 2019 (an 11-win season). It's not easy to win double-digit games at a service academy. The last four years of Calhoun's tenure (24-19, 55.8 percent) haven't been as strong as the first 10 (77-53, 59.2 percent), but he ranks second in MW history in career wins (101). The major item lacking is a MW title, although his team did reach the conference title game in 2015, a 27-24 loss to SDSU.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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