Moving up: Fuente, Wells among coaches on rise
This is moving season for college football coaches. Jobs come open, get filled, and lead to more openings.
Nebraska and Florida are the most notable programs currently hanging “Helped Wanted” signs outside their football facilities. As the carousel spins, watch for the guys who’ve been getting it done outside the Big Five conferences. They might not land the biggest jobs, but as the dominos fall, there’s a good chance they’ll be moving up in the college football world soon.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
The youngest coach in FBS led one the best turnarounds in major college football this season. Fleck, who turned 34 last week, and the Broncos are 8-4 after going 1-11 in his first season. And his recruiting classes are getting rave reviews. He gives off a young-Pete Carroll vibe with enthusiasm and catchphrases — Row the Boat. Some athletic directors might view hiring someone with so little experience as a risk. Others might think they are getting in early on the next big thing.
Justin Fuente, Memphis
Memphis football has been a wreck for a long time, and it was at a particularly low point when Fuente left took over in 2012, having won five games in three years under two coaches. The 38-year-old former TCU offensive coordinator has quickly made the Tigers (9-3) American Athletic Conference champions, preaching accountability and responsibility. Memphis will be fortunate to hang on to him for another season, though his age and having had just one winning year could keep some suitors away.
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Mississippi native seems destined to one day end up in the Southeastern Conference. He is 35-16 in the four seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns and did seven years at Division II North Alabama, where he made the playoff five times. He also spent a couple seasons as an assistant at Mississippi State, so if Dan Mullen leaves the Bulldogs expect Hudspeth’s name to be mentioned immediately.
Jim McElwain, Colorado State
In eight seasons before McElwain got to Fort Collins, CSU had managed two winning seasons and never more than seven victories in any year. In three seasons under McElwain, who spent four years as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, the Rams are 22-16. The win totals have risen from four to eight to 10. At 52, he has a wealth of experience. His name has already come up in connection to openings at Florida and Nebraska. The Missoula, Montana, native also has a $7.5 million buyout, which could scare some schools away.
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Fresno State (6-6) dropped off after the departure of star quarterback Derek Carr, but in many ways it might have been DeRuyter’s best job salvaging a season that seemed lost when the Bulldogs were 3-6. Fresno State won its last three games to earn a spot in the Mountain West title game where the Bulldogs will try to make it three conference titles in three seasons under the cool 51-year-old former Air Force linebacker.
Matt Wells, Utah State
Well, 41, went from offensive coordinator to head coach at Utah State after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin. He has kept the Aggies rolling (18-9), despite roster turnover and quarterback injuries. The only knock on the former Utah State quarterback is that he stepped into a good situation at a program that had already been built. But keeping a good thing going takes talent, too.
Extra points: Matt Campbell, Toledo, and Matt Rhule, Temple, are two more up-and-coming 30-somethings. Doc Holliday, Marshall, has plenty of experience and worked under Urban Meyer at Florida.