By Ralph D. Russo/The Associated Press
When it comes to coach of the year candidates, Chip Kelly clearly has done a great job at Oregon this season and it’d be hard to argue with Auburn’s Gene Chizik as a strong contender with his team being unbeaten. TCU’s Gary Patterson and Boise State’s Chris Petersen would probably make the short list, too.
Those are the obvious ones. But here are six other coaches who deserve some serious recognition for jobs well done this season.
— Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (10-1). He’s a man! He’s … actually, it’s time for Gundy to be known for more than just ill-advised rant from 2007. There was some pressure on him coming into the season, after some Cowboys fans felt the team underachieved last season. Gundy had the guts and smarts to hire Dana Holgorsen, Mike Leach’s old offensive coordinator, and hand him the keys the offense. Oklahoma State was picked last in Big 12 South and the Cowboys are a victory away from playing in their first conference title game.
— Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (7-4). How good a coach is Mullen? Mississippi State and Florida, where he worked before last season as offensive coordinator, have the same record. Juggling quarterbacks and fielding a lineup low on star power, Mullen has the Bulldogs in a bowl game for just the second time in the last decade.
— Bobby Petrino, Arkansas (9-2). Petrino has ticked off a lot of people from Louisville to Atlanta, but there is no doubt he knows how to coach. Of course, having Ryan Mallett land in you lap helps a lot, but three seasons into his tenure at Arkansas he’s reminding everyone that there is no better offensive mind in college football.
— Rich Ellerson, Army (6-5). The Black Knights had become an embarrassment, piling up losing seasons and falling light-years behind their service academy brethren at Navy and Army. Ellerson showed up last year, embraced everything about what makes West Point football special, got the Cadets running the triple-option again and now they’re bowl-eligible. He is to Army what Paul Johnson was to Navy, with an added bonus: Ellerson, who has family ties to the academy, is likely to stick around for a long time.
— Tom O’Brien, North Carolina State (8-3). The Wolfpack were pegged to finish out of the money in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but O’Brien has them a victory away from their first trip to the ACC title game. This team looks a lot like his best squads at Boston College, tough against the run and riding a talented quarterback — this time Russell Wilson.
— Brady Hoke, San Diego State (7-4). The coach who led Ball State to a 12-2 season has San Diego State heading to a bowl for the first time since 1991 and the Aztecs nearly beat Mountain West Conference powers TCU and Utah. A program with a bigger budget might come calling for Hoke because if you can win at San Diego State, you’re a good bet to do well just about anywhere.