Under the Radar: Underrated Coaches You Should Know About
Note: Today marks the first of what will be many featured blogs posted here with the theme “Under The Radar”--taking a little different look at college football.
Today we’ll talk about some underrated coaches, both current and in the past that have flown under the radar.
When I started my coaching career at the University of Virginia George Welsh was the head coach there. To this day he ranks as one of the most underrated coaches of all time—as underrated as one can be who is rightfully in the College Football Hall of Fame.
To really grasp George Welsh’s greatness you have to appreciate where UVA was before he got there and where they’ve been since.
In 1982 George Welsh took over a program that had never been to a bowl game and had 2 winning seasons in the previous 29 years. In Welsh’s 19 years at UVA they posted 17 winning seasons, made 12 Bowl games (before everyone made a bowl), won 2 ACC Titles, reached a #1 ranking in 1990 and built new facilities and renovated Scott Stadium. And above all the commitment to the academic success of their student-athletes was second to none.
In the 16 seasons since Welsh retired UVA has resembled the teams of the pre-Welsh era with 10 losing seasons (including 5 straight entering 2017).
So who are the George Welsh-type coaches out there right now? The two names I’d put out there are Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.
While David Cutcliffe’s 52-61 record at Duke may seem underwhelming, what he’s done there is extremely impressive considering where the Blue Devil program has been since 1979. In that time they posted a 92-220-3 record (winning rate 29.7%). Also keep in mind Cutcliffe’s 9-year 46% win rate comes after taking over a program in its deepest trough of losing. The previous 9 years Duke compiled a 13-90 record.
Most recently the Blue Devils have posted a 37-28 record the past 5 years going to bowls every year from 2012-2015. In that stretch Duke won an ACC Division Title and their first bowl game in 54 years. Those three straight winning seasons from 2013-15 were the first 3-year winning stretch since 1962.
The resurrection job that David Cutcliffe has done has to be viewed through the prism of Duke’s recent history to be truly appreciated.
The other underrated coach to mention is Pat Fitzgerald. At the young age of 31 he became the head coach at Northwestern in the summer of 2006 after the unexpected death of Coach Randy Walker.
In his tenure at Northwestern he’s provided stability to the program and developed a mindset of sustained success. While he is often the subject of rumors when other high-profile coaching jobs open, he appears to love working at the same school where he had an All-American and College Hall of Fame career as a Linebacker.
With a current record of 77-62 Fitzgerald is the first Northwestern Head Coach to compile a winning record at Evanston since Ara Parseghian left for Notre Dame.
Over the 4-decades between Parseghian’s 1964 departure and Fitzgerald’s promotion 8 Northwestern coaches combined for a 140-319-5 record and a winning percentage of 30.7%. Fitzgerald would be the first to tell you that his two immediate predecessors Gary Barnett and Randy Walker gave the school a rebirth and provided the foundation for what he has done. But Pat has really built on that foundation. The team moved into an impressive lakefront training facility which really changes the dynamics.
In his 11 years Northwestern has appeared in 7 Bowls and posted two 10-win seasons. The Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State following the 2012 season was the program’s first bowl win since 1948. Last season they upset Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl and as the 2017 season starts the Wildcats could be a real factor in the Big Ten West race.
While other coaches at higher-profile schools may get more attention, when these teams are playing make sure you watch these guys on game day. They deserve a great deal of respect for what they’ve done, how they’ve done it and where they’ve done it.