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Posted: Wednesday August 6, 2008 12:38PM; Updated: Wednesday August 6, 2008 2:54PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

Most underrated coaches, latest on Reggie Bush and much more

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  • The 2000-01 offseason was a bonanza for successful coaching hires
  • Michigan's ridiculous ranking in the coaches' poll
  • Responding to some unadulterated man love for Washington QB Jake Locker
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Bobby Johnson
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has infused life into the formerly dormant program.
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
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So I was playing Rock Band the other night -- which, if you don't already know, is the single greatest invention of the 21st century -- and I got to thinking how this wildly popular video game has helped resuscitate some great bands that long since disappeared from the pop-culture lexicon. (Not to mention provided a whole new source of amusement at parties).

Take, for instance, Stone Temple Pilots. While wailing away on the multi-colored fret buttons of my plastic-yet-eerily-realistic Fender Strat to Interstate Love Song, I thought to myself, "Man ... I forgot how great this song is." I concede that when STP first came on the scene, we all thought they were a shameless knock-off of Pearl Jam, and I realize they're far better known for their lead singer's drug problems than their actual music. But in retrospect, Stone Temple Pilots really was an underrated band.

The preceding two paragraphs served two purposes: a) As a shameless excuse to work my Rock Band-addiction into a Mailbag; and b) As a fairly lame segue to this week's first question.

I noticed you did not publish your annual best and worst coaches lists this summer. If you have given up on that, how about giving us a list of the most underrated coaches in college football?
-- Neil Wagoner, Beaverton, Ore.

I'm surprised it took this long for someone to notice the absence of those rankings. (Or perhaps plenty of you noticed but weren't particularly disappointed.) But yeah, it was time to move on. For one thing, the names on the "best coaches" barely changed from year to year. (News flash: Pete Carroll is still No. 1.)

More troubling to me, however, was that the "worst coaches" segment turned into a phenomenon with which I was no longer comfortable. It was only meant to be a silly little bit of discussion-fodder, not some sort of grand edict on the coaches' job performances. Yet things had gotten to the point where, whichever coach was deemed the "worst coach" in the country (Chan Gailey the first year, Chuck Amato the second, Al Groh last year), writers and columnists felt compelled to seek the coach's reaction and write stories about his new "title." It got way out of hand.

Underrated coaches, on the other hand? That seems pretty harmless. Here are my top five:

1) Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt. How can a coach that's gone 20-50 in six seasons be "underrated," you ask? Because record be damned, Vandy is no longer your father's Vandy. The Commodores, for the first time in a quarter-century, are a legitimately competitive SEC team (and this at a time when the conference has never been tougher).

Over the past three years, they've beaten the likes of Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina while losing heartbreakers to the Vols and Dawgs last year and Florida in '05. And they've come within a couple plays of reaching bowl games in two of those seasons. Hopefully Johnson will get that reward soon to tangibly reflect the impact he's had on that program.

2) Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic. I get the sense that most fans these days view the legendary Miami architect as some crazy old kook playing out his twilight years at some obscure Sun Belt school -- and for the most part, they're right. But have you happened to notice what the crazy old kook is pulling off in Boca Raton?

In just their second season in Division I-A last year, Schnellenberger's 6-year-old program not only captured a conference title but also beat a BCS-conference foe (Minnesota) and won a bowl game (the New Orleans Bowl, over Memphis). I've even seen some publications list the Owls as a top-40 team this season, and by no means is it a stretch (star QB Rusty Smith, for one, is the real deal). Think the old man can't still coach a little bit?

3) Randy Edsall, Connecticut. It never ceases to amaze me what Edsall has done with a program that, prior to his arrival in 1999, had almost no football tradition, was at the time still playing in Division I-AA and has almost no local talent base from which to draw. The Huskies have played in two bowl games over the past four years and last season very quietly earned a share of the Big East title with West Virginia.

4) Brian Kelly, Cincinnati. I hesitated to put Kelly on this list only because I do think he's starting to earn respect nationally. That said, I'm sure there are still plenty of football fans who don't know who he is or aren't fully aware of just what an impressive resume he's compiled: Back-to-back Division II national titles at Grand Valley State; a MAC title in just his third season at Central Michigan; and, in his first full season with Cincinnati, the school's first 10-win season since 1951.

5) Gary Patterson, TCU. While there are plenty of good mid-major candidates for this list, none have achieved more consistent success over a long period of time -- and received such little acclaim for doing so -- than Patterson. The Horned Frogs have gone 62-25 under his watch, posted double-digit wins in four of the past six seasons, earned two conference titles and upset the likes of Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Before you start writing your complaint letters, note that I do not consider Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe to be "underrated." He was one of my top-10 coaches on last year's list and would be still. He's properly "rated."

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