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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/25/2006 01:03:00 PM

They're All in the WAC

Oakland Arena
The WAC boasts a talented lineup of accomplished coaches, including Idaho's Dennis Erickson.
I must admit, I hadn't really thought about it until Pat Hill pointed it out to me. While interviewing him for today's column about the new BCS qualification rules for the so-called "non-BCS teams," the Fresno State coach, in talking about how the WAC might shape up this season, said, "the coaching in this conference is unbelievable." Now, you can pretty much expect any coach from any conference to say that about his counterparts, but as Hill started going down the list, I realized … whoa. When did the WAC become the unofficial refuge for formerly prominent coaches?

For the most part, the mid-major conferences are dominated by young, upstart coaches, often in their first head-coaching gig, hoping to use it as a springboard to a higher-profile job. The WAC, however, now includes two former NFL head coaches (Hawaii's June Jones and Idaho's Dennis Erickson), three guys who have led BCS-conference programs (Erickson, San Jose State's Dick Tomey and New Mexico State's Hal Mumme) and a guy who's already been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (Nevada's Chris Ault). Erickson won two national championship rings at Miami and led Oregon State to a BCS bowl, Tomey led Arizona to the only 12-win season in its history and Mumme took Kentucky to its first New Year's Day bowl in nearly 50 years.

Despite their accomplishments, all have obviously wound up in the WAC because of things that went wrong -- Jones petered out in the NFL, Tomey got fired by Arizona, Erickson's brief stint with the 49ers was a disaster and Mumme left Kentucky amidst an NCAA scandal. But that doesn't mean they can't still coach. The upshot of all this is that the league, which has been primarily the domicile of two teams, Boise State and Fresno State, in recent years, could soon become a lot more competitive.

Ault, who returned to Nevada's sideline in 2004 following a previous 19-year run, has already had an effect, leading the Wolf Pack to a 9-3 season and sharing the conference championship with Boise last year. Mumme and Tomey took over rock-bottom programs and struggled badly last season, but many expect them to show dramatic improvement in year two. And Erickson, who is back in the same job and same exact office he once occupied from 1982-85, has a long track record of successful rebuilding jobs, even if his methods for doing so (his teams often accumulate as many personal fouls as victories) leave something to be desired.

Interestingly, the greenest coach in the conference is now Boise State's Chris Peterson, 41, formerly the Broncos' offensive coordinator, who succeeded Dan Hawkins last winter following Hawkins' departure to Colorado. It's Peterson's program -- 45-7 since 2002 with four straight conference titles -- that all the Hall of Famers, ex-NFLers and Pac-10 and SEC retreads are trying to catch up to. ...

Starting next week -- the first week of the season, people -- I'll be updating the Blog more frequently. The new weekly schedule: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and posts throughout the day and night on Saturdays.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Great post and I'm looking forward to more tidbits once the games begin.

I love the WAC and Mountain West. If it wasn't for the quality teams in these two conferences, along with Pitt. and Va. Tech (when it was in the Big East), the popular Thurs. night football on ESPN would never have flourished. Thursday Night on ESPN is the new Monday Night Football.

I wish I could say the same about the other Big East teams, but L'ville is just a passing, Syracuse can't recruit anyone to play in a stupid indoor arena, B.C. left, Cincy should stick to using drunken bumbs for head coaches and criminal JUCO players, and although UConn is an up-and-comer, they aren't quite there. That basically leaves Pitt. and W.V., and now they have elevated enough to rate Saturday afternoon games on ABC with Mr. Musberger.
Posted: 3:15 PM   by nsc
thanks stewart for covering the so called mid-majors. I am a Fresno State fan and as much fun as it is over here to go for the dogs, the lack of publicity a smaller school gets really is unfortunate. Schools like Fresno, Boise, Utah, and TCu can challenge the bigger schools year in and year out. I know you know this, it's just to bad the res tof the nation doesn't.
Posted: 4:31 PM   by Anonymous
The WAC is still the WAC, good coaches or not. Maybe the conference champion gets into a BCS game, maybe not. It doesn't matter, because they'll lose by more than 2 touchdowns if (and that's a big if) they even make it.
Posted: 4:37 PM   by Anonymous
WAC? WAC?! The WAC has as much national significance as the... WNBA Finals. OUCH!
Posted: 5:47 PM   by Chad Tiller, Dallas, Texas
Is it better to burn out or fade away? Just because Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, and Jerry Reed were great once, doesn't mean I'm running out to buy the Old Dogs album. If the WAC coaches are still so great, why are they floundering away at schools like Idaho and Hawaii. If they were really the great coaches that they once were, wouldn't they be working at a BCS school? Look at Steve Spurrier, for example. He worked at Duke, built up to Florida, and then went to the Redskins. After being laughed out of the NFL he returned to college ball--at South Carolina. Are you trying to say that these coaches couldn't find a program to rebuild in a major conference? Just check out www.FireRichBrooks.com (and other such sites) to see that there are lots of potential jobs for these so-called greats of the coaching realm. No, the WAC is not "the unofficial refuge for formerly prominent coaches". It is the tall grass where the Old Dogs circle 'round three times, lay down, and die.
Posted: 5:47 AM   by Ron Jumper
I used to refer to the WAC as the "Worthless Athletic Conference" but now have come to realize that conference isn't that bad. In fact, I would even dare to say the conference has become respectable. Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada are becoming solid programs. You have to think Dennis Erickson will vastly improve Idaho in the next year or two. Things are looking up for the WAC.
Posted: 10:21 AM   by Anonymous
Wait a minute - the last time a nonBCS conference team made a BCS bowl game, they blew out their BCS opponent. I can't beleive how threatened the big teams are by everything nonBCS.
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