The Mountain West Conference has been active since 1999, and throughout its two-decade history, it has acted as the playground to over 50 coaches, including interim ones. Every sports enthusiast that reads up on the fresh news on football and follows the game carefully knows that the success of any college team heavily relies on its coaching staff. A program can have all the resources imaginable. Yet, if it does not have the right person behind the wheel, it will fail. Quality coaching can elevate a mediocre program into one that vies with the nation’s best, far more than any position on the field. Thus, let us look into what many NCAA fans believe are the best four coaches in Mountain West History. Naturally, each team’s resource availability differs, and hierarchy in college football also plays a role in the success of each program. So, this is merely a subjective view on this topic, not meant to stir up any controversy.
Born in 1960 in Rozel, Kansas, Gary Allen Patterson has etched a tremendous Mountain West legacy. His seven-year tenure in the conference with Texas Christian University is legendary, as he led his current team to the Rose and Fiesta bowls and four conference championships. In 2010, the TCU Horned Frogs finished their season with a 13-0 record, winning the Rose Bowl over the Wisconsin Badgers 21-19 on New Year’s Day 2021. Patterson is only behind Kirk Ferentz as the second longest-tenured coach with any Football Bowl Subdivision program.
Before Kyle Whittingham took over the head coaching position at the University of Utah, which he still holds today, Urban Meyer had the spot after coming in from two years spend at Bowling Green. Meyer did not have a distinguished playing career, only having a minor role as a defensive back at the University of Cincinnati. Nevertheless, his coaching one is exemplary. It began in Ohio State as a graduate assistant in 1986, and it took fifteen years before he reached a head coach position. Utah was only his second such assignment. In his first season there, he got the honor of getting named the Mountain West Conference’s Coach of the Year, boasting a 10–2 record. His second season with the Utes was even better, as the team went 12-0. Mayer captured MW titles in both seasons in Utah, and The Sporting News named him National Coach of the Year in 2003.
Rocky Long is a Utah native that played as the starting quarterback for the New Mexico Lobos from 1969 to 1971. He started his professional career in the CFL for the BC Lions in 1972 and ended it there after a short stint with the Detroit Wheels of the WFL. Long received the moniker The Dean of Mountain West due to being active as head coach in nineteen Mountain West seasons. His New Mexico MW record stands at 62 and 60, which admittedly is not super impressive. However, it is the fact that he took the New Mexico Lobos to five bowls is why many hold him in such high regard. That, and his record for the most conference wins ever.
Whittingham served as defensive coordinator for ten seasons for the University of Utah before getting promoted to head coach following Meyer’s departure to Florida. His playing career consisted of taking the field as a linebacker for the BYU Cougars, Denver Gold, New Orleans Breakers, and the LA Rams. Whittingham has been at the University of Utah since 1994. In 2008, three years after becoming head coach, he took them to a league title in an undefeated season, where they beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl. During his six seasons in Mountain West, Whittingham managed to pull in a record of 58 wins and twenty losses.