Mountain West Football: Is It Worth Jumping On The Coaching Carousel?

Mountain West Football: Is It Worth Jumping On The Coaching Carousel?

Mountain West Football

Mountain West Football: Is It Worth Jumping On The Coaching Carousel?

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Mountain West Football: Is It Worth Jumping on the Coaching Carousel?


Jay Norvell, Kalen DeBoer and others may have a big decision on their hands soon: Will leaving the Mountain West be worth the effort?


Contact/Follow @MattK_FS@MWCwire

Making the case to stay.

When Jay Norvell was introduced as the head coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack in December 2016, he noted that his main charge was to “work on all it takes to make [Nevada] a championship program.”

Nearly five years later, Norvell’s Wolf Pack haven’t met all of their stated goals yet but there’s little doubt the program is in a much better place than it was before his arrival. It comes as no surprise, then, that Norvell is being touted as a hot candidate for a few different positions that have opened up in recent weeks: Washington, Washington State, and TCU have all been linked to him in different corners of the media landscape.

He’s hardly alone, too, since seemingly every head coach with a winning record in the Mountain West right now is attached to some other far-flung destination: As just one example, those Washington Huskies are linked to Norvell, Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer and San Jose State’s Brent Brennan.

Here’s the thing, though: What if the so-called greener pastures aren’t all they’re cracked up to be? The tapestry of stories surrounding the conference’s most recent departures should be more than enough to give anyone else considering the jump a healthy pause:

  • The early returns on Bryan Harsin’s young tenure at Auburn have been mixed, to say the least, though his Tigers just blew a 25-point lead and lost to Mississippi State last Saturday and now sits at 6-4, ahead of only LSU in the SEC West.
  • Gary Andersen’s built Utah State into a big winner in the late days of the WAC, then walked away from Wisconsin and Oregon State for reasons unique to both situations before getting ousted early in his second stint in Logan last season.
  • Nick Rolovich’s misadventures at Washington State, ranging from his ham-fisted response to player rights to his, well, ham-fisted response to COVID, might well have curtailed his coaching career for good.
  • Matt Wells looked like he was on way toward building something solid at Texas Tech before getting fired last month… with a 5-3 record and a .433 winning percentage that wasn’t altogether different from predecessor Kliff Kingsbury.
  • Jim McElwain rode his successes at Colorado State into a two-and-a-half-year stint at Florida which was ultimately characterized as “an odd fit from the beginning” in spite of winning two SEC East titles.

The lone exception to all of this malaise? Chris Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington after the 2013 season and ended up leading the Huskies to three straight New Year’s Six bowls before walking away on his own terms.

Granted, there are a lot of unique circumstances that aren’t likely to be replicated among the highlighted coaches in the Mountain West, but Wells in particular is indicative of the reality that things aren’t always greener elsewhere. What exactly were the Red Raiders, a program which has one ten-win season and one conference title since 1977, expecting to get for their investment and what drove their impatience? How many of the current openings are open to bringing in someone able to meet reasonable benchmarks rather than chasing shadows of a bygone era which isn’t coming back?

No one can begrudge a coach who believes he has what it takes to compete and win at the highest level, of course, but the national landscape now is such that sustaining prolonged success, in the mold of a Troy Calhoun or Pat Hill, looks on its face like a relic of the past when it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps that’s why Brent Brennan elected not to chase the job at Arizona last winter and instead signed a contract extension with San Jose State. 11 months later, that looks like a smart choice.

Brennan isn’t even the only one who sees potential in the new future right where they are. Take UTSA’s Jeff Traylor, who signed a monster ten-year extension two weeks ago to lead the Roadrunners into the new-look AAC. That extension was just one piece of a larger puzzle that is coming together in San Antonio, shades of which we’ve seen (or will see) in the Mountain West from Fort Collins to San Jose.

And while it remains true that Power 5 programs will maintain the wherewithal to offer paychecks far greater than the Mountain West, you can’t help but wonder how long it will take before some programs falter under the weight of too-substantial buyouts and too-lofty expectations. Money is a lot of things, but it isn’t everything.

More to the point, there are plenty of legacies to be made in the Mountain West, too, and with the conference set to stick together into the latest round of realignment, it’s not a bad place to be. Why would Brady Hoke leave for another Michigan-type job when his San Diego State Aztecs have a decade of momentum behind them and a new stadium to which they can look forward? Why couldn’t Norvell stay in Reno and try to do things that Chris Ault, for all of his successes, could not? What if DeBoer could be the one to throw off the weight of two decades of frustration and finally lead Fresno State to a big breakthrough?

More jobs could come open in the next few weeks — Duke, Georgia Tech and Indiana are a few that come to mind — but the Mountain West’s hottest commodities will want to take a good long look at their priorities and consider if weathering the sea change is worth an eight-digit contract. As Norvell himself put it five years ago, history will look back on what he and the conference’s other caretakers do in the very near future.

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