College football staff picks: Group of Five coaches ready to make a jump to the Power Five level


The final Power Five hire on the 2021 coaching carousel (so far, anyway) came in late April when Kansas hired Lance Leipold away from Buffalo after abruptly parting ways with Les Miles. A six-time Division III champion at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold oversaw a complete transformation of the Buffalo program, leading the Bulls to 10 wins in 2018 and a 6-1 record last year while winning the MAC’s East division both times. Now he inherits a mess of a program at Kansas, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 and went 0-9 in 2020. 

Leipold’s history suggests he’ll at least make the Jayhawks competent, though how long that will take remains to be seen. Still, he’s the latest Group of Five coach hired away to college football‘s highest tier. Who’s next? Our CBS Sports college football team makes their picks for the next Group of Five coach to make the jump to the Power Five level.

Ben Kercheval: Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan 

Creighton isn’t the up-and-coming name like Billy Napier at Louisiana or Will Healy at Charlotte, but he’s a top-notch program-builder. Eastern Michigan was a putrid program when he took over for the 2014 season; the Eagles hadn’t had a winning seasons since 1995 or appeared in a bowl game since 1987. Since Creighton was hired, EMU has made the postseason three times with two winning seasons in seven seasons. That’s the ceiling for that program historically, at least in the modern era. Creighton has had success at every level: NAIA, DIII, FCS and now FBS. The last box unchecked on his resume is to make the final jump to the Power Five. If a struggling program hires Creighton, I don’t think it’ll regret it. 

Barrett Sallee: Bill Clark, UAB

Bill Clark navigated UAB through the shutdown and back into the spotlight with a bowl appearance in 2017 — the first season since the program’s two-year hiatus. The Blazers followed that up with three more bowl games and two Conference USA titles. That resume alone is more than enough to warrant a big-time job. When you throw in the fact that his loyalty can never be questioned due to his decision to stick with the program rather than take an assistant coaching job during the program’s shutdown, you have a top-tier, trustworthy star-in-the-making. Clark has spent the vast majority of his high school and college coaching career in the state of Alabama, so that might limit his potential suitors. Clark has a pedigree of success and connections to high school coaches throughout the southeast. Memo to any SEC team in need of a coach in the near future: Clark is right there for the taking.

Chip Patterson: Billy Napier, Louisiana

After reportedly receiving interest for multiple Power Five jobs, even a couple in the SEC no less, Napier ultimately decided it wasn’t time to leave Louisiana. Now there’s likely a handful of factors that contributed to that decision, including both the schools that were reportedly interested and what he had coming back in Lafayette: 96% of the production from a team that won 10 games and finished ranked in the top 20, per ESPN’s Bill Connelly. I think Napier had to be intrigued by the opportunity for one last ride with this group that has already rolled off three division titles and back-to-back 10-win seasons, so when the 2021 season concludes, I suspect the math changes a little when the next Power Five opportunity comes knocking.

David Cobb: Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina 

The knock on Chadwell is that he has no Power Five experience whatsoever, not even as a student manager or graduate assistant. The most prestigious football school he’s ever been part of is Coastal Carolina, and the Chanticleers’ prestige is still less than a year old. It also looks bad that his Charleston Southern teams from 2014-15 had to vacate victories due to NCAA violations, even though the issues were more of a department-wide thing as opposed to any blatant wrongdoing on the part of Chadwell’s staff.

At some point, a Power Five athletic director will start to view those issues in the correct context, though, and will end up with a proven winner. My bet is that it happens sooner rather than later, especially if the Chanticleers can win 10 or more games again this season. Chadwell’s lack of Power Five experience shouldn’t be interpreted as a drawback. Rather, it’s an indication that his ascension through the coaching ranks is a legitimate reflection of his coaching acumen as opposed to some unearned inevitably resulting from his connections in the business. Perhaps the vacated wins at Charleston Southern would spook an AD whose program has recently dealt with NCAA issues. But if you really look into what happened, it’s clear Chadwell shouldn’t be blamed. Ultimately, Chadwell earned AP Coach of the Year honors last season because he is a great coach who runs a unique system, and for that reason he should be the next Group of Five coach to land a Power Five job. 

Tom Fornelli: Jeff Monken, Army

All right, so we were asked who the next Group of Five coach to make the leap to the Power Five will be, and I’m not basing my selection on who it will be, rather who it should be. Yes, that’s right, I’m getting my “More Power Five teams should run the option” drum out of the garage, and I’m banging the hell out of it again. Kansas is the latest school to flirt with the idea and then get cold feet. Other Power Five schools that should zig when others zag will follow suit. Meanwhile, coaches like Monken — and Ken Niumatalolo at Navy, who was nearly hired at Arizona — will continue to ply their trade at service academies while those same Power Five schools too scared to hire them continue toiling in obscurity.





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