Which head coaches did the best jobs this bowl season, and which ones struggled a bit? Here are all 78 head coaches this 2019-2020 bowl season, and how they did.
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Head Coach Rankings: Bowl Season
Obviously, it takes a whole staff of coaches to prepare a team. Obviously, having one awful bowl game doesn’t make you a bad head coach, just as one great performance doesn’t make you the next Nick Saban.
Which coaches did a great job, and who struggled this bowl season? More than anything else, this is a ranking/indictment on how well each team played.
Very, very loosely based on expectations, the way the teams played, execution, and how the team did compared to the norm from the regular season, here’s the ranking of all the head coaches in their respective bowl games.
78. Manny Diaz, Miami
– 5 Thoughts on the Independence Bowl
Louisiana Tech 14, Miami 0
The first ever Independence Bowl was played in 1976. In all the time since then, no team had ever been shutout. After what Miami did this bowl season, Diaz has the bar set low now going forward. The program of Testaverde, and Kelly, and Irvin, and Portis, and on and on and on managed just 227 yards of total offense, turned it over three times, and got blanked by a Conference USA team.
77. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
– 5 Thoughts on the Alamo Bowl
Texas 38, Utah 10
There wasn’t any excuse this time around. Last year, Utah didn’t have a few key stars when it lost to Northwestern in the Holiday. QB Tyler Huntley played, and he didn’t do much. RB Zack Moss played, and he didn’t do much. The team that was a Pac-12 Championship away from going to the College Football Playoff managed just three points against a mediocre Texas squad until the game was out of reach.
76. Rich Gunnell, Boston College
– 5 Thoughts on the Birmingham Bowl
Cincinnati 38, Boston College 6
It’s free pass time … to a point. The program was trying to keep things going after firing head coach Steve Addazio, star RB AJ Dillon wasn’t playing, it was raining, and Cincinnati was fired up to dominate. Use all of the excuses, because Gunnell needs them for a team that went 0-11 on third downs and gained 164 yards against a Group of Five team.
75. Jim McElwain, Central Michigan
– 5 Thoughts on the New Mexico Bowl
San Diego State 48, Central Michigan 11
This was the chance for the Chippewas to get past the disappointment of losing the MAC title, and this was when the team was supposed to at least turn it loose with its dangerous offense, and instead … nothing. McElwain’s team didn’t have an answer for a team with little to no O for most of the season.
74. Clay Helton, USC
– 5 Thoughts on the Holiday Bowl
Iowa 49, USC 24
Just when the Trojan fan base wanted to believe that the right guy was still in place … phhhhhhffffffft. The air went out of the balloon as USC couldn’t handle an Iowa team that handle shown enough explosion. To be fair, Helton lost starting QB Kedon Slovis, and his D only allowed 328 yards, but this was a game he HAD to win. Losing by 25 is going to make for a long offseason.
73. Rod Carey, Temple
– 5 Thoughts on the Military Bowl
North Carolina 55, Temple 13
Carey doesn’t win bowl games, and worse yet, he loses them badly. His American Athletic team was supposed to lose to the ACC squad, but it was 20-6 at halftime and 41-6 in the middle of the third quarter. There were no answers.
72. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
– 5 Thoughts on the Peach Bowl
LSU 63, Oklahoma 28
Yeah, Oklahoma ran into a buzzsaw, but Riley is one of the best coaches in the business, he’s supposed to be the offensive innovator, and the score was 49-14 at halftime. LSU might have been special, but this overall performance wasn’t okay.
71. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
– 5 Thoughts on the Armed Forces Bowl
Tulane 30, Southern Miss 13
There wasn’t anything the coaches could do? Where were the ideas? Everything was rolling along great with a 13-0 start, and then QB Jack Abraham got hurt, and that was it for your 2020 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The defense couldn’t step up and generate a big stop, the offense was a total dud, and the team was totally inept in the second half.
70. Mike Leach, Washington State
– 5 Thoughts on the Cheez-It Bowl
Air Force 31, Washington State 21
Leach had several weeks to prepare and figure out how to do something to slow down the the Air Force offense … nope. The Falcons owned the clock and the game as they kept Anthony Gordon and the Wazzu O on the sidelines. Sorry to go elitist, but the Power Five team lost to the Group of Five military academy. And then Leach was off to Starkville.
69. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
– 5 Thoughts on the Belk Bowl
Kentucky 37, Virginia Tech 30
It was supposed to be the game that send defensive coordinator Bud Foster out on a high note, and instead, the Virginia Tech defense could never figure out Lynn Bowden. It’s not like Kentucky was doing anything funky, but the VT tweaks weren’t there to stop the 233 rushing yards from Bowden, or UK’s game winning drive.
68. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
– 5 Thoughts on the Las Vegas Bowl
Washington 38, Boise State 7
Really, Boise State? Harsin’s team had a huge chance to make a statement that it really was the best team among the Group of Five programs, and it was down 17-0 getting off the bus. This was an okay Washington team, but it wasn’t anything special. It got ugly fast.
67. Lovie Smith, Illinois
– 5 Thoughts on the Redbox Bowl
Cal 35, Illinois 20
The Cal offense didn’t score on anyone this year, and it came up with a season-high 35 points on the Illinois defense. The Illini offense didn’t do much of anything to get on the board after taking a 10-3 lead, getting outscored 20-3 until a late touchdown. If bowl games are about preparation and adjustments, Cal did the far better job.
66. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
– 5 Thoughts on the Camping World Bowl
Notre Dame 33, Iowa State 9
Three field goals? Granted, Notre Dame got up for the game, but this was an Iowa State team that pushed Iowa and Oklahoma in wonderful dogfights. It had absolutely nothing. -2 in turnover margin, 272 yards of offense, and one total dud of a bowl performance by a team that was far better than this.
65. Will Healy, Charlotte
– 5 Thoughts on the Bahamas Bowl
Buffalo 31, Charlotte 9
It was the young head coach’s first time trying to figure out the bowl world. His run defense couldn’t come up with anything to slow down the Buffalo ground game, and his offense didn’t work. The 49ers were down 24-0.
64. Sonny Dykes, SMU
– 5 Thoughts on the Boca Raton Bowl
Florida Atlantic 52, SMU 28
Oh COME ON. After doing such a great job to become a national thing this season, Dykes and SMU had the opportunity to finish up with a huge win against a team that lost its head coach, and it was 45-14 as the D gave up 31 straight points to make it a laugher.
63. Gary Andersen, Utah State
– 5 Thoughts on the Frisco Bowl
Kent State 51, Utah State 41
Didn’t the Utah State defense used to be okay? Fine, so the D wasn’t anything special all season long under Andersen, but it got ripped to shreds as it collapsed late. His Aggies had this, and gave up 25 fourth quarter points.
62. Jay Norvell, Nevada
– 5 Thoughts on the Idaho Potato Bowl
Ohio 30, Nevada 21
Don’t just look at the 30-21 final score. Don’t just look at the over 400 passing yards, and don’t give too much love for Norvell’s team fighting back late. This was a clunker by a team that had too many problems throughout the year getting going early. It was down huge going into the fourth quarter before coming up with 12 late points.
61. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
– 5 Thoughts on the Music City Bowl
Louisville 38, Mississippi State 28
Moorhead’s biggest issue was that he’s not Lane Kiffin. Fired after the game, his Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage of a 14-0 lead as the defense got ripped up for 31 straight points. Moorhead’s team gave up 510 yards as it couldn’t stop the bleeding. There weren’t any answers, and there was no getting the O going against a mediocre Louisville defensive front.
60. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
– 5 Thoughts on the Arizona Bowl
Wyoming 38, Georgia State 17
This was going to be a bit of a fight no matter what against the great Wyoming defense. What Elliott and his coaches couldn’t get past was a Cowboy offense that almost never showed up this season. Georgia State wasn’t all that awful, but it gave up well over 500 yards to one of the nation’s weakest attacks.
59. Doc Holliday, Marshall
– 5 Thoughts on the Gasparilla Bowl
UCF 48, Marshall 25
Holliday doesn’t lose bowl games, but his team was outplayed and hurt itself with five giveaways. The offense didn’t work until it was way too late, and the defense got rocked early on. The Herd were down 31-7 before getting their first offensive points.
58. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
– 5 Thoughts on the Outback Bowl
Minnesota 31, Auburn 24
He had the better team and the better lines, but the Tigers couldn’t seem to come up with a good stop at the right time. Give Malzahn credit, though – the defense adjusted in the second half. Minnesota outplayed Auburn, but it still took several key plays and moments to pull it off. Even so, 232 yards from a Gus Malzahn offense isn’t okay.
57. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
– 5 Thoughts on the Liberty Bowl
Navy 20, Kansas State 17
Klieman and his coaches are going to be kicking themselves all offseason for losing this to Navy. They couldn’t stop one guy – Navy QB Malcolm Perry ran for 213 yards – and their offense couldn’t do a lick to get moving, and yet it was only a three-point loss. Navy was good, but Kansas State had the make-up to control this, and didn’t.
56. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
– 5 Thoughts on the Quick Lane Bowl
Pitt 34, Eastern Michigan 30
Narduzzi got the win, and his team had a habit of playing up or down to the competition all season long, but this was a bad MAC team that should’ve been rocked, and wasn’t. The Panther defense had too many problems trying to figure out EMU QB Mike Glass.
55. Chuck Martin, Miami University
– 5 Thoughts on the LendingTree Bowl
Louisiana 27, Miami University 17
It was a nice effort and performance by a team missing the weapons and pop to keep up. The defense was able to handle the Louisiana running game well enough to keep this from getting out of hand – it was a seven-point game late – but it took too much to come back. It was a better performance by Martin’s team than the ten-point final margin.
54. Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern
– 5 Thoughts on the Cure Bowl
Liberty 23, Georgia Southern 16
The offense didn’t work. With time to prepare, Georgia Southern was supposed to dominate with its ground game, but the O finished with just 249 yards, committed ten penalties, and couldn’t come through late. It wasn’t an awful performance, but Liberty got up quicker.
53. Bill Clark, UAB
– 5 Thoughts on the New Orleans Bowl
Appalachian State 31, UAB 17
UAB was a massive underdog, but still … it should’ve been better than this after a hot start. Clark’s team got up 14-0, was up at halftime, and got its doors blown off in the third quarter.
52. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
– 5 Thoughts on the First Responders Bowl
WKU 23, Western Michigan 20
It was a thriller of a game that came down to a late field goal. That only happened because of a defensive substitution penalty on WMU following a frantic WKU drive. The Hilltoppers only got the ball back after a missed WMU fourth down try instead of going for a tough field goal try for a late three point lead. The fourth down play didn’t work, and WKU marched down for the win.
51. Ryan Silverfield, Memphis
– 5 Thoughts on the Cotton Bowl
Penn State 53, Memphis 39
Okay, so the defense wasn’t even close, but the offense put up 479 yards through the air and the team managed to keep it interesting until halfway through the second half. Considering this was the big stage, and head coach Mike Norvell quit so he could coach Florida State, this wasn’t a bad debut for the new guy.