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When College Greats Come Home: A Look at Current Alumni Coaches

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Jonathan Smith is the new head coach at his alma mater, but will it ultimately matter?

Jonathan Smith #9

After weeks of waiting, Oregon State finally has their man.

Jonathan Smith, the quarterback that led the Beavers during the best season in the program's history, is coming home to be the head coach.

Many fans are excited for the former quarterback's return, as the name Jonathan Smith conjures memories of an 11-1 season; of a 41-9 dismantling of Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl; of a #4 ranking in the season-ending AP Poll. The idea of Smith taking the disaster that has become Oregon State football and somehow stabilizing the program, building the program back up to the heights that he once took it to as a player...well, that's some inspiring stuff for a fan base that desperately needs something—anything—to hold on to.

At the same time, many fans are worried. This will be Smith's first head coaching gig, and even though Smith has worked as a coach under some big names in the Northwest—names like Dennis Erickson, Mike Riley, and Chris Petersen—many fans are worried that a head coaching job, and more specifically, this head coaching job, might be a little too big for the 38-year-old first-timer.

At this point, the hire has been made. We'll certainly find out within the next couple of years if Smith is able to breathe new life into a program that has found itself, quite quickly, at the bottom of a very competitive conference.

In the meantime, let's look at the FBS coaches that are currently the head coach at their alma mater, and see how they've done.

Note: at the time of this writing, Scott Frost was NOT yet the head coach of Nebraska. He is rumored to be very much in play for the Cornhuskers, his alma mater.


Mark Richt, Miami (FL) - Richt played quarterback for the Hurricanes from 1979-1982, mostly serving as a backup to NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly.

Miami v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Richt's first head coaching job was as the lead man for Georgia, where he racked up a 145-51 record in 15 seasons. In 2016 he left Georgia to become the head coach of his alma mater, Miami (FL), where he has a 19-5 record, including a current 10-1 record and a #7 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff standings. Miami plays #1-ranked Clemson this coming weekend in the ACC Championship Game. Win or lose, when this season ends Richt will have led his teams to a bowl game in each of his 17 seasons as a head coach.

Grade of this alum hire: High. Like, really high. Richt, in just his second season at Miami, has returned the program to national prominence. The Hurricanes are not only winning games, but winning games with swagger.


Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State - Gundy played quarterback for the Cowboys from 1986-1989, where he finished his career as Oklahoma State's all-time passing yards leader, a mark that has since been surpassed by both Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph—while playing for head coach Mike Gundy.

As a player, Gundy not only set a program passing mark but he also led Oklahoma State to two 10-win seasons. To be fair, he did have both Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders in his backfield, but let's not let that minor detail derail us here.

Oklahoma State v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Gundy's first (and only) head coaching job has been at his alma mater, Oklahoma State. Since 2005, he has a record of 113-53 with only one losing season, his first at the school. The high point (so far) may have been Oklahoma State's finish in 2011, where they were ranked #3 in the country after going 12-1. Gundy's only losing season, that first season, was also the only one in which Gundy failed to take the team to a bowl game. When this season ends, the school will be on a 12-year streak of earning a bowl trip.

Grade of this alum hire: About as good as it gets. The Mike Gundy era is, without a doubt, the best era in the program's entire history and it began with a school taking a chance on a former great with no previous head coaching experience—the same kind of gamble that the Beavers are taking with Jonathan Smith.


Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech - Kingsbury played quarterback for the Red Raiders from 1998-2002, where he set nearly 40 school records for passing and finished his career holding seven NCAA records. Kingsbury threw for more than 3,000 yards in three separate seasons during his career—at the time, only the fourth quarterback to achieve such a feat.

Kansas v Texas Tech

Kingsbury's stint as Texas Tech's head coach—from 2013 to present—is also his first job as a head coach. In his nearly five seasons he has a 30-32 record, with single-season win totals ranging from four to eight. This season, Texas Tech is 6-6 and waiting to find out which bowl game they will be playing in.

Grade of this alum hire: Ehhh. I mean, Kingsbury got everyone excited in his first year as head coach by finishing the year at 8-5 with a Holiday Bowl win, but in his five years the program hasn't finished higher than fifth in the Big 12. Kingsbury also happens to be one of the younger coaches in the country at 38 years old—the same age as Jonathan Smith.


Tom Allen, Indiana - Allen didn't play any college ball, so his inclusion here is kind of a cheat as he's not a "college great" in the sense that we've been using it. However, he does have a degree from Indiana so he is still a head coach at his alma mater.

Indiana v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Allen is also a first-time head coach, taking the position with Indiana just before last year's Foster Farms Bowl (in which the Hoosiers lost to Utah 26-24). In his first full season, Indiana went 5-7 and finished last in the Big Ten's East division.

Grade of this alum hire: Jury's out. Their record was bad, but with Indiana's reputation and the conference they play in, maybe 5-7 is an acceptable first-year record. Also of note: four of their seven losses were by eight points or less, so it seems that the players are competing under Allen's leadership.


Jim Harbaugh, Michigan - Harbaugh played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1982-1986, where he finished his career as Michigan's career passing yards leader. In 1986, Harbaugh led the Wolverines to an 11-2 record and a season-ending #8 ranking in the AP Poll.

Florida v Michigan Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Harbaugh has been the head coach of Michigan for nearly three seasons now, and has compiled a 28-10 record while there. Before Michigan, however, Harbaugh wore his Dockers and his incredulous facial expressions all over California: first as the head coach of San Diego State, then the head coach of Stanford, then the head coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. In his tenth season as a college coach, Harbaugh has a career collegiate record of 86-37, including five seasons with 10 or more wins.

Grade of this alum hire: Knocked it out of the park, fell back to earth in flames, waiting to soar once more—as is the usual with Harbaugh. His fiery personality keeps his teams in the spotlight, which is great when they win. And, as a whole, Harbaugh has done a lot of winning. However, in three seasons at Michigan Harbaugh has only a 1-5 record against Michigan's rival schools, Michigan State and Ohio State. Harbaugh will never cruise in the smooth middle: he'll always be made of high highs, and lower lows.


Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern - Fitzgerald played linebacker and slot receiver for the Wildcats from 1993-1996, where he starred on the defensive side of the ball. He was the Big Ten Consensus Player of the Year twice, a two-time Consensus All-American, and won both the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Trophy in 1995 and 1996. Mama, he's a bad man.

Northwestern v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

As a coach, Fitzgerald is Northwestern through and through. He took the head coaching job—his first—in 2006 and has racked up an 86-65 record while playing against Big Ten blue bloods year in and year out. This season, the Wildcats went 9-3 and, pending the result of their upcoming bowl game, have a shot at Fitzgerald's third 10-win season in his 12 seasons as their head coach.

Grade of this alum hire: A royal (purple) success. Northwestern is viewed as the "nerd" school in the Big Ten, but under the guidance of Fitzgerald the Wildcats are a threat to upset anyone every season. While their year to year record has fluctuated wildly in Fitzgerald's tenure, their high points have made it worth the hire—especially when considering their conference competition.


Paul Chryst, Wisconsin - Chryst was a quarterback and then a tight end for the Badgers from 1986-1988, where he struggled to get on the field but managed to letter three times.

Big Ten Championship - Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As a head coach, Chryst spent three seasons with Pittsburgh before taking the position at Wisconsin in 2015. While he was just 19-19 at Pittsburgh, he has gone 33-6 at his alma mater with a 10-win season and an 11-win season already completed and a current 12-0 season in progress. The Badgers, currently ranked #4 in the College Playoff Rankings, will play #8-ranked Ohio State this weekend in the Big Ten Championship game.

Grade of this alum hire: Perfectly calibrated, a well-oiled machine. Wisconsin has long been a power in terms of national rankings, but it seems that they just can't ever win the big one. They consistently churn out nine-win seasons, 10-win seasons, but always falter when taking on the big boys. Under Chryst, they have established themselves as one of the big boys.


Kalani SItake, BYU - Sitake played fullback for the Cougars in 1994 and also from 1997-2000, where he started for three seasons. He was named a team captain in his senior year, and averaged 4.3 yards per carry throughout his career.

BYU v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Oregon State fans are familiar with this guy, as he served as the Defensive Coordinator for the Beavers in 2015. He left Corvallis prior to the 2016 season, after accepting his first head coaching job—at his alma mater. In two seasons, Sitake has a record of 13-13, but those two seasons couldn't be any more different. 2016 saw the Cougars go 9-4 with a win in the Poinsettia Bowl, while 2017 saw the Cougars stumble to a 4-9 record behind an injury-riddled team and an impotent offense.

Grade of this alum hire: Little of this, little of that. The good season could be attributed to Sitake just riding the stability that his predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, had established at BYU. The bad season could be attributed to the injuries, as BYU finished the season on their fourth-string quarterback and their seventh-string running back. Let's give Sitake another year before questioning this hire.


Tim Lester, Western Michigan - Lester played quarterback for the Broncos from 1996-1999, where he set 17 school records and finished his career as the fourth-ranked quarterback in all of Division I football in passing yards.

Western Michigan v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As a coach, Lester is finishing up his first as the head man. He took over prior to this season after P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota, and went 6-6 in his inaugural campaign. The Broncos will have a shot at finishing above-.500 once they play their bowl game, but after the success that Fleck had at Western Michigan it seems that 6-6 would be a disappointment for fans of this program.

Grade of this alum hire: Fizzle, dizzle. It's hard to follow in the footsteps of a character such as P.J. Fleck, and I'm sure that the former coach took some recruits with him when he left, but after being ranked last season, a 6-6 finish is not going to keep fans happy for long. The Broncos have the opposite problem that the Beavers do: post-Fleck, the only place they can go is down.


Troy Calhoun, Air Force - Calhoun played quarterback for the Falcons from 1985-1988, where he lettered on their 1985 team that finished the year with a 12-1 record.

Air Force v Boise State Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

As a head coach, Calhoun has led Air Force since 2007 and amassed a record of 82-60. Air Force is his first—and only—job as a head coach, and they have shown that they are willing to stick with him through tough stretches. From 2010 through 2013 the team saw its record drop from 9-4 to 7-6 to 6-7 to 2-10, but Calhoun held onto his job. In 2014 the team bounced right back with a 10-3 season, which they replicated in 2016 when they went 10-3 once more. This year, Air Force went 5-7 and will not be playing in a bowl game.

Grade of this alum hire: The flyover was nice, but the landing gear failed to deploy. Look, winning at the service academies is always going to be difficult, and Calhoun has had some nice flashes. But recruiting to these programs has to be a different animal, and the swings in Calhoun's record show that much of the program's success depends on the athletes taking the field. Some years will take off, others won't get off the runway.


Brian Harsin, Boise State - Harsin played quarterback for the Broncos from 1995-1999, where he threw 39 total passes in four years. All that time on the sidelines prepared him for what would be a pretty successful coaching career thus far.

Boise State v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

As a head coach, Harsin spent one season at Arkansas State, going 7-5 and leaving for Boise State without coaching in the Red Wolves bowl game. At Boise State, Harsin has a record of 40-12 in his four seasons at his alma mater.

Grade of this alum hire: Business is (blue)ming as usual. Chris Petersen put Boise State on the map and, while he hasn't matched the success of Petersen, Harsin has done a nice job of maintaining the status quo. With their upcoming bowl game, the Broncos have a shot at their third season with at least 10 wins during Harsin's four-year tenure and, while not ranked, Boise State is still a team that nobody really wants to play.


Jeff Tedford, Fresno State - Tedford played quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1981-1982, where he set program records (at the time) in passing yardage and in touchdown passes.

Fresno State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

As a head coach, Tedford spent 11 seasons leading California, where he compiled a record of 82-57. He then went and coached professionally for three years before coming home to his alma mater this season. In 2017, Tedford's first year as Fresno State's head coach, the Bulldogs went 9-3 and will play Boise State this weekend in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

Grade of this alum hire: It's in the air...the receiver has a step on his man...aanndd...it's caught for a touchdown! After Tedford's long tenure coaching a major conference school, this is the kind of hire that smaller schools dream will pan out but often doesn't. In Tedford's case, he's made Fresno State an interesting destination and has done it using an Oregon State transfer quarterback, Marcus McMaryion.


Nick Rolovich, Hawaii - Rolovich played quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors from 2000-2001, where he threw for more than 500 yards in each of his final three collegiate games. Rolovich broke 19 program records for passing despite being there for only two seasons.

NCAA Football: Hawaii at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Rolovich took his first-ever head coaching job with Hawaii in 2016, and has gone 10-16 as their head coach. His first season was a passable 7-7 year, while this season Hawaii struggled all year en route to a 3-9 record.

Grade of this alum hire: Aloha, Rolovich. Hawaii isn't good, and it's traditionally impossible to win there. But at least the weather is nice and—as long as they win six games—the team is a shoo-in for the Hawaii Bowl each year.


Matt Wells, Utah State - Wells played quarterback for the Aggies from 1993-1996, where he played sparingly but still managed to throw for more than 2,000 yards in his career.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching Utah State has been the only head coaching job that Wells has held, and during his five seasons as their lead man the team has gone 34-31. The first two seasons that Wells was head coach the Aggies showed promise, going 9-5 and 10-4. However, the last three seasons have seen the program go 6-7, 3-9, and 6-6.

Grade of this alum hire: How do we get back to when it all began? It's tough watching a member of a football program's family struggle, and so when a new coach does well it can really be exciting. However, with the direction that the Aggies are moving in, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wells looking for work elsewhere before too much longer has passed.


David Shaw, Stanford - Shaw played wide receiver for the Cardinal from 1991-1994, where he also participated in basketball and track. Shaw caught five touchdowns in his playing career for Stanford.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

When Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to become head coach for the NFL's 49ers, Shaw got his first opportunity to be a head coach himself. And: he sure hasn't disappointed. Shaw has a 73-20 record as Stanford's man-in-charge, including five seasons with at least 10 wins in his first six seasons. If Stanford can beat USC in this weekend's Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, or win whichever bowl game they earn, then Shaw will have tallied six seasons with at least 10 wins in his first seven seasons as a head coach.

Grade of this alum hire: Ivy-League West strikes again, passing with flying colors. Stanford is a juggernaut. They have become a modern-day blue blood, and have as established an identity of any team in the country. In the conference that is known for quarterbacks and spread offenses, Stanford will beat their opponent up physically, wear them down offensively, and win the battle of attrition.


Kirby Smart, Georgia - Smart played defensive back for the Bulldogs from 1995-1998, where he grabbed 13 career interceptions, good for fourth all-time in Georgia program record books.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As a first-time head coach, Smart took his alma mater to a lackluster 8-5 record in 2016, but rebounded nicely this season as the Bulldogs are currently 11-1 and ranked #6 in the College Football Playoff. Georgia is set to play #2-ranked Auburn this weekend in the SEC Championship Game.

Grade of this alum hire: What have you done for SEC lately? Everyone loves Smart today, which is kind of the SEC way. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORL—um, I mean, wants to be Nick Saban, which is why Smart's first season caused many fans so much stress. However, if Georgia can finally win the big one by beating Auburn this weekend, then they are conference champions and have an outside shot of sneaking into the College Football Playoff.


Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State - Satterfield played quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1991-1995, where he led the program to an undefeated regular-season record as a senior.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

As a head coach, Satterfield's experience is only at Appalachian State. He became the head coach in 2013 and has a record of 39-22 since taking over. Most notably, he has taken the Mountaineers to the Camellia Bowl twice, winning each time.

Grade of this alum hire: Make room at the adult table: little Appy is all grown up. In 2014, Appalachian State moved from the FCS level to the FBS level, and haven't experienced the struggles that so many teams do when making that jump. They are 26-5 in conference play since moving up to the FBS level, and regularly handle their business against their Sun Belt foes.


Jonathan Smith, Oregon State.

As you can see, there are a number of former quarterbacks that have become head coaches for their alma maters. There are also every type of success/failure to be found. Some—though not very many—have losing records. Others have done quite well in taking a broken program and elevating it to heights that it once was at, or even heights that it has never before been.

What will be the legacy of the Jonathan Smith era at Oregon State? Will his legend grow as Mike Gundy's has at Oklahoma State? All of Beaver Nation would love to see Smith become our OSU's version of that OSU's coach: the records, the wins, the mullet, the press conference maniac—I'm a man! I'm 40!

Time will tell.

Oh, and Jonathan Smith has roughly nine months to prepare for his first game ever as a head coach: At the Horseshoe, against Urban Meyer and Ohio State.