Award season is in full swing here at the Rush. I could easily make a "Miner Rush All- CUSA" team but I personally think this is more fun and we'll have 8-10 of those lists which will largely be the same coming out in the coming days from the various papers and the league office.
This Rushie goes to the C-USA coach that did the best job this season in the eyes of Miner fans. You can vote for the guy you think does less with more or the guy who you simply think is the best gameplannner out there. Who do you think did the best coaching job this season in the C-USA? And the nominees are.....
1. Ruffin McNeill (East Carolina)
Despite his uncanny resemblance to Carl Winslow, the father on the old TV show Family Matters, McNeill had one heck of a coaching debut at ECU.
Arguments For: East Carolina lost more seniors than any other team in the nation yet the Pirates were still very competitive in the top heavy C-USA East. The Pirates beat Southern Miss., N.C. State, and Tulsa in the seasons opening week. Perhaps Ruffin's best move was bringing in Lincoln Riley to become the OC. Riley was formerly the OC under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He transformed ECU into an elite spread offense.
Arguments Against: Easy. ECU lost four of their last five games including a baffling loss to Rice where they allowed the Owls hapless offense to score a ridiculous 62 points. McNeill was supposed to be a defensive minded coach yet the Pirates finished a disappointing 118th in the nation in scoring defense.
2. George O'Leary (UCF)
O'Leary makes the list because UCF won the league and because he has overseen UCF as they've gone from a national afterthought to an elite defensive minded team that should be at or near the top of the C-USA for the foreseeable future.
Arguments For: UCF won the C-USA Championship in impressive fashion. The Knights also boasted the nations 12th best scoring defense and 18th best total defense. A 10 win season is nothing to scoff at. Also, don't forget that last spring O'Leary garnered headlines for booting one of his top recruits off the team after he was arrested and charged with a felony. O'Leary wants to win with the right kind of kids.
Arguments Against: The Knights just can't seem to get that elusive win against a BCS opponent. Houston was able to knock off Texas Tech and Oklahoma State last year. ECU knocked off a NC State team that beat UCF this season. The bottom line is that UCF will never become a trendy BCS crasher pick, like Houston was coming into this season, until they can beat a BCS team. And let's face it, UCF isn't scheduling elite BCS teams. There's no reason why the Knights couldn't beat NC State or Kansas State who were both middle of the pack squads in BCS leagues that both had down years. Of course, O'Leary will get a shot at Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, but I have no confidence that the Knights can beat a program like that until, you know, they actually do.
3. Larry Fedora (Southern Miss.)
Fedora is now 22-16 after three years in Hattiesburg.
Arguments For: Fedora had a career high at USM with 8 wins this season. USM was a tough out week in and week out and was the only C-USA team to beat the UCF Knights, who they beat at Orlando. Fedora also was able to coach his team to a win over Houston in the same week that linebacker Martez Smith was paralyzed after a shooting following the UCF win. It takes a good coach to get his team through a trying time like that and have them ready to play a week later. Fedora also masterfully handled a mini QB controversy between starter Austin Davis and dual threat athlete Martevious Young. The fans all seemingly wanted Young to start for the Eagles but Fedora stuck with Davis who had a very nice season.
Arguments Against: Losing to South Carolina at their place is understandable. Losing to East Carolina by 1 point is understandable. Losing by 6 in a shoot out to a surging Tulsa squad to close the season is okay too. Losing at home to 4-8 UAB is not okay though. USM's bone headed loss to the Blazers killed any chance they had to compete for the C-USA East title which is frankly what they were expected to do this season.
4. Kevin Sumlin (Houston)
I know, the Coogs were 5-7. I know they lost to Rice. I know they ended the season on a four game losing streak...
Arguments For: No coach, Mike Price included, had to deal with more injury problems than Kevin Sumlin and the Houston Cougars. Sumlin didn't just lose All America candidate Case Keenum, he also lost his primary backup in the seasons third week. UH was battered along the defensive line as well. Sumlin get a nomination because he kept the wheels from coming off until after Halloween. If UTEP loses Trevor Vittatoe and James Thomas II for the season, would Mike Price find a way to go 5-7? It'd be 2-10, or 3-9, guys.
Sumlin went to his fourth stringer, David Piland, and found a way to play competitive football against UCF (40-33 loss), and Tulsa (28-25 loss). He also managed to thump C-USA West Champion SMU. Yes, Houston lost their final four games to UCF, Tulsa, Southern Miss, and Texas Tech. But, that's a heck of a treacherous slate down the stretch for an injury riddled squad.
Arguments Against: I don't expect Sumlin to get a lot of votes but I really wanted to point out how impressed I was with him keeping Houston competitive with Tulsa and UCF and managing to knock SMU with Piland in at QB. The Coogs will not go to a bowl game. The Rice loss, 34-31, was disappointing. Even so, Sumlin earned my respect moreso this season than last year because of how his team handled adversity.