College Football’s Best Ex-High School Coaches
5. Bill Blankenship (Tulsa)
As outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article, some of the hottest names in college football coaching right now got their starts at the high school ranks. We rank the five best who’ve transitioned from head coaching on Fridays to Saturdays (NOTE: FBS head coaches only.)
By the time he decided he wanted to be a college coach, Blankenship was already 49 years old and had been an Oklahoma high school coach for 20 years - the last 14 of which were spent at Tulsa’s Union High, where he went 154-26 and won Class 6A state titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
He finally got his chance one year after leaving Union in 2005, spending 2007-2010 as a Golden Hurricane assistant. Since taking over for the departed Todd Graham in 2011, Blankenship has led Tulsa to a 20-10 record and top dog status in Conference USA. Don’t be shocked if a power conference team offers Blankenship a head-coaching job soon.
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1. Art Briles (Baylor)
For spending virtually his entire coaching career being very good at putting up huge offensive numbers, Briles is our pick for the best FBS head coach who got his start at the high school level.
In 16 years as a high school coach in football-mad Texas, Briles went 165-46-3. Originally a practitioner of a devastating ground game, he is widely credited as one of the coaches who introduced the now widely-practiced spread offense to the rest of the state - one used to great effect by former pupils Branndon Stewart (Tennessee and Texas A&M) and Kevin Kolb (Houston) at the college level.
Don’t be fooled by Briles’ 70-58 record as a college head coach. Only a forward-thinking coach with his know-how could turn both Houston and Baylor into perennial winners. This year’s 19th-ranked Bears team - two years removed from Robert Griffin III’s Heisman win - might possess his best offense yet and could have Baylor headed to its first BCS bowl ever.
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2. Gus Malzahn (Auburn)
When then-Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt hired Malzahn from Springdale (AR) High School in 2005, many wondered if it was just a ploy to ensure that the key players on Malzahn’s 2005 state-title winning team would all commit to the Hogs, specifically QB Mitch Mustain. It’s safe to say at this point that Malzahn has more than justified that initial hiring.
With the Razorbacks in 2006, he turned RBs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones into stars. At Tulsa (2007-2008), he presided over the nation’s top-ranked offense (in terms of total yards) two years in a row. At Auburn, QB Cam Newton became the 2010 Heisman winner running his offense, which also paced the Tigers to that year’s national title.
Now, after a one-year stint as Arkansas State’s head coach, he’s back on The Plains and at the helm of a Tigers program that is on the rise again after a disastrous end to the Gene Chizk Era.
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3. Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
Often unmentioned in “The Blind Side” narrative of former Ole Miss and current Baltimore Ravens OL Michael Oher is how his former high school coach, Freeze, went along for the ride and then some.
Freeze went 94-30 in ten seasons as the head coach at Oher’s high school alma mater, Memphis’ Briarcrest Christian School. He then followed Oher to Oxford, MS, where he spent three seasons as an assistant before head-coaching stops at NAIA Lambuth University (2008-2009) and Arkansas State (2011).
The 30-7 record Freeze accumulated at Lambuth and Arkansas State could prove to be a harbinger for his return to the Rebels, who are 3-0, ranked No. 21 and stockpiled with talented recruits in his second season at the helm. It’s been a meteoric rise for a coach in just his second season in the SEC.
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4. Todd Graham (Arizona State)
Had it not been for Graham, Allen (TX) High School outside of Dallas might never have become a national power. During his tenure as the Eagles’ head coach (1995-2000), Graham led a program that had no district wins the year prior to his arrival to five playoff berths in six seasons.
That success launched him to a journeyman college coaching career, with assistant gigs at West Virginia (2001) and Tulsa (2003-2005) and head-coaching jobs at Rice (2006), Tulsa (2007-2010), Pitt (2011) and Arizona State (2012-Present).
Should the Sun Devils improve on last year’s 8-5 mark, Graham might finally decide to put down stakes in Tempe.
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