NCAA Division I-A (FBS)
Kyle Whittingham of Utah
(13-0, Only undefeated Division I-A FBS Team in the 2008/2009 Football Season)
Photo linked from Continuum, the Magazine of the University of Utah
Utah took over as holders of the nation's longest bowl win streak this year, as Boston College, who had won 8 bowl games in a row, lost to Vanderbilt 16-14 in the Music City Bowl. Utah's stunning 31-17 win over Alabama made the Utes 8-0 in their last eight bowl games, which is thus now best in the nation. In our view, the win over the Crimson Tide, combined with the Utes undefeated record and wins over 4 ranked teams, entitle this Utah team to call itself "national champions". In beating Alabama, Utah took a 21-0 Utah lead, which they never relinquished, whereas Florida (a finalist in the BCS game) had to come from behind with 14 fourth quarter points to beat that same Tide team 31-20. This was not caused by the fact that Andre Smith, a top offensive tackle, was suspended for the Sugar Bowl game. It was the Utah defense particularly, which was the difference, holding Alabama to 3.3 yards per play while gaining 5.4 yards per play themselves, whereas Florida and Alabama were equal in this particular matchup, both at 5.6 yards per play. Indeed, the Utah defense held Alabama to 31 net yards rushing on 33 carries, whereas for exactly the same number of carries, 33, Florida allowed Alabama 136 yards rushing, i.e. 103 more yards.
In his fourth year as head coach, Whittingham went from a won-loss record of 7-5 in 2005 (when Whittingham faced a strong challenge to rebuild a team marked by severe graduation losses and by Urban Meyer's departure to Florida), 8-5 in 2006 and 9-4 in 2007, to a perfect year of 13-0 in 2008. The Utah success is a tribute not only to Whittingham but also to former head coach Urban Meyer (now at Florida).
NCAA Division I-AA (FCS)
Mike London of Richmond
(13-3, 2008 NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) National Champions)
Richmond finished only third in the South division of the CAA Conference and experienced an improbable ending to the 2008 footbal season as first-year head coach Mike London won the NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) championship in the playoffs. One must emphasize that this was his first year as a head coach, replacing Dave Clawson, who went to Tennessee as the offensive coordinator for the 2008 football season.
London had been the defensive coordinator for Virginia in the two years prior to this season. He previously also coached as an assistant coach at William & Mary, Boston College, Richmond, and also with the NFL Houston Texans. After going 4-3 in their first seven games, Richmond closed out the season with nine straight wins, knocking off defending threepeat national champion Appalachian State 33-13 in the playoffs and following with wins over #3 seed Northern Iowa (21-20) and #4 seed Montana (24-7) to claim the Division I-AA FCS National Championship.
It was such a big event in Richmond that: "City of Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder . . . declared January 12, 2009 as "University of Richmond National Championship Day.""
NCAA Division II
Bob Nielson of Minnesota-Duluth
(15-0, 2008 NCAA Division II National Champions)
Photograph linked from the Minnesota-Duluth Alumni Association
No college football coach had a more spectacular turn-around success than Bob Nielson, who took over a 4-6 team from the previous season and led it to a 15-0 record and the NCAA Division II Championship. It was the greatest reversal of football fortunes in Division II history. As we wrote previously at LawPundit:
"Minnesota-Duluth crowned an exceptional and unexpected season (they were 4-6 last year) by winning the Division II Championship 21-14 over Northwest Missouri State, who for the fourth year in a row had to settle for second place. What made the Minnesota-Duluth victory so amazing was that prior to this tournament, a Minnesota-Duluth football team had never won ANY playoff game.
But how does a team that was 4-6 the previous season emerge as the national Division II champion with an unbeaten 15-0 record? The answer can only be coaching, as Bob Nielson, after a 4-year break as athletic director, this year also took over the head football coaching duties and brought in some new coaching help (offensive coordinator Curt Wiese)."
NCAA Division III
Larry Kehres of Mount Union
(15-0, 2008 NCAA Division III National Champions)
Photo by Mike Rose of Larry Kehres (right) shaking the hand of Lance Leipold linked from the Cleveland Plain Dealer 2008 Division III Football Championship gallery
Larry Kehres is just simply probably the best coach in college football, but Lance Leipold, our close runner-up for coach of the year honors in this division, may be on his way to being a legend himself one day after winning the Division III championship the previous year - in his first year as head coach - and now again leading his team to the final. Leipold, like Appalachian State head coach, Jerry Moore, was an assistant viz. assistant coach for the Huskers in the good old days of Nebraska football, when NU had the country's top football program.
Here is a YouTube video with an excerpt of a speech by Kehres (misspelled Kahres in the video title):
NAIA Football National Championship
Kalen DeBoer of Sioux Falls
(14-0, 2008 NAIA Football National Champions)
Photograph linked from the University of Sioux Falls website
Sioux Falls avenged their 17-9 defeat at the hands of Carroll of Montana in the previous year's final game and won the 2008 NAIA Football National Championship 23-7 over a team headed by this year's runner-up (in our view) for top NAIA head coach, Mike Van Diest. Kalen DeBoer has a 52-3 record over the past four years.