Has the Sun Belt become a destination coaching conference?

Thank Coastal Carolina, the former college baseball national champions and the current football media darlings who have cast the Hollywood spotlight on the Sun Belt. Give some credit to Louisiana as well, who spent the majority of 2020 hanging out in the AP and College Football Playoffs Top 25. If we want to evenly spread the credit, raise a thumb to Appalachian State and Troy, too. Both programs have been recently ranked. Lastly, give a nod to Arkansas State, whose coaching tree seeds the SEC and tops the rankings.

Thanks to hard work of these programs, the often maligned Sun Belt has become a coaching destination. It wasn’t long ago, at all, when an open Sun Belt gig was considered a place where an FCS coach or very young coordinator was “given a shot” at “real” coaching. Sometimes, the SBC was the retirement nest egg for an aging coach with more reputation than victories. That’s not quite so today.

Yes, I know ULM just hired 64-year-old Terry Bowden, famous for delivering an undefeated season for Auburn in 1993. But Bowden just recently transformed Akron into a legit MAC contender. There’s still steam in that engine (at least, so hope the Warhawks.)

Speaking of Auburn, two Sun Belt coaches – Jamey Chadwell of Coastal Carolina and Billy Napier of Louisiana – rejected the Tigers before former Sun Belt coach Bryan Harsin accepted the position. Coastal rewarded Chadwell with a beefy extension. Napier claimed he loved where the Cajuns were going. What the hell, Sun Belt? Who are you now?

In addition to Bowden, the talent coming into the conference is raising eyebrows. Butch Jones (Central Michigan – Cincinnati – Tennessee) has come to Arkansas State to rebrand his career. Broyles Award Finalist and celebrated Indiana assistant Kane Wommack joins South Alabama (replacing and FCS coach), and he brought Major Applewhite with him to manage the offense. That’s some celebrity star power.

The Sun Belt has shed its stepping stone reputation. Let’s not go total Mike Aresco here – top talent won’t end a career in the SBC. But we’re no longer a coach-in-training conference. We’re a portal to big gigs and Top 25 recognition.

The Sun Belt has arrived.

PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas State Athletic Department