The AAC will look radically different in 2023 as Cincinnati, Houston and UCF join the Big 12 on July 1. Those moves will be countered by the arrivals of six former Conference USA members as Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA begin AAC play this season, adding four first-year coaches to the league.
In total, seven of the AAC's 14 coaches are entering their first season on the job as the league's landscape undergoes a seismic shift. The three departing schools combined to win five of the conference's eight titles since the AAC Championship Game's inception in 2015.
Only Mike Bloomgren (Rice) and Willie Fritz (Tulane) have been on the job for more than four seasons entering the 2023 campaign, and nine of the 14 AAC coaches are either in their first or second season. With a lack of established success among the coaching ranks, many new faces will look to fill that vacuum and assert themselves in the pecking order.
So who are the best coaches in the AAC heading into the league's new era? Here is how our team of CBS Sports college football writers voted ahead of the 2023 season.
2023 AAC coaches, ranked
1. Willie Fritz, Tulane: Fritz had an opportunity to leave after guiding Tulane to the AAC title. Instead, he stayed and led the Green Wave to a thrilling Cotton Bowl win over USC to cap a 12-2 season. Heading into his eighth season at Tulane, Fritz is the longest-tenured coach in the conference and has taken a Green Wave program that was struggling before his arrival to four bowls in the past five seasons. 2022 AAC ranking: 5
2. Jeff Traylor, UTSA: UTSA is 23-5 over the last two seasons with consecutive Conference USA titles. After retaining Traylor, the Roadrunners are poised to remain contenders amid the transition to the AAC. Traylor is a Texas native with deep ties within the state, which makes him a perfect fit for this burgeoning Group of Five power. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
3. Tom Herman, FAU: Herman posted a 32-18 record in four years at Texas. In fact, he had a better record through two seasons (17-10) than current Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian (13-12). After two years away from college coaching, Herman looks poised to reclaim the positive reputation he enjoyed after a 22-4 run at Houston. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
4. Rhett Lashlee, SMU: SMU ranked 14th nationally in total offense during Lashlee's first season as the Mustangs finished 7-6 with a loss to BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. Before landing the gig at SMU, he was an FBS offensive coordinator for a decade including stints at Auburn and Miami. At just 39 years old, he has the potential to develop into a college football coaching star. 2022 AAC ranking: 9
5. Mike Houston, ECU: ECU is 13-10 (9-7 AAC) over the past two seasons under Houston. The Pirates rattled off an impressive three-game winning streak against Memphis, UCF and BYU last season while narrowly missing out on upsets of Cincinnati and NC State. With an FCS national championship under his belt from his time at James Madison, he has the Pirates in position to contend for titles in the revamped league. 2022 AAC ranking: 8
6. Ryan Silverfield, Memphis: Year 4 will be huge for Silverfield. Though he has finished .500 or better in each of his three seasons as Memphis' coach, the program has taken a step back from the Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell days. There is no reason why the Tigers shouldn't be among the best teams in the revamped AAC. 2022 AAC ranking: 7
7. Kevin Wilson, Tulsa: Wilson resigned at Indiana in 2016 amid allegations that he mistreated players. He was just 26-47 in his six-year stint with the Hoosiers but did lead the program to back-to-back bowl appearances in his final two seasons. After a successful run as Ohio State's offensive coordinator, he returns to the head coaching ranks. The resources and facilities at Tulsa pale in comparison to those he became accustomed to with the Buckeyes, but if Wilson still has the fire at age 61, and learned his lesson at Indiana, this could work out for the Golden Hurricane. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
8. Alex Golesh, South Florida: Golesh spent the past three seasons as offensive coordinator for Josh Heupel, first at UCF and then at Tennessee. He also worked under Matt Campbell at Iowa State. He's seen firsthand how to successfully build a program. Hopefully, he retained much of that insight because South Florida is just 4-29 over the past three seasons. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
9. Mike Bloomgren, Rice: Rice earned a bowl invitation last season for the first time since 2014, but it came despite a 5-7 record. The Owls posted a 12-25 mark in C-USA play during their first five seasons under Bloomgren, but now they're entering a tougher league. Rice is a hard job, so it's hard to knock Bloomgren too much. Still, it's difficult to imagine the Owls making much noise in the AAC. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
10. Eric Morris, North Texas: Incarnate Word was just 1-10 in 2017 before Morris took over with his high-powered offense. Under his guidance, the program enjoyed two FCS playoff appearances in four seasons. After one solid season as Washington State's offensive coordinator, he's returning to his native Texas to lead the Mean Green. Morris' in-state connections and past experience make this an appealing hire. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
11. Stan Drayton, Temple: Temple's three wins in Drayton's first season came against the lowly trio of Lafayette, UMass and South Florida. However, the Owls were within one possession against Rutgers, Navy, Houston and East Carolina. If Temple can flip a few of those close losses into wins, then perhaps Drayton will find himself climbing the rankings next season. 2022 AAC ranking: 11
12. Biff Poggi, Charlotte: Poggi, 63, spent the past two seasons as the associate head coach to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Before that, he was a longtime high school coach who moonlighted as a hedge fund manager. This is an outside-the-box pick for Charlotte, but the 49ers are just 29-62 in eight seasons at the FBS level and in need of a fresh approach. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
13. Brian Newberry, Navy: Newberry spent the past four seasons as Navy's defensive coordinator -- his first FBS gig. To return the Midshipmen to AAC contention, he'll need to pull the program out of a rut. Navy is just 11-23 over the past three seasons. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A
14. Trent Dilfer, UAB: A UAB program that has finished .500 or better for seven straight seasons turned the keys over to a high school coach. Yes, Dilfer won a Super Bowl as a quarterback and state championships in Tennessee as a coach, but this is quite a jump for someone who has never even been a college assistant. 2022 AAC ranking: N/A