The top two spots remain the same in the second annual CFBLive! Football Family Atmosphere Rankings. The Football Family List becomes more dysfunctional beyond these paternal programs. Due to head coaching changes and academic penalties based on the APR (Academic Progress Rate), a host of programs disappeared while others made their debut.
Recognition for building strong character and unity in student-athletes doesn’t have to come at the expense of winning. In fact, most of the programs in the 2008-2009 rankings reflect the best of both worlds. We’ve identified key elements to define the intrinsic family feeling created in college football.
Family atmosphere begins with the head coach and his staff. Their guidance, integrity, and personality set the stage for their athletes and employees.
The staff’s leadership bolsters individuals and teams, whether they are facing adversity or handling success. Using input from across the country, we’ve built a list of programs that foster family atmospheres.
Family atmosphere plays a major role in an athlete’s integration with the school and team. This occurs during a time when young athletes are making the transition from home to college. In the end, the football family bond ensures teammates feel included, complete coursework, and aren’t distracted by acts that would otherwise get them grounded. Like any other family, these athletes are given the support to lead successful lives.
Camaraderie shared between athletes can carry a program through challenging times, as evidenced by the many programs on this list that seem to get stronger as the season progresses. Athletes that build trust within one another are more likely to experience success and accomplish their goals.
Recruiting student athletes with these values before they arrive on campus contributes to a healthy atmosphere. However, it’s athletes with troubled pasts that often reap the greatest rewards.
Young student-athletes leaving home for the first time want a comfortable destination that can make their college transition easier. A well-adjusted athlete performs better in school and on the gridiron. This aspect is often overlooked within sports programs, yet it has a significant impact on the long term well being of both the individual and the program as a whole.
THE 2008-09 TOP FAMILY ATMOSPHERE PROGRAMS
Programs going through head coaching changes this year were not eligible for this list. Those that don’t meet the minimum Academic Progress Rate are not qualified for the rankings either. Most of the programs listed below have had their core coaching staff in place for multiple years, but this is not a prerequisite. Data for determining the top programs was collected after January 2007.
Last season West Virginia (Rich Rodriguez), University of Hawaii (June Jones), Auburn (Tommy Tuberville), and Army (Stan Brock) all made the Top 10. This year those coaches and programs are going in another direction and four other programs have replaced them.
1) OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY BEAVERS
Head of the Family: Mike Riley
2008 Ranking: #1
2007 Ranking: #1
Whether the offense is growing beards as a sign of solidarity or the athletes are raising money and awareness for underprivileged children, head coach Mike Riley is the person setting the foundation. Coaches around the league send transfer players to Riley because of the person he is. One of the big stories in previous years was the kidney transplant that graciously went from the offensive coordinator to the offensive line coach’s wife. She’s doing well in 2009…
2) PENN STATE NINTANY LIONS
Head of the Family: Joe Paterno
2008 Ranking: #2
2007 Ranking: #2
Joe Paterno has cultivated an atmosphere of family and trust in State College, PA. The loyalty of defensive coordinator Tom Bradley over the last 29 years illustrates the family aura. In simple terms Bradley explains, “There's just a unique family atmosphere between the staff, the players and the community.” Paterno and Bradley are known for taking immediate corrective action when athletes find trouble off the field and making sure they don’t stray.
3) TEXAS LONGHORNS
Head of the Family: Mack Brown
2008 Ranking: #3
2007 Ranking: #9
The Texas program has enjoyed over a decade of strong leadership and coaching from head coach Mack Brown. Brown ensures his athletes avoid off-field distractions in a place where football players are treated with reverence. In addition, Brown is an advocate to several causes including the Texas Council on Family Violence.
4) WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
Head of the Family: Jim Grobe
2008 Ranking: #4
2007 Ranking: #13
There aren’t many coaches more respected for their (I THINK it’s “their” and not “his”… not entirely sure) integrity and ability to mold youth than Jim Grobe. Grobe has passed up more glamorous head coaching positions to stay at Wake Forest and signed a long term contract. He’s proof that nice guys can finish on top because his staff and athletes persevere through tough times using teamwork and trust.
5) GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Head of the Family: Mark Richt
2008 Ranking: #5
2007 Ranking: #6
Mark Richt uses religious values, weekly ‘Family Nights’, and individual accountability to instill a family atmosphere. Richt’s personal lessons came while playing at the University of Miami when off field troubles derailed his career. Since then his coaching style leads his student-athletes to make smart choices on and off the field.
6) RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
Head of the Family: Greg Schiano
2008 Ranking: #6
2007 Ranking: Not Ranked
The term family atmosphere is easy to apply to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have more siblings playing in their program than nearly every major conference program. During recruiting visits, most recruits admit the primary theme they discovered was the family atmosphere. Greg Schiano extended his contract through 2016, and his pledge to his athletes that he’ll stay for them carries more weight than many other well-respected coaches in the business.
7) VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Head of the Family: Frank Beamer
2008 Ranking: #7
2007 Ranking: #4
It’s been over a year since the tragedy on Blacksburg’s campus. Head Coach Frank Beamer has helped his student-athletes move past the horror and recommit themselves to school and football. His closest friends describe him as feisty and fatherly in the same sentence. Not everyone learns life lessons under Coach Beamer. Ask the Vicks. But overall Beamer is still one of the best at establishing a family feeling among his staff and players.
8) UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TROJANS
Head of the Family: Pete Carroll
2008 Ranking: #8
2007 Ranking: #8
Head Coach Pete Carroll lands on this list for a different reason than most. His charismatic, class act approach is a testament to a school located between downtown Los Angeles and Compton. The distractions are high, but Coach Carroll has regularly discussions with his players about accepting accountability and keeping the annual hype in perspective. Perhaps the biggest compliment comes from former athletes that maintain a brotherhood years after leaving the program.
9) EAST CAROLINA PIRATES
Head of the Family: Skip Holtz
2008 Ranking: #9
2007 Ranking: #12
Skip Holtz may have learned a trick or two from his father (Lou Holtz) about creating team unity and setting an example for athletes. His finest season of coaching occurred this year when his team struggled to a 3-3 start. Holtz didn’t change the playbook. He repaired the cohesiveness of the athletes and instilled an “us-against-the-world” mentality that led to the Conference Championship and Conference USA Coach of the Year Award.
10) NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS
Header of the Family: Bo Pelini
2008 Ranking: #10
2007 Ranking: Unranked
It’s not often a first year coach cracks the Top 10 list, but Bo Pelini has a long list of advocates on his behalf. He started off his first press conference by saying he would bring back Cornhusker tradition and the signature family atmosphere that had evaporated under the two prior regimes. Once the family atmosphere was restored at Nebraska, it was easy to get players to buy into Pelini’s other two ingredients toward winning: Effort and Attitude.
Honorable Mention List:
11) Ohio State: Jim Tressel isn’t the epitome of cool, but he’s created a program based on old-fashioned values, trust and loyalty. Ohio State’s family atmosphere is founded on those values. (2007 Ranking, #11)
12) Louisiana Tech: It all begins with Head Coach and Athletic Director Derek Dooley. In just two seasons Dooley’s leadership has produced team unity that has led to unprecedented wins on the field and in academics. (2007 Ranking, unranked)
13) Ole Miss: When Houston Nutt resigned at Arkansas he took his ability to create team unity and a belief in winning to Ole Miss. Few recruits leave their official visits without mentioning the family atmosphere that surrounds his programs. (2007 Ranking, unranked)
14) Oklahoma: Bob Stoops isn’t a touchy-feely coach, but his former athletes give testimonials that he creates a setting where his athletes feel like family. (2007 Ranking, unranked)
15) Stanford: Jim Harbaugh began molding his coaches and players into a family by handing out gas station uniform shirts with the purpose of building a blue-collar bond throughout the team. (2007 Ranking, unranked)