Ranking the top non-FBS head coaching destinations: NAIA #6

Last week, we announced plans to highlight the top non-FBS head coaching destinations, starting with the NAIA level. We spent a considerable amount of time fielding a bunch of input from coaches and passionate folks stating their case for their respective program and now here we are ready to roll out our second program.

Ranking the NAIA level has not been an easy task. I originally planned for the list to be a top 5, but it since expanded to 7. What made it so hard? Well, for starters, there are a handful of programs with really rich traditions early in the 2000s that are trying to find some consistency now, and some new programs really surging since starting a football program from the ground up. Keep in mind we considered tradition, location, administrative and community support, potential, and one other category we’ll simply refer to as momentum.

Checking in at #7 was Southern Oregon. #6 is…

There was a stretch in the early 2000s under Mike Van Diest where it would have been impossible to talk about small college football dynasties without mentioning Carroll College (MT).

For starters, Carroll College is home to the 2nd most national titles of any NAIA football program.

From 2002-2005, Carroll and Van Diest captured four straight national titles. They missed the national title game in 2006, but returned in 2007 to win another one to make five titles in a six season stretch. Their last national title parade happened in 2010, and the program returned in 2011 before losing to a strong St. Xavier squad. While the program hasn’t been back to compete for a natty since, make no mistake that during that 10-year stretch, Carroll was a dominant force – paving the way for their place at #6 on this list.

Through the 2019 season, Carrol ranks 7th in all-time wins at the NAIA level.

A look at their current roster illustrates that they still have a pretty wide recruiting footprint, with 25 players from in-state and a considerable amount from surrounding states like Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and stretching as far as Texas, Florida and California as well. The Carroll name still obviously has some staying power and carries some weight for NAIA talent.

Many coaches that I reached out to for their perspectives left Carroll off their list, but I had a handful of guys reach out that have coached there, or coached against them assuring me that leaving them off a top list would be a grave mistake.

Adminsitrative and community support is outstanding, and because there are no FBS programs, and just two FCS programs (Montana and Montana State) in-state communities really rally around their local small college teams, and when FCS and D-II players look for a local place to transfer, they often end up a place like Carroll.

The school is also home to the late Bob Petrino, who is in the NAIA National Hall of Fame and led the program for 28 seasons (24 of them winning seasons) and his sons Bobby and Paul Petrino both attended the school as well. The program was also the first stop of legendary coach John Galiardi, who spent four seasons leading the program before spending the next 60 years carving out his legacy at St. John’s (D-III – MN).

Van Diest decided to retire back in 2018, and Carroll grad Troy Purcell landed the job after a national search. Purcell previously coached with Paul Petrino at Idaho in a variety of roles and was a very successful HS coach in Idaho for a number of years. He understands the rich tradition of winning he inherited and has the program trending up after a 6-4 finish last year.

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