A few days ago we announced plans to unveil the top five Division III head coaching destinations in college football, and today we begin our dive into it.
In nearly every single response from small college coaches familiar with the D-III landscape, combined with submissions sent in both via Twitter DMs and emails, five schools consistently were mentioned time and time again. While they served as confirmation for me as schools that I had on my preliminary radar for the list, this was once again incredibly difficult.
Much like the NAIA level, the majority of D-III schools playing football are located in the midwest, so this list could again easily be comprised of programs within a few thousand miles of one another.
However, there is one program in particular outside of that midwest footprint that makes a compelling case as a top D-III head coaching destination.
Coming in at #5 is…
Located in McMinnville, Oregon, Linfield College has established themselves as a perennial top 25 program and one of the top small college programs out west.
Across all levels of college football, no team has a longer streak of consecutive winning seasons. Linfield has managed to put together an incredible streak of over 60 consecutive winning seasons dating back to when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office back in 1956. It’s such a part of the history of Linfield football that they have a street on campus named “Streak Street” which serves as a pedestrian walkway for fans to celebrate the streak.
Since 2010 especially under head coach Joseph Smith, the program has been dominant. They’ve won 10 straight league titles, and made NCAA quarterfinal appearances in 2012, 2013, and 2016 with back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2014 and 2015. The program as a whole has four national titles to their name – three as an NAIA program and one since becoming a D-III level (2004).
The Linfield brand of football seems to be built on the their defense. Annually, it seems like they field one of the top defenses in small college football and are alwyas one of the top attacking units in D-III football, which has helped to fuel their in season, and post-season success and has become the brand of football that people and players expect from Linfield.
While it’s not officially part of the criteria we considered, but it does certainly tie into the Linfield brand, the college has done as good of a job as any at things like hype videos and their social media presence is admired by many and is certainly making an impact in a variety of areas.
Recruiting wise, the program is located just outside of Portland, and a relatively short drive to Eugene and Corvallis within Oregon, and just a few hours drive north to Seattle and south to California. The bulk of their comes from in-state with a handful of guys from Washington, California, Idaho and Hawaii as well.
Joseph Smith has spent 25 years total at Linfield as a player, assistant, and now head coach. He’s got 15 season under his belt leading the program and has an impressive 127-26 record that includes 10 straight Northwest Conference titles and NCAA playoff appearances. Smith has led the program to five deep playoff runs to at least the quarterfinals (as we highlighted above) and prior to being named head coach served as the team’s defensive coordinator for seven seasons and was on staff for a total of 13 years.
The list of coaches that have had success at Linfield is a few guys deep (from the school’s all time wins leader Ad Rutschman to Jay Locey and now Joseph Smith), illustrating the type of community and administrative support that has been ingrained as a part of the school’s culture and commitment to success for decades now.
This past season, the program lost in the first round of the playoffs in an absolute shootout (68-65 to Chapman) and finished 8-2. With the continuity they have among their staff, their recruiting hold, and the tradition they continue to build on, Linfield is in elite company among D-III programs.
Overall, Linfield presents a really unique and total package as one of the top five coaching destinations at the Division III level.