Yesterday we announced plans to highlight the top non-FBS head coaching destinations, starting with the NAIA level. After fielding a bunch of input from coaches and passionate folks stating their case for their respective program since the article was shared yesterday, we're ready to roll out our first program.
The NAIA level has been especially tough to rank. You've got 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. This has not been easy. I originally planned to do a top five, but have since expanded it to a top 7.
With that said, coming in at #7 is...
Location: Ashland, Oregon
Current Head Coach: Charlie Hall
Program's National Titles: 1 (2014)
League: Frontier Conference
You could probably make a case for this top list to include exclusively programs in the midwest since there are so many top programs located in just a few conferences, but to do that would mean ignoring the voice of so many that have weighed in.
Southern Oregon deserves to be considered among the top NAIA jobs for a few main reasons. For one, there aren't a ton of in-state schools fighting for quality regional talent. The state of Oregon is home to just two FBS programs (Oregon and Oregon State), one FCS program (Portland State), and just one Division II school (Western Oregon). The feedback we heard from coaches is that the small athletic scholarship to Southern Oregon is often really competitive, and is often even more than what Western Oregon is able to offer.
Location wise, Southern Oregon is the only college or university in Ashland, making for a loyal and very supportive fan base.
As for the other two areas that we considered - potential and momentum - Southern Oregon has to battle some well known NAIA programs within their league. Not all that long ago Carroll (NAIA - MT) was bringing home national title after national title, including a stretch of four in a row and six in a nine-year span, and now Southern Oregon has to battle them and teams like Montana Tech and College of Idaho in the tough Frontier League.
Current head coach Charlie Hall stepped in four years ago and immediately put together a heck of a run. Before Hall's arrival, the team captured a national title (2014) and since taking over Hall has led the team to the semifinals, and led the team to their longest winning streak in school history (12 games) a few years ago. There's no denying that (outside of an uncharacteristic sub-500 season this past year), the future looks bright for the program.
Stay tuned for #6, which will be released tomorrow.