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Thursday, June 12, 2014
Updated: June 13, 3:40 PM ET
10 coaches who adapt and thrive

By Mitch Sherman
ESPN.com

Want to know how to survive in the coaching business?

Well, first you need an unbending drive, a soft spot for ridiculous hours and a penchant for rejection.

Furthermore, you've got to be versatile. Unless you're cut from the same cloth as Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier, adaptation is key.

Some football coaches are better than others at change. They're the guys with a multitude of expertise, the men who can relate to a kicker just as easily as a nose tackle. The true chameleons in coaching adapt to their environment much like the colorful, little lizards of the rain forest.

Here's a look at 10 coaches who've proven adept, over their careers, at changing in step with the conditions around them in and out of the game:

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Sonny Dykes. Cal's second-year coach spent his formative years in Lubbock, Texas, in the shadow of his father's football empire. At Texas Tech, Spike Dykes ran the show from 1986 to 1999 and achieved success through a grind-it-out mentality. The younger Dykes, a baseball player at Tech, got into major-college coaching at Kentucky in 1997 on the ground floor of the spread-offense explosion. He worked under Hal Mumme and later Mike Leach back at Tech. By the time Dykes got his own program at Louisiana Tech in 2010, his version of the Air Raid had developed principles separate from the Mumme and Leach systems. It lives on at Berkeley as something that hardly resembles the same sport coached by Dykes' father.

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Scott Frost. At age 39, what hasn't he done? Oregon's second-year offensive coordinator played quarterback for Bill Walsh at Stanford and engineered the option en route to a national championship at Nebraska. He played safety and special teams for Bill Parcells on the New York Jets among four NFL stops. In coaching, Frost, whose mother and father excelled in the industry, worked as a graduate assistant at Nebraska and Kansas State. He coached defense at Northern Iowa after for two seasons before taking over as the Ducks' wide receivers coach in 2009. Last year brought the promotion to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His primary pupil, Marcus Mariota, enters this fall as a top Heisman Trophy contender.

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Rodney Garner. For as long as Auburn's second-year associate head coach has tutored defensive linemen, only the most astute historians recall that Garner got his start in the college game as an offensive tackle on the Plains. He started in coaching at his alma mater in roles that included recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach and strength coach. Garner stayed on the offensive side at Tennessee before a stay of 15 years at Georgia that redefined his career as a D-line coach. He took the same position under Gus Malzahn before the 2013 season and helped orchestrate the second-biggest single-season turnaround in college football history.

Bruce Kittle. The former Oklahoma tight ends coach is a true outside-the-box addition to this list. Kittle, fired after the 2012 season, cannot be ignored; his versatility extends far beyond football. He played offensive tackle at Iowa. There, he met Bob Stoops and coached as a volunteer and graduate assistant under Hayden Fry before a two-decade sabbatical from the game that included time as a litigator, pastor, prison mediator. Kittle said he set out to explore unanswered questions of the universe -- that is, until Stoops asked him to come to Norman in 2011. The return to coaching lasted two seasons.

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Mike Locksley. The writing is on the wall -- or in this case, on the résumé -- for some coaching chameleons. Locksley, entering his third season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Maryland, has directed every position group but offensive line over his 22 years. A former defensive back at Towson, he moved in coaching to the offensive side in 1996 at Army. Stops at Maryland, Florida and Illinois expanded Locksley's experience until he earned the head-coaching job at New Mexico in 2009. In 2012, he returned to the Terps. And true to his own career path, Locksley, in his first year back, coached five quarterbacks, including a converted linebacker. No surprise, he's known as a strong recruiter, too.

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Noel Mazzone. The former New Mexico quarterback traveled the fast track of offensive coaching to multiple stops in the Southeastern Conference as a coordinator and a stint at NC State to coach Philip Rivers. Mazzone ultimately lost his job at Ole Miss in 2005 and as a pro-style teacher with the game changing before his eyes, Mazzone dashed to the NFL for two years to coach receivers and sharpened his skills as a high school coordinator in North Carolina before Dennis Erickson brought him on board at Arizona State in 2010. Now set to enter his third year at UCLA under Jim Mora, he directs a potent spread offensive attack and has gained notoriety again for the accomplishments of Brett Hundley.

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Rich Rodriguez. Not even the chameleon can change colors to match every environment. Maize and blue, of course, didn't work for Rodriguez, now entering his third year in charge at Arizona. But in every other situation, he's adapted well. Rodriguez, interestingly, played defensive back at West Virginia and served as defensive coordinator at Salem College before the school dropped its program and he essentially started over in the business as a volunteer at his alma mater. A winding road took him to Tulane in 1997, where Rodriguez began to display the offensive innovation for which he achieved fame back at WVU, leading the Mountaineers to national prominence in 2007. The desert has proved a good home for Rich Rod, with running back Ka'Deem Carey as the latest to reach stardom through the coach's adaptable system.

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Scott Shafer. Shafer, the second-year head coach at Syracuse, played quarterback at Ohio University and Baldwin-Wallace College. When he broke into the coaching business, Shafer relied as much on the knowledge gained as the son of a longtime California high school coach as from his playing days. He began as a secondary coach at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois and Illinois, then coordinated units at Stanford, Michigan and Syracuse before taking over the Orange. Despite his offensive background, Shafer is noted to possess a diverse base of defensive expertise, and, in true chameleon form, his teams have rarely stuck to a singular philosophy.

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Sharrieff Shah. The Utah cornerbacks coach transitioned smoothly back into the college game in 2012 after stints as an NFLPA certified agent, a commercial litigator and a trial attorney. Despite nearly two decades away, the former safety in Salt Lake City has fit in well. He recruits Los Angeles and helped Keith McGill shift from safety to cornerback, then grow into a fourth-round NFL draft pick last month. The brother of former NFL running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Shah also worked as the sideline reporter for Utah's flagship radio station. Shah's son plays linebacker for the Utes. And if Sharrieff Jr. is anything like his father, his post-college career will never turn boring.

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Kevin Sumlin. The third-year coach at Texas A&M coach, a noted quarterback whisperer, Sumlin got his start in the college game as a linebacker at Purdue. In fact, he was a four-year starter and collected 385 tackles. Since, though, it's always been about the offense -- from Wyoming, where he coached receivers, to Minnesota, his first shot to coach quarterbacks, to Purdue, A&M and Oklahoma, where Sumlin coordinated the Sooners' high-octane offense. Success followed him to Houston and his first head-coaching job, where QB Case Keenum shattered records. None of that, though, prepared the nation for the exploits of Johnny Manziel over the past two years. Not a bad a track record for a former Purdue linebacker.