Sunday, December 9, 2007

2007-08 NCAA Football Family Atmosphere Rankings

There isn’t a formula for creating a football family atmosphere in the NCAA, but we’ve identified what we consider to be the key elements. Family atmosphere begins with the head coach and his staff. Their guidance, integrity, and personality set the stage for their athletes and employees. Family atmosphere strengthens and protects both individuals and teams, whether they are faced with adversity or handling success. After compiling input from coaches and writers around the country, we’ve generated a list of programs with well-respected family atmospheres.
[pictured at right: Mike Riley, Oregon State Univ.]

Family Atmosphere is only one aspect of a football program. It’s not necessarily a priority for recruits or current athletes, and it doesn’t directly ensure success on the football field. While there isn’t a direct correlation between family atmosphere and winning, family atmosphere certainly plays a major role in an athlete’s integration with the school and team.

The family concept is defined by the staff’s ability to instill trust, respect, and reliability throughout their program, while offering a sense of assurance and acceptance to the athletes. Recruiting student athletes with these values before they arrive on campus contributes to a healthy atmosphere. But its athletes with troubled pasts that often reap the greatest rewards.

Young athletes leaving home for the first time want a comfortable destination that can make their college transition easier. A comfortable athlete performs better in school and on the gridiron. This aspect is often overlooked within the sports program, yet it has a significant impact on the long term well being of both the individual and the program as a whole.

Programs going through coaching changes this year were not eligible for this list. Most of the programs listed below have had the core coaching staff in place for several years. Data for determining the top programs was collected after January 2007.

Head of the Family: Mike Riley
Setting an Example: The Beaver Offensive Coordinator donated his kidney to the Offensive Line Coach's wife just before spring practice.

The family atmosphere in Corvallis starts and ends with the leadership of Coach Riley. Throughout the football coaching fraternity there isn’t a coach more respected for his integrity, and Riley hires assistants that exemplify how football families operate. Nearly every visiting recruit comments about the close-knit staff and athletes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on, blue chip recruit, the team cook, or groundskeeper. The Beaver program treats each family member equally. As tailback Yvenson Bernard explained, “He’s [Coach Riley] taken care of me during my five years here. He is a very good coach, and he’s recruited a lot of great kids who are humble and willing to work hard and together for the good of the team.”

Head of the Family: Joe Paterno
Setting an Example: Who else would have the children's day care center at Nike’s Headquarters named after him?

Athletes don’t graduate from the Penn State football program without developing a unique loyalty to the staff and their teammates. Coach Patero's staff sticks together through success and failure, and the staff’s loyalty to the program is absorbed by the players. Tom Bradley, Paterno’s defensive coordinator of 27 years explains, "There's a lot of loyalty that has been built up over the years. There's just a family atmosphere between the staff, the players and the community. It's a place that means a lot to my family." There aren’t many programs with loyalty and a family tradition like Penn State.
[pictured at right: Joe Paterno, Penn State]

Head of the Family: Rich Rodriguez
Setting an Example: When it appeared Alabama was offering a lucrative contract, Coach Rodriguez declined the offer, partially at the request of his staff and athletes. Now he’s preparing to take his football family at West Virginia on a BCS Fiesta.

Rodriguez has been guiding his football family since 2001. He explains that the family atmosphere at Morgantown is a top priority. "We use the argument that our environment, our facilities, our tradition and our family atmosphere outweighs everything," Rodriguez said. His commitment and loyalty to his athletes and staff is unwavering. Other programs may attempt to duplicate what West Virginia is doing on the field, but the bond they build away from football is distinctive.

Head of the Family: Frank Beamer
Setting an Example: Not many programs have persevered through as much turmoil this year, yet the Hokies still managed to pull together another wildly successful season.

Virginia Tech woke up to a nightmare on April 16th, 2007, when 32 people on the Blacksburg campus were killed. The football program terminated spring practices and created a supportive environment for athletes and fellow students while they dealt with the tragedy. Practice time was sacrificed, but the bonding made the team stronger, and prompted Coach Beamer to explain to reporters before the first game, "We just felt there was togetherness today. I think there was unity today." This unity has helped Virginia Tech earn an invitation to the Orange Bowl.

Head of the Family: June Jones
Setting an Example: Coach Jones operates the ‘June Jones Foundation’ and includes his players and staff in an effort to help seriously ill children.

The family aspect at Hawaii is illustrated by their "War Chant" dance. It promotes courage and togetherness before going into battle on the gridiron. This “Chant” makes Hawaii a special place and ensures the family atmosphere goes beyond the field. This brotherhood isn't lost on recruits visiting the University campus. As Coach Jones explained, "When you talk to these kids, they feel something different when they come on their recruiting trip. We may not have a lot of the things other schools have, but we do have a great unity and a great family atmosphere and the kids like it here. They like playing with each other and they like playing for the coaches we have."

Father Figure: Tommy Tuberville
Setting an Example: When Tuberville felt his program needed less ego and more discipline and guidance, he brought team chaplain Chette Williams on board.

Respected as much as anyone in the SEC for his equitable treatment of athletes, Coach Tuberville believes in building camaraderie on and off the field. He explains, "We try to create a family atmosphere. We do things away from the office as much as we do at the office, with our families and cookouts and other things. I believe in that. I believe the more you get together away from the office the more you understand about each other." Other programs are trying to lure Tuberville and break up the Tiger Family, but he appears to have a rare, throwback loyalty.

Head of the Family: Mark Richt
Setting an Example: Coach Richt implemented a weekly ‘Family Night’ at Georgia, which attempts to deal with individual athlete issues and build team bonds.

Coach Richt learned under the tutelage of Bobby Bowden how to treat everyone associated with a football program. Richt believes young men crave accountability. During one practice he asked his athletes to police each other off the field. He explained, "The same things apply off the field. If you see a buddy about to do something wrong, don't let him do it. If he does something that hurts the team, we all are penalized. If everybody pulls together, then we can become a team that realizes its potential." Coach Richt achieves a family atmosphere by understanding the importance of conduct off the field.

Head of the Family: Pete Carroll
Setting an Example: Coach Carroll is infamous for resetting the egos of incoming 5-star recruits as they enter a program with Hollywood hype.

Southern Cal has a great family atmosphere under Coach Carroll, but it’s just as much about the legacy at USC as it is the moment. Former quarterback Matt Leinart sums up the Trojan philosophy, "They always say 'Once a Trojan, always a Trojan.' Some people laugh at it, but it's really true. We have such great alumni support." Carroll’s charismatic leadership style goes hand-in-hand with the Trojan family attitude. From the moment a recruit commits he gets the support of his coaches and teammates for a lifetime.

Head of the Family: Mack Brown
Setting an Example: Coach Brown’s family atmosphere goes beyond the gridiron. He works with the Texas Council on Family Violence to promote “strength, character, and courage” within the family.

Mack Brown has been at Texas over a decade, and he may have fantastic facilities and every other football luxury, but family atmosphere is still a priority. Brown stresses family when his athletes arrive and after they leave the program, and he makes every attempt to understand what makes his players tick. Brown and his staff took it a step further and showed an interest in rap so they could better relate to their athletes. His players appreciate these gestures.
[pictured at right: Mack Brown, Univ. of Texas]

Head of the Family: Stan Brock
Setting an Example: Upon his arrival at West Point Coach, Brock went through Beast Barracks, Army's grueling summer training for incoming cadets, to better relate to the difficult environment.

West Point graduates stay connected like family, and Coach Brock wasn’t at the top of the alumni’s list after the initial coaching search. Brock is proving that he is a young coach that appeals to a program and school that epitomizes teamwork. Both Army and rival Navy exude family atmosphere and discipline, and Brock has the character to enhance it. As senior captain Mike Viti explained, "He understands the needs of a football player and how daunting this place can get. He cares about all the players."


OHIO STATE BUCKEYES - Jim Tressel is a throwback coach that has brought his team to the pinnacle by turning big egos into functional family. As one observer explained, “he did it using corny, old-fashioned beliefs and values”.

EAST CAROLINA – Skip Holtz has visiting recruits gushing about the “family atmosphere” at East Carolina. The samples of comments on recruiting websites were overwhelmingly positive about the football family at ECU.

WAKE FOREST – Jim Grobe has a reputation for being one of the nice guys in college football. Grobe’s program incorporates this attitude into the daily tasks, and everyone associated with the program is treated equally and made to feel like part of their success.

FLORIDA STATE - Bobby Bowden is one of the all-time great coaches in college football. One part of his formula that has remained constant is being a father figure to his athletes, and Coach Bowden surrounds himself with assistant coaches that share his philosophy.

IOWA STATE CYCLONES - The Cyclones would make the Top Ten List if Dan McCarney were still at the helm. But don't underestimate the environment that Gene Chizik is building at Iowa State, even though he's only been on the Ames campus for a short amount of time.

Note: Watch Nebraska and Notre Dame over the next year. These two distinctly different programs once established the benchmark for family atmosphere. Tom Osborne was masterful in his ability to create a brotherhood on his team.

* Input came from National sources,,, in addition to countless local newspapers . Research was provided by the former writers at


  1. OSU is great, but what about the University of Oregon? The coaching staff has had some changes, but Mike Belotti is the longest tenured coach in the PAC 10! As for having a family about the fact that the Ducks honored Terrence Kelly (TK) on Senior Day, even though he didn't even have the opportunity to play a down in a Duck uniform. He was tragically killed two days before he left for the Univ. of Oregon. His father walked on the field with a jersey his son would have worn...that is a class act and commitment from a program for a kid that had committed to them!

  2. This is a great perspective on what really is important in life and how student atheletes can grow into adults with the right mentors. I'm very proud that my university is tops on this list especially with the company listed in the top 10. Hopefully we can keep Mike Riley in Corvallis for years to come and continue to represent the state of Oregon well.

  3. University of Oregon may have made the list if Belotti wasn't one to give special treatment to some athletes as he did with respects to his own son's DUIIs.

  4. Enjoyed your article and have to agree that Mike Riley is more then a good football coach he is a quality individual. He treats players with respect. You can see the results of that character by how his teams always get better as the season goes along. Instead of talking down to his players he focuses on the positives and the work that needs to be done. I find similar attributes in other coaches at OSU as well. This comes from the top and how the AD and President hire coaches and what they look for in a coach. Congrats to Mike Riley and his staff.

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