Kelly pays dues, earns top spot in Big East coaching rankings

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What the Big East lacks in quantity, it compensates for in quality. From Cincinnati's Brian Kelly to Connecticut's Randy Edsall, from Rutgers' Greg Schiano to USF's Jim Leavitt, the league boasts some of the nation's top coaches.

They're just missing one thing from their résumés: an appearance in the BCS title game.

The conference's ability to retain Kelly, Edsall and Schiano -- while also hoping new Syracuse coach Doug Marrone can revive the once-glorious Orange program -- will dictate the Big East's long-term success.

Ranking the Big East coaches:

Unlike some coaches, Kelly has paid his dues, working his way up from Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.) to Central Michigan to Cincinnati. He has enjoyed terrific success at each stop. Kelly may have pulled off his greatest feat yet last season when he led the Bearcats to the Big East crown and an Orange Bowl appearance. He is a master motivator, but his best asset may be fitting personnel to scheme and simply outcoaching people. Kelly appears destined to coach a college football heavyweight one day. Perhaps Notre Dame?

A protégé of Tom Coughlin, Edsall has blossomed into one of the nation's top coaching commodities. He seems content at UConn, building a program that moved up from I-AA status earlier this decade. The next step: a BCS bid. The likes of Syracuse, Purdue and Georgia Tech have tried to woo Edsall, but he loves his facilities and support in Storrs. The key to his success: discipline, defense and terrific scheming. Remember, he's a Coughlin guy.

The ultimate "Jersey Guy" -- he's from Ramapo -- has proven to be the ultimate Rutgers coach, turning a moribund program into a looming power over the past eight seasons. Last season may have been his most impressive coaching job yet as he rallied Rutgers from a 1-5 start to seven consecutive victories to close the season. Schiano has made this a program capable of going to a bowl each season. The next step is taking the Scarlet Knights to a BCS bowl. The only thing standing in his way may be the Penn State job.

As the only coach in school history, Leavitt is literally and figuratively the father of USF football. Since 1997, Leavitt has thrived, posting an 87-52 record with bowl appearances in each of the past four seasons. Few coaches can match his intensity, work ethic or passion. Leavitt has led the Bulls to the pinnacle of greatness. The No. 2 ranking his Bulls earned during the 2007 season is enough to make us wonder if Leavitt's currently marshalling the second-best program in Florida.

There's no way Kragthorpe has all of a sudden become a bad coach in the past two seasons. Kragthorpe laid the foundation for a strong Tulsa program from 2003-06, but his Louisville tenure has been a struggle, largely because he has had to clean up the previous regime's roster. Things are looking up, which is good because this will likely be his make-or-break season with the Cardinals.

His game-day decisions often earn him criticism, but Wannstedt is a master recruiter who appears to finally have the Panthers poised for a breakthrough after four seasons. Wannstedt has a knack for hiring good assistants, and his latest coup is hiring Frank Cignetti from California to run the offense. That may be the move that pushes Pitt to the top of the Big East.

First off, you won't find a friendlier person on the planet. Many felt WVU made an emotional decision in naming Stewart coach after the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. And dubious early season losses last year to East Carolina and Colorado further fueled speculation that the Mountaineers may have made a mistake. But Stewart answered critics by rallying the Mountaineers from a 1-2 start to a 9-4 finish, capped by a bowl victory over North Carolina. Now comes the difficult part: winning without quarterback Pat White.

Marrone arrives in Central New York from the New Orleans Saints, where he served as offensive coordinator for one of the top attacks in the NFL. But more than scheming, Marrone needs to infuse this once-proud program with talent. Marrone is a Syracuse alum who knows the area, the school and the culture. And that should help him lure talent. As with the coach he replaced, Greg Robinson, Marrone takes this job with no head-coaching experience. But Marrone has hired an outstanding staff, led by offensive coordinator Rob Spence and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer.