Mike Houston Is College Football’s Next Coaching Star

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You may or may not know of Mike Houston now, but the James Madison head coach is on a career trajectory that will make him a hot prospect in the coming years.

James Madison gave the typical viewer little reason to stay locked into Friday’s FCS quarterfinal deconstruction of previously undefeated Sam Houston State. Even just a quick glimpse of the beat-down Mike Houston’s Dukes put on the FCS Playoffs stalwarts from south Texas offered a snapshot into a star on the rise.

The 65-7 rout of a Sam Houston State bunch that spent much of the 2016 regular season ranked No. 1 showed off the best James Madison had to offer: a deluge of points…

…aggressive defense…

and explosive special teams play.

Friday was hardly an aberration for the Colonial Athletic Association champions, either. James Madison averaged nearly 49 points per game, operating with a turbo-charged spin off from the option attack Houston oversaw in his previous stop at The Citadel.

The Dukes rushed for 285.6 yards per game, fourth-best in the subdivision, but added a nice balance of 240 passing yards.

JMU allowed 23 points per game coming into the quarterfinals — a respectable figure, though one inflated just from the sheer volume of possessions the Dukes’ high-tempo offense afforded opponents.

Friday demonstrated the full capacity of Houston’s team on the defensive side.

Houston’s seamless transition from a triple-option attack to a more varied look is reminiscent of another FCS coaching star whose star soared in recent years: Willie Fritz, currently the head coach at Tulane, who coincidentally broke onto the Div. I scene at Sam Houston State before a standout couple of campaigns with Georgia Southern.

Houston inherited a well-stocked cupboard from predecessor Everett Withers, now at Texas State. James Madison’s season is no rebuilding project, but Houston has elevated a good team to one that looks capable of ending North Dakota State’s stranglehold on the FCS national championship.

One great game doesn’t define a coach, certainly. Even just a single, great season does not suggest a meteoric rise in the profession.

Mike Houston, however, has proven himself now in three different stops.

You may remember Houston from the 2015 season, when his Citadel Bulldogs left South Carolina both with a fat, SEC paycheck, and a W scored at the Gamecocks’ expense.

The win at Williams-Brice Stadium served as The Citadel’s tune-up ahead of the FCS Playoffs, the program’s first appearance in 23 years.

One year removed from leading The Citadel back to the Playoffs, Mike Houston has James Madison just two wins shy of the program’s first national championship since 2004, and his first title as a head coach. He’s been close, however.

Just three years ago, Houston coached the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears to the Div. II national championship game, ultimately falling short against powerhouse Northwest Missouri State.

A career trajectory that leads from Div. II, to FCS, to FBS is highly uncommon — though not unprecedented. Fritz excelled at Central Missouri before his turnaround of Sam Houston State.

However, Houston’s resume is at a whole other level, also boasting success at T.C. Roberson High School in North Carolina before his move to the collegiate ranks just a decade ago.

A winner at quite literally every level, don’t be surprised if FBS athletic brass notice sooner than later. Houston could be an ideal candidate for a Sun Belt or Conference USA program in the not-too-distant future.