The Architects of Success: A Look at the Head Coaches of the Boca Raton Bowl

In the 10 years since its inaugural game, many current high-profile head coaches brought their teams to the Boca Raton Bowl. Following that participation, several have gone on to Power 5 conference schools or even the NFL. Here’s a look at those coaches and where they are now:


2015: Matt Campbell- Toledo Rockets 

Before the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl: Bowling Green (GA), Mount Union (OC, OL), Bowling Green (OL), Toledo (OC, OL)

After the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl: Iowa State

Matt Campbell’s 2015 Toledo Rockets were ranked as high as No. 19 during the season and won their second-consecutive MAC division title. Campbell had been named the Rockets head coach in 2011 after Tim Beckman left to accept the same position at the University of Illinois. Four years later he would similarly leave at the end of the regular season but prior to the bowl game. In between, he led Toledo to two bowl wins (2011 Military Bowl and 2014 GoDaddy Bowl). His departure provided the opportunity for Jason Candle to take the Toledo reins.


2015: Matt Rhule – Temple Owls

Before The 2015 Boca Raton Bowl: New York Giants O-Linemen assistant Coach 

After The 2015 Boca Raton Bowl:  Baylor University , Carolina Panthers (NFL), University of Nebraska 

Rhule brought the Temple Owls to the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl, allowing his reputation to grow as one of college football’s rising stars in the coaching ranks. Under Matt Rhule, the Owls had an unforgettable season showcasing their defense and disciplined play, demonstrating Rhule’s ability to develop talent and install a strong worth ethic. In one of the closest games in Boca Raton Bowl history, the Owls slogged through monsoon-like conditions to narrowly lose to Toledo. Rhule went on to lay the groundwork for future success at Baylor and with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. He’s now leading the resurgence of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.


2016: Mike Norvell – Memphis Tigers

Before The 2016 Boca Raton Bowl : Tulsa (GA, WR), Pittsburgh (co-OC), Arizona State (OC,QB,AHC)

After The 2016 Boca Raton Bowl: Florida State 

Mike Norvell brought Memphis to the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl in his first season as the Tigers’ head coach, showcasing his ability to build a high-powered offense and a competitive team. He was 34 years old when he was named head coach, the youngest in the nation.  However, the Tigers ran into another offensive juggernaut in a Western Kentucky team that featured multiple players who would go on to the NFL. Norvell led Memphis to three-straight American Athletic Conference division titles over the next three seasons, which in turn drew attention from Power 5 conference schools who had head coach openings. It would be Florida State University that would ultimately land him and he returned the Seminoles program to a Top 10-ranked team by his third season. In 2023, his Seminoles won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and finished the year ranked No. 6.


 2016 :Jeff Brohm  – Western Kentucky

Before The 2016 Boca Raton Bowl: Louisville Fire,  Florida Atlantic University (QB) 

After The 2016 Boca Raton Bowl : Purdue, University of Louisville  


Jeff Brohm’s 2016 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were incredibly talented, winning the Conference USA championship and in turn accepting a bid to play in the Boca Raton Bowl. Brohm was a protégé of legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger, playing quarterback for Schnellenberger’s Louisville Cardinals teams from 1989 to 1993. But Brohm wouldn’t coach in the bowl game after being luted away by the Big Ten Conference’s Purdue Boilermakers to be their next head coach. Into his place stepped defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who would lead the Hilltoppers to a 51-31 win against Memphis.


2017 :Terry Bowden- Akron 

Before The 2017 Boca Raton Bowl : Salem, Akron (QBs) Samford, Auburn, ABC Sports studio analyst, North Alabama

After The 2017 Boca Raton Bowl : Clemson (GA), Louisiana- Monroe 


Before coaching in the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl, Terry Bowden had already had a successful career, becoming a head coach at just 26 years old at Salem College and then Samford University. In between the two, he spent one season as the quarterbacks coach at Akron where he would eventually return 26 years later to become head coach and lead the Zips to a Mid-American Conference division title and berth in the Boca Raton Bowl. But before that, Bowden spent six seasons at Auburn University, where he took a team saddled with NCAA probation and turned in an undefeated season in 1993. He was awarded Coach of the Year honors in the SEC and would go on to lead the Tigers back to Top 25 rankings and bowl berths. He eventually left Auburn and joined ABC Sports where he was a college football studio analyst. He returned to coaching when he accepted the head coach position at NCAA Division 2 North Alabama, returning the Lions to national prominence with three trips to the NCAA playoffs. He returned to Akron as head coach and led the Zips to victory in the 2015 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and then two years later made the trip to Boca Raton to face Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls, who just won their first-ever Conference USA championship.


2017: Lane Kiffin- Florida Atlantic Owls 

Before The 2017 Boca Raton Bowl : University of Southern California, Oakland Raiders (NFL), Tennessee, Alabama (OC, QB)

After The 2017 Boca Raton Bowl: Ole Miss


Perhaps one of the most recognizable head coaches to have taken part in the Boca Raton Bowl, in 2017 Lane Kiffin led the hometown team to a Conference USA championship and the Owls’ first bowl game since 2008. Kiffin came to Boca Raton with high-profile stops along the way – head coach positions with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Southern Cal Trojans. But immediately prior to FAU he’d spent three seasons working at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, winning a national championship in 2015. Kiffin would bring instant success to FAU and after winning a second conference title in 2019 departed to become the head coach at Ole Miss.


2019: Sonny Dykes – SMU Mustangs

Before The 2019 Boca Raton Bowl : Louisiana tech, California, Texas Tech (co-OC, WR)

After The 2019 Boca Raton Bowl: TCU 


Sonny Dykes SMU Mustangs came to the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl as a revived program, appearing in the Top 25 for the first time since the program received the NCAA “death penalty” in 1987. Dyke’s high-powered offense had lost only twice prior to the bowl game, both times on the road in one-score games. So it was no surprise when the Mustangs were set as favorites in the Boca Raton Bowl over FAU, which would be playing with an interim head coach after Lane Kiffin had accepted the head coach job at Ole Miss. FAU would pull the upset in the bowl game but Dykes would lead SMU to two more bowl games before leaving to become head coach at TCU after the 2021 season. In his first season at TCU, and just three seasons after coaching in the Boca Raton Bowl, Dykes led the Horned Frogs to the College Football Playoff’s National Championship game.


2020: Josh Heupel – UCF Knights

 Before The 2020 Boca Raton Bowl: Oklahoma (GA, QB,OC), Arizona (TE), Utah State( Assistant HC OC, QB), Missouri (OC, QB)

After The 2020 Boca Raton Bowl : Tennessee 

The 2020 college football season was impacted heavily by the worldwide pandemic and many bowl games were unable to be played. But through close work with the State of Florida, Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton, the Boca Raton Bowl was able to go on and it featured two of its most high-profile participants, BYU and UCF. UCF would be playing in its fifth-consecutive bowl game, which at the time was the program’s longest streak. Head coach Josh Heupel was regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football and his 2020 Knights were ranked as high as 11th in the nation during the season. As a player at Oklahoma, Heupel led the Sooners to the 2000 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship and earned Walter Camp Award and Associated Press player of the year honors and was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting. Those prolific offensive talents as a player seemed to easily 

segue into his profile as a head coach. But while Heupel’s fastpaced and highscoring offense was lighting up scoreboards, his eventual foe in the bowl game, BYU, was doing likewise out west. BYU would prevail in the Boca Raton Bowl, 49-23, and shortly after the game Heupel would leave to become head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, where he earned SEC coach of the year honors in 2022


2015 and 2022 :Jason Candle – Toledo

Before The 2020 Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo ( WR,OC, Assistant HC, Mount Union (WR,OC)

After The 2020 Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo  

Jason Candle’s first-ever game as head coach of the Toledo Rockets came in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl, where he was elevated from assistant coach by athletic director Mike O’Brien to head coach following the departure of Matt Campbell for Iowa State. Candle didn’t look like a first-time head coach, however, leading the Rockets to a 32-17 victory against 24th-ranked Temple. Candle became the only head coach to have won the Boca Raton Bowl twice when he brought the Rockets back in 2022, this time defeating Liberty University, 21-19.


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