College Football’s Top 15 Coaches
College Football's Top 15 Coaches
The foundation of a great college football team does not start with a dynamic quarterback, workhorse running back or a punishing defense, but rather the head coach.
Unlike the NFL where that philosophy works and coaches are fired with great frequency, the college recipe for success is to build from the top down and getting a coach that can not only coach but recruit is the foundation for which successful programs are built. College football coaches are the faces of the program and are responsible for turning high school athletes into men who can produce on the football field at a high level and perhaps eventually make an NFL roster.
The very best college coaches are routinely linked to rumors tying them to the NFL or to more prominent college jobs, and the men on my list are no stranger to that. Some represent the hottest names in the industry and could find themselves with a new team in the coming weeks, while some have been entrenched at their university so long that they are the first thing that you think of when that school is mentioned.
Listing the top 15 college football coaches in the nation was a difficult feat with so many programs being represented by fine coaches. I had to weigh past accomplishments while projecting future success. I also made it a point to have a coach from each of the top conferences in the country, with the exception of Conference USA and the Sun Belt--while Mark Hudspeth is a heck of a coach at Louisiana Lafayette--he didn’t make the final cut.
But he wasn’t the only one to not make the cut, so leave me your comments below with the coaches you think I have too high or too low and the coaches you think should have been included in the top 15.
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and an avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com airing live on Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.
15. Dave Doeren-Northern Illinois
In his second year as head coach at Northern Illinois, Doeren is a one-point loss at Iowa from having an undefeated record. Nonetheless, Doeren has the Huskies atop the west division in the Mid American Conference and is looking to win the conference championship over Kent State. The former Wisconsin assistant had been linked to the vacant Purdue job. The future is extremely bright for Doeren whether he stays at NIU or takes a job in a BCS conference.
14. Sonny Dykes-LA Tech
Commanding the La Tech team to a superb 9-3 record and averaging more than 50 points per game which ranks first in the nation has put Dykes--a relative newcomer to the head coaching ranks--on the map for major college openings in just three seasons at La Tech. His predecessor Derek Dooley landed a gig with Tennessee following a 17-20 record at La Tech. Dykes has a 22-15 record at the school, so he could find a job similar to that or even in an odd twist replace Dooley at Tennessee.
13. Gary Patterson-TCU
The TCU head coach is in his 13th season as coach of the Horned Frogs and the all-time wins leader, and is reportedly one of the top targets for the Arkansas job. His teams have had success in big games as his winning six of the last seven bowl games would suggest--including the 2010 Rose Bowl. He has his teams ranked in the top 25 perennially and has missed a bowl game only once in his tenure. If the 52-year-old Patterson is ready to take on a new challenge, every school with an opening will call on him, but I’m skeptical he will leave Fort Worth, Tx and will be running the Horned Frogs for the foreseeable future.
12. Charlie Strong-Louisville
Strong has catapulted the Louisville program to heights not seen since Bobby Petrino was coaching there and had the Cardinals undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in the BCS until recently. With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looking like a star, it will be tough for Strong to walk away, but he will be lured by SEC schools--where he excelled as an assistant, and reportedly has interviewed at Auburn and has been linked to Arkansas.
11. Brian Kelly-Notre Dame
The coach at Notre Dame also has an undefeated season at Cincinnati that landed him the gig at South Bend. The fiery Kelly has brought the Fighting Irish back to prominence and has the team back in the national title game for the first time in more than two decades as a result of the 12-0 regular season. In addition to his success at the FBS level, Kelly also owns two Division II champions while at Grand Valley State. Simply put, Kelly wins everywhere he’s been.
10. David Shaw-Stanford
The two-time Pac 12 coach of the year took over after Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers and has actually raised the program even more in his absence. Shaw has shown he can win with more than just Andrew Luck at quarterback and has a foundation for long-term success in Palo Alto going 20-4 in the last two seasons and a sterling 16-2 conference record. Stanford is in the Pac 12 Championship game as a result of wins over previously No. 1 USC and BCS No. 1 Oregon.
9. Bill Snyder-Kansas State
A legend in Manhattan, Ks where he is on his second stint as head coach following a brief retirement and is not coaching in the stadium named after him. Was one game away from his first BCS Championship game this season, but gets the most out of his players--many of whom come from the JUCO ranks--and the limited resources available to the Kansas State program. Just think what he could do at a program like Texas or Oklahoma with unlimited resources, elite facilities and a fertile recruiting land to scour. Then again, I’m not sure if that would be conducive to his personality and style.
8. Frank Beamer-Virginia Tech
It feels like he has been around forever at Virginia Tech. He even has his own style of play named after him. “Beamerball” refers to the ability of his defenders and special teams units of getting into the end zone. Beamer is still one of the game’s elite coaches despite a down season by his standards. His teams are in the ACC title race year in and year out, and on top of the four ACC championships he owns; he also has three Big East titles under his belt. He has been to a bowl game a whopping 19 times, winning eight.
7. Chris Peterson-Boise State
With an 82-8 record since taking over at Boise State in 2006, Petersen remains one of the games most underrated and under-appreciated coaches in the nation. He has two BCS bowl wins--the first being the memorable win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl that showcased the creative and imaginative side of Petersen where his team used a hook-and-ladder play to set up a touchdown and a “Statue of Liberty” play on the winning two-point conversion to cap an undefeated season in his first year as coach. He would add a 14-0 record in 2009 when he won his second Fiesta Bowl. One has to wonder how long Petersen stays in Boise before taking a job at a major program. Perhaps he’s waiting for Chip Kelly to leave Oregon or Lane Kiffin to be fired at USC?
6. Chip Kelly-Oregon
The two-time Pac 12 coach of the year is game’s best offensive mind and is going to have a tough decision to make at the end of the season when the NFL gauges his interest. It was only recently that Oregon was looking like a lock for a spot in the BCS Championship Game until they were knocked off by Stanford, but Kelly’s Ducks have had success every year under Kelly--who is 45-7--since he took over for the retiring Mike Belotti, and appeared in the title game two seasons ago. As long as Kelly is patrolling the sidelines in Eugene, the Ducks will be a perennial championship contender while giving opposing defenses fits trying to slow down the spread attack.
5. Les Miles-LSU
Nick Saban’s successor at LSU came to the school and in his first season took the Tigers to an 11-2 record and a top six ranking. He followed up his debut with a second 10-win season, a feat that had never been accomplished at the school. Under Miles’ watch 10 wins has been a near certainty. The 2007 season was the pinnacle thus far for Miles as he led the team to a BCS National Title despite two regular season losses, albeit both were in triple overtime with a smashing win over Ohio State.
LSU had one of the programs best seasons in 2011 with a 13-0 regular season record that featured wins over eight ranked opponents; however, his team was shutout by Alabama and Saban in a rematch the Tigers won during the regular season. Miles has guided his teams to three BCS bowl games, and finished either first or second in the SEC west seven of the eight years at LSU.
4. Steve Spurrier-South Carolina
Not only is Spurrier a fantastic coach, but he’s also the only Heisman winner to appear on this list. The former Florida quarterback has six SEC championships on his resume and seven SEC coach of the year awards and won the 1996 national championship after losing the year prior to Nebraska when he coached Danny Wuerffel up to be the Heisman winner.
His time at Florida was one of the more successful runs of all-time. His teams were ranked in the top 15 in every one of his 12 seasons, won nine of more games each season--including six straight seasons with 10 or more wins. And not to mention is one of the game’s best interviews with a litany of memorable one-liners and good-hearted trash talk toward Tennessee.
Spurrier returned to the SEC after a brief and unsuccessful run as the Washington Redskins head coach and is in his eighth season at South Carolina and has been on a nice run of late averaging 10 wins a season in the last three years with the Gamecocks.
3. Bob Stoops-Oklahoma
Stoops has been the head coach at Oklahoma since the 1999 season and gets overlooked far too often when discussing the coaching elite. Overshadowed by conference foe Texas and the dominance of the SEC in the last six years have taken the spotlight off Stoops and what he has accomplished with the Sooners.
Stoops’ teams won the Big 12 seven times whereas their rival Texas has won only two under Mack Brown. Winning the 2000 BCS National Championship established Stoops as a rising star in the coaching industry and repeatedly has turned down overtures from the NFL.
Coaching two Heisman trophy winners in Jason White and Sam Bradford, who would also be the top pick in the draft, and one gives Stoops a reputation as a guy that can recruit elite talent and get the most out a guy’s potential. The Sooners behind Stoops are as consistent as they come and have a great chance at a BCS bowl.
2. Urban Meyer-Ohio State
In his first season at coach at Ohio State, Meyer has picked up right where he left off after abruptly retiring from Florida after the 2010 season and capped off a perfect 12-0 season with a convincing win over arch rival Michigan in the season finale.
Meyer did great things at small programs prior to his arrival in Gainesville turning around a dreadful Bowling Green team and leading Utah to an undefeated season and BCS bowl berth. However, winning at Florida proved he could compete with the programs in the SEC and won national titles in 2006 and 2008.
He has coached a Heisman winner at Florida in Tim Tebow and a #1 draft pick at Utah in Alex Smith and saw countless other of his players drafted to the next level. With a 7-1 record in bowl games, Meyer has proved he is one of the two best coaches in the country.
1. Nick Saban-Alabama
Was there any doubt who would be No. 1?
The only active coach with three national championship titles, and became the first coach to win titles at two different schools; he won the title in 2003 at LSU. With his success at two different SEC schools, Saban joined Bear Bryant as the only two coaches to capture a SEC championship at two different schools.
Saban is one win away from a return to the BCS Championship Game and recorded the school’s 5th consecutive 10-win season. Owning multiple coach of the year awards in addition to his national titles, Saban is the best coach in the country and adds to his resume with every Alabama win.