Ranked: The 10 Best Coaches in College Football
Summer is almost over, which means the start of the college football season is finally upon us.
Which teams will be competitive on a year-to-year basis is a somewhat fluid situation, but mainly depends on the man in charge of the program. Here are the 10 best coaches in college football entering the 2016 season.
10. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: 193–101–1 Record, 2 Big 12 Titles
OK, on the surface, there are some coaches out there who’ve had more success in recent years (David Cutcliffe, Brian Kelly, Kirk Ferentz, or even Bobby Petrino come to mind) than Snyder, but what Snyder has done overall since coming to once-laughable KSU in 1989 (minus his three-year hiatus from 2006–08) is incredible. Consider this: His 193 wins are just 57 behind the cumulative total of the other 22 head coaches in K-State’s history dating back to 1912. Besides that, the team had just two winning seasons in the prior 34 years before his arrival 27 years ago. (Snyder has 16 himself.)
9. Gary Patterson, Texas Christian: 143–47 Record, 6 Conference Titles
When the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012, it was thought that Patterson’s string of four straight 10-plus-win seasons and presence on the national stage would come to an end. It did for a pair of seasons, but he’s quickly adjusted to the higher level of competition and now has back-to-back 10-plus-win seasons as TCU has taken the major conference by storm, placing second last year after winning it in 2014. Patterson has led the Horned Frogs to 14 bowl games—while playing in three different conferences—since taking over as head coach in 2000.
8. David Shaw, Stanford: 54–14 Record, 3 Pac-12 Titles
Shaw may have inherited an up-and-coming Stanford program (from former Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh) five years ago that was loaded with talent (like Andrew Luck), but he’s kept the line moving. The Cardinals have won at least 11 games in four of his five seasons—while making three Rose Bowl trips—and with star running back/wide receiver/kick returner Christian McCaffrey back for his junior season, he should have a fifth in 2016.
7. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: 105–50 Record, 3 Big Ten Titles
While it’s been 12 years since powerhouse—and vaunted rival—Michigan won the Big Ten, Dantonio has led the surprising Spartans to a trio of Big Ten titles–all in the last six years. Dantonio, who coached at Cincinnati from 2004 to 2006 before coming to Michigan State, has led the comparatively underdog program to its best stretch of football since Biggie Munn went 35–2 over a four-year stretch in the early 1950s. State has won at least 11 games in five of the last six seasons, while winning the coveted Rose Bowl following the 2013 season and making the exclusive four-team playoffs last year.
6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson: 75–27 Record, 2 ACC Titles
Swinney became a household name last year after leading Clemson all the way to the national title game only to fall to his alma mater—Alabama—in a thriller. The personable coach has steadily raised the Tigers from conference contenders to national contenders in his seven (and a half) seasons there, culminating in five straight 10-plus-win seasons, including a 14–1 record last year. With star quarterback Deshaun Watson back this season, Swinney should have his program back in the mix for both conference and national title runs this year.
5. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: 68–14 Record, 3 ACC Titles, 1 National Championship
Florida State—once a perennial top-five team under Bobby Bowden in the ’90s—had fallen back to the pack when Fisher took over in 2010, but the former Seminoles assistant has put the program back on the national scene in his six years there. Fisher already has five 10-plus-win seasons under his belt, and his worst season was a still solid 9–4 campaign in 2011. While Florida State took an expected step back last year (10–3 record) after going a combined 27–1 the previous two seasons with Jameis Winston under center, the Seminoles—who have boasted three straight top-five recruiting classes—should be major contenders again in 2016.
4. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: 39–24 Record
Although it seems out of place to put Harbaugh (no national titles) ahead of Fisher after just one year at his alma mater, the former NFL player and head coach has been successful at every place he’s been. While Nick Saban struggled in his lone NFL stop, Harbaugh breathed life into the San Francisco 49ers during his four seasons there with a 44–19–1 record, including a Super Bowl appearance. While he led the Wolverines to just their second 10-win season last year since Lloyd Carr’s retirement in 2006, he also—amazingly—built up a downtrodden Stanford in just four short years (2007–10) there.
3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: 179–46 Record, 9 Big 12 Titles, 1 National Championship
It’s been 16 years since Stoops’s Sooners won it all, but “Big Game Bob” has still had his team in the title chase ever since. Oklahoma has been king of the Big 12 under his watch—which started in 1999—winning more titles than the rest of the league combined during that span. Oklahoma has 13 10-plus-win seasons in his 17 years in Norman, and last year Stoops was a win away from coaching in his fifth national title game. With Heisman candidate quarterback Baker Mayfield back for the 2016 season, Stoops and Oklahoma will likely have national title aspirations again this season.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: 154–27 Record, 5 Conference Titles, 3 National Championships
While numbers 3 through 10 on this list were up for some debate, there’s no debating the top two coaches in the country. The only question is how to rank them. A year ago, you could make the case for putting Meyer over Saban, after his Buckeyes beat Saban’s Tide in the national semifinals on the way to his third national title—following two during his six-year run at Florida. Still, Meyer has won big at all four of his coaching stops—Bowling Green (2001–02), Utah (2003–04), Florida (2005–10), and starting in 2012 at Ohio State—with nine 10-plus-win seasons in 14 years of coaching and never worse than an 8–5 record.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama: 196–60–1 Record, 7 Conference Titles, 5 National Championships
If there was any doubt about who was the best coach in the country, it was erased last year when Saban led Alabama to its fourth national championship under his watch—and his fifth total, following the one he won with LSU (2003). Now in his fourth college football head-coaching stop—following runs with Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995–99), and LSU (2000–04)—Saban’s nine-year run with the Crimson Tide has been marked by eight straight 10-plus-win seasons and an incredible 105–18 record overall.