College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter

Athlon Sports ranks the Top 25 best coaches in college football for 2012.

<p> College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012</p>

Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an x's and o's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference or nationally among the top 25. 

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
 Kent State (1970-72)
Overall: 146-54-1 (16 years)

There’s not much debate about this: College football’s top coach resides in Tuscaloosa. Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles and four straight seasons of at least 10 victories. Saban’s track record is impressive, going 48-16 in five years at LSU, 34-24-1 in five seasons with Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in 1990 with Toledo. Saban is certainly one of the most demanding coaches in college football, but there’s no question he knows what it takes to succeed. Saban has returned Alabama to national prominence and has brought in some of college football’s best recruiting classes over the last five seasons. As long as Saban sticks around in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to be ranked among the top 10 teams every preseason. And after winning two titles in five seasons, expect the Crimson Tide to only add to that total in the near future.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Overall Record: 104-23

The resume is as complete as it gets: Two BCS National Championships, four conference titles, three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman Trophy, one national Coach of the Year honor and the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Decade (2000-2009). Meyer’s success is unquestioned; he wins and he wins big. He built Bowling Green into a conference contender in only two seasons before taking Utah to a BCS bowl in two short years in Salt Lake City. In his second year at Florida, he earned his first BCS Crystal Ball. After a second title with the Chosen One under center, Meyer took a brief respite from the sideline in 2011. He returns to the coaching ranks renewed and reinvigorated — and back in his home state at the Big Ten program with the most natural and financial resources in the league. His ability to recruit was on full display at the close of the 2012 cycle and his offensive game plan is as proven a system as there is in the collegiate playbook. The only crack in his armor is the health concerns — aka his dedication. He coached only six years at what could be considered the second-best job in the nation, won championships, and simply walked away. Other than his long-term commitment, there are not too many better options in America.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Overall Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

The Sooners have had a few down years under Stoops, but since his arrival in Norman, Oklahoma has emerged once again as a national power. Stoops’ tenure has been a picture of success, leading the Sooners to 10 double-digit win seasons and eight BCS bowl appearances. The biggest knock on Stoops has been the lack of success in BCS bowl games, as Oklahoma is just 1-5 in its last six BCS bowl appearances. And that criticism of Stoops always stirs this debate: Would you take a coach that struggles to get to a BCS bowl and wins one every eight years or take a coach that consistently gets there, but has a disappointing BCS record after six years? Regardless of whether or not Stoops wins three BCS bowls in a row or loses the next three, it’s going to be hard to knock him off the top spot in the Big 12.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (25 years)
Overall Record: 251-121-4 (31 years)

Born in the Commonwealth, playing in the Commonwealth and coaching the Commonwealth, “Beamerball” has been a fixture of Virginian football for more than four decades. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to six bowls games. After six years and a 24-40-2 record, Beamer broke through with his first bowl appearance in 1993. He has been to 19 straight bowl games since, including a Michael Vick-led chance at the 1999 national championship against Florida State. Beamer has claimed three Big East Championships (1995, 1996, 1999), four ACC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and five conference Coach of the Year honors. He is the longest tenured and winningest active FBS coach in the nation and has had at least 10 wins in eight straight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Beamer was there to usher in two new eras of Hokie football as he transitioned his team from Independent status to the Big East in 1991 and then into the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has won the Coastal Division five times in its seven-year history and will likely be the preseason favorite once again in 2012. There are few better in the nation than Beamer.

5. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Overall Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

Few coaching careers have begun like Petersen’s has at Boise State. After learning under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Petersen began his Bronco career as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator. For five years, Petersen churned out one of the nation’s most powerful offenses under Hawkins. When Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was given the reins to the Smur-ffense and has taken the program to a new level. In his first year, Petersen led Boise State to its first undefeated season and the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. It would be his first of two BCS bowl wins. He has never won fewer than 10 games in a season and just watched the 2011 graduating class finish 50-3 over their four-year career. Kellen Moore quarterbacked those four teams and is now the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Most importantly, Petersen has elevated Boise State football to a BCS conference as he will usher the Broncos into a new era of football when they join the Big East in 2013. He has had multiple opportunities to take “better” jobs and has come within two missed field goals of playing for a national championship.

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Overall Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

7. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Overall Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

Patterson coached at 10 different programs over a 16-year period before given the chance to lead TCU in 2000 (one game). The hard-nosed defensive guru went to bowl games in three straight seasons to start his career and needed only two years to register his first 10-win season. It was only the second 10-win season for the Horned Frogs in the Post-World War II era. He has rattled off eight such seasons over the last 10 years in Fort Worth, including a current streak of four straight. He has won the program’s first BCS Bowl (Rose in 2010) and has elevated TCU to a BCS level as the Frogs will join the Big 12 in 2012. In 11 full seasons on the job, Patterson has five conference championships, three conference Coach of the Year awards and was the unanimous 2009 National Coach of the Year (AFCA, AP, Walter Camp, Boddy Dodd, Eddie Robinson, Liberty Mutual). TCU has experienced one losing season under Patterson (2004), but has been to a bowl every year since, winning seven of those eight post-season games. TCU has gone 36-3 over the last three years with 13 NFL Draft picks over that span and two BCS bowl appearances.

8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 Florida (1963-66)
Overall: 197-75-2 (22 years)

It has taken some time, but Spurrier finally has South Carolina into contention for the SEC title. The Gamecocks won at least six games in each of Spurrier’s first five years, but have combined for 20 over the last two. Spurrier also led South Carolina to its first appearance in the SEC title game and a top 10 finish in most polls last year. Spurrier has had plenty of success outside of South Carolina, finishing with a 122-27-1 record at Florida and leading Duke to a 20-13-1 mark from 1987-89. Building a program into a consistent challenger for an SEC title is no easy task, but Spurrier seems to have South Carolina on the right path, and the Gamecocks are positioned for another run at the East Division title in 2012.  

9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Assumption (1979-82)
Record: 16-10 (2010-present)
Record: 34-6 (Cincinnati, 2006-09)
Record: 19-16 (Central Michigan, 2004-06)
Record: 118-35-2 (Grand Valley State, 1991-2003)
Overall: 187-66-2 (22 years)

Kelly has built an impressive resume, making stops as a head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame. He led Grand Valley State to two Division II titles and took Central Michigan to a bowl game in 2006. After coaching with the Chippewas for three seasons, Kelly made the jump to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to back-to-back BCS bowls. Although Kelly provided quick turnarounds at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the wins have been tougher to come by at Notre Dame. The Irish are a solid 16-10 under his watch, but were picked by many to push for a BCS bowl last year. Notre Dame has not won more than eight games since posting 10 victories in 2006. Kelly certainly has some work to do in order to turn the Irish back into a consistent top-10 team. However, there’s a solid foundation beginning to take shape, and Notre Dame is assembling solid recruiting classes under Kelly’s watch. Although more was expected out of Kelly two years into his tenure in South Bend, his track record is too successful to ignore. 

10. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Overall Record: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

11. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Overall Record: 58-52 (9 years)

Deciding between Hoke and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio as the top coach in the Big Ten Legends Division is no easy task. Hoke has done a good job of resurrecting two programs that did not have much success prior to his arrival. In six seasons with Ball State, Hoke recorded a 34-38 mark, including an appearance in the MAC title game in 2008. The Cardinals also made two bowl games under Hoke’s watch. After a solid stint at Ball State, Hoke left for the West Coast, choosing to coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs won just nine games in the three years prior to his arrival, but led San Diego State to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. After Rich Rodriguez was fired at Michigan, Hoke was an easy choice to become the Wolverines’ next coach, especially considering he coached in Ann Arbor from 1995-2002. Considering he was born in Ohio, Hoke isn’t necessarily a “Michigan Man.” However, he is a great fit for the Wolverines, has done a good job of rebuilding two struggling programs (Ball State and San Diego State) and led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl in his first season.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Overall Record: 62-39 (9 years)

If Brady Hoke is the top coach in the Legends Division, Dantonio is really 1B. In six seasons in East Lansing, Dantonio has turned the Spartans from underachiever to Big Ten title contender. The Spartans won 22 games through his first three years, but has posted back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. And there’s one more feather in the cap for Dantonio and Michigan State to brag about – the Spartans own a four-game winning streak over rival Michigan. Dantonio has yet to lead Michigan State to a Rose Bowl appearance, but with the program on the right track, it’s only a matter of time before the Spartans make the trek to Pasadena. Dantonio’s success isn’t just limited to Michigan State, as he posted an 18-17 record in three years with Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two bowl trips. Dantonio seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan State and should keep this program among the best in the Big Ten as long as he sticks around in East Lansing. 

13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (7 years)
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State (1986-89)
Record: 59-30 (2005-present)

Gundy has been slowly moving up the Big 12 coach rankings over the last few seasons. After posting 18 victories through his first three seasons in Stillwater, Gundy has led the Cowboys to four consecutive years of at least nine wins. Oklahoma State is coming off its first BCS bowl appearances and was one win away from playing for the national championship. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU, but Gundy has the Cowboys well-positioned to remain a conference title contender for the foreseeable future.

14. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater: 
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Overall Record: 227-113-1

Senator Brown has seen better days but still must be considered one of the league’s best options. After learning the coaching ropes at FCS power Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown rebuilt the North Carolina program. He posted three 10-win seasons in Chapel Hill and went to six straight bowls before taking the best job in college football. All Brown did in his first 13 seasons on the 40 Acres was win at least nine games and finish no worse than second in the South Division every year. After seven seasons, including three Big 12 South titles, Brown broke through with his first conference title in 2005. Behind the leadership of Vince Young, Texas won one of college football's greatest games ever played against USC in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship returned to Austin for the first time since 1970. Despite another trip to the national title game in 2009, Brown’s program eroded in 2010. He posted his first losing season since 1989 as a head coach and was forced to fire multiple assistants. The Horns returned to their winning ways last fall and 2012 will go a long way in proving whether or not Brown has gotten complacent or should be ranked No. 1 on this list. Texas is the single best coaching job in America with more natural and financial resources than any other program in the nation. Therefore, recruiting and on-the-field success should be measured with more scrutiny — especially for a man who has, for some reason, dealt with retirement rumors of late.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (20 years)
Alma Mater: William Jewell (1959-1962)
Overall Record: 159-83-1 (1989-2005), (2009-present)

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan, the Wildcats had struggled to find much success on the gridiron. From 1985-88, Kansas State posted an awful 3-40 record and had only one winning season from 1971-82. Snyder won only one game in his first season, but recorded at least five in every season from 1990-2003. Under his watch, the Wildcats have made two BCS bowl appearances and won or shared the Big 12 title four times. The one concern about Snyder is his age. Although he shows no signs of slowing down, he will be 73 at the end of the 2012 season. If you are an athletic director looking to make a hire and Snyder is one of three available candidates – you have to wonder how many years he will stick around. However, Snyder understands the culture and what it takes to win at Kansas State. It’s not an easy job, but Snyder has transformed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a consistent contender in the Big 12.

16. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater: Miami
Record: 106-38 (2001-present)

The longest tenured coach in the SEC (tied with Gary Pinkel) has had one losing season in his entire head-coaching career. The Bulldogs, under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff, failed to realize an opportunity to grow into the SEC power in the 1990s. While Alabama and LSU toiled, Florida and Tennessee took advantage and won titles. Goff and Donnan claimed seven seasons of six wins or fewer and the program posted only two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2001. Richt entered the game in 2001 and proceeded to win the programs’ first conference title in 20 years in 2002. Richt posted two conference titles, six 10-wins seasons in his first eight years and won two SEC Coach of the Year Awards. However, Dawgs’ faithful watched its team get worse four straight years from 2007 to 2011 while Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida were winning national titles and returning to national prominence in a big way. Richt adapted, though, by finally making sweeping coaching changes that have saved his job. Todd Grantham reinvented the Georgia defense and Richt got to his fourth SEC Championship game in 2011. He has his team poised to be the favorite to win the East once again this fall.

17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Northwestern (1993-96)
Overall Record: 40-36 (2006-present)

Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern and barring something unexpected, will likely be here until he retires. As a Northwestern graduate, Fitzgerald is well-aware of the culture and what it takes to win in Evanston. The former Wildcat linebacker has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games and just one losing season. Fitzgerald’s overall record over the last six seasons is a solid 40-36, but is still searching for his first bowl victory. Northwestern is not an easy place to win, but Fitzgerald has found the right formula and will continue to make the Wildcats a yearly threat to reach a bowl and pull off an upset or two along the way. 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
 BYU
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
 Ursinus
Record: 21-17 (2009-present)

In Athlon’s meeting to rank the SEC coaches, Mullen and LSU’s Les Miles were the most difficult ones to rank. Mullen is only 39 years old, so his best coaching years appear to be ahead of him. However, his overall record is just 21-17 and his only SEC West victories came against rival Ole Miss. While winning the in-state battle is crucial, the Bulldogs need to start beating some of the other teams in the division. Mullen has also led Mississippi State to back-to-back bowl victories and should be in position to reach the postseason once again in 2012. Considering the depth of the SEC, winning big in Starkville is no easy task. Give Mullen the resources of what Alabama or LSU has and he can take Mississippi State even higher. The Bulldogs have ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in recruiting only once in the last six years, yet have a better record over the last three seasons than Tennessee (18-20) — a team that consistently recruits better than Mississippi State. While the record suggests Mullen is only a .500 coach, expect him to continue pushing the Bulldogs to eight or nine win seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he left for a better job in the next couple of years. An overall record isn't always a good judge of how effective some coaches are and Mullen is the perfect case, as he has helped to turn Mississippi State into a consistent bowl team in a very difficult SEC West.

20. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater: 
Michigan
Overall: 103-39 (11 years)

Inexplicably, LSU, a program with as many built-in advantages as anyone in the nation, laid dormant for three decades. LSU won two conference championships from 1971 to 2000 and only three bowl games from 1971 to 1995. However, the name atop this list of SEC coaches entered the picture in 2000 and reestablished the Bayou Bengal brand. Nick Saban won more games in his first year (8) than LSU had won the two previous (7). He had LSU back in the SEC title game by 2001, giving the Tigers their first outright conference title since 1986. By his fourth season, Saban had returned the Tigers to the promised land by delivering their first national title since 1958. Enter Les Miles. The Hat has maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years, including the 2007 National Championship. He brings energy, intensity and an internal rallying cry to his locker room. The players love him, and he is certainly an entertaining character. He is a fantastic recruiter who has assembled arguably the best roster in America. However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series’ 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly game-managed title game of the BCS era. Miles and Saban will be eternally linked the annals of SEC football, and relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, Saban has been the far superior coach. Miles has lost 12 games to Saban’s six since 2007, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season isn’t getting it done.

21. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (5 years)
Alma Mater: Western Carolina (1979), Appalachian State (1982)
Overall Record: 140-58 (15 years)

After two I-AA National Championships at Georgia Southern, Johnson completely reinvented the Naval Academy before bringing his patented triple-option attack to the big leagues. Navy had been to nine bowl games in over 100 years of football when they hired Johnson. He led them to five bowl games in six seasons, including two wins. At Georgia Tech, there were doubts about whether or not the antiquated system would work in the ACC. After five seasons, two division championships and one ACC crown (2009), the answer is most definitively yes. The Jackets have led the ACC in rushing all four seasons under Johnson and finished no worse than fourth nationally on the ground. Georgia Tech enters 2012 as the top contender to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

22. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Overall Record: 59-53

After a very long and very distinguished Texas high school coaching career from 1979 to 1999, Briles got his break at his alma mater. At Houston, Briles designed one of the most prolific passing attacks in NCAA history. Under the two previous regimes, (Kim Helton and Dana Dimel) the Cougars won an average of 3.2 games per year from 1993 to 2002 for an overall record of 32-79. Briles won more games (34) in his five-year stint at Houston as well as one conference title in 2006. He landed at Baylor after two straight C-USA West division titles and was charged with leading a dormant program into the new Big 12 era. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Briles (with a little help from Robert Griffin III) led the Bears to its first bowl game since 1994. Over the last two seaons, Baylor won its first postseason contest since 1992 and more games (17) over a two-year span than it has since 1985-1986 (18). Griffin III claimed the first Heisman Trophy in school history and will likely be the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Can Briles maintain the Bears’ current level of success without the most valuable player in the nation and most popular player in school history? This is what Briles is charged with in 2012.

23. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Iowa
Record: 60-19 (2006-present)

Hand picked by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, few imagined Bielema had the talent to maintain the Badgers’ level of success. After six years of Meyer-esque winning percentages, those concerns have definitively been squashed. His back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances were the first for Wisconsin since 1998 and 1999, and despite not winning either game, the Badgers can hang their hats on back-to-back conference titles. In fact, Bielema’s bowl record might be his only weakness. He is 2-4 in postseason play and is likely the only thing keeping him from being ranked higher on this list. That, and the fact he was handed the keys to a program that functions in a vastly different manner than it did in late '80s. Alvarez took UW from an also-ran, bye week program and turned it into a $100-million Midwest football powerhouse. Bielema hasn’t recruited at an elite level — aka Top 25 nationally — but has done an incredible job evaluating and developing talent. Without a single top-25 recruiting class to his name, the Badgers’ head man has sent 11 players into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006. He has never experienced a losing season as a head coach and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors back in 2006 when he led Wisconsin to a 12-1 record in his first season. Iowa Hawkeye leg tattoo aside, fans in Madison are very happy to have transitioned so seamlessly from Alvarez to Bielema.

24. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater: 
Kent State
Overall: 158-91-3 (21 years)

Not many people can say they started their football careers rooming with Jack Lambert and playing with Nick Saban while learning from Don James. But that is how Pinkel broke into this business when played tight end at Kent State under James. He spent nearly twenty years, most of it under James at Kent and Washington, before landing his first head coaching job in 1991 at Toledo. He earned one MAC championship, three MAC East Division titles and the 1995 MAC Coach of the Year honor before the Mizzou Tigers came calling. In his 11 years since, Pinkel has led Missouri to unprecedented heights of football success. His 85 wins are third all-time in school history. From 1983 to 2001, the Tigers went to two bowl games. Since Pinkel landed in Columbia, MU has eight bowls in 11 years, winning four of them. Prior to the former MAC guru tenure, Missouri posted two 10-win seasons in 111 years of football. He has won at least 10 games three times in the last five years. Eight of the Tigers nine top scoring teams have been ruled by Pinkel. He now has accomplished arguably his greatest achievement in Tigers football history by ushering his program into the nation’s best conference. There will be a major adjustment period, but for the SEC’s longest tenured head coach (tied with Richt), this has to feel like a juicy opportunity to continue the Tigers rise up the college football food chain.

25. Al Golden, Miami (1 year)
Alma Mater: Penn State (1987-91)
Overall Record: 33-40 (6 years)

After spending time on Tom O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Golden was plenty familiar with ACC football when he got the call from Coral Gables. He landed at Miami after building Temple into a MAC contender (he claimed 2009 MAC Coach of the Year honors). Despite the scrutiny from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and potential NCAA sanctions, Golden appears to have Miami trending back towards conference contention. After only its third non-winning season since 1979, Miami decided to withdraw itself from bowl contention due to the ongoing NCAA investigation in Golden's first year. The strong-willed, brutally honest head man recruited incredibly well in 2012 in the face of possible sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — his dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday combo — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. The sky is the limit for Golden and Miami should they avoid heavy-handed NCAA sanctions.

The Best of the Rest:

Mike London, Virginia (2 years)
Alma Mater: Richmond (1979-82)
Overall Record: 36-18 (4 years)

Virginia wanted to keep it in state in all senses of the word when it hired Mike London away from Richmond. He has completely reinvigorated the Cavalier brand name within the state as Wahoo recruiting has sky-rocketed since London took over in 2010. In only two seasons at the helm, London returned Virginia to posteason play for the first time since 2007 and has his program back near the top of the ACC recruiting hierarchy. The Cavaliers improved from 10th in the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2010 to third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. London has constructed an excellent staff and has himself positioned for long-term success in Charlottesville.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 BYU (1978-81)
Overall Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater: 
West Virginia (1981-84)
Overall Record: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Overall Record: 14-13 (2 years)

It has taken Strong only two years to emerge as one of the top coaches in the Big East. After spending over 20 years as an assistant with stops at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 14-12 record and two bowl appearances. Even with one of the youngest rosters in college football, Louisville claimed a share of the Big East crown in 2011. The future looks bright for the Cardinals with Strong at the helm, as they should be the early favorite to win the conference in 2012. The biggest question for Louisville is whether or not it can keep Strong if one of the top programs in the SEC open up, but for now, he should have the Cardinals knocking on the door of a finish in the top 25 this season.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

How does your coach rank? Check out how Athlon Sports ranked the coaches in each of the BCS conferences:

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

More Stories:

Home Page Infinite Scroll Left