Ohio State takes top spot as Big Ten cleans up in both sports
For all of last week and into this week, Athlon Sports ranked football and men’s basketball coaching tandems in the power conferences.
It’s a tall task recognizing excellence in both major college sports, but the top of our list, for the most part, includes programs who are in contention for conference championships in both sports, BCS bowls and deep NCAA Tournament runs. Others near the top include one elite coach paired with another who has done excellent work under difficult circumstances (see: Alabama, Oklahoma and Duke).
As with our conference rankings, we tend to favor balance. In short, which coaching duo is most likely to keep its fans happy from August to March.
That is reflected near the top of the rankings, but that prospect gets dicey toward the end of the top 50. Should we reward a program who has slightly above average coaches in one sport or should we reward a program with an elite coach in one and a below average coach in the other?
We believe we looked at all sides and ended up with a solid top 50, but at the same time, it’s one that’s sure to spur debate.
Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer walked into Ohio State, where he was an assistant under Earle Bruce, and went 12-0 for the second time in his career. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Buckeyes never looked like a team facing a postseason ban. A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer has also shaken up Big Ten recruiting in one season. Matta rarely is rarely noted as the top basketball coach in the Big Ten, but he’s led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours, three Big Ten tournament titles and at least a share of five regular season conference titles. Ohio State is on its way to its ninth consecutive 20-win season under Matta.
Football: Brady Hoke | Basketball: John Beilein
When Michigan raided West Virginia for its football/basketball coaching duo, Rich Rodriguez was pinpointed as the coach who would turn the Wolverines’ fortunes. Instead, Beilein turned out to be the better hire. Never shy about shooting the three-pointer under Beilein, Michigan is more balanced this season, giving the Wolverines their best team since the Fab Five era. The return of defensive line coach Hoke to Ann Arbor is bringing the Wolverines back to basics. They slipped from 11-2 to 8-5 last season, but Hoke is building the classic pro-style powerful Michigan team.
Football: Bob Stoops | Basketball: Lon Kruger
Big Game Bob has cooled since he had five consecutive top-10 finishes and four BCS games in his first six seasons in Norman, but Stoops still has Oklahoma as one of the consistent frontrunners in the conference. The Sooners have won at least 10 games in six of the last seven years, won the Big 12 in four of the last seven seasons. Stoops' teams obliterated rival Texas the last two seasons. In basketball, Kruger reaffirmed his status as one of the best turnaround artists in the country. In two seasons, he’s resuscitated a program limited by NCAA sanctions under Kelvin Sampson and recruiting misfires under Jeff Capel. If Oklahoma reaches the NCAA Tournament this season -- and it looks like the Sooners will -- Kruger will be the first coach to lead five teams the Tourney.
Football: Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant
There’s not much more we can say about Nick Saban that hasn’t been said since Alabama won its second consecutive national title and third in four seasons. Yet again, he reeled in the nation’s No. 1 signing class, and he's continued to change the face of the SEC. After the SEC was remade by the Fun ‘n’ Gun and the spread, Saban has brought the league back to a combination a punishing run game and physical defense. On the basketball side, Grant hasn’t had the same success as he did at VCU, but hoops isn’t the focus in Tuscaloosa. After a 6-10 SEC season in his first year, Grant has gone 30-14 in conference play since.
5. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey
Brian Kelly has done what his last three predecessors at Notre Dame failed to do -- restore the Irish to a national-title contending program. That shouldn’t be too much of a shock as Kelly won two Division II titles at Grand Valley State, won a MAC title at Central Michigan and two Big East titles at Cincinnati. Brey lifted Notre Dame basketball out of a similar slump since the end of the Digger Phelps era. In the last eight seasons, Brey has won 20 games each year, and he’s likely to make his ninth NCAA Tournament trip in 13 seasons in South Bend. Brey has not missed the postseason since his first two seasons at Delaware in 1995-97.
Football: Charlie Strong | Basketball: Rick Pitino
Athletic director Tom Jurich spent big to keep this duo together when Strong was a hot commodity for Tennessee during the offseason. It’s easy to see why: Louisville is on a short list of programs capable of reaching a Final Four and a BCS game in the same year. Pitino has led the Cardinals to at 25 wins and an Elite Eight or better in three of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, Strong is just getting started with the football program. He’s recruited a young team that will be a Big East favorite in 2013 and potentially a contender in the ACC when the Cards join the league in 2014.
7. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo is doing it again. While everyone was talking about Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten, the Spartans may have the league’s best team. Athlon named Izzo its No. 1 basketball coach prior to the season due to Izzo’s regular season and postseason acumen, recruiting and player development skills. All have come into play this season. In football, Dantonio’s star has fallen a bit after going 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten last season, but he led the Spartans to 22 wins in 2010-11. Now that Michigan and Ohio State are returning to full strength, Danonio’s job is that much tougher.
8. South Carolina
Football: Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin
What Spurrier has accomplished really is quite extraordinary: He brought two SEC programs to national prominence using different approaches at each spot. At South Carolina, he’s abandoned the high-flying pass offense in favor of a standout run game and stout defense (the Gamecocks have ranked in the top four of the SEC in total defense in four of the last five seasons). Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never finished a season in the AP top 10. Spurrier has done it in back-to-back seasons. The Gamecocks’ basketball program now is the one needing a turnaround. Martin is enduring a dismal first season in Columbia as expected, but the fiery former Kansas State coach has a track record of winning at a place others have not.
Football: Will Muschamp | Basketball: Billy Donovan
Billy the Kid is the longest-tenured SEC basketball coach, landing at Florida in 1996-97. He’s turned the Gators into one of the most consistent programs in the country with 15 consecutive 20-win seasons, two national championships, and three Final Fours and two more Elite Eights. Though a highly coveted assistant, Muschamp was a curious hire for the Gators, whose last coach without previous head coaching experience (Ron Zook) didn’t pan out. After a 7-6 first season, Muschamp returned Florida to top-10 status last season. The Gators’ 2012 was flawed but still managed to win four one-score games against one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Football: Gary Andersen | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan has led Wisconsin to a top-four finish in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament every season in Madison since he arrived in 2001-02. Yet even this season, no one caught on (Athlon picked the Badgers sixth in the conference this year, and we were hardly alone in underestimating Wisconsin). No coach is better than Ryan at recruiting to his system and developing talent to it. Andersen is a first-year coach in Madison, but he went 18-8 with two bowl games in the last two seasons at Utah State. His commitment to the run game and physical defense will fit well at Wisconsin.
11. Kansas State
Football: Bill Snyder | Basketball: Bruce Weber
Snyder has to be considered among the all-time greats after his second stint of rescuing Kansas State football. His second tour of duty with the Wildcats is as impressive as the first. K-State has won 21 games and a Big 12 title the last two seasons despite having the lowest-ranked recruiting classes in the league the last five years. Weber’s tenure soured at Illinois, but so far he’s been a boon for K-State basketball, starting 20-5 overall and 9-3 in the league. Weber started well at Illinois, too, going 37-2 and reaching the national title game in his second season.
Football: David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
David Cutcliffe gave Duke fans a reason to get excited for football season with its bowl appearance in 2012, only its third since 1960. A quarterback guru, Cutcliffe has had dangerous passing games since he arrived at Duke. If the Belk Bowl isn’t convincing enough, consider he has more wins in his Duke tenure (18 in five seasons) than any coach since Steve Spurrier (20 wins in three). And you know Krzyzewski: Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, 948 wins and no signs of slowing down.
Football: Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller
In his first season at Arizona, Rodriguez won winning five of his last seven games as the Wildcats ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring offense. The 8-5 season was a good indication Rodriguez may put up results more similar to his tenure at West Virginia (60-26) than his tenure at Michigan (15-22). In basketball, Sean Miller has restored stability to a program that had two one-season coaches after Lute Olson’s legendary run. Arizona’s not back to level of prominence it enjoyed through the '90s and into the early 2000s, but Miller has already taken Arizona to an Elite Eight and has the Wildcats in contention for its second conference title in his tenure.
Football: Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga
This season may be the first in Miami history where the basketball coach has been the Big Coach on Campus rather than the football coach. This isn’t just a knee jerk reaction to Miami’s newfound basketball prominence this season. Larranaga led Miami to a 9-7 season in the ACC a year ago for its first winning season in the conference. That’s on the heels of an accomplished career at Bowling Green and George Mason, where he led the Colonials to the Final Four. Golden’s 13-11 record is nothing special by Miami football standards, but he’s navigating the off-field adversity at Miami with the same skill he used to revive Temple.
15. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams
Roy Williams has his flaws as a coach, some of which are coming to bear this season. But he's nearing 700 career wins with two national championships and seven Final Fours at Kansas and North Carolina. He's already a Hall of Fame coach. North Carolina football remains a sleeping giant, and there’s reason to believe Fedora can be the coach to deliver on that promise once the Tar Heels weather NCAA sanctions. After four consecutive bowl games and a Conference USA title at Southern Miss, he went 8-4 overall and tied for the Coastal Division lead despite a bowl ban last season.
16. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen | Basketball: Bob Huggins
Huggins is a potential Hall of Fame coach with 650 Division I wins. He’s been remarkably consistent, going without a losing conference record every season since his first at Akron in 1984-85. He’ll flirt with one this year, however. He’s also four seasons removed from the Final Four. Holgorsen can coach offense as well as anyone, but the Mountaineers’ defense was a major liability in a 7-6 debut in the Big 12. In his first season as a head coach, Holgorsen led West Virginia to a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson.
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Kevin Stallings
When was the last time Vanderbilt was a factor in both football and basketball? Since 1974, Vanderbilt has reached the NCAA Tournament and a bowl game in the same calendar year only four times. Kevin Stallings was the basketball coach for three of them. James Franklin was the football coach for two of those years. Vanderbilt is the most unique job in the league as the SEC’s toughest academic school and the only private university in the league. Stallings built his program (six NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons) on player development. And Franklin has proven to have the recruiting zeal and enthusiasm to keep the Commodores competitive.
18. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
The verdict on Fisher as the coach to return Florida State to national title contention is unsettled. He’s led the Seminoles to their first 10-win seasons since 2004 and their first top-10 finish since 2000. But the Seminoles can’t get back into the title picture thanks to losses to teams like Wake Forest and NC State. He’s facing an interesting season with a handful of staff defections. Basketball is a clear No. 2 sport at Florida State, but Hamilton has taken the ‘Noles to their best era in the sport with four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and an ACC Tournament title last year.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Jamie Dixon
With a 20-6 start in 2012-13, Dixon proved last season’s CBI effort was an outlier. Before 2012, Pittsburgh was one of three teams in the Big East to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since the league reformed in 2005. (Villanova and Marquette were the others). Dixon led Pitt to a 20-win season in all of his 10 seasons with the Panthers, a Big East regular season title in 2011 and a tournament title in 2008. All that’s left is a Final Four. In football, Chryst has had one rocky season with the Panthers, but his decision to stay when his former employer Wisconsin had an opening was a positive for a team with coaching instability. We think Chryst’s philosophy will work well in the long term with Pitt.
Football: Mack Brown | Basketball: Rick Barnes
This is the most difficult tandem to evaluate in the Big 12 and perhaps the country. On one side, the resumes are impeccable: Brown’s 2005 national title and nine consecutive 10-win seasons and Barnes’ streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and the 2003 Final Four. We value consistency, but at Texas, the bar is a little different. Both coaches have a mountain of advantages in resources, exposure and recruiting base. Yet Brown has limped to a 22-16 record the last three seasons, and Barnes may have a losing season on his hands in addition to early exits from the Tournament in recent seasons. Texas coaches should have better results than this.
Football: Art Briles | Basketball: Scott Drew
It’s tough to underestimate how far Baylor has come in both sports over the last decade. Briles has turned the Big 12 doormat into a dangerous program with three consecutive bowl games and a Heisman Trophy for Robert Griffin III. In addition, the former Houston coach and Texas high school coach has showed few signs he plans to leave Waco. On the other side, it’s true Baylor’s basketball results haven’t matched it’s talent level, but Drew has led the Bears to two Elite Eights in the last four seasons after winning 21 total games in his first three seasons.
22. Oklahoma State
Football: Mike Gundy | Basketball: Travis Ford
Gundy has brought Oklahoma State out of Oklahoma’s shadow, winning an average of 9.8 games in each of the last five seasons. Though Oklahoma State didn’t match the 12- and 11-win efforts of the previous two seasons, 2012 may have been his best coaching job, as the Cowboys went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 despite starting three quarterbacks. The Pokes have yet to have similar breakthrough in basketball, but Ford has Oklahoma State on its way to its third NCAA Tournament, its fourth 20-win seasons in five years and perhaps a Big 12 title.
Football: Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Ben Howland
UCLA may have the toughest tandem to judge in the Pac-12. Howland has three consecutive Final Fours on his resume, but the program now looks little like the one Howland coached from 2006-08. The Bruins are having their best season of the last four thanks to a signing class that has finally delivered on its promise. But UCLA isn’t immune to puzzling losses (Cal Poly, USC) or criticism from one of its greatest players. On the football side, Mora resuscitated the program with a 9-5 season and a Pac-12 South title, but a three-game losing streak (including two to Stanford) indicates the Bruins still have a way to go to return to national prominence. Still, Howland’s track record and Mora’s quick rebuild is enough to make UCLA’s tandem No. 2 in the league.
24. Boise State
Football: Chris Petersen | Basketball: Leon Rice
Boise State football had been on a steady ascent since the late 1990s, but Chris Petersen took the program to new heights. The Broncos under Petersen have had two undefeated seasons and BCS wins and three top-10 finishes. Gripe about the level of competition in the WAC and Mountain West, but he’s never finished with fewer than 10 wins in seven seasons as a head coach. The Broncos’ adjustment to major college basketball hasn’t been nearly as quick as the football program’s rise, but Rice, a former Gonzaga assistant may be the coach to lift the Broncos. Boise State is in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid in the rugged Mountain West.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Crean essentially started from scratch at Indiana in 2008-09 with a depleted roster and NCAA sanctions. The Hoosiers won eight Big Ten games his first three seasons in Bloomington, but they arrived to national prominence a year earlier than expected last season. Now, Indiana is a legitimate national title contender again. IU football will always be No. 2, but Kevin Wilson has made progress in two seasons from playing a horde of freshmen in 2011. The Hoosiers improved from 1-11 overall and 0-8 in his first season to 4-8 and 2-6 in his second.
Football: Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones
The SEC just wouldn’t be the same without Les Miles, whose unpredictability as a gameday coach is matched by eccentricity as a communicator. But he’s had some darn good results at LSU, too. In addition to the 2007 national title, LSU has finished in the top 10 five times under Miles and spent at least one week in the top five in each of his eight seasons in Baton Rouge. In basketball, LSU won’t make the NCAA Tournament in Jones’ first season, but the Tigers could have their best win total since 2008-09. A player on LSU’s Final Four team in 1986, Jones was one of the best coaches in the Sun Belt at North Texas.
Football: Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell
With his earnest enthusiasm, Swinney is the kind of character made for college football. He’s good for a chuckle, but he knows how to allocate his budget to top coordinators, especially Chad Morris. His 21 wins in the last two seasons are the most in school history, and the Tigers’ 2011 ACC title was their first since 1991. Brownell came to Clemson with good reputation by taking UNC Wilmington and Wright State to the NCAA Tournament, but he has a two-year postseason drought since reaching the Big Dance in his first season at Clemson.
Football: Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Boeheim joined the 900-win club this season and has a chance for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament with this group. He has 16 consecutive 20-win seasons, three Final Four appearances and the 2003 national title. We don’t have any questions about him in these rankings. Shafer is an unknown commodity after he was elevated to replace Doug Marrone during the offseason. The former Stanford and Michigan assistant turned around the Syracuse defense when he first arrived in 2009, but the Orange ranked fifth in the league in total D last season. He is a first-time head coach.
Football: Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson
Few tandems in the SEC took their current jobs with resumes as accomplished as Bielema and Anderson. Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls and won at least 10 games four times in seven seasons. Anderson won at UAB, including an upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and Missouri, where he won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight in 2008-09. The question is how they will fare at Arkansas. Anderson’s road woes may cost the Razorbacks another Tournament bid, and Bielema is entering his first season coaching and recruiting in the SEC.
30. Iowa State
Football: Paul Rhoads | Basketball: Fred Hoiberg
It takes a special coach to win in either sport at Iowa State. The Cyclones had more success in basketball in its history, but they were largely dormant after a going 32-5 in 1999-2000. Hoiberg, “The Mayor,” has started to bring his alma mater back. The Cyclones could reach their second consecutive NCAA Tournament this season, the first time that’s happened since 2000-01. Iowa State is not nearly as accomplished in football. Rhoads is a master motivator who has made Iowa State a spoiler in the Big 12 or national title race. He has three bowl games in four seasons but only one winning record.
Football: Tommy Tuberville | Basketball: Mick Cronin
Both coaches are solid in their respective sports. Cronin has led the Bearcats through a lengthy rebuilding process. He started with two losing seasons, but he has Cincinnati on its way to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Tuberville was a somewhat surprising hire as the coach bolted Texas Tech this offseason. Given his baggage of jumping jobs, smacking headsets off assistants and possibly deserting recruits during a dinner, Tuberville is far removed from a his standout stretch at Auburn.
Football: Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari
Calipari may be the top coach in the game right now. Even one of his down teams this season will make a run at an SEC regular season title. From 2005-12, his average record each season was 34-5. And in the outlier (29-9 in 2010-11), Kentucky still reached the Final Four. His strategy of cycling through one-and-dones isn’t everyone’s favorite vision for college basketball, but he proved last season he can win a national title doing it. Football is a second priority at Kentucky, but they’ll hope first-time head coach Mark Stoops is more like Bob than Mike. He impressed on the recruiting trail with the nation’s No. 36 class. Still, in the SEC, that ranks only 13th.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Tubby Smith
Minnesota is going to have a tough time winning in either sport, but the Gophers at least have the right coaches leading the program. Kill has won at every level from Saginaw Valley State to Emporia State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois. He led the Gophers back to a bowl game in his second season. Smith, who led Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, is Minnesota’s first successful basketball coach since crippling sanctions in the late 90s. He should have the Gophers in their third NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
Football: Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Mike Montgomery
Prior to the season, we rated Montgomery as the Pac-12’s top basketball coach At Stanford, Montgomery never finished lower than second in the conference from 1996-2004. Then, he raised the profile at Cal, reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in his first four seasons at Berkeley. In football, Cal will hope Dykes can restore some excitement to a program that had grown stale under predecessor Jeff Tedford. Dykes is a spread offense guru who coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and has experience in the Pac-12 at Arizona. He improved his win total each season at Louisiana Tech.
Football: Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett
In 2012, the football program slipped back to 4-8 after an eight-win season in London’s second year. The former police officer went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title before returning to Virginia. After ending Virginia’s four-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, Bennett has the program in position for its first back-to-back Tournament bids since 1994-95. His offensive and defensive systems will keep scores low, but it’s proven to work when he’s at at talent disadvantage.
36. Virginia Tech
Football: Frank Beamer | Basketball: James Johnson
Beamer is synonymous with Virginia Tech football even if his streak of eight consecutive 10-wins seasons ended in 2012. The Hokies haven’t missed a bowl game or had a losing season since 1992, Beamer’s sixth season in Blacksburg. Johnson is a much more unknown commodity. He was noted as a recruiter under predecessor Seth Greenberg’s staff, but it’s been a tough season in his debut as a head coach.
37. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin’s teams at Texas A&M and Houston have finished in the top three nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons. The exception was 2010 when Houston quarterback Case Keenum was injured (Houston still finished 11th nationally). With a Cotton Bowl victory, a win over Alabama and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel, Sumlin rode that wave to a top-10 signing class, outpacing former recruiting rivals Texas and Oklahoma. The basketball program isn’t where Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie had it, but the Aggies have already exceeded last season’s win total (14). Billy Kennedy built Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State over the course of a few years, so his upcoming seasons will be worth watching.
Football: Charlie Weis | Basketball: Bill Self
In the last eight seasons, Self has led Kansas to the 2008 national title, the 2012 title game, eight consecutive Big 12 championships and five conference tournament championships. Yet Self still finds a way to be doubted. He’s one of the nation’s top coaches, regular season or postseason. He’s not contributing to the Jayhawks’ low ranking, clearly. Weis was a puzzling hire from the start and did nothing in his first season to make KU’s roll of the dice look great. Weis is 17-32 in his last four seasons as a head coach, including 1-11 in Lawrence.
Football: Gary Patterson | Basketball: Trent Johnson
Another tough call in the Big 12 rankings. We wouldn’t be shocked if this doesn’t look like a great ranking in a few years. Gary Patterson is one of the nation’s best coaches, and he lived up to that in his first season in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs had to replace their returning starter at quarterback midseason and still reached a bowl game. His future success in the Big 12 will depend on his ability to recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at an elite level. Trent Johnson is a solid basketball coach who had a good run at Stanford and Nevada but wisely bolted LSU for TCU before landing himself on the hot seat in Baton Rouge.
Football: Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox
The hot seat talk form when Georgia went 14-12 and 7-9 in the SEC in 2009-10 has cooled. Richt’s 14-2 record in the SEC the last two seasons is his best in any two-year span at Georgia, though Georgia has been the beneficiary of some fortunate scheduling. Still, the Bulldogs were a play away from reaching the national title game before losing the SEC Championship Game. The hire of Georgia’s other Mark from Nevada was greeted with skepticism as Fox hadn’t coached anywhere near the Southeast. Fox is trying to avoid his third losing season in four years at Georgia.
43. San Diego State
48. Oregon State