College Football's Best Coaching Trees

Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter

Working with Bill Snyder, Mike Leach and Urban Meyer is a fast track to a big job

Working with Bill Snyder, Mike Leach and Urban Meyer is a fast track to a big job

Hayden begat Bill who begat Bob who begat Mike, Kevin, Kevin, Mark and Mike.

Or something like that.

College football is full of borrowed ideas and philosophies, and nowhere is that more clear than looking at coaching trees. One head coaching with a staff of assistants has success and a handful of other programs are looking to get a piece of the magic.

In any other field of business, we’d just call this networking. One hiring manager (the athletic director) sees another spot having success, so he or she rings for a recommendation (the coach), and on and on we go.

In sports, we call them coaching trees. A fun exercise to see which head coaches are doing bang-up work in job placement.

Bill Snyder, a Hayden Fry disciple at Iowa, leads our list for producing Bob Stoops and others. Stoops, who played for Fry at Iowa, branched out on his own.

So why does Snyder get the credit and not Fry? Our list of the best college football coaching trees includes only head coaches who were active within the last 10 years. Otherwise, we’d spend our days tracking every coach back to Pop Warner, Walter Camp and Amos Alonzo Stagg.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BEST COACHING TREES

1. Bill Snyder
Kansas State (1989-2005, 2009-present)
Branches:
Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Jim Leavitt (formerly USF), Mark Mangino (formerly Kansas)
Snyder oversaw one of sports’ greatest reclamation projects when he took Kansas State from also-ran to a factor on the national scene — twice over. His list of coaches used to be more substantial but still remains impressive. Mark Mangino and Jim Leavitt had successful runs at Kansas and USF, respectively, before player mistreatment issues sunk their tenures. Stoops, though, is the crown jewel, making Snyder a godfather of sorts in coaching trees.
Snyder’s roots: Hayden Fry, Iowa

1a. Bob Stoops
Oklahoma (1999-present)
Branches:
Mike Leach (Washington State), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Kevin Wilson (Indiana), Mark Mangino (formerly Kansas), Mike Stoops (formerly Arizona)
Stoops played for Fry at Iowa before eventually becoming Snyder’s co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State. At Oklahoma, his offensive coordinator position became a stepping stone to a head coaching job from Leach to Mangino to Sumlin to Wilson.

1b. Bret Bielema
Wisconsin (2006-12), Arkansas (present)
Branches:
Dave Doeren (NC State), Paul Chryst (Pittsburgh)
Bielema perhaps belongs in the coaching tree for Fry at Iowa, where Bielema played and spent his early years as a coach. But Bielema spent two seasons as co-defensive coordinator at K-State for Snyder before becoming coach-in-waiting at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez.

Related: Tracking the route for schools to win their first Heisman

2. Mike Leach
Texas Tech (2000-09), Washington State (2012-present)
Branches:
Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia), Sonny Dykes (Cal), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Ruffin McNeill (East Carolina), Art Briles (Baylor)
Why is Leach his own tree rather than a branch off Bob Stoops? Leach was an established Air Raid commodity while offensive coordinator for Hal Mumme at Kentucky before Stoops hired him at OU. And Leach has established a clear tree of offensive masterminds from his time at Texas Tech. Leach gave Briles his first college job after the now-Baylor coach was a legend in high school. Leach also gave Holgorsen his first Division I job and made Kingsbury his first quarterback in Lubbock. It’s almost tempting to put Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin on this list as Sumlin and Leach share similar offensive philosophies and assistants, but Sumlin never coached with Leach at Texas Tech.
Leach’s roots: Hal Mumme

3. Nick Saban
Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04), Miami Dolphins (2005-06), Alabama (2007-present)
Branches:
Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Will Muschamp (Florida), Jim McElwain (Colorado State), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Tom Amtsutz (formerly Toledo), Pat Shurmur (formerly Cleveland Browns), Derek Dooley (formerly Tennessee), Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator), Todd Grantham (Georgia defensive coordinator)
Saban is part of the expansive Bill Belichick/Bill Parcells coaching tree that touches all levels of college and professional football. Saban’s biggest successes are now rivals in Florida with Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and Will Muschamp at Florida. Both programs have Saban-like qualities in terms of organization and administration. Mark Dantonio became a head coach after his stint under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, but he spent five seasons early in his career under Saban at Michigan State. Derek Dooley flamed out at Tennessee, but Kirby Smart has a head coaching job awaiting him when he wants it.
Saban’s roots: Bill Belichcik, Bill Parcells

4. Urban Meyer
Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10), Ohio State (2012-present)
Branches:
Dan Mullen (Mississippi State), Charlie Strong (Louisville), Steve Addazio (Boston College), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Doc Holliday (Marshall), Dan McCarney (North Texas), Tim Beckman (Illinois), Gregg Brandon (formerly Bowling Green), Mike Sanford (formerly UNLV)
Meyer is a relatively new one on the scene, but an undefeated season at Utah and two titles at Florida rose quite a few assistants to prominence. Dan Mullen and Kyle Whittigham were with Meyer from early days, but Meyer did a good job in hiring guys like Holliday (a longtime Don Nehlen assistant at West Virginia), Dan McCarney (a former Iowa State coach) and Steve Addazio (who traces his roots to Syracuse). Charlie Strong was a holdover from the Ron Zook staff (as was now-North Carolina coach Larry Fedora), but both Meyer and Strong trace their roots to Lou Holtz’s and Bob Davie’s staffs at Notre Dame.
Meyer’s roots: Earle Bruce, Lou Holtz

Related: College Football's best coaches under 40

5. Mike Bellotti
Oregon (1995-2008)
Branches:
Chris Petersen (Boise State), Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles), Jeff Tedford (formerly Cal), Dirk Koetter (formerly Arizona State), Nick Aliotti (Oregon defensive coordinator)
Bellotti had a way of putting together offensive coaching staff. Jeff Tedford built his reputation as a quarterback guru in Eugene after taking over the offensive coordinator role from Dirk Koetter. For both, Chris Petersen was the wide receivers coach. Bellotti’s greatest stroke of genius, though, may have been plucking Chip Kelly off the staff at New Hampshire. One question: How deep would this coaching tree be if Bellotti didn’t have Aliotti as an defensive coordinator for all but three seasons of his tenure.
Bellotti’s roots: Rich Brooks

6. Butch Davis
Miami (1995-2000), Cleveland Browns (2001-05), North Carolina (2007-10)
Branches:
Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts), Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland Browns), Larry Coker (UTSA), Curtis Johnson (Tulane), Randy Shannon (formerly Miami), Mario Cristobal (formerly FIU)
Odd that a failed NFL coach has produced so many current NFL coaches. At the college level, Davis is just as known for overseeing an NCAA mess at North Carolina and rescuing Miami from one. Schiano and Coker were both coordinators for Davis with the Hurricanes before Schiano rebuilt Rutgers and Coker won a national title in Coral Gables.
Davis’ roots: Jimmy Johnson

7. Randy Walker
Miami (Ohio) (1990-98), Northwestern (1999-2005)
Branches:
Pat Fitgzerald (Northwestern), Terry Hoeppner (formerly Indiana), Kevin Wilson (Indiana), Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints), Jeff Genyk (formerly Eastern Michigan)
The late Randy Walker produced two coaches who brought energy to programs that needed to win with guile rather than talent in Pat Fitzgerald and the late Terry Hoeppner. Kevin Wilson is trying to do the same now that he’s with the Hoosiers. Sean Payton is often recognized as a Parcells disciple, but Walker gave the Saints coach his first coordinator gig.
Walker’s roots: Dick Crum

8. Fisher DeBerry
Air Force (1984-2006)
Branches:
Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State)
Not a lot of flash in this group, but Grobe and Calhoun built successful programs and elected to stay for the long haul (a DeBerry trait). Like DeBerry, Grobe and DeRuyter win misdirection and the option while DeRuyter is set for a big season at Fresno State with a big-time quarterback in Derek Carr.
DeBerry’s roots: Ken Hatfield

9. Les Miles
Oklahoma State (2001-04), LSU (2005-present)
Branches:
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Bo Pelini (Nebraska), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Larry Porter (formerly Memphis)
Bo Pelini and Jimbo Fisher were already established assistants when they were on Miles’ staff at LSU, but their time with Miles was their last stop before head coaching jobs. Miles’ most important staff decision, at least as far as folks in Stillwater are concerned, was hiring Mike Gundy as his offensive coordinator.
Miles’ roots: Bo Schembechler

9a. Mike Gundy
Oklahoma State (2005-present)
Branches:
Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia), Todd Monken (Southern Miss), Tim Beckman (Illinois)
Like his counterpart at Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator these days is one step away from a head coaching job with Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken all leaving the Cowboys to run their own programs.

10. George O’Leary
Georgia Tech (1994-2001), UCF (2004-present)
Branches: Ralph Friedgen (formerly Maryland), Bill O’Brien (Penn State), Doug Marrone (Buffalo Bills), Ted Roof (formerly Duke)
O’Leary’s career won’t be remembered for reasons the coach would prefer, but he has a decent track record of hiring assistants who become head coaches. Ralph Friedgen is Maryland’s all-time wins leader. Bill O’Brien worked for both O’Leary and Friedgen before landing on Belichick’s staff in New England. And Marrone earned his first FBS job under O’Leary at Georgia Tech.
O’Leary’s roots: Bobby Ross

Honorable mention: Jim Harbaugh
Stanford (2007-10)
Branches: David Shaw (Stanford), Willie Taggart (USF)
Shaw carried the legacy at Stanford while Taggart brought Western Kentucky into the FBS era. With Harbaugh’s success with the 49ers, this could be the Belichick coaching tree for the next decade.
Harbaugh's roots: Jack Harbaugh, Bo Schembechler


Related College Football Content

Athlon Sports' 2013 All-America Team
How Heisman Trophy Voting Has Changed
College Football's Top 10 Most-Improved Teams for 2013
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Uniforms
College Football's All-Freshman Team for 2013

CFB Conferences: 

More Stories:

Home Page Infinite Scroll Left