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College Football's Greatest Villains

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel

Every rivalry has its heroes and villains, but some villains transcend the mano-a-mano nature of rivalry week.

The best villains can irk fans from the SEC to the Big Ten to the Pac-12. Miami during its heyday managed to infuriate everyone. Steve Spurrier didn’t have to beat your team by five touchdowns and brag about it later to rub people the wrong way. And thanks to coaching moves, Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer have managed to annoy fans East and West, North and South.

As a sport, college football has its share of bad apples through the years, but part of being a college football villain is rarely doing anything actually wrong in a legal sense.

College football villainy is more based on style, on and off the field. And let’s face it. College football villains are targeted, above all, because they’re good.

Villains make sports fun. For some — mainly their schools’ fanbase — villains even likable.

College Football's Top 15 Villains

1. 1980s Miami
More than 20 years after the 1991 national championship, the University of Miami has tried to distance itself from its image under coaches Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. Back then, however, Miami cultivated a take-no-prisoners attitude, complete with lopsided final scores and personal foul penalties. Miami, which arrived at the Fiesta Bowl in 1986 wearing combat fatigues, set up a counter-narrative to the Penn State and Notre Dame powers of the day — all while winning four national championships in eight seasons.

2. Brian Bosworth
The headbands, the blonde mohawks, infuriating opponents and the nickname: The Boz became the focal point of Oklahoma’s renegade team in the 1980s under Barry Switzer. He was a villain even to the NCAA, which he coined the “National Communists Against Athletes.” The act eventually wore out its welcome when Bosworth tested positive for steroids before the 1987 Orange Bowl ... after twice winning the Butkus Award.

3. Barry Switzer
Switzer left Oklahoma as the school’s all-time wins leader, but his tenured ended in controversy. The FBI charged Oklahoma’s starting quarterback with selling cocaine, the NCAA levied sanctions as players received cash and cars, and police charged three Oklahoma players for sexual assault. Even before all that, Switzer had been under fire for years for being unrepentant for his lack of boundaries within the program.

4. Craig James
Before meddling in Texas Tech’s coaching situation, James was a college football villain thanks to being an ESPN blowhard. Then, he led the charge in building a case for Texas Tech to jettison coach Mike Leach. Not coincidentally, James’ son, Adam, had trouble gaining playing time on Leach’s team. James waited until his failed bid for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Texas to admit he took illegal benefits while at SMU.

5. Steve Spurrier
The South Carolina version of Steve Spurrier is just as good a coach as the one at Florida, but he’s become more of a revered national treasure in his latest act in college football. But at Florida in the 1990s, Spurrier shook up the SEC with a high-flying passing game that wasn’t afraid to run up scores and brag about it later. “Free Shoes University” and “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T” only touches the surface of Spurrier gems.

6. Johnny Manziel
It’s actually been a quiet season for Johnny Manziel villain-wise, at least since the brief offseason autograph scandal and taunting Rice players with autograph-signing gestures in his first game of the season. The money gestures and dodging serious NCAA action aren’t anything new, but the first freshman Heisman winner also put himself further into the spotlight by living the good life during the offseason and posting it on Twitter.

7. Urban Meyer
There’s certainly a bit of schadenfraude among fans watching Urban Meyer plead Ohio State’s case for a spot in the BCS championship picture. Bragging to boosters about taking the “top one percent of one percent” and then watching a portion of that one percent run into legal troubles at Florida made Meyer less and less likable. But Meyer is most villainous on the recruiting trail. Whether a recruit is committed matters little to Meyer until Signing Day.

8. Tim Tebow
Perhaps this selection should read “media coverage of Tim Tebow” more than Tebow himself. From Thom Brenneman’s proclamation that “If you're fortunate enough to spend five minutes or 20 minutes with Tim Tebow, your life is better for it” to “The Promise” to Clay Travis asking Tebow at SEC Media Day if the quarterback was, indeed, a virgin, the fawning and hyperbole led to Tebow exhaustion. It only got worse during his short-lived NFL career.

9. Nick Saban
He’s not tall, he’s a control freak, he’s perpetually annoyed. And he’s leading the football dynasty of the time. His biggest offense, other than winning a ton of games, is saying this — "I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach” — weeks before becoming the Alabama coach.

10. Jackie Sherrill
Sherrill often ran afoul of the NCAA, but one of his biggest crimes was leaving Pittsburgh in 1982 to coach at Texas A&M for a sum of money that made higher education advocates shake their heads in disgust. He was paid $287,000. Sherrill also had a bull castrated on the practice field to motivate his Mississippi State team in 1992.

11. Lane Kiffin
When things were going well for Kiffin — which wasn’t all that often — he was described as having an edge or a swagger. When things didn’t go well, he was petulant. Kiffin racked up NCAA secondary violations at Tennessee, accused Urban Meyer of recruiting improprieties as a laugh line for boosters and then bolted after one season for USC. He appeared to have reformed his image after a 10-2 season in 2011 before imploding in a season and a half. From the Raiders to Tennessee to USC, Kiffin not only infuriated opponents, but also alienated his own team's fanbase.

12. Tony Mandarich
The rumors of Mandarich’s performance-enhancing drug use at Michigan State weren’t tough to track down, but he was still the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft in 1989. He denied it and never tested positive while in college, a career in which he once punched an Ohio State lineman during the coin toss. Long after Mandarich became one of the Draft’s biggest busts, Mandarich admitted steroid use.

13. John Jenkins
Jenkins was the offensive coordinator under Jack Pardee at Houston as the Cougars became an offensive powerhouse running the run-and-shoot. Jenkins, who was eventually elevated to head coach, made sure everyone knew about the offense by running up scores into the 60s, 70s and 80s and ensuring quarterbacks like David Klingler would passing records.

14. Phillip Fulmer
Fulmer once conducted his SEC media day interviews in front of hundreds of reporters ... via a speakerphone. The Tennessee coach avoided entering Alabama state lines for fear of being subpoenaed in a libel suit against the NCAA by Alabama assistants. Fulmer, who had turned in the Tide to the NCAA for recruiting violations, was served a subpoena four years later in a different case involving an Alabama booster.

15. Cam Newton
The SEC, the slimy side of recruiting, a one-day NCAA suspension and Cammy Cam Juice combined to make Newton a lightning rod through the 2010 season.