Mack Brown is returning to North Carolina to take over a program he once led to five straight bowl games. Will he experience the same success in this encore? Most signs point to no, but other coaches have walked away from the game and come back to nearly duplicate the greatness of their first act. Here are the five that have done it most beautifully.
5. Steve Spurrier
First Act: Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001) — 142-40-2, one national championship, seven conference titles
Second Act: South Carolina (2005-15) — 86-49
After leaving Gainesville for a disastrous two-year stint with the Washington Redskins, the Ol Ball Coach retired. But as Sports Illustrated’sKarl Taro Greenfield wrote, “Nothing prepared him for nothing. For months and weeks of nothing.” So he took the head-coaching gig out South Carolina after Lou Holtz retired. While he did not match his success at Florida, Spurrier became the winningest coach in Gamecocks’ history, becoming only the second coach to accomplish the feat at two SEC schools (Bear Bryant is the other).
4. Robert Neyland
First Act: Tennessee (1926-34, '36-40) — 119-14-9, two national championships, five conference titles
Second Act: Tennessee (1946-52) 54-17-3 — two national championships, two conference titles
The architect of Tennessee football, from its philosophy to its stadium, Neyland put the program on the map. He only lost two games from 1926-32 and his '39 squad is the last in college football to hold all of its regular season opponents scoreless. He did all this while holding an officer rank in the Army Corps of Engineers and was called to active duty for World War II in 1941. He returned to Knoxville with the rank of brigadier general in 1946 and continued his high level of success before retiring in '52.
3. Urban Meyer
First Act: Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) — 104-23, two national championships, four conference titles
Second Act: Ohio State (2012-present) — 81-9, one national championship, two conference titles
Those that would argue against this being an encore forget how Meyer’s health impacted his decision to leave Gainesville. He had one foot out the door after 2009, but was persuaded to stay through the following season before announcing his retirement. After Jim Tressel resigned in May 2011 amidst an NCAA investigation, Meyer decided to give it another go at his alma mater. He has, of course, been very successful, but the health issues that plagued him at Florida appear to still be troubling him at Ohio State too.
2. Frank Leahy
First Act: Boston College (1939-40), Notre Dame (1941-43) — 44-5-3, two national championships
Second Act: Notre Dame (1946-'53) — 63-8-6, three national championships
Leahy won national titles at Boston College and Notre Dame before enlisting in the Navy after the 1943 season. He is so high on this list because when he returned to South Bend in 1946, his Irish did not lose a game until '50.
1. Bill Snyder
First Act: Kansas State (1989-2005) — 136-68-1, one conference title
Second Act: Kansas State (2009-18) — 79-49, one conference title
Snyder took a program that had only three winning seasons in 50 years and turned it into a perennial contender. When he retired in 2005 at the age of 66, Kansas State renamed its stadium in his honor. But after his successor, Ron Prince, was fired in 2008, Snyder came out of retirement. After 10 more seasons, another Big 12 title (2012), and eight more bowl appearances, Snyder announced on Dec. 2 that he would be retiring again. The Wildcats went 5-7 this season, but there is no argument Snyder has the program positioned for more success in the future. Although other coaches had more successful encores, the era, timing, age, and his impact on the program make his the greatest ever.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.