We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Pros: Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. Also, it’s located in a state that treats high school football like a religion. One more thing: Texas has its own television network.
Cons: Texas has a ton going for it (see above), but last season’s 5–7 record proved that the program is not immune to losing. And while Texas is a recruiting power, there are three other BCS conference schools in the state, and virtually every other national power dips into Texas to recruit as well.
Final Verdict: It’s easier said than done — just ask David McWilliams and John Mackovic — but everything is in place to win big on a consistent basis at Texas.
Pros: Location. Location. Location. Florida is a public university in a state that produces a tremendous amount of top-flight talent. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers one of the best atmospheres in college football, and the fan base is as rabid as there is in the nation.
Cons: Expectations are sky-high at a school that has won two national championships in the past four seasons. If you don’t win — and win big — things can turn ugly very quickly. Just ask Ron Zook.
Final Verdict: Florida presents one of the elite coaching opportunities in college football. You have everything at your disposal to compete for national championships on an annual basis. There is no excuse not to be good at Florida.
Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.
Cons: The Trojans have a great following, but the fan base doesn’t have the same degree of passion that you will find at a top-tier SEC school. Of the top 25 schools in average attendance last season, USC ranked last in percent filled to capacity (85.36).
Final Verdict: USC could very easily be No. 1 on this list. If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
Pros: Tradition. With the possible exception of Notre Dame, no school in the country has more tradition than Alabama. The Tide have won 22 SEC championships and (depending on who you ask) 12 national titles. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate and the recruiting base is strong.
Cons: Coaching football at Alabama is arguably the most stressful job in collegiate athletics. It’s takes a certain kind of coach to deal with that type of scrutiny.
Final Verdict: Alabama is unquestionably one of the premier jobs in the nation. The coach who can deal with the demands of the job — like Nick Saban — will win at a very high level in Tuscaloosa.
5. Ohio State
Pros: There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one school named The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have been a consistent force on the field and in recruiting since Woody Hayes took over in the early 1950s.
Cons: Expectations are extremely high in Columbus. Consider the case of John Cooper: In 13 seasons, Cooper went 111–43–4, winning 10 games or more five times. But he went 2–10–1 against Michigan and lost his job after the 2000 season.
Final Verdict: Everything is in place to win a national championship at Ohio State. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate, and the recruiting base is outstanding. Just don’t lose to Michigan.
Pros: Oklahoma has been a dominant force in college football dating back to the late 1930s. The program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players on an annual basis. The new-look Big 12, with no Nebraska and no conference title game, offers an easier path to a national championship for OU.
Cons: The state does not produce enough talent to stock the Sooners’ roster with the type of players needed to compete for championship. Recruiting at a high level out of state is a must.
Final Verdict: Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma — John Blake went 8–16 in three seasons (1996-98) — but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. Winning a national championship is well within your reach.
7. Florida State
Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year?
Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Two years ago, with the Seminoles’ mired in another un-FSU-like season, there were between 10,000 and 20,000 empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium on more than one occasion.Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons; an undefeated ACC champ might not automatically play for a national title.
Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more four times from 2006-10. Winning is no longer automatic.
Pros: Georgia has tremendous tradition and is located in arguably the finest college town in America — Athens. The Peach State might not produce talent at the same rate as Florida, Texas or California, but metro Atlanta is always strong, and small towns such as Columbus, Valdosta and Warner Robins consistently produce elite talent.
Cons: There are really no negatives to be found at Georgia, other than the fact that you are competing in the very difficult SEC East and you have a fan base that demands you win at a high level.
Final Verdict: Georgia is a great situation, but you clearly have to have the right guy in place to win big. After Vince Dooley won the third of three straight SEC crowns in 1982, the Bulldogs went nearly two decades — and went through two more coaches — before their next league title, won by Mark Richt in 2002.
Pros: It’s become a bit of a cliché, but there really is nothing like being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in the fall. That environment is one reason the Tigers are able to recruit so well. The other? The state of Louisiana is arguably the most underrated talent producer in the nation.
Cons: LSU has so much going for it, but why have so many coaches failed to win at a high level in Baton Rouge? From 1971 though 2000, the Tigers only won one outright SEC championship, in 1986 under Bill Arnsparger.
Final Verdict: It’s hard to find a reason why LSU would not be a desirable coaching position. Sure the competition is tough and the fans are demanding, but that comes with the territory. The school has won two national titles in the past eight seasons.
10. Penn State
Pros: Penn State is an enormous state university in an extremely fertile recruiting area. The Nittany Lions play in the second-largest facility in the country (Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282), and they have won two national championships in the past 30 years.
Cons: Only one man has served as the head coach at Penn State since 1966. Every coach that follows will have to deal with Joe Paterno’s legacy.
Final Verdict: Coaching Penn State is a tremendous opportunity for any coach, but don’t dismiss the Paterno factor. Alabama is on its seventh coach since Bear Bryant retired in 1982.
Pros: Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The Wolverines have been a national power since the 1890s and they play in one of the largest venues in the country, 109,901-seat, newly renovated Michigan Stadium. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation have allowed Michigan to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally.
Cons: Michigan is an old-school program that is very set in its ways. A coach who comes in with a new philosophy — for example, Rich Rodriguez — will have a tough time being accepted.
Final Verdict: Michigan is no doubt an elite job, but as we have seen in the past few seasons — Rodriguez won a total of 15 games in three years — you have to be the right fit to win big in Ann Arbor.
12. Notre Dame
Pros: Notre Dame has three unique advantages compared to almost every school in the country — a national following, its own television contract and an unparalleled history that includes 11 consensus national titles.
Cons: Notre Dame has struggled to compete at an elite level in the BCS era. The Irish are 91–67 dating back to 1998 with an unthinkable six non-winning seasons. The school’s relatively high academic standards can make recruiting more challenging. Also, Notre Dame lacks the home-state recruiting territory of other national powers. Indiana is not great state for high school football.
Final Verdict: Notre Dame might not be the same job it was 20 years ago, but this is still a great situation for the right coach. You can win a national title with the Fighting Irish.
Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.
Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged 8.7 wins per season since 1994.
Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money and Mike Bellotti’s recruiting transformed this program in the 2000s. It is now clearly one of the top 20 most-desirable positions in the country.
Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.
Cons: Miami has the smallest fan base of the top 25 teams on this list. Last season, the Canes ranked 39th in the nation in attendance, averaging 52,575 per game at 75,540-seat Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.
Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC, and the Bruins have the upper hand as far as on-campus facilities (newer, bigger weight room). The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.
Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.
Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC is the only program that has proven it can sustain success (though Oregon is getting close). The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.
Pros: Who wouldn’t want to recruit to picturesque Neyland Stadium, with its 100,000-plus orange-clad zealots cheering on the Vols each week? And while Tennessee has struggled a bit in recent years, the program enjoyed tremendous success in the not-too-distant past. From 1989-2001, the Vols went 80–20–1 in the SEC and claimed four league titles. During that span, they were ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll seven times.
Cons: The Vols must recruit nationally because the state of Tennessee does not produce enough BCS conference players to stock the school’s roster. This is not a concern for UT’s chief SEC rivals Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama.
Final Verdict: Tennessee is a great place to coach, but the Vols have slipped down the SEC food chain over the past decade. Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama are clearly better jobs right now.
Pros: Strong tradition. Amazing facilities. Passionate fans. Those three things don’t guarantee success, but they are a nice place to start. The Big Ten Legends Division has some good programs — Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State — but Nebraska should be in position to compete for a division title on an annual basis.
Cons: The Huskers won three national titles in the 1990s, but the program slipped a bit over the past decade. The state of Nebraska does not produce many high-end BCS conference players each year, and the program no longer has the sex-appeal to steal elite players from the East Coast like it did in the 1970s and 80s.
Final Verdict: Nebraska is a unique coaching position. You have everything in place to win big — except a local recruiting base. How big is that hurdle? Significant but not insurmountable. The Huskers are no longer a top 10 job but still very desirable.
Pros: Auburn and Georgia are the only two schools in the SEC with at least five winning conference seasons in each of the past four decades. Clearly, this program can be a consistent winner in the nation’s most difficult conference.
Cons: Auburn is a state school with a great following, but it will always be No. 2 in Alabama behind the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa.
Final Verdict: If your ego can handle being the second most important coach in the state, then Auburn can be a destination job. The school — with its fine tradition, strong facilities and outstanding recruiting base — has proven over time that it can compete on a national level. The Tigers, after all, are the defending national champs.
19. Texas A&M
Pros: Texas A&M’s facilities are among the very best in the nation. Kyle Field is a bit on the old side and it could use some renovations for fan amenities, but as far as the facilities for recruiting — football complex in the south end zone, the indoor practice facility — A&M has very few rivals. The Aggies also have one of the most spirited student sections in college football.
Cons: Despite Texas’ surprising setback last season (5–7 record), Texas A&M will have a difficult time being anything but the third best program in the Big 12.
Final Verdict: Texas A&M is a very intriguing position. It has everything you would want in a job — great facilities, strong following, tremendous recruiting base — but the competition in the Big 12 is fierce. If you win at A&M, you will have earned it.
20. Virginia Tech
Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.
Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic?
Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. The Hokies have won 10 games in seven straight seasons and in 10 of the past 12. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.
Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the impending $250 renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags significantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.
Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 80,301), and unlike many its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.
Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program hasn’t won a league title since 1991. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why is this program a chronic underachiever?
Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers are a snoozing giant in the ACC.
23. West Virginia
Pros: West Virginia is the most SEC-like of the Big East schools. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with in the Mountain State; the Mountaineers are the game in town. And while the Big East takes its share of abuse, the league offers the easiest path to a BCS game — and BCS money — on an annual basis.
Cons: Under the current landscape, it is going to be difficult for a Big East team to play for a national title. A team like West Virginia would have to go undefeated and even then, the Mountaineers would have a tough time beating out a one-loss SEC or Big 12 team in the BCS standings.
Final Verdict: West Virginia is the best job in a BCS league, which makes it attractive. But the relatively low national profile of the Big East prevents it from being an elite job.
24. Oklahoma State
Pros: T. Boone Pickens is a very wealthy man, and he’s a big fan of Oklahoma State football. As a result, the Cowboys boast some of the best facilities in the nation. And these facilities help the O-State coaches tap into a fertile recruiting ground in nearby Texas.
Cons: Since Oklahoma State joined the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have finished ahead of Oklahoma four times. And in those rare cases when Oklahoma State is having the better season — like 2009 — the Pokes still have to deal with the mighty Texas Longhorns. The moral of the story? The competition in the Big 12 is almost insurmountable.
Final Verdict: In a vacuum, Oklahoma State would be a wonderful place to coach, but if you have your sights set on competing for a national title, Stillwater might not be the place for you. There’s a reason the school has only won one conference title since the mid-1950s.
Pros: Wisconsin has been transformed into a football school over the past two decades. Badger faithful pack 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium each week and create one the best environments in the nation. Madison also is a great place to live.
Cons: The school’s local recruiting base isn’t strong; the state has not produced a national top-100 player in the past four seasons. Also, the Badgers have only been relevant on the national scene since the early 1990s. Wisconsin lacks the tradition of many of its Big Ten rivals.
Final Verdict: Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin from a Big Ten afterthought to a significant player in college football. But the Badgers’ place as a top program is far from secure. Wisconsin, more than most of the other schools ranked in the top 25 on this list, needs the right coach in place to remain successful.
26. South Carolina
Pros: South Carolina is home to arguably the most loyal fans in the nation. What other program has routinely filled an 80,000-seat stadium while averaging only six wins per season over the last two decades? In addition, the facilities are great, and the recruiting base is strong.
Cons: It’s one of the big mysteries in college football: Why can’t South Carolina win more consistently in the SEC? Since joining the league in 1992, the Gamecocks are 59–92–1 in conference games, with a high water mark of 5–3 on four separate occasions.
Final Verdict: South Carolina broke through with its first SEC East title in 2010, but the Gamecocks only went 5–3 in a down year in the division. The program still needs to prove it has staying power.
27. Michigan State
Pros: Michigan State seemingly has everything in place to be a major player in the Big Ten — great fan support (averaged 73,556 per game in ’10), good facilities, strong recruiting base and decent tradition.
Cons: Despite all of the positives listed above, Michigan State has only won one Big Ten title — last season — in two decades and has only averaged 5.7 wins in the 44 seasons since claiming a share of the 1966 national championship. Also, there’s the Michigan thing: No matter how much success the Spartans enjoy, they will always be the second school in the state behind Michigan.
Final Verdict: Michigan State is a chronic underachiever and will never be the No. 1 program in its own state. Still, it’s a good job. If you can change the culture in East Lansing — which every coach believes he can do — there is no reason Michigan State can’t contend for Big Ten titles on a semi-regular basis.
28. North Carolina
Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.
Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.3 ACC wins.
Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC Championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-1990s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
Pros: Three key elements make Iowa an attractive job — it’s the top school in the state (sorry, Iowa State), it has a strong tradition of excellence (five Big Ten titles since 1981, two BCS bowls since ‘03) and it has great fan support (70,585 per game in ’10).
Cons: Iowa might be the top dog in the state, but the hunting grounds aren’t very fertile. To remain competitive, the Hawkeyes’ staff will always have to go into other teams’ home states to recruit.
Final Verdict: It’s difficult for a school that doesn’t have a strong local recruiting base to compete for national title. It can be done — Nebraska won three titles in the 1990s — but that is a very big hurdle to climb.
Pros: Newly renovated Reynolds Razorback Stadium — with its 76,000 seats and 30x107-foot LED video screen — is one of the most underrated venues in the nation. Arkansas is the only BCS program in the state, giving the school an advantage in recruiting homegrown talent.
Cons: The Hogs have found it tough to win consistently since bolting the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s. Arkansas is 72–78–2 in the SEC and has failed to have a winning league record in back-to-back seasons
Final Analysis: Arkansas is quite similar to South Carolina and Ole Miss — solid programs that can’t seem to get over the hump in a great league. It’s a good job, but it’s not a destination job for a coach with national title aspirations.
31. Ole Miss
Pros: Historically, Mississippi produces as many Division I prospects per capita as any state in the nation. There is plenty of competition for these recruits (Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, etc.), but a good coach will be able to keep the Rebels stocked with solid talent. Support for Rebel football is also very strong; the Rebs averaged 55,898 per game in 2010. Also, Ole Miss’ facilities have improved tremendously in the past five years.
Cons: You have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time in which Ole Miss was a major player in the SEC. The Rebels haven’t won a league title since 1963, and they are only team in the West that has not played in an SEC Championship Game. Also, Mississippi State’s recent uptick under Dan Mullen has made life a bit more difficult for Ole Miss.
Final Analysis: Ole Miss has made the commitment to its football program, but it takes more than a commitment to beat out Alabama, Auburn and LSU on a consistent basis. The Rebels had arguably their most talented team in several decades in 2009 yet still failed to finish with a winning record in the SEC.
Pros: TCU is located in the heart of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. The Horned Frogs should bring in one of the top two classes in the Big East on an annual basis. Speaking of the Big East: TCU’s access to a BCS bowl will become much easier after it moves to its new league in 2012.
Cons: Despite fielding one of the top teams in college football the past two seasons, TCU has not been an overwhelming hit at the box office. Attendance is up, but last year, the Frogs still only ranked 56th in the nation in average attendance (42,466). What will happen to the program’s support if it slips out of the top 25?
Final Verdict: Perhaps no school other than Boise State has improved its national profile in the past 5-10 years as much as TCU. The school is heading back to a Big Six power conference after spending the past 16 years bouncing around the mid-major ranks (WAC to C-USA to MWC). This is not an elite job — TCU will always take a back seat to Texas, Texas A&M and even Texas Tech in its own state — but it’s a much better opportunity for a coach than it was 10 years ago.
Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers the best recruiting base of any Big East program other than South Florida. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).
Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 14 of the 29 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should be a consistent winner in the Big East, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, are about to receive a major upgrade.
Cons: The school is following through on the new facilities — it has already broken ground on a new athletic center — and Memorial Stadium is being upgraded, which has turned a negative into a positive. One word of caution, however: The Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.
Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.
Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.
Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program, CU cannot be considered an elite job.
36. South Florida
Pros: South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base and is a member of the conference with the least resistance to a BCS bowl. The Bulls have an outstanding track record in their brief history; they only have one losing season in 10 years as a member of the FBS, and they have averaged 8.4 wins over the past five seasons.
Cons: South Florida lacks tradition and does not have an on-campus stadium. The Bulls play their home games 15 miles from campus. And while the recruiting base is strong, South Florida will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.
Final Verdict: Many view South Florida as an emerging national power. The school does have a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state — even if that state is Florida.
Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 9.9 wins over the past eight years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. Utah should get a big boost in recruiting now that it’s a member of the Pac-12, and the fact that the Utes are in the same division as USC and UCLA should help at