Coaching is one of the driving forces in building a national championship team or program. No matter how much talent a program has, it can’t win a national title if the coaching is questionable.
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 125 college football coaches rank nationally.
Ranking the coaches in any college football conference or nationally is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an X's and O's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches for all 125 programs. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank nationally.
Coach Rankings for 2013: ACC| Big East| Big 12| Big Ten| Pac-12| SEC
Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Record at Alabama: 68-13 (2007-present)
Record at LSU: 48-16 (2000-04)
Record at Michigan State: 34-24-1 (1995-99)
Record at Toledo: 9-2 (1990)
Overall Record: 159-55-1 (17 years)
Saban is without question the best coach in college football. He started his career as a head coach in 1990 with Toledo, then spent the next four seasons as the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. In 1995, Saban was hired as Michigan State’s head coach and guided the Spartans to a 34-24-1 record under his watch. Saban left East Lansing for Baton Rouge and LSU in 2000 and led the Tigers to a 48-16 record in five years, including a national championship in 2003. Saban had a two-year stint with the Dolphins but jumped at the opportunity to lead Alabama in 2007. After a 7-6 record in his first season, Saban is 61-7 in his last five years with the Crimson Tide, which includes three national championships. At 61 years old, Saban is still at the top of his game and should have Alabama in the mix for a SEC and national title every year he is on the sidelines.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Record at Ohio State: 12-0 (2012-present)
Record at Florida: 65-15 (2005-2010)
Record at Utah: 22-2 (2003-04)
Record at Bowling Green: 17-6 (2001-02)
Overall Record: 116-23 (11 years)
Really the only thing left on Meyer’s resume is to defeat an SEC school in the national championship. In his first year at Ohio State, he took a 6-7 Buckeyes team and turned them into a perfect 12-0 program, proving his past successes were no fluke. He already claims two BCS National Championships, four conference titles (would have been five had OSU been eligible last year), three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman winner and one national Coach of the Year honor. In each stop along the way, Meyer has proven to have an immediate impact on the program be it at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida or Ohio State. He is an elite recruiter and an elite talent developer. No, he isn’t the nicest or most honest guy in the business, but his teams are extremely well coached and they win big.
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Overall Record at Kansas State: 170-85-1 (1989-2005, 2009-present, 21 years)
Snyder doesn’t get the national credit like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, but there’s no denying he is one of the best coaches in college football. Prior to his arrival at Kansas State, the Wildcats had just one bowl appearance and recorded only one winning season from 1971-88. After Snyder’s arrival, Kansas State immediately went from a laughingstock to a consistent winner. The Wildcats won six games in Snyder’s first two seasons but recorded 10 years of nine victories or more from 1993-2003. Snyder retired after the 2005 season, but a failed three-year stint under Ron Prince brought him back to the sidelines. And just as Kansas State did in Snyder’s first stint, the program quickly emerged as a conference title contender and was in the mix to play for the national title last season. Snyder isn’t flashy, but his teams are always well-coached and prepared. As long as Snyder roams the sidelines in Manhattan, regardless of how many starters Kansas State loses, never count out the Wildcats from the Big 12 title discussion.
4. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 28-11 (2010-present)
Record at Cincinnati: 34-6 (2007-09)
Record at Central Michigan: 19-16 (2004-06)
Record at Grand Valley State: 118-35-2 (1991-2003)
Overall Record: 199-68-2 (23 years)
Not many coaches in college football can rival Kelly’s resume in four stops as a head coach. Kelly’s first head coaching gig came in 1991 at Grand Valley State, and he stayed in that capacity until 2003. During 13 years with Grand Valley State, Kelly went 118-35-2 and won two Division II titles. After his success with the Lakers, Kelly went 19-16 with Central Michigan, which included a MAC Championship in 2006. Kelly moved on to Cincinnati at the end of the 2006 season and guided the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East titles in 2008 and 2009. After back to-back 8-5 seasons with Notre Dame, Kelly led the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the BCS National Championship game at the end of the 2012 season. Despite the blowout loss to Alabama in the title game, Kelly clearly has the program back on track to be an annual top 10-15 team.
5. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 66-37 (2005-present)
Record at Florida: 122-27-1 (1990-2001)
Record at Duke: 20-13-1 1987-89)
Overall Record: 208-77-2 (22 years)
After six consecutive seasons with at least five losses, Spurrier has delivered two (if not three) of the best seasons in South Carolina football history. It clearly took some time to build the Gamecocks into a consistent winner for the first time in program history. But there is no doubt the Gamecocks have become one of the league's top contenders. Not only is Spurrier extremely relevant in the league heading into the 2013 season at age 68 (April 20), but he has achieved at a high level over time as well. in a conference known for its ability to devour quality coaches, few have proven to be as adaptable and as consistent as Spurrier. He has an incredible 122-41 record in SEC play over his 20-year career in the league for an average of more than six conference wins per season (6.1). With one national championship under his belt from his time at Florida, should he bring a conference crown to Columbia, his name would belong with those two guys from Alabama as the SEC's greatest of all-time. The only problem is Carolina has gone from first to second to third in the East the last three seasons despite appearing to get better on the field.
6. Chris Petersen, Boise State
Overall Record at Boise State: 84-8 (2006-present)
There are few coaches in college football with a more impressive resume than Petersen. In seven years with the Broncos, Petersen has recorded at least 10 wins in every season. He has also never lost more than three games in a single season during his tenure in Boise. Also, Boise State has played in two BCS bowl games and has four finishes inside of the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. Despites overtures from BCS programs, Petersen hasn’t showed any interest in leaving Boise State. Under his watch, the Broncos have upgraded their facilities and landed a favorable deal to stay in the Mountain West, instead of joining the American Athletic Conference (formerly known as the Big East). Even though college football’s postseason format will change, expect Boise State to remain a player on the national scene as long as Petersen is on the sidelines. And BCS programs will keep calling the California native, but Petersen seems pretty comfortable in Boise.
7. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Overall Record: 149-37 (1999-present, 14 years)
Stoops has been the picture of consistency and success during his Oklahoma tenure. The Sooners have won at least 10 games in 11 of Stoops’ 14 seasons in Norman and claimed the national title after the 2000 season. Under his guidance, Oklahoma has emerged as a national powerhouse once again. The Sooners have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 title nine times under Stoops and have eight BCS bowl appearances. And after a 10-3 record in 2012, which would be considered a successful year for most programs, Stoops didn’t sit idle. Oklahoma will have three new assistant coaches for 2013, which should inject some fresh energy into the program. Even though some may criticize Stoops for his 1-5 record in the last six BCS bowls, the Ohio native is still one of the nation’s premier coaches.
8. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Record at Western Kentucky: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Arkansas: 34-17 (2008-2011)
Record at Louisville: 41-9 (2003-06)
Overall Record: 75-26 (8 years)
Petrino’s tenure at Arkansas ended in disastrous fashion thanks to one motorcycle ride in April. After sitting out 2012, Petrino is back on the sidelines – with a job that’s a lot less high-profile than Arkansas: Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers made significant progress under former coach Willie Taggart, and Petrino should be able to build on that in 2013. At each of his stops as a collegiate head coach, Petrino built an instant winner. In his first season at Louisville, the Cardinals went 9-4 and finished 12-1 in 2006 with a Big East title and Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest. Petrino had a failed stint in the NFL with the Falcons, but he returned to the sidelines at Arkansas and led the Razorbacks to a 34-17 record in four seasons. Make no mistake: Petrino isn’t going to be on the sidelines for very long in Bowling Green. However, until a BCS program decides to hire him, Petrino will be very successful at Western Kentucky
9. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 216-104-2 (1987-present)
Record at Murray State: 42-23-2 (1981-1986)
Overall Record: 258-127-4 (31 years)
First as a player and now as the head coach, Beamer has been a part of Virginia Tech football for four decades, and his success has made “Beamerball” a recognized commodity both within and outside of the state. After a slow start to his coaching career at Tech, Beamer has led the Hokies to 20 straight bowl games dating back to 1993. During this time he won three Big East championships — including one memorable run at the national title with Michael Vick in 1999 — four ACC titles and five conference Coach of the Year Awards. In eight years of playing in the Coastal, Beamer has won the division five times. His seven-win 2012 campaign ended an eight-year run with at least 10 wins and it forced him to make some coaching changes. That said, he is still the longest tenured and winningest active coach in college football.
10. Gary Patterson, TCU
Overall Record at TCU: 116-36 (2000-present, 13 years)
Since 2000, TCU has played in the WAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and Big 12. The one constant and driving force behind the conference changes and rise of TCU as one of college football’s top-25 programs of the BCS era: Gary Patterson. The Kansas native had no FBS head coaching experience when he was promoted at TCU in 2000 but has eight seasons of 10 or more wins, including a 13-0 mark in 2010. The Horned Frogs dominated the Mountain West from 2005-2011, losing only seven conference games during that stretch. Moving to the Big 12 is a step up in competition for TCU. But the program has a lucrative recruiting base, and Patterson is clearly one of the top-15 coaches in the nation. As long as the Horned Frogs continue to recruit well, competing in the Big 12 won’t be a problem.
11. Mark Richt, Georgia
Overall Record at Georgia: 118-40 (2001-present, 12 years)
Yes, Spurrier has been around longer than the Georgia coach, but along with Gary Pinkel of Missouri, Richt is your longest tenured coach in the nation's toughest league. And he added his sixth SEC East title and fifth SEC title game appearance to his resume in 2012. A model of consistency, Richt has won at least eight games in all but one of his 12 SEC campaigns and has never finished a regular season under .500 and never missed a postseason. Fans were restless following the low point of the tenure — a loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl following the 2010 season, but he made quality staff adjustments and has rebounded with back-to-back SEC championship game appearances. Richt returned the Dawgs to prominence with two SEC titles in 2002 and 2005, but after three straight losses in Atlanta, Georgia faithful are eagerly waiting to cap a season a with a win in the Georgia Dome rather than a loss. A win would likely earn Richt his third SEC Coach of the Year award.
Related Content: Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013
12. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Overall Record at Northwestern: 50-39 (2006-present, 7 years)
Fitzgerald is the perfect fit at Northwestern, and he continues to take the program to new heights. The Illinois native starred at linebacker for the Wildcats from 1993-96 and was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Fitzgerald had no coordinator experience when he was promoted to the top spot at Northwestern and took over the program in a difficult time, replacing Randy Walker after his unexpected death in 2006. Despite his inexperience on the sidelines, Fitzgerald has been a home-run hire for Northwestern. The Wildcats are 50-39 under his watch and have played in five consecutive bowl games. Northwestern earned its first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl by beating Mississippi State 34-20 in last season's Gator Bowl. Fitzgerald is never going to reel in top-25 recruiting classes, but he has done a good job of finding and developing plenty of talent during his tenure. As long as Fitzgerald stays on the sidelines in Evanston, expect the Wildcats to remain a consistent contender in the Big Ten Legends Division, and they could start 2013 in the preseason top 25.
13. Art Briles, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 33-30 (2008-present)
Record at Houston: 34-28 (2003-07)
Overall Record: 67-58 (10 years)
From 1997-2007, Baylor was one of the Big 12’s worst programs. The Bears compiled a 31-94 mark and did not record a bowl appearance during that stretch. Enter Art Briles. Since Briles’ arrival, the Bears have been much more competitive in the Big 12. Baylor has 25 victories over the last three seasons and has played in three consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history. Briles’ success isn’t contained just to Baylor, as he took over Houston and went 34-28 in five years with the Cougars. Two different programs, two challenging and different reclamation efforts. Considering what Briles has done on the high school level, at Houston and now at Baylor, he’s easily one of college football’s top-20 coaches going into the 2013 season.
Related Content: Ranking the Big 12 Coaches for 2013
14. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Record at Michigan: 19-7 (2011-present)
Record at San Diego State: 13-12 (2009-10)
Record at Ball State: 34-38 (2003-08)
Overall Record: 66-57 (10 years)
After turning around Ball State and San Diego State, Hoke was Michigan’s pick to lead the program back to national prominence. So far, so good. The Wolverines are 19-7 under Hoke’s watch and have back-to-back 6-2 records in conference play. Michigan also won the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech to cap its first season under Hoke’s watch and has finished each of the past two seasons ranked in the Associated Press top 25. Although Hoke posted an overall losing mark at Ball State (34-38), the program didn’t have a winning record in the six seasons prior to his arrival. He was able to guide the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, including a 12-1 regular season record in 2008. San Diego State was considered an annual underachiever prior to Hoke, but he led the Aztecs to the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl – their first postseason appearance since 1998. As a Michigan man, Hoke is a perfect fit in Ann Arbor. And after two seasons, Hoke has the Wolverines poised once again to be a threat to win the Big Ten title every year.
Related Content: Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2013
15. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Overall Record at Oklahoma State: 67-35 (2005-present, 8 years)
Even though Gundy ranks No. 5 in Athlon’s Big 12 coach rankings for 2013, there’s not much separating the former Oklahoma State quarterback from the rest of the coaches in the conference. And it’s also hard to find a coach in the nation that’s a better fit at their current program. Considering Gundy played at Oklahoma State and served as an assistant prior to being elevated to head coach, he’s the perfect leader for a program that has made significant gains over the last 10 years. After going 18-19 in his first three seasons, Gundy has led the Cowboys to five consecutive seasons of at least eight victories. Oklahoma State recorded a 23-3 mark from 2010-11, which included an outright Big 12 title in 2011 and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. Having a booster like T. Boone Pickens certainly doesn’t hurt Oklahoma State, especially when it comes to building new facilities. However, Gundy has elevated the Cowboys from battling just for bowl berths to conference titles in just a few seasons.
16. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Record at Texas A&M: 11-2 (2012-present)
Record at Houston: 35-17 (2008-2011)
Overall Record: 46-19 (5 years)
Sumlin’s debut at Texas A&M was a rousing success. In the Aggies’ first season in the SEC, Sumlin guided Texas A&M to an 11-2 record, helped to propel quarterback Johnny Manziel to the Heisman, and had the Aggies on the doorstep of playing in a BCS bowl. Sumlin came to Texas A&M after a 35-17 record in four seasons at Houston, which included a 12-1 mark in 2011. The Alabama native built a strong resume as an assistant, making stops at Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue, Texas A&M and at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. One of the underrated aspects of Sumlin’s hire was a top-notch coaching staff, which included Kliff Kingsbury and Brian Polian, who both departed for head coaching jobs in the offseason. However, Sumlin restocked his staff, and with Texas A&M reeling in a top-10 recruiting class, the future looks bright in College Station. Sumlin’s next priority? Cut into Texas’ hold on the state and elevate Texas A&M into a consistent contender in the SEC.
17. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Overall Record at Vanderbilt: 15-11 (2011-present, 2 years)
Vanderbilt had never been to back-to-back bowl games in program history, but in just two short years, that is exactly what Franklin has done for the Commodores. It really is the only statistic that matters as Vandy has achieved at a higher level than ever before in the 117-year history of the program. With the only exception of attendance — which is still very strong compared to pre-Franklin standards — everything about this program screams S-E-C. Franklin has the Dores recruiting at an all-time rate, the offense is scoring at unprecedented levels and the program as a whole has a swagger never before seen on West End. Franklin is meticulous in his holistic and forward-thinking approach to selling a program and its exactly what a program like Vanderbilt has to have if it wants to continue to grow and contend with much more powerful SEC programs.
18. Charlie Strong, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 25-14 (2010-present)
Record at Florida: 0-1 (2004 Peach Bowl)
Overall Record: 25-15 (3 full years)
Strong had to wait a while for his first head coaching gig, but the Arkansas native has shown in just three full seasons he is one of the top 25 coaches in the nation. After stops as an assistant at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong was hired as Louisville’s head coach in 2010. He didn’t inherit a full cupboard from the previous coaching staff, so it was no surprise Strong went 7-6 in each of his first two years in Louisville. However, the Cardinals took flight in 2012, winning 11 games (including an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Florida). Strong turned down overtures from other BCS programs and will be tough to pry away from Louisville. If the Cardinals finish in the top 10 as most expect in 2013, expect to see Strong’s name move even higher on the list of the nation’s best coaches.
19. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 13-11 (2011-present)
Record at Temple: 27-34 (2006-2010)
Overall Record: 40-45 (6 years)
Golden earned the Miami job after building bottom feeder Temple into a MAC contender. He didn’t have a losing league record in his final four seasons in Philly and earned MAC Coach of the Year honors in 2009. A massive NCAA scandal involving super booster Nevin Shapiro didn’t slow Golden’s recruiting efforts and his team showed improvement last fall by winning the ACC's Coastal Division. Yet, for a second straight year, Miami missed a bowl game due to self-imposed postseason sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — a dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday attire — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. After more than 10 freshmen saw starting time in ’12, Miami could be the front-runner in the Coastal this fall. Golden still has much to prove in Coral Gables, but his resurrection job at Temple shows he's capable of elevating Miami back into ACC title contention - provided the program can dodge major NCAA sanctions from the ongoing investigation.
20. David Shaw, Stanford
Overall Record at Stanford: 23-4 (2011-present)
Even after two years of winning at an 85-percent clip, there is still somewhat of an unknown factor with Shaw. He has finished tied for first in the Pac-12 North Division both seasons on the Farm, claimed a conference championship and won the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1972. Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck built the Cardinal program back to respectability, and, now that expectations have been elevated significantly, it will be no small feat to maintain this level of success. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and is one of the most well-liked men in the business. If he keeps recruiting at a high level, the Cardinal will remain a factor in the Pac-12 North for years to come. However, the bar has been set high after the last few years, and it’s easy to see just how valuable of a coach Harbaugh was after taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his second year in the NFL.
21. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Overall Record at Oregon State: 81-67 (1997-98, 2003-present)
Riley has one of the most unique career paths in all of football. He won big in the CFL before his first stint in Corvallis (8-14) led to an NFL job in San Diego. He returned to Oregon State in 2003 and posted six winning campaigns in his next seven seasons, including the school’s first 10-win season (2006) and a Pac-10 Coach of the Year award (2008). Yet, after two losing seasons in 2010-11, Riley started to feel some pressure to win entering 2012, and he delivered in a big way. Riley turned the league’s worst rushing defense into one of the Pac-12’s best in one offseason and returned the Beavers to a bowl game. There are few people more liked in the industry than Riley and he consistently gets more out of less than most of his coaching peers. There is a reason he is the winningest coach in Oregon State history. It can be tough to sustain success at a program like Oregon State, but Riley is the right man to keep the Beavers in contention for a winning record every year.
22. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 8-5 (2012-present)
Record at Michigan: 15-22 (2008-10)
Record at West Virginia: 60-26 (2001-07)
Record at Glenville State: 43-28-2 (1990-96)
Record at Salem: 2-8 (1988)
Overall Record: 134-93-2 (19 years)
Although his lack of success at Michigan is an eyesore on an otherwise stellar resume, Rodriguez is still one of the Pac-12’s top coaches. And if there was any doubt about his coaching prowess, he answered those questions with an 8-5 debut at Arizona in 2012. The Wildcats’ eight victories were a four-game improvement from 2011 and three of their losses were by seven points or less, including an overtime defeat to Stanford. Rodriguez should win big at Arizona, as he is a much better fit in the desert than in the Big Ten with Michigan. In seven years with West Virginia from 2001-07, Rodriguez led the Mountaineers to 60 wins, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia in 2005. West Virginia also claimed at least a share of the conference title in four years under Rodriguez’s watch. Arizona must replace quarterback Matt Scott in 2013, but the Wildcats could be pushing for a spot every year in the top 25 as long as Rodriguez is on the sideline.
23. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Overall Record at Mississippi State: 29-22 (2009-present, 5 years)
Each BCS conference seems to have one coach that cannot be judged strictly on his record. Mullen fits that profile for the SEC, as he is coming off his fifth year in Starkville and has a 29-22 overall record. Although Mullen’s overall record isn’t overly impressive, Mississippi State is arguably one of the toughest jobs in the SEC. The Bulldogs have played in three consecutive bowl games under Mullen and are coming off a 4-4 conference record in the always loaded SEC. Mullen is 3-1 against rival Ole Miss and has won seven or more games in each of the last three seasons. Prior to taking the top spot at Mississippi State, Mullen worked as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. There’s no question Mullen needs to consistently beat some of the top teams in the SEC West to climb higher in the coach rankings. However, it’s not easy to win the division right now, especially as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M could all be top-15 teams in 2013. If Mullen was at one of the top jobs in the conference – Florida, Alabama, LSU or Georgia – he would easily win at a higher level.