Athlon ranks the best places to coach in 2019
Debating the best job among all 130 college football teams or within any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program. Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.
What exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherent advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Texas are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State. On the flipside, jobs like New Mexico State, UMass and Eastern Michigan have a different set of challenges. Recruiting to remote locations or conference affiliation plays a role in just how tough a job is at the FBS level.
Ranking all 130 college football jobs is no easy task. After all, the rankings are subjective based upon numerous factors, but 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, ability to recruit talent — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
Ranking the Jobs by Conference
Ranking All 130 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2019
130. New Mexico State
Consistent success at the FBS level has been tough to come by for New Mexico State. The Aggies have played in just four bowl games, and only one of those appearances took place after the 1961 season (2017). Additionally, this program has just two winning records since 2000. As if the program’s on-field struggles and difficulty in recruiting weren’t enough to overcome, New Mexico State is without a conference home, competing as an FBS Independent in 2018 and beyond.
UMass is still a relative newcomer to the FBS level. The Minutemen joined the FBS ranks prior to 2012 and spent the first four years as a member of the MAC. However, UMass is 18-66 since 2012 and has not won more than four games at the FBS level. The Minutemen did claim the 1998 FCS title, and there’s a good quality of life in Amherst. However, scheduling and winning at a high level as an FBS Independent won’t be easy.
128. Eastern Michigan
Sixth-year coach Chris Creighton has guided Eastern Michigan to two bowl games over the last three seasons, but this is still one of the toughest jobs in the nation. Low attendance and fan support are an ongoing issue, and establishing any noise locally is tough with the University of Michigan located just six miles away. Since 1975, Eastern Michigan has just eight winning seasons and three bowl trips.
The state of Louisiana produces its share of talent, but ULM lags significantly behind its conference foes in athletic department expenses ($15.5 million). Additionally, the Warhawks have only one winning season and bowl trip since 1994.
Liberty is the latest newcomer to the FBS level. The Flames joined prior to 2018 and finished 6-6 in their debut. Before jumping to the FBS ranks, Liberty had plenty of success at the FCS level. The Flames recorded 12 consecutive winning seasons from 2006-17 and earned a trip to the 2014 FCS Playoffs under former coach Turner Gill. The program has upgraded its facilities in recent years, but life as an FBS Independent isn’t easy.
125. Georgia State
Georgia State started its program in 2010 and joined the FBS ranks in ’13. The Panthers have experienced plenty of highs and lows in that span. The program has appeared in two bowl games but won three or fewer games in the other four years. Georgia State has its own stadium — Turner Field was transformed for football — and there’s plenty of talent to be found within the state borders. Competing for attention in a state that features the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and the University of Georgia isn’t easy.
Rice seems more out of place in Conference USA than Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. It’s the only private school in the league and has by far the most difficult admission standards. It is in Houston, which has a ton of players, and the reputation of the school allows it to recruit nationally. But it’s been difficult to enjoy sustained success; only once since the early 1950s has Rice had three straight winning seasons (2012-14).
123. Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina’s football program started in 2003 and has only two seasons as a full-time member of the FBS level. The Chanticleers are 8-16 since making the jump from FCS. Considering the limited sample size, it’s tough to gauge where this program stacks up among its Sun Belt foes.
122. Kent State
Kent State has a strong collection of alumni with Nick Saban, Lou Holtz, Gary Pinkel, Jack Lambert, Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. However, that hasn’t translated into success on the gridiron for the Golden Flashes. This program has just two bowl trips and eight winning seasons since 1962. Kent State also averaged only 13,118 fans per game in 2018.
121. Ball State
Ball State enters the 2019 season with a streak of five consecutive losing seasons. However, the program did finish No. 12 nationally with a 12-1 mark in 2008. According to USA Today’s database, Ball State ranks near the bottom of the MAC in expenses ($27 million), and Mike Neu was one of the lowest-paid coaches in college football ($435,689). The program averaged only 10,288 fans per game in 2018.
The University of Buffalo will always struggle for media attention in a market that features the Bills and Sabres. However, the Bulls ranked near the top of the MAC by averaging 18,380 fans per game in 2018. Since joining the MAC in 1999, Buffalo has recorded only three winning seasons. The 10-4 record in 2018 marked the best win total for the program at the FBS level.
Simply put, it’s been difficult to win at UTEP. The Miners have had only seven winning seasons since they made the move from independent status to the WAC in 1968, and only once (in 1987-88) have they had back-to-back winning seasons. Being in Texas is nice, but El Paso is a remote outpost that is 346 miles from Phoenix, 503 miles from San Antonio and 571 miles from Dallas.
UConn was in a BCS league as recently as 2012 and played in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season. Now, less than a decade later, the Huskies are coming off of a 1–11 season with a defense that set records for futility. The school’s athletic department is in terrible financial shape, calling into question the school’s long-term commitment to the football program.
117. South Alabama
There’s potential at South Alabama. The state of Alabama produces plenty of high school talent, and the program is building a new stadium set to open in 2020. However, department expenses ($27.9 million) are near the bottom of the Sun Belt. The Jaguars have played in two bowl games since joining the FBS level in 2012.
116. Texas State
The state of Texas produces more than enough talent for the Bobcats to be competitive in the Sun Belt. Bobcat Stadium was recently renovated in 2012, and the program also ranks second in the conference in department expenses ($35.9 million). Despite those advantages, Texas State is only 27-57 over the last seven years.
There’s plenty of high school talent in the state of Ohio, and Akron’s InfoCision Stadium opened in 2009. Despite those advantages, the Zips have yet to find consistent success. The program has just three bowl trips since 1987 and has only one MAC title (2005). Budget issues are a hurdle for the program, as former coach Terry Bowden made $412,500 (ranked 121st nationally) in 2018.
The Hilltoppers enjoyed a nice run of six straight winning seasons (with three different coaches) from 2011-16, but this job is more difficult than most would expect. The recruiting base is arguably the weakest in the league, and the program had trouble attracting big crowds even in the glory days of the Jeff Brohm era.
113. Old Dominion
There is one significant downside at Old Dominion as it relates to its rivals in Conference USA: no tradition. Other than that, there is a lot to work with, most notably a recruiting base in the Tidewater area of Virginia that produces a ton of talent. The school also spends money on the program; USA Today reported that ODU’s expenses for football in 2016-17 (the most recent year reported) were $46 million, about $13 million more than any other school in the league. S.B. Ballard Stadium is also undergoing a major renovation.
There are a lot of positives about this job: nice home field (the Alamodome), good fan support (C-USA-high 24,710 per game in attendance), location (right in the heart of Texas) and strong commitment from the school (coach Frank Wilson made $1.1 million in 2018). But it’s also a program with no tradition that has yet to prove it can be a consistent factor in the league.
Army is the toughest coaching job among the three service academies at the FBS level. The Black Knights have plenty of history and tradition, as the program has three Heisman winners and three claimed national championships (1944-46). Michie Stadium is set to undergo a renovation, but the Hudson River provides one of the best settings in college football. The program fell on hard times with 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1997-2009. However, Army ended a 13-year bowl drought with a postseason trip in 2010, and coach Jeff Monken has guided the program to three consecutive winning seasons.
Some consider Charlotte a sleeping giant — and the school made a great hire this offseason (Will Healy) — but there is no tradition (the program has been around for five years) and very little fan support. It will take a period of sustained success before Charlotte can claim a spot higher on this list.
FIU’s location in South Florida gives the program great access to players, but there is a lack of tradition and not much interest locally in the program. The Panthers broke through with a school-record nine wins last fall yet averaged only 15,685 fans per game.
108. San Jose State
The location is excellent, and there’s a fertile recruiting base at your disposal. However, this program had the lowest athletic expenses of any team in the Mountain West for the 2016-17 athletic season ($30.7 million by USA Today database). San Jose State hasn’t recorded back-to-back winning records since 1991-92 and has just three bowl trips since ’91.
Despite the picturesque setting, this job has its share of challenges. Facilities and budget remain an ongoing concern, and the program likely needs to replace or upgrade Aloha Stadium. The state produces quality talent, but keeping it at home isn’t easy.
Shut down following the 2014 season due to budgetary constraints (as well as some questionable political motivations), UAB is back and better than ever. The Blazers won 11 games in 2017 and will move into a new 45,000-seat stadium in 2021. UAB has a decent local recruiting base and is a short drive from the metro-Atlanta area.
The state of Wyoming doesn’t produce a ton of FBS talent, so in order to win in Laramie, a coaching staff has to succeed on talent development. Maintaining success over an extended period of time isn’t easy, but this program has seen its share of good coaches – Craig Bohl, Joe Tiller, Dennis Erickson, Bob Devaney – patrol the sidelines. War Memorial Stadium provides an interesting home-field advantage, as it sits just over 7,200 feet above sea level.
104. New Mexico
New Mexico has recorded only one season of double-digit victories (1982) in its program history and made just four bowl trips from 1931-96. However, since that span, the Lobos have played in eight postseason games, and in 2016 won nine games overall. Maintaining success, recruiting challenges and budget shortcomings must be navigated, but the city of Albuquerque provides a nice quality of life.
103. Bowling Green
With the right coach, Bowling Green has proven it can win at a high level. Urban Meyer won 17 games from 2001-02, Gregg Brandon posted 11 victories in ’03, and Dave Clawson (’13) and Dino Babers (’15) both recorded a 10-win season. The program isn’t far from two large cities (Detroit and Cleveland), but the athletic department expenses ($23.8 million according to USA Today) were the lowest in the MAC.
102. Miami (Ohio)
“The Cradle of Coaches” had 13 winning seasons from 1991-05 but has recorded only one since 2006. While the program’s performance in the MAC has slipped, Miami has plenty of history to make this an attractive job. Bo Schembechler, Sid Gilman, Ara Parseghian, Woody Hayes, Bill Mallory, Randy Walker and Terry Hoeppner have each patrolled the sideline in Oxford. Additionally, Rams coach Sean McVay played for the program a receiver from 2005-07. The RedHawks rank near the top of the MAC in expenses ($36 million), and there’s a fertile recruiting territory to tap into in the state of Ohio, including the Cincinnati area.
Tulane’s biggest issues are a lack of tradition (five winning seasons since 1982) and a lack of fan support (a majority of the locals are focused on the Saints and LSU). But the Green Wave do have a new stadium and the right coach in place.
100. Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern was a powerhouse at the FCS level, winning six national championships from 1985-00. This program has continued to win at a high level since moving to the FBS in 2014. The Eagles have won at least nine games in three out of the last five years, including a 10-win campaign in 2018. This program also has a strong tradition and an excellent recruiting area in the state of Georgia. Style of play is an important factor for consideration, as running the option is a staple for Georgia Southern and does limit the pool of available candidates.
Troy is still a relative newcomer to the FBS level, as this program was a Division II Independent in 1992 and jumped from the FCS ranks prior to the 2001 season. The Trojans have navigated the different levels of play without much of a struggle. Since coming to the FBS ranks, Troy has registered 12 seasons of at least six victories and posted an 11-2 mark in 2017. The state of Alabama provides a solid foundation for talent, and the program can tap into the junior college ranks for additional help. Larry Blakeney and Neal Brown have proven you can win a lot of games here.
98. Appalachian State
After finishing 7-5 in its first year in the Sun Belt, Appalachian State has reeled off four consecutive seasons of at least nine victories, including two 11-win campaigns (2015 and ’18). In addition to the on-field success, the Mountaineers have excellent fan support (21,953 per game in ’18) and had the third-highest expenses of any athletic department ($35.1 million) in the Sun Belt.
97. Middle Tennessee
This job is a bit difficult to assess since the school has had only two coaches since making the jump to the FBS ranks in 1999. The recruiting base is solid — especially since the metro-Nashville area has grown so much over the last two decades — but clearly not as good as many of the other schools in the league. The stadium is old and support isn’t where it should be for as much as the program has won in recent years.
96. Western Michigan
Western Michigan is one of only four teams from the Group of 5 ranks to play in a New Year’s Six bowl since the CFB Playoff was created in 2014. This program has seven overall bowl trips since 2006 and boasted the MAC’s highest athletic department expenditures ($38.5 million) in ’18. Four major cities – Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago – are each less than a five-hour drive away.
95. Central Michigan
Central Michigan lags behind its in-state rival Western Michigan in expenses (38.5 million to 31.8), but this program has a higher winning percentage (.545 to .524). The Chippewas bottomed out with a 1-11 mark in 2018. However, Central Michigan isn’t far removed from an 11-win season in 2009 and a nine-win mark in ’06.
Nevada has outperformed its in-state rival UNLV on the gridiron, but there are budget issues to navigate with this job. Coach Jay Norvell ranked 10th in salary among Mountain West coaches in 2018. Additionally, only one coach (Chris Ault) managed to sustain success at the FBS level. On the positive side, Norvell guided the program to eight wins in 2018. That’s the highest mark since a 13-win season in 2010.
It’s a close call between Nevada and UNLV for which program is the better job in the Silver State. However, a slight edge goes to the Rebels, as this program will have an improved stadium situation with the Raiders coming to Las Vegas. An on-campus training facility (The Fertitta Football Complex) is also under construction. While UNLV has a lot going for it, this program has just two bowl trips since 2000.
Louisiana’s athletic department expenses ($27.1 million) rank ninth among Sun Belt football programs, but there’s a lot to like about this job. Talent within the state borders and Texas provides a great foundation for building a roster. This program also has good fan support and an indoor practice facility to utilize throughout the year. Louisiana didn’t make a bowl from 1993-10 but has earned six postseason trips over the last eight years. In other words, with the right coach, this program has the potential to be an annual contender for the Sun Belt title.
91. Arkansas State
Arkansas State doesn’t have the in-state recruiting base of some of the other teams in the Sun Belt, but it’s easily the best job in the conference. In addition to good facilities and fan support, the Red Wolves also have the highest expenses ($39.5 million) of any athletic department in the Sun Belt. According to USA Today’s database, Blake Anderson's salary ranked second in the conference in 2018. As evidenced by the ability to navigate four coaching changes from 2011-14 to build a streak of eight consecutive bowl trips, there’s plenty of commitment and staying power for this program atop the Sun Belt.
90. North Texas
Seth Littrell is the first coach to have back-to-back winning seasons at North Texas since Darrell Dickey did so in three straight years from 2002-04. But Littrell shouldn’t be the last. Thanks to its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the school’s recent plan to upgrade facilities, there is no reason the Mean Green should not contend for C-USA West Division titles on a consistent basis.
Ohio had only two bowl appearances from 1962-05, but coach Frank Solich has transformed the Bobcats into one of the MAC’s most consistent programs. Solich has guided Ohio to nine bowl games over the last 10 years and has claimed four MAC East titles since 2006. The state of Ohio provides a solid recruiting base, and the program isn’t far from large cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Solich was the MAC’s fourth-highest paid coach ($580,331) in 2018.
Several coaches have had some success at Tulsa, but it’s one of the more difficult jobs in the league. The fan base is small — Tulsa has the smallest enrollment of all of the FBS schools — and the recruiting base isn’t great (it’s more than four hours from Dallas).
87. Air Force
The recruiting limitations for service academies provide some challenges, but Air Force has just nine losing seasons since 1982 and earned nine bowl trips since 2007. According to USA Today’s database, money isn’t an issue. The Falcons ranked second in the Mountain West in expenses from 2016-17 and first in total revenue. Contending for New Year’s Six bowl trips as the top Group of 5 team won’t be easy, but there’s plenty of year-to-year consistency to be found in Colorado Springs.
86. Utah State
Utah and BYU dominate the headlines in the Beehive State, but Utah State is a quality job or could be used as a stepping stone opportunity for coaches. The program’s previous two coaches – Matt Wells and Gary Andersen – left for Power 5 jobs after guiding the Aggies to multiple bowl games. Prior to that span, Utah State struggled to find its footing. From 1981-2010, the Aggies posted only two winning seasons. The state of Utah produces plenty of quality talent to stock the roster, and this program can tap into the junior college ranks for help. Maverik Stadium was recently renovated, while a new strength and conditioning complex opened in 2013.
85. Southern Miss
Few programs have won on a consistent basis as much as Southern Miss has over the last two-plus decades. The Golden Eagles enjoyed 18 straight winning seasons from 1994-2011 and, after a horrendous three-year stretch (4–32 from 2012-14), are on a current stretch of four straight. The school has always done a nice job attracting players from the SEC footprint who, for various reasons, aren’t recruited to SEC schools.
This ranking is based as much on potential as anything else because Florida Atlantic has had only four winning seasons since its first full season in the FBS (2004) and only one since joining Conference USA in 2013. That potential is directly tied to the school’s location in talent-rich South Florida.
83. Louisiana Tech
Resources aren’t great at Louisiana Tech, and there is a lot of competition for players (with four Group of 5 schools in the state), but Skip Holtz has found the right formula and built a consistent winner in Ruston. The Bulldogs have had only one losing season since 2011.
Navy is not a job for everyone, but it’s a great situation for the right coach. And the Midshipmen have been fortunate to have the right coach in place since 2002, starting with Paul Johnson and continuing with Ken Niumatalolo. Recruiting will always be the toughest part of this job.
The state of Ohio produces plenty of talent for Toledo to recruit, and there’s a strong tradition of winning while also producing high-powered offenses. Additionally, coach Jason Candle was the MAC’s highest-paid coach at $1.1 million in 2018. The Rockets led the conference by averaging 20,745 fans per game last season.
Something is missing at SMU, a program that has had only five winning seasons since returning from the death penalty in 1989. It’s a school with a great recruiting base, and — unlike many other Group of 5 schools — there is some tradition at SMU from its days in the Southwest Conference. But for some reason — and the lack of fan support doesn’t help — the Mustangs have been a non-factor on the college football landscape for the past three decades.
79. Colorado State
Sonny Lubick proved coaches can win at a high level here, recording at least 10 victories four times over his tenure. The Rams have slipped a bit from that level, but there’s plenty of tradition and quality of life in the state of Colorado to make this job attractive for coaches. Another perk of this job: A new on-campus stadium that opened in 2017.
It’s the northernmost school in the league and it’s located in a state that doesn’t produce many Division I players, but Marshall is still one of the top jobs in the league. The reason? People care (the Herd ranked third in C-USA in attendance last season) and there is a history of success (five 10-win seasons since joining the FBS ranks in 1997).
Four different coaches have had winning seasons at Temple this decade, so clearly this job gives you the opportunity to enjoy some success. There is a decent recruiting base (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the metro D.C. area), but Philadelphia is a professional sports town and Temple struggles for attention — both in the media and with fans.
Rutgers has one key ingredient needed to win in a Power 5 conference — a strong recruiting base. But that’s about all the program has going for it. And even if you can get things rolling a bit, is it realistic to believe Rutgers can ever be better than Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State?
75. Northern Illinois
The Huskies have dominated the MAC in recent seasons, with eight overall trips to the conference title game (with four titles) since 2005. The city of Chicago is less than 70 miles away, providing Northern Illinois with a talent-rich area on the recruiting trail. Additionally, the facilities rank among the best in the MAC. Despite the success on the gridiron, the Huskies ranked 11th in the conference in expenses ($25.7 million in 2018).
74. East Carolina
This program has fallen on hard times — the Pirates have won a total of nine games the last three years — but there is no doubt you can win at East Carolina. Unlike many other schools in the AAC, ECU is not located in a big metropolitan area; it’s the only game in town and a big reason the Pirates ranked third in the AAC in attendance in 2018 despite winning only three games.
Few programs have changed its spot in the college football food chain more than Memphis in the past decade. The Tigers have hired good coaches (starting with Justin Fuente in 2012) and have tapped into a nice recruiting base that gives them access to some of the top players in the Southeast who aren’t snapped up by SEC schools. One knock: The Liberty Bowl, despite some upgrades, is not ideal. This program could use an on-campus stadium.
72. San Diego State
San Diego State has been considered a sleeping giant, but the program has started to shed that label over the last 10 years. The Aztecs have earned nine consecutive bowl trips and claimed two outright conference titles in that span. The city of San Diego provides an excellent quality of life, and a new stadium is on track after a ballot measure passed in the November 2018 election. Additionally, there’s plenty to like about the fertile recruiting territory in southern California.
71. Fresno State
Very little separates San Diego State and Fresno State among Mountain West jobs, but the Bulldogs have won with more consistency. Since 1969, Fresno State boasts a .582 winning percentage, with the Aztecs a step behind at .552. The job comes with first-rate territory for recruiting, but there are budget challenges and Bulldog Stadium is in need of renovation.
70. Wake Forest
Good coaches have been able to win some games at Wake, but no one has been able to sustain success: Since the inception of the ACC in 1953, only twice have the Demon Deacons been able to string together three straight winning seasons, and they’ve never done it in four straight.
There are plenty of schools that have been able to succeed in both basketball and football. Indiana is not one of them. The last IU coach to string together at three straight winning seasons? Clyde Smith from 1944-47.
Recent history suggests this is a lost cause — the Jayhawks haven’t won more than four games in a season since 2009 — but it should be noted that KU was ranked in the postseason AP top 10 in the 2000s (2007 under Mark Mangino) and 1990s (1995 under Glen Mason). It’s difficult, but it can be done in Lawrence.
Duke struggles with some of the same issues as Wake — lack of tradition, small fan base (as a private school), competition for players (as one of four ACC schools in the state) — but it has a better brand nationally, thanks to the success of the basketball program and the superior reputation of the school.
66. Oregon State
There have been pockets of success — most notably under Dennis Erickson in the early 2000s and Mike Riley in the late 2000s — but few programs have struggled to compete as much as Oregon State over the last 50 years.
For the right coach, Vanderbilt is an ideal destination — great city, great school and not much pressure to win. Still, it’s one of the most difficult jobs in the FBS ranks. The fan base is small, there’s no tradition, and the school’s commitment is always in question.
64. Kansas State
This might seem low for a program that has had only seven losing seasons since 1991, but it’s a tough job due in large part to its remote location and relatively poor recruiting base. We are about to find out if a coach not named Bill Snyder can win at K-State.
63. Iowa State
There are some qualities that make this is a great place to coach — loyal fans, a good place to live — but it’s been very difficult to sustain success at Iowa State. Only once in the last 90 years have the Cyclones had three straight winning seasons (the final three years of the Earl Bruce era in the mid-1970s).
62. Washington State
As with most programs, the right coach at the right time (i.e. Mike Leach) can enjoy success at Washington State, but there are too many obstacles (poor recruiting base, remote location, lack of tradition) at Washington State.
61. Boston College
Boston College is a program with a better history than most realize, but the Eagles have made only one appearance in the national rankings in the last 10 seasons. Location is a huge issue. The recruiting base is not good, and the school will always have a tough time beating out other schools in the ACC for players from the South.
You know you have a quality program when multiple coaches have enjoyed success at your school. Dating back to the Mark Dantonio era of the mid-2000s, each of the last five coaches has won at least eight games in a season, including three (Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and Luke Fickell) who won at least 10. Nippert Stadium was renovated in 2005 and is regarded as one of the best of its size (capacity 40,000) in the nation.
South Florida shares many of the same advantages as its neighbors at UCF, but the Bulls don’t have the luxury of an on-campus stadium and haven’t won quite as much in recent years. Still, this is a desirable job that will never have trouble attracting a quality coach.
A national power in the 1950s and ’60s and a consistent top-20 program in the ’80s and ’90s, Syracuse has tumbled down the college football food chain since the turn of the century. It obviously can be done — Dino Babers won 10 games last season — but the Orange have too many built-in disadvantages when compared to many other programs in the league.
There are no doubt some positives — new football facilities, relatively new stadium, the only FBS program in the state — but Minnesota is a tough job. The recruiting base is small, and it’s difficult to lure kids from the South to play in the Twin Cities.
This was historically one of the worst Power 5 programs in the nation, but the Wildcats have found their niche over the last 25 years. The stadium is old, but the new football facilities — right on Lake Michigan — are as good as it gets. Like the other private schools in P5 conferences, Northwestern is a good job for the right guy.
There’s no doubt BYU is a unique job with plenty of positives for a head coach. Provo provides a picturesque setting, and this program has been a consistent winner at the FBS level, which includes a national title from 1984. The Cougars have only four losing seasons since 1974 and recorded six years of double-digit wins from 2001-11. BYU’s transition to FBS Independent has been relatively smooth, but the program has not finished in the Associated Press Top 25 since 2009 when it was a member of the Mountain West. The job also has its share of challenges. The recruiting pool is limited, and the school wants its coach to be an active member of the LDS church, which significantly narrows the number of potential candidates for an opening.
As the flagship state university in the biggest state (by population) in the nation, you would think that California is set up for big-time success in college football. That, however, has not been — and currently is not — the case. Jeff Tedford is the only Cal coach who has had more than two straight winning seasons since the early 1950s.
Illinois’ shocking lack of success — the school has won only three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s — is one of the big mysteries in college. Access to players surely isn’t the problem. This isn’t to suggest that the program should be on par with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, but there’s no reason it should be irrelevant in the Big Ten.
Purdue recently received a badly needed financial commitment from the school to upgrade the program’s facilities. History suggests is difficult to sustain success in West Lafayette, but this is a job with some potential. The fan base is underrated, and the location gives the coach access to players throughout the Midwest and down into the mid-South.
It might seem strange to have a school that won a national title as recently as 1990 so low on this list, but that run started by Bill McCartney and continued (for a bit) by Rick Neuheisel — the Buffs finished the season in the AP top 10 five times in an eight-year stretch — is not the norm in Boulder.
49. Boise State
Since joining the FBS in 1996, Boise State has posted 16 seasons of 10 or more victories, finished four times in the Associated Press top 10 and completed two undefeated seasons (2006 and ’09). In other words, this is the most successful Group of 5 program in college football in recent years. While the state of Idaho doesn’t produce a wealth of FBS talent, Boise State can tap into Texas and California for players. The quality of life is excellent, as Boise is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Facilities aren’t an issue, and according to the USA Today salary database, coach Bryan Harsin earned $1.6 million for 2018. A coach has everything he needs to win at a high level at Boise State.
The move to the ACC has not been ideal for this program. The Panthers can compete — they’ve been to a bowl game in all but one season since joining the league in 2013, but they’ve also never won more than eight games over that stretch.
Virginia’s historical lack of success is one of the big mysteries in college football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and ’90s, but the Cavs have otherwise had trouble fielding a consistently competitive program. It’s a great school academically, and it’s located in a state that produces a ton of top talent.
There are no doubt plenty of positives about this job — commitment from the school, underrated fan base — but the recruiting base is weak (relative to the rest of the SEC), and there’s no tradition of sustained success. Kentucky’s reputation as a “basketball school” could be a deterrent for some coaches.
Arizona has attracted some well-respected coaches over the years — Larry Smith, Dick Tomey, John Mackovic, Rich Rodriguez — but just can’t seem to remain relevant in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have had only four seasons with nine or more wins since joining the Pac-10 in 1978.
43. North Carolina
There are plenty of positives about this job — great school, great location, etc. — but there’s also a reason North Carolina hasn’t won a league title since 1980 and only once has strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-1990s. Maybe it’s the fact that basketball is king at UNC. Maybe the school isn’t committed quite like some of the top programs in the league.
Waco is a bit remote, but its location in the middle of Texas means you have access to players in Dallas and Houston, two of the biggest cities in the nation. Winning consistently has been a tough task, but the right coach can get it done at Baylor. Having a new stadium doesn’t hurt, either.
41. Georgia Tech
Here’s a stat that might surprise you: Dating back to 1995, Georgia Tech has been .500 or better in the ACC in all but one season. That’s a remarkable track record of consistency. This job has its challenges — recruiting can be tough (high standards and a lack of majors at the school) and you are the second-most popular team in your own city (thanks Georgia) — but few non-elite programs have a higher floor.
Missouri has been better than most give it credit for over the past 15 years — five 10-win seasons, two SEC East titles (in seven years in the league) — but it’s always going to rank behind the superpowers in the league in terms of attractiveness of the coaching position. Protests about the racial climate at Mizzou in 2015 were damaging to both the school and the athletic programs, but the football program seems to have put that in the past.
Thanks in large part to its move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12, Utah has made a steep climb up the college football food chain over the last decade. The facilities are solid, the recruiting base is underrated and the fan support is outstanding.
The move from the ACC to the brutal Big Ten East hasn’t been ideal, but Maryland has always been regarded as a program that has underachieved. The reason? The recruiting base is outstanding. Good coaches (Ralph Friedgen, Bobby Ross, Jerry Claiborne) have been able to win in College Park.
Thanks to the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12 and a significant commitment from the university (that included a renovated stadium), TCU has become a far more desirable job in the past decade. The Horned Frogs have been ranked in the final AP top 10 six times in the past 11 years.
36. Texas Tech
Texas Tech is an interesting program. It’s in a remote location, but Lubbock isn’t exactly a small town (population 250,000). It’s a big state school, but it’s at best the third-best program in the state. Recruiting can be a challenge as well since Dallas is a five-hour drive. Bottom line: There’s a lot to like — and a lot that makes this a tough job.
35. Mississippi State
Thanks to facility upgrades and a recent track record of success — winning seasons in eight of the past nine seasons — the perception of this program has improved significantly in the past decade. Still, it’s a tough job. The competition is brutal, and Starkville is regarded as the least-desirable SEC locale to call home.
34. Arizona State
This is a pretty good job for a school without a great local recruiting base. The weather is ideal, the facilities are strong (including a renovated Sun Devil Stadium) and there is a decent tradition. The right coach should be able to win consistently in Tempe.
33. West Virginia
West Virginia will always be a strange fit in the Big 12, but you can be a consistent winner in Morgantown. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with; the Mountaineers are the only game in town. The state doesn’t produce a ton of talent, but you are close to large population bases in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.
Stanford is not for everyone, but it’s a great job for the coach who embraces the school’s mission. One word of caution: While there is a lot to sell in recruiting, the academic standards for athletes are the highest among any FBS school.
There is a strong commitment from the Louisville administration and a decent track of record of success (eight straight winning seasons from 2010-17), but this program doesn’t have a very strong recruiting base, and life in the ACC Atlantic can be tough.
30. NC State
A chronic underachiever, NC State is showings signs of living up to its potential. The facilities are good, the recruiting base is strong and the fan support is outstanding. This should consistently be the best of the four ACC programs in the state of North Carolina.
Iowa has been remarkably consistent for a program that does not have fertile recruiting in its backyard. That is the only significant mark against this job. The tradition is strong, the facilities are good and the fan base is outstanding. And with apologies to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes are the top program in the state.
28. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is one of the most interesting jobs in the SEC. There’s a history of success — but it’s from the 1950s and ’60s. There’s a strong recruiting base — but there is fierce competition for those players. The facilities are good — but not quite as flashy as most of the schools it recruits against. Bottom line: This is a good job in a very difficult league.
There’s a lot to like about Arkansas: Great facilities (with a newly renovated stadium), underrated location (Northwest Arkansas is a great place to live) and passionate fans. But it’s tough sledding in the SEC, where the Hogs will always rank behind Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M on the food chain.
26. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech was on the cusp of breaking into college football royalty before taking a step back over the last seven years. Still, this is a great job with a great recruiting base in-state and one of the top home fields in the sport.
25. Michigan State
Michigan State has everything in place to be a major player both in the Big Ten and on the national scene. It had the reputation as an underachiever until the past decade — a reputation that is no longer merited after Mark Dantonio has guided the Spartans to at least a share of four Big Ten East titles in the past nine seasons. There are two things that hurt this program: It will always be No. 2 in its own state (yes, we know about the head-to-head record with Michigan of late), and the Big Ten East is the far more difficult of the two divisions.
Barry Alvarez transformed Wisconsin form a Big Ten afterthought into a significant player in college football. While the Badgers have yet to flirt with a national title, they have had 17 straight winning seasons and have been ranked in the final AP poll 12 times in the past 15 seasons. Madison is a great place to live, and Camp Randall Stadium is an outstanding venue.
23. South Carolina
In a vacuum, South Carolina offers just about everything a coach needs to win at the highest level. But South Carolina doesn’t play in a vacuum — it’s in the SEC, where it competes with some of the elite programs in the nation.
22. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy deserves a ton of credit, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Oklahoma State’s improved play on the field — the Pokes have been ranked in the final AP poll seven times in the last 11 years — has coincided with the enormous financial commitment to the program made by T. Boone Pickens. Oklahoma State will never be more prestigious than Oklahoma or Texas, but it’s a program that has enjoyed a lot of success in recent years.
We’re almost two decades removed from the last great Miami team, but this is a highly desirable job due largely to its location in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation. There are some drawbacks — no on-campus stadium, fickle fan support — but Miami is still a destination job.
Few schools can match the upside of this job (great recruiting base, top-notch academics, beautiful campus), but there are other factors (second fiddle in its own city, questionable commitment from the university, no on-campus stadium) that make winning big at UCLA more difficult than it should be.
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. This is no longer a top-10 job but still a desirable place to coach.
Oregon’s place on this list is a good indication of just how important commitment from a school (thanks to an extremely wealthy donor) can be when evaluating the strength of a coaching position. There are other positives with this job — great fans, great campus — but Oregon wouldn’t be in this position without Phil Knight’s money.
This is a proud program with a strong tradition that is located in a great city and plays at one of the most picturesque settings in college football. It’s not immune to mediocrity or worse — just look at the stretch from the early 2000s to the mid-2010s — but Washington is a highly desirable job.
Tennessee is a great place to coach — tremendous fan base, top-notch facilities, strong tradition — but the Vols have slipped down the food chain over the past two decades. The program has had one winning SEC season (5–3 in 2015) since 2007.
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.
14. Penn State
Penn State checks almost every box. Great tradition. Passionate fans. Tremendous gameday atmosphere. Solid recruiting base. Really, the only strike against it — other than the fact that it’s not located in Florida, Georgia or Texas — is that it’s in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan.
13. Notre Dame
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. Brian Kelly has returned Notre Dame to national prominence, but there was a long stretch in which the Fighting Irish struggled to compete at an elite level. From 1998-2011, ND went 99–72 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 a great state for high school football. This 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.
12. Texas A&M
The Texas A&M administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (literally) on the school’s football program in the last decade. If that’s not enough to impress you, A&M is the only SEC school in the state of Texas, arguably the top producer of high school talent in the nation. It’s very difficult to find any negatives with this job.
Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation allow the Wolverines to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally. Plus, Ann Arbor is a great place to live. There is a lot to like about coaching at Michigan.
LSU might be fourth among SEC teams on this list, but it’s still one of the most desirable coaching destinations in the nation. The right coach should dominate recruiting in a talent-rich state, and the environment at Tiger Stadium is as good as it gets in college football.
9. Florida State
You can win a national championship at Florida State — the school won it as recently as 2013 — and there are a ton of built-in advantages due to the school’s location, but there are also some difficulties (just ask Jimbo Fisher) that keep it from being a top-five job nationally.
Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma, but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. That state doesn’t produce a ton of talent, but this program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players.
No program has changed its lot in life over the last decade more than Clemson. Long considered a sleeping giant, Clemson has emerged as a superpower thanks to the work of Dabo Swinney and his staff and a huge commitment from the school. This will be an elite program for the foreseeable future.
How’s this for a selling point: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. No job is perfect — USC’s administration has been a mess of late — but this is an ideal position for someone who wants to coach on the West Coast. It’s hard not to win at USC.
You can make a strong case to put Florida No. 1 on this list — and even No. 1 in the nation. 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.
Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. It’s easier said than done — just ask Charlie Strong — but everything is in place to compete for national championships at Texas.
3. Ohio State
There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one 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 1950s. Few programs can make the following claim: It’s harder not to win at Ohio State than it is to win.
Two of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport — Bear Bryant and Nick Saban — have called Tuscaloosa home. That can’t be a coincidence. The school’s commitment to excellence in football is unparalleled. The only issue at Alabama: The in-state recruiting pool isn’t as deep as you will find at Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M.
The sleeping giant is awake. Perhaps no job in the country offers the best of every world like Georgia — great recruiting base, great place to live, great fan base … you get the point. The one knock: The administration hasn’t necessarily been as “all in” as some of the Bulldogs’ rivals in the league.
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