Ranking all 130 college football head coaches is an impossible task. But with the 2017 season right around the corner, Athlon Sports is continuing its countdown to Week 1 by evaluating all 130 coaches and ranking them from best to worst.
When evaluating and ranking all 130 coaches, we established a simple criteria: Everything is considered when ranking head coaches. This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: Is the coach more involved with X's and O's or more of a CEO? In our rankings, we valued coaches who are more involved with X's and O's. How is the coach when it comes to the recruiting trail? Are there factors such as facilities or budget concerns that have an overall impact on the program?Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs? What type of shape was the program in when the coach took over the job? What is the overall trajectory of the program?
Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins or the previous year's FBS coach rankings do not matter for this season's 130 list.
Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences and the four FBS Independent programs. Here are the results for 130 teams:
College Football 2017 Coach Rankings by Conference
Ranking All 130 College Football Head Coaches for 2017
130. Jay Norvell, Nevada
Norvell has been an assistant in the NFL and college ranks since 1986 and finally landed his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level following the 2016 campaign. After Nevada parted ways with Brian Polian, Norvell was hired to help the program return to the top of the Mountain West. As an assistant, Norvell made stops at Northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Iowa State, while calling the plays or sharing the co-offensive coordinator title at Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. Additionally, he’s garnered valuable information from working under standout coaches like Bob Stoops and Barry Alvarez, while playing at Iowa under Hayden Fry. Norvell has a wealth of experience as an assistant, but the first-year coach figures to have a transition period in his debut in Reno.
129. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State
With an improved stadium situation and a prime location in Atlanta for fertile recruiting territory, Georgia State is a job with potential in the Sun Belt. Elliott is just the third coach in program history and this will be his first full-time job. Before taking over in Atlanta, Elliott worked as an assistant at South Carolina from 2010-16 and Appalachian State from 1997-09. Elliott was regarded for his work as an offensive line coach and served as South Carolina’s interim coach in 2015 after Steve Spurrier resigned midway through the season. The Gamecocks went 1-5 under Elliott but lost all five games by 10 points or less.
128. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
As a California native with strong roots on the recruiting trail, Brennan seems like the right coach to get San Jose State back on track after the program failed to post a winning record under former coach Ron Caragher. While the 2017 season is Brennan’s first as a head coach, he’s no stranger to the program. From 2005-10, Brennan worked under Dick Tomey (2005-09) and Mike MacIntyre (2010) at San Jose State as an assistant coach. The California native spent the last six seasons at Oregon State as a receivers coach and also has previous stint at Cal Poly (2001-04).
Related: Mountain West 2017 Predictions
127. Everett Withers, Texas State
Withers and his Texas State staff promised a “Party in the End Zone” last year, but the Bobcats finished 2-10 and failed to win a game in conference play. As expected with any new staff, there was roster turnover and a transition in schemes, which certainly hindered this team’s ability to compete last season. The program’s only victories in 2016 came in overtime against Ohio and versus FCS opponent Incarnate Word. And as a sign of how much work Withers and this staff need to do in 2017: Texas State lost nine of its 10 games by 20 or more points. With the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Damian Williams, along with the No. 1 recruiting class by the 247Sports Composite, the Bobcats should take a step forward in 2017.
126. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green
Jinks faced a tough assignment in his first year on campus in 2016. Not only were the Falcons replacing several key players from the 2015 MAC Championship team, Jinks was learning the ropes in his first season as a head coach at the FBS level. As expected, Bowling Green got off to a slow start. The Falcons opened with a 1-8 start before winning their final three games to finish 4-8. The end of the 2016 campaign provided optimism for Jinks and his staff, which should help this team take another step forward in 2017. With no previous head coaching experience at the FBS level and only three years of experience as an assistant, Jinks was a curious hire for Bowling Green (one of the MAC’s better coaching jobs). However, if Jinks and the Falcons pick up where they left off last season, the Texas native should move up this list in 2017.
125. Mike Neu, Ball State
Neu returned to his alma mater last season to take over as the program’s head coach after Pete Lembo left to be an assistant at Maryland. Neu’s first year had its share of ups and downs. The Cardinals started 3-1 but finished 4-8 and won only one game in MAC play. However, six of Ball State’s eight losses came by 10 points or less. The Indiana native previously worked in the NFL as an assistant with the Saints, spent two years at Tulane (2012-13) and also had a stint in the Arena Football League from 1998-08. The former Ball State quarterback hopes to get the Cardinals back in the postseason this year for the first time since 2013.
Related: MAC Football 2017 Predictions
124. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Haynes enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat. The former Kent State defensive back is just 12-35 at his alma mater over the last four years. Additionally, the Golden Flashes have managed only eight wins in MAC games during that span. Prior to taking over as Kent State’s head coach, Haynes worked at a handful of programs as a defensive assistant, including Arkansas, Ohio State, Michigan State and Louisville. Defense has been a strength for the Golden Flashes over the last two years, finishing second in the MAC in fewest yards per play allowed. However, Kent State’s offense hasn’t finished higher than 11th in the league in scoring.
123. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Martin has the unique distinction of coaching at two of college football’s toughest jobs. Before taking over at New Mexico State, Martin guided Kent State to a 29-53 record from 2004-10. The Golden Flashes had three seasons of at least five wins (and one six-win campaign) under Martin’s direction but never recorded a winning mark. Progress has also been tough to come by in Las Cruces. The Aggies are 10-38 under Martin and have yet to eclipse three wins in a season.
122. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
Montgomery arrived at East Carolina regarded for his work as an offensive assistant at Duke (2006-09 and 2014-15) and also in the NFL with the Steelers from 2010-12. However, his debut resulted in a 3-9 record last season and the Pirates are likely to be picked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference once again in 2017. To speed up the rebuilding process, Montgomery picked up a couple of graduate transfers, including former Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, Clemson running back Tyshon Dye and Minnesota defensive end Gaelin Elmore. East Carolina has missed out on bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05.