Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.
Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’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. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas 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 assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
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?
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.
Ranking the Big 12's College Football Coaches for 2014
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 160-39 (15 years)
Career Record: 160-39 (15 years)
Oklahoma’s Program Rank: No. 2 in the Big 12, No. 6 nationally
Stoops quickly proved he was an elite coach with a national championship in his second season, and the Ohio native continues to keep Oklahoma among the nation’s best every year. After a 7-5 debut in 1999, Stoops guided the Sooners to a 13-0 record with an upset win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl for the BCS title. Success has been plentiful for Oklahoma since 2000 as well, as Stoops has recorded 11 seasons of at least 10 victories, and the Sooners have claimed at least a share of the conference title eight times. Maintaining success at a high level is challenging, but Stoops hasn’t missed a beat. Sure, Oklahoma had an 8-5 season in 2009 and finished No. 15 nationally in 2012. However, it’s hard to beat Stoops’ consistency, as well as his ability to beat the Sooners’ rivals. Stoops is 9-6 against Texas and 12-3 against Oklahoma State. As long as Stoops is at Oklahoma, expect the Sooners to be a consistent top 10-15 program nationally.
2. Art Briles, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 44-32 (6 years)
Career Record: 78-60 (10 years)
Baylor’s Program Rank: No. 4 in the Big 12, No. 34 nationally
Briles has quickly emerged as one of the top coaches in college football, transforming a struggling program into a contender on the national level. Baylor failed to record a winning record from 1996-2007, and Briles went 4-8 in back-to-back seasons in 2008-09. But since 2009, the Bears have been a factor among the top half of the Big 12, finishing 7-6 in 2010, which included their first bowl appearance since 1994. From 2011-13, Baylor is 29-10 and claimed their first outright conference title since 1980 last year. Briles’ success isn’t just limited to Baylor, as he went 34-28 in five seasons at Houston. With a new stadium, improved recruiting and a contract extension until 2023, the Bears appear poised to take another step forward under Briles’ watch. Much like Bill Snyder did at Kansas State, Briles has transformed Baylor from a struggling program into a conference title contender.
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 178-90-1 (22 years)
Career Record: 178-90-1 (22 years)
Kansas State’s Program Rank:No. 8 in the Big 12, No. 61 nationally
Prior to Snyder’s arrival, there was no track record of consistent success at Kansas State. But since Snyder was hired in 1989, the fortunes have changed for the Wildcats. Snyder won only six games during his first two years, but Kansas State had only one losing season from 1992-2003. Snyder guided the Wildcats to 11 consecutive bowl games from 1993-2003 and had six finishes in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll in that span. After a 9-13 mark from 2004-05, Snyder decided to step aside. But his retirement was short, as Snyder returned to the sidelines in 2009 and promptly guided the Wildcats to a 6-6 mark. Over the last five years, Kansas State is 42-27 and claimed the Big 12 title in 2012. Winning in Manhattan is no easy task, and Snyder continues to get the most out of a roster that is consistently rated near the bottom of the conference according to recruiting rankings. As long as Snyder is on the sidelines, don’t count out Kansas State in the Big 12 title picture each year.
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 77-38 (9 years)
Career Record: 77-38 (9 years)
Oklahoma State’s Program Rank:No. 3 in the Big 12, No. 22 nationally
Gundy has raised the bar during his tenure in Stillwater, winning 77 games over the last nine years and one Big 12 Championship in 2011. The Cowboys’ 2011 Big 12 title was the program’s first outright conference championship since 1948, and Gundy’s 77 wins rank first among coaches in Oklahoma State history. Since recording back-to-back seven-win seasons from 2006-07, the Cowboys have not won fewer than eight games. With a good chunk of talent leaving the roster heading into 2014, Oklahoma State appears to be set for a rebuilding year. However, Gundy has proved there’s plenty of staying power in Stillwater, and even if 2014 is a rebuilding effort, the Cowboys won’t be down for long.
5. Gary Patterson, TCU
Record at TCU: 120-44 (12 years)
Career Record: 120-44 (12 years)
TCU’s Program Rank:No. 7 in the Big 12, No. 42 nationally
Moving to the Big 12 has been a challenge for Patterson and TCU, as the Horned Frogs are just 11-14 overall and 6-12 in Big 12 play over the last two seasons. But prior to joining the Big 12, TCU was a consistent top-25 team. The Horned Frogs recorded three top-10 finishes in the final Associated Press poll from 2008-10, and this program has only two losing records in Patterson’s 12 years. It’s one thing to win in the Mountain West, but it’s a huge challenge to elevate a program into Big 12 title contention on a consistent basis. The coaching staff needs time to upgrade the overall program depth and talent to compete with Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State, but that shouldn’t be an issue when you look at TCU’s track record of success under Patterson. Also, the Kansas native is one of the top defensive minds in the conference – as evidenced by allowing just 4.8 yards per play last season. The Horned Frogs have stumbled a bit in their new conference, which isn’t really a surprise when you consider the struggles of West Virginia and Utah during their conference transition period. However, the future in Fort Worth still appears to be very bright for Patterson.
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
Record at Texas: First Year
Career Record: 37-16 (4 years)
Texas’ Program Rank: No. 1 in the Big 12, No. 1 nationally
Strong was somewhat of a surprising hire at Texas, but all signs point to this paying huge dividends for the Longhorns. In four years as Louisville’s head coach, Strong went 37-15 and earned four bowl appearances. The Cardinals won 23 games over the final two seasons and claimed back-to-back top-15 finishes in the final Associated Press poll from 2012-13. Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong accumulated a wealth of experience as an assistant at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina. There’s no secret Strong is a sharp defensive mind, a good recruiter, and someone who focuses on fundamentals and physical play. Considering Texas has struggled to develop its elite talent over the last few years, Strong and his coaching staff should fix that problem. Additionally, the consistent problems on the offensive line seem to be addressed with the addition of Joe Wickline. Coaching at Texas will require a few changes for Strong, especially when it comes to the booster glad-handing and Longhorn Network. But there's little reason to believe Strong won't win big at Texas.
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 27-36 (5 years)
Career Record: 27-36 (5 years)
Iowa State’s Program Rank:No. 9 in the Big 12, No. 64 nationally
Rhoads is a good example why records are often deceiving when ranking coaches. On the surface, 27 wins isn’t impressive. However, Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs among BCS programs and ranks No. 9 in the Big 12. Winning big is tough in Ames, and Rhoads has three bowl appearances in five years. Additionally, the Cyclones have only one season of fewer than five wins. Just how difficult is it to win at Iowa State? The program has only two seasons of more than eight wins and only four of the Cyclones’ bowl appearances came before 2000. So while Rhoads may not have the best winning total, he’s keeping Iowa State competitive and in the mix for bowl games. And at a job like Iowa State, some would consider that overachieving.
8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 8-5 (1 year)
Career Record: 8-5 (1 year)
Texas Tech’s Program Rank: No. 6 in Big 12, No. 41 nationally
Kingsbury is a perfect fit at Texas Tech, and the future looks bright for this program with the former Red Raider quarterback at the helm. In his first season as Texas Tech’s coach, Kingsbury led the Red Raiders to an 8-5 record, including a bowl victory over Arizona State. Prior to taking over in Lubbock, Kingsbury worked as an assistant at Texas A&M and Houston under Kevin Sumlin. Despite his lack of experience as a head coach, there’s little doubt Kingsbury has Texas Tech on the right track. And considering Kingsbury’s background on offense, he will have no trouble attracting top quarterbacks and receivers to Lubbock. While the 34-year-old coach ranks No. 8 among his Big 12 peers, the guess here is he climbs this list over the next few seasons.
9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 21-17 (3 years)
Career Record: 21-17 (3 years)
West Virginia’s Program Rank:No. 5 in Big 12, No. 35 nationally
Holgorsen was regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive minds prior to his promotion to the top spot in Morgantown. The Iowa native worked as an assistant under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, coordinated Houston’s offense from 2008-09 under Kevin Sumlin and spent 2010 as the play-caller at Oklahoma State. Holgorsen’s first season at West Virginia (2011) resulted in a 10-3 record and a Big East title. Transitioning to the Big 12 was a challenge for the program, but the Mountaineers started 5-0 in their first season in the new conference. However, West Virginia finished 2-6 over the final eight games in 2012. Transition was a big part of the 2013 season, as the Mountaineers had to replace quarterback Geno Smith and standout receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Although the 4-8 mark was a disappointment, Holgorsen’s team showed some progress at the end of 2013 by losing two out of their last three games in overtime. Moving to the Big 12 is a challenge for West Virginia, and the Mountaineers need time to recruit at a higher level to compete with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. With just six Big 12 wins over the last two years, 2014 will be an important year for Holgorsen to show this program is heading in the right direction.
10. Charlie Weis, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 4-20 (2 years)
Career Record: 39-47 (7 years)
Kansas’ Program Rank: No. 10 in Big 12, No. 68 nationally
Weis was a surprising hire for Kansas after Turner Gill was fired following two seasons in Lawrence. Prior to taking over at Kansas, Weis was just 35-27 in five years at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish started 19-6 under Weis but finished 16-21 over the last three seasons. And Weis has struggled to have success in two years with the Jayhawks, recording a 4-20 record over two seasons. Kansas has finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in back-to-back years, but there was slight progress in 2013 when the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a win over West Virginia. Weis didn’t inherit much talent to work with and has taken steps to improve the overall roster depth over the last two seasons. However, Kansas needs to take a step forward in 2014, which means a couple of wins in Big 12 play.