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.
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: How well are the assistants paid? 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 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 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 do not matter for this ranking.
Ranking the Big 12’s Football Coaches for 2015
1. Art Briles, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 55-34 (7 years)
Career Record: 89-62 (12 years)
Briles has completely changed the perception of Baylor football over the last seven years. Prior to Briles’ tenure, the Bears did not play in a bowl or post a winning record from 1995-2007. Baylor went 8-16 in Briles’ first two years, but has played in five consecutive bowl games and tied or won the conference championship in back-to-back years. The Bears are 22-4 over the last two seasons and have three double-digit victory totals in three out of the last four years. Prior to taking over at Baylor, Briles went 34-28 at Houston. Briles is a Texas coaching lifer and has changed this program from one of the bottom teams in the Big 12 into a conference championship contender. The talent level on this team has improved with four consecutive top-40 signing classes, and the program just opened brand-new McLane Stadium in 2014. Momentum at Baylor is at an all-time high with Briles at the controls – and it doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon.
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 187-94-1 (23 years)
Career Record: 187-94-1 (23 years)
There’s not a coach in the nation doing more with less every year. Kansas State is not an easy job, yet Snyder continues to keep the Wildcats in contention for the Big 12 title on a yearly basis. Kansas State won only three games in the four previous years prior to his hire in November 1988, and after a 1-10 record in his first season, Snyder’s teams have won fewer than six games only four times and claimed double-digit victories in seven years. Don't forget that following his retirement after the 2005 season, Kansas State went just 17-20 in three years under Ron Prince before Snyder returned in November 2008. Regardless of how much talent or key personnel Kansas State loses, the Wildcats are always a threat to win the conference championship and finish among the top 25 teams in the nation. Developing and finding talent in the junior college ranks is one of Snyder’s biggest strengths. Kansas State doesn’t recruit at a high level, so it’s important to develop talent and find ways to win games with less. That’s exactly what Snyder has accomplished, as from 2011-14, the Wildcats have the best record in Big 12 games (27-9).
3. Gary Patterson, TCU
Record at TCU: 132-45 (14 years)
Career Record: 132-45 (14 years)
Coming off a 12-1 season and a No. 3 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, TCU is among the favorites to contend for the 2015 national championship. The Horned Frogs have come a long way in a short amount of time since joining the Big 12. TCU finished 7-6 in its Big 12 debut in 2012 but followed that up with a 4-8 mark in 2013, thanks in large part to a struggling offense. The The 8-1 mark in conference play last season is easily the best of TCU’s three-year stint in the Big 12. In Patterson’s 14 years, the Horned Frogs have won 132 games and claimed 10 or more victories in nine of those seasons. Winning at a high level is nothing new for Patterson in Fort Worth. In 2010, TCU finished No. 2 nationally with a 13-0 mark, No. 7 in 2008 and No. 6 in 2009. With Patterson at the helm, TCU will be a consistent threat to win the Big 12 title.
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 168-44 (16 years)
Career Record: 168-44 (16 years)
With 16 seasons at Oklahoma, Stoops is the second-longest tenured coach in college football. The Sooners have consistently ranked among the Big 12’s best under Stoops, winning at least 10 games in 12 of his years in Norman. Additionally, Stoops has guided Oklahoma to eight Big 12 titles and one national championship (2000). Winning at a high level and competing for a spot in one of college football’s top bowl games has become the norm for the Sooners under Stoops. However, Oklahoma finished 8-5 in 2014, which was the worst mark under Stoops since 2009 (8-5). Maintaining success at one job for a long period of time is no easy task for any college football coach. Stoops will try to get the program back on track with a few staff changes, including new offensive play-caller Lincoln Riley. There’s no question Stoops is among the best in the nation, and it will be interesting to see if 2014 was just a small blip on the radar or if it’s the beginning of a down period for the program.
5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 84-44 (10 years)
Career Record: 84-44 (10 years)
Oklahoma State took a step back in the win column in 2014, needing a late punt return for a touchdown to beat Oklahoma and secure bowl eligibility for the ninth consecutive season. The win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl gave Oklahoma State its ninth winning season in Gundy’s 10 years. The Cowboys have won at least 10 games in three out of the last five seasons and finished No. 3 nationally in 2011. Gundy consistently has Oklahoma State finishing in the top half of the Big 12, and the Cowboys are poised to return to the top 25 after last year’s 7-6 mark. Gundy’s name popped up in the rumor mill for other jobs over the last three offseasons, but the former Oklahoma State quarterback seems to be reenergized headed into 2015.
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
Record at Texas: 6-7 (1 year)
Career Record: 43-23 (5+ years)
As expected, Strong had to reset the foundation at Texas. The Longhorns finished 6-7 last year and won five games in Big 12 action. However, Texas beat only two teams with a winning record and was thoroughly dominated by TCU and Arkansas in the final two games of 2014. The Longhorns only went 16-11 in Big 12 games over Mack Brown’s final three years and recorded just one finish in the final Associated Press poll in that span. The program clearly slipped in Brown’s final four years, and Strong needs a little time to rebuild the talent and get Texas back into contention for Big 12 championships. It’s only a matter of time before that happens, as Strong went 37-15 in four years at Louisville, including a 23-3 record from 2012-13.
7. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 28-23 (4 years)
Career Record: 28-23 (4 years)
Under Holgorsen’s direction over the last four years, West Virginia has made the successful transition from the Big East to the Big 12. The Mountaineers won the Big East title in Holgorsen’s first season and finished 7-6 in their Big 12 debut in 2012. After stumbling to a 4-8 record in 2013, West Virginia rebounded with a 7-6 record in 2014 and claimed its first winning mark in conference play since joining the Big 12. And with 15 starters back for 2015, West Virginia should have a good chance to improve on last year’s record. Holgorsen is a highly regarded offensive mind and is settling into his role as the head coach. With Holgorsen stabilizing the program and competing in the Big 12, the future looks bright in Morgantown.
8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 12-13 (2 years)
Career Record: 12-13 (2 years)
Kingsbury was one of the nation’s top assistants when he was tapped to replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech in 2013. And the Red Raiders started Kingsbury’s tenure on a high note, winning their first seven games and jumping as high as No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. But Texas Tech lost its last five regular season games and used a bowl victory over Arizona State to finish 8-5. 2014 was a step back for Kingsbury, as the Red Raiders slipped to 4-8 and recorded three wins by seven points or less against Central Arkansas, UTEP and Iowa State. There’s no doubt Kingsbury is one of the Big 12’s top offensive minds and will have his unit performing at a high level. However, fixing the defense has to be a priority after allowing 42.8 points in Big 12 games in 2014. Hiring David Gibbs should pay dividends for the defense, which should allow Texas Tech to return to the postseason in 2015.
9. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 29-46 (6 years)
Career Record: 29-46 (6 years)
Iowa State is one of the nation’s toughest Power 5 jobs. The in-state recruiting base is small, the Big 12 slate isn’t easy and you have to be good at developing talent or mining the junior college ranks for quick fixes. As an Iowa native, Rhoads knows all about the challenges of coaching in Ames. He also served as an assistant with the Cyclones in 1995-99. In six years as the program’s head coach, Rhoads is 29-46 overall with three bowl appearances. Iowa State has slipped after earning back-to-back bowl bids in 2011-12 with a 5-19 mark over the last two years. Rhoads is a good coach that can squeeze the most out of his roster. However, after a winless record in Big 12 play, Rhoads needs to get the program back to qualifying for a bowl game.
10. David Beaty, Kansas
Record at Kansas: First Year
Career Record: First Year
Beaty is a former Kansas assistant and comes to Lawrence after a three-year stint at Texas A&M. He has never been a head coach, but the Jayhawks hope his recruiting ties to Texas and previous experience at Kansas help to turn around a program that has not won more than three games in each of the last five years. Beaty retained last year’s interim coach Clint Bowen but isn’t inheriting much to work with going into 2015 and just getting to three or four wins would be a good year for the Jayhawks. With a lack of head coaching experience and only two years as a coordinator on the collegiate level, Beaty is still largely an unknown.