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?
Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Teams for 2016
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. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 leagues. Here are the results for the Big 12:
Ranking the Big 12's College Football Coaches for 2016
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
There’s very little separation among the top three coaches in the Big 12. Stoops returns the No. 1 spot in Athlon’s rankings after slipping down the list last season. After an 8-5 record in 2014, Stoops hit the reset button on offense and made significant changes to his staff. The moves paid off in a big way for Oklahoma, as the Sooners finished 11-2, won the Big 12 title and played in the College Football Playoff. The eight-win season in 2014 was only the fourth time in Stoops’ 17-year tenure Oklahoma won fewer than 10 games. Maintaining a high level of success at any program for nearly 20 years isn’t easy. But Stoops continues to push the right buttons and should have the Sooners in the mix to earn another trip to the playoffs in 2016.
2. Gary Patterson, TCU
As mentioned with Bob Stoops, there’s very little separation among the top three coaches – Stoops, Patterson and Snyder – in the Big 12. With that in mind, we wouldn’t disagree with a ranking that listed Patterson as the No. 1 coach from the Big 12. Patterson has been instrumental in TCU’s rise into a Big 12 title contender, recording a 143-47 record since becoming the program’s coach at the end of the 2000 season. The Horned Frogs have shifted conferences three times under Patterson but appear to be fully entrenched in the Big 12 after winning 23 games over the last two years. Not only is Patterson one of the nation’s top coaches, he’s also one of the best at developing talent and gameplans on defense.
3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
An argument could be made for Snyder as the top Big 12 coach in Athlon’s 2016 rankings. The Wildcats are always a dangerous opponent with Snyder on the sidelines, and the 76-year-old coach has completely changed the outlook of this program. Prior to Snyder’s arrival in 1989, Kansas State had only two winning seasons since 1955 and just one bowl appearance in program history. After a 1-10 mark in 1989, Snyder went 5-6 in his second year and has won at least four games in every season since his debut. Snyder had a brief retirement in 2006, but he returned to the sidelines in 2009 and has guided Kansas State to six straight bowl appearances and recorded 21 wins from 2011-12. Considering how difficult of a job Kansas State is and the lack of success prior to 1989, it’s a strong testament to Snyder’s coaching ability for this program to have 193 wins under his watch.
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has emerged as an annual threat to win the Big 12 title under Gundy’s watch, and last year’s 10-3 mark represented the Cowboys fourth double-digit win season over the last six years. The 10-win season was capped by an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, giving Gundy 10 consecutive bowl trips. In 11 years guiding his alma mater, Gundy is 94-47 and is already the winningest coach in program history. The Cowboys finished No. 3 nationally in 2011 and have not experienced a losing season since 2005.
5. Charlie Strong, Texas
With an 11-14 record through two seasons in Austin, the pressure is starting to build on Strong to turn things around. While Strong didn’t inherit a roster filled with talent, Texas is one of college football’s best jobs and the expectation level is certainly higher than six wins. After a 6-7 record in his first year, Strong went 5-7 last season and the losing mark prompted changes. Five new assistants were hired, including Sterlin Gilbert as the team’s play-caller on offense to bring a new spread, up-tempo approach to Texas. Strong has a track record of turning around programs, as evidenced by his 37-15 mark in four years at Louisville (2010-13). Assuming Texas continues to recruit at a high level and the offense improves in 2016, the future still looks bright for Strong’s long-term outlook in Austin.
Related: 15 Biggest Wild Card Teams for 2016
6. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Holgorsen enters 2016 in an interesting position. Last season, the Mountaineers recorded their highest win total (eight) since joining the Big 12 in 2012. However, contract negotiations between Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons ended earlier this spring. Holgorsen is not signed beyond 2017, so there’s some uncertainty about his future in Morgantown. Under Holgorsen’s watch, West Virginia is 36-28 overall and has played in four bowl games over the last five years.
7. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is known as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches and has Texas Tech trending up after a 7-6 mark in 2015. The Red Raiders went 8-5 in Kingsbury’s debut (2013) but regressed to 4-8 in 2014. However, Texas Tech had a solid rebound year last season and could challenge for a winning mark in Big 12 play in 2016. Prior to taking over as the head coach in Lubbock, Kingsbury engineered some of the nation’s top offenses at Houston and Texas A&M. At 36 years old, Kingsbury is still learning on the job and could move up this list in future seasons.
8. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Campbell was an outstanding hire for Iowa State and easily one of the best coaching moves of the 2015-16 carousel. The 36-year-old coach comes to Ames after four full seasons (and one bowl game in 2011), earning a 35-15 record with the Rockets. Toledo did not have a losing season under Campbell’s watch and recorded bowl trips in three out of four years. Campbell has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks and played his college ball at the ultra-successful Mount Union program. Iowa State is a tough job, so Campbell will find it tough to match is win total from Toledo on an annual basis. However, the Cyclones should take a step forward under Campbell’s direction and contend for bowl games on a consistent basis.
9. Jim Grobe, Baylor
Turmoil has surrounded Baylor’s football program this offseason and continued with the dismissal of coach Art Briles in late May. Instead of promoting from within, the Bears are turning to Grobe as the program’s head coach for the 2016 season. Grobe has been out of coaching since the end of the 2013 season, but he should be a stabilizing force for Baylor. Grobe coached at Ohio from 1995-00 and accumulated a 33-33-1 record with two winning seasons. He was hired at Wake Forest in 2001 and brought significant improvement to one of the ACC’s toughest jobs. Grobe went 77-82 from 2001-13 in Winston-Salem, which included an ACC title and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2006. Grobe isn’t the long-term answer at Baylor, but he’s a good one-year solution.
10. David Beaty, Kansas
Beaty inherited a program in need of a massive overhaul and finished his debut in Lawrence with an 0-12 record. The lack of success in 2015 was no surprise, as Beaty needs another recruiting class (or two) just to get this program competitive on an annual basis in the Big 12. In an effort to spark improvement on offense, Beaty is taking over the play-calling duties for the offense in 2016. However, the Jayhawks are likely staring at another double-digit loss season. Beaty is known as a good recruiter and his ties to the state of Texas should help in upgrading the program’s overall talent level over the next few years. Beaty still has plenty to prove in his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level and has to show he can build a program – not just recruit talent to Lawrence.