With Gary Patterson at TCU, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and Bill Snyder at Kansas State, the Big 12 is home to some of college football's top coaches. And the depth in the league improved over the offseason, as Texas hired Tom Herman to replace Charlie Strong, and Baylor hired Matt Rhule as the program's new full-time coach after an interim year under Jim Grobe. And there was some summer intrigue, as Lincoln Riley was promoted to head coach after Bob Stoops retired at Oklahoma in early June.
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. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for the Big 12:
Ranking the Big 12's College Football Coaches for 2017
10. David Beaty, Kansas
Beaty only has two wins through his first two seasons in Lawrence, but Kansas is making progress. The Jayhawks ended a 19-game losing streak in Big 12 play by defeating Texas last year and finished 2-10 overall. While there are few moral victories, Kansas lost two other Big 12 games by seven points or less last fall. Beaty is accumulating the right pieces and upgraded his staff with the addition of play-caller Doug Meacham this spring. The Texas native needs more time to turn this program around.
9. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is 24-26 through four seasons at his alma mater and enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat. The former Texas Tech quarterback took over the program in 2013 after joining the collegiate ranks as an assistant in 2008. Kingsbury spent four years at Houston, followed by a successful one-season stint at Texas A&M in 2012. The Red Raiders appeared to be trending in the right direction after an 8-5 mark in Kingsbury’s debut. However, the program has one winning record over the last three years and is just 13-23 in Big 12 play since 2013. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas Tech, but the defense has surrendered over 40 points a game in three consecutive seasons.
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Not only is Riley the youngest coach at the FBS level, but he’s also taking over one of the nation’s top teams for 2017 after Bob Stoops decided to retire in early June. The Texas native has worked for the past two years under Stoops as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, guiding the Sooners to an average of over 40 points a game in both seasons. Prior to joining the Sooners’ staff, Riley called the plays for five years at East Carolina (2010-14) and also had a stint as an assistant coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. The 33-year-old coach is considered one of the nation’s top coaches on the rise and heads into his first opportunity as a FBS head coach with a chance to lead the Sooners to the CFB Playoff in 2017.
7. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Iowa State’s 2016 record was only 3-9, but Campbell has this program trending in the right direction. The Cyclones won two of their games in November and five of the nine defeats came by 10 points or less. While a winning season or bowl berth is always preferred, Campbell’s team showed some fight in Big 12 play and just needs more overall roster talent to take the next step. Prior to Iowa State, Campbell went 35-15 at Toledo and won nine games in three out of his four seasons. Look for Campbell to push the Cyclones into contention for six wins this fall.
6. Matt Rhule, Baylor
Make no mistake: Rhule is inheriting a mess and a major clean up is needed from the Art Briles era. And while it isn’t a huge deal, Rhule faces a transition period since he has no previous ties to the state of Texas in his coaching career. Getting a feel for the landscape and recruiting battles may take a year or two. However, Rhule seems to be a good fit in Waco after a successful four-season stint at Temple. After a 2-10 debut in 2013, the Owls finished 6-6 in 2014, followed by back-to-back 10-win campaigns. Additionally, Temple claimed the 2016 American Athletic Conference title. The New York native played his college ball at Penn State under Joe Paterno and accumulated a wealth of experience as an assistant at UCLA, Western Carolina, Temple and with the Giants before becoming a head coach.
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Armed with a contract extension, there’s stability in Morgantown between Holgorsen and the program. After taking control of the program in 2011, Holgorsen and his high-powered passing attack led by Geno Smith led West Virginia to a 10-3 record, Big East title and an Orange Bowl victory. But the transition to the tougher Big 12 produced a few speed bumps. The Mountaineers finished 7-6 in their new home, followed by a 4-8 mark in 2013. After finishing 15-11 in 2014-15, West Virginia claimed its best season since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished 10-3 last year, ranked No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll and went 7-2 in league play. Even though Holgorsen is known for his ability to build an offense and the passing game, he’s transitioned West Virginia to a balanced attack and has one of the Big 12’s top defensive coordinators in Tony Gibson.
4. Tom Herman, Texas
It’s a safe bet Herman is going to move up this list in the next few seasons. The California native has produced results at each of his coaching stops, including stints as an assistant at Texas State, Rice and Iowa State. Herman called the plays for Ohio State’s offense for three seasons, including the 2014 team that won the national championship. Herman took over at Houston in 2015 and guided the Cougars to a 13-1 record and a victory over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston took a small step back in the win column in 2016 but still finished 9-3 in the regular season and defeated Oklahoma and Louisville. Herman should do what Charlie Strong struggled to do in Austin: Make Texas an annual Big 12 title contender once again.
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Is Gundy the nation’s most underrated coach? He’s quietly won 104 games – the most in program history by a head coach – since taking over for Les Miles in 2005. Oklahoma State has only one losing record under Gundy and just missed on playing for the national championship in the 2011 season. The Cowboys have won at least 11 games in five out of the last seven wins and have posted back-to-back 10-win campaigns.
2. Gary Patterson, TCU
Regardless of whether TCU resided in Conference USA, Mountain West or Big 12, this program has been a consistent winner under Patterson’s watch. He took over as the head coach prior to the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl and won 32 games through his first four years (2001-04). The Horned Frogs joined the Mountain West in 2005 and won at least 11 games in five out of the next six years, including a perfect 13-0 mark in 2010. Transitioning to the Big 12 has produced some new challenges, but Patterson has reached a bowl game in four out of the first five seasons in the conference. TCU just missed on a playoff berth after a 12-1 record in 2014 and finished 11-2 in 2015. In addition to his success as a head coach, Patterson is regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive minds.
1. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Few coaches have had the type of influence on one team similar to the way Snyder has impacted Kansas State in his stint as the program’s head coach. The 77-year-old coach is in his second act after retiring after the 2005 season, and this stint is just as successful as the first one. The Wildcats have won at least six games every year since 2009 and claimed eight or more wins in five out of the last seven years. Snyder inherited a program that won only six games in the five seasons prior to his arrival in 1989. Kansas State finished 1-10 in Snyder’s debut, but the program showed steady progress in the following years. The Wildcats went 5-6 in 1990, followed by a 7-4 mark in 1991 – the program’s first winning record since 1982. Snyder guided K-State to 11 consecutive bowl trips from 1993-03 and one Big 12 title in 2003. With challenges on the recruiting trail and with its location, this is not an easy job to sustain success. Snyder is 202-105-1 in his career with the Wildcats.