Is TCU's Gary Patterson the best coach in the Big 12?
The Big 12 has a strong group of coaches in place for the 2019 season. TCU's Gary Patterson leads the way in the rankings, but Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Texas' Tom Herman and Iowa State's Matt Campbell aren't too far behind. The league's second tier is led by Baylor's Matt Rhule, with new coaches Les Miles (Kansas), Neal Brown (West Virginia, Matt Wells (Texas Tech) and Chris Klieman (Kansas State) looking to make an impression in their first year on the job.
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.
How did we compile the rankings for the Big 12 coaches? For starters, it’s an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. 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.
Every team has a different variety or built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.
Again, wins and the career biography to this point 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 2019
10. Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Wells is probably better this ranking would suggest within in the Big 12, but this conference is deep in terms of coaching talent. He arrives in Lubbock after a successful six-year stint at Utah State. The Aggies went 19-9 over his first two years, and after falling to 9-16 over the next two seasons, rebounded to go 16-9 from 2017-18. Utah State played in four bowl games under Wells and had two seasons of double-digit victories. Wells’ background is on offense, but he was able to blend a high-scoring attack with an effective defense. Replicating that formula would help Texas Tech take a step forward in the next few years.
9. Les Miles, Kansas
Miles coaching in Lawrence and returning to the Big 12 won’t lack for intrigue. After he was dismissed at LSU during the 2016 season, Miles spent 2017-18 away from the sidelines. The Ohio native went 114-34 during his stint with the Tigers and won the 2007 national championship. From 2005-15, Miles did not win fewer than eight games in a single season. Prior to coaching in Baton Rouge, Miles went 28-21 over four years at Oklahoma State. After having access to some of the best talent in the nation at LSU, how will Miles adapt to a rebuilding situation at Kansas?
8. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Replacing Bill Snyder won’t be easy. However, Klieman seems like the right fit in Manhattan. He replaced Craig Bohl at North Dakota State and guided the Bison to a 69-6 mark from 2014-17. Under Klieman’s watch, North Dakota State won four FCS national championships and lost only four games in conference play. Klieman also made stops as an assistant at Kansas, Missouri State and Northern Iowa before becoming a head coach in 2014.
7. Neal Brown, West Virginia
West Virginia made one of the offseason’s best coaching moves when it hired Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen. The Kentucky native arrives in Morgantown after a successful four-year run at Troy. Brown had to replace legendary Troy coach Larry Blakeney and went 4-8 in his debut with the Trojans. However, Troy won at least 10 games in each of the next three years and claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2017. Brown finished his tenure with the Trojans with a 35-16 mark and a 14-2 record in conference play from 2017-18. Prior to Troy, Brown worked as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech (2010-12) and Kentucky (2013-14).
6. Matt Rhule, Baylor
Baylor took a big step forward in Rhule’s second year and the upward trend of this program is likely to continue in 2019. The Bears finished 1-11 in 2017 but made a six-game jump in wins last fall to finish 7-6. Additionally, Rhule’s team closed the year on a high note by beating Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl. Rhule got the job in Waco after an impressive 28-23 stint at Temple. His tenure in Philadelphia also started slow (8-16 in his first two years) but showed marked improvement (20-7) over the next two seasons. Rhule played his college ball at Penn State and had a stint with the Giants as an assistant coach in 2012. The New York native has popped up for openings in the NFL over the last two offseasons.
5. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
The Big 12’s depth at head coach is illustrated by Campbell’s rank at No. 5. The Ohio native has Iowa State on the rise going into the 2019 season. The Cyclones finished 3-9 in Campbell’s debut in 2016 but have finished 8-5 in each of the last two years. Additionally, Iowa State has recorded winning records in consecutive seasons in Big 12 play for the first time in program history. The program’s 16 victories since 2017 are tied for the most in a two-year period. The Cyclones are 19-19 under Campbell’s watch and are projected to finish in the top 25 by Athlon Sports in 2019. Campbell played his college ball at Mount Union and spent time there as an assistant before working at Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell served as the Rockets’ head coach from 2011-15 and went 35-15 with four bowl trips.
4. Tom Herman, Texas
Texas has officially returned to contention for Big 12 titles under Herman’s direction. After a 22-4 stint at Houston (2015-16) with a New Year’s Six bowl victory in 2015, Herman replaced Charlie Strong in Austin prior to the ’17 campaign. The Longhorns went 7-6 in Herman’s first year but won three out of their final four games, including the Texas Bowl over Missouri. Texas opened 2018 with a surprising defeat to Maryland but rebounded to finish 10-4. The Longhorns made the Big 12 Championship Game and finished No. 9 nationally (the program’s first top 25 finish since 2012) after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The 10-win season marked Texas’ highest win total since 2009. The Longhorns have several key players to replace going into 2019, but Herman’s elite recruiting should minimize the drop off this fall.
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s streak of consecutive (three) 10-win seasons was snapped in 2018 after a 7-6 mark, but Gundy’s track record suggests the dip in victories won’t last long at his alma mater. The Cowboys are 121-59 under Gundy’s direction and have played in 13 straight bowl games. Oklahoma State hasn’t posted a losing record since 2005 and has four finishes inside of the top 25 over the last six years. Gundy’s best season in Stillwater came in 2011. The Cowboys just missed a trip to the national championship game with a 12-1 record and a No. 3 finish at the end of the year. Gundy’s 121 wins rank as the most by any coach in a tenure at Oklahoma State.
2. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
It’s a close call between Riley and TCU’s Gary Patterson for the No. 1 spot in the conference. Few coaches can match the two-year run Riley has pieced together to start his tenure in Norman. The Sooners never missed a beat in the transition from Bob Stoops to Riley. Oklahoma went 12-2 with a CFB Playoff trip in 2017 and followed that successful year with another 12-2 mark and playoff bid last fall. Riley is 24-4 with just two Big 12 losses since taking over prior to the 2017 season. Additionally, Oklahoma has claimed back-to-back conference titles under Riley’s direction. And as one of the nation’s top minds on offense, it’s no surprise Riley has helped the Sooners rank as the No. 1 scoring offense among Power 5 programs for three consecutive years.
1. Gary Patterson, TCU
TCU has played a full season in three different conferences since Patterson became head coach, but the level of success never changes. The Horned Frogs are 167-63 overall since Patterson took over as head coach in the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl. During that span, the Horned Frogs have recorded 11 seasons of double-digit victories, including a perfect 13-0 campaign in 2010. TCU also finished 12-1 and just outside the top four for a bid to the CFB Playoff in 2014. The Horned Frogs have settled into the Big 12 with three winning marks in league play over the last five years. In each of those three seasons, TCU ranked as a top-10 team in the final Associated Press poll. Patterson is also one of college football’s top minds on defense, as the Horned Frogs have not finished lower than fifth in the Big 12 in fewest points allowed in a season since joining the conference.
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