The Big 12 is a deep league for coaching talent going into college football's 2020 season. Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley is the conference's No. 1 coach, with TCU's Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy rounding out a strong trio at the top. Iowa State's Matt Campbell has led the program to three consecutive winning records in Big 12 play and has moved to the No. 4 spot in the conference. Texas' Tom Herman checks in at five, while the bottom of the league features new Baylor coach Dave Aranda, Texas Tech's Matt Wells and Kansas' Les Miles.
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 2020
10. Dave Aranda, Baylor
Aranda ranks No. 10 among Big 12 coaches, but don’t expect him to remain here for long. It’s also a statement to the league’s depth when Aranda is at No. 10 for 2020. The California native has been a successful defensive coordinator at a couple of stops since 2010. After a two-year stint at Hawaii, Aranda called the plays at Utah State (2012) for a season, followed by a three-year run at Wisconsin. He was hired at LSU prior to the 2016 campaign and spent four seasons in Baton Rouge. Under Aranda’s direction, the Tigers never allowed more than 21.9 points a game in a single year. Additionally, the defense finished fourth or higher within the SEC in fewest yards per play allowed in three of his four seasons. Aranda is one of the top hires for the 2020 coaching carousel, but this year also marks the first time he’s been a head coach at any level.
9. Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Wells’ debut at Texas Tech was hit by bad luck early on, as two of the team’s top players – quarterback Alan Bowman and offensive lineman Jack Anderson – were lost for the year. The Red Raiders finished 4-8 but four defeats came by three points or less. Wells came to Lubbock after a successful run at Utah State. The Aggies went 44-34 with five bowl trips under his watch, posted two double-digit win seasons, and also claimed the 2013 Mountain Division title. Wells worked his way through the coaching ranks as an offensive assistant, including stops at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico, Utah State, and Louisville. Although Wells’ track record is on offense, one of his top priorities is bringing needed balance to the program after the defense has finished seventh or worse in scoring defense within the Big 12 in each of the last 10 years.
8. Les Miles, Kansas
Miles is one of six active coaches with a national championship ring. After a 28-21 stint as Oklahoma State’s coach from 2001-04, Miles went 114-34 (2005-16) at LSU. Under his watch, the Tigers posted seven seasons of at least 10 victories, won the 2007 national championship, and played in the ’11 title game. The task facing Miles at Kansas is much different than the one he inherited at LSU in replacing Nick Saban after he left for the NFL. The Jayhawks are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project, and the program is coming off a 3-9 debut under Miles last fall. Kansas has won just three Big 12 games over the last five years and faces another uphill battle with nine returning starters for 2020.
7. Neal Brown, West Virginia
Brown was regarded as one of the top coaching hires in the 2019 carousel and nearly led West Virginia to a bowl in his first year in Morgantown. The Mountaineers finished 5-7 but won two out of their final three contests and dropped two Big 12 games by no more than seven points. While a five-win season may not seem like a big deal, Brown inherited a team with less than 10 returning starters and a major question mark at quarterback following the departure of Will Grier. West Virginia’s late-season improvement in 2019 was a clear sign of Brown’s coaching ability and there’s little doubt this program will continue to progress. The Kentucky native arrived in Morgantown after a 35-16 stint at Troy. The Trojans finished 4-8 in Brown’s debut but won at least 10 games in each of the next three years.
Related: College Football Top 25 for 2020
6. Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Replacing Bill Snyder was no easy task, but Klieman had one of the best debuts of any first-year coach last fall. The Iowa native guided Kansas State to an 8-5 finish – a three-game improvement from the previous season – and an appearance in the Liberty Bowl. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Manhattan and lost three games by four points or less. Klieman came to Kansas State after winning 69 games and five FCS titles at North Dakota State from 2014-18. He was widely considered one of the top hires in the 2019 coaching carousel and has Kansas State on solid footing going into ’20.
5. Tom Herman, Texas
It’s no secret the 2020 season is an important one for Herman at Texas. The Longhorns are 25-15 under Herman and took a step back last year after a 10-win campaign in 2018. Texas won seven games in Herman’s debut in 2017 and improved to 10 and an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game the following season. However, the Longhorns slipped to 8-5 and finished just 5-4 in Big 12 contests. Youth and injuries in some spots hindered Texas’ hopes of another trip to the conference title, but Herman also wasted no time after the season in making staff changes to prevent a repeat of 2019. Herman was considered one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators prior to taking over at Houston in 2015. The Cougars finished 13-1 in his debut and went 9-3 the following year. Herman is 47-19 as a head coach at the FBS level.
4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
With Campbell at the helm, Iowa State is a program on the rise for 2020 and beyond. The Cyclones have posted three consecutive winning conference records for the first time since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996 and have finished 16-11 in league play in that span. Campbell is 26-25 overall and has led Iowa State to three straight winning campaigns – the first time the program has accomplished that since 1976-78 – after a 3-9 debut in 2016. The Ohio native started his on-field coaching career at Mount Union in 2005 and also spent time at Bowling Green (2007-08) before landing at Toledo in ’09. Campbell spent three years as an assistant with the Rockets before his promotion to head coach in ’11. Toledo went 35-15 under Campbell and won two MAC West titles. Campbell is 61-40 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
Related: Big 12 All-Conference Team for 2020
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
With 19 returning starters and an experienced two-deep for 2020, Gundy hopes to lead Oklahoma State back into contention for a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game. The Cowboys are 15-11 over the last two years but won 10 games in four out of the five previous seasons. Gundy has recorded 14 winning seasons in a row, guided the team to a No. 3 finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2011 and posted 23 overall wins from 2010-11. The former Oklahoma State quarterback also is the winningest coach in program history and is among the nation’s most-tenured coaches going into 2020.
2. Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson’s tenure at TCU started with the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl and one thing has been a constant: Winning. The Horned Frogs are 172-70 since Patterson assumed the head coach role, and the program has successfully transitioned from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West and now the Big 12. Despite the changes in conference affiliation and winding up in a Power 5 league, TCU continues to churn out winning seasons. The Horned Frogs have been to six bowl games since joining the Big 12 in 2012 and finished inside of the top 10 three times in that span. Patterson’s team nearly made the CFB Playoff in 2014 and finished No. 3 in the final ranking that season. In 19 seasons in Fort Worth, Patterson has won at least 10 games in 11 years. In addition to his prolific tenure as a head coach, Patterson is regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football.
Related: College Football Top 25 for 2020
1. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
The first three years of Riley’s tenure in Norman have gone as well as any coach in recent memory. Oklahoma’s high-powered offense led the way for the program to go 36-6 since 2017, winning a conference title and earning a trip to the CFB Playoff in all three years. Additionally, two of Riley’s quarterbacks – Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray – won the Heisman Trophy and each was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, while last year’s starter (Jalen Hurts) finished second in Heisman voting. Riley worked as the offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops from 2015-16 and was instrumental in guiding the program to two Big 12 titles in that span. He also has stops on his resume from stints at Texas Tech and East Carolina as an assistant. Riley is only 36 years old and will start his fourth year at the helm in 2020. He’s also already one of the nation’s top coaches and will have Oklahoma back in the mix for a playoff spot this fall.