Fans in East Lansing, Mich., and Norman, Okla., have something in common — they’re spoiled.
The last year or so has been a great time to pull for Michigan State or Oklahoma. In football and men’s basketball, the Spartans and Sooners have been final four contenders in both sports.
While neither team could claim the ultimate prize of a championship, Michigan State and Oklahoma State are among the few schools who are in contention for conference and national championships in both sports at the same time.
As we finish our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
1. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio
Basketball: Tom Izzo
Here’s what makes up an elite coaching tandem: In four of the last five seasons, the football team has reached a major bowl (two Cotton Bowls, a Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl) in the same season the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 or better. Since Jan. 2014 alone, Michigan State has accounted for:
• A Rose Bowl win and Big Ten football championship,
• An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament championship,
• A Cotton Bowl win,
• A Final Four and
• A College Football Semifinal appearance and Big Ten title.
Football: Bob Stoops
Basketball: Lon Kruger
After one of his worst seasons at Oklahoma in 2014, Stoops reinvented his offense with a new coordinator and landed in the College Football Playoff. In 17 seasons, Stoops has led OU to 10 top-10 finishes and nine Big 12 titles. His basketball counterpart knows even more about longevity: He’s the only coach who has taken five teams in the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma). With Buddy Hield on board, Kruger might reach his second Final Four in what could be a Hall of Fame career.
3. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer
Basketball: Thad Matta
In many years, Ohio State could get the nod as the top college coaching tandem. But Meyer, a year after winning the third national championship of his career, saw his chance to repeat end with a loss to Michigan State and Dantonio. Meyer still has an absurd 50-4 mark (31-1 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State. Matta is perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach, but his program is in a three-year downswing. The Buckeyes averaged more than 30 wins with a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s from 2010-13. The Buckeyes haven’t topped 25 wins since and could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Football: Jim Harbaugh
Basketball: John Beilein
Harbaugh has arguably transformed the Big Ten even more than Meyer. The Ohio State coach brought SEC-style recruiting to the Big Ten, and Harbaugh is one-upping even one of the most ruthless recruiters in the business. Oh, and he can coach, too. Michigan exceeded expectations in his first season as 10-win team and top-15 finisher. Michigan hasn’t matched the heights of the 2013 national title game and 2014 Elite Eight, but Beilein has reached the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at Michigan — the best run since the Fab Five-fueled ‘90s.
Football: David Cutcliffe
Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
Hard to believe, but Krzyzewski’s stature has only grown since this time last season. Coach K won his fifth career national championship in 2015 and did it in a new way using one-and-done talent. This season has been bumpy, with the Blue Devils going unranked for the first time since 2006-07. David Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with Duke football, producing three consecutive winning seasons for the first time and the program’s first bowl win since the early ‘60s.
Football: Bobby Petrino
Basketball: Rick Pitino
The off-field/off-court exploits — failed professional careers, extramarital affairs gone public and the most recent basketball postseason ban stemming from allegations a staffer used prostitutes to lure recruits — are troubling. Their coaching ability, though, is unquestioned. Pitino averaged 30.8 wins from 2011-15, including a national championship and a Final Four. In his third year on his second tour of duty, Petrino should have the Cardinals ready to take the next step after going 10-6 in the ACC in the first two seasons.
7. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly
Basketball: Mike Brey
Brian Kelly has brought Notre Dame back to national prominence with at trip to the national championship game in 2012. The Irish have spent time in the top five in each of the last two seasons despite playing two years snakebit by injuries. Mike Brey is on the short list of most underrated coaches. In the last two years, Brey has defeated Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino with regularity.
Football: Rich Rodriguez
Basketball: Sean Miller
After Arizona football went 10–4, won the Pac-12 South and reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, last year’s 7–6 campaign, the worst under Rodriguez, was a major let down. It was an injury-plagued year, and Rodriguez still managed to reach a bowl game in each of his four seasons at Arizona. Miller has restored Arizona to national power status with three Pac-10/12 championships, three Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet 16 in his first six seasons.
Football: Art Briles
Basketball: Scott Drew
A decade ago, Baylor was a non-factor in both college football and basketball. These days, Baylor is doing things that a program like Texas should be doing. Football has topped 10 wins and been ranked in the top 15 in four of the last five years. Basketball hasn’t shown the same year-in-and-year-out consistency, but two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in seven seasons is a notable achievement for a program with four NCAA appearances before Drew arrived.
Football: Nick Saban
Basketball: Avery Johnson
With four national championships at Alabama, one title at LSU, and eight consecutive top-10 finishes, Saban is the top coach in either football or men’s basketball right now. There’s no sign this streak is going to slow down any time soon. The former NBA coach Johnson seemed to be a questionable pick for Tide (especially as he was the program’s second choice after Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall). Now, Johnson could be the Coach of the Year in the SEC if the Tide reach the NCAA Tournament in his first year. He also had a standout recruiting class coming in for 2016-17.
11. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora
Basketball: Roy Williams
Williams has his best North Carolina team in at least five years, the last time the Tar Heels won the ACC. Williams is looking to reach his eighth Final Four and first since 2009, an eternity for the Hall of Fame coach. It probably took Fedora longer to turn the corner with the football program than UNC fans would have hoped, but the Heels are coming off their best season since 1997.
Football: Kyle Whittingham
Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
When Utah joined the Pac-12, few expected the Utes to be one of the league’s best football/basketball programs. Instead, Whittingham and Krystkowiak have navigated various challenges to produce top-25 programs in both sports. Krystkowiak took Utah to its first Sweet 16 since 2005 and could deliver a Pac-12 title for the Utes. Whittingham’s team never matched the 62-20 rout at Oregon, but they finished with 10 wins for the fourth time under Whittingham and the first time as a Pac-12 member.
Football: Kirk Ferentz
Basketball: Fran McCaffrey
This is possibly the most overachieving duo in the Big Ten. Ferentz led the football team to a 12-2 season and the Big Ten title game. True, Iowa won the easier division and the team may never has been as good as its top-10 ranking, but Ferentz’s fifth 10-win season comes after averaging 6.8 wins in the five seasons prior. McCaffrey has Iowa on pace for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the best streak for Iowa since 1991-93. If the Hawkeyes secure a top-two seed, it will be the first time for the program since 1987.
Football: Mark Richt
Basketball: Jim Larranaga
If Richt does for Miami what he did for Georgia — averaging 9.6 wins per year and fielding regular top-10 teams — he’ll be in the College Football Hall of Fame. Larranaga already has an ACC title and Sweet 16 at Miami and a Final Four at George Mason on his résumé, and he has a top-15 team again in Coral Gables. Fun fact: Larranaga has more career wins than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
Football: Mark Helfrich
Basketball: Dana Altman
With all the success Altman has had at Oregon, it’s hard to believe that the Ducks’ coaching search in 2010 was a comedy of errors. After bigger names passed, Altman turned out to be the right guy. He has topped 20 wins in all six of his seasons in Eugene. All other Oregon coaches have 11 20-win seasons. He’s also heading for a fifth consecutive top-three finish in the league. Helfrich proved a perfect steward of the football program in 2014, taking the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season. In 2015, Oregon slipped back to 9-4, the Ducks’ worst record since 2007, but there’s reason to believe the season would have been different if Vernon Adams had been healthy all year.
16. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher
Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Florida State football is an all-around powerhouse — in recruiting, on the field and on draft day — again with Fisher in charge. His 68-14 record through six years gives him one of the hottest starts in college football history. Hamilton breathed life into the Florida State program with four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 from 2009-12. Since then, the Seminoles topped 20 wins just once.
17. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen
Basketball: Ben Howland
This is rare territory for Mississippi State to be among the top coaching tandems in the SEC. Usually a place like Florida would be near the top. The case for Mississippi State is pretty clear: Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to unthinkable heights with 19 wins in a two-year span and six consecutive bowl games in a two-year span. Howland’s first season at Mississippi State may be somewhat of a disappointment considering the fanfare surrounding his hire and the presence of a five-star recruit (Malik Newman), but this is still a three-time Final Four coach in Starkville.
Football: Dino Babers
Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Syracuse’s NCAA issues — the postseason ban in 2015, scholarship limits and Boeheim’s suspension earlier this year — cast a shadow on the latter years of his tenure. Syracuse might not get to the Final Four or win 30 games again before he retires in 2018. Babers, an Art Briles protégé, who has two conference championships in four seasons at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois under his belt, could be a transformative hire for Syracuse football.
19. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze
Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Freeze has done what no coach at Ole Miss has been able to do since John Vaught in the ‘60s — turn the Rebels into a consistent heavy hitter in the SEC. Ole Miss’ win total has increased every year under Freeze, giving the Rebels only their second 10-win season since 1971. Kennedy isn’t competing for championships, but he’s turned the moribund Ole Miss basketball program into a consistent postseason contender, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons. He’s the school’s all-time wins leader by a wide margin.
20. San Diego State
Football: Rocky Long
Basketball: Steve Fisher
Fisher keeps getting it done at San Diego State. The Aztecs have made the NCAA Tournament six times in a row and reached the Sweet 16 twice in that span. He has twice as many NCAA Tournament wins (six) as all of his predecessors had trips to the Tournament combined (three). Long picked up the torch from Brady Hoke in 2011 has done even better than his predecessor, leading the Aztecs to 11 wins and a Mountain West title last year. In his last 10 years as a coach at New Mexico and SDSU, Long has missed a bowl game just twice.
Football: Gus Malzahn
Basketball: Bruce Pearl
A year ago, we could have ranked this as the top duo in the SEC. Now, we’re wondering where Malzahn and Pearl really stand. After a trip to the 2013 national title game, Auburn has gone just 6-10 in the SEC since then including a five-game losing streak at one point. Coaching turnover presents another challenge to Malzahn only two years after he was on top of the profession. Pearl’s program seemed to show momentum in the SEC Tournament last year, but they’re headed to another losing season. Pearl, though, can recruit and will have more talent next year than in either of his first two seasons.
Football: Bronco Mendenhall
Basketball: Tony Bennett
Bennett has remade Virginia basketball with his pack-line defense. Of the Cavaliers’ three 30-win seasons in school history, two are under his watch in the last two seasons, and the Cavs could make it three 30-win seasons in a row this year. They’ve won back-to-back ACC regular-season titles and an ACC tournament for Virginia’s best run since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Mendenhall was an outside-of-the-box hire for a moribund football program. He has plenty of questions about recruiting in the East, but he averaged nine wins per season at BYU.
23. Virginia Tech
Football: Justin Fuente
Basketball: Buzz Williams
There’s a ton to love about the combo of Fuente and Williams. The reason they’re ranked lower than one might expect is because both have done their best work at other places. Obviously, Fuente hasn’t even coached spring practice in Blacksburg, but he’s making all the right moves (i.e., retaining Bud Foster). He was a miracle worker at Memphis. Williams has already topped his first-year win total with the basketball program, and a trip to the NIT would be a major step forward. Still, he’s a long way from turning Virginia Tech into the consistent overachiever Marquette was.
Football: Jim Mora
Basketball: Steve Alford
Mora has lifted UCLA out of a funk, winning 37 games in his first four seasons. No other Bruins coach has won more than 29 in his first four years. At 23-13 in the Pac-12 (and never better than 6-3), however, the Bruins haven’t become the conference elite. Alford hasn’t proven he’s an upgrade over predecessor Ben Howland, but back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances (buoyed by three wins over double-digit seeds and a controversial finish against No. 6 SMU) still count for something.
Football: Tom Herman
Basketball: Kelvin Sampson
Herman is the hot new thing in college coaching after a 13–1 season, a championship in the competitive American Athletic Conference and a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl in just his first season. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national title team. Sampson, who has reached the NCAA Tournament 14 times as the head coach at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, has had modest success in his return to college basketball. After going 4-14 in the American in Sampson’s first season, Houston topped 20 wins for the second time since 2009.
Football: Dabo Swinney
Basketball: Brad Brownell
Wait, how can Dabo Swinney — a coach who led Clemson to the national title game and 56 wins in five years — be ranked this low? Swinney would be near the top of football coach rankings, but this is a tandem. The basketball program is never going to get the same love as the football program, but aside from a couple of nice weeks and upsets here and there, Brownell’s program hasn’t done much to draw attention. The Tigers have reached the NCAA Tournament just once in his six-year tenure – as a No. 12 seed in Dayton in his first year.
27. Penn State
Football: James Franklin
Basketball: Pat Chambers
Recruiting has raised the pressure on both coaches. Granted, recruiting to both Penn State football and Penn State basketball is a challenge for wildly different reasons. After going 7–6 in each of his first two seasons, Franklin will essentially re-boot with two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his third season. Chambers averaged just four Big Ten wins during his first four seasons, but he has a top-20 class signed for 2016-17.
28. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen
Basketball: Bob Huggins
Holgorsen hasn’t matched the 10–3 season and an Orange Bowl win in 2011, WVU’s last year in the Big East. Life in the Big 12 has been tougher (20-23 in four years). In the last two seasons, Huggins has shown again why he’s a 700-win coach, reinventing his program into “Press Virginia.” West Virginia has reached the Sweet 16 or better three times under Huggins, including the 2010 Final Four. No other West Virginia coach has been in the final 16 more than twice.
Football: Pat Narduzzi
Basketball: Jamie Dixon
This tandem for Pittsburgh just seems so … right. Narduzzi and Dixon are two defensive-minded coaches whose teams tend to grind their way through a season. Narduzzi led Pitt to eight wins for the first time since 2010, and he should have enough returning to make a run at the ACC Coastal. After Pitt basketball was the most overachieving team in the Big East (nine NCAA appearances in 10 years), Dixon’s program is hovering around .500 in ACC play the last three years. That’s a bit of concern.
30 (tie). Temple
Football: Matt Rhule
Basketball: Fran Dunphy
Rhule has led a four-win improvement in each of his first three seasons at Temple from 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4. He’s been a part of the entire Temple renaissance from 2006-11 as an assistant and the last three years as head coach. Dunphy, who reached the NCAA Tournament for six consecutive seasons, is aiming to return for the first time after a two-year absence.
30 (tie). Cincinnati
Football: Tommy Tuberville
Basketball: Mick Cronin
Both Cincinnati programs are solid, if unspectacular. Tuberville has reached a bowl game every year with the Bearcats, though last year’s 7-6 season was the worst of his three-year tenure. Cronin’s teams have an identity of a grinding defensive squad, and that’s been enough for five consecutive NCAA appearances.