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Ranking the Top 10 College Football Coaches as Players

Kliff Kingsbury

Kliff Kingsbury

The following is a list of the best college players among the current crop of FBS college football coaches. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier tops the list, but Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury had prolific careers in their playing days. This ranking does not take into account coaching records — only how these coaches performed during their playing careers.

Ranking the Top 10 College Football Coaches as Players

1. Steve Spurrier, QB, Florida (1963-65) — now at South Carolina
A native of Johnson City, Tenn., Spurrier was a two-time All-American and the winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1966. As a senior, he threw for 2,012 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 61.5 percent of his passes. In 2006, the Gainesville Sun ranked Spurrier No. 2 on its list of the top 100 Gators from the first century of Florida football.  

2. Pat Fitzgerald, LB, Northwestern (1993-96) — now at Northwestern
Fitzgerald was key part in one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football. He was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time consensus All-American at linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s. Northwestern went a combined 6–15 in Fitz’s first two seasons but broke through with a 10–2 record in ’95, highlighted by a Big Ten title and appearance in the Rose Bowl.

3. Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech (1999-2002) — now at Texas Tech
Kingsbury was the first in a long line of successful quarterbacks at Texas Tech during the Mike Leach era. As a senior, he completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 5,017 yards with 45 TDs and 13 INTs — numbers that earned him National Offensive Player of the Year honors from the AP. Kingsbury ended his career in Lubbock with 12,423 passing yards and 95 touchdowns.

4. Mike Gundy, QB, Oklahoma State (1986-89) — now at Oklahoma State
Gundy broke into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season and went on to throw for 7,997 yards and 54 touchdowns for the Cowboys. Gundy, who had the luxury of playing in the same backfield with Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, led the Pokes to two 10-win seasons.

5. Kyle Whittingham, RB/LB, BYU (1978-81) — now at Utah
Now the boss at Utah, Whittingham starred for the rival BYU Cougars in the late 1970s and early ’80s. He was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 1981 and capped off his career by earning Defensive MVP honors of the 1981 Holiday Bowl.

6. Bob Stoops, DB, Iowa (1979-82) — now at Oklahoma
Stoops was a four-year starter at defensive back for Hayden Fry at Iowa and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior. The Hawkeyes won a share of the Big Ten title in Stoops’ junior season and made the school’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1959.

7. P.J. Fleck, WR, Northern Illinois (1999-03) — now at Western Michigan
Fleck’s coaching career is off to a rocky start, but he was a big-time playmaker during his time at Northern Illinois. As a senior in 2003, he caught 77 passes for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns for the 10–2 Huskies.

8. Kevin Sumlin, LB, Purdue (1983-86) — now at Texas A&M
Sumlin has a well-deserved reputation as one of the top offensive coaches in the nation, but he was linebacker during his days at Purdue. He was a four-year starter for the Boilers and ended his career with 375 tackles.

9. Willie Taggart, QB, Western Kentucky (1995-98) — now at South Florida
Taggart played for Jack Harbaugh (father of Jim and John) during his time at Western Kentucky. He was a four-year starter and a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in the Division I-AA ranks.

10. Gary Pinkel, TE, Kent State (1970-73) — now at Missouri
Pinkel was a two-time All-MAC tight end at Kent State, where he teamed with Nick Saban and Jack Lambert to play for legendary coach Don James.