Preview 2016

16 For '16: College Football Coaches Who Could Be President


In this wild and crazy presidential campaign, is there room for a new candidate? Which college football coaches might make the best candidates?


It’s been a year of political outsiders in the race for the White House in 2016, an unlikely cast competing to succeed Barack Obama next January. Traveling the alternate route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could become a trend in the future.

Or, maybe this cycle has been so downright bizarre that it winds up being a mere footnote in history.

In either case, college football is littered with individuals possessing many of the prerequisites for political service—they’re all leaders, faced with making tough decisions under pressure and guiding the careers of young student-athletes.

If this coaching thing gets old or stops working out, the following head guys are best-suited to tap into their inner-Tom Osborne, moving from the sidelines to a prominent position in politics.

16. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

True, he’s college football’s version of a career politician. But Ferentz has shown a tremendous resiliency throughout his time in Iowa City, navigating the ups and downs that would also greet him in D.C. Few coaches have consistently done more with less, so he might be able to shrink a budget. Plus, Ferentz knows a thing or two about the all-important Iowa caucuses, and has the telegenic mug that looks to be right out of central casting.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Sure, Snyder would easily eclipse Ronald Reagan as the oldest president at the time of his inauguration. However, Snyder is still going strong, and his years of experience as a leader would serve as a valuable lesson in statesmanship to the multiple generations behind him. If the wise wizard of Manhattan can put KSU on the football map, he might be able to get both sides of the aisle working together. Maybe.

14. Tom Herman, Houston

Looking for a fresh face on the political scene? Herman could be that guy. He’s only 40 years old, with the energy and the innovations to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society. Think Julian Castro or Marco Rubio before the latter was taken down a rung during the current primary season. Everything Herman has touched lately has turned to gold, a quality that the nation’s governing bodies sorely need these days.

13. James Franklin, Penn State

If you want to make it in politics, you better be able to sell. Franklin, to his credit, is one of the most persuasive individuals in college football. Few coaches would be better on the stump, captivating crowds, kissing babies and taking pictures with would-be voters. Franklin would also thrive with the donor class of his party, barnstorming the country to raise the enormous sums of money needed to fund a national campaign.

12. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Swinney is one of the most likable coaches in the game, so his favorables would be consistently higher than his competitors. He’s the kind of candidate who’d have a loyal group of backers that would stick with him during the low-points of a campaign. Swinney’s energy and positivity would attract younger voters, and his knack for surrounding himself with gifted assistants bodes well for when it was time to assemble a cabinet.

11. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Consistency of message and results matter. And very few coaches in college football can approach the steadiness that Stoops has brought to Norman since the beginning of the century. To succeed on the same campus for almost a generation, a leader needs to be flexible and open to changes. And Stoops showcased his flexibility in 2015, when he reverted back to an Air Raid attack that helped bring a national championship to Oklahoma in 2000.

10. Gary Patterson, TCU

He’s a man who gets things done. Adapt and change to different needs, styles and times? No problem. Succeed against nearly-impossible odds and finding a way to win no matter what? Not a problem. Handles a crisis with a firm hand and continue to produce? That’s Patterson. He might not have been able to lobby his way into the College Football Playoff a few years ago, but he’ll fight the good fight.

9. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Donald Trump’s improbable and unorthodox campaign has highlighted the importance of earned media, publicity netted without having to write a check. And no one in college football right now is better at maximizing earned media than Harbaugh. He’s become a master media manipulator, making headlines for just about every move he makes, on and especially off the field. But he also has the results to back up the showmanship, initiating turnarounds everywhere he’s been. No one will go to greater lengths to get your vote than Harbaugh will.

8. David Cutcliffe, Duke

In stark contrast to today’s bombastic political tenor around the Beltway, Cutcliffe has a gentlemanly way about him. He’ll teach and uplift, without having to beat his audience atop the head with the message. And in this regard, Cut’s approach has an FDR or Truman-esque flair to it. Cutcliffe possesses a refreshing ability to bring disparate sides to the table, affording him the crossover appeal to win elections and govern.

7. Mark Richt, Miami

Richt is the kind of person you want your kid to be coached by. And potentially, your government run by. He embodies stability, with the right temperament and composure to lead during difficult times. Richt was always a good listener at Georgia, running his program by eliciting input from his kids and his most trusted advisors. And his homespun mantra of family and faith trumping football is a message that would be well received throughout a wide swath of the voting populace.

6. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Meyer owns a blueprint for success, which would be transferable to just about any field outside of sports. He’s a proven leader, with the ability to get the most from the people around him. Additionally, he has a track record for recognizing talent, securing it and then making certain that those individuals reach their ceilings. Oh, and don’t discount the fact that Meyer has already made footprints in two critical battleground states, Ohio and Florida.

5. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

There’s a certain saltiness to Dantonio that can be an acquired taste. But he’d be very appealing to voters more interested in the bottom line than a popularity contest. Dantonio is a no-nonsense, roll-up-the-sleeves leader who’ll always give his constituency an honest day’s work. His results are indisputable, forged from an ability to consistently elevate the players and staffers surrounding him. And if a strong defense is one of your priorities, few coaches do a better job, year-in and year-out, of rebuilding a D.

4. Nick Saban, Alabama

The process, Saban would be quick to point out, isn’t exclusive to the gridiron. It’s a way of preparing to be the best, and it’s arena neutral. Okay, so Saban would want no part of the media scrutiny or the need to compromise to get things done. But the end results are beyond reproach. He’d be a classic policy guy, advancing important initiatives even if his popularity and approval ratings rarely move above 50%. Since Saban can be somewhat dictatorial, he’d benefit by surrounding himself with a press secretary and a cabinet that can help soften his image.

3. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Who better than Niumatalolo, who’s been mentoring the next generation of Navy Midshipmen for almost two decades, to be the Commander-in-Chief? He’s a highly respected leader who balances discipline and accountability with a genuine affection for his players. Niumatalolo is fluent in Spanish, which would allow him to better connect with an important voting block. And his approach to life centers on service, making him ideally suited for public office.

2. David Shaw, Stanford

By so many measures, Shaw would be the complete package in a budding politician with no political experience. Young enough to connect with millennials, yet with the experience and winning formula to be an effective leader. Shaw is unflappable under pressure, an eloquent speaker and a deep thinker. In other words, exactly the kind of statesman an American would be proud to set forth on the foreign stage. Comparisons to New Jersey senator Cory Booker are understandable, since both played for the Stanford football team.

1. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

As coaches go, Kelly is the ultimate CEO. He’s polished, runs a tight ship and is a terrific public speaker. Kelly is processed-oriented, leaving nothing to chance or guesswork. Even better, he has a history in politics, so this career change wouldn’t be as much of a reach as it would be for others. Kelly has a political science degree from Assumption College, campaigned for his dad, an alderman in Chelsea, Mass., and helped run Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign in Massachusetts.