Which five coaches deserve a national championship – or at least to coach in one?
Five. That’s it.
With Larry Coker having been ousted from UTSA and Steve Spurrier quitting on South Carolina, now there are only five current head coaches with an FBS national title.
That means there 123 current college football head coaches without one. Out of that group, who are the top five that most deserve the honor and the glory of winning a title?
Oh sure, there’s a Craig Bohl here and a Lance Leipold there who might’ve won something snazzy at a lower level, but that’s not winning a BCS or College Football Playoff national championship.
And it’s not losing a Super Bowl, either.
To know how coaches tick is to understand that in the heart of their upwardly-mobile, respect-yearning hearts, every coach, especially the NFL failures – Saban, Petrino, Mora – would flunk a lie detector if they denied dreaming of having the top-line-resume, obituary-first-sentence, prestige of coaching on the biggest of big stages like Lovie Smith and Jim Harbaugh did.
But winning a college football national championship is obviously a really big deal, too, and among the current head coaches, only Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have done it.
Making this elite fraternity even more impressive, Gene Chizik in 2010 is the only current head coach outside of Jimbo, Les, Urban and Nick to win one since Mack Brown did it in 2005 with Texas.
By comparison, during that same span, 10 different head coaches won Super Bowls.
And to keep pushing this even further, at the immediate moment, only six current college football head coaches – Stoops, Miles, Dabo Swinney, Mark Helfrich, Gus Malzahn and Brian Kelly – have lost a BCS or CFP national championship game.
That means that just nine current head coaches have led their teams out of the tunnel on the final game of the season.
So, again, who deserves a championship the most out of all those who don’t have one?
Swinney, Helfrich, Malzahn and Kelly are out – they each had their chance.
And so did Bill Snyder, who blew it in 1998 when his team couldn’t close out Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game and made the world watch Marcus Outzen try to quarterback Florida State against Tennessee for the national championship.
Kirk Ferentz comes close, there’s no argument against Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, and Stanford’s David Shaw and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo also belong, but they’re just outside of the top five.
To get on the list, the coach has to have 1) been way awesome for a long time, 2) been hosed by the system in some way and 3) more than earned his stripes.
5. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Granted, he had his chance last year and got flattened by the Alabama juggernaut, but he also had the bad luck of two one-loss regular seasons and two Big Ten championships during the BCS era. Ohio State was actually the best team in the Big Ten in 2010, and the Spartans would’ve been in a College Football Playoff in 2013.
4. Gary Patterson, TCU
Going into his 16th season as TCU’s head coach, his 11-1 Mountain West champion team of 2005 wouldn’t have gotten into a playoff, though his 2009 squad that went 12-0 in the regular season would’ve been in the discussion.
The Andy Dalton-led, Rose Bowl-winning 2010 team that went 13-0 and finished No. 2 would’ve almost certainly been in a CFP – Auburn and Oregon beat TCU out for the BCS championship spot – and the 2014 squad that finished No. 3 got the ultimate tease from the CFP committee, getting bounced out of the top four on the final weekend.
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
In the can’t-let-it-go category, Oklahoma State should’ve played LSU for the 2011 national title instead of an Alabama team that couldn’t win its own division. No, you don’t lose to Iowa State – even though that was a good Cyclone team in a weird Friday night game in Ames – but the Cowboys would’ve been in the BCS Championship if there was a Big 12 title game. Instead they went 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win, finishing third in the nation after the Crimson Tide shut down the Tigers.
Gundy has four seasons with double-digit victories in the last six years, and now he should have one of his most explosive teams yet. There’s a chance he gets his CFP shot this year.
2. Mark Richt, Miami
His 145 wins at Georgia made him one of the winningest coaches in college football since 2001. His 2002 SEC championship team missed out on playing for the national title because Ohio State and Miami each went unbeaten. The Bulldogs finished No. 3 and would’ve been the three-seed in a playoff.
The 2007 Dawgs would’ve had an interesting argument, too. It was a screwy year for the BCS, and while Georgia lost to Tennessee and didn’t even play for the SEC title, it finished 11-2 and No. 2 in the final rankings. With the way his team lost in the final seconds of the 2012 SEC Championship to Alabama, there would’ve been a debate over whether or not to get into a CFP that year, too – if there was one.
1. Chris Petersen, Washington
The last two six-loss seasons at Washington can be chalked up to a rebuilding job, but he needs to show his chops this year and get into the Pac-12 championship mix. Even if he doesn’t, he still deserves at least a shot at a College Football Playoff championship for his years and years of greatness at Boise State.
Even though some of his best Bronco squads finished with a loss, the 2008 team got through the regular season unbeaten, as did his 2006 and 2009 Fiesta Bowl winners. Coming from a Group of 5 slot – by modern day terminology – it would’ve been tough to get into a CFP, but he had six teams in a seven-year span that would’ve been really, really close.
2009 Boise State was Petersen’s best squad, but it wouldn’t have had a chance with five unbeaten teams that season, along with a 12-1 Florida powerhouse that was the second-best team in the country behind Alabama.
The 2006 team would’ve have the biggest complaint. Ohio State was the only other unbeaten team, but the Broncos finished eighth in the BCS standings. A CFP committee might have been a bit more sympathetic.