Sun Belt

Preview 2016: Ranking All 128 College Football Head Coaches


Ranking all 128 college football head coaches going into the 2016 season. How do you do it?


How do you possibly rank all the college football head coaches?

By accomplishments? By potential? By what you want in a coach for the next five years, or what you want for your head coach right now?

By height?

Do you rank coaches in a NASCAR sort of way – if everyone had the same equipment, who’d win?

Do you rank them based on a draft of all 128 head men and who you’d want for right now? Do you rank on accomplishments, X’s and O’s, game management, recruiting?

Seriously, how do you possibly figure out which coach is actually better than another, especially considering some of the unproven new guys have a ton of talent compared to some of the established old-timers?

Well, how about a mix of all of the above.

There’s no set metric for this. There’s no hard formula. If you think some coach is about 75 spots too high, okay. If you have a big beef that your guy is way low and you’re really in a twist about it, fine.

In the end, when all else fails, resume wins out. You pretty much know who the top guys are, and I can guess on which new guys are going to be great right out of the box, so here we go.

Welcome to the absolute, unquestioned, definitive ranking of all 128 college football head coaches going into the 2016 season – measured any way you’d like.

The date is the year the head coach was hired by the school.

128. Frank Wilson, UTSA Roadrunners, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

He’ll be an interesting coach to watch over the next few years. A sensational recruiter at LSU but with no college head coaching experience, he takes over for Larry Coker to try making the Roadrunners go.

127. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan Eagles, 2014

Career Record: 142-67, School Record: 3rd year, 3-21

To be fair, the combination of Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick, and Kurt Russell playing Herb Brooks would struggle to win more than three games over the last two seasons at EMU. But there’s hope with a veteran team returning.

126. Mark Whipple UMass Minutemen 2014

Career Record: 127-77, School Record: 55-44

He won a national title in his first season with the program in 1998. After taking 11 years off and two 3-9 seasons later, the sequel is working about as well as Now You See Me: The Second Act.

125. Brad Lambert, Charlotte 49ers, 2013

Career Record: 12-22, School Record: 12-22

A good long-time assistant, he’s got a rough situation trying to make Charlotte something more than a speed bump in the FBS world. It’ll take another few years of being run over before he can really show what he can do.

124. Doug Martin, New Mexico State Aggies, 2013

Career Record: 36-82, School Record: 7-29

In 10 years of coaching he has one 6-6 season and nine losers, but he’s had to do the impossible and try to succeed at Kent State and now NMSU. His offense should score around 35 points per game this year, but his defense will give up 45.

123. Chuck Martin, Miami RedHawks, 2014

Career Record: 79-26, School Record: 5-19

Why is it called Miami of ‘hio? There’s no O. Sorry. Dominant as the Grand Valley State head coach – going 74-7 with two D-II national titles – Martin hasn’t been able to get anything going in his first two years in Oxford.

122. Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic Owls, 2014

Career Record: 6-18, School Record: 6-18

A tough offensive line coach who worked under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas, it hasn’t translated to success. FAU seems like it should be able to break out, but two 3-9 seasons into the Partridge era haven’t been anything stellar.

121. Mike Neu, Ball State Cardinals, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

If you’ve been Drew Brees’ quarterback coach over the last few years, you must be doing something right. At the very least, the former Ball State quarterback should immediately make the offense more interesting.

120. Everett Withers, Texas State Bobcats, 2016

Career Record: 18-7, School Record: 0-0

He wasn’t all that bad when he stepped in at North Carolina for a year after Butch Davis, winning seven games. Solid at James Madison, he helped the Dukes reach the playoffs two years in a row. At 53 years of age, he’s got to make Texas State great fast to up his stock and get back into the Power 5 world.

119. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green Falcons, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

A superstar high school football coach, he translated that run to an assistant gig at Texas Tech. Bowling Green wants to keep the offensive fun going and got a guy who can do it. Still, replacing Dino Babers is going to be really, really hard.

118. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern Eagles, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

Since just about everyone of note returns to the nation’s best rushing attack, if it’s not phenomenal again, it’s probably the fault of the head coach who comes in with a defensive coordinator’s resume. No pressure.

117. Seth Littrell, North Texas Mean Green, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

He’s an interesting hire. He’s only 38, but he’s coached alongside the likes of Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Kevin Wilson and Larry Fedora. The Mean Green offense is about to crank it up.

116. Matt Viator, ULM Warhawks, 2016

Career Record: 78-33, School Record: 0-0-0

He knows the lay of the Louisiana land, moving a few hours up the road after coming up with a fantastic run at McNeese State with four conference titles and five runs to the FCS playoffs.

115. Nick Rolovich, Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

It’s not like his Nevada offenses crushed it over the past four seasons. But at least he’ll make Hawai’i a whole lot more fun.

114. Paul Petrino, Idaho Vandals, 2013

Career Record: 6-29, School Record: 6-29

Give him credit for the four-win 2015 season, which doubled the previous two years combined, but this is the last go-round before relegation. He’ll guide the best Idaho team in years before it goes off to the FCS.

113. Neal Brown, Troy Trojans, 2015

Career Record: 4-8, School Record: 4-8

There’s a chance he becomes a hot name in a big hurry. Known as a young offensive whiz, he got the passing game going last season for an attack that improved over the second half of the year. One great season turns the 36-year-old into a hot commodity.

112. Paul Haynes, Kent State Golden Flashes, 2013

Career Record: 9-26, School Record: 9-26

The former Arkansas and Ohio State defensive coach is doing an absolutely brilliant job with the Golden Flash defense, but there’s been absolutely no offense whatsoever in three straight bad losing seasons. If this doesn’t work, he’ll crush as a high-end defensive coordinator again.

111. David Beaty, Kansas Jayhawks, 2015

Career Record: 0-12, School Record: 0-12

Kevin Sumlin’s former offensive coordinator is trying to turn around an impossible situation. It’s going to take at least another year just to get into a position to put the program a year away from being a year away.

110. Darrell Hazell, Purdue Boilermakers, 2013

Career Record: 22-40, School Record: 6-30

He’s had three years to make something happen at Purdue, but he won’t get a fifth if this isn’t a special season. It’s time to pull out some of the magic he showed at Kent State with the 11-3 season in 2012.

109. Sean Kugler, UTEP Miners, 2013

Career Record: 14-23, School Record: 14-23

A star offensive line assistant coach, he hasn’t been able to turn around UTEP and make it enough of a factor. The winning season of two years ago was followed up by a 5-7 campaign. Year Four must show a big step forward.

108. Kalani Sitake, BYU Cougars, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

This might be the last year he’s anywhere near this low. The 40-year-old former Utah and Oregon State defensive coordinator should be a solid head man in time, but he’s about to be crushed under the weight of an unfair schedule.

107. Mike Norvell, Memphis Tigers, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

Just 34 going into the season, he’s a rising star of an offensive mind. Here’s the problem: He loses a ton of key parts – including quarterback Paxton Lynch – and he has the pressure of trying make Memphis so good that the Big 12 might have an interest in more than just the FedEx sugar daddy.

106. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado Buffaloes, 2013

Career Record: 26-48, School Record: 10-27

To be fair, Colorado won just four games over the two years before MacIntyre took over, but the program is still No. 12 in a 12-team conference – even with last year’s win over Oregon State. It’s been three years and he has yet to come up with more than four victories in a season.

105. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion Monarchs, 2009

Career Record: 57-27, School Record: 57-27

He helped turn Old Dominion into an FCS power with two playoff appearances and a No. 3 ranking in 2012. The program wasn’t supposed to do anything in its first two years in Conference USA, but it’s been more than respectable.

104. Joey Jones, South Alabama Jaguars, 2009

Career Record: 45-42, School Record: 42-35

The guy literally created the USA football program by making the Jaguars relevant in the Sun Belt with a bowl appearance two years ago and a win away from another last year. He’s one of those guys who’s doing the most with the least.

103. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina Pirates, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

A key part in making the Duke offense go over the last few seasons, he’ll get a chance to cut his teeth with an East Carolina attack that threw well, but couldn’t score. Just 38, he’s being thrown to the head coaching wolves.

102. Mark Stoops, Kentucky Wildcats, 2013

Career Record: 12-24, School Record: 12-24

The younger brother in the Stoops coaching world has recruited well and has done some nice things in his three years. However, for all the positives, two straight collapses mean it might be bowl-or-bust this season.

101. John Bonamego, Central Michigan Chippewas, 2015

Career Record: 7-6, School Record: 7-6

One of the great stories of last year, Bonamego got through a fight with tonsil cancer to help take CMU to a piece of the MAC West title. The fiery leader has a terrific team returning with a high-powered offense. He’s a pro coach who should grow in to a MAC star.

100. Chad Morris, SMU Mustangs, 2015

Career Record: 2-10, School Record: 2-10

Everyone got all excited on social media after a good first quarter against Baylor, but that was about it for the fun. The former Clemson offensive coordinator got the offense moving, but his defense was a total disaster. It’s going to take a while to turn SMU around.

99. Ron Caragher, San José State Spartans, 2013

Career Record: 59-44, School Record: 15-22

Don’t blow off just how tough it is to win at a consistent basis at San Jose State. With two six-win seasons in three years, that’s a positive for a terrific offensive coach. Just 49, if this doesn’t work, he’ll be a top-shelf offensive coordinator for someone.

98. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, 2016

Career Record: 32-17, School Record: 0-0

You’ve never heard of him, and he’s in his first season after coming over from the SWAC world at Alcorn State, but the guy’s probably going to win the Conference USA championship in his first season and become a big name. He’s good, but it helps to have the team Southern Miss has returning.

97. Jeff Monken, Army Black Knights, 2014

Career Record: 44-34, School Record: 6-18

It should be working a whole lot better. A superstar in the FCS ranks with Georgia Southern, his rushing style has been great at Army, but the wins aren’t coming. It’s Army, so remember just how hard it is to find players who can play at an FBS level. If he can get close to six wins, he’ll be doing a brilliant job.

96. Bob Davie, New Mexico Lobos, 2012

Career Record: 53-57, School Record: 18-32

While he restored the respectability of a New Mexico program that was in a free fall, it took four years and 7-6 isn’t necessarily a breakthrough of epic proportions. Counting his stint at Notre Dame, five of his last seven coaching years have been losing seasons. With that said, it took a while to get New Mexico back and living – 2015 might be just the beginning.

95. Trent Miles, Georgia State Panthers, 2013

Career Record: 27-66, School Record: 7-30

It’s not exactly Bill Snyder making Kansas State into a national entity, but Miles has come up with two of the most under-appreciated building jobs in college football. Indiana State was miserable – he went 2-22 in his first two years – and came up with three straight winning seasons. Georgia State went 1-23 in his first two seasons, and went bowling last year.

94. Ron Turner, Florida International Panthers, 2013

Career Record: 52-87, School Record: 10-26

There are worse things than to be 62 and the head coach of a school in Miami. Since his Rose Bowl year with Illinois in 2001, Turner has had six straight losing seasons as a head coach. However, FIU has improved in each of his first three years.

93. Jason Candle Toledo Rockets 2016

Career Record: 1-0, School Record: 1-0

Can he just step in and keep the production cranking? The Toledo offensive coordinator since 2012 is keeping most of the same parts around, and now it’s audition time. Tim Beckman turned the gig into Illinois, and then Matt Campbell succeeded and was off to Iowa State.

92. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 2014

Career Record: 96-97, School Record: 6-18

A star at Richmond, Fordham and Bowling Green, he’s trying to pull a Jim Grobe and come up with a fortunate break or two and make Wake Forest great. Don’t get lost in the two 3-9 seasons – he’s got a veteran team built up that should shine this year. At least that’s the hope.

91. Lance Leipold, Buffalo Bulls, 2015

Career Record: 114-13, School Record: 5-7

This is probably way, way, way, way, way too low. You don’t go 109-6 at any level without being able to coach, and that’s what Leipold did at Wisconsin-Whitewater with six D-III national titles and one runner-up campaign. He might have lost his last three games last year with bowl eligibility on the line, but 5-7 in his first season at UB was a positive.

90. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, 2006

Career Record: 64-61, School Record: 64-61

Very quietly, Stockstill’s Blue Raiders have bounced back with four good years after a disastrous 2-10 2011. Now he’s got the team coming back that could take the Conference USA title.

89. Brian Polian, Nevada Wolf Pack, 2013

Career Record: 18-20, School Record: 18-20

Meh. Two straight 7-6 seasons after a 4-8 start aren’t moving the needle. His Wolf Pack teams haven’t been bad, but the expectations are higher now in Reno. It’s not helping in the state that UNLV is starting to improve.

88. Matt Wells, Utah State Aggies, 2013

Career Record: 25-16, School Record: 25-16

There are real, live expectations now at a Utah State program that was among the dregs of college football for so, so long. After a hot start with 19 wins and two bowl victories in his first two years, the 6-7 2015 was a blip. He knows the Aggie offense having been around it since 2011 – the needle has to point back up after this season.

87. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State Bulldogs, 2012

Career Record: 29-23, School Record: 28-23

Let’s just call that an aberration. After two Mountain West titles and a third division championship, he looked like the big new guy on the coaching circuit. One 3-9 clunker later, and 2016 suddenly appears like a make-or-break campaign.

86. Terry Bowden, Akron Zips, 2012

Career Record: 159-92-2, School Record: 19-30

Say what you will about his long and interesting career, but whether it was his time at Auburn, his 29 wins in three seasons at North Alabama, or taking Akron to eight wins and a bowl victory with a stifling defense, the guy can coach.

85. Frank Solich, Ohio Bobcats, 2005

Career Record: 138-80, School Record: 80-61

It’s been a long, great career of coming up with very good teams, but without doing anything at a high level since losing the national title to Miami in the 2002 Rose Bowl. He’s won three MAC East titles, but he hasn’t taken a MAC championship in 11 years. It’s not going to happen now, either.

84. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, 2011

Career Record: 106-45, School Record: 40-24

On the fast track to being the latest great Sun Belt coach to get a big gig, he was derailed by a stunning 4-8 clunker last year after four straight 9-4 seasons. No, wins can’t be vacated – his 2011 team actually did win nine games. He’s still a rising star.

83. Chris Ash, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

He quickly rose up the ranks working as key assistant for Iowa State, Wisconsin and Arkansas before serving as one of Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinators for two years for Ohio State. If Rutgers wasn’t going to go back to Greg Schiano – or go get a veteran – Ash is the right young inexperienced head man to try out.

82. Dave Doeren, NC State Wolfpack, 2013

Career Record: 41-24, School Record: 18-20

A superstar prospect a few years ago after rocking as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and going 23-4 with two MAC titles at Northern Illinois, it hasn’t worked at NC State. He’s gone to two bowl games after starting out 3-9, but it’s his fourth year, and the program has to start looking like it can do something interesting.

81. Jim Grobe, Baylor Bears, 2016

Career Record: 110-115-1, School Record: 0-0

Don’t just blow this off as stopgap following disaster. Winning an ACC championship at Wake Forest – and following up the 2006 season with a 17 wins over the final two years – was as impressive a feat as just about any coach has accomplished over the last 15 years. Don’t be stunned if he comes up with 10 wins at Baylor.

80. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 2013

Career Record: 110-88, School Record: 22-17

While he might have been a stunning failure at South Florida, he was terrific at UConn, outstanding at East Carolina, and he’s come up with two straight nine-win seasons at Louisiana Tech. But considering all the talent on last year’s team, was that the high-water mark with the program? He’s proven, but he’s no longer considered the sure-thing Power 5 coach he used to be.

79. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois Huskies, 2013

Career Record: 31-12, School Record: 31-12

Three years as the head coach, three MAC West titles and one conference championship – there are no complaints. Yeah, NIU went 8-6, but its quarterbacks kept going down and the offense didn’t work like it should’ve and could’ve. While Carey’s not seen as a rising superstar, he’s doing a terrific job.

78. David Bailiff, Rice Owls, 2007

Career Record: 74-75, School Record: 53-60

Rice is a tough gig. It’s almost impossible to maintain consistent success at such a small, smart school, but he’s done a terrific job in his nine years with a Conference USA title and a second division championship. He’s a coach’s coach.

77. Tommy Tuberville , Cincinnati Bearcats, 2013

Career Record: 155-91, School Record: 25-14

He’s carved out a nice long career. Last season’s 7-6 campaign was a dud compared to the rest of the top American Athletic teams, and now he has the Big 12 spotlight on – if the Bearcats rock, they’ll look that much more attractive.

76. Craig Bohl, Wyoming Cowboys, 2014

Career Record: 110-50, School Record: 6-18

You don’t go from winning three straight FCS national titles with a 43-2 record over that span to not having a clue just because you took over the Wyoming gig. Bohl had to start over the program in Laramie, and while his teams haven’t been all that great, the rushing attack has been stellar. The guy can still coach.

75. D. J. Durkin, Maryland Terrapins, 2016

Career Record: 1-0, School Record: 0-0

The high-riser defensive coordinator did the smart thing in his first head coaching gig – he hired a bunch of former head coaches as assistants to help the cause. With the talent returning, along with a not-bad schedule, he’s going to be a big deal right away.

74. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh Panthers, 2015

Career Record: 8-5, School Record: 8-5

It’s going to take a while to make Pitt the new Michigan State. A longtime defensive coordinator, he’s still learning the ropes of being a head man, but he’s going to turn Pitt into a bigger ACC factor soon.

73. Tony Sanchez, UNLV Rebels, 2015

Career Record: 3-9, School Record: 3-9

The Las Vegas high school legend – he went 85-5 in six years at Bishop Gorman – is about to become the it coach. UNLV is starting to look like a program that’ll finally challenge in the Mountain West. He’s going to make the offense rock.

72. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia Cavaliers, 2016

Career Record: 99-43, School Record: 0-0

Mendenhall took one look at the 2016 BYU schedule and left a vapor trail on his way to Charlottesville. He did a great job in Provo, but now he’s a fish out of water after coaching almost his entire career on the left side of the country.

71. Mike Bobo, Colorado State Rams, 2015

Career Record: 7-6, School Record: 0-0

He did a better job in his first season than it might have appeared. Jim McElwain didn’t leave the cupboard bare, but there was work to be done. This is a key year to see just how good Bobo might be, but he should be able to make the Ram offense fly.

70. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt Commodores, 2014

Career Record: 7-17, School Record: 7-17

It’s Vanderbilt. I don’t care that he hasn’t won much of anything yet. When you can come up with a defense that’s that good and that dominant at times, eventually things will start turning around.

69. Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones, 2016

Career Record: 35-15, School Record: 0-0

Nothing against Iowa State or anything – okay, a little bit against Iowa State – but Tim Beckman parlayed Toledo success into Illinois. The Cyclones got a steal in Campbell.

68. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech Red Raiders, 2013

Career Record: 19-19, School Record: 19-19

His Red Raiders shocked Arkansas in a chest-thumping moment that seemed to turn around the program. It didn’t. Tech didn’t beat any other FBS team that finished with a winning record. It’s Year Four and he has his best team yet, and now it has to finally start beating the big boys in the Big 12.

67. Doc Holliday, Marshall Thundering Herd, 2010

Career Record: 50-28, School Record: 50-28

It took a while to get to this point with three mediocre seasons to start, he’s got the Thundering Herd rumbling. With three straight 10-win seasons, and being an almost mortal lock to make it four in a row, he has done exactly what everyone was hoping for.

66. Sonny Dykes, California Golden Bears, 2013

Career Record: 36-38, School Record: 14-23

Blow off his record and forget that his Cal teams have yet to be anything special. At Louisiana Tech, his teams improved each season. It’s the same thing with the Bears, going from one win, to five, to eight. Now he has to do it without Mr. Goff, though.

65. Steve Addazio, Boston College Eagles, 2013

Career Record: 30-32, School Record:17-21

It would’ve been interesting to have seen what he could’ve done with the Florida head coaching gig after serving as an assistant in the late 00s. His BC team might have only won three games last year, but his defense was phenomenal.

64. Willie Fritz, Tulane Green Wave, 2016

Career Record: 154-69, School Record: 0-0

How fast can he make it work? He put together terrific offenses at Sam Houston State with a few powerhouse seasons after creating a force at Central Missouri. In two years with Georgia Southern, his teams had some of the most amazing ground attacks in college football. Tulane was lucky to get him.

63. Mike Riley, Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2015

Career Record: 99-87, School Record: 6-7

Forget that he’s keeping the seat warm for Scott Frost; and that I’m an unapologetic Bo Pelini apologist; and that he had a historically miserable start; and that he was an uninspiring hire in the first place. His team could’ve easily quit on him last season, and didn’t. The final record doesn’t matter considering the way he had his Huskers playing in the Foster Farms Bowl win over UCLA.

62. Bob Diaco, Connecticut Huskies, 2014

Career Record: 8-17, School Record: 8-17

While his offense was a total disaster, his defense managed to beat Houston. Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Petrino couldn’t do that. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator is putting together a brick wall, but his Huskies could use a touchdown here and there.

61. Clay Helton, USC Trojans, 2015

Career Record: 6-4, School Record: 6-4

The problem with Clay Helton is that he’s not another guy. He might have been the safe choice after the Steve Sarkisian fiasco, but USC could’ve had just about anyone. All he has to do is win the Pac-12 title right now or new athletic director Mr. Swann might want to have a word. Have fun with that.

60. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia Mountaineers, 2011

Career Record: 36-28, School Record: 36-28

It hasn’t quite worked out exactly as planned. The Big 12 is the conference of high-octane offenses, and Holgorsen was supposed to be the hire who’d set the pace coming from Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. But after an amazing first season at the helm – rolling through the Big East and crushing Clemson in the Orange – his West Virginia teams have been just okay. He has yet to finish in the top three in the Big 12.

59. Jim Mora, UCLA Bruins, 2012

Career Record: 37-16, School Record: 37-16

Sort of like a Hollywood waitress who says she’s an actress but is really a waitress, seven years removed from the NFL, Mora is a college coach. He has two ten-win seasons in his four years, and he one Pac-12 South title, but UCLA should’ve done a whole lot more considering USC was taking a nap.

58. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 2015

Career Record: 6-7, School Record: 6-7

The former Baylor offensive coordinator came up with a fun first season for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa went from two wins, 412 yards and 24.7 points per game to six wins, 507 yards, and 37 points per game. He’s one nine-win season from being in the mix for the Baylor gig.

57. Kevin Wilson, Indiana Hoosiers, 2011

Career Record: 20-41, School Record: 20-41

He came in from Oklahoma, told everyone that Indiana’s talent-level stunk, got more of the guys he wanted, built up the offense over his first few seasons, and then, when the parts were healthy, turned it into a monster. He got Indiana to six wins and a bowl last season. Build a statue.

56. Dino Babers, Syracuse Orange, 2016

Career Record: 37-16, School Record: 0-0

The world is littered with coaches who had one phenomenal MAC season, parlayed it into a big gig, and then fizzled – paging Turner Gill, Darrell Hazell and Tim Beckman, your tables are ready. But that’s not going to be Babers. He’s going to make the Orange offense explode.

55. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota Golden Gophers, 2015

Career Record: 2-4, School Record: 2-4

There’s no question that Jerry Kill was a terrific head coach, but Claeys was always one of the key reasons for the success in sort of a man-behind-the-scenes sort of way. He’s had to fill in off-and-on for Kill over the years, and he’s more than ready to show what he could do now that the program is his. It would’ve been nice, though, if he could’ve shown off his coaching chops by closing the Michigan game.

54. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Badgers, 2015

Career Record: 29-22, School Record: 10-3

He wasn’t all that great at Pitt going 19-19 in three seasons, and he didn’t get the Badgers to the Big Ten title game despite a cream-puff of a slate. This year, the schedule is angry and it’s going to be tough to come within 25 miles of a 10-win season. Even though the Badgers should be better, get ready for a rough first half of the year and lots and lots of questions about whether or not he’s the right guy.

53. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech Hokies, 2016

Career Record: 26-23, School Record: 0-0

He went from being a relative unknown who did some big things with TCU’s offense a few years before it went berserk, to the must-have head coach who beat the Ole Miss team that beat Alabama. Now he has to replace a legend, and he just might be able to do it well.

52. Barry Odom, Missouri Tigers, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

Don’t sleep on this hire. It’s not like Missouri has to do all that much to be terrific again. Fine, so it has to score again at some point, but Odom is going to have the defense good enough to make a whole bunch of noise in the SEC East.

51. Gary Andersen, Oregon State Beavers, 2015

Career Record: 51-48, School Record: 2-10

Do you have any real clue just how much Utah State sucked before Andersen took over? Winning 19 games at Wisconsin with all the pressure on his shoulders was pretty impressive, too. You think improving Oregon State in a hurry is even close to being as hard? It’ll take a little bit, but he might just be one of the best coaches in the Pac-12.

50. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State Red Wolves, 2014

Career Record: 16-10, School Record: 16-10

No one gave Anderson the memo that great head coaches are only supposed to stay at Arkansas State for one year. If his team rips through the Sun Belt again, he’s destined for a much, much bigger gig. (Hint, hint: He played for a few years at Baylor.)

49. Larry Fedora, North Carolina Tar Heels, 2012

Career Record: 66-39, School Record: 32-20

Okay, fine – Fedora should be higher. In eight seasons as a head coach he has seven winning seasons, two ACC Coastal titles, and one Conference USA championship. If nothing else, he’s brought stability to the Tar Heel program while also coming really, really close to shocking Clemson in the ACC title game.

48. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M Aggies, 2012

Career Record: 71-33, School Record: 36-16

As much fun as the Sumlin era has been at Texas A&M, he still hasn’t won an SEC West title. He didn’t win a conference title at Houston, either. While he’s one big season away from being the hot/cool head coach again, it’s hard to do that when Trevor Knight is your starting quarterback.

47. Gus Malzahn, Auburn Tigers, 2013

Career Record: 36-16, School Record: 27-13

I went to Dunkin Donuts the other night in desperate need of doughnuts in any form. Dunkin Donuts ran out of doughnuts, even though that’s what it does. And don’t insult me by suggesting that it sells coffee, too. It’s supposed to – it’s a doughnut shop, and a doughnut shop without coffee is like a football team without a defense. If Gus Malzahn is your head coach, you’re not allowed to run out of offense. But I’ll go back because I know there will be doughnuts again soon. There will be offense again at Auburn.

46. Willie Taggart, South Florida Bulls, 2013

Career Record: 30-43, School Record: 14-23

Ohhhhhh, so if you give a good head coach a few years to rebuild a problem, 2015 is what it looks like. Taggart is the one who set the wheels in motion at WKU, and now, after two rough years, is making USF look like a part of the American Athletic title chase.

45. Will Muschamp, South Carolina Gamecocks, 2016

Career Record: 28-21, School Record: 0-0

Full disclosure – I’m a Muschamp apologist. It’ll be a rough first season since Steve Spurrier bolted because he suddenly realized that the team he created was awful, but if Muschamp’s teams can stay healthy – something that didn’t happen at Florida – he’ll succeed. His style can work at South Carolina.

44. Bill Snyder, Kansas State Wildcats, 2009 (in his second stint)

Career Record: 193-101-1, School Record: 193-101-1

He still rocks a turtleneck. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame. The stadium is named after him. Oh, and by the way, he has healthy quarterbacks this season after having to start his No. 3 guy last year, and his defense should be among the best in the Big 12. You don’t have any of those things. He’s going to be 77-years-old in October, and he might have his best team in years.

43. Todd Graham, Arizona State Sun Devils, 2012

Career Record: 83-48, School Record: 34-19

Even his bad year at ASU was entertaining. It might be a rough season with so much turnover on both sides of the ball, but he’s been able to succeed no matter where he’s been under worse circumstances. The South is there for the taking, and Graham is good enough to pull it off.

42. Scott Frost, UCF Knights, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

Can’t we just fast forward to the end of Season 2 when Ross and Rachel finally and inevitably smooch? If UCF shows any semblance of improvement – sort of not that hard after going 0-12 – Nebraska is going to be begging for the guy it should’ve hired last year. It’s not like the Husker fans like teams with high-powered running games.

41. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 2008

Career Record: 168-83, School Record: 61-44

The guy has won four division titles running the freaking option. Yeah, the Yellow Jackets went 3-9 last year and needed a miracle to get one of those wins against Florida State, but they could just as easily flip that around to 9-3 with the way Johnson’s teams roll.

40. James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions, 2014

Career Record: 38-27, School Record: 24-15

Somehow he did the impossible – relatively easy schedule and all – and came up with two straight nine-win seasons at Vanderbilt. If he can do that in the SEC East, he should be able to generate more than seven wins playing in the Big Ten North. This year, he will.

39. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona Wildcats, 2012

Career Record: 153-104-2, School Record: 33-20

He’s the Independence Day: Resurgence of coaches. There are going to be flaws, you know the ending, and you’re hardly expecting anything award-worthy. You know a lot of bad things will happen along the way to some sensational thrill-ride moments. And in the end, you’re going to be entertained by the spectacle.

38. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State Mountaineers, 2013

Career Record: 22-15, School Record: 22-15

Everyone said the same thing when Appalachian State made the move up to FBS – the program wasn’t like it was back when it was an FCS superpower. It took one year for Satterfield to make the Mountaineers interesting, and he got then to a bowl – and won it – in Year Three. This season, he has his best team yet.

37. Butch Jones, Tennessee Volunteers, 2013

Career Record: 71-44, School Record: 21-17

He’ll blow it.

36. Rocky Long, San Diego State Aztecs, 2011

Career Record: 108-92, School Record: 43-23

Considering he was the coach who supposedly went stale at New Mexico, he’s coming up with a whale of a second act winning two Mountain West titles in five seasons. He’s got his most experienced, strongest team ever with an easy enough schedule to legitimately come into the season dreaming of 13-0.

35. P. J. Fleck, Western Michigan Broncos, 2013

Career Record: 17-21, School Record: 8-5

Hopefully you got into the tech stock early, because the soon-to-be 36-year-old is going to be one of the hottest names in the coaching business after his 2016 Broncos blow the doors off the MAC. WMU will do what Bowling Green did last season.

34. Bryan Harsin, Boise State Broncos, 2014

Career Record: 28-11, School Record: 21-6

Bronco fans don’t want to hear it about their native son, but Harsin is one 7-5 season from Charlie Strong away from being the next Texas head coach. If Boise State doesn’t go 13-0 this season, it’ll come very, very close.

33. David Cutcliffe, Duke Blue Devils, 2008

Career Record: 92-82, School Record: 48-53

Without doing any real research or knowing anything about the ACC Coastal, who’s going to finish in last place? Georgia Tech? No. Miami, North Carolina, Pitt or Virginia Tech? Nope. Maybe Virginia, but Duke can’t be that far off – because it’s Duke. That’s been the mindset for the last four years, and Cutcliffe has taken the program to four straight bowl games. What he’s done is nothing short of miraculous.

32. Charlie Strong, Texas Longhorns, 2014

Career Record: 48-30, School Record: 11-14

Texas … had … to be … totally … rebuilt. Yeah, the Longhorns went 8-5 in Mack Brown’s last season, but that was a complete mirage. For Texas to be Texas again, Strong had to crank things up from the start. However, he’s bound by absolutely nothing at the program that has everything. Texas won’t win the Big 12 title, but after two years, anything less than eight wins means the start of a new era of Longhorn football.

31. Troy Calhoun, Air Force Falcons, 2007

Career Record: 67-50, School Record: 67-50

Air Force can’t recruit like other FBS schools do. Even so, Calhoun has had seven winning seasons in nine years, eight bowl appearances, and he’s coming off his first division title. His team is even better this year. The last Falcon taken in the NFL Draft was Bryce Fisher in 1999.

30. Mike Leach, Washington State Cougars, 2012

Career Record: 105-72, School Record: 21-29

No one’s questioning his genius – he’s one of the greatest and most innovative offensive college football ever. But in 15 years he has one-third of a division title with Texas Tech, and he only tied for second two other times. He finally has Wazzu on the verge of something special after a nine-win season, but for all the stats, and all the fun, and all the passing, if this isn’t the year in a rebuilding Pac-12 North that’s there for the taking, when will it happen?

29. Matt Rhule, Temple Owls, 2013

Career Record: 18-20, School Record: 18-20

Al Golden and Steve Addazio proved it’s possible to win at Temple, but they didn’t beat Penn State. Rhule cranked up the defense after two years, got 10 wins, played for the American Athletic championship, and he beat his alma mater from Happy Valley.

28. Jeff Brohm, WKU Hilltoppers, 2014

Career Record: 20-7, School Record: 20-7

The ballpark nachos of college football coaches – WKU is just renting him. With his amazing offenses and the success he’s had over his first two seasons, the former Louisville star is destined – cough, Baylor, cough – to move on to a big-time gig with one more good year, even if it’s just a rebuilding one.

27. Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

It doesn’t always work when the superstar defensive coordinator gets his hands on the keys to the kingdom – ask Florida how the Will Muschamp era went – but Smart is absolutely destroying the recruiting trail and seems to be the exact tweak the nice-nice Georgia program needed. It didn’t need to be blown up after the Mark Richt era, but it needed a kickstart.

26. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats, 2006

Career Record: 70-56, School Record: 70-56

Give the guy credit – he’s a true purple believer that he things Northwestern football can play among the big boys. After ten years and two ten-win seasons in his last four, he’s taken the program about as far as it can go. There won’t be a Big Ten title without a whole bunch of other weird things happening, and the team got exposed by Tennessee when it had to play another team with talent, but he’s been able to sustain about as much success as possible. The bloom is back on the rose.

25. Lovie Smith, Illinois Fighting Illini, 2016

Career Record: 0-0, School Record: 0-0

The guy was one coaching coup away from being the head man for the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the pressure is going to be on right away. If Bill Cubit could get Illinois to 5-7 last season, Smith should be worth at least two more wins.

24. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2010

Career Record: 226-80-2, School Record: 55-23

He’s had one great season and came within a whisker of the College Football Playoff last year. The 2016 Fighting Irish aren’t nearly as good as the 2015 version, but the schedule might be just right to make a run to rap on the CFP door again.

23. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Bulldogs, 2009

Career Record: 55-35, School Record: 55-35

It’s really, really unfortunate he took over the Mississippi State gig just as the SEC West was starting to rock. I’m too lazy to look it up, but in the history of college football mankind, I’m just going to guess that no coach has ever finished fourth or worse in his division in six out his seven years and never had a losing campaign.

22. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes, 1999

Career Record: 139-108, School Record: 127-87

Ferentz made 10-win seasons the norm early on in his career, but he never got to 12 until last year. He has a good enough team and a soft enough schedule to do it in back-to-back campaigns.

21. Jim McElwain, Florida Gators, 2015

Career Record: 32-20, School Record: 10-4

If Missouri figures it out, McElwain might have the sixth-worst offense in the SEC East and a slightly-worse defense. Meanwhile, Tennessee should be a powerhouse with its talent and experience, Georgia looks potentially incredible if the quarterback situation is settled right away, and Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mizzou are all better than they were in 2015. So why does it seem like McElwain is going to get his team back to Atlanta in early December?

20. Kyle Whittingham, Utah Utes, 2005

Career Record: 95-46, School Record: 95-46

A phenomenal and under-appreciated head man, Whittingham has won 19 games in the last two seasons with a power offense and a physical style that’s the perfect yin to the rest of the Pac-12’s tippy-tappy finesse yang. The best fun stat? The guy is 9-1 in bowl games.

19. Tom Herman, Houston Cougars, 2015

Career Record: 13-1, School Record: 13-1

He might single-handedly make Houston football way too good for the Big 12 to ignore. It’s only one season at the Houston helm, but if he can come up with another year like that – starting with a win over Oklahoma – he’ll be able to name his price.

18. Bret Bielema, Arkansas Razorbacks, 2013

Career Record: 86-44, School Record: 18-20

While he might not have Arkansas winning SEC West championships, and he might have taken some heat for losing to Toledo and Texas Tech last season, his Hogs have improved in each of his three seasons. He inherited Barry Alvarez’s heater of a Wisconsin team in 2006, but it took three years after that to get to win the Big Ten title and go to the Rose Bowl. His style works, but he needs Arkansas to make a bigger move.

17. Mark Helfrich, Oregon Ducks, 2013

Career Record: 33-8, School Record: 33-8

How do you know you’re doing a good job? Your 9-4 season that would’ve been 10 wins without an epic collapse in a relatively meaningless bowl game is considered a total disaster. If Oregon had hung on to beat TCU in the Alamo Bowl, Helfrich would have 34 wins right now – the same amount that Chip Kelly won in his first three seasons.

16. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2005

Career Record: 94-47, School Record: 94-47

If you’re the betting type – and, of course, you’re not, because that would be wrong – Oklahoma State might be an interesting longshot play for the CFP. Gundy has a fantastic team returning with an offense that won’t be stopped coming off a 10-win season. It’s hard to be appreciated when Bob Stoops continues to own Oklahoma, but Gundy has won nine games or more in six of the last eight years and has four double-digit win campaigns in the last six.

15. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy Midshipmen, 2007

Career Record: 68-37, School Record: 68-37

Someone close to the Navy program once explained it better than I can. Yeah, the Midshipmen run a precise offense and has a plucky defense, and it’s created a system that keeps the success going, but remember just what the coaching staff has to work with. Few of the players would make the two-deep of another FBS team, much less start. There is no coach in college football – and, arguably, all of sports – who has won more with less talent to work with.

14. Mark Richt, Miami Hurricanes, 2016

Career Record: 145-51, School Record: 145-51

He belongs in the discussion of the top head coaches to never win a national title. Win 145 games with two conference championships and six division titles in 15 seasons at just about anywhere else, and the stadium would bear your name. Yeah, he didn’t win the championships, but think of it this way – Richt won 23 more games at Georgia than Steve Spurrier won at Florida, 33 more than Les Miles has won at LSU, and 45 more than Nick Saban has won at Alabama. He’s going to be fantastic at Miami.

13. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss Rebels, 2012

Career Record: 64-25, School Record: 34-18

SEC metaphorical rule No. 1: Don’t ask how the sausage was made, just take a bite and enjoy. It doesn’t matter what you do or how; if you’re beating Nick Saban two years in a row, you keep on keeping on. Freeze was one miraculous Arkansas play away from winning the West and going to the SEC title game.

12. Chris Petersen, Washington Huskies, 2014

Career Record: 107-24, School Record: 15-12

Granted, he lost more games in his first two seasons at Washington than he did in his entire eight-year run at Boise State, but all of a sudden, he’s got the sleeper for the Pac-12 title. He had to do a gut job last year, but things are about to turn.

11. Bobby Petrino, Louisville Cardinals, 2014 (in his second stint)

Career Record: 100-39, School Record: 58-18

I’m calling it from the start the Louisville is going to stun the world and win the ACC championship. Petrino needed two years to start getting his team in place, and now he’s got it. There’s room on my bandwagon – or motorcycle, if you prefer.

10. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma Sooners, 1999

Career Record: 179-46, School Record: 179-46

It’s unfortunate that what he hasn’t won is getting brought up just as much as his accomplishments. Fine, so he didn’t get by the first round of the CFP, and yeah, he hasn’t won a national title since 2000. He has ten Big 12 titles in 17 years, hasn’t been below eight wins since his first season, and he’s doing it without the NFL talent he seemed to get ten years ago. Great head coaches adapt, and he continues to do that.

9. Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers, 2008

Career Record: 75-27, School Record: 75-27

I know he’s fantastic, and I know he’s won ten games or more in each of his last five years and is about to do it again, and I know he’s won two ACC titles and four division crowns in his eight years, and I know Alabama will be all over him the second Nick decides to do something else with his world, but he’s just so … so … Dabo. No grown man should hold a “pizza party” for anyone other than his eight-year-old daughter and her friends.

8. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Seminoles, 2010

Career Record: 68-14, School Record: 68-14

It’s about to be a telling year. Clemson might have won the ACC title last year, but it was a rebuilding job by Florida State’s standards. Even so, it still took a miraculous kick-six against Georgia Tech and a tight battle in Death Valley to lose two regular season games. So far, in his six years Jimbo has averaged 11.3 wins a season with three ACC titles, four division titles, and a national championship. But he needs to take the conference this season or it becomes Clemson’s world.

7. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines, 2015

Career Record: 68-30, School Record: 68-30

I love him, you love him, Ohio State loves him because they love to hate him – who doesn’t love Jim Harbaugh? But here’s the thing – the guy hasn’t won anything yet. Oh sure, there’s that NFC Championship, but that’s the NFL. In college, he has two Pioneer Football League titles when he was at San Diego, but that’s at the lower level. He didn’t win a Pac-10 title – it was the Pac-10 at the time – at Stanford, and his Michigan team finished third in the Big Ten East last year. He went 1-3 against Oregon, and he’s 0-2 against Ohio State and Michigan State. All this sideshow stuff is great – now beat the Spartans and Buckeyes.

6. David Shaw, Stanford Cardinal, 2011

Career Record: 54-14, School Record: 54-14

Again, he didn’t start the fun on The Farm, but he’s taken the program much further than Harbaugh did. It’s still Stanford, and as well as it’s able to recruit nationally, it still takes a different type of player to go there. Even with all the restrictions, Shaw has still won three Pac-12 championships and four North titles in five years. To put this into perspective, Shaw doesn’t have the national titles, but his 54 wins in his first five seasons equals Pete Carroll’s first five years at USC.

5. Les Miles, LSU Tigers, 2005

Career Record: 139-53, School Record: 112-32

Everyone tried to kill him off last year – and now he’s about to win his second national title. He has the best team in the country coming into the season, he’s coming off a solid nine-win season that would’ve been ten wins if the opener wasn’t cancelled due to bad weather, and his only real crime is that he’s been in the same division as Alabama. With that said, he’d better hit the double-digit win mark this year.

4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans, 2007

Career Record: 105-50, School Record: 87-33

There was a time when Michigan State was the flakiest of flaky programs – all talent, no consistency. Dantonio brought substance to the Spartans, needing three years before things started to take off. While Ohio State has a national title under Urban Meyer, and Wisconsin’s been to its share of Rose Bowls, and Michigan has gotten all the headlines, it’s Dantonio whose team has won three Big Ten titles in the last six years, won another division title, won a Rose Bowl, a Cotton Bowl, and at least got to the College Football Playoff last year. He’s turned Michigan State into a superpower program in a state with a school that brags about being the leaders and best.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU Horned Frogs, 2000

Career Record: 143-47, School Record: 143-47

It was hardly a given that this was going to work. It was fun when TCU was ripping it up under Patterson in Conference USA, and then in the Mountain West. And it was a hoot when it went 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl as part of a phenomenal four-year run going 47-5. But TCU didn’t look like it belonged at the adult table when it made the move to the Big 12, going 11-14 in its first two seasons. And then Patterson changed things up, got the offense up to snuff – to go along with a his always-great defense – and boom. The Horned Frogs have gone 23-3 over the last two seasons without five-star recruiting classes.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State Buckeyes, 2012

Career Record: 154-27, School Record: 50-4

Saban has to be No. 1 right now, but Urban is really No. 1A. He’s two losses to Michigan State and one dopey NCAA ruling away from four Big Ten titles in four years, and likely another national championship. His resume, as is, doesn’t need any boost. The right guy for the right job, he has more than answered all the questions about whether or not the Florida meltdown is in the past. In a one-game setting for the fate of the free world, flip a coin on whether or not you’d want him coaching your team, or …

1. Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide, 2007

Career Record: 191-60-1, School Record: 100-18

It’s not just the five national titles; it’s how close he came to potentially playing for more. Everyone’s gear-up-for game over the last eight years, Alabama has been able to manage the pressure and the scrutiny of having to be perfect every time out thanks to Saban and his meticulous attention to detail.

You’ve heard all the praise and all the amazing achievements to death, but try this one out.

Under Saban, Alabama hasn’t lost to a team that finished the season with fewer than nine wins since the stunning 21-14 clunker to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 – his first season. Since the loss to Auburn that same year, only the 35-21 loss to South Carolina in 2010 came to a team that didn’t win at least ten games.

But now he’ll be tested. Alabama has a ton of rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball, but it’s Saban, and it’s Alabama. Both still rule the college football world.