CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 11 Les Miles, LSU & Oklahoma State
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 11 Les Miles, LSU & Oklahoma State
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
Wins and losses are certainly a part of it all – okay, a massive part of this – but it’s also about who came up with the biggest coaching performances over the long haul. Consistency matters, championships matter, and personality plays a role, too.
Who are the 20 coaches who defined college football since 1998?
One note, accomplishments before 1998 don’t count, other than when it comes to a coach’s legacy and overall status.
Les Miles, LSU (2005-2016), Oklahoma State (2001-2004)
Miles could never seem to get off the hot seat, but in the era of Urban and Nick, his teams often more than held their own.
After cutting his teeth as an offensive line coach and the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, and after a stint with the Dallas Cowboys, he took over the OSU Cowboy gig in 2001 and turned things around almost immediately.
In his lone losing season, he went 4-7 in Stillwater, and followed it up with three straight winning years before getting the LSU job in 2005.
While he was seen as an innovative offensive coach, and a master motivator and recruiter, he was hardly considered a superstar hire after Nick Saban took the program to a national title.
But through the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina – and with the team’s focus elsewhere, and with major scheduling changes – Miles came up with a fantastic first season going 11-2 with a West Division title and a blowout Peach Bowl win over Miami.
From there, Miles had LSU as a regular in the SEC and national title chases, winning both in 2007 and taking the 2011 SEC title before – unfairly, depending on your opinion – having to face Alabama in a rematch of an earlier win in the national championship.
But along the way, he wasn’t able to be quite consistent enough.
After winning the national championship, LSU went 8-5, and after winning ten games or more in seven his first nine years, he went 17-7.
Last year he had one of the nation’s best teams returning, but after starting out 2-2 – losing to Wisconsin and Auburn in the final moments – that was it. The school decided to move on.
But during his long tenure in Baton Rouge, there were few more daring, wacky, and successful coaches. Unfortunately, he happened to coach in the SEC West at the same time that Saban turned Alabama into a monster.
Biggest Moment: 2008 BCS Championship
It was a strange season.
Miles had the best team in the country, and it looked like it throughout the first half of the year on the way to a 6-0 start. But in a strange triple-overtime game, the Tigers lost to Kentucky 43-37 to slip a bit.
Everything seemed fine with wins over Auburn and Alabama on the way to a four-game winning run to overcome the UK loss, but with the national title within their sights, the Tigers blew it in a 50-48 triple-overtime loss to Arkansas.
And then things got really, really weird.
With the Michigan job open, Miles – a former Wolverine offensive lineman – appeared destined for the job. The team was out of the national championship hunt, and Michigan was supposedly his dream gig.
We were told he was gone. There were rumors going around that he told some of his key players that he was taking the job, but we couldn’t 100% confirm and didn’t go with it. Meanwhile, Kirk Herbstreit went on GameDay before the SEC Championship and reported that Miles had accepted the Michigan job.
But little did anyone know that a perfect storm was about to hit.
LSU beat Tennessee for the SEC title, and at the same time, a 10-1 West Virginia team that appeared destined to face Ohio State for the BCS Championship inexplicably gagged in a 13-9 loss to a mediocre Pitt team.
All of a sudden, LSU was in the national championship.
This is where things get a little murky. Could Miles really bolt LSU for Michigan when his team is about to play for the national title? If he was planning on it, Michigan wasn’t going to wait as it hired Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia, and the rest if history.
Winning the 2008 BCS Championship was hardly a bad consolation prize in a relatively mediocre game. The Tigers took down Ohio State 38-24 to be the first and only two-loss team to win a national title in the BCS/College Football Playoff era.
Les Miles’ Best Season: 2011
Yeah, Miles won the national title with the 2007 team, but the 2011 version was better.
His Tigers came out roaring (sorry) with a 40-27 win over a fantastic Oregon team that went on to win the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl. The defense didn’t let up from there, allowing 21 points in a blowout win over West Virginia, and with no one else scoring more than ten points until the 2012 BCS Championship.
Along the way, LSU destroyed Florida 41-11, crushed an Arkansas team that finished 11-2 41-17, and blew away Georgia 41-10 in the SEC Championship.
No one came closer than 13 points in blowout after blowout – except Alabama.
In the game of the year, LSU went to Tuscaloosa to face an unbeaten Crimson Tide team and won a 9-6 defensive slugfest. But because Oklahoma State lost an overtime close call against Iowa State, the BCS liked an 11-1 Alabama team that 1) didn’t win its own division and 2) already lost the head-to-head matchup with LSU 3) at home.
In the rematch, Alabama rolled to a 21-0 win against an LSU offense that couldn’t do a thing. It was an unfortunate end to the season for Miles, but there for the grace of a break, he probably would’ve had a second national championship.
Les Miles’ Worst Season: 2016
He had it.
He had Leonard Fournette, he had a team loaded with other NFL prospects, and he had a relatively favorable schedule with Alabama at home and – as it turned out – just four road games.
But Les Miles was done after just four games.
Had Brandon Harris not inexplicably thrown a late interception when down 16-14 against Wisconsin, and had LSU gotten the snap off just a millisecond sooner at the end of the Auburn game, Miles would’ve been 4-0 with Missouri, Southern Miss, and Ole Miss up next.
While Ed Orgeron did a nice job to finish up the season, had Miles escaped September, he would almost certainly still be the LSU head man.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 114-34 in just over ten years years at LSU. 28-21 in four years at Oklahoma State
2007 BCS Championship
2111 Walter Camp Coach of the Year
2017, 2011 SEC Champion
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell