CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 2, Urban Meyer
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 2 Urban Meyer, Ohio State, Florida, Utah, Bowling Green
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.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State (2012-2016), Florida (2005-2010), Utah (2003-2004), Bowling Green (2001-2002)
It wasn’t quite the meteoric rise into superstardom it feels like it turned into for Urban Meyer’s coaching career, but once he got his shot, he turned into something special from the start.
As an innovative assistant at Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame, he worked for ten years rising up the ranks, seen as a bright young star with the drive and the ingenuity to take the rising new spread offense and run with it.
Bowling Green gave Meyer his chance to take on a head coaching gig, but he wasn’t expected to work any miracles with a woeful team that went 2-9 in 2000. Turning QB Josh Harris into a statistical superstar, Meyer led the Falcons to a 17-6 record in two seasons.
Utah knew it was getting a rental coach in 2003, but it didn’t know for how long Meyer would be there before moving on to something massive. The Utes went 5-6 before Meyer, and 20-2 with him. Alex Smith turned into a No. 1 overall draft pick under Meyer’s tutelage, and the team was in the national title discussion with an uneaten 2004 season, ripping through everyone in its path by double digits.
Florida – who had gone 7-5 in 2004 – took notice, but so did Notre Dame. As legend would have it, Meyer – who coached receivers in South Bend for five years – was low-balled on the contract offer, Florida swooped in, and the rest was history.
The spread offense worked right away in Gainesville with a solid 9-3 first season, and then it all came together as Meyer took a slew of great recruits from the Ron Zook era, added his own twist, got a few nice recruits, and boom – Florida rolled to the SEC Championship, a 13-1 record, and one of the most dominant national championships of the BCS/CFP era with a blowout win over Ohio State for the national title.
While the Florida era ended with a thud – more on that in a moment – before taking a leave of absence, Meyer won two national titles, went 13-1 three times from 2006 to 2009, and came within a 2009 SEC Championship loss to Alabama from almost certainly taking a third national title.
Following a year off in the announcing booth – and doing a brilliant job as a commentator – all of a sudden, the Ohio State job opened up at just the right time.
Even though the Buckeyes were under NCAA sanctions and struggled in 2011, Meyer stepped in and went 12-0 in his first season – but his team wasn’t able to play for the Big Ten or national championships.
Over his first five years at the helm, he won ten games or more in each season, won at least a share of the division title all five times, won the 2014 Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff national title, and got to the CFP in 2016, too.
Along the way he’s gone 61-6 in Columbus, and now the accomplishments are becoming ridiculous.
Three national titles, five conference championships, nine BCS/New Year’s Six -level bowl games, a 10-3 bowl record, and a ridiculous 165-29 record in his 15 years as a head man.
And he’s far from done.
Just 53, he’ll have several more shots at several more national championships Considering the era, he already deserves to be in the Greatest College Football Coaches discussion.
While he might not finish his career with the most wins or the most national titles, he continues to put together an all-timer of a resume.
Biggest Moment: Ezekiel Elliott’s 85-yard Touchdown Run vs. Alabama, 2015 Sugar Bowl
Of course Florida’s blowout over Ohio State for the 2006 national championship was amazing, and shutting down Sam Bradford and Oklahoma for the 2008 BCS Championship was brilliant. And yes, winning a third national title by helping to stop Marcus Mariota and Oregon made him a legend.
But beating Nick Saban and Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl to get to the first College Football Playoff national championship might just have been the career-definer, mainly because of what it represented.
Meyer and Saban had tussled before in two epic SEC Championships, but this was something different. This was when Meyer was looking to take Ohio State to a whole other level, and to do it, he and his team had to get by the No. 1 Crimson Tide on Sugar Bowl turf.
Locked in a dog fight, Ohio State had a 34-21 lead late in the third quarter, but Alabama was coming back. A long touchdown march brought the Crimson Tide to within six, and with just under four minutes to play, the D had the Ohio State offense pinned deep, needing one stop to have a chance to break Buckeye hearts and national title hopes.
Ezekiel Elliott took care of that, all but putting the game away on his all-timer of an 85-yard dash.
Alabama would score late, but that would be it. Ohio State won 42-35, and a few weeks later took away the first championship in the College Football Playoff era.
Urban Meyer’s Best Season: 2008
It’s obviously debatable considering he won three national championships and came up with two other undefeated seasons, but the 2008 season was the one that made Meyer a multiple national championship head coach.
It took him to another level.
Winning the 2006 title was out of the blue, but doing it again a few years later showed the staying power.
The 31-30 loss to Ole Miss – followed by the Tim Tebow “Promise” speech – was the lone blemish, but it also turned into a catalyst. The Gators were dominant in the three games before the loss – blowing away Tennessee 30-6 on the road – and rolled through the rest of the regular season without a problem.
Alabama wasn’t quite there yet, going 12-0 but being a year away from truly starting the epic run under Saban. Tebow and the Gators were pushed hard in the SEC Championship, owned the fourth quarter for a 31-20 win, and was on to the BCS Championship against a seemingly unstoppable Oklahoma team.
The Gators held down Heisman-winner Sam Bradford and the Sooners to just 14 points, Tebow was his normal bruising self, and Meyer had his second national title.
Urban Meyer’s Worst Season: 2010
After winning the 2008 national championship, and with Tebow and most of the key parts back, the pressure was crushing to repeat with a loaded 2009 team. While the Gators got through the regular season unbeaten, it was a grind – and it showed.
By the time they got to the SEC Championship, they appeared to be gassed, losing to a motivated and jacked up Alabama team in a 32-13 loss that not only ended the title dream, but put Meyer in the hospital after complaining of chest pains.
While he came back for the Sugar Bowl blowout over Cincinnati, he was done – at least that’s what he claimed.
Instead, he decided to come back, recruited a whale of a class, and was going to give it another go. But the 2010 team was never quite right in the post-Tebow era.
Florida started out 4-0, but got rolled by Alabama 31-7 on the road, lost at home to LSU, and then made it three-straight defeats with clunker of a home loss to Mississippi State.
A blowout home loss to Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina team, and an ugly 31-7 loss to Florida State meant the first – and, so far, only – five-loss season of his career. A win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl kept the year from being a total disaster, but that was it. Meyer would resign at the end of the season.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 165-29 record in 15 seasons
Bowl Record: 10-3
BCS Championship: 2006, 2008. College Football Playoff National Championship: 2014
Mountain West Championship: 2003, 2004
SEC Championship: 2006, 2008
Big Ten Championship: 2014
2004 Home Depot Coach of the Year
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell