It’s just over a week until actual, live college football games return — Thank the Lord — and I decided it was a good time for Outkick to break out our latest list of the top coaches in college football. The important info you need to have here is that I’m only ranking guys based on their big five conference performances. So guys like Tom Herman and P.J. Fleck, for instance, wouldn’t be eligible for inclusion on this list.
One other bit of info before we get started with my list, we’re going to launch Outkick VIP next week. It will cost $100 a year, include an Outkick shirt of your choice, admission to all Outkick VIP events — we will be doing events this year in our top markets — Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New York City, Chicago, Birmingham, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Memphis, Knoxville, St. Louis, Kansas City and Charlotte. Plus, potentially, other college towns as well — a VIP message board with gambling tutorials, gambling picks, and more. You don’t have to sign up — I understand that some of you are poor and/or cheap — but it’s going to be a great value and a cool addition to Outkick. And this is an important detail — all of our regular content will remain free and advertiser supported on this main page.
Okay, with that in mind, here we go with the top 13 coaches in America:
1. Nick Saban
Nick Saban isn’t just the best coach in college football right now, he’s the most dominant coach in the history of the sport. In fact, Saban is so dominant that he’s destroyed the rest of the SEC.
Want an amazing stat? Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team has been ranked number one in the season at some point in 2008, 2009, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.
That’s ten years in a row his team has been ranked number one! There’s no comparison at all here in football. (Bear Bryant’s most consecutive years ranked number one was three). That’s John Wooden-esque.
Second amazing stat? The last time a Nick Saban coached team lost a regular season game by more than a single touchdown? 2010 against South Carolina. Yep, it’s been seven years since a team beat the Tide by double digits in the regular season!
2. Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer has won three national titles, two at Florida, and one at Ohio State, and is 61-6 in his tenure with the Buckeyes. And yesterday my buddy Paul Finebaum asked if he’d underachieved.
That’s how high Urban’s standard is.
3. Dabo Swinney
When you shut out Urban Meyer in the playoff and then beat Nick Saban in the space of a little over two weeks, all while advancing to the national title game for your second straight season, you ascend to the number three spot on Outkick’s list of the best coaches in college football.
The real question here is this — how lucky is Alabama to have this guy waiting to take over when Nick Saban retires?
Dabo is still only 47 and he’s been a head coach for nine years already.
4. Jimbo Fisher
Fun fact, Jimbo Fisher is the only coach in the history of college football to follow a coach who has won 75% of his games or more and win at a higher percentage than that coach did. Right now Jimbo is 78-17, which is good for a 82% winning percentage. Yep, that’s even better than Bobby Bowden did.
You know how it’s a cliche to say you don’t want to replace a legend? That instead you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced a legend? Well, Jimbo Fisher has beaten that cliche to smithereens.
5. Chris Petersen
With Bob Stoops retiring and Les Miles being fired, there are now only four major conference coaches in college football who have won national titles.
My best bet for the next top coach to win a national title? Chris Petersen.
These numbers don’t look real, but Petersen is 119-26 in his coaching career.
6. James Franklin
Franklin followed up in the incredible feat of winning nine games at Vandy in back-to-back years, the first time that had been done at the school since before women had the right to vote, by winning the Big Ten title in his third year at Penn State. In so doing he managed to beat Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, and Mark Dantonio in his own division.
That’s a hell of an accomplishment.
7. Bobby Petrino
In his final 25 games at Arkansas Bobby Petrino went 1o-3 and 11-2, 12-4 in the SEC. Putting those 12 SEC wins into context, Bret Bielema still only has 10 SEC wins after four seasons at Arkansas.
Combine that performance at Arkansas with taking Louisville to a 7-1 record in the ACC and winning his quarterback the Heisman trophy and this raises a fascinating question, what could Bobby Petrino do if he ever coached at a top ten program?
8. Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh was dominant at Stanford and after two seasons at Michigan he has returned the Wolverines to contention as well.
But Harbaugh falls to here because he hasn’t finished better than third in the Big Ten East so far at Michigan.
9. David Shaw
David Shaw is the most consistently underrated coach in college football not named Bill Snyder. Shaw has won three Pac 12 titles, two Rose Bowls, and finished ranked 12th or better in five of his six seasons at Stanford.
And he’s still only 45 years old.
10. Bill Snyder
What Snyder has done at Kansas State isn’t just one of the great coaching jobs of our lives, it’s one of the great coaching jobs in the history of college football.
The last Kansas State football coach with a winning coaching record?
Pappy Waldorf in 1934.
The win percentages of every Kansas State coach since World War II: .125, 0.0, .145, .372, .310, .123, .388, .182, .313, .111, .076, .457 (This was Ron Prince, who took over a sterling program from Snyder).
Snyder’s win percentage at Kansas State? 66%.
I’m not sure any other coach in America has that far outkicked his program’s status.
11. Mike Gundy
In seven of the last nine years at Oklahoma State Mike Gundy has won at least nine games. And five of those seven years the Cowboys have won ten or more games.
That’s pretty fantastic for Oklahoma State.
But I bet most of you didn’t know that, because Gundy is still primarily known for his rant about being forty.
12. Mark Richt
Richt went 145-51 at Georgia, notching two SEC titles and a reputation as a nice guy who just couldn’t quite get the Bulldogs over the title hump.
Then he went down to Miami and won nine games his first season and currently boasts the third best recruiting class in the nation for 2018.
Is there anything more Georgia than the Bulldogs firing Richt for not winning a national title and then having Richt go to Miami and win one there?
13. David Cutcliffe
I know, I know, they were 4-8 last year and he has a losing record at Duke.
But if you had to pick someone to coach your team, if David Cutcliffe wasn’t in your top 13 right now, you’d be insane.
The guy won ten games at Duke.
And ten games at Ole Miss without paying players and keeping hookers on speed dial.
We’ll update this list at the end of the season, but for right now I’m confident in my top 13. The only other argument I can see is for Mark Dantonio, but his team fell off the planet last year. You can’t go 3-9 in a season at a major football school and be in my top 13.
One other additional fact — the SEC only has one of my top 13 coaches. Every other conference has at least two coaches: the ACC has five!, the Big Ten has three, the Big 12 has two, the Pac 12 has two, and the SEC has just one. You want to know why the SEC has fallen off of late? It’s the coaching, stupid.