Last week’s mailbag asking how high Maryland football could climb with Randy Edsall as coach got me thinking, what if we had a coach draft in college football? That is, let’s pretend that every coach was available at the same exact moment. Who would be the top targets? Essentially, who are the top 25 coaches in college football at this exact moment?
For purposes of this list I tried to pretend that each of these coaches would be taking over an identical, average FBS team in a big five conference. Think Illinois football. (Sorry, Illini fans). Who would you feel most confident would win big there?
Here’s my best guess on what that draft might look like.
I’m sure all of you will agree with all 25 of the names on this list and the exact order I drafted them.
1. Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer is now 142-26 as a head coach. 142-26! This makes him the unquestioned best coach in college football.
2. Nick Saban
In the last seven years here are Nick Saban’s win totals at Alabama — 12, 14, 10, 12, 13, 11, 12
There’s a huge gap after Meyer and Saban.
3. Mark Dantonio
In his past five seasons at Michgan State Dantonio has won at least 11 games four times.
Here’s a fun question for y’all: when Steve Spurrier retires would Dantonio come back to take over his alma mater South Carolina?
4. Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops is 168-44 at Oklahoma. That’s a tremendous head coaching record. You want to know what’s even crazier? Stoops has won 11 or more games 12 of his 16 seasons at OU and only has won less than eight games one time, his first season in 1999, when he won seven. And you know what’s even crazier than that? A bunch of you will think I have him way too high.
5. Gary Patterson
Eight of the past 12 seasons at TCU Gary Patterson has won 11 or more games. That’s remarkable. Plus, he’s shown the flexibility to embrace spread offensive football. Does he get his first national title this season? We’ll see.
6. Jim Harbaugh
I can’t wait to see what happens in the great Harbaugh vs. Meyer Big Ten battle. It’s eerily similar to Harbaugh vs. Carroll when Harbaugh took over Stanford. Only, you know, Michigan is a traditional power and Stanford never won much before Harbaugh.
7. Art Briles
Sure, call me crazy, but what could Art Briles get done at a traditional college football powerhouse? I love this guy.
8. Gus Malzahn
The best “young” — still in his forty’s –coach in the SEC, Malzahn was the engine behind Auburn’s 2010 title and he nearly won a national title in his first year with the Tigers in 2013. He’s probably too low here, but last year’s 8-5 campaign was a bit alarming.
9. Bobby Petrino
Honestly, what could Petrino do if he ever got to coach at a top ten program in a fertile recruiting area? Can you imagine, for instance, the Florida Gators with Petrino? Look out.
10. James Franklin
No big deal, he just went to three straight bowl games at Vandy and led the Commodores after back-to-back nine win seasons. Oh, and we were married and as part of the divorce settlement I always have him in the top ten.
11. Les Miles
Les Miles is probably the most disrespected coach in college football. Certainly, he’s the most disrespected current coach with a national title. Fun fact, did you know that there are only five current coaches with national titles: Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher, and Bob Stoops?
Did you know Les is 103-29 at LSU? And that if Nick Saban doesn’t return to the SEC we’re probably talking about Les Miles, with multiple national titles, as the second best coach in college football behind Urban Meyer?
12. Jim Mora
In his first three seasons at UCLA, Mora is 29-11. Yet, somehow, he’s pretty much flown under the radar. Look out, the Bruins are growling.
13. Kevin Sumlin
I know the SEC win trajectory is going in the wrong direction, but the recruiting is going in the right direction. And John Chavis will help solidify a wobbly defense, which has really been Sumlin’s issue since he arrived in College Station.
Plus, does anyone else think A&M would have won the national title in 2012 if there had been an eight team playoff? I do.
14. David Cutcliffe
The only reason Cutcliffe isn’t ranked higher is because he didn’t win big at Ole Miss. But when you look back at his tenure in Oxford, Cutcliffe had a winning record five of his six seasons at Ole Miss. At Duke he’s won ten games and nine games in his past two seasons. That’s extraordinary.
15. David Shaw
He’s 42-12 in four seasons at Stanford. If we’d done this ranking before last season, he would have been in the top five. But last year’s 8-5 season is a bit alarming. What happened? And there’s the looming question that remains, what can he do without Andrew Luck and without Jim Harbaugh’s legacy recruits?
16. Chris Petersen
Petersen is 100-18 as a head coach, but a third of those losses happened in the first year at Washington. If he were still at Boise State, he’d have been a top ten coach.
17. Jimbo Fisher
Sure, Jimbo’s 58-11 in his five seasons at FSU. But what would his record be if Tallahassee had a competent police department?
18. Todd Graham
Yes, he walked out on Pitt after one season. But he’s won ten games in back-to-back seasons at Arizona State and his offense will work anywhere.
19. Gary Pinkel
In five of his last eight seasons Gary Pinkel has won ten or more games. Oh, and how about those back-to-back SEC East titles? The results speak for themselves.
20. Bill Snyder
If Bill Snyder wasn’t rapidly advancing on eighty years old, he’d be in the top ten. What he’s done at Kansas State is simply legendary, one of the all-time best coaching jobs at one university in the history of college football.
21. Steve Spurrier
The second best coach in the history of the SEC — behind Bear Bryant — Spurrier would be much higher if he wasn’t 70 years old. I love the Head Ball Coach. (Come on, the guy has HBC on his headset. How badass is that?)
22. Mark Richt
Georgia fans are always upset with Richt, who finds a way to Georgia it again and again, but have those Georgia fans forgotten about Ray Goff and Jim Donnan. Richt has two SEC titles and he’s won 10 or more games three of his last four seasons. Oh, and he would have won the national title in 2012 if his team had scored from the five yard line.
23. Mike Gundy
Prior to this past season, Gundy had won ten or more in three of the past four seasons at Oklahoma State. Best known for his age rant, Gundy has been way more successful than anyone would expect with the Pokes.
24. Bret Bielema
Bielema is just 2-14 in the SEC so far. Yet I have him as a top 25 coach. That’s crazy. Even crazier, you can make a pretty sound argument that Bielema is underrated based on his success at Wisconsin.
25. Charlie Strong
I had Charlie Strong just above Bret Bielema. Then I went back and looked at the box score for the Arkansas-Texas bowl game. Texas ran the ball 18 times for two yards and passed it 25 times for 57 yards. That happened. Bielema destroyed Strong’s team.
Just missed the cut:
Dabo Swinney, Mark Helfrich — too soon to tell –, Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, and Butch Jones