(Editor’s Note: “Best of” Week kicks off with BH columnist JJ Worthington dissecting the best coaches in the business. His pick for No. 1 is sure to generate some debate. Follow JJ on Twitter: @JJ_Worthington.)
One of my favorite debates with other college football fans is the eternal question of which current coaches qualify as the best in the sport. Well, lucky for you, I compiled my complete rankings, with a short explanation below.
This is obviously a tough task, as every person has a different set of criteria for what makes a great coach. My criteria are somewhat simple: wins, conference championships and national championships. A coach with a title beats a coach with tons of wins but no hardware. Obviously, some of these are subjective based on who I consider to have accomplished more in their coaching careers.
Here are the top 10 active coaches, and you can leave your whining about how unfair and wrong I am in the comments below:
1. Joe Paterno, Penn State
Entering his 46th (!!!) season as head coach of the Nittany Lions, the Skype-artist himself has a record of 401-135-3 with three Big Ten titles and two national championships. He has taken Penn St. to 37 bowls with 24 victories; both the most ever for a coach. He’s a living legend who we will all be grateful we saw coach one day.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama
Through sheer numbers alone, Slick Nick has to be considered one of the top coaches in the nation. His 2003 (LSU) and 2009 (Alabama) teams won national championships against Oklahoma and Texas, respectively. He has a career record of 134–53–1 at Bama, LSU, Michigan State and Toledo, winning four conference titles between the schools.
3. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The Ol’ Ball Coach has one national championship and seven conference championships – including one at DUKE – over his career. He’s the first Heisman winner to coach another Heisman winner and has recently brought South Carolina into the big time.
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Big Game Bob has put a stranglehold on the Big 12 since he joined the conference in 1999. His Sooner teams have won seven Big 12 championships and one national championship. He has compiled a record of 129-31 in his 12 years.
5. Mack Brown, Texas
The Eternal Clapper earned his way on this list with a national championship in 2005. Although he has posted a record of 219–108–1 as head coach at Appalachian State, Tulane, North Carolina and Texas, throughout his career he has won only two conference championships.
6. Les Miles, LSU
The Mad Hatter is easily the most entertaining and unpredictable coach on the sidelines today. For his career, he’s 90-38 as head coach of both Oklahoma State and LSU, winning the 2007 national championship with the Tigers. Curiously, ’07 is also his only conference title as a coach.
7. Gene Chizik, Auburn
The man has only been a head coach for four seasons and has a mediocre career record of 27-24, with one conference title and two bowl wins. But a 2010 BCS title catapults him up this list. Cam Newton had a lot to do with that, but, still, many coaches will spend their entire careers trying to get to the apex of the sport. Like Stoops, Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel, Chizik managed to pull it off in his second year on the Plains.
8. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
The longtime Hokie coach is the man responsible for transforming Va. Tech from a backwater into a perennial power. He’s accumulated seven conference championships at V. Tech (3 Big East, 4 ACC) and has a career coaching record at V. Tech of 198-95-2. He also played for the 1999 National Championship.
9. Gary Patterson, Texas Christian
Coming off a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, Patterson has the TCU machine humming. Since taking over in Fort Worth, he has amassed a record of 98-28, won four conference championships – one in C-USA and three in the Mountain West – and just completed back-to-back BCS appearances. He has failed to win 10 games only once in the last six seasons.
10. Chris Petersen, Boise State
Boise haters, beware: All this guy has done is post a 61-5 record as a head coach, and two of those losses came in bowl games. His Broncos have played in two BCS games, winning both, and they’ve won four conference titles in five years. Can’t argue with success and Petersen’s Broncos are loaded again for 2011. He’s a young gun relative to some of his colleagues on this list, but he’s already made his mark on the college football landscape.