College football coaches have to wear many hats. They recruit, coach, mentor and develop. It’s a hard job that deserves recognition when done well. With that, here are the top 25 college football coaches.
Note: First-year coaches will not be included on the list. No matter how promising they look.
25. Dave Doeren, NC State Wolfpack
NC State has made six bowl games since 2014 under Doeren. Three nine win seasons have been accomplished, while one eigh win season has also come along. In 2022, Doeren will have his most complete team during his Wolfpack tenure, which could result in him moving up the list.
24. Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans
Tucker had one losing season at Colorado before jumping to Michigan State. He had one losing season there, then jumped up to 11 wins and a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance last season. Now, he has to keep the momentum going.
23. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest has been a consistent winner under Clawson. The Demon Deacons have made six straight bowl games and they won 11 games in 2021. Sam Hartman being out indefinitely to start the season will hurt the Demon Deacons in 2022, but they still are one of the better teams in the ACC.
22. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota has had a few really good seasons under Fleck, including the 2019 season when they went 11-2. He has made three bowl games in five years at Minnesota, as he didn’t make a bowl game in his first season or in 2020. Fleck can improve his stock with more good seasons, but also pushing to make a Big Ten Championship Game.
21. Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones
Campbell has turned Iowa State from a basement dweller in the Big 12 to a team that has made bowl games and Big 12 Championships. It wasn’t easy to get the program to this point. He has made five straight bowl games and most notably went 9-3 in 2020.
20. Mario Cristobal, Miami Hurricanes
After five solid seasons at Oregon, Cristobal is going back to his alma mater at Miami. He didn’t fair well in the area when he coached at FIU. At Oregon, there were some good years, but it always felt as if Oregon was leaving something on the table. If he wants to move up the list, he’ll have to help the Hurricanes return to contending in the ACC.
19. Sam Pittman, Arkansas Razorbacks
In year one, Sam Pittman went 3-7. He turned that around and went 9-4, which is impressive given that the team is in the SEC West. It looks like big things are looming for Arkansas, so Pittman is a coach on the rise.
18. Dave Aranda, Baylor Bears
Aranda inherited a program that was a mess and that showed when he had a 2-7 record in 2020. He has completely flipped around the program and made the Bears Big 12 Champions with a 12-2 record in 2021. Aranda is quickly rising up the names of quality coaches and pairing another good year with last season could see him rise even more.
17. James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions have struggled over the last two seasons. In 2020, the Nittany Lions went 4-5 and they went 7-6 last season. Before that Franklin had Penn State playing well and making New Year’s Six Bowl Games. He still deserves credit for building Penn State up, but he is currently on a downward trajectory unless he can turn it around.
16. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Rebels
Kiffin has developed into a good college football coach after rising to stardom and then going through some tough times. He did well at Florida Atlantic and has now made two bowl games in two seasons with Ole Miss. They made a New Year’s Six Bowl last season and Ole Miss will be tough competitors in the SEC West this season.
15. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin has had a steady program and Chryst has kept the Badgers right there. He has a win percentage of 73.9 percent at Wisconsin and the Badgers are always a threat to come out of the Big Ten West. Chryst doesn’t get the same credit as others for building a program, but keeping Wisconsin running is meaningful too.
14. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes
Ferentz is the longest-tenured head coach in college football and for good reason. He sports a 178-110 career record and has only not been bowl-eligible twice in the 21st century. Iowa is regularly competing in the Big Ten West and Ferentz deserves plenty of credit for it.
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky currently finds itself in a debate on whether the school is a football or basketball school. They have been good at both recently, for which Stoops deserves a lot of credit. He has two 10-win seasons in the last four years and four straight bowl wins. Stoops has taken the program from the basement of the SEC to a team that is formidable. It is hard to find coaches who are doing more with less against better competition.
12. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last season the Cowboys were a great defensive unit, which is a total changeup from how the team used to operate. Overall, Gundy has a 149-69 record and has consistently had the Cowboys near the top of the Big 12. With 16 straight bowl appearances and a Big 12 with some changes coming up, Gundy can continue to rise up this list.
11. Mack Brown, North Carolina Tar Heels
Brown has turned around the North Carolina program after inheriting a mess and has taken them to three straight bowl games. A lot of Brown’s ranking is based off his success at Texas, but he has done well with the Tar Heels too. He is the lowest-ranked coach to have won a national championship, but could win his 300th game this offseason.
10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah Utes
Utah is coming off of a Rose Bowl appearance, which is some of Whittingham’s finest work. He has a 144-70 career record and has been a steady program in the Pac-12. There are big things expected of Utah in 2022 and living up to those expectations could move Whittingham up the list.
9. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati Bearcats
Fickell did something last year that many thought would be impossible: Leading a Group of Five Team to the College Football Playoff. He has a record of 48-15 at Cincinnati and completely turned around the program. Plenty of players left the program after the success last season, so this season might be a little bit down from last year’s high, but the future still looks bright.
8. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines
Harbaugh finally defeated Ohio State and went to the College Football Playoff. He has been at a solid level at Michigan, but this past season reached another level. A .718 win percentage at Michigan looks like it could be improving over the next few seasons.
7. Brian Kelly, LSU Tigers
After 12 years at Notre Dame, Kelly decided to go down to LSU. The fit seems really odd and Notre Dame has had success on the recruiting trail since Kelly has moved on, but his accomplishments can’t be glossed over. He made a BCS National Championship Game and two College Football Playoffs.
6. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Aggies
Fisher is one of five active head coaches to win a National Championship on this list, which really helps his ranking. He won that at Florida State and now has been recruiting well at Texas A&M. With a 117-37 career record and a lot of hype surrounding the Aggies this season, Fisher has the potential to move up, but he has to win big soon (either a conference championship appearance or better) or his spot will fall.
5. Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes
Day has had a few good seasons at Ohio State, but has had trouble helping the program win a National Championship. He has a 34-4 record heading into his fourth season in charge and now gets the chance to prove that he wasn’t “born on third base” as others have implied. Continuing the success will help him move up the list.
4. Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans
After five good seasons at Oklahoma, Riley decided to make the jump to USC. He has a 55-10 record and has made three College Football Playoffs. Even with a quarterback battle last season, Riley was still able to lead the Sooners to a 10-win season.
3. Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs
Smart finally broke through and won the National Championship last season. He has improved the Georgia program to where they just reload. There is still some potential for his offenses to be better, but his defenses are elite.
2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers
Last season was a bit of a down year for the Tigers, but they still won 10 games. Swinney lost both of his coordinators, which could make this season tough. He still deserves to be ranked highly on this list because of his total body of work, which includes two National Championships.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide
There is only one coach that can sit atop this list. Nick Saban has won seven national championships, with six of them coming at Alabama. He has had impressive stints at every stop he has had in college football. Until he retires or severely falls off, he won’t leave the top spot on this list.
Just Missed the Cut
Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh Panthers
Narduzzi won the ACC last year, but a lot of that credit went to the offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, and quarterback Kenny Pickett. He can crack the list with another good season in 2022 without those guys.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats
There aren’t many coaches that are as tenured as Fitzgerald. He also does a lot without the best resources. What keeps him off this list is that he has two 3-9 seasons in the last three years. He needs to bounce back soon.
Josh Heupel, Tennessee Volunteers
At UCF, Heupel had three solid seasons. He led Tennessee to a 7-6 season in his first season at the helm and really revitalized the offense. Heupel has the Volunteers on the right track and can move up the list with another good season.
Kalani Sitake, BYU Cougars
Sitake took over for Bronco Mendenhall and had one good season, before going over .500 for a year. He then had some average seasons. Now that the program is all his, he has two straight seasons with double-digit wins. Sitake is improving his standing every year over the last three.
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