The July 4th holiday is now behind us and college football is starting to naturally pick up steam in the national and local sports conversation, with preseason top 25 projections by the football preview magazines and all kinbds of sports radio talk on who will be up and down in the coming season. Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel, who has authored a couple of books on college football and follows the sport very closely, has come out with a little different twist, ranking who he believes to be the 10 best college coaches in the game today, as well as the five worst.
Mandel’s 2013 preseason list of the top 10 college coaches includes four head men from the Big 12, the most from any one conference. Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Boise State’s Chris Peterson are Nos. 2 and 3 on Mandel’s top-10 list. Coming in at No. 4 is Gary Patterson of TCU in the Big 12. Patterson is followed by the dean of the Big 12 coaches and his longtime mentor, Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
Mandel readily acknowledges that the list may not change that much from year to year, but when you compare a list like this over, say, a five- or six-year period, an assessment of the best coaches in college football can, and often is, quite a bit different.
For example, Mandel points out that while Nick Saban of Alabama, who has won three of the last four BCS championships and four in his career, is almost a unanimous selection as the game’s best college coach today, that wasn’t the case six years ago. In the mid-2000s, USC’s Pete Carroll was at the top of the Best Coaches’ list – having won a national championship in 2005 over the top-ranked Oklahoma of the Big 12, but losing to Texas the following year.
Ironically, Saban, who has coached mostly in the college ranks in his long and highly successful career, was in the NFL at that time as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Saban went to the NFL from LSU, where he won a national championship in 2004, but he returned to the college ranks after just two NFL seasons in Miami. Carroll, on the other hand, is now in the NFL as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
Some might feel that Snyder should be ahead of Patterson in the ranking, if for no other reason than the fact that Patterson learned much of what he practices today while serving as an assistant under Snyder at K-State. My belief is that Snyder probably doesn’t care that much who should be No. 4 or 5, especially given that we are talking about one of his coaching pupils. He would be, and most likely is, especially proud to see one of his former coaches doing so well.
In 2007, Mandel wrote this about Patterson: “Does anyone get less credit for running a consistently successful program than this guy.” In ranking the 53-year-old TCU coach fourth in his 2013 “best coaches'” list, Mandel wrote:”While the Horned Frogs still have plenty to prove following a 7-6 debut in their new league, Patterson has long since demonstrated that he’s one of the top defensive minds the sport has seen over the past decade.”
All Snyder has done in his second go-around as coach of the Wildcats, is lead the Cats to a combined 21-5 record the past two seasons and their second Big 12 championship in football this past season.
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma who also once coached under Snyder at Kansas State, was eighth in Mandel’s top 10 coaches’ ranking. It’s probably not surprising that Stoops is on the list. After all, in his 15 seasons at OU, Stoops has won eight conference championships and led his team to four BCS Championship games and a national title (in 2000). Stoops’ Sooner teams have compiled an overall record of 149-34, and he should pass legendary OU coach Barry Switzer this coming season as the winningest coach in program history.
Where Stoops has fallen down a few notches, Mandel says, is that his teams haven’t been quite as strong as past Stoops-coached OU teams since the Sooners’ appearance in the 2008 BCS Championship game against Florida.
Baylor’s Art Briles is the final Big 12 coach to make the top 10 list. The Bears did not have a winning record in their first 14 seasons in the Big 12. Since Briles took over the head-coaching reins in Waco three seasons ago, however. Baylor has gone a combined 25-14 and made three straight postseason bowl appearances. Two seasons ago, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.
Seven of the top 10 coaches, according to Mandel’s 2013 ranking of the best college coaches, were from either the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference. Three SEC coaches made the list. In addition to Saban, Les Miles of LSU (Miles was formerly at Oklahoma State) was sixth, and Kevin Sumlin (at one time an assistant at Oklahoma), who just finished his first year at Texas A&M, was No. 7 on the list.
Bobby Petrino, who was fired from his head post at Arkansas a little over a year ago for lying about his affair relationship with an athletic department employee and is in his first season at Western Kentucky, rounded out the top 10.
That’s the good news as far as the Big 12 is concerned. Mandel’s listing of the best and the worst among today’s college coaches also contained some not-so-good news for the Big 12. Among the five college coaches identified by Mandel as the worst in college football was Kansas head coach Charlie Weis. In four seasons as a college head coach (three at Notre Dame and one at Kansas), the former NFL offensive coordinator, who has three Super Bowl rings to his credit, has a combined won-lost record of 17-32.
A couple of other prominent names on the “worst coaches” list were Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin, who is now patroling the sidelines at USC following Pete Carroll’s departure after the 2009 season. Despite Ferentz’s $3.6 million-per-year salary, his teams have won only six more games than they have lost (47-41) over the past eight seasons, Mandel reports.
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