Earlier this year, Athlon Sports ranked all 128 head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Three Big 12 football coaches were ranked in the top 10 and five in the top 25, which is a solid testament to the quality of football played in the Big 12.
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, the winningest coach in OU’s illustrious football history and the winningest coach in the Big 12 era, was ranked highest of the Big 12 coaches in the Athlon poll, listed at No. 4. He is followed immediately by Art Briles of Baylor at No. 5 and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, the dean of Big 12 coaches, at No. 6.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is ranked 20th, and Gary Patterson of TCU is in the 24th spot. The Big 12 also claimed the No. 26 position in the Athlon coaches’ ranking with new Texas head coach Charlie Strong.
Wins and winning percentage are the easiest ways to evaluate coaching success, but those factors alone shouldn’t be the only way to assess the difference the person in the head-coaching role makes and the true value he brings to his team. There is also a huge difference between coaching at a school with plentiful resources and a national reputation as being an elite program and heading a program with far fewer financial resources and considerably less talent to work with.
If you go by Big 12 wins alone, Stoops’ 160 conference wins in 15 seasons is the best in the league. K-State’s Snyder has the most coaching wins, however, and the longest tenure of any Big 12 coach with 172 career wins as a head coach over 22 seasons, dating to 1989.
It’s interesting to note that Stoops coached under Snyder for seven seasons, serving as co-defensive coordinator from 1991-1995.
When Snyder took over as head coach of the Kansas State program, the Wildcats were labeled by Sports Illustrated as the worst college program in the country.
The job Snyder has done at Kansas State in two difference coaching stints has been nothing short of phenomenal. No one would have ever imagined, given where the program started when Snyder arrived in Manhattan, Kan. 25 years ago, that same school would evolve into a top-25 program on a fairly consistent basis under Snyder’s leadership.
Baylor was in a similar situation to what Snyder encountered at Kansas State when Art Briles’ took the reins in Waco, Texas, in 2008. The Bears had won five of 29 conference games in the three seasons before Briles arrived and were 0-8 in the conference the year before he took over.
But then a highly touted recruit named Robert Griffin III followed Briles to Baylor and helped engineer a major turnaround in the Baylor football program. Griffin had committed to Houston, where Briles was the former head coach, but when the Texas-native Briles took the head job at Baylor, RG3 decommitted to Houston, deciding to play college ball at Baylor under the coach who had recruited him.
Griffin won the 2011 Heisman Trophy, and in 2013, another standout quarterback, Bryce Petty, helped lead the Bears to their first Big 12 championship in football and a BCS bowl game.
Mike Gundy has had phenomenal success at Oklahoma State, as well, particularly over the last four seasons. Since 2010, the Cowboys have won 10 or more games in three of the four years, including the conference championship in 2011 when they went 12-1.
Who Is the Best Football Coach in the Big 12 Conference
- Bill Snyder, Kansas State – Has gotten more out of the talent he has had to work with than any other coach in the conference. In 22 seasons at Kansas State, Snyder’s teams have won 178 games against 90 losses for a winning percentage of .664.
- Bob Stoops, Oklahoma – His eight conference championships and a national championship in 2000 speak for themselves. Stoops became the all-time winningest football coach at Oklahoma last season, passing Barry Switzer, whose teams won 157 games in 16 seasons.
- Art Briles, Baylor – Briles spent two decades coaching high school football in Texas before moving into the college ranks in the early 2000s. He took his first head coaching job at Houston, where he was for five seasons, before moving to Baylor. He led Baylor to its first 11-win season and first Big 12 championship in 2013. He has coached Baylor to four consecutive bowl appearances after a 15 year absence from postseason play.
- Gary Patterson, TCU – In 13 seasons coaching at TCU, Gary Patterson has compiled a record of 120-44, including five conference championships (all outside of the Big 12). Patterson’s teams historically have been among the best defensive teams in the country. The 2009 Horned Frogs finished the season with a perfect 12-0 record and a fourth-place finish in the final BCS standings for that season.
- Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had success in football before former Cowboys’ quarterback Mike Gundy took the head-coaching reins there, but not with the same consistency. In nine seasons as the OSU head coach, Gundy’s teams have finished lower than fourth in the conference only three times, and two of those were in his first two seasons in 2005 and 2006. His 2011 team won the Big 12 championship and finished No. 3 in both the USA Today and AP polls.
- Paul Rhoads, Iowa State – Paul Rhoades has been very good for Iowa State. Despite lacking the talent and the resources of the Oklahoma and Texas schools, Rhoades has built a highly respectable program from what he has had to work with, and the Cyclones have been bowl eligible in three of his five seasons at the helm.
- Charlie Strong, Texas – Charlie Strong takes over one of the elite coaching positions in college football this season, moving to Texas from Louisville, where his teams were a combined 23-3 the past two seasons. Like OU’s Stoops, Strong spent several seasons in the early 2000s as the defensive coordinator at Florida.
- Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia – Holgorsen has spent most of his college coaching career as an offensive coordinator, at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. This will be his fourth season as the head man at West Virginia, where his teams have gone 21-17 overall, but just 6-12 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers won the Big East Conference in Holgorsen’s first season, but the sledding hasn’t been that smooth since moving over to the Big 12 in 2012.
- Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech – Kingsbury was an All-Big 12 First Team selection in 2002 while playing at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders went 8-5 in his first season as head coach of his alma mater. He has an excellent rapport with his players and his coaching staff, but his one season as a head-coach is the shortest tenure in the conference. So his real story has yet to sufficiently play out.
- Charlie Weis, Kansas – Charlie Weis is a big name with outstanding credentials as an offensive coordinator at the professional level. His resume includes three Super Bowl rings as the OC for the New England Patriots. But he has not been particularly successful as a head college coach. He has won four games total in three seasons as the Jayhawks, and outside of one season, his time at Notre Dame was not that successful.