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Archived: Top College Football Coaches of 2018

Jul 25, 2018 EST

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20. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Thanks to regular season victories against Georgia and Alabama last year, Auburn was on the doorstep of reaching the CFB Playoff. However, a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game dropped the Tigers to the Peach Bowl (and an eventual loss to UCF). While Auburn fell short of the conference title and playoff berth, last season’s 10 victories were the most for the program since 2013. Malzahn guided Auburn to the SEC title and an appearance in the national championship in 2013 but went 23-16 from ’14-16 and had only one winning record in conference play during that span. Prior to taking over as Auburn’s head coach, Malzahn spent the 2012 campaign at Arkansas State, guiding the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record during the regular season. He also called the plays for the Tigers during their 2010 national championship and had stints at Tulsa (2007-08) and Arkansas (2006). Malzahn is one of college football’s top minds on offense and heads into 2018 armed with a new seven-year, $49 million dollar contract.


19. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Whittingham enters 2018 as the Pac-12’s longest-tenured coach. His 13 years at the helm in Salt Lake City also places him among the top five in in the nation in that respect. Whittingham’s longevity isn’t the most notable thing about his tenure, however. He’s produced consistent winners since working as a co-head coach with Urban Meyer in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Whittingham is 111-56 over the last 13 years and has just two losing records in that span. Utah has five finishes in the top 25 since 2008, including a No. 2 rank in the Associated Press poll in ’08. After finishing with back-to-back 5-7 seasons from 2012-13, Utah posted three consecutive years of at least nine victories. The Utes finished 7-6 last fall but are poised to challenge for the Pac-12 South title in 2018.


Related: 2018 Football Investment Package!


18. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Northwestern’s program continues to reach new heights under Fitzgerald’s watch. The former Northwestern linebacker was promoted to head coach prior to the 2006 season following the tragic death of Randy Walker. After a 10-14 record through his first two years on the job, Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to eight bowl games over the last 10 seasons and has just two years of fewer than six wins in that span. Additionally, Fitzgerald has led the program to three seasons of at least 10 victories. Prior to Fitzgerald’s tenure, Northwestern had only two years of at least 10 victories and had made just six bowl trips. Last season’s 7-2 mark in Big Ten play was the best conference record in Fitzgerald’s tenure in Evanston.


17. Dan Mullen, Florida

After a successful run at Mississippi State, Mullen was picked to help Florida return to a spot among the nation’s best. And there’s no shortage of familiarity in Gainesville, as Mullen spent 2005-08 working under Urban Meyer at Florida, and former Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin now works in the same role with the Gators. Mullen finished his tenure at Mississippi State with a 69-46 overall mark and a 33-39 record in SEC play. Those marks are even more impressive when you consider Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, and Mullen had only one season of fewer than six victories (2009). Additionally, prior to Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs had 13 bowl trips in program history. Under Mullen, Mississippi State went to eight postseason contests. The program also ranked No. 1 in the first CFB Playoff rankings in 2014. The Pennsylvania native also has stops on his resume from stints at Notre Dame (graduate assistant from 1999-00), Bowling Green and Utah. At Florida, Mullen will have better access to talent and is taking over one of the top 10 jobs in college football. Considering his level of success at Mississippi State, that should translate well in Gainesville.


Related: 2018 Football Investment Package!


16. Bobby Petrino, Louisville

In addition to his ability to produce high-powered offenses, Petrino continues to win at a high level, averaging nine wins a year in his 13 seasons as a head coach. The Cardinals are 34-18 since joining the ACC in 2014, finishing at least .500 or better in all four years. The 2016 season was the high point of Petrino’s second stint at Louisville. The Cardinals won nine games, finished 7-1 in ACC play and quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy. Petrino previously worked as Louisville’s head coach from 2003-06, compiling a 41-9 record and two finishes in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. He left for Arkansas in 2008, going 5-7 in his first year before recording three consecutive winning campaigns. The Razorbacks finished No. 5 nationally after recording 11 wins and a Cotton Bowl victory in 2011. Including an 8-4 record at WKU in 2013, Petrino is 117-48 overall as a head coach in the collegiate ranks.


15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Just how important is Snyder to Kansas State football? Consider this: Prior to Snyder’s arrival, the Wildcats had just one bowl trip in program history and won just nine games over the previous six years. However, Kansas State has thrived under Snyder’s direction. Snyder guided the program to 11 consecutive bowl games from 1993-2003, including two trips to the Fiesta Bowl. Additionally, K-State’s ’03 team claimed the Big 12 title and finished 11-4 overall. Snyder retired following the 2005 season but returned to the sidelines in Manhattan in 2009. The Wildcats have continued to have success in Snyder’s second act, claiming the Big 12 title in 2012 and playing in eight straight bowl games. Snyder is 210-110-1 since taking over as Kansas State’s head coach. In addition to his ability to develop players and maximize the talent on the roster, Snyder has found a way to win consistently at one of the Big 12’s toughest jobs.


14. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Gundy has recorded a 114-53 overall record since taking over at his alma mater prior to the 2005 season. Oklahoma State has won at least seven games in each of the last 12 years and has not posted a losing mark since 2005. Additionally, Gundy has helped to elevate the program into a consistent top 25 team. The Cowboys have finished in the final Associated Press poll seven times under his watch, including No. 3 in 2011. Oklahoma State also has four 10-win seasons over the last five years. Gundy’s 114 victories are the most by any coach in program history.


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13. Mark Richt, Miami

The U is a program on the rise with Richt at the controls. The Hurricanes are 19-7 over the last two seasons, with a 12-4 mark in ACC play. Miami won the Coastal Division title in 2017 for the first time since joining the league. Additionally, the Hurricanes were in the mix for a spot in the CFB Playoff deep into last season. Richt arrived in Coral Gables after accumulating a 145-51 record at Georgia from 2001-15. Under Richt’s direction, Georgia won two SEC titles (2002 and ’05), recorded at least double-digit victories in nine seasons and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll in 2007. Richt has already made a difference in just two years at Miami. Look for the upward trend to continue in 2018.


12. Chip Kelly, UCLA

Kelly has returned to the collegiate ranks following a stint in the NFL and a stop as a college football analyst for ESPN. How long will it take Kelly to elevate UCLA into Pac-12 title contention? If the past is any indicator, it won’t be long. Kelly went 46-7 at Oregon from 2009-12 and won at least 12 games in each of his last three seasons. The New Hampshire native is widely regarded as one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches. Kelly went 26-21 with the Eagles from 2013-15 and finished 2-14 with the 49ers in ’16. UCLA’s hire of Kelly was one of the top coaching moves for the 2017-18 carousel. This should work out well for the Bruins.


11. David Shaw, Stanford

Shaw continues to raise the bar for success at Stanford. After taking over following Jim Harbaugh’s departure to the NFL, Shaw is 73-22 over the last seven years and guided the program to three Pac-12 titles. Additionally, the Cardinal have not won fewer than eight games under Shaw’s watch and also have three trips to the Rose Bowl. Stanford is also 49-14 in Pac-12 action since the start of Shaw’s tenure in 2011.

10. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Smart makes a huge jump in the coach rankings following a successful 2017 season. In his first year at the helm in 2016, Georgia finished 8-5 overall and 4-4 in SEC play. However, Smart’s second team was only a couple of plays away from winning the national championship, falling 26-23 in overtime to Alabama. The Bulldogs finished 13-2 overall, claimed the SEC title and dominated rivals Georgia Tech and Florida by a combined score of 80-14. Georgia is also winning on the recruiting trail. After finishing with the No. 7 class in 2016, the Bulldogs inked the No. 3 haul in ’17 and claimed the best class by the 247Sports Composite this cycle. Smart was one of the nation’s top assistant coaches at Alabama prior to his arrival in Athens and is one of college football’s top defensive minds. After two years, it’s clear he’s on a fast track to a place among the top coaches in the nation and has Georgia (his alma mater) poised to contend for a playoff spot once again in 2018.


9. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Sorting out the coaches ranked 2-4 in the Big Ten might be the toughest part of this assignment. Michigan has improved significantly since Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor but is still looking to take the next step and win a conference title. The Wolverines went 10-3 in Harbaugh’s debut in 2015 — up from 5-7 in Brady Hoke’s last year. Michigan went 10-3 again in 2016 and came just a couple of plays away from beating Ohio State in Columbus to win the Big Ten East. In a rebuilding year, the Wolverines slipped to 8-5 last fall. With only six returning starters and three quarterbacks receiving snaps due to injury, it’s no surprise Michigan slipped to 5-4 in league play in 2017. However, Harbaugh’s track record is strong. He went 29-6 in three years at San Diego (2004-06), finished 29-21 at Stanford, including a 12-1 mark in 2010. Additionally, he finished 44-19-1 in four years with the San Francisco 49ers and guided the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. With one of the nation’s best defenses returning, along with the arrival of quarterback Shea Patterson, Harbaugh’s team should be in the mix to win the Big Ten title in 2018.

8. James Franklin, Penn State

After a 14-12 start to his tenure in Happy Valley, Franklin has elevated Penn State back among the nation’s top programs. The Nittany Lions are 22-5 over the last two seasons and have earned back-to-back trips to New Year’s Six bowl games. Additionally, Penn State claimed the 2016 Big Ten title and have lost only three contests in league play over the last two years. Franklin’s credentials with the Nittany Lions are impressive, but don’t forget about his stint at Vanderbilt. The Commodores — arguably the toughest job in the SEC — went 24-15 under Franklin’s watch and finished in the final polls in back-to-back years (2012-13). In addition to his on-field success, Franklin is one of college football’s top recruiters.


7. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Michigan State was one of college football’s most improved teams last season, recording a seven-win jump from 2016 to ’17. With last year’s 10-3 record and second-place finish in the East Division in mind, Dantonio jumps back to the No. 2 spot among Big Ten coaches. He’s 100-45 since taking over in East Lansing in 2007 and has just two losing records in that span. Additionally, Michigan State has claimed three Big Ten titles since 2010 and earned a trip to the CFB Playoff in ’15. Prior to his stint at Michigan State, Dantonio went 18-17 in three years at Cincinnati (2004-06) and worked as an assistant at Kansas (1991-94), Michigan State (1995-2000) and Ohio State (2001-03).


Related: College Football Top 25


6. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Texas A&M aimed high and successfully landed its top coaching target of the 2017-18 carousel, as Fisher left Tallahassee for a 10-year, $75 million dollar deal in College Station. As the contract indicates, the Aggies want to be a serious player in the SEC West. With standout facilities and fertile recruiting territory, Fisher should have no trouble helping this program move forward in the SEC over the next few years. Fisher had a tough assignment at Florida State, replacing legendary coach Bobby Bowden in 2010. After going 19-8 over his first two seasons, Fisher guided the program to three consecutive ACC titles (2012-14) and a perfect 14-0 season in 2013 to claim the national title. Injuries derailed Fisher’s final year in Tallahassee, as Florida State finished 7-6 overall. However, Fisher’s career mark at Florida State was an outstanding 83-23. It’s no secret the SEC West will present new challenges for Fisher. However, he’s already off to a strong start on the recruiting trail and there’s enough talent to be a top 25 team in 2018.

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

Patterson enters 2018 as the nation’s second-longest tenured coach and takes over the top spot in Athlon’s Big 12 coach rankings. The Kansas native took over as TCU’s head coach for the 2000 bowl game and has guided the program through three different conference transitions. The Horned Frogs moved from the WAC to Conference USA prior to 2001 and shifted to the Mountain West in ’05. The program landed in the Big 12 before the 2012 season, and through all of the changes, TCU hasn’t missed a beat with Patterson at the helm. He’s guided the program to a 160-57 record and has just three losing seasons in 17 years as the head coach in Fort Worth. TCU has also claimed at least a share of six conference titles, finished No. 2 nationally in 2010 and just missed out on the CFB Playoff in ’14. In addition to his success as a head coach, Patterson is one of college football’s top defensive minds and has guided TCU’s defense to rank consistently among the best in the nation.


4. Chris Petersen, Washington

Washington is a program on the rise with Petersen at the helm. The Huskies are 22-5 over the last two years, including a 12-win season and a trip to the CFB Playoff in 2016. Washington finished 10-3 last year, which gave the program its first back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories since 1990-91. Petersen is 37-17 since taking over in Seattle and has lost only three Pac-12 games over the last two years. Prior to taking over at Washington, Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State from 2006-13. During that span, the Broncos played in two BCS bowls and finished No. 4 nationally in 2009.


3. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Clemson has joined the ranks of college football’s annual contenders under Swinney’s direction. The Alabama native was promoted to interim coach in 2008 following the dismissal of Tommy Bowden. After a 4-3 mark in the final seven games of that season, Swinney guided the Tigers to a 9-5 mark in 2009 and the Atlantic Division title. Clemson went 16-11 over the next two seasons but has not won fewer than 10 games in each of the last six years. The Tigers have claimed three consecutive ACC titles, won the 2016 national championship and have earned a trip to the CFB Playoff in each of the last three years. Swinney is 101-30 since taking over in Death Valley and has Clemson poised to challenge for the national title once again in 2018.


2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Meyer has been a model of consistency and success at a high level since becoming a head coach in 2001. Over the last 16 years, Meyer has assembled an overall record of 177-31 and has claimed three national championships. One of those titles came at Ohio State, as the Buckeyes won the inaugural College Football Playoff in the 2014-15 season behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones en route to a 14-1 overall record. Since taking over in Columbus, Meyer is 73-8 overall and has lost just three Big Ten contests. He’s claimed two conference titles in that span and has finished just once outside of the top six in the final Associated Press poll. Meyer went 65-15 at Florida from 2005-10, winning the 2006 and ’08 national titles. Additionally, Meyer compiled a 17-6 mark at Bowling Green (2001-02) and went 22-2 during an impressive two-year run at Utah (2003-04).


1. Nick Saban, Alabama

Saban is the easy pick as the SEC’s No. 1 coach and there’s really no debate about his place in the hierarchy of college football coaches in 2018. With five national titles in nine seasons at Alabama, the West Virginia native continues to set the bar high for the rest of college football. In addition to winning national championships, Saban has lost only 12 games over the last nine years and has not won fewer than 10 games during that span. Remarkably, Alabama has only one season of more than two losses (2010) since 2008. Prior to taking over in Tuscaloosa, Saban went 48-16 with a national championship at LSU from 2000-04, compiled a 34-24-1 mark at Michigan State (1995-99) and went 9-2 at Toledo in 1990. He also had a two-year stint with the Dolphins, finishing 15-17 overall from 2005-06. At age 66, Saban doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. He’s one of the top defensive minds in the nation, continues to reel in elite talent and produces teams capable of winning the national title every year. Whenever Saban decides to retire, his resume is likely to be the best of any coach in college football history.

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