2012 Coaching Rankings - The 5-Year Plan

Posted Apr 8, 2012

Which coach would you want to build your program over the next five years?

2012 Coaching Analysis

The 5-Year Plan, The Elite

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2012 Hot Seat Status
- No Pressure - Can Afford Two Bad Years
- No Real Worries. - Can Afford A Clunker
- Need To Win, Or The Pressure Is On
- Clunk In 2012, Worry In 2013
- The Pressure Cooker. The REAL Hot Seat 

It's simple: you have to hire a coach for your program with a five-year plan to build it up. Who'd be the best coach to take? No, this isn't a ranking of the best coaches in college football right now; this is a ranking of who'd be best to take over and be in for the relative long haul.

That's why age plays a huge factor - it's not a lock that a coach will still want to do this in his 70s - but it's mostly about who can get the job done. The younger, though, the better.

2012 5-Year Plan Coaching Rankings
- Part 1 - The Top 20 | Part 2 - 26-50
- Part 3 - 51-75 | Part 4 - 76-100
- Part 5 - The bottom 24 

It's simple: You have to hire a coach for your program with a five-year plan to build it up. Who'd be the best coach for the task? No, this isn't a ranking of the best coaches in college football right now; this is a ranking of who'd be best to take over for the long haul.

Age plays a huge factor — it's not a lock that a coach will still want to do this in his 70s — but it's mostly about who can get the job done. The younger, though, the better.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama
With the 2012 BCS championship victory, Saban has entered the hallowed territory where only the true college football coaching legends reside. Bo Schembechler never won one. Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne, and Bobby Bowden each won two. Woody Hayes won three, as did Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. Saban has done the near-impossible and won national championships in two different schools, raising the trophy three times in seven seasons with more likely on the way.

He and his Alabama program have become the gold standard of college coaching, revered in the same way the NFL types look to Bill Belichick and the Patriots. After time spent as Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, Saban has created a no-nonsense, pro-style atmosphere with a taskmaster approach to his assistants. Now, no one has more respect when it comes to putting together a game plan; he's the proverbial coach you'd want for the one game with the fate of the planet, or the BCS championship against LSU, on the line.

The superstar recruits keep on coming with top-five class after top-five class brought in, and while he and his staff still have to work for players in the cutthroat SEC, it has become a badge of honor just to be recruited by Alabama. Schools are always quick to highlight when a new recruit was also wanted by the Tide, validating the new pickup.

Saban will never be Bear Bryant, but he's carving out his niche for a new generation of Tide fans. He'll turn 61 on Halloween, and the stability of his job and the program isn't in question after a whopper of a contract extension. The fire appears to still be there to do even more with another team returning that'll be a favorite to win the national title. No coach in college football is any better, and he's the top coach going right now to run a program for the next five years.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
He'd be No. 1 on every list in every way except for one question: Is the commitment going to be there for the long haul? He's going to turn 48 this year, making him a relative pup when it comes to coaching lifecycles, but after the health scares at Florida with the retirement, the comeback, and the retirement again, maybe there will be a point when he really does want to spend more time with his family, especially if Ohio State isn't rocking at a national title level every year.

Ohio State hasn't exactly been the squeakiest of clean programs. Can Meyer avoid the off-the-field problems many of his Gators had? And what about the way things ended in Gainesville? He's recruiting his tail off at OSU, but he brought in an all-timer of a class late in his Florida run and did nothing with it, closing out with an 8-5 season.

For all his faults and all his overbearing flaws, he's the best in the game when he's running at peak capacity, and he appears to have the fire back. There's no one better at closing on recruits, and his track record is peerless.

He went 17-6 at Bowling Green, and the program has stunk ever since. His 2004 Utah team should've been in the national title discussion. His 2009 Florida team had one of the greatest seasons in college football history, and he ended up going 13-1 three times with the Gators. Now, the Ohio native has the job he was born and trained for, and if everything works out as planned, he's about to make an already elite program truly special.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
It's been 11 seasons since Stoops burst onto the scene and won the national title in his second year at Oklahoma, and while the Big Game Bob aura might be gone, and even though there have been a few epic clunkers, he is still on the short list of the best head coaches in college football. With a great resume already established as he turns 52 at the start of the season, he's just getting started, and there aren't any signs that things are slipping.

He hasn't had a losing season in his 13-year run, with the 7-5 inaugural campaign the worst of the bunch. There have been just three seasons on his watch without double-digit wins, and they all turned out to be rebuilding years with the 2000 team winning the national title after 1999, the 2006 team winning the Big 12 title after the 8-4 season in 2005, and the 2010 team bringing home Stoops' seventh conference championship after going 8-5 in 2009.

Texas might be seen as the anchor of the Big 12, and it might have its own TV network, but Stoops has proven over and over again that OU has been the star for more than a decade. There have been rumors about other job openings and possibly jumping ship — most notably to Notre Dame after Charlie Weis was canned — but Stoops appears to be fully entrenched in Norman. Oklahoma is one of the premier programs in college football because Stoops has restored the glory. While he'll never be the legend Bud Wilkinson is, and he needs a few more national titles to push past what Barry Switzer accomplished, he has carved out a nice niche for himself. At his age, he could just be getting started.

4. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Hoke is what a football coach should be like. He's not the cold, clinical type in the Belichick-Saban mold, and he's, so far, lacking the big-timer paranoia of the Urban Meyer types. Hoke runs his program, appears to be having fun with it, and is a bear of a worker both in the film room and on the recruiting trail. Yeah, he took what Rich Rodriguez started and ran with it, but he's the one who punched it across the goal line with an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl win.

No one, no one, has ever been able to do anything with a weak Ball State program, but Hoke managed to build up the Cardinals during his six seasons to a 12-1 MAC monster in 2008. No one, no one, was able to come up with the winning formula at San Diego State, but Hoke needed just one year to crank out a 9-4 season complete with a bowl win. He left the cupboard full for coach Rocky Long, and now the Aztecs are preparing for life in the Big East.

But it's the hope he has generated in Ann Arbor that's making him one of the biggest new coaching superstars. While it was Rich Rod's team he took to New Orleans, it's not the personnel or the style he necessarily wants. Instead of a running playmaker in Denard Robinson under center, Hoke likes pro-style passers. He still needs more receiving weapons, and the defense needs an infusion of new stars, but his latest recruiting class is a whopper and there's more talent to follow. Not only is Hoke making Michigan, Michigan again, but he appears to be making it even stronger.

5. Chip Kelly, Oregon
Kelly's first three seasons in Eugene have been nothing short of a revelation. Faced with a difficult challenge of succeeding longtime head coach Mike Bellotti, he's responded with a 34-6 record and three conference championships in a row. He's only lost two league games, and his run-based spread has become the envy of offensive coordinators from coast to coast. Under Kelly, the Ducks have ascended to a level of national prominence that Bellotti was never able to reach during his 14 years on the sidelines.

He's an offensive wunderkind who hasn't even entered his coaching prime. The lone caveat to hiring Kelly is that he has had some recent run-ins with the NCAA regarding recruiting practices and is so hot that he could be difficult to keep in one town for very long. He got to the altar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January before deciding to stay put.

6. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Is Gundy on the verge of superstardom? Les Miles did a nice job building the Cowboy program, but Gundy has taken things to another level. No longer just known for being 40, Gundy is turning 45 this summer and has matured along with his program. It wasn't just the near-miss at reaching the BCS championship last year; he has won 41 games over the last four seasons and is coming off a breakthrough Big 12 title campaign.

He lost offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia, and the team kept on rolling. He keeps losing talented offensive players, and there are more on the way. Gundy is the right fit for the program, and it might be a destination; there aren't too many bigger jobs to leave for.

Thanks to the deep pockets up uber-booster T. Boone Pickens, the program has whatever it needs, and Gundy is getting paid like a top-shelf head coach. Able to go toe-to-toe with Oklahoma and Texas in recruiting and on the field over the past several seasons, Gundy is proving to be worth the investment.

7. Gary Patterson, TCU
On any list of the best coaches who do the most at the non-BCS schools, there's Boise State's Gary Patterson. Always on the short list for the biggest job openings, he has shown little interest time and time again, choosing to be the main man at TCU and building it into a power of its own. With the Horned Frogs going off to the Big 12, this is no longer the Little Engine That Could program. Dominant year after year and cemented with the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, TCU is one of the big boys now whether it acts like it or not.

How consistent have Patterson's teams been? The 8-5 2007 season was considered a disaster. It was also one of just two non-double digit win campaigns in the last 10, going 47-5 since then with three straight unbeaten Mountain West runs. Now, the recruits are starting to notice with the talent level getting stronger and stronger. TCU won't bring in a haul that'll scare Texas or Oklahoma, but as Patterson has proven, he doesn't need the superstar high-school prospects to come up a winner.

8. Les Miles, LSU
Let's get this out of the way. You don't go 103-39 coaching in the former Big 12 South and the SEC West by being a flake. You don't go 75-18 with a national title and two conference championships in seven years at a place like LSU without having coaching chops. Nick Saban might have restored the glory in Baton Rouge, but it's been Miles who took the program to a whole other level with five double-digit win seasons and with just two years with more than two losses. Part of it is recruiting, part of it is superior confidence, part of it is stones-of-steel play-calling and part of it is pure talent.

Miles is a salesman who has put a fence around the state of Louisiana, for the most part, and has managed to bring in wave upon wave of top-shelf talent. Turning 59 this November, he has several more years of big seasons left, but he's also old enough that this is probably it. The Michigan job is locked up tight now, the NFL isn't the right fit, and there aren't any programs bigger than LSU right now. Miles made it that way.

9. Chris Petersen, Boise State
From the UCLA vacancy, to the Pitt job, to the greeter gig at Wal-Mart, if there's a job opening, someone has Petersen as a front-runner for it. But time and again he has taken himself out of the running for bigger jobs at higher profile places, even though he can call his shot and name his price. He's getting paid a solid $2 million a year, but after going a ridiculous 73-6 in his six seasons — with three of the losses coming in one season — with two BCS appearances and a few flirtations with a BCS championship bid, he's leaving at least another million on the table and could probably command close to $5 million a year with the right package at the right opening.

However, he has a great job, and he might have learned from history. Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins were brilliant at Boise State, too, but they failed miserably once they moved on. That's not to say he couldn't succeed elsewhere, but the program will soon be off to the Big East and the profile will get even higher. He's already a big-time head coach, and his team will be in a big-time conference.

10. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
In some ways, Bielema has taken what Barry Alvarez created and made it better. Of course, Alvarez was 3-0 in Rose Bowls and Bielema is 0-2, but Wisconsin is an intimidating force that's crushing teams. It's not like the Badgers are a bunch of bullies; Bielema has a plan and has a formula that worked in the reloading process after a tough 7-6 season in 2008, and nothing is going to knock him off the track.

He and his staff recruit to a type; the offense is always going to blast away with the running game; the passing game is going to be efficient; and the defense is going to dominate the weak. Using this style, Bielema is among the elite head coaches in college football with four 10-win seasons in six years, 32 victories in the past three and two straight Big Ten titles.

However, with the formula relying on players that aren't four and five-star talents, there might be a very, very thin line between going to the Rose Bowl and being a Big Ten also-ran. Even so, Wisconsin was two deep pass plays away from playing in the BCS championship last season, and it had chances to win in each of the two Rose Bowl losses. Bielema is 42, and he's still learning and growing into the job. He'll get offers from other places, but there might be no better fit for what he does than Wisconsin.

11. Art Briles, Baylor
What would he be able to do at a school that could actually bring in recruits? Many scoffed —present company included — at the idea of leaving Houston for Baylor instead of holding out for a better gig, but Briles said from the start that he could bring a winner to Waco. Yeah, yeah, yeah, every new coach says that, but Baylor was in a battle with Duke for the honor of being the least productive BCS program with no positive production in the Big 12 and no apparent hope. But a funny thing started to happen — the Briles offense worked.

Briles was able to bring in a track star with nice quarterback skills named Robert Griffin III, he got a couple of nice receivers, and then everything blew up. His program still doesn't have any defense, but the offense is able to keep up with anyone in the Big 12. All of a sudden, Baylor is a cool football school.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Nick Saban was just okay as the Michigan State head coach. He had four mediocre years before having one big 9-2 campaign that he parlayed into the LSU gig, and few in Baton Rouge were doing cartwheels over the hire. Could Dantonio, Saban's defensive backs coach in the late 1990s, be a Saban-like talent? He's starting to show he might be, but instead of bolting to another school, he's producing at Michigan State.

After three decent years, Dantonio has gone 22-5 in the past two seasons and came within a miraculous Russell Wilson pass of going to the Rose Bowl. No, he's not getting the talent that Saban was able to bring in at LSU and now at Alabama, but he's getting the program really close to a special season.

It seems like a long time ago, but remember Michigan State was long known for being the flakiest of the flaky programs with past coaches fielding $1 million teams with 10-cent heads that always crumbled in key moments. Dantonio has changed all that with his Bill Belichick-like demeanor steadying the ship. By improving the lines, solidifying the defense and getting good play out of smart veterans on offense, the system is in place to do even more.

13. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
While the Seminoles' return to glory has taken a little longer than hoped, it's way too early to be frustrated with Fisher. Yeah, Florida State is still waiting to capture its first ACC championship since 2005, but patience is recommended because the program has found the right man to lead it back up the mountain. Fisher has a high ceiling in the profession, and at 46, still in the early stages of his evolution on the sidelines. In terms of X's and O's, he does a nice job with the offense, while delegating to the defensive staff without any ego. During the offseason, he's brought more structure and accountability to the ‘Noles. On Signing Day, few are better. Fisher has procured the necessary talent in Tallahassee. Now, he has to go out and parlay those players into titles.

14. Charlie Strong, Louisville
There are a lot of and former athletic directors who passed on an opportunity to hire Strong as their head coach—and are sorry they did so. While it's early in his tenure with the Cardinals, it's evident he's a budding superstar. Forget the consecutive 7-6 seasons since arriving from Florida. The record only tells a fraction of what he's accomplished. In two years, he's completely changed the diseased culture within the program that needed a round of vaccinations when Steve Kragthorpe was in charge. Strong is the same feisty defensive tactician who earned his stripes in the SEC. Plus, he's still only 51 and doing a fantastic job of upgrading the overall talent level at Louisville. He's out of the gates quickly, with the best still ahead.

15. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU
There might not be a better unknown head coach in college football. Since taking over in 2005, he has cranked out two Mountain West titles and five ten-win seasons in six years. Not only has he produced at a high level every year, but he's been great in the bowl games going 5-2 with five victories in the past six seasons. At 47, he'll have some big decisions to make over the coming years. Does he want to be another LaVell Edwards and be a BYU lifer, or is he going to be looking to make the next jump up?

Mendenhall is already at a strong program, and he can stick around as long as he wants and should be consistently successful, but he has the talent and the potential to rock at one of the big boys. Of course, recruiting and coaching at BYU is far different than it is at other places, with the need to always take church missions into account from year to year, and it would be interesting to see what he could do if he went after the top-shelf talents at a high-level Pac-12 school. He's a whale of a defensive coach, whose offenses haven't been bad either, and he should be just scratching the surface on what should grow into a phenomenal career.

16. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
He's Air Force through and through, coming back to his alma mater where he played quarterback in the late 1980s. The program had gone stale under Fisher DeBerry, and there was some thought that it couldn't be competitive anymore at a mid-range to high level. While the Falcons aren't going to the BCS any time soon, under Calhoun they've occupied a decent space just below the Boise States and TCUs over the past few years. That the team went 7-6 and was a disappointment shows how strong the Calhoun era has been with five winning campaigns in five tries and a 41-24 record. Remember, the talent pool Calhoun has had to work with is about six inches — he's doing this with a lot of players that aren't necessarily FBS talents.

17. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
If Whittingham isn't the most underrated head coach in college football, he's absolutely in the discussion. Despite the fact that his Q rating is rather low, he's been magnificent in the seven years since replacing Urban Meyer in Salt Lake City. His 66-25 career mark includes a Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama that catapulted the Utes to No. 2 in the final AP ranking in 2008. He's yet to be at the helm of a losing team, even guiding Utah to a respectable 8-5 finish in last year's Pac-12 debut. He's a rock for the program yet harbors the intensity and passion to win that rubs off on his athletes. More than anything else, Whittingham has thrived because of his ability to transform middling high-school recruits into pro-caliber players. It's no surprise that his agent gets flooded with calls at the end of each fall when larger schools are looking to fill openings.

18. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly won two straight D-II national titles at Grand Valley State and came in second once in a three-year run going 41-2. He took over a woeful Central Michigan program and turned it into a MAC powerhouse, going 9-4 in 2006 with a conference title before going off to Cincinnati. With the Bearcats he was dominant, going 34-6 in his three seasons with two Big East titles, an Orange Bowl appearance and a shot against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, which he didn't coach because he took over the Notre Dame gig.

Known for being a taskmaster who gets the most out of his quarterbacks and his offenses with flawless execution, he seems like the right coach to finally turn the Irish into a consistent superpower again. If he could get CMU to a MAC title in three years, and if he could turn Cincinnati into a national title contender in three seasons, then what could he do with the resources and the advantages of being Notre Dame's head man?

Now it's his third year, and it's time to turn the corner.

Turning 51 this football season, he's just entering his prime, and he appears to be hitting his stride as a recruiter. Tireless, he's bringing in some good talent, improving the lines and has a star-in-waiting in top QB prospect Gunner Kiel. The schedule is unfairly brutal, but unlike previous regimes, the foundation is set for the sustained run Irish fans have been waiting for. It might just take a little while longer.

19. Mark Richt, Georgia

If he was at almost any other school he'd be a legend with 10 winning seasons in 11 years, seven double-digit win campaigns, five SEC East titles and six top 10 finishes in 10 years with four in the top six. And it's not enough. With Florida, LSU, Auburn, and Alabama winning national titles in the SEC's recent amazing run, Georgia is waiting for its turn at bat.

Richt was great at taking the program from Point A to Point B, but is that it? The SEC East-winning 2011 season got him off the hot seat for now, but that was partly due to a schedule that missed all the big boys from the West until the SEC title game. But does he have control over his program? With problem after problem with rules violations, including issues with safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree, what should be a fun 2012 is starting out to be anything but.

20. The Next Arkansas Head Coach   
The pressure will be on for Bobby Petrino's replacement to win and win now. There might be a bit of a mess left over, but it had nothing to do with the football side of things meaning anyone who steps in should be able to take the Hogs to a great season. The veterans are in place on both sides of the ball to handle the changes without a problem, and there's enough time between the firing and the start of the season to get past the drama. The new head coach might have to win, but he'll be given a bit of a break as long as he's not Petrino. Arkansas might not be too patient, but the new coach will be brought in with the idea that he'll keep the program playing at a high level for the next five years. 

2012 5-Year Plan Coaching Rankings
- Part 1 - The Top 20 | Part 2 - 26-50
- Part 3 - 51-75 | Part 4 - 76-100
- Part 5 - The bottom 24