Which Power Five conference has the deepest roster of coaches? On the heels of our ranking of all 10 FBS conferences on their strength entering the 2017 season, we’re ranking the Power Five conferences based off their head coaches.
Our rankings are based on a highly confidential formula that takes into account coaches’ winning percentage and longevity at their current schools along with their performance relative to the program’s history. Oh, national titles play a factor too. If you disagree, drop us a note in the comments below.
Average tenure of Pac-12 coaches: 5.08 years
Longest tenured coach: Kyle Whittingham, Utah (13 years)
New coaches entering 2017: Willie Taggart, Oregon; Justin Wilcox, Cal
Coaches with a national title: N/A
This is not a slight to Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington’s Chris Petersen, both of whom have established themselves as two of college football’s best coaches in recent history.
Stanford hasn’t had a dropoff since Jim Harbaugh’s departure and Petersen’s rebuilding job at Washington bore fruit in 2016 as the Huskies made it to the College Football Playoff.
But the Pac-12 is dinged in these rankings because no one in the conference has a national title and USC’s Clay Helton, the coach of the (presumed) best team in the conference has less than two full years of experience as a head coach.
Elsewhere in the South, Whittingham’s job at Utah after taking over for Urban Meyer — remember, he’s been there 13 years — is underrated. He’s 104-50 in his career at Utah. One state to the east, Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre was staring at a make-or-break season in 2016. His Buffaloes responded with the Pac-12 South division title. Can Colorado sustain the success?
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4. Big 12
Average tenure of Big 12 coaches: 7.6 years
Longest tenured coach: Bill Snyder, Kansas State (26 years in two stints)
New coaches entering 2017: Matt Rhule, Baylor; Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma; Tom Herman, Texas;
Coaches with a national title: N/A
If Bob Stoops was still in the Big 12 we would have the conference one or two spots higher. Stoops was the second-longest tenured coach in the conference and the only one with a national title. The loss of a champion coach leaves the Big 12 as one of only two Power Five conferences without a title winner currently coaching.
Even without Stoops, the longevity of Big 12 coaches is something to behold. TCU’s Gary Patterson is entering his 17th season with the Horned Frogs while Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is entering his 13th season with the Cowboys. Their tenures are dwarfed by Snyder’s combined 26 years. The average tenure of a Big 12 coach is more than two years longer than any other Power Five conference. If you added Stoops to that tally, the average tenure is a whopping 9.4 years.
And the conference has some serious potential too. Herman, Rhule and Riley is a heck of a coaching trio to be entering the league at the same time. The Big 12 may be at a decided schematic disadvantage to getting into the College Football Playoff, but the league has a great mix of proven excellence and potential greatness.
Average tenure of SEC coaches: 4.14 years
Longest tenured coach: Nick Saban, Alabama (11 years)
New coaches entering 2017: Matt Luke, Ole Miss
Coaches with a national title: Saban
The SEC is only at No. 3 because of Saban. Without Saban, it’s easy to rank the SEC at the bottom of these rankings. Yeah, turnover in the league is higher than any other because of the pressure to win in the conference and because of Saban’s presence. In a league where other teams are trying to catch one of the most successful college football coaches at a program that’s one of the most successful of all time, there’s going to be a lot of thrashing to keep up.
Assuming that Saban is No. 1, a fun game is to figure out how the top five would look if you ranked the top five coaches in the SEC.
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn should slot into the top three and Florida’s Jim McElwain should be at No. 4 with his two SEC East titles in two seasons at the school. After that, you could probably make a case for a half-dozen names to fill out the final spot in the top five.
When you take Saban away — the only coach with 10 or more years at his current school — the average tenure of an SEC coach drops to 3.6. That’s less than a presidential term. Your favorite SEC school is likely to change its coach more often than the United States is to change presidents assuming no one wins re-election.
2. Big Ten
Average tenure of Big Ten coaches: 5 years
Longest tenured coach: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (19 years)
New coaches entering 2017: Tom Allen, Indiana; P.J. Fleck, Minnesota, Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Coaches with a national title: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
The top five game is a lot more fun in the Big Ten. We’d put Meyer at No. 1 because of his history of success at both Ohio State and Florida. But who is No. 2? Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh can’t be there already, can he? Is it Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who has taken his team to a playoff and has a 90-42 record with the Spartans.
Or is it Penn State’s James Franklin, whose team took a huge step forward in 2016 and is a preseason top 10 team. Maybe it’s even Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, who keeps reeling off winning seasons with the Hawkeyes. Though with a ridiculously tough schedule in 2017 — Iowa draws Penn State and Ohio State from the Big Ten East — the Hawkeyes don’t look like contenders for a division title.
Outside of those five, Paul Chryst has kept Wisconsin at the heights the program started achieving under Barry Alvarez and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is sneakily one of the longest-tenured coaches in the country. He’s entering his 12th season at his alma mater.
Average tenure of ACC coaches: 5.15 years
Longest tenured coach: Dabo Swinney, Clemson; Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; David Cutcliffe, Duke (10 years)
New coaches entering 2017: N/A
Coaches with a national title: Swinney; Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
A big reason the ACC gets the top spot in our rankings is that it’s the only conference with two national title winning coaches. And Fisher’s Seminoles are well-positioned to help him join Meyer and Saban as the only active coaches with multiple national championships.
After winning the 2016 title, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney enters his 10th season at the school. That’s tied for the longest of any ACC coach along with Johnson and Cutcliffe, who have brought their respective programs out of moribound situations.
Cutcliffe’s 10-4 Duke team in 2013 was the first double-digit season in Duke history and the first time the program had won at least eight games in 29 years. While injuries led to a 4-8 season for Duke in 2016, the preceding three seasons was the best three-year stretch in program history.
Johnson recorded 11-win seasons in 2009 and 2014. The 2009 season was the first 10+ win season for the Yellow Jackets since 1998. Yeah, 2015 was bad (3-9), but Georgia Tech responded with a 9-4 campaign in 2016.
The ACC also boasts Mark Richt, who has a 154-55 career record and went 9-4 in his first season at Miami. And Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente won the ACC Coastal in his first season with the school while North Carolina’s Larry Fedora has averaged eight wins a season since he got to Chapel Hill.
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