There have been numerous coaches who have lifted their teams to championships in college football. With such a large roster, the best teams usually feature a similar amount of talent, and the coach who better prepares their team with a superior gameplan usually wins. The coaches make the players, not vice versa. In a game that was once run dominant, here are 10 coaches whose resume’s feature accomplishments that put them into a company of their own.
10. Bo Schembechler, Michigan (1969-89)
Glenn “Bo” Schembechler, the only coach to make this list with a national title is more than worthy. During his time with the Wolverines, Bo racked up a record of 194 wins, 48 losses, and 5 ties. Only Tom Osborne and Joe Paterno can say they reached the 200 win mark in fewer games than Schembechler. Bo also won 13 Big Ten titles in his 20 seasons with Michigan. Playing his collegiate career at Miami being coached by the legendary Woody Hayes set the stage for Bo. In his first season coaching Michigan, Bo shocked the world when he defeated his mentor Woody Hayes, who was coaching a dominant Ohio State team, maybe Hayes’ best who were riding a 22 game win streak. This win was significant for many reasons. After struggling through the 50’s and 60’s, Schembechler was able to put Michigan back on the map as a national contender with what is considered one of the greatest upsets in college football history. Ensuing was what was known as the “Ten Year War” between Hayes and his Buckeyes, and Bo and his Wolverines. Bo had the slight edge with a 5-4-1 record.
9. Lou Holtz, (1969-04)
These types of lists usually only consider the run’s coaches had at one school. For Lou Holtz, that strategy does not apply considering he really coached all over the map. From William & Marry to NC State to Arkansas to Minnesota to Notre Dame to South Carolina, Holtz was everywhere. By coaching at all of these different schools, Holtz is the only coach in the history of the game to lead six different programs to bowl games and four different schools into the top 20 rankings. His most significant accomplishment was his perfect season in South Bend, where he led the Fighting Irish to a perfect 12-0 record and consensus national title recognition after a Fiesta Bowl victory. Notre Dame was probably Holtz’s’ most memorable run as he brought the Irish out of dark times and turned the program completely around. His first move as coach was to remove the player’s names from the back of the jersey, so the knew what they were playing for. It was inspiration over tactics for Holtz and players bought into what he had to say.
8. Woody Hayes, Ohio State (1951-78)
Before mentoring the great Bo Schembechler, Hayes had his only dazzling coaching career. Over the course of his 28 seasons coaching the Buckeyes, Hayes won five national championships, 13 Big 10 titles, and a record of 205-61-10. Aside from his greatness on the field, Hayes also made a political mark. He was a pioneer in the process of recruiting African-Americans to play college football. This wasn’t the only noise that Hayes would create off the field. Hayes was also known for throwing legendary punches. Following a 17-0 beatdown from USC, Hayes was trying to punch Los Angeles Examiner sportswriter Al Bine. However, he missed and hit Bob Shafer’s brother instead. This wouldn’t be the end of the punching woes. In the 1978 Gator Bowl, the Buckeyes were trailing Clemson 17-15 with about two minutes and 30 seconds left. On third and five on the Clemson 24 yard line, Hayes elected to run a pass play. The pass was intercepted by Clemson defensive tackle Charlie Bauman. Bauman returned it down the Ohio State sideline where he was eventually tackled out of bounds. As Bauman got up, Hayes punched him directly in the throat, unleashing a full-on brawl between the two benches. Players admired his fire and wanted to play with him, but in the end, it was that fire that got the best of Hayes, leading to his immediate firing.
7. Bobby Bowden, Florida State (1976-2009)
With a career record of 377-129-4, Bowden safely finds his spot on this list. The two-time national champion and 12 time ACC champion was known for his consistency. It wasn’t until the final stages of his coaching legacy did his teams start to crumble. During his 34 seasons at FSU, he only entailed one losing record. It was his first season after he took over a team that had gone 4-29 the three previous years. His golden age was between 1987 and 2000, where the Seminoles notched at least 10 wins each season and his two national titles came in this era. The first in 1993 and the second in 1999. In 2001, Bowden brought the Seminoles back to the championship. However, they would fall short to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Bowden’s run of nine straight BCS games was astonishing and his ability to completely flipped the script for a struggling Seminoles team and will forever be remembered as one of the best to ever do it.
6. Joe Paterno, Penn State (1966-11)
“JoePa” had the longevity that will never be matched by anyone. After coaching for a whopping 45 years at Happy Valley, Paterno posted an incredible 409 wins, 136 losses, and three ties. With over 400 wins, Paterno stands alone in the all-time wins column, but of course, his resume does not stop there. Two national championships with three Big Ten titles, plus 40 years of national contention. He was the first coach to win all four of the BCS bowl games, including the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl. Paterno also led Penn State to four undefeated seasons where they won their bowl game and were not awarded the national championship. “JoePa” also had his team finish in the top 10 of national rankings 29 times. With Paterno, it is not even about the accolades, it is more about the fact that he was able to do this for 45 years, and consistently put a winning team on the field. If some of those undefeated seasons had resulted in consensus national title recognition, he would be much higher on this list, maybe even first.
5. Knute Rockne, Notre Dame (1918-30)
The ideologist behind passing plays, Knute Rockne safely finds his way towards the top of the list. In his 13 years of leading the Fighting Irish, Knute led them to 105 wins, 12 losses, and five ties. Among those wins came three national championships and five undefeated seasons. To do this day, he still holds the highest winning percentage among all major college football coaches. In 1931, Rockne died on a tragic plane crash where he was headed to act in the film The Spirit Of Notre Dame. He was a pioneer to the business side of the game and is a core reason the game ever became so popular. His legacy lives on forever not just in South Bend, but across the entire nation. This list wouldn’t be complete without Knute Rockne.
4. Tom Osborne, Nebraska (1973-97)
As coach of some of the greatest teams to ever play the game, Tom Osborne has a strong case to even be listed higher than number four. With an implausible record of 255-49-3, Osborne greatness is almost unmatched. During his years, he won three national championships, 12 Big East titles, and one Big 12 title. In 24 out of 25 seasons, Osborne’s team finished in the top 15 of the national rankings. Known for his powerful rushing attacks and stingy defenses, Osborne dominated the 90’s. After losing the Orange Bowl in 1994 to Florida State 18-16, the Cornhuskers bounced back the following season to earn Osborne his first national title. That loss to Florida State would also be the last time that Osborne would lose a bowl game. The final game he coached was the 98′ Orange Bowl against a Tennessee team led by quarterback Peyton Manning. The Cornhusker put on a show that Osborne had been conducting ever since he became head coach with a dismantling of the Volunteers with a final score of 42-17. This would be Osborne’s last game coaching and the end of Peyton Manning’s collegiate career.
3. Urban Meyer, 2001-present
Similar to Lou Holtz, Meyer’s success at different schools had a tremendous impact on how he got so high on this list at such a young age. After having success at Bowling Green and a BCS bowl win in his lone season at Utah, Meyer decided to accept a job to become the head coach at the University of Florida. In just his second season with the Gators, Meyer led them to a national championship with a 41-14 victory over Ohio State giving him his first title. Two seasons later, Meyer again found himself in the national championship, this time against the mighty Oklahoma Sooners, who they handled 24-14 earning Meyer his second championship in just four years with the Gators. In 2009 Meyer announced his retirement due to health concerns and it appeared his coaching days were over. Back full in health, Meyer decided to accept a job for the vacant position at the Ohio State University. In his first year with the Buckeyes, he led them to a perfect 12-0 record, however, due to NCAA violations they were banned from the postseason. In 2014 the NCAA restrictions on the Buckeyes were lifted, and Meyer brought them to a national championship. After dismantling Marcus Mariota and the high-octane Oregon offense 42-20, Meyer had won his third championship and cemented his legendary status for good. By the end of his career, he might have a pretty strong argument for topping this list.
2. Bear Bryant, Alabama (1958-82)
Paul “Bear” Bryant was not just a coaching legend but an icon for college football. In his third season with the Tide, he led them to perfect 11-0 season resulting in his first championship of many to come. The six-time national champion and 14-time SEC champion has the resume of a guy who should be top of the list, but unfortunately for him, his heir took that throne. None the less, Bryant had an astonishing record of 325-85-17 and was the 12 time SEC coach of the year. To put things into perspective, the Coach of the Year Award is usually a one time gig to give other coaches a chance to make a name for themselves, but Bryant’s teams were so good the NCAA had no choice. Similar to Lou Holtz, Bryant favored his words over his tactics, as he was able to inspire his players with his speeches to bring out the best in every single one of them. This was the case until 1971 when Bryant shifted his offensive focus the Wishbone look where he added variations to it and became the master.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama (2007-present)
Where to begin. Nick Saban is the unanimous choice for topping this list. After a national title with LSU in 2003, and then five more during his tenure with Alabama, this guy just understands how to win. With a record of 218-62-1, Saban only had one failure during his coaching years, and it came at the hands of the NFL during his days with the Miami Dolphins that did not last long. The problem with Saban in the NFL is that his best trait is an ability to have guys that want to win for him and play for him. He maximizes potential like no one else, and in the NFL we’re talking about full grown men who have likely already realized their potential. His most significant accomplishment came just this past season with his most recent championship. With Alabama struggling to do anything offensively, Saban decided to bench star quarterback and Heisman candidate Jalen Hurts for true freshman Tua Tagovailoa who Saban thought would be a better matchup against the dominant Georgia defense. Tagovailoa brought Alabama all the way back into the game resulting in an overtime victory on an improbable game-winning 41-yard touchdown. Tua was the star of the night, but it was Saban who really saved the day. The 2017 championship tied him up with the Bear for the most all-time at 6. Saban gets the nod for doing it in many less year, and much higher levels of competition, including the new college football playoff.