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College Football's Summer Top 25: Head Coaches

This time of year always has people putting out their top 25 lists of teams heading into the season. 

I put one out myself shortly after the regular season ended.

However, I wanted to take a break from the norm and rank the top 25 coaches going into the 2009 season.

Just so everyone knows this isn't a list of all-time great coaches, and it isn't a list of who is the greatest coach that is actively coaching. 

If that were the case this would be an insanely easy list to make, and we all know that people like Paterno, Bowden and Spurrier would be at the top of that list, but Bowden and Spurrier are inauspiciously missing from this particular ranking.

This list simply ranks the coaches who are perhaps the hottest coaches in the country right now.  It could be coaches who are exceeding expectations at their particular university, or an all-time great who is resurrecting his career.

Whatever the criteria, I've tried painstakingly hard to put together this list of the top 25 coaches heading into the 2009 season, and I hope it's one that both satisfies and causes some controversial discussion.

So without further ado here is the top 25 for 2009:

 

25. Bo Pelini - Nebraska

Bo has the shortest tenure of any coach on the list at one year.  I disqualified most coaches who have that little time under their belts, but the job that he did in his first year is worth noting.

Also worth noting is that Pelini has the Cornhuskers as one of the early favorites to be making a trip to the Big 12 title game in December.  I think most head coaches would love to have a 9-4 year in their first season ever as head coach.

So for exceeding what were already lofty expectations, Bo Pelini lands himself at number 25 for 2009.

 

24. Mike Gundy - Oklahoma State

Many know Gundy for his infamous "I'm a man! I'm 40!" tirade a couple of years ago.  However, I think people are starting to take notice of the fact that he has a pretty good football team up there in Stillwater.

The Cowboys are in most everyone's early top 10, and they are actually averaging the six spot if you average all the major polls in the country.

His offense certainly has a ton of fire power with players that are at or near the top of their respective positions at QB, WR, and RB. 

However, if Gundy wants to climb this list he is going to have to figure out that it also helps to have some sort of defense backing your offense up.

 

23. Brian Kelly - Cincinnati

Kelly has made a living being known as a guy that turns programs around quickly.

His tenure at Cincinnati has been no exception.  He has taken what is largely known as a basketball school and turned it into a Big East football power.

He took home the Big East crown in 2009 along with a trip to the Orange Bowl.  He was able to do all this without any kind of stability at quarterback.

He had to shuffle through ineligibilities and injuries all year long at the most important position on the field, but was still able to coach his team to a conference title.

I don't care if it was the Big East, it was still impressive.

 

22. Gary Pinkel - Missouri

Pinkel has taken a team that is generally a historically mediocre team to two straight Big 12 north titles.

In 2007 his team even achieved a number one ranking.

2008 saw his Tigers fall below expectations, and 2009 maybe an even tougher year for the head man at Mizzou, but his turnaround job in Columbia has definitely been remarkable.

 

21. Bobby Petrino - Arkansas

Petrino is a guy that would have found himself higher on this list a few years ago.

He is responsible for turning around Louisville, and his impact as the coach of that team is undeniable when seeing what happened to them the year after he left.

Now he is trying to turnaround an Arkansas team that is playing in one of the toughest divisions in college football.

He probably doesn't have a shot at an SEC west title this year, though many would say they are the dark horse in that division, but in 2010 and 2011 I would expect Arkansas to be one of the top teams in the SEC.

 

20. Jim Grobe - Wake Forest

Jim Grobe guided the Demon Deacons to an ACC title and an appearance in the Orange Bowl in 2007.

The Deacons championship shocked many, and while they haven't yet won another the Demon Deacons are no longer a team that you can just show up against.  They are an extremely tough team led by an extremely tough leader.

As long as Grobe is on the sidelines at Wake Forest the Deacons will always be a viable threat in the ACC.

 

19. Jim Leavitt - South Florida

Leavitt is the only the coach that this young football program has ever known. 

That is why I think it is all that much more remarkable that the program has gotten to the point that it has, and that is the early favorite to win the Big East in 2009.

Leavitt has guided the Bulls to a number two ranking at one point, but late season let downs have been a bad trend for his teams the last few years.

If Leavitt and the Bulls hope to finally take home the Big East title he is going to have to figure how to get his team to handle expectations, and how to not wear down towards the end of the season.

 

18. Mike Leach - Texas Tech

Mike Leach is unquestionably an offensive genius. 

People sometimes hate on Leach saying that it's the system that allows them to score so many points.

Well, yeah, of course it is.  And he is the man that created the system, and if I had a system that allowed me to score 50 points a game I would use it too.

While being an offensive genius his defenses have often gone largely by the wayside.  Leach has taken notice that he can't outscore every team, and has taken measures to fix his defense, but so far it's still not enough.

2009 may be a tough year for the Red Raiders as they are picked as the fourth or even the fifth best team in the Big 12 south, but if there is one thing that everyone should know about Leach it's that you shouldn't underestimate his ability to plug players into his system.

 

17. Jeff Tedford - Cal

Tedford is without a doubt one of the most unsung coaches in the country.  He puts together some outstanding football teams year to year, and yet the man never really gets any recognition.

With perhaps the best running back in the nation in Jahvid Best, and a reloading year at USC, this could finally be the year that Tedford breaks through in the Pac 10.

 

16. Bronco Mendenhall - BYU

Mendenhall has backed off the slogans about perfection for the 2009 season, but with QB Max Hall back to guide BYU, the Cougars are still looked at as one of the potential BCS busters for 2009.

Mendenhall hasn't been at BYU for long, but he has made them competitive on a national stage once again.

BYU used to be a national power in the '80's, but fell off the map of college football for quite a while.  Mendenhall has helped to resurrect the Mormon football faithful, and has made them into a perennial top 25 team.

 

15. Mark Mangino - Kansas

Mangino just continues to defy the odds at Kansas.

Known for it's prowess in basketball, the Jayhawks are no longer a one trick pony. 

Mangino has guided Kansas to back-to-back bowl victories for the first time in school history including an Orange Bowl victory.

Considering the long history of futility in Lawrence, what Mangino has done is nothing short of spectacular.

 

14. Chris Petersen - Boise State

Petersen wasn't responsible for building up the Boise program, but he is responsible for taking them to the next level.

We are all of course aware of the Bronco's stunning Fiesta Bowl victory and undefeated season, but then Petersen took the Bronco's to another undefeated regular season in 2008 before they were snubbed by the BCS committee.

Boise has some very lofty expectations, with a schedule that will get them into a BCS game if they earn it.  With qb Kellen Moore returning, the Bronco's just may be making a return to the BCS.

 

13. Les Miles - LSU

Les has been the subject of some controversy in Baton Rouge.  Many Tigers fans are unsure of his ability to win without Saban's players, and also the fact that even when they did win the championship they still had two losses.

Whatever side of the fence you stand regarding Miles, the fact is he is one of the best coaches in the country.

His reckless style might lose some games, but it wins many as well.  It's also pretty undeniable that he is a great recruiter which comes in handy when you are in a recruiting rich area like LSU.

 

12. Gary Patterson - TCU

Patterson's teams are best known for their ferocious defense.  2009 should be another banner year for the Horned Frogs defense which is led by defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Patterson has made TCU a perennial top 25 team, and always one of the teams in the discussion as a BCS buster.

He has yet to breakthrough to the BCS, but does have on his resume a win in Norman, and, along with Texas, held OU to their lowest regular season point total in 2008.

I think that their schedule works out favorably in 2009, and Patterson finally busts down the BCS door that he has been knocking on for so long.

 

11. Butch Davis - North Carolina

Had he not ever opted to leave Miami for the NFL we may be talking about Butch Davis as perhaps the best coach in the country right now.

In his final season at Miami his one loss team was snubbed for the National Championship game in favor of a once beaten FSU that Davis had beaten earlier in the season.

The year after Davis left Miami the Hurricanes went on to win the national title, and perhaps became one of the greatest teams ever.

Now at North Carolina, Davis has recruited marvelously, and has his team as a favorite to win their division in 2009.

The Tar Heels hadn't seen success since Mack Brown, but as long as Davis is there they should be in the national picture almost every year.

 

10. Kyle Whittingham - Utah

The Utes shocked the world in January when they showed up at the Sugar Bowl and put a whipping on the Crimson Tide. 

Many claim that Utah should have had at least a share of the title because of their showing in the BCS, but Whittingham has only himself to blame because if they would have kept their 2008 date with Texas and won, then perhaps the Utes would have actually been in the title game instead of the Sugar bowl.

However, the job that Whittingham did in 2008 was still very impressive, and while his team may take a step back in 2009, they are still worthy of a top 25 preseason ranking.

 

9. Mark Richt - Georgia

Richt is still seeking the Bulldog's first national title since the days of Herschel Walker, but he does have two SEC crowns under his belt.

The Bulldogs did fall well below expectations in 2008, but you can largely blame that on a severe rash of injuries to the team.

Georgia doesn't have any lofty expectations placed upon them in 2009, but don't be surprised to see them rebound into a top 10 team.

 

8. Frank Beamer - Virginia Tech

Beamer is still searching for that elusive national championship, but 2009 looks like a promising season for the man known for "Beamer ball."

Beamer has won several ACC titles, but the quest for the national championship could end this year with what looks to be his best team since the days of Michael Vick.

Of course standing in his way is a date with Alabama, the ACC schedule, and if he gets to the National title game probably a great Florida team, or Texas or Oklahoma.  All of whom would be huge obstacles to Beamer's title hopes.

 

7. Joe Paterno - Penn State

Without a doubt Joe Paterno is one of the greatest coaches of all time, and in the last few years he has been able to resurrect his Penn State team that many thought would be dead until Paterno decided to hang up his clip board.

Paterno has been able to prove his critics wrong by winning a couple of Big Ten titles and going 1-1 in BCS bowls since 2005.

With some big time starters returning in 2009, and a home date against the Buckeyes, expectations are high once again in Happy Valley.

 

6. Jim Tressell - Ohio State

Tressell made a promise to the Buckeye faithful that beating Michigan is priority one.  He has delivered on that promise by pretty much dominating the Wolverines during his tenure.

Tressell has a national title and a plethora of Big Ten titles to his credit, but as of late he has his critics because the Buckeyes, who were once dominant in BCS games under Tressell, have now lost three straight.

Regardless of recent lack of success in BCS games there isn't a team in the country that wouldn't sign Tressell in a heartbeat.  That is unless you are one of the next five schools with one of these coaches on your sideline.

 

5. Bob Stoops - Oklahoma

Bob Stoops revived from the ashes one of the greatest football programs of all-time.

In this decade no one has won more games than stoops.  He has by far more Big 12 titles than any other school.  He has led Oklahoma to the only back-to-back and back-to-back-to-back Big 12 titles.  He has a BCS title and a Rose Bowl title.  He has a winning record against Texas.

However, as of late Stoops, like Tressell, has his detractors because of five straight BCS game losses and three straight BCS title game losses.  He has also lost three of the last four games against Texas, but this year he will go to work on his fourth straight Big 12 title, and there isn't a person around that won't say Oklahoma isn't one of the top three teams in the country right now.

 

4. Nick Saban - Alabama

Saban is known as a man that is great at turning around football programs.  He is also known as somewhat of a vagabond who gets restless being in one place for too long. 

However, he is still a great coach.  He led LSU to a national title before bolting for the NFL.  He spent a year there, and decided college was much more suited to him.

Coming back to college Saban assumed the role as head coach at Alabama.  One of the greatest programs in college history was in desperate need of a great coach, and that is just what they got. 

Saban, in only his second season as the head man of the Tide, rolled Alabama to an undefeated regular season, a number one ranking, an SEC title game appearance, and a Sugar Bowl appearance. 

While the Tide came up short in their last two games, a message was sent to the rest of the country that Alabama is back on the scene again, and they will be there for a long time.

 

3. Mack Brown - Texas

Mack was much maligned at Texas in the early going.  He was hated for playing Simms over Applewhite.  He was hated for not winning the Big 12 or a national title.  He was cursed with the not so flattering nickname "Mr. February", which alluded to his great ability to recruit, but seeming inability to develop players.

Mack has since changed things around in Texas, and they are an early favorite to make a trip to Pasadena, the place they won their last national title.

Mack has a perfect BCS record at 3-0. He has the longest streak of 10 win seasons ever, and will look to extend that streak this year.  He guided one of the greatest teams ever in 2005 to a national championship.  He has never won fewer than nine games at Texas, and has never finished lower than second in the Big 12 South.  He has won five straight bowl games and won three of the last four games against his arch rival Bob Stoops.

The Longhorns are one of the top three teams heading into 2009, and yet with all he has accomplished there are many that still consider Mack to be "Mr. February," which is a topic I touched on during last season. 

You can check that out here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/68406-still-mr-february-will-mack-brown-ever-earn-any-respect

 

2. Pete Carroll - USC

Pete is another coach that revived a dormant historically great program.  During his tenure the Trojans have seemingly won the Pac-10 title every year.

He has guided the Trojans to a BCS title and a split national championship. 

The Trojans have been to a BCS bowl for seven straight years now, and are 6-1 in those games.  In those seven years they have finished no lower than fourth in either the Coaches or AP poll.

Carroll has had three Heisman trophy winners in only eight years as head coach of the Trojans.  That's more than the vast majority of schools have had in their entire existence.

Carroll has a huge rebuilding job to do in 2009, but to speak of his greatness, the Trojans are still considered a top five preseason team.

 

1. Urban Meyer - Florida

Meyer is the original BCS buster.  He led Utah to a perfect season and a BCS game where they defeated the Big East champs Pittsburgh.

Meyer then went on to become the head coach at Florida where he has now won two of the last three BCS championships becoming the first coach to ever win two BCS titles, and Florida is the early favorite to win yet another title, and become the first to repeat as BCS champions.

Meyer is constantly plagued by rumors that he will leave Florida for Notre Dame, but one thing is for sure he will be in Florida in 2009, and he will be trying to make history yet again.

 

That is my coaches summer top 25.  If you agree, disagree or are simply disgusted by the list feel free to let me know.  I always enjoy a good debate.

Here are a few notables that I left off, that I think I'm sure to hear: Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier, Rich Rodriguez, and Charlie Weis.  If you can think of any others please let me know.

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