College Football Coaches Who Shine and Struggle Against Top 25 Teams
Of the 128 FBS head coaches, how many do you think have a career winning record against Top 25 teams?
Half? A third? A quarter?
How about 15 total? That’s a paltry 12 percent of the field.
On the flip side, of the 110 guys who have at least one year of FBS head coaching under their belt and have played at least one ranked team, how many have never won a game against a Top 25 opponent?
Ten percent? Twenty percent? Twenty-five percent?
How about 32? That’s a whopping 29 percent.
Comparing coach’s records straight-up isn’t an apples-to-apples affair. Some have 15 years of experience, while others have three—this means where one guy has faced 25 ranked teams, the other has played seven. It’s further complicated when you have one guy coaching at Florida, while the other is at Memphis—giving one more exposure to ranked action than the other.
We’ll kick things off by looking at the top and the bottom of the barrel nationally and then switch gears to rankings within each of the Power Five leagues.
Here are the 15 current FBS head coaches with career winning marks versus Top 25 opponents.
|Urban Meyer||Ohio St||29-12||70.7%|
|Jimbo Fisher||Florida St||12-6||66.7%|
|Brian Kelly||Notre Dame||17-13||56.7%|
|Steve Spurrier||South Carolina||61-54-1||53.02%|
The most impressive guy on the list is Steve Spurrier, who has coached against more Top 25 opponents than any active FBS coach—116—yet still manages to hold on above the .500 mark. That's despite his 19-26 record (42 percent) at his current post, South Carolina.
Compare that to the coach with second-most ranked opponents—Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer—with 94 such games and a 47 percent record (44-49-1).
Next up are the active coaches with the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-most games against ranked opponents—Nick Saban (91), Bob Stoops (77), Les Miles (75) and Mark Richt (71), all coming in over the .500 mark. Extra credit is awarded to Saban and Miles, both who had prior head roles at smaller schools and still have a winning record all-time.
Compare that to Tommy Tuberville, who is tied with Richt with 71 games versus ranked opponents; the only difference is he’s 26-45 all-time, or 36.62 percent.
The odd guys out are UTSA’s Larry Coker and Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm. Coker is 0-2 versus Top 25 teams in four years with the Roadrunners, but he posted a 20-11 mark while at Miami (Fla.) from 2001-06. As for Brohm, he’s had just one crack at a ranked opponent, last season—his first at the helm for the Hilltoppers—a 67-66 overtime triumph versus 23-point favorite No. 19 Marshall.
Worth noting are the four coaches with .500 career marks versus Top 25 action: Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (10-10), Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (6-6), Utah State’s Matt Wells (2-2) and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin (1-1).
Also worth highlighting are USC’s Steve Sarkisian, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson. No member of this trio has a career winning record against ranked action, but each is making headway at their current post.
Sarkisian went 8-18 (31 percent) versus the Top 25 from 2009-13 at Washington, but he improved to 3-2 (60 percent) during his first season at USC. Graham was a combined 3-7 (30 percent) during stops at Rice (2006), Tulsa (2007-10) and Pitt (2011), but he has managed a 7-7 mark in his first three seasons at Arizona State.
As for Johnson, he went 0-8 versus ranked opponents at Navy (2002-07) but has turned things around to the tune of a 10-13 (43.5 percent) mark in seven seasons at Georgia Tech.
Finally, a huge shoutout to the only head coaches from non-Power Five teams who have managed to score a win over a Top 25 foe at their current post.
American Athletic: Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo (2-5), Temple’s Matt Rhule (1-3), Eastern Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill (1-4) and Central Florida’s George O’Leary (3-13).
Conference USA: Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm (1-0).
MAC: Toledo’s Matt Campbell (1-4) and Ball State’s Pete Lembo (1-4).
Mountain West: Utah State’s Matt Wells (2-2), Boise State’s Bryan Harsin (1-1), San Jose State’s Ron Caragher (1-2), San Diego State’s Rocky Long (1-5) and Air Force’s Troy Calhoun (1-12).
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Monroe’s Todd Berry (1-8).
Take a look at the 32 active FBS head coaches, listed by conference, who have never scored a win against a ranked foe.
Again, these are all-time career numbers for guys with at least one year experience and at least one game versus a Top 25 foe.
American Athletic: South Florida’s Willie Taggart (0-8), Memphis’ Justin Fuente (0-3) and UConn’s Bob Diaco (0-1).
ACC: Syracuse’s Scott Shafer (0-7).
Big Ten: Illinois’ Tim Beckman (0-11) and Rutgers' Kyle Flood (0-6).
Conference USA: Rice’s David Bailiff (0-11), Marshall’s Doc Holliday (0-6), Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill (0-5), Florida Atlantic’s Charlie Partridge (0-3), Southern Mississippi’s Todd Monken (0-3), and UTEP’s Sean Kugler (0-2).
Independent: Army’s Jeff Monken (0-1).
MAC: Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck (0-2), Kent State’s Paul Haynes (0-2), Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey (0-1), Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton (0-1) and Bowling Green’s Dino Babers (0-1).
Mountain West: Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter (0-4), Hawaii’s Norm Chow (0-4), Nevada’s Brian Polian (0-3) and Wyoming’s Craig Bohl (0-2).
Pac-12: Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre (0-15) and Cal’s Sonny Dykes (0-10).
SEC: Florida’s Jim McElwain (0-1), Kentucky’s Mark Stoops (0-8) and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason (0-4).
Sun Belt: New Mexico State’s Doug Martin (0-7), Louisiana-Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth (0-3), Idaho’s Paul Petrino (0-2), South Alabama’s Joey Jones (0-1) and Georgia State’s Trent Miles (0-1).
The only conference missing from the list is the Big 12, touting nine coaches with at least one career win over a ranked foe and the 10th, Kansas’ David Beaty, yet to coach in his first game as a head man.
Conference USA leads the pack with six coaches on the list, followed by the MAC and the Sun Belt with five apiece. After that, it’s the Mountain West at four and the SEC and American with three each.
That leaves the Big Ten and Pac-12 with two apiece and then the ACC with only one.
Florida’s Jim McElwain gets a pass because his only Top 25 experience came during his three-year run at Colorado State, an understandable 31-6 loss at No. 1 Alabama in 2013.
At the bottom of the barrel are the four guys with 10-plus whacks at ranked foes and zero success.
Sonny Dykes went 0-4 versus the Top 25 at Louisiana Tech (2010-12) and has added six more losses to the total since joining Cal in 2013. Rice’s David Bailiff’s entire 0-11 mark comes via his eight years at Rice, making it easier to swallow than the others.
Tim Beckman was 0-4 versus ranked foes at Toledo (2009-11) and has tacked on seven additional defeats since getting hired by Illinois in 2012. The very bottom slot belongs to Mike MacIntyre, who went 0-7 at San Jose State (2010-12) before dropping eight straight at Colorado starting in 2013.
Starting with the ACC, take a look at each Power Five league’s head coaches ranked all-time versus the Top 25.
|Jimbo Fisher||Florida State||12-6||66.7%|
|Frank Beamer||Virginia Tech||44-49-1||47.3%|
|Paul Johnson||Georgia Tech||10-21||32.3%|
|Larry Fedora||North Carolina||3-9||25%|
|Dave Doeren||N.C. State||1-4||20%|
|Al Golden||Miami (Fla.)||3-13||18.8%|
|Steve Addazio||Boston College||1-6||14.3%|
|Dave Clawson||Wake Forest||1-9||10%|
Not ranked: Pat Narduzzi, Pitt, first-year head coach.
The ACC coaches combine for a 28.5 percent career average versus ranked opponents. That’s the second to the lowest among Power Five conferences. It’s also the league tied for the fewest guys over .500 with only one.
|Urban Meyer||Ohio State||29-12||70.7%|
|Mark Dantonio||Michigan State||14-27||34.2%|
|James Franklin||Penn State||1-10||9.1%|
The Big Ten comes in last in average career percentage against ranked foes at 23.7 percent. What kills it is only one guy over .500 combined with half the league coming in at under 15 percent.
|Mike Gundy||Oklahoma State||16-25||39.02%|
|Dana Holgorsen||West Virginia||6-10||37.5%|
|Bill Snyder||Kansas State||22-44-1||33.6%|
|Kliff Kingsbury||Texas Tech||2-7||22.2%|
|Paul Rhoads||Iowa State||4-24||14.3%|
Not ranked: David Beaty, Kansas, first year-head coach.
The Big 12 comes in second in the combined average race, touting a 36.22 percent mark. What helps is no representatives at zero percent, what hurts is only two guys—the second-fewest—over .500.
|Todd Graham||Arizona State||10-14||41.7%|
|Gary Andersen||Oregon State||4-10||25.6%|
|Mike Leach||Washington State||13-41||24.07%|
The Pac-12 finishes first in combined average—37.7 percent—a number driven by the three guys over .500 and then the five additional representatives over the 35-percent plateau.
The winning mark is even more astonishing given that the league touts the two least-successful Power Five coaches—MacIntyre and Dykes, combining for an 0-25 mark.
|Steve Spurrier||South Carolina||61-54-1||53.02%|
|Kevin Sumlin||Texas A&M||10-10||50%|
|Hugh Freeze||Ole Miss||5-11||31.3%|
|Dan Mullen||Mississippi State||5-24||17.2%|
No Power Five league has more coaches over the .500 career-mark than the SEC with five. Despite that, it finishes third in average at 31.37 percent, well behind the Big 12 (36.2) and just ahead of the ACC (28.5).
What hurts are the three guys—more than any other Power Five conference—at zero percent. Beyond that, Bielema and Pinkel’s combined 93 games at only 30 percent is costly as well.
Statistics courtesy of Phil Steele’s 2015 College Football Preview Magazine.