In today’s college football landscape, college coaches are making more money than their NFL brethren. Nick Saban’s contract calls for him to make $3.75 million this year, and he isn’t even the highest paid coach in college football.
Two other recent national champions, Pete Carroll and Les Miles, make nearly $4 million annually, while Charlie Weis is scheduled to make a cool $4.2 million.
I believe that the bowl season is a coach’s best opportunity to shine; it’s when elite coaches separate themselves from good coaches.
Coaches preparing for a major bowl game have nearly a month (longer if you don’t have a conference championship game) to dissect their opponents and give their players the best opportunity to make plays and win. During this month before major bowls, players have to juggle exams and a practice schedule.
They must also battle rustiness from the lack of live action while nursing tired, worn bodies. Elite coaches know how to keep their players sharp during December and ready for January.
Another quality that I look for when evaluating coaches is their conference record. I don’t expect elite coaches to go undefeated or only lose one conference game every year, but I do expect that they are always competing for the conference crown and take advantage of a down year within the conference. When traditional conferences powers are down, elite coaches pounce like a lioness on its prey.
The list I have compiled consists of coaches young and old. They are all in charge of teams in power conferences and/or programs with long, established traditions. In my estimation, they have lived off of their reputations for too long.
1) Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops took over Oklahoma University’s football program in 1999 and has amassed a 97-22 record in nine seasons. He led the Sooners to an undefeated record and the 2000 National Championship, culminating in an Orange Bowl victory over defending champion, Florida State.
Recently, Big Game Bob is 1-4 in bowl games. Those four losses are all in BCS games, including two national championship games and a shocking loss to non-BCS Boise State.
It’s not like Stoops hasn’t brought in talent, either. Since 2003, the Sooners have had 13 All-Americans, including Jason White, Adrian Peterson, Jammal Brown, Tommie Harris, and Mark Clayton. Stoops’ teams have been out-coached and ill-prepared in big games against Pete Carroll (USC), Chris Peterson (Boise State) and Bill Stewart (West Virginia).
2) Charlie Weis
Perhaps no coach has lived more off his accomplishments outside the college ranks than Notre Dame's head man.
Charlie Weis won three Super Bowl rings as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. He was credited for much of Tom Brady’s success. Granted, the Patriots haven’t won the Super Bowl since, but Tom Brady’s game doesn’t seem to have suffered one bit.
Charlie Weis was hired as head coach of Notre Dame with the hopes of returning the Fighting Irish to glory. At first, it seemed as if Notre Dame may have found their savior. During the middle of his first season, the Irish signed Weis to a 10-year extension worth $30-40 million.
That year, Notre Dame qualified for the Fiesta Bowl, only to lose 34-20 to Ohio State.
During 2006, Weis’ quarterback, Brady Quinn, was regarded as a Heisman candidate and a possible No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Neither happened, though, and LSU embarrassed Notre Dame 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl.
This past season, Weis played quarterback roulette on the way to a 3-9 record. During the season, the Irish saw their 43-game winning streak against Navy snapped.
3) Tommy Bowden
Tommy Bowden, coach of the Clemson Tigers, came to the state of South Carolina after a brief, but successful, tenure at Tulane. Bowden led the Green Wave’s high-powered offense to an undefeated record, which culminated in a Liberty Bowl victory over BYU.
In nine seasons at Clemson, Tommy Bowden has yet to win the ACC or 10 games in a season. It’s not like the ACC has been full of powerhouses the past nine years. Only Florida State has played for a national title (1999 and 2000), and powers Virginia Tech and Miami didn’t join the ACC until 2004.
The Tigers are 3-5 in bowl games and have finished in the AP top 25 only four times during his tenure at Clemson.
At nearly $2 million per year, he has hardly been worth the money.
4) Bobby Bowden
Tommy’s father and most famous relative, Bobby, has long been the coach at Florida State. He has amassed over 300 victories, two national titles, and numerous bowl victories. His legacy will be remembered forever and rightfully so.
That legacy hasn’t done much for him lately.
Bowden’s run of top-5 finishes ended in 2001, and he hasn’t been back since. The past two seasons, his team has failed to finish anywhere in the AP poll for the first time since 1986.
He and his son, Tommy, share the same 3-5 record in their past eight bowl games. Bowden lost his grip on the national title race several years ago, and he’s losing his grip on the ACC.
It has long been speculated that Bobby Bowden has been serving more as a figure head of Seminole football, kind of like the Queen of England. Seminole players, especially recently, have been notorious for breaking the law. Last season, a couple dozen players were implicated in an academic cheating scandal and were suspended.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, hired away from LSU before the 2007 season, is supposed to succeed Bowden whenever he retires.
5) Phil Fulmer
This fast-approaching season marks the 10th anniversary of Tennessee’s last meaningful victory. The Volunteers won the first BCS national title in 1998. Since then, they have won three bowl games in nine years, but they have no BCS victories.
In 2001, the Volunteers were on the verge of their second national championship appearance in four seasons. A week after defeating arch-rival No. 2 Florida, they were ranked No. 2 heading into the SEC Championship Game.
All they had to do was beat underdog LSU and their backup quarterback. An overconfident and unprepared Tennessee squad blew a lead and lost 31-20.
After that season, Tennessee has finished out of the AP poll twice and never in the top 10. The Volunteers have not taken advantage of SEC championship appearances in going 0-3 since the national title.
6) Jeff Tedford
Jeff Tedford, regarded by some as an offensive genius, is widely known for producing successful college quarterbacks. His students have included Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, and Aaron Rodgers. All have been NFL first round picks.
Smith, Harrington, and Boller have been busts of epic proportions. Dilfer, while an offensive manager on a Super Bowl winner, has not lived up to a sixth overall pick. The jury (and hopefully Brett Favre) is still out on Aaron Rodgers.
Note to NFL GMs: Stay away from a Tedford-coached quarterback.
His team at Cal has claimed stake to only one conference title in his six seasons at the helm. California seemed in control of their destiny last season after defeating Oregon in Eugene in a thrilling 31-24 victory. Tedford’s team was ranked No. 2. The Golden Bears then proceeded to lose six of their next seven games to finish the season unranked.
To Tedford’s credit, his teams have actually had a successful, recent bowl record. While never appearing in a New Year’s Day bowl game, his Cal Bears are 4-1 in postseason play.
The University of California, though, is not paying him nearly $2 million per year to win the Holiday Bowl.
7) Kirk Ferentz
When you make $3 million per year and finish no better than tied for third in your own conference during the past three seasons, you qualify as O- VER-RA-TED.
Ferentz was hailed as a savior earlier in the decade after accumulating three straight 10-win seasons and top 10 finishes. The Iowa Hawkeyes seemed to be on the verge of greatness after they defeated defending national champion LSU during the 2004 season in the Capital One Bowl.
Since then, they have finished with no more than seven wins in a season. Ferentz’s team lost nine straight conference games from 2006-2007. The 2007 Hawkeyes won only four conference games despite not having to play Ohio State or Michigan.