A common wisdom among many college football fans is that the SEC has the best players and the Big 10 has the best coaches.
Could this be true?
There are fine examples of superior ability in each conference, some who have yet to make their mark.
The SEC prides itself on having overpowering talent and the Big 10 prides itself on overpowering skill.
One may wonder, what is the difference?
Perhaps it is best left to someone who had both to describe.
A retired wrestler who played professional football briefly with the New York Jets, Blackjack Mulligan, once stated in public that "talent is what you are born with and skill is what you do with it."
With that in mind, let's take a look at who does the best job of coaching when we combine the two conferences of champions.
The career of Pat Fitzgerald has only just begun but, he already has shown glimpses of style and ability that place hm above similar candidates for the tenth position in this ranking of SEC and Big 10 coaches.
The Northwestern headman is 27-23 after four seasons but it is what he is doing with limited depth that is so amazing.
Evanston is not home to 50 players on the bench who could start anywhere else. This is one of the finest academic schools in the country and one must have brains to go with the brawn to play for the Wildcats.
Thrust into the role as head coach after the late Randy Walker's untimely passing, Pat Fitgerald was not a novice to the scene at Northwestern.
Fitzgerald had a Hall-of-Fame playing career at Northwestern, he was a two-time Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Award winner.
He was the leader of the Wildcats' back-to-back Big Ten Title winners in the 1990's.
This young man is going places.
His concentration on defense, his attention to detail, and the overall style of his coaching resembles that of Terry Donahue.
Some men look like football coaches, the powerful leader of the huge Wisconsin Badgers is one such person.
Coach Bielema was a fine nose guard for Hayden Fry at Iowa and understands the mechanics of dominating the line. In Madison, he has the players with size and skill to accomplish such a task.
The rugged Bielema's coaching technique would be at home in either the SEC or the Big 10. This is a man who believes in power football.
After going 12-1 in his first season at Wisconsin, Bielema went on to win 17 of his first 18 contests as head coach of the Badgers.
His career record is 38 and 14 with Bowl victories over Arkansas and Miami.
His coaching style is one to endear him to fans of contact and tackling. In this regard, he is reminiscent of Charlie McClendon and Shug Jordan
One of the most respected teachers of line play is the fascinating coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, Kirk Ferentz.
His methods seem simple but, it does not appear many teams have been able to handle his big men along the line of scrimmage.
Ferentz is a much in demand after-dinner speaker, a subtle tone revealing considerable knowledge of his profession.
As a player, the young linebacker Kirk Ferentz came out of the rugged Pittsburgh area High School football scene, and later became team captain at UConn.
In 1980, as an assistant coach for Jackie Sherrill's powerful offensive line at Pittsburgh, he instructed Mark May who won the Outland Trophy that season.
Twice Coach Ferentz has led Iowa to a Big 10 co-championship and all of the Hawkeye state wonders, "will there be an outright title in 2010?"
Accomplishments endure, and so does Kirk Ferentz.
Kirk Ferentz handed Nick Saban a defeat in his last game as head coach of LSU. There exists a possibility of a rematch this year.
The hardworking Iowa coach bears a resemblance in coaching style to Don James.
Poor Mark Richt, if it were not for bad luck he would have no luck at all.
This man is considered by his peers to be one of the brightest of coaches, his relationship with the fan base and media is positive, and he has been successful in Athens.
In nine seasons at Georgia he has won 90 and lost 27 with a pair of SEC championships.
Why then can he not take the Bulldogs all the way to the BCS Title Game?
To reach an answer for that question, you just have to keep the faith.
Mark Richt was born in Nebraska and grew up a fan of the Cornhuskers.
In college Mark was the quarterback of the Miami Hurricanes. After graduation he went to work for Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Richt has the pedigree. Total success is just a matter of time.
With his fine football lineage the sharp and smooth Richt reminds one of another class act who had walked in the footsteps of greats, former Texas head coach Darrell Royal.
Good things come to those who wait.
Let's propose a theme song for Les Miles, the 1964 hit from Louisiana singer Irma Thomas, “Time Is On My Side.”
One could hardly guess looking at the blowback on Les Miles among so many followers of the Bayou Bengals but, he is literally one of the most successful and respected coaches in the entire nation.
Consider the achievements of Coach Miles in just five seasons at the helm of LSU.
His accomplishments include winning the 2007 BCS title, winning the 2006 season Sugar Bowl, and having restored LSU to the national championship level of prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This brilliant coaching performance by Miles was needed, and he delivered, inspiring many impacted by the tragedy to hope for a better day.
Such actions were necessary following the hasty departure of former coach Nick Saban who fled for the NFL after he led LSU to a loss in the 2004 season Capital One Credit Card Bowl.
Comparisons are inevitable since Miles has been in Baton Rouge five seasons and Saban was at LSU for five seasons. Saban won 48 and lost 16, Miles has won 51 and lost 15. Each won a BCS title.
Please take under consideration, the world at large considers individuals who dispute factual evidence to the contrary of their personal beliefs as intellectually challenged.
Fear not, all ye Tiger unfaithful, it is doubtful you have Coach Miles to kick around after this season.
It is no closed door secret the next time “Mama comes calling” Miles will be more open to returning to his alma mater. The embarrassing coaching performance of the failed Rich Rodriguez in Ann Arbor has left the Wolverine nation hungry for a return to its winning ways.
Who was it Les Miles defeated for his BCS Title? Ohio State and Jim Tressel? That is all the people who bleed maize and blue need to know about what they want in their next coach.
And for the people of the beleaguered Sportsman's Paradise, another musical quote to end the discussion. This one a hit song in 1961 for Ral Donner, “You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It).”
The rarified air of the top five coaches.
The coaches who win half of their games because the opponent does not believe they can defeat them.
They win the other half because they know their opponents can't defeat them.
Presented for your evaluation, the man for whom Gatorade was invented, the only SEC Heisman Trophy winner of the 1960s decade, the boy-genius who won the ACC coaching at Duke in the 1980s, and laid waste to the SEC in the 1990s.
The man who delighted in dominating the university in his home state of Tennessee, who won the national championship in the 1996 season by crushing his arch-rival by 32 points, and won 122 games with only 27 losses in 12 seasons as coach of the Florida Gators.
This is Steve Spurrier.
Groundbreaking ideas, the coaching technique of mobile and hostile linemen, and the never ending offensive attack mode for 60 minutes make him a special character among coaches.
One SEC wag quipped last season "Having Spurrier at Carolina is like having Napoleon Bonaparte trapped (at the end of his life) on St. Helena, he can't do much damage to the rest of us."
Whether that changes this season is a matter of conjecture at this time.
There is only one college coach in the past half century that Steve Spurrier can be compared with, Don Coryell of the San Diego State Aztecs.
The prime mover of the attack, attack, attack, offensive philosophy during his 12 seasons of 1961 through 1972, Coryell's Aztecs won 104 and lost 19 for an 84 percent winning rate.
It remains to be seen if Spurrier will ever relive his golden days as the coach of the Gamecocks.
Nick Saban, the travelin' man of the SEC.
Saban may be the best barometer of coaching comparisons between the two leagues. He spent five seasons at Michigan State and five years at Louisiana State. More recently, he was been at Alabama for the past three seasons.
As leader of the Spartans, Saban was unable to win a Big 10 conference crown. In the SEC he has accomplished that feat several times and has won two BCS titles as well.
Does that mean the Big 10 is tougher to win than the SEC? Not necessarily, as some may remark Saban has been able to obtain better talent in his SEC days.
Do we then conclude players make the coach?
In all areas of team competition, leadership and strategy play the most important role, so we should not be so quick to question Saban's ability to do anything but recruit superior players.
He adds something to the product, in his 14 seasons as a head coach (he had one year at Toledo before going to East Lansing) he has won 71 percent of his games.
In his career, Saban has won 124 and lost 50 , although five of those Alabama wins in 2007 had to be “vacated.”
Then why couldn't Saban get it done in the Big 10?
Certainly makes you wonder when comparing the SEC and the Big 10.
Nick Saban's coaching style and demeanor has drawn many comparisons with one of his contemporaries, Pete Carroll.
That may be true but, his ability to win, and win big, at multiple schools is reminscent of Lou Holtz.
Curiously enough, Saban and Holtz have the same alma mater. Each man played football at Kent State University near Cleveland, Ohio.
Jim Tressel is a smooth, urbane leader of men. The person any parent would be glad to have oversee their child's development during college.
He is a superb representative for the entire state of Ohio as well as the state university.
When it comes to coaching success, Jim Tressel is at a different level than many of his contemporaries.
The outstanding leader of the Buckeyes has won five national championships, one at Ohio State and four at Youngstown State.
During his nine seasons in Columbus Tressel has won 94 and lost 21. In his career, he has won 229 and lost 78 for an overall winning rate of 75 percent.
Tressel himself is the son of a football coach and played quarterback in college. He realizes the challenges and opportunities presented to young men and attempts to be fair and understanding in all areas of a player's development.
The disciplined, high road approach of Jim Tressell is reminiscent of Dan Devine.
Tall, tanned, and talented describes the brilliantly successful coach of the Florida Gators.
The suave Urban Meyer is the face of college football in the 21st Century.
Until he decides to hang up his whistle for Hollywood and a chance to carry the Walther PPK in the 007 series, the rest of the nation will have to tolerate his irritating habits.
The habits of going undefeated, or winning the BCS championship, every other year or so.
At the pace Meyer is setting, he will become the winningest coach in SEC history.
Along the journey Meyer has been successful at other stops, going 17-6 at Bowling Green and 22-2 at Utah.
In Gainesville, Meyer has won 57 and lost 10. His overall record is 96-18 for a winning rate over 84 percent. A stunning achievement.
With his progressive concepts, his attention to detail, and the overall toughness of his practices, Urban Meyer has set a standard which other coaches can appreciate and aspire.
Such an innovator resembles few in the college game today but, looking across time his success on the field and sophisticated personality remind one of Ara Parseghian.
Number one is easiest position to rank on this list.
Joe Paterno has won more games than any major college coach. He has been at Penn State for the past 60 years, 1950 to 1965 as an assistant coach and 1966 to present day as the head coach.
During his time in State College, JoePa has won 394 and lost 129 for a winning rate of 75 percent.
Paterno has won two national titles, coached five undefeated teams, and six other teams who had only one loss for the season.
Give those figures some thought, of his 44 years as a head coach, 25 percent have been undefeated or one loss seasons.
Prior to coming to Penn State, Joe Paterno was an Ivy League quarterback at Brown. Before that, he was a soldier in World War II.
There is really no one to compare him with, certainly not living. It was said many years ago that his coaching style was reminiscent of the legendary Frank Leahy.
It may be best to just leave it at that.