Power Ranking the Top 25 Head Coaching Positions in College Football

Zachary BallAnalyst IDecember 18, 2010

Power Ranking the Top 25 Head Coaching Positions in College Football

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    Bitter rivals West Virginia and Maryland have both come out recently and stated that it's going to take a change of regime at the head coach position for either team to find true significance.

    Too bad for Bill Stewart and Ralph "The Fridge" Friedgen.

    But their imminent departures bring up the age old question, what is truly the best coaching position in college football?

    Ask any of the new coaches and they'll feed you the same line. New Florida coach Will Muschamp claims it's right across the state from my lovely St. Augustine in Gainesville, while Colorado's Jon Embree will emphatically declare that Boulder is where it's at.

    There has to be a winner, though, right?

    You have to take into account so many things: the dedication from both the school and fanbase, the talent, the ability to bring in talent, the coaching staffs and the conference alignment.

    Let's see what I think the top 25 head coaching jobs are and maybe put it to a vote. 

    Because there's really no wrong answer.

25) Tennessee

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    The past few seasons have done some pretty serious damage to Tennessee's reputation.

    But before Phil Fulmer left town, and long before newbie Derek Dooley, Tennessee was one of the most stable SEC programs. They haven't always gotten the best recruits, but more often than not they've gotten the right ones. Players like Peyton Manning, Jamal Lewis and, to some extent, Albert Haynesworth have made Knoxville one great place to coach.

    Current head coach Dooley is making around $1.8 million per year, which is chump change compared to the rest of the SEC, but still a relatively large amount. Just imagine how much that number would jump if he manages to get the Vols to compete in the East next season. To the winners go the spoils in the SEC.

    And despite Tennessee's less-than-stellar rep under a lesser-known coach, they have still managed to bring in the nation's 21st-ranked recruiting class. Over the past five seasons, the Vols have consistently ranked in the top 25.

24) Arkansas

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    Arkansas hasn't gotten the attention that the other SEC West schools have gotten, but it's been pretty consistent too. 

    The Razorbacks have won at least eight games in four of the past five seasons and have two 10-win seasons during that time. This season, under third-year coach Bobby Petrino, the Backs made it to their first-ever BCS game.

    And for the most part, Arkansas has done it with one of the worst recruiting efforts in the SEC. Just imagine what it will be able to accomplish with Petrino now locked down through 2017 for the 10th-highest salary in college football.

23) Oregon

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    Oregon's resurgence has been led by banner efforts in recruiting as well as a new offensive look, spearheaded by second-year coach Chip Kelly, who will most likely get overlooked as a coach of the year candidate in favor of Auburn's Gene Chizik.

    Score one more for the SEC!

    Still, the job Kelly has done has been amazing and, furthermore, the head job at Oregon is pretty amazing. It pays out to a lovely number of $2.4 million this season and should increase each season until his renegotiated contract expires in 2015.

    As an added bonus, if going undefeated and earning a spot in the national championship game wasn't enough, Oregon also has Nike in its corner, aiding it with whatever it needs.

    Now if they could just do something about those unis.

22) Oklahoma State

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    It's hard to believe, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy makes barely $1 million a year.

    OK, maybe it's not hard to believe, especially taking into account his off-the-field antics. But Gundy has done wonders with this program and for the first time in a long while, Oklahoma State is a true football school again.

    The offense is exciting, the defense is improving and recruiting is as good as it's ever been. The Cowboys currently have the 20th-best recruiting class coming in for 2011 and with talented position players like Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon potentially returning next season, the Pokes should be primed for a once-in-a-lifetime run next season.

    The Cowboys also have a powerful benefactor behind them in T. Boone Pickens, who has donated over $400 million to the school and, more specifically, the athletic program.

    See, now it's crazy that Gundy is only making one million.

21) Navy

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    The Midshipmen have averaged a little over nine wins per season since 2003, better than any other service academy and better than most BCS conference programs.

    The gig doesn't pay much ($750,000), but you know without a doubt that you're stepping onto the field with some of the most prepared, serious and disciplined players walking the planet.

    Navy is a tougher job than any on this list and the fact that the Middies have been so consistently good despite their tougher-than-ever recruiting standards (you know, like...going off to war!) is just a testament to how good a head coach at a service academy can be.

    And even though it doesn't appear to be the career path that current coach Ken Niumatalolo desires, this job has been an excellent stepping stone over the years (see Paul Johnson).

20) TCU

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    Ah, the Horned Frogs.

    Few teams have had the kind of success they've produced the past few seasons.

    And even fewer teams are poised for the kind of run that Gary Patterson's boys are primed for when they join the Big East after next season. 

    Not only does it give the Frogs a much clearer path to the BCS series of bowls, but it also allows the program to expand its recruiting base. The Frogs have built their success not on superstars, but on the idea of teamwork, so the idea of bringing some top-level playmakers to Fort Worth is mind-numbing. 

    With the jump to the Big East, you can also expect to see a raise in the head coach's salary, which before the season stood at $1.3 million.

19) Wisconsin

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    I don't know how, but the University of Wisconsin has put together one of the most impressive, consistent athletic programs in all of college athletics.

    The Badgers have been amazing these past few years and their performance has been matched by their stellar basketball squad.

    Still, football is where the money is, something $1.4-million man Bret Bielema can testify to.

    Wisconsin has become a hot bed for recruiting and has grown into one of the most impressive football programs in the Big Ten, running neck-and-neck with the Buckeyes.

    And another BCS bowl bid this season just ensures that the Badgers will keep on the rise.

18) Miami-Florida

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    The Hurricane Nation is strong, even with the team's lackluster performances the past few years.

    But let's be honest. How can a team really expect to live up to expectations set by some of the best college football teams to lace 'em up this past decade?

    Randy Shannon clearly wasn't the coach to lead this team to the promised land, so now all bets are on Al Golden, who will be making somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million per year for the next four seasons.

    Golden has one thing that few schools can claim: a virtual recruiting gold mine in his backyard of Southern Florida.

    But recruiting has never been Miami's problem. Hopefully the new guy can make these Canes golden.

17) Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M has been strong in recruiting in a very tough conference to win over top prospects in and the efforts are starting to show dividends on the field.

    A&M put together one heck of a stretch run this season, highlighted by a 33-19 thumping of BCS-bound Oklahoma and culminating in back-to-back wins over highly-ranked Nebraska and rival Texas.

    Mike Sherman has brought the Aggies back to national respectability and has earned every penny of the $1.8 million he is reportedly earning in 2010.

    With Texas on the decline, A&M has a huge chance to rise to the elite of the conference and challenge Oklahoma for supremacy.

16) Stanford

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    Jim Harbaugh should have plenty more Gatorade showers in his future, especially if he stays at Stanford and doesn't leave his cushy position and his $1 million per year salary.

    Just take time to appreciate all that Harbaugh has already accomplished at Stanford, which struggled to maintain a legitimate football program before he arrived.

    • Stanford has gone 3-1 against USC.
    • This season the Cardinal beat Notre Dame, their second win in a row against the Irish for the first time in history.
    • This year's squad has already set just about every school record on offense.
    • He has helped develop consecutive Heisman finalists and back-to-back Pac-10 Offensive Players of the Year

    Harbaugh's pay should also be on the rise, as word has it that Stanford has offered him a cozy extension that includes a hefty raise.

    Even if Andrew Luck leaves a season early for the NFL, Stanford has proven that it can attract the kind of talent that the Cardinal will need to survive in the new Pac-10 conference.

15) Penn State

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    Whenever Joe Pa steps down or dies on the field, Penn State will become the most sought-after coaching job in ages.

    There will be no lack of worthy candidates, that's for sure.

    For the time being, however, Joe Pa is Penn State football and despite the off-year, Penn State football is back on the rise. A year after posting the top-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions should once again rise to near the top of the conference.

    They are in the middle as of today, but they still have offers out for several of the top players in the country, many of whom are no doubt awaiting State's bowl performance to seal or break the deal.

    No matter how the 2011 recruiting class breaks down, the Lions are still primed for a few good runs.

    By the way, it's a crime that Paterno only makes $1.5 million. I know that's just the official number and he rakes in more than that, but the man deserves more than the 34th-best salary of any college football coach.

14) Virginia Tech

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    Frank Beamer has it made.

    The Hokies have been dominant since joining the ACC, winning multiple league titles and making four BCS bowl appearances since 2004.

    The team's recruiting is once again near the top of the conference and they'll have tons of talent returning, especially on defense, which brings to mind  defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

    You know you have a great job when arguably the best defensive mind in college football refuses to leave Tech for any number of head coaching jobs.

    Beamer earns $2.1 million per year for Virginia Tech and is a relative bargain given the team's consistency over the past decade.

13) Notre Dame

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    Somehow, the top job at Notre Dame is still considered to be one of the top positions in all of college football, even with the Irish's string of recent failures in coaches, players and overall effort.

    The Irish still recruit with the best, but they have been terrible at turning those raw prospects into anything of value at the collegiate level. And just when they think they've found someone to help them turn the corner (Dayne Crist), he gets injured and opens the door for the next guy (Tommy Rees).

    For some reason, despite this job having a lethal turnover rate, smart guys like Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly keep signing on for duty.

    Eventually it will pay off for someone.

12) Iowa

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    Iowa isn't one of the top coaching spots that comes to mind, but think of all the potential job offers head coach Kirk Ferentz has turned down to stay with the Hawkeyes.

    This guy has turned down NFL money.

    He makes a pretty penny at a little over $3 million per year and, for all intents and purposes, he's been worth all of it.

    He consistently produces a winner, even with sub-par players like Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen. It helps that Iowa has one of the best recruiting programs in the country, a program that every few years churns out a Shonn Greene or a Tony Moeaki.

    Ferentz is paid like he is because he's one of the best coaching minds in all of football, not just college.

11) Georgia

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    Georgia really is a much better job than anyone thinks.

    The Bulldogs play in the easier half of the SEC, they recruit like maniacs (especially in Florida) and they have one heck of a knack for finding and developing franchise QBs, RBs and WRs.

    Add Aaron Murray's name to the list, alongside A.J. Green.

    Mark Richt ($3.1 million per year) has put together one amazing program in Athens and most of the time he doesn't get the credit he deserves. For Pete's sake, he's only eight years removed from a 13-1 season and since then he has posted five seasons with 10 or more victories.

    And the talent keeps pouring in. The Dawgs currently have the third-ranked class in the SEC.

10) Boise State

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    Ha!

    You think I'm joking right? Guess again.

    What other job provides you with the security of a guaranteed 10-win season, a bowl appearance and a 95-percent chance at a conference title? 

    The answer is none, my friends.

    Boise State has become the hot bed for young up-and-coming talent. Dirk Koetter turned success there into a decent run at Arizona State. Now he's a successful offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    Houston Nutt has parlayed his success at Boise into a great run at Arkansas and a new opportunity at Ole Miss.

    More recently, Dan Hawkins used a 31-game WAC winning streak and an overall 53-11 record to get the top job at Colorado.

    And the Broncos assistants have been widely regarded as some of the best young minds in the game. Former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox earned his way to the same position at Tennessee, where he now rakes in major dough.

    And we all know how successful Chris Petersen has been: a 60-5 overall record, 38-2 in the WAC, three undefeated regular seasons, two BCS bowl victories, two national Coach of the Year awards and numerous highlights that will live on forever on YouTube.

    Add in the fact that the Broncos' recruiting effort has never been stronger and a move to a new conference which, thanks to departures by Utah and TCU, leaves the MWC about on par with the WAC in terms of difficulty, and Boise State is the place to be.

9) Florida State

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    FSU looks like the program to beat in the state of Florida right now.

    The Seminoles completed an amazing first season under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher and they have nothing but an even brighter future ahead of them.

    They have talent coming back at every position and now have the UF monkey off their back. They should be one of the top teams in the ACC next season.

    And on the recruiting trail, no team has made the types of gains that the Noles have. Their resurgent season has endeared them to top-level talent across the country and made Tallahassee the place to be.

8) LSU

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    There's just something special about LSU.

    The Tigers aren't pretty or overpowering, but somehow, some way, they just continue to find ways to win both on and off the field.

    On the field, the Tigers are perennial BCS contenders, with a legit championship effort every three or four seasons.

    Off the field, the Tigers are experts at bringing in top talent and, save for Russell Shepard, experts at developing that talent.

    They still need a QB to lead them, but look at everything Les Miles has been able to accomplish in his time with the Tigers. Aside from JaMarcus Russell, he has yet to have a legit top-25 quarterback.

    Imagine what he, and the entire program as a whole, could do with one.

    Oh yeah, Miles makes just a smidge under $4 million.

7) Nebraska

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    With a young stud like Taylor Martinez and the always-reliable Cornhusker defense, is there any place better to be right now than Nebraska?

    I'm sure Bo Pelini and his nearly $2 million a year salary would agree.

    The Huskers are primed for at least the next few years. They'll move to the Big Ten next season, where they'll rake in even more dough and expose themselves to a whole new breed of recruits.

    The Huskers were once the elite program in college football and they could be very well on that same path.

6) Ohio State

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    Say what you will about the Buckeyes' poor performance in big games over the past few years, but the simple fact is that the program that Jim Tressel has built at Ohio State has become one of the most stable, consistent and impressive regimes in college football in quite some time.

    They may not be capable of winning a championship, but you know every year that the Buckeyes have a serious chance to make an appearance.

    They consistently bring home tons of the nation's top recruits and churn out NFL players like nobody's business.

    Tressel commands big bucks (nearly $4 million per year) and for what he's turned this program into, I'd say he's easily worth every penny and that there are few jobs out there as good as Ohio State.

5) Florida

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    There's no place like home. 

    That's the motto new coach Will Muschamp must be feeling. The Gainesville native left his post at Texas and returned to Florida to right the ship that derailed in 2010.

    Urban Meyer is gone, which means so is his vaunted spread offense. Muschamp will install a more pro-style system, which should make John Brantley and any other pocket-passing QB leap for joy.

    But don't think he'll forget about all the speed and skill the Gators have at the key positions.

    This team should be really good, really quickly. They were never really that bad to begin with.

    Their problem was they just had the wrong personnel in the wrong system. That's changed now.

    Muschamp is a Saban acolyte and recruits just as ferociously as his former boss. He should have the Gators back at the top of the recruiting rankings in no time and, unlike Meyer, will bring to UF the right players, not just the top ones.

4) USC

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    There's simply no denying that the Trojans continue to bring in the premium talent and continue to put together the most highly-touted prospects on the field week after week, no matter who the coach is.

    Finally, their wheeling-and-dealing ways caught up to them and the 2010 squad suffered the indignity of missing out on any postseason play.

    Still, looking ahead, the Trojans are continuing to stockpile talent like no other program and the talent they return next season should be epic, especially on offense.

    There is just about nowhere better to be the coach than at USC.

3) Texas

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    Don't mess with Texas!

    Especially after the worst on-the-field performance in well over a decade, and especially with the nation's best-compensated coach on the sidelines.

    Mack Brown's salary ($5.1 million) might put most of the country to shame, but he's worth it. He's built Texas into a consistent winner and a staple in January bowl games. 

    He brings in talent by the truckload and churns out some of the most impressive NFL products around.

    He constantly surrounds himself with top talent in terms of coaching and has built the ideal college football program.

    The outlook for Texas is rosy. Nebraska leaves the Big 12 next season, along with Colorado, leaving the Big 12 to be divided up and conquered by the Longhorns and the Sooners.

2) Alabama

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    As long as Alabama has Nick Saban, the Tide are going to be a legit national title contender each season, a threat to win 10 games every year and a powerhouse in the SEC.

    And even if he leaves on one of his Saban-esque whims, it will be hard for whoever comes after to screw it up.

    He's set up 'Bama that good.

    Saban is one of the best, at everything.

    He recruits nonstop and doesn't settle for no for an answer. He knows which pieces to bet the house on (Julio Jones) and which ones to pluck from nowhere (Greg McElroy). 

    He is masterful at masterminding a defense, an offense and special teams. His hand is on every piece of this program and it has gotten to the point where the program could almost run on its own.

    Bama should be set for the next decade or as long as Saban decides to stick around Tuscaloosa.

1) Oklahoma

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    Oooooooooooklahoma, where the wins come sweeping down the plains!

    Try and try as they might, I don't think anyone is ever going to get Bob Stoops to leave OU. And why would he want to?

    He has built one of the most impressive college football programs in the entire country and has churned out wins at a pace as rapid as the NFL players that pass through the Norman campus.

    He takes whatever pieces he can, including some of the nation's best recruits, and puts together the most impressive units.

    And he gets paid a crap load of money: $4.3 million to be exact.

    If Stoops were ever to leave OU, it would be because it wasn't enough of a challenge for him.

    And with the Big 12 becoming softer in the years to come, Stoops and the Sooner program could be in for a historic run the likes of which Oklahoma and college football have never seen.