LSU Fooball: Ranking The Greatest Coaches In School History
The LSU Tigers have had 32 football coaches since their inaugural season in 1893.
Since that time, the program has tallied an impressive 709 wins (12th all-time), 13 conference titles, and 3 national championships.
With such a prestigious program, it was truly a daunting task to have to rank such legendary coaches as Charles McClendon, Nick Saban, Paul Dietzel and Les Miles.
There have been numerous LSU coaches that have contributed a great deal to make the “Bayou Bengals” the illustrious program they are today.
Being a coach is such a complex job that it is hard to judge one over another because different coaches provided different things.
This power ranking is based on wins, championships, awards, and overall contributions to the LSU football program.
So here they are, the greatest coaches in LSU football history.
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What is list of the greatest coaches in program history, without any mention of some of the worst?
These are three of the five coaches in LSU history to have losing records.
John P Gregg (1899)
After winning the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) just two years prior, Gregg led the Tigers to their first ever losing season in 1899 (unless you count the 0-1 record in 1893) with a record of 2-4.
John W Mayhew (1909-1910)
Mayhew inherited a team who in 1908 won the SIAA for the second time in school history, and also won their first ever bowl game in the Bacardi Bowl vs. Havana University.
Coach Mayhew has a career record of 3-6 with LSU, but that record is deceiving. In 1910, his only full season as head coach, Mayhew had a pitiful 1-5 record.
Curley Hallman (1991-1994)
Hallman is the only coach in LSU history with a losing record in at least five games (16-28). In his four seasons with the Tigers he failed to have a single winning season.
Also in his first year as coach, several of Hallman’s players allegedly started a fight with the LSU basketball team, including LSU legend Shaquille O’Neal.
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The following are a few coaches who just missed the cut, whether it be because of lack of accomplishments, wins, impact, etc.
Edmond Chavanne (1898 and 1900)
Edmond Chavanne was the first LSU alumni to ever coach at the school. He was actually a player coach in 1898, but John P Gregg took the reigns the during Chavanne’s senior season.
Dana X. Bible (1916)
In his very brief stint at LSU, Bible had a record for 1-0-2. I know what you are thinking.
Why would I include someone in the honorable mention someone who was only coached at LSU for 3 games?
The answer is because it is hard not to include a coach that is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
“Iron” Mike Donahue (1923-1927)
Iron Mike had a seemingly mediocre career at LSU, boasting just a .544 winning percentage. But again, it is hard to leave out a member of the College Football Hall of Fame
16. Dr. Charles Coates (1983)
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Dr. Charles Coates only coached one game at LSU and lost.
But Dr. Coates was the first ever coach at LSU, the 3rd LSU faculty member with a PhD, and a world renowned sugar chemist. I’m impressed.
I believe that the first coach in any school’s history deserves recognition.
Despite most of his notable work being in the field of chemistry, Dr. Coates was passionate about football as much as he was chemistry.
He played during his college years at Johns Hopkins University, and then volunteered to start the program at LSU.
15. Albert Simmons (1894-1895)
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The second coach in LSU history, Simmons won the first game in school history vs. Natchez Athletic Club.
He had a career 5-1 record, including the schools first undefeated season in 1895 (3-0). Sure three games might not seem to impressive to anyone, but this was a different era.
Along with coaching the team, Albert Simmons also played and actually scored the first home touchdown in LSU history in a losing effort vs. Ole Miss.
14. Irving Pray (1916, 1919, 1922)
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Pray had a mediocre record of 11-9 in his 3 seasons as coach.
Irving Pray's most significant accomplishments as coach were, at the time, three years was the longest anyone had coached at LSU.
And also he was responsible for the move into the Southern Conference in 1922, where the Tigers would play until 1932.
Jerry Stovall (1980-1983)
As a player at LSU, Jerry Stovall was one of the best running backs to ever call Death Valley home.
In 1962 he was the runner up in then Heisman ballots. But in 1980 tragedy struck as coach-to-be Bo Rein died in a plane crash.
The university did not know who turn to after the legendary Charlie McClendon retired in 1979, so they turned to his assistant Jerry Stovall.
Coach Stovall’s most notable season came in 1982 when he led his team to the Orange Bowl, where they were defeated by Nebraska 21-20. His team was ranked 11th by the both the AP and the Coaches poll at the end of the season.
As a result, Stovall was awarded the National Coach of the Year Award by the Walter Camp Football Foundation. Overall Stovall had a record of 22-21-2 and the Orange Bowl loss to Nebraska was his only bowl appearance.
12. Gus Tinsley (1948-1954)
Like Stovall, Gus Tinsley was a legendary player at LSU before he started coaching.
An end, "Tinsley could have made All-American at any position. He was so tough, he made blockers quit. He's the greatest lineman I ever saw." According to his Coach Bernie Moore.
As a coach, Tinsley’s seven seasons as coach ties for the 3rd longest tenure at LSU. During that time he had a record of 35-34-7.
His most memorable season as coach came in 1949 when his team’s 8-3 record was good enough for 9th in the nation, despite being annihilated 35-0 against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
11. Mike Archer (1987-1990)
Archer had most of his success early in his career at LSU. His record at LSU was 27-19-1, with 18 of those wins coming in his first two seasons.
It is arguable that Archer won those games with the previous coach Bill Arnsparger’s players, but regardless his accomplishments in his first two seasons warrant him a spot on this list.
His first season with LSU, Archer was hand picked by Arnsparger to be his successor over such candidates as Steve Spurrier, Mike Shannahan, and Mack Brown.
In his first year, Archer did not disappoint as he boasted a 10-1-1 record, a ranking of 5th in the AP, and a win at the Gator Bowl.
The next season Archer experienced a little bit of a drop off but still impressed.
The Archer-led Tigers had a record of 8-4 and a ranking of 19th in the AP, an SEC title, but the season resulted in a Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Syracuse.
Although after these two miraculous seasons Archer took a giant step back, and ended his LSU career with two consecutive losing seasons. Which is why he only comes in 11th on our list.
10. Gerry DiNardo (1995-2000)
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DiNardo is one of the most deceiving coaches I have ever seen. His 33-24-1 record sounds less than impressive, he never won an SEC championship, and he also had two losing seasons.
When DiNardo took over in 1995, LSU had not been above 500 in 6 seasons.But DiNardo hit the ground running and in his first year led his team to a 7-4-1 season, a win in the Independence Bowl, and a final coaches poll ranking of 25th.
The next season (1996) he took another step in the right direction, winning 10 games, including a Peach bowl victory and finishing the season ranked in the top 15 in both the coaches poll and the AP poll.
Then in 1997 he continued the trend and led his team to a 9 win season, and another Independence Bowl win, with a top 15 finish.
His next two seasons were forgettable to say the least, but they should not damper his entire legacy.
During his tenure at LSU he was 3 for 3 in bowl games and actually made two SEC championship games. I wish I could put DiNardo higher up on this list, unfortunately he was two wins away.
9. Allen Jeardeau (1896-1897)
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Jeardeau, a Harvard graduate, has left as big of an impact on LSU sports as anyone else on this list. He has a career recorded of 7-1 win LSU in two season.
Jeardeau led the LSU Tigers to their first ever undefeated season in 1896 and the school’s first ever conference championship.
Then after his 1897 season he then left the team and started the baseball program at LSU.
I know many people are going to scratch their heads when they see Jeardeau in the top 10, but I feel the impact he had was too great to be left unnoticed.
8. Biff Jones (1932-1934)
Lawrence Mcceney "Biff" Jones is in the College Football Hall of Fame for one reason, he is simply a great football coach.
Although most of his success was with Army and Nebraska, at LSU he is 4th all time in winning percentage at .742.
In 1932, Jones’s debut season, he had his best year. He led his team, featuring Abe “Miracle” Mickal, to a Southern Conference championship with a 6-3-1 record (4-0 in conference).
7. Bill Arnsparger (1984-1986)
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Arnsparger, a WWII marine, had a very interesting accomplished life. He had the opportunity coach in both the NFL and College.
He also had the pleasure of working with coaching legends Woody Hayes and Don Shula.
Bill Arnsparger, like Biff Jones, would be higher one this list if they had longer tenures with LSU.
Arnsparger boasts a record of (26-8-2) giving him the 2nd best winning percentage in LSU football history at .750.
Not to mention he made a bowl game in all 3 years of his tenure, was ranked all three seasons, and won the SEC in 1986.
So you ask, why how is Arnsparger only the 7th best LSU coach of all time? The reason: lack of success in bowl games.
Not only did his teams lose bowl games, they never even came close to winning. The smallest deficit Arnsparger lost by in a bowl game was a 14-point loss to Baylor in the 1985 Liberty Bowl.
6. Edgar Wingard (1907-1908)
Edgar Wingard could easily be considered one of the top 5 coaches in LSU history. He was a part of some of the most important “firsts” in LSU history.
In 1907 he made LSU history by being the first coach to take his team to a bowl game.
It was the Bacardi bowl, in which an American team would play the top Cuban team every season. Wingard’s Tigers smoked Havana University 56-0 giving LSU their first ever bowl win.
The following season Wingard’s squad had a perfect 10-0 season and a SIAA conference championship.
Since then, the 1908 team has been recognized as national champions by the National Championship Foundation, although the university has received no official award for such an honor.
5. Bernie Moore (1935-1947)
His record of 83-39-6 makes him 2nd in school history in wins, and is also good enough to get in the College Football Hall of Fame.
He has the 3rd most bowl appearances in LSU history with 5 and was also the winner of three conference championships in his 13 year tenure at LSU (Second longest in school history).
Moore’s teams were known for having some of the toughest defense in the nation. Good enough in 1936, his squad earned LSU to be ranked for the first time in school history..
With Hall of Fame ends such as Gus Tinsley and Ken Kavanaugh, opposing offensive lives had a lot to be worried about.
Unfortunately for Moore, he had trouble in bowl games. He led his team to the sugar bowl in 1935, 1936 and 1937 and lost all of them.
He did not win a bowl game until his 1943 Orange Bowl appearance, in which he defeated Texas A&M 19-14. His next bowl game was an embarrassing (for both teams) 0-0 tie in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.
Although his bowl record was suspect, I still feel Moore accomplished enough in the regular season to warrant a top five spot.
4. Les Miles (2005-present)
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Some people may question is play-calling, others may question his clock management skills (or lack of), but Les Miles wins ball games.
With a record of 62-17, Miles has the best winning percentage in school history. Simply put, Les Miles’s team shows up to win every week.
Probably the most impressive stat of all is that Miles has been to a bowl game each of the 6 years he has coached LSU.
In those 6 games he has only lost one, the 2009 Capital One Bowl against 11 Penn State. On top of that Miles also won the 2007 SEC championship and the National Championship in the same season.
An aspect of Les Miles’s career at LSU that I don’t want to overlook is his loyalty. A “Michigan Man,” Les Miles has turned down the job to coach his Alma Mater twice.
Proving that he is much more of a “Bayou Bengal” then a Wolverine.
If Miles keeps being as successful as he has been, I see him eventually moving up to the top of this list.
3. Paul Dietzel (1955-1961)
Although Paul Dietzel may not have been as consistent as Les Miles, its hard to overlook his accomplishments.
He had a long career, but never experienced quite the success he had in Baton Rouge.
Dietzel won 2 of 3 bowl games he appeared in, one for LSU’s first official National Championship (1958).
He also won the SEC twice, which is tied for the most amongst LSU coaches.
In 1959 he won the Paul “Bear” Bryant coach of the year award, and his star running back, Billy Cannon, won the only Heisman in school history.
A team that ended up losing in the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss.
2. Nick Saban (2000-2004)
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He might be the best coach in college football today.
When Saban was sporting the purple and gold, he was dominant. With a record of 48-16, Saban’s winning percentage (.750) is tied for second in school history only to Les Miles.
Saban never failed to make a bowl game during his 5-year tenure, winning three of them.
He also won two SEC championships, including one in the magical year in 2003 in which he also wont the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year award and the National Championship.
Saban is one of the greatest coaches ever, that’s why it’s so hard not to give him the top spot. But I feel five seasons wasn’t enough to called the best.
1. Charles McClendon (1962-1979)
The one and only Cholly Mac, School leader in wins (137), tenure (18 years), bowl appearances (13) and bowl wins (7).
In McClendon’s 18 year career at LSU, he only had 1 losing season. In 11 of his 18 seasons, Cholly Mac won at least 8 games. It is hard to argue with these stats.
Despite only having 1 conference championship (1970), I don’t believe anyone has left quite as big of an impact on the program than McClendon.
He coached arguably the two biggest wins in school history: The 1965 Cotton bowl in which he snapped #1 Arkansas’s 22-game win streak and “The Night the Clock Stopped” in 1972.
My main reason for choosing McClendon as the best coach in LSU history is the fact that he worked as head football coach at the university for 18 years, and never was the head coach anywhere but LSU.
His loyalty, success, and hard work is what earned him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, and the top spot on this list.