Joe Paterno might no longer be among the best living coaches, but he's a legend in his own right
Coaching probably matters in football more than in any other sport. Particularly college football.
To have the work ethic and leadership to unite 70+ kids, all with different needs and personalities, takes something special.
Sometimes it's easiest to tell who the guys are that don't have it. The biggest tell-tale sign is a team that consistently plays great one week and poorly the next—great coaches get their players ready for every game.
Take a look at Stanford from the past couple of seasons. Jim Harbaugh and his staff had their team prepared to play every single week. That's mainly the reason why he's now making $5 million per season coaching the 49ers in the NFL.
It's also easier to become a legend while coaching in college football. NFL teams don't erect statues of coaches outside of stadiums for winning one championship—but colleges do.
With over 100 competing teams, winning a national championship in college football is extremely difficult. Being competitive every single year, in comparison, is not.
The best in the game can consistently get to 10 wins.
Rack up the W's, get a bunch of conference championships and capture one national title and you're set for a while.
Just ask Joe Paterno, who has only won two titles (1982, 1986) in his 44 seasons at Penn State. Joe Pa may no longer be among the best coaches in college football, but he's certainly a legend.
What follows is a list of the 10 smartest coaches in college football—all of whom have a chance to become legends in their own right.
Just 41, Bret Bielema is a relative youngster in the coaching ranks. After succeeding Barry Alvarez, who built up the Badgers program, in 2006, Bielema has gone 49-16 and produced three 10-win seasons in five years. Alvarez only amassed four 10-win seasons in his 15 years (1990-2005).
A former nose tackle at Iowa, Bielema is a defensive-minded coach who knows the kind of toughness that it takes to play in the trenches. Wisconsin's offensive line the past few seasons has been nothing short of nasty and will likely produce a few NFL players.
After going 12-1 in his rookie year in 2006, Bielema had his second-best season in 2010 as Wisconsin finished 11-2 and had a notable upset win at home over then No. 1 Ohio State, 31-18, on October 16th. They eventually lost to TCU in the Rose bowl.
The man in the red windbreaker is a tremendous force on the sideline and a great recruiter. Under Bielema's guidance, Wisconsin should be in the mix for a Big Ten title every season.
There is perhaps no better evaluator of the talent it takes to win in college football than Butch Davis. His legacy is only tarnished by the career choices he has made.
Butch Davis was groomed by Jimmy Johnson. They had the shared background of playing for Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Well, Butch would have played past his freshman year if not for a knee injury. But he stuck around as a student assistant and starting coaching in high school after graduation.
In 1979, Davis joined Jimmy Johnson at Oklahoma State. He coached tight ends and wide receivers until 1983 when he moved with Jimmy to Miami and became the Hurricanes defensive line coach. He was a part of the 1987 national championship team.
Davis then followed Johnson to the NFL in 1989 and became the Cowboys defensive line coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1993 and was named the next coach of the Miami Hurricanes in 1995.
Not long after he was hired, the Pell Grant scandal under Dennis Erickson's tenure came to light. Davis faced a ban in postseason play in his first year and a reduction of 31 scholarships. Due to the sanctions, kids where scared to come to Miami.
Led by Ray Lewis, the Hurricanes went 8-3 and 9-3 in Davis's first two years. They plummeted to 5-6 in 1997 before winning nine games each of the next two seasons.
With talent he sought and a full roster finally in place, Davis led Miami to an 11-1 season and should have been given a chance to play for a national championship.
Miami defeated Florida State earlier in the year and was ranked higher in both human polls, but the defending national champion Seminoles, with an identical 10-1 record, were chosen to play Oklahoma instead of Miami. FSU lost 13-2. Miami finished second in the nation after defeating Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Davis left for an ultimately unsuccessful go as the Cleveland Browns head coach from 2001-2004.
However, he is directly responsible for recruiting all of the talent on some of the most dominant teams in college football history—the 2000-2002 Hurricanes. Those teams won a school record 34 straight games and featured multiple first round NFL draft picks and future Hall of Famers (Ed Reed, Andre Johnson).
Butch Davis returned to college football in 2007 at North Carolina. He took a downtrodden program at a basketball school and has gone 8-5 each of the past three seasons. Prior to NCAA sanctions for improper conduct with agents, Davis's 2010 squad featured five projected first round NFL picks on defense.
If a few things had gone differently in Butch Davis's career, people would see him in a much different light. He is clearly a tremendous recruiter and a phenomenal defensive coach.
It won't be long before a college football power comes calling again.
Thus far, it appears Notre Dame has made a sound coaching hiring with their choice of Brian Kelly.
The Fighting Irish finished 8-5 in Kelly's first season but they peaked towards the end of the year behind freshman quarterback Tommy Rees. They also played the toughest schedule in the country, with their opponent's average winning percentage coming in at .653.
Notre Dame won their final four games of the year, defeating No. 14 Utah 28-3, Army 27-3, USC 20-16 and Miami (FL) in the Sun Bowl 33-17.
This follows with Kelly's track record, as he's maintained or improved every situation that he's gone into.
In his 13 years at I-AA Grand Valley State, Kelly never finished with a losing record. His cumulative 118-35-2 mark is overshadowed by that fact that he finished 13-1, 14-0 and 14-1 in his final three seasons. Grand Valley lost in the I-AA title game in 2001 before winning in 2002 and repeating in 2003.
Kelly then moved to Central Michigan where he took the Chippewas from 4-7 to 6-5 and then to 9-4 and Mid-American Conference Champions. Kelly left for Cincinnati before he could coach in the bowl game.
Kelly instead coached the Bearcats to a win in the International Bowl. He went 10-3 in his first full season but finished third in the Big East. In 2008, Cincinnati went 11-3, winning the Big East (6-1) and losing to Virginia Tech 20-7 in the Orange Bowl.
In 2009, the Bearcats went an undefeated 12-0 and received an invite to the Sugar Bowl to play the Florida Gators. With five undefeated teams remaining by bowl selection time, Cincinnati had no chance of winning a national championship.
Kelly departed for Notre Dame before Tim Tebow made his farewell by routing the Bearcats 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl.
He took with him his defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, who has installed an explosive 3-4 system in South Bend.
Kelly just needs to get the offense on track. With Tommy Rees just a sophomore and receiver Michael Floyd coming back for his senior season, that shouldn't be a problem any longer.
Notre Dame is going to be a legitimate contender soon, if not this season.
As a Miami Hurricanes fan, there is no phrase more frustrating for me to hear than the words, "Beamer Ball."
This term was coined to describe the coaching style of Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, which is based on winning low-scoring games with a good defense, solid special teams and a sound running game with a mobile quarterback.
Under Beamer's guidance, Michael Vick and his brother Marcus had success in the system. Recent graduate Tyrod Taylor was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history.
Beamer has been the coach in Blacksburg since 1987. During Beamer's time, the previously unsuccessful football program has gone from independent status to becoming a member of the Big East and eventually, the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Beamer has won three Big East championships and four ACC championships. His overall career record is 240-118-4. His record at Virginia Tech is 198-95-2 and he hasn't had a losing season since 1992.
Beamer's teams have won 10 games or more each of the past seven seasons and in 10 of the past 12.
Despite his success, Beamer has played for a national title only once, which he lost in 1999 against Florida State. His only one-loss seasons came in 1999 and 2000 and his last two-loss season came in 2005.
But Frank Beamer defines consistency. He doesn't pull in amazing recruiting classes like conference foes Miami and Florida State, yet he somehow manages to have his kids compete every year.
He is a great coach and a legend in Blacksburg, Virginia despite never having won a national championship.
Already 58 years old, Jim Tressel probably won't be around long enough to surpass what Woody Hayes accomplished at Ohio State.
But it's hard to argue with old Sweater Vest's resume.
After winning four national championships in 15 years at I-AA Youngstown State, Tressel arrived in Columbus in 2001 and peaked in only his second season.
The 2002 Buckeyes finished 14-0, defeating the Miami Hurricanes in double-overtime in a controversial Fiesta Bowl. Thus far, it has been Tressel's only perfect season.
Under his guidance however, Ohio State has won at least 10 games eight different times (in 10 years) and seven times they have finished the season inside the top five. They played in a BCS bowl game in all eight 10-plus win seasons.
Tressel has compiled a 106-22 record at Ohio State (66-14 in the Big Ten) and won or shared seven conference championships.
After losing two national championships and a Fiesta Bowl from 2006-2008, people started to doubt whether Tressel could get his team ready for big games. After victories in the Rose and Sugar Bowls the past two years, those doubts have quickly faded.
But Tressel and his teams still seem to be plagued by a slip-up game every year. Only two of his seven Big Ten championships came with 8-0 unblemished records. These slip-ups have caused Ohio State to miss out on title chases.
2011 should be an interesting year for the Buckeyes with Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor scheduled to sit out five games.
His suspension coincides with a trip to Miami, in what will be a revenge game for the Hurricanes.
The biggest knock against Bob Stoops' resume seems to be that he doesn't win big games. He does win a lot of games in general, however.
Stoops' career record is 129-31, good for an .806 winning percentage.
He has been the Oklahoma head coach since 1999, when he was hired from Florida where he was the defensive coordinator.
After going 7-5 in his rookie season, Stoops led the Sooners to an undefeated 13-0 year in 2000 and held the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles to just two points in a 13-2 Orange Bowl victory. His team outscored opponents 481-194 en route to the national title.
At Oklahoma, Stoops has won 10 or more games nine times and has played for the national championship on three occasions. His 2004 team was drubbed by Matt Leinart and USC and his 2008 team fell to Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.
Stoops is just 3-5 in BCS bowl games, but 6-6 in bowls overall. In 2010, Oklahoma routed unranked Big East champion Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.
Stoops has won the Big 12 on seven occasions, but it still seems as if he is constantly under fire in Norman.
Bob Stoops has had a lot of success as a head coach.
Oklahoma fans should be so lucky to have him.
Boise State doesn't recruit 5-star prospects. Instead, they coach unheralded recruits into elite, NFL-ready players.
Chris Petersen arrived in Boise in 2001 as the offensive coordinator. In 2006, then-current head coach Dan Hawkins chose to leave for a troubled Colorado program that he was eventually unable to turn around.
Petersen was promoted to head coach and made a splash right from the start. Behind running back Ian Johnson, Petersen led the Broncos to a 13-0 season and an upset over Adrian Peterson and Oklahoma in a historically exciting Fiesta Bowl.
After going 10-3 and 12-1 in 2007 and 2008, respectively, Petersen once again led the Broncos to an undefeated year in 2009, going 14-0 and beating previously undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
In both seasons, Petersen was presented with the Paul "Bear" Bryant National Coach of the Year Award. He is the only two-time recipient in the award's history.
In five seasons, Petersen has a 61-5 career record (38-2 in WAC play) and two BCS bowl wins. A former quarterback at UC Davis, Petersen is known for calling trick plays when defenses are least expecting them.
Petersen was granted a five-year extension early in 2010, which will pay him $8 million over the course of five seasons. The contract includes a special clause that guarantees one extra year on the deal every time Petersen has at least eight wins in a season.
As bigger programs eventually come calling, it remains to be seen how long Chris Petersen will remain in Idaho.
Chip Kelly is considered to be among the most innovative offensive minds in college football. Prior to arriving at Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator, Kelly spent seven seasons in the same position at New Hampshire where he had previously coached running backs and offensive linemen.
Chip Kelly likes breaking records. His offense at New Hampshire broke 29 school records in 2004, and scored 40 points or more seven times. In his first year at Oregon, Kelly's offense led the Pac-10 in scoring, at 38 points per game and total yards, at 467 yards per game—both of which were school records.
He re-broke the records in 2008 as the Ducks offense cruised to 41.9 points per game and 485 yards per game. Following this season, the Ducks all-time winningest head coach, Mike Bellotti, retired. Chip Kelly immediately assumed head coaching duties.
Kelly became the first rookie head coach to win the Pac-10 title in 2009. He guided the Ducks to a 10-3 mark but gained national notoriety for sending a disgruntled fan a personal check for $349. Running back LeGarrette Blount punched out a Boise State player following a 19-8 loss to the Broncos. The fan complained and Kelly attempted to compensate him out of pocket for his travel expenses.
Prior to the 2010 season, Oregon's starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team for burglary charges. With Darron Thomas at quarterback, Kelly and running back LeMichael James led the Ducks to a 12-0 regular season and No. 1 ranking in the BCS polls.
Although they lost to Auburn in an exciting national championship game, Oregon returns many of its key players from last season. With Chip Kelly at the helm, Oregon will feature an explosive offense that will be tough to contain.
With the backing of Nike's money, Chip Kelly looks set at Oregon for a good long while.
In 10 seasons coaching the Horned Frogs, Gary Patterson has compiled a 98-28 record and failed to make a bowl game only once—in 2004.
He has earned six 10-win seasons and his teams have finished in the Top 25 seven times. Since joining the Mountain West in 2005, Patterson has led TCU to conference championships three times (2005, 2009, 2010), all with undefeated records of 8-0.
After finishing 12-1 in 2009, with the one loss coming to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Patterson led the Horned Frogs to a 13-0 season in 2010 with wins over Oregon State, Utah and Big Ten co-champions Wisconsin.
TCU would have been given consideration for a national title had they come from an automatic-qualifying BCS conference. However, since Auburn (SEC) and Oregon (Pac-10) both finished undefeated as well, they received the automatic bids instead.
Patterson was named the 2009 AP Coach of the Year, becoming the first head coach from a non-BCS conference to win the award. He also received seven other national coach of the year honors.
In his time at TCU, Patterson has become famous for his consistently tough defenses (No. 1 in scoring defense each of the past three seasons) and a multi-faceted running attack.
With TCU moving into the Big East in 2012, Patterson will get his automatic-qualifying shot at a national championship soon enough.
He is among both the best and least talked-about coaches in the country.
Nick Saban has been a winner everywhere he has gone.
In 17 seasons as a head coach, Saban has had only one losing season. This came in his second year with the Miami Dolphins, in 2006, when Daunte Culpepper was hurt and the team finished 6-10 after barely missing the playoffs at 9-7 a year earlier.
On December 21st 2006, amid rumors that he would leave the Dolphins for Alabama, Nick Saban proclaimed, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." This blatant lie still scars Dolphins fans to this day, as Saban was named Alabama's 27th head coach less than two weeks later.
Big things were expected of Saban in Tuscaloosa. He had guided LSU to a 13-1 record and a national title in 2004 and came from the Bill Belichick coaching line where he was a defensive coordinator for the Patriots legend with the Cleveland Browns.
After going 7-6 and 12-2 in his first two seasons, Saban went 14-0 in 2009 behind his defense and running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The Crimson Tide defeated Colt McCoy and Texas in the national title game.
After losing a lot of his defensive players and parts of his offensive line, Saban and Alabama had a solid year in 2010, finishing 10-3.
Saban is a two-time AP National Coach of the Year (2003, 2008) and he owns a 134-53-1 cumulative record in college. His record at Alabama is 43-11 (25-7 in the SEC). With the largest football budget in the country and vast resources at his disposal, Saban will be a force in college football at Alabama for years to come.
He's the best coach in the best situation to produce the kind of performances that legends are made of.