Top Ten Coach of the Year Candidates in College Football

Kevin PaulSenior Analyst INovember 19, 2008

Another year of college football is winding down, and along with it comes one of the more exciting races that no one is talking about—that being coach of the year.  For the first time in a while, there’s really no clear-cut favorite this late in the season. 

While most prognosticators would be tempted to flood their lists with SEC and Big 12 coaches, there are plenty of others who deserve recognition. 

With that being said, here are ten coaches that when discussing coach of the year, each should be mentioned in that same breath—with only one featured from each of the two aforementioned power conferences: 


Top Ten Coach of the Year Candidates in College Football


10. Butch Davis – North Carolina (3-3, 7-3)

It was an easy bet that Coach Davis, with his past pro and college experience, would be able to improve the quality of football at Chapel Hill.  What wasn’t expected was the way he’s turned things around so quickly—especially after losing talents such as T.J. Yates and Brandon Tate for the majority of the 2008 season.


9. Mark Dantonio – Michigan State (6-1, 9-2)

Before Dantonio arrived at the beginning of last year, Michigan State hadn’t seen a winning season since 2003.  After a 7-6 campaign in ’07, Dantonio has responded with nine wins, and with a week to go, the Spartans still have an outside shot at a Rose Bowl berth.  That’s something that even Sparty didn’t see coming.


8. Paul Johnson – Georgia Tech (4-3, 7-3)

They said his system wouldn’t work in the ACC.  They said it would take years for him to bring in enough recruits to build respectability. 

Yet, while not having one of his biggest weapons in Josh Nesbitt during parts of the season, Coach Johnson has managed to keep the Yellow Jackets afloat with solid defense and other offensive weapons. 

To top it off, a victory over Miami later this week could land Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game, something no one expected.


7. Brian Kelly – Cincinnati (4-1, 8-2)

West Virginia isn’t sitting on top of the Big East.  Neither is South Florida, or Pittsburgh.  Nope, it’s the Bearcats, led by Coach Kelly.  In his first year, Kelly led Cincinnati to ten wins and a bowl victory.  This season, after returning only twelve starters, he’s on top of the Big East, hoping for another double-digit win season—and perhaps a conference title.


6. Brady Hoke – Ball State (6-0, 10-0)

Hoke is the darkhorse in this competition, coaching in the Mid-American conference, which gets little to no national exposure.  A program that managed only 15 victories from 2003-2006, Hoke has accumulated 17 wins since the beginning of last season.  Hoke’s two biggest tests are still to come with other Mid-American powers Central Michigan and Western Michigan on deck.


5. Tim Brewster – Minnesota (3-4, 7-4)

If not for three consecutive losses, Brewster could easily be at the top of this list.  Still, after a dismal 1-11 season last year, the second-year coach not only managed a solid 2008 recruiting class (28th according to, but also managed at least a half-dozen win turnaround along with a bowl berth to come. Dontcha know that’s one heckuva year, yah? 


4. Kyle Whittingham – Utah (7-0, 11-0)

Some coaches get buried in mediocrity after replacing someone that had a great deal of success.  When Urban Meyer left Utah (for Florida) after giving the Utes its first perfect season since 1930 (plus the first BCS bowl berth by a mid-major), there were lofty expectations and high hopes for the program—certainly a tall order for Whittingham and his staff. 

Still, he’s responded with three winning seasons, and in year four, Utah is undefeated and primed for a potential second BCS berth in five years. 


3. Mike Leach – Texas Tech (6-0, 10-0)

Leach and the Red Raiders have always been known to have an explosive offense, but never enough to get over the hump in big games—until this season.  Beating Oklahoma at Norman may be enough to push him to the top of this list and push Texas Tech to a national title berth. 


2. Joe Paterno – Penn State (6-1, 10-1)

From having to cut two d-linemen, lose another to injury, lose a star linebacker for the year, fend off questions of retirement, avoid questions regarding his health, among other things, Coach Paterno brought Penn State to within one point and one last second field goal from an undefeated record. 

With Michigan State approaching, a win can earn the Nittany Lions its first Rose Bowl berth since 1994.  It’s been a special year for Paterno—but will it be his last?  That question alone could earn some extra votes.  


1. Nick Saban – Alabama (7-0, 11-0)

Everyone knew Coach Saban would make the Tide roll again—but this quickly?  With the number one recruiting class in 2008 (according to, it looked like Saban and the boys were about a year or two away, especially with an ’08 schedule that featured road tests against LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, plus a neutral site game against Clemson during week one. 

After a 7-6 2007 season, Saban has done a spectacular job with this year’s team, but the road to the national title is getting tougher, with Auburn and Florida still in the way.  Either way, don’t expect the Tide to go away anytime soon and if forced to choose a favorite for coach of the year, Saban would have to be the one.