Ranking the best college football coaches: From national contenders to overachievers

College coaches love to talk about how great things are this time of year. A new season looms. Everyone is 0-0.

But while they all start with the same record, they are not all equal.

I’ve wanted to do a college coach ranking for some time, but I needed the right format. National Top 25 lists are fine and somewhat insightful, but I never understood how coaches from schools with vastly different resources — and realistic goals — could be lumped together in a single ranking. How do you fairly compare Alabama’s Nick Saban and Army’s Jeff Monken, or even outstanding coaches in the same conference, such as Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson?

Other factors include longevity and overall background. Some coaches start at — or close to — the bottom and work their way up, while others, such as Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma and now USC, inherited turnkey programs ready to compete nationally. Baylor’s Dave Aranda won the Big 12 in only his second season as an FBS coach, so how should he compare to those who have done the job much longer?

The goal of the following ranking is to be both smart and fair. Coaches are ranked in four categories, within which I tried to identify the best 10 truly comparable candidates. I evaluated coaches based on consistency, championships won, AP Top 25 finishes and other metrics. The rankings are weighted toward recent performance, but I also included some coaches whose overall profiles merited inclusion despite some struggles lately. Coaches who genuinely impacted the sport, and whose achievements at certain programs haven’t been replicated since their departures, were typically given extra credit.

Coaches cannot appear in more than one category. First-time head coaches are not ranked here, so you won’t see Oklahoma’s Brent Venables, Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman and others. Only current FBS head coaches are eligible.

Each of the four categories will be defined.

Let’s get started.

National contenders

Coaches who lead teams pegged to regularly compete for the College Football Playoff or to do so in the near future.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

Age: 70

FBS résumé: 9-2 Toledo (one season), 34-24-1 Michigan State (five seasons), 48-16 LSU (five seasons), 183-25 Alabama (16 seasons), 274-67-1 overall (27 seasons)

Conference titles: 11 (10 SEC, 1 MAC) | National titles: 7

Saban is the greatest coach of his time and should go down as the best to ever walk a college sideline. His seven national championships rank as the most in college football history, and he has won 10 SEC titles at Alabama and LSU. His run of consistently elite success from 2009 to 2021 might never be matched, as Alabama has finished No. 1 or No. 2 nine times in the AP rankings, and never ended outside the top 10. Since his debut season at Alabama in 2007, Saban has lost more than two games only once (three in 2010). He also guided LSU to the 2003 national title and in 1999 helped Michigan State to its first AP top 10 finish in 12 seasons.

2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Age: 52

FBS résumé: 150-36 Clemson (14 seasons)

Conference titles: 7 (ACC) | National titles: 2

Swinney took over a Clemson program that had become a frequent underachiever (and occasional punchline) and turned it into a national power. Clemson made the CFP every season from 2015 to 2020, winning national titles in 2016 and 2018 and twice finishing as the national runner-up. Swinney has dominated the ACC with seven league titles and nine division titles, and his teams have won no less than 10 games since 2010. No one has consistently challenged Saban’s Alabama teams on the national stage better than Swinney and Clemson.

3. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Age: 46

FBS résumé: 66-15 Georgia (six seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (SEC) | National titles: 1

Several coaches would list Georgia as the best job in the country, and the program has some clear advantages that Smart is now maximizing. He’s the coach who ended Georgia’s four-decade drought without a national championship, beating his former boss Saban and Alabama in the process. Since his first season, Smart is 58-10 with five consecutive AP top-7 finishes, four SEC East division titles and a 5-2 postseason record. He seems to be building the next consistent national power program.

4. Lincoln Riley, USC

Age: 38

FBS résumé: 55-10 Oklahoma (five seasons)

Conference titles: 4 (Big 12) | National titles: 0

Riley is somewhat tricky to evaluate, as he inherited an Oklahoma program from Bob Stoops that was coming off back-to-back Big 12 titles. Still, he had already impacted the program as offensive coordinator, sparking the quarterback play. He then took things to the next level, reaching the CFP and winning the Big 12 in each of his first four seasons as head coach. Riley made Oklahoma a premier quarterback destination, mentoring two Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman finalist. His next mission is reviving one of the game’s great programs at USC.

5. Brian Kelly, LSU

Age: 60

FBS résumé: 19-16 Central Michigan (three seasons), 34-6 Cincinnati (four seasons), 113-40 Notre Dame (12 seasons), 166-62 overall (18 seasons)

Conference titles: 3 (2 Big East, 1 MAC) | National titles: 0

Kelly was always up front about how national championships are the only goal that matters at Notre Dame. While he didn’t win one, he guided the Irish to their most consistently successful stretch since Lou Holtz’s tenure. Notre Dame made two CFP appearances, finished as the national runner-up in 2012 and won 54 games with five AP top-12 finishes in Kelly’s final five seasons there. Kelly also recorded a top-4 finish with Cincinnati. He has won everywhere, including a MAC title at Central Michigan and two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State. Anything less than a national title at LSU will be a major disappointment for Kelly.

6. Ryan Day, Ohio State

Age: 43

FBS résumé: 34-4 Ohio State (three seasons, coached three games in 2018)

Conference titles: 2 (Big Ten) | National titles: 0

Five years ago, Day was a mostly unknown assistant working with J.T. Barrett, Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins in the Ohio State quarterback room. His rapid rise underscores his coaching talent, and he has made Ohio State — not known for elite quarterback play — a top spot for elite signal-callers. Day didn’t lose a Big Ten regular-season game until last year’s finale against Michigan, and reached the CFP in his first two full seasons at Ohio State. He also inherited one of the best jobs in American sport, from one of the Big Ten’s most historically dominant coaches in Urban Meyer. Day ultimately must win the national title to rise on this list.

7. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Age: 56

FBS résumé: 83-23 at Florida State (eight seasons), 34-14 at Texas A&M (four seasons), 117-37 overall (12 seasons)

Conference titles: 3 (ACC) | National titles: 1

Fisher has done some good things at Texas A&M, including a No. 4 finish in 2020. His win over Alabama last season made Fisher the first of Saban’s assistants to beat him. But his time in College Station, without any championships to date, has hurt his overall profile. Fisher led Florida State to the 2013 national title and the program’s only stretch of elite success — four AP top-10 finishes, three ACC titles and a 59-9 record from 2012 to 2016 — since Bobby Bowden’s incredible run quieted down in 2001. His next step is bringing titles to Texas A&M.

8. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Age: 58

FBS résumé: 29-21 Stanford (four seasons), 61-24 Michigan (seven seasons), 90-45 overall (11 seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Big Ten) | National titles: 0

Harbaugh had always placed well in national coach rankings, but needed to justify his position by beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten. He accomplished both last season, helping Michigan to its first CFP appearance and its first outright Big Ten title since 2003. Harbaugh has improved Michigan’s program but now must start competing more frequently for national goals. He also engineered a dramatic turnaround at Stanford, which had five losing seasons before his arrival and went 12-1 with a No. 4 finish in his final year.

9. James Franklin, Penn State

Age: 50

FBS résumé: 24-15 Vanderbilt (three seasons), 67-34 Penn State (eight seasons), 91-49 overall (11 seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Big Ten) | National titles: 0

If this were 2020, Franklin could appear higher. He had guided Penn State to 40 wins and three AP top-9 finishes in the previous four seasons. The past two years have hurt his stock a bit, as Penn State has split 22 games and gone 8-10 in Big Ten play. But Franklin has shown he can break through, winning the conference in 2016 and nearly getting to the CFP. His work at Vanderbilt — 24-15 overall with three bowl appearances and two AP Top 25 finishes — looks even more remarkable as the years go by.

10. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Age: 48

FBS résumé: 6-7 Ohio State (one season), 48-15 Cincinnati (five seasons), 54-22 overall (six seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (AAC) | National titles: 0

Fickell accomplished what many believed was impossible at a Group of 5 school, leading Cincinnati to the CFP in 2021. Although Cincinnati has a history of success, Fickell’s ability to elevate the program since 2018 helped lead to a Big 12 invitation last fall. Since 2018, Cincinnati trails only Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in winning percentage (.863). Fickell, who endured a challenging head-coaching debut at Ohio State in 2011, boasts back-to-back league titles and AP top-8 finishes at Cincinnati. He’s set to guide UC into the Big 12.

Next up

These coaches have shown they can win on a national basis, but lead teams that aren’t yet viewed as annual CFP candidates.

1. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Age: 62

FBS résumé: 144-70 Utah (18 seasons, coached one game in 2004)

Conference titles: 2 (1 Pac-12, 1 Mountain West) | National titles: 0

Whittingham’s longevity and consistency jumps out, as well as his postseason success and ability to transition Utah from the Group of 5 to Power 5. He first made a national splash in 2008, guiding Utah to a 13-0 record and No. 2 finish after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Whittingham had three straight 10-win seasons before the Pac-12 transition, and has eight straight winning seasons, punctuated with Utah’s first Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance last year. He owns the bowl season, posting an 11-4 record. Utah also thrives in producing NFL draft prospects, despite not signing decorated recruiting classes.

2. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Age: 55

FBS résumé: 149-69 Oklahoma State (17 seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Big 12) | National titles: 0

Gundy’s success at a program without the most natural advantages in the Big 12 occasionally goes overlooked. “He’s so undervalued,” a Big 12 coach recently told me. “Sixteen consecutive winning seasons at Oklahoma State. Really? That dude’s done an unbelievable job. He’s lost coordinators, doesn’t matter. He figures it out.” Gundy hasn’t had a losing season since his debut in 2005, and has seven seasons of 10 or more wins since 2010, and nine AP top-20 finishes since 2008. The knock on him is he doesn’t win the Big 12 enough — only one title in 2011 — but he runs one of the nation’s most consistent programs.

3. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Age: 67

FBS résumé: 190-131 Iowa (23 seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (Big Ten) | National titles: 0

Iowa is among the nation’s steadiest programs under Ferentz, occasionally bursting onto the national radar but almost always reaching solid bowl games and competing in the Big Ten. Ferentz had his best stretch early in his tenure, recording two Big Ten titles and three consecutive AP top-8 finishes from 2002 to 2004. But his teams also finished in the top 10 in 2009 and 2015, and since 2015 Iowa ranks 13th nationally in winning percentage (.716). Iowa’s NFL draft output regularly outperforms its recruiting ranking, as Ferentz and his staff are known for player development.

4. Chip Kelly, UCLA

Age: 58

FBS résumé: 46-7 Oregon (four seasons), 18-25 UCLA (four seasons), 64-32 overall (eight seasons)

Conference titles: 3 (Pac-12) | National titles: 0

Kelly hasn’t generated the success UCLA envisioned, which hurts his overall profile. But he still changed the college game while at Oregon, employing innovative schemes and a distinct program philosophy. The results were a 46-7 record (33-3 in Pac-12 play) with three AP top-4 finishes and a national championship game appearance in 2010. He never lost to Oregon’s rivals Washington and Oregon State. The question is whether he can ever get UCLA, one of the nation’s biggest underachievers, to championship contention.

5. Mario Cristobal, Miami

Age: 51

FBS résumé: 27-47 Florida International (six seasons), 35-13 Oregon (five seasons), 62-60 overall (11 seasons)

Conference titles: 3 (2 Pac-12, 1 Sun Belt) | National titles: 0

While Kelly showed what Oregon could achieve nationally, Cristobal also made an important mark at the program, especially through his recruiting success. After a player-led push to get him the job in December 2017, Cristobal capitalized in helping Oregon to consecutive Pac-12 championships, three straight division titles, a Rose Bowl championship and an AP top-5 finish in 2019. Few understood why FIU fired him, as his teams made bowls in 2010 and 2011. He’s back in Miami, where he will try to restore the glory at his alma mater.

6. Mack Brown, North Carolina

Age: 70

FBS résumé: 11-23 Tulane (three seasons), 158-48 Texas (16 seasons), 90-63-1 North Carolina (13 seasons), 259-134-1 overall (32 seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (Big 12) | National titles: 1

Brown’s run at Texas gains more credibility with each passing year. The program hasn’t come close to capturing what he achieved since ousting him. Brown never won fewer than nine games in his first 12 seasons at Texas, which included a national title in 2005, two Big 12 titles and six division titles. Texas was the national runner-up in 2009 and had seven AP top-10 finishes between 2001 and 2009. Brown also guided North Carolina to consecutive AP top-10 finishes in 1996 and 1997, and a No. 18 finish in 2020. Sustained success is now the goal for Brown in his second stint at UNC, which hasn’t won the ACC since 1980.

7. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

Age: 47

FBS résumé: 7-6 Tennessee (one season), 28-15 USC (four seasons), 27-13 Florida Atlantic (three seasons), 15-8 Ole Miss (two seasons), 77-42 overall (10 seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (Conference USA) | National titles: 0

Kiffin’s head-coaching tenure certainly feels longer than 10 seasons, as he has become one of college football’s biggest newsmakers. But his second act as a program leader, first at Florida Atlantic and now Ole Miss, has brought out more of his best elements and less of his … brattier ones. Kiffin won two league titles in three years at FAU, and last fall guided Ole Miss to a 10-win season and a No. 11 AP finish, the program’s second-highest finish since 1968. His USC tenure, while underwhelming overall, did feature a 10-win season and a No. 6 AP finish in 2011. Always an exceptional offensive playcaller, Kiffin has matured into a strong program leader.

8. David Shaw, Stanford

Age: 50

FBS résumé: 93-45 Stanford (11 seasons)

Conference titles: 3 (Pac-12) | National titles: 0

Some might be surprised to see Shaw on the list. He’s mired in the first extended slump of his career, as Stanford is 11-19 since the start of the 2019 season. But don’t forget about Shaw’s incredibly successful first eight years as head coach of his alma mater. Stanford recorded three Pac-12 titles, five division titles, three AP top-12 finishes and a Rose Bowl championship (plus a No. 3 finish) in 2015. Harbaugh triggered Stanford’s turnaround, but Shaw, who came in with Harbaugh as the team’s offensive coordinator, took things to the next level.

9. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Age: 56

FBS résumé: 19-19 Pitt (three seasons), 65-23 Wisconsin (seven seasons), 84-42 overall (10 seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Like predecessors Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen, Chryst has kept the Wisconsin machine moving. He had excellent success early on, going 52-16 from 2015 to 2019 with three AP top-11 finishes and three New Year’s Six bowl appearances (two wins). Chryst also served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator under Bielema when the team won the Big Ten in 2010 and 2011. His immediate challenge is addressing Wisconsin’s issues at quarterback and within the passing game, and ending the team’s three-year drought without a division title.

10. Kalani Sitake, BYU

Age: 46

FBS résumé: 48-29 BYU (six seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Few coaches in this category recently helped their national profile more than Sitake, who is 21-4 the past two seasons with two AP top-20 finishes. Last year, BYU went 5-0 against the Pac-12, including its first victory against Holy War rival Utah — the eventual Pac-12 champion — since 2009. He has been a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award the past two years. Even before 2020, Sitake recorded wins against USC, Wisconsin and Tennessee, and has 13 wins against Power 5 opponents. He has the program set up well to transition to the Big 12 in 2023.


These coaches consistently do more with less, and elevate programs not typically known for success in football.

1. Mike Leach, Mississippi State

Age: 61

FBS résumé: 84-43 Texas Tech (10 years), 55-47 Washington State (eight seasons), 11-13 Mississippi State (two seasons), 150-103 overall (20 seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Leach might be best known for his wide range of interests and quirky personality, but he’s also among the best overachievers of his coaching generation. He has spent his career at Power 5 have-nots and far-flungs — Texas Tech, Washington State and now Mississippi State — and has still generated success. His 84-43 run at Texas Tech, which included zero losing seasons and five AP Top 25 finishes in his final six years, is the most consistently successful stretch in team history. He then went on to Washington State, going 37-15 from 2015 to 2018 with a No. 10 finish in 2018. Leach beat defending national champion LSU in his Mississippi State debut, and will keep trying to elevate the Bulldogs in the punishing SEC West.

2. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Age: 47

FBS résumé: 109-90 Northwestern (16 seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Things have been rocky lately for Fitzgerald, who last season had his least competitive team and finished 3-9 for the second time in three years. But Fitzgerald also guided the Wildcats to Big Ten West titles in 2018 and 2020, the latter of which resulted in a top-10 finish. The winningest coach in team history has overseen the most consistent stretch, as Northwestern reached nine bowl games in 11 seasons from 2008 through 2018. Fitzgerald has won five bowl games — the program previously had only one — and posted five AP Top 25 finishes.

3. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Age: 42

FBS résumé: 35-15 Toledo (five seasons), 42-34 Iowa State (six seasons), 77-49 overall (11 seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Campbell has guided an ISU program without a conference title since 1912 to remarkable consistency, reaching a team-record five consecutive bowl games, including a Fiesta Bowl championship and a No. 9 AP finish in 2020. He helped the Cyclones to their first Big 12 championship game, and has won Big 12 Coach of the Year three times. Campbell became the first ISU coach to beat every team in the conference both at home and on the road. Before ISU, he won nine games in three of his four seasons at Toledo. That two of his past three Cyclones teams have been branded disappointing is a testament to what he has built in Ames, Iowa.

4. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Age: 55

FBS résumé: 59-53 Kentucky (nine seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Stoops doesn’t like Kentucky being called a basketball school, even by UK’s own basketball coach, but he has redefined what the program can achieve on the football field. He has guided Kentucky to its most consistently successful stretch since Bear Bryant in the early 1950s. The Wildcats have made a team-record six consecutive bowl appearances, winning the past four, also a team record. They recorded 10 victories with AP top-20 finishes in both 2018 and 2021.

5. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

Age: 54

FBS résumé: 32-32 Bowling Green (five seasons), 51-48 Wake Forest (eight seasons), 83-80 overall (13 seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (MAC) | National titles: 0

Wake Forest’s run to the 2021 ACC championship placed a brighter light on Clawson’s incredible work at the smallest school in the Power 5. The Demon Deacons won 11 games for just the second time in team history, cracked the AP top 10 for the first time and recorded their highest-ever AP finish (No. 15). Clawson has guided Wake Forest to six consecutive bowl games and the most consistent stretch (45-30) in team history. He also turned around Bowling Green’s program, winning a MAC title in 2013, his final season with the Falcons.

6. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State

Age: 60

FBS résumé: 82-57 Cal (11 seasons), 26-14 Fresno State (three seasons), 108-71 overall (14 seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (1 Pac-12, 1 Mountain West) | National titles: 0

Not all FBS programs in California are easy places to win, as Tedford can attest. He became the first Cal coach since Pappy Waldorf (1947-1951) to generate consistent success in Berkeley. Tedford took Cal to seven consecutive bowl games from 2003 to 2009, winning eight or more games six times with two 10-win seasons. Cal finished No. 9 nationally in 2004 — the team’s first AP top-10 finish since 1950 — and won a share of the Pac-12 title in 2006. Although Fresno State had seen more recent success, the team was 1-11 before Tedford arrived in 2017. He led the best turnaround in college football, as Fresno State went 10-4, and then followed with a 12-2 season and a Mountain West title in 2018. After resigning from Fresno State in 2019, citing health and family, he returns this year for his second stint at his alma mater.

7. Jeff Monken, Army

Age: 55

FBS résumé: 58-43 Army (eight seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Army boasts a proud football history, but the program had plummeted before Monken’s arrival, eclipsing four wins just once in the previous 17 seasons. A team that went to two bowl games between 1989 and 2015 has been to five in the past six years, winning four times. Monken in 2018 earned several national coach of the year awards after helping Army to a team-record 11 wins and its first AP top-20 finish since 1958. Before Army, Monken thrived at Georgia Southern, reaching the FCS playoff semifinals in three consecutive years.

8. Hugh Freeze, Liberty

Age: 52

FBS résumé: 10-3 Arkansas State (one season), 39-25 Ole Miss (five seasons), 26-11 Liberty (three seasons), 75-39 overall (nine seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Sun Belt) | National titles: 0

Freeze’s ability to orchestrate offenses and develop quarterbacks at different types of programs makes him stand out among his peers. Although his Ole Miss tenure ultimately ended in shame, he undoubtedly elevated the program, twice beating Alabama and recording back-to-back AP top-20 finishes in 2016 and 2017. In his third season, Freeze guided Ole Miss to its first New Year’s Six bowl (Peach) since the 1970 Sugar, and then won a Sugar Bowl title the following year. He also led Arkansas State to a Sun Belt title in his only season there, and has led Liberty to its first three bowl games (all wins), and a No. 17 AP poll finish in 2020.

9. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Age: 41

FBS résumé: 30-22 Western Michigan (four seasons), 35-23 Minnesota (five seasons), 65-45 overall (nine seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (MAC) | National titles: 0

Fleck has a distinct brand of program-building that makes him somewhat polarizing, but no one can argue with his results. He took a Western Michigan program that had not won the MAC since 1988 and guided it to a team-record 13 wins and its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl appearance. After a 1-11 start at WMU, Fleck went 29-11 in his final three seasons. He took over a Minnesota team in better shape — the Gophers had won nine games in 2016 — but elevated the program. In 2019, the Gophers went 11-2, their highest wins total since 1904, and finished No. 10. Fleck is 23-10 in his past three seasons at Minnesota.

10. Lance Leipold, Kansas

Age: 58

FBS résumé: 37-33 Buffalo (six seasons), 2-10 Kansas (one season), 39-43 overall (seven seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Leipold appeared on my radar while at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he became Division III’s version of Saban, winning six national titles in eight years. He showcased his program-building skills at Buffalo, an outlier in the MAC with only two bowl appearances before his arrival. After a 7-17 start, Leipold led Buffalo to bowl eligibility in each of his final four seasons. The Bulls won the MAC East division in 2018, recording a team-record 10 wins, and did so again in 2020, while recording their first AP Top 25 finish. He then took over the worst Power 5 program in Kansas, but helped the Jayhawks end an 18-game Big 12 losing streak and 56-game Big 12 road slide.

Fast starts

These coaches have been leading FBS programs for four years or fewer, but have displayed great promise early in their tenures.

1. Dave Aranda, Baylor

Age: 45

FBS résumé: 14-9 Baylor (two seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Big 12) | National titles: 0

I first met Aranda in 2013 at Wisconsin, and could tell he wasn’t a typical football coach. His Zen-like demeanor and schematic brilliance translated well as a defensive coordinator, and he would become the nation’s highest-paid assistant at LSU. But would his approach translate as a head coach? Last fall, Baylor got the answer it wanted, as Aranda guided the Bears, unranked in the preseason, to a Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl championship. The Bears ended Oklahoma’s streak of league titles, and recorded their first-ever AP top-5 finish. Aranda has Baylor positioned well to be an annual contender in the future Big 12.

2. Billy Napier, Florida

Age: 43

FBS résumé: 40-12 Louisiana (four seasons)

Conference titles: 2 (Sun Belt) | National titles: 0

Like Kirby Smart, Napier came from a coaching family in Georgia, and apprenticed under Saban at Alabama during a solid run as an assistant. He capitalized on his first head-coaching opportunity at Louisiana, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to two league titles, four division titles and two AP top-16 finishes in an increasingly competitive Sun Belt. He set Louisiana’s single-season wins record in each of his final two years there. Napier now gets the SEC opportunity he has been waiting for at title-starved Florida.

3. Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

Age: 45

FBS résumé: 30-19 Coastal Carolina (four seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Sun Belt) | National titles: 0

Chadwell had been a successful college coach in the lower divisions, but he was somewhat of a mystery man at a mystery program after taking over from Joe Moglia. Because of Chadwell, college football fans know more about mullets, teal turf and a distinct offense that has propelled the Chanticleers to a 22-3 record the past two seasons. Coastal Carolina in 2020 started 11-0 and finished No. 14 in the AP poll. Chadwell identified and developed quarterback Grayson McCall into a star, and has Coastal Carolina positioned for future success.

4. Mel Tucker, Michigan State

Age: 50

FBS résumé: 5-7 Colorado (one season) 13-7 Michigan State (two seasons), 18-14 overall (three seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

“Tuck Comin'” has become a rallying cry at Michigan State, which, like Baylor, went from unranked in the preseason to an AP top-10 finish. Tucker worked the transfer portal better than any coach in 2021, landing Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III and others to help MSU start 8-0. He has been strong in rivalry games, going 2-0 against Michigan and handing Nebraska a loss during his lone season at Colorado. MSU committed to Tucker unlike it ever has before — a 10-year, $95 million deal — and his recruiting suggests the team will be a Big Ten factor more often than not.

5. Josh Heupel, Tennessee

Age: 44

FBS résumé: 28-8 UCF (three seasons), 7-6 Tennessee (one season), 35-14 overall (four seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (AAC) | National titles: 0

Heupel was viewed as a surprising hire at UCF and a lukewarm one at Tennessee, but both could end up being solid moves by athletic director Danny White. Fired from his alma mater Oklahoma after the 2014 season, Heupel rebooted his career by learning the Baylor/Briles tempo offense. He went 22-4 in his first two seasons at UCF with two Top 25 finishes. Heupel then gave Tennessee’s offense an overdue jolt last fall, as quarterback Hendon Hooker, wide receiver Cedric Tillman and others blossomed in his scheme.

6. Sam Pittman, Arkansas

Age: 60

FBS résumé: 12-11 Arkansas (two seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

While several recent seemingly can’t-miss coaching hires have missed, Arkansas’ surprising choice of Pittman has worked out extremely well so far. He took over a flatlining program before the 2020 COVID season, and went 3-7 in an SEC-only schedule with three losses by three points or fewer. In his second game, Arkansas snapped its 20-game SEC road losing streak. Last year, the Hogs recorded their highest win total (9) and first AP poll finish (No. 21) since 2011. Arkansas also won all three of its SEC trophy games (Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri) for the first time. A career offensive line coach, Pittman has been the perfect choice to revive Arkansas.

7. Jeff Traylor, UTSA

Age: 54

FBS résumé: 19-7 UTSA (two seasons)

Conference titles: 1 (Conference USA) | National titles: 0

Traylor’s peers tell me he might be the most popular coach — at any level — in the state of Texas. He has effectively brought his homegrown approach to UTSA. A longtime high school coach in Gilmer, Texas, Traylor took over a UTSA program that had won just seven games in the two seasons before his arrival. After a solid 7-5 debut, Traylor helped UTSA to an 11-0 start, the program’s first national ranking and its first Conference USA championship. A finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, Traylor rebuffed potential Power 5 opportunities to sign a 10-year contract extension. He has the program positioned well to transition to the AAC.

8. Shawn Clark, Appalachian State

Age: 46

FBS résumé: 20-7 Appalachian State (two seasons, coached one game in 2019)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Unlike others in this category, Clark didn’t swoop in from the outside and transform a program. But he deserves credit for keeping Appalachian State on a positive trajectory after getting the chance to lead his alma mater. An Appalachian State assistant under Scott Satterfield and Eliah Drinkwitz, Clark went 9-3 with a bowl win during his debut season in 2020, becoming the only first-year FBS coach to reach nine victories during the pandemic-impacted season. He followed with 10 wins and a division title last fall.

9. Sean Lewis, Kent State

Age: 36

FBS résumé: 19-24 Kent State (four seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Lewis was the youngest coach in the FBS (31) when he landed the Kent State job, and has grown nicely into the role. Kent State is among the most challenging jobs in the FBS, underscored by non-league schedules that regularly feature three road trips to Power 5 opponents. In 2019, Lewis guided Kent State to its first bowl win, and then followed with the school’s first back-to-back winning seasons. Last year, Kent State won the MAC East division for the first time since 2012. Lewis has positioned Kent State to be a consistent factor in the always-unpredictable MAC.

10. Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Age: 54

FBS résumé: 20-16 Kansas State (three seasons)

Conference titles: 0 | National titles: 0

Klieman is a relative newcomer to the FBS, but arrived at Kansas State with excellent credentials from FCS North Dakota State, where he won four national titles in five seasons as head coach. He made an immediate splash by beating Big 12 boss Oklahoma in his first two seasons, the latter of which marked Kansas State’s first-ever road win against a top-5 opponent. Klieman has recorded two eight-win seasons sandwiched around an injury-marred 2020 campaign. Kansas State is a popular sleeper pick in the Big 12 this coming season.

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