This current era of college football is blessed with some of the best head coaches in the sport’s history. While names like Rockne, Hayes, and Schembechler will forever command the respect of the game, there are current coaches who have won multiple national titles, who have introduced innovations that have changed the game, and who have mentored outstanding young men. The National Football League could learn a lot from these great men.
- Nick Saban, Alabama
All Saban has done in his tenure at Alabama has become the Godfather of college coaches. He is 86-17 in his eight seasons in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide has won three national championships and seems to be in the running every year. Minus Saban’s first season in 2007, ‘Bama has won 10 or more games every year since 2008. Saban has produced 37 NFL draft picks and is the game’s highest paid coach. He’s worth every penny. Saban brings an attention to detail and a defense that just stymies offenses. His coaching travels have actually taken him to the NFL – he was the Miami Dolphins head coach in 2005 and 2006. NFL coaches repeatedly study what Saban does with the Tide defense and attempt to adapt it to the pro game.
- Urban Meyer, Ohio State
The prodigal son of the state of Ohio returned to coaching in his home state at the state’s most well-known institution and promptly won a national championship in year three. Meyer rose quickly through the head coaching ranks landing at Florida in the early 2000s where he would win two national titles and produce a Heisman Trophy winner in Tim Tebow. His career head coaching record stands at 142-26, which includes his three years at Ohio State where Meyer is 38-3. Known for his innovations in the spread offense, Meyer is known for molding his offense to fit his players. When he lost two quarterbacks this season, he did not fret. He brought in a third, Cardale Jones, and worked the offense to his strengths. It’s something NFL coaches should think about as their rosters change every year.
- Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
In considering the current college coaching greats, Stoops often gets overlooked. Along with Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Stoops is one of the longest tenured FBS coaches in the nation. He has been at Oklahoma for 16 seasons which says something about his performance in this day and age of “what have you done for me lately.” Stoops has won at least 10 games in 12 of those 16 seasons including a perfect 13-0 record in 2000 when the Sooner won the national championship. He has a career record of 168-44, more wins than any other Oklahoma coach, and claims eight Big 12 championships. Stoops is one of the best defensive minds in the game and is a proven winner. He brought the Sooners program back to national prominence quickly, something the new first-year head coaches in the NFL will need to do to keep their jobs.
- Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The Ole Ball Coach has a list of accomplishments a mile long. He was a phenomenal college player – he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 – and has developed into one of the all-time coaching greats. His college career coaching record of 226-85-2 includes stints at Duke, Florida, and his current stop, South Carolina. He won at each school turning around programs that had seen better days. In 1996, Spurrier led Florida to a 12-1 record and a national championship. He took the job at South Carolina in 2005 and is now the winningest coach in school history. Spurrier has done it by being demanding and holding players accountable. He also has a knack for devising offensive schemes that score a lot of points. These are all valuable traits that any successful NFL coach should have.
- Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Snyder is already in the College Football Hall of Fame and the field at Kansas State was named in his honor. He is one of the few major college coaches to have two non-consecutive tenures at the same school. Snyder came to KSU back in 1988 and took over one of the worst football programs in the history of the game. Prior to Snyder’s arrival, the school had won just 37 percent of its games in 93 years of play. While Snyder and Wildcats struggled initially, the veteran coach turned Kansas State into a consistent winner. From 1997 to 2000, the Wildcats won 44 games, 11 each season, and finished in first place in the Big 12 North Division three of the four years. When he retired after the 2005 season, the program began to struggle again. Snyder returned to Manhattan in 2009 to once again re-right the program. KSU is a consistent winner in the Big 12 thanks to Snyder, who brought with him a work ethic unmatched in the business. NFL coaches that want to be successful can take a page from Snyder’s book on how to get things done…and do them well.
There are numerous other college football coaches who possess some of the same great qualities as these five. The NFL comes calling to the college ranks every so often as it did when the Philadelphia Eagles hired Chip Kelly from Oregon. There is much to be learned from successful college coaches and their peers in the pro ranks will continue to turn to them when needed.