Saban! Bowden! Dabo! Robinson! Gagliardi! Schnellenberger! Shug!— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) August 13, 2021
I ranked the 100 best college football coaches of the past 50 years because WHY THE HELL NOT?https://t.co/wYMUCSVIlG
On Friday, ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his rankings of the top 100 FBS head coaches of the past 50 years. It should come as no surprise that Ohio State was well represented on the list, seeing five coaches included in the rankings, with all of them being ranked among the top 60 coaches on the list.
While some may want to include coaches like Knute Rockne, Amos Alonso Stagg, and Walter Camp on a list of the greatest college football coaches, Connelly limited his list to the last 50 years because it was when offensive innovation was taking place in the sport. Trying to compare some of the coaches from the early days of college football to some of the more recent coaches would have been quite a tough task, since the game then was so different from what we see now.
Note: The full list is only available to those who subscribe to ESPN+
Ohio State’s contributions to the list
5) Urban Meyer
Wherever Meyer has coached, he has won. It didn’t take long for Meyer to rocket up the coaching ranks after getting his first head coaching job at Bowling Green. It took just four seasons for Meyer to land the Florida gig, using an undefeated season at Utah in 2004 to grab the attention of the Gators. Meyer would go on to bring two national titles to Gainesville before stepping away from coaching in 2010 after six seasons with the Gators.
Meyer couldn’t stay away from the sidelines very long, spending just one season working with ESPN before becoming Ohio State’s head coach, as the Buckeyes had to unexpectedly find a new head coach after Jim Tressel resigned due to the “Tatgate” scandal. Much like his previous three head coaching stops, it didn’t take Meyer long to get things going with his new team, leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in his first year on the job in 2012.
2014 is where Meyer really showed he is one of the best coaches in the game, as he was forced to enter the season with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett at quarterback after Braxton Miller wasn’t able to play at all due to injury. Following an early setback to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes would right the ship until another curveball was thrown at Meyer when Barrett was injured against Michigan. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott would lead the Buckeyes on a magical three-game run that ended with Meyer earning his third national title.
Even though Ohio State would dominate the Big Ten in Meyer’s final four seasons, the Buckeyes couldn’t quite get back to the top of the mountain, only making the College Football Playoff once in that span. Meyer finished his coaching career at Ohio State with a 83-9 record, and has posted a 187-32 record in 17 seasons as a college football head coach. Who knows, we might see Meyer take one more crack at college football if life in the NFL doesn’t go according to plan.
15) Jim Tressel
While Urban Meyer’s rise as a college football head coach was meteoric, the Ohio State head coach he succeeded had a bit of a different path to Columbus. Jim Tressel took over at Youngstown State in 1986, with the Penguins struggling to a 2-9 season in Tressel’s first year with the school. Things really came together for Tressel in 1990, when Youngstown State posted an 11-1 record.
In each of the next four years, Youngstown State would make the Division I-AA National Championship Game, with Tressel leading the Penguins to three national titles. Tressel and Youngstown State would win another national title in 1997, along with a title game appearance in 1999 before taking the Ohio State job after the 2000 season.
Not only did Tressel win over Ohio State fans with an increased focus on the Michigan game, “The Senator” engineered one of the greatest seasons in college football history, as the Buckeyes went undefeated and shocked the world with an upset of Miami in the national title game. Tressel would go on to lead the Buckeyes to two more BCS National Championship Games, falling to Meyer’s Florida Gators in 2007, and LSU in 2008.
Even though Tressel’s time in Columbus ended in controversy, he still amassed a 106-22 record with the Buckeyes. Just as important, Tressel’s Ohio State teams were 9-1 against Michigan during his time in Columbus. Tressel’s final record as a college football head coach was 241-79-2, and his teams won five national titles. In 2015, Tressel was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
16) Woody Hayes
Woody Hayes’ coaching career may have started more than 50 years ago, but he prowled the sidelines until 1978, allowing him to be eligible for this list. 1946 saw Hayes get his first head coaching gig, taking over at Denison University, who had reinstated their football program following World War II. Hayes spent three seasons coaching at his alma mater before heading west in the Buckeye State to coach at Miami University.
Ohio State must have been impressed with Miami winning the 1951 Salad Bowl, because in a controversial decision the Buckeyes would hire Hayes as their new head coach. It took a few seasons for Hayes to get things rolling, with Ohio State going just 16-9-2 in their first three seasons under Hayes. Things changed in 1954 when the Buckeyes would go 10-0 and win the Rose Bowl, to allow Ohio State to claim their second national title.
Hayes would coach at Ohio State for 28 seasons before his career ended unceremoniously as he punched one of Clemson’s players in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes’ head coaching career ended with a 238-72-10 record, as well as five claimed national title. The battles of Hayes’ Ohio State teams and Bo Schembechler’s Michigan teams were dubbed the “Ten Year’s War”. since during that span either the Buckeyes or Wolverines won the Big Ten. Hayes was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
52) John Cooper
After spending 14 seasons as an assistant coach at various locations, Cooper was given his first head coaching job by Tulsa in 1977. Cooper spent eight seasons with the Golden Hurricanes before moving on to Arizona State, where he would coach for three seasons before being picked to replace Earle Bruce at Ohio State.
Following a 4-6-1 first season in Columbus in 1988, Cooper’s teams would win at least seven games in the four seasons before winning his first Big Ten title in 1993. The Buckeyes could never quite get over the hump with Cooper at the helm, though. Despite winning 43 games in a four year span between 1995-1998, Ohio State failed to win a national title under Cooper.
To add insult to injury, Cooper was just 2-10-1 against Michigan while he was Ohio State’s head coach. Even with some of his teams underachieving, Cooper still finished his career with a 192-84-6 record, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
60) Earle Bruce
Faced with the unenviable task of following Woody Hayes as head coach at Ohio State, the former Buckeye running back and assistant coach returned home in 1979 after coaching for six seasons at Iowa State. Bruce almost got off to a dream start at head coach of the Buckeyes, missing out on a possible share of a national championship because of a 17-16 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl.
Bruce would find it hard to replicate the magic of is first season as head coach, losing at least three games in each of his next eight seasons in charge of the Buckeyes before being fired following the 1987 season. During his coaching career in Columbus, Bruce compiled an 81-26-1 record and won four Big Ten titles.
Other notable entries on the list
It’s not much of a surprise who is ranked ahead of Meyer in the top 5. Alabama’s Nick Saban and Bear Bryant, along with Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Nebraska’s Tom Osborne take the top four spots. The first real surprise comes with Bill Snyder of Kansas State being ranked eighth. Aside from coaching longer, how is Snyder different from someone like Barry Alvarez, who was 32nd on the list? Both coaches turned around lifeless football programs, the only difference is Snyder coached for about 10 more years.
After Meyer, the first Big Ten entry on the list is Joe Paterno at 11. While many will point to the Jerry Sandusky scandal when it comes to Paterno’s legacy, Connelly did say that he would only focus on on-the-field accomplishments and wouldn’t factor in any scandals that took place off the field.
Michigan first appears on the list with Bo Schembechler at 29. At first it’s surprising to see Schembechler ranked 13 spots lower than Woody Hayes, but if you look at all the coaches in between, they have either won at least one national title or brought fledgling programs to prominence. Lloyd Carr joins Schembechler on the list at 42, and Rich Rodriguez is ranked 98, but Rodriguez is likely being recognized for what he did at West Virginia.
One name in the Big Ten that felt really low on this list was Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz at 71. Of Ferentz’s 22 season’s in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have only had a losing record four times, with two of those coming in Ferentz’s first two seasons as head coach. By comparison, Mark Dantonio is ranked 48. Aside from Michigan State making the College Football Playoff in 2015, I don’t see much of a difference between the two coaches.