College Football's Top Coaches

Matt Hayes -

In the aftermath of last year's national title game, Urban Meyer told his friend and kingmaker, athletic director Jeremy Foley, that if Florida landed another big recruiting class a month later, the program would begin to look like USC.

There's one big difference: Florida plays for -- and wins -- national titles.

No wonder Meyer has overtaken USC's Pete Carroll as the game's best coach. A brief list of why Meyer is the hottest coach in college football:

His teams at Florida have won two of the last three BCS national championships, and they're the clear favorites this fall to make it three of four.

His university president has publicly stated, in these trying economic times, that Meyer should be the highest-paid coach in the game.

His best players on offense and defense -- quarterback Tim Tebow and linebacker Brandon Spikes -- chose to return for their senior seasons instead of succumbing to the green and greed of the NFL.

Like a gift from the football gods, new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has kept Meyer's team focused the entire offseason with antics aimed at gigging the Gators.

"You're talking about my coach now; you better believe I'm going to be upset," Spikes said. "We put that in our pocket, you know? We don't forget things easily around here."

If it weren't for that pesky problem his players have with the law (24 arrested in his four seasons), Meyer might just be as popular as Tebow.

A look at the nation's best coaches:

The top five

1. Urban Meyer, Florida. The scorecard for Meyer's last six teams includes two national titles, two SEC titles, two Mountain West titles, one unbeaten season (at Utah) and 66 wins. In those six seasons, Meyer's teams are 15-2 against the respective programs' biggest rivals and 3-0 in BCS games. All of that while playing in the nation's best BCS and non-BCS conferences.

2. Nick Saban, Alabama. So Nicky Satan doesn't play well with others. Boo-flippin-hoo.

In his last four seasons in the college game, his teams have won a national championship (LSU, 2003) and watched helplessly as the best player in the game (Tebow) prevented Alabama from playing for it all last fall with three perfectly thrown touchdown passes on third downs.

Saban landed the best recruiting class in the nation the last two years, and his ability to get young guys ready to play at a high level (see: Rolando McClain, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Dont'a Hightower) will have the Tide competing for national titles as long as he stays at the Capstone.

3. Pete Carroll, USC. If you're looking for the definition of an elite coach, here he is: He recruits as well or better than anyone, his teams win conference championships, and he's media savvy.

There's nothing but love for Carroll, which overshadows this glaring truth: Despite all the success at USC, Carroll's teams have played for two national championships in his eight seasons. And they lost one with his best team at Troy.

That Associated Press title in 2003 carries about as much clout as the Utah attorney general these days, and those inexplicable Pac-10 losses to Oregon State (twice), 41-point 'dog Stanford and UCLA weigh heavy on multiple seasons of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

You want what-ifs? Talk to Auburn and Utah and Texas about what-ifs.

4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma. Instead of focusing on Oklahoma's 0-fer in its last five BCS bowls -- including three national title game losses -- we should put as much emphasis on what the Sooners do right: success in one of the two best conferences in the nation.

OU is 6-1 in Big 12 championship games under Stoops, and no other league program is better than .500 in the title game.

The problem is that the BCS system places value on playing for it all, and conference championship games become merely a step in the process -- when, in reality, winning the SEC or Big 12 is much harder than winning one game for the national title.

5. Brian Kelly, Cincinnati. He cleaned up in the NCAA lower division (winning two national titles) before moving to the Division I level at Central Michigan. He took a team in the cellar of the MAC (read: cellar of college football) and turned it into conference champions by his third season before moving to Cincinnati.

In 121 seasons of football, Cincinnati has three seasons of double-digit victories. Kelly's first two teams own two of them, including a school-record 11 wins last season. Because of injuries, the Bearcats relied on three quarterbacks last year and still won the school's first outright conference championship since 1964.

Five on the outside

1. Mack Brown, Texas. The consummate CEO: Build your staff, allow assistants to do their jobs.

2. Les Miles, LSU. He set up Oklahoma State's current run earlier this decade and would've had his fourth straight double-digit-win season at LSU last year if his young quarterbacks hadn't thrown so many pick-sixes.

3. Jim Tressel, Ohio State. It's hard to argue against five Big Ten championships (outright or shared) in eight seasons and six BCS bowls.

4. Chris Petersen, Boise State. In three seasons, his teams have 35 wins, two unbeaten regular seasons and the biggest upset in the history of the BCS.

5. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech. He has three ACC championships in the last five years and seven double-digit-win seasons this decade.

Five with sights on the top five

1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. He won two I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern, completely rebuilt a struggling Navy program and now has his sights on bigger and better things at Georgia Tech.

2. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State. He never got enough credit for his work at Boston College and now has more money, resources and support in Raleigh.

3. Butch Davis, North Carolina. For the first time since Mack Brown got it turned around in Chapel Hill in the 1990s, the Tar Heels have a coach who can recruit and develop talent.

4. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan. Don't let Year 1 fool you: The spread option -- the scheme that has taken over the game -- is Rod's baby. No one runs it better -- when he has players he recruited for the system.

5. Gary Patterson, TCU. Another in a long line of successful former UC Davis guys -- Mike Bellotti, Dan Hawkins, Chris Petersen -- who believe bigger isn't always better.

Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst on NFL Network's College Football Now. E-mail him at


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