What makes a great college football coach?
This question has been the topic of countless heated arguments and debate over the years. Though there are lots of different ideas about what skills a great coach should possess, most would agree that he should possess these key things:
- A great coach wins. He leads his team in winning games, championships and that the winnings are consistent.
- A great coach has staying power. With many good coaches out there, a great coach should still maintain being invaluable.
- A great coach should be consistent in leading his team to greatness and success.
Below are some of the top head coaches in the history of NCAA football who possess these qualities.
Paul “Bear” Bryant has been in the business for almost four decades and it’s still apparent that he remains at the top of the list of college football’s greatest head coaches. Bryant found success at four different schools but it was in Alabama, his alma mater, where he accomplished his greatest work.
Bryant debuted his first head coaching job in 1945 at Maryland. He then jumped ship for Kentucky and led the Wildcats to what remains its only outright SEC football title when they went 11-1 in 1950.
In 1954, he went to Texas A&M and transformed the team into 9-0-1 Southwest Conference champions in just a short span of three years.
Due to his amazing work in College Station, Alabama offered him to revive a program that had just posted four straight losing seasons under Jennings Whitworth and Harold Drew. He led the team to its first national title in 1961 when Alabama went 11-0 and won the Sugar Bowl. 1964 and 1965 were great years as the team won back-to-back titles in a row.
He captured his fourth national title in 1973 and got his last two in 1978 and 1979 when Alabama went on a 28-game winning streak. His last game was on December 29, 1982, a win over Illinois in the Liberty Bowl and his retirement followed after this game. He passed away less than a month later.
Click here to read more about the life of this amazing head coach.
Glenn “Pop” Warner is known to be a great mastermind head coach of the game. He had more than four decades of coaching experience, where he spent innovating the sport of college football from coast to coast. Before taking his first coaching job at Georgia in 1895, Warner was a guard at Cornell first. He went 3-4 in his first season with the Bulldogs and engineered a perfect 4-0 record in 1896. He then returned to his Alma mater, Cornell Big Red, where he had a record of 15-5-1 in his first two-year tenure as head coach.
Warner transferred to Carlisle Indian School in 1989 where he spent 5 years being the head coach. He went 11-2-1 in his final season before going back to his Alma matter where he spent three more years. He returned back to Carlisle in 1907 and led the team to five double-digit winning seasons in eight years.
Warner made another shift at Pittsburgh where he had an impressive 30-1 record and three national championships in his first four years. He spent five more years with the Panthers before having relocation to Stanford. He led Stanford to a 10-0 regular season and a 7-7 tie against Alabama in the Rose Bowl and won a fourth national title in 1926.
Nicholas Lou Saban, Jr
Famously known as “Nick” Saban, this former defensive back at Kent State University wanted to pursue a career in automotive sale after his graduation in 1973. Automotive sale was not destined for him as he was hired as a graduate assistant by Kent State head coach, Don James and managed to work his way up the coaching ladder through various collegiate and professional assistant roles. His first head-coaching job was with the University of Toledo where he spent just one season and moved on as Cleveland Brown’s defensive coordinator under head coach Bill Belichick in 1991.
In 1995, he returned to the college game as Michigan State University’s head coach where he spent five seasons rebuilding the team. Following the 1999–2000 season, Saban resigned and jumped onboard of Louisiana State University as the head coach. During his five years stint at LSU, he made more accomplishments under his belt, including five appearances in bowl games.
He acquired his first college national title during the 2003–04 seasons when LSU won against the University of Oklahoma in the BCS national championship. He spent one more year at LSU befoe returning to the professional ranks as the head coach of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. He left Dolphins in 2007 and took over the University of Alabama. He led Alabama to national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Thanks to Saban’s coaching prowess, Crimson Tide has been the only team to participate in all of the first three versions of the College Football.
There is no doubt Sutherland should be on the list of the greatest coaches of all time, as he is one of the few head coaches in college football history to win a national title with more than one school.
He had his coaching debut at Lafayette in 1919 and on his second year with the team, he led the Leopards to a national championship going 9-0 with five shutouts. His amazing five years stint at Lafayette led to an offer from his alma mater, Pittsburgh, to take over for Pop Warner in 1924.
During his stint at Pitt, Sutherland made a slowly but steadily performance. In 1927, he led the Panthers to the Rose Bowl after an 8-0-1 regular season. In 1936, Pittsburgh had a breakthrough at the Rose Bowl when they shut out Washington 21-0. They got their share of the national title that year and followed up with a 9-0-1 title defense in 1937. Sutherland then went on to coach in the NFL however his career was interrupted by World War II.
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