The 20 Greatest College Football Coaches Of All Time

Behind every great college football team, there’s a great college football coach. But how do you determine the greatest ever? Number of championships? Total amount of victories? General impact on the game? Well, we’ve tried to take into account all potential factors to whittle the list down to just 20. So click on to see what you make of our very own Coaches’ Hall of Fame…

20. Walter Camp

Hailed as the “Father of American Football,” Walter Camp only spent eight seasons as head coach at Yale and Stanford in the late 19th century. In that time, though, he still managed to revolutionize the game like no other, with the system of downs and line of scrimmage just two of his major innovations. He also won three national championships with Yale and continued to oversee its athletic program until his death in 1925.

19. Bob Neyland

Widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest defensive coaches, Bob Neyland transformed the Tennessee Volunteers into a footballing powerhouse. He won two national titles during a 21-season career which was interrupted by his military duties as a brigadier general during the Second World War. Like Camp, he also helped to shape the sport as one of the first coaches to utilize game footage and sideline telephones.

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18. John McKay

USC didn’t have a single national title to its name when John McKay took over in 1960. By the time he left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, they’d lifted four. He also helped guide Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson to the Heisman Trophy, led his teams to eight Rose Bowl appearances and in 1988 was made a Hall of Famer.

17. Urban Meyer

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Urban Meyer’s glittering career since 2001 has included spells at the Bowling Green Falcons, Utah Utes, Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes. He’s one of just three coaches to have steered two different universities to a major college football national title and boasts an impressive winning percentage of .851. And, aged just 52, Meyer could easily climb even higher in the list of greats.

16. Pop Warner

Pop Warner is credited with introducing the single and the double wing formations, the body-blocking technique and the three-point stance into the game. The coach also won four national titles during the early years of the 20th century – three with Pitt, one with Stanford. But he’s perhaps most famous for founding the hugely popular youth football program known as Pop Warner Little Scholars.

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15. Bernie Bierman

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Underrated coach Bernie Bierman enjoyed stints at Montana, Mississippi State and Tulane during the 1920s and 1930s. But he established himself in the pantheon of greats when he guided Minnesota to five national titles in just eight years. And he would no doubt have added to that tally his career not been interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served as a colonel.

14. Barry Switzer

Barry Switzer is one of just three coaches to have won both a college football national title and a Super Bowl in the 1970s and 1980s. Renowned for his offensive style of play, Switzer earned his ring with the Dallas Cowboys and three NCAA crowns with Oklahoma. He also boasts one of the highest winning percentages in college football history and coached nine top three-placed teams.

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13. Joe Paterno

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His conduct off the field has no doubt tainted his legacy, but Joe Paterno remains the college football coach with the most ever wins. He began his seven-decade career at Penn State as assistant to Rip Engle, and after being promoted to head coach in 1966, he went on to claim 409 victories and two national championships. Paterno also boasts a .749 winning percentage.

12. Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson is second only to Paterno when it comes to NCAA Division I victories. Robinson is best known for developing small college Grambling State into a major footballing force, having coached more than 200 future NFL players during his stint there from the 1940s to 1997. As a result, he’s also credited with bringing racial awareness to segregated Louisiana.

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11. Bud Wilkinson

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Bud Wilkinson would no doubt have finished much higher up this list if he hadn’t retired at the relatively young age of 47. The coach single-handedly transformed the fortunes of the Oklahoma Sooners in the post-war era, claiming three national titles in the 1950s alone. Wilkinson also achieved a record-breaking winning streak before swapping the football stadium for the political arena.

10. Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden started his head coaching career at South Georgia State in 1956, but it was 20 years later that he began to truly make his mark. After taking over at underperforming Florida State, Bowden led the Seminoles to two national titles and 14 consecutive top-five seasons. He also coached two Heisman Trophy winners before retiring in 2009 aged 80.

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9. Woody Hayes

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Woody Hayes’ career may have ended in disgrace – he was dismissed from Ohio State after punching a Clemson player during the Gator Bowl in 1978 – but that doesn’t take away from his prior achievements with the Buckeyes. Using his military background to great effect, Hayes won five national titles and 13 Big Ten championships at Ohio in a 28-year stint. What’s more, despite his transgressions, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

8. Amos Alonzo Stagg

Amos Alonzo Stagg certainly earned his nickname as the “Grand Old Man of Football.” Having begun his career as a player when the sport was still in its infancy in the 1880s, he achieved true greatness when he took on a coaching role at the University of Chicago in 1892. He spent over four decades with the Maroons, creating a wide range of innovations in the game and winning two national titles before retiring aged 96.

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7. Tom Osborne

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Tom Osborne served three terms as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska’s 3rd District, but he really made his name as the state’s all-time greatest college football coach. The Republican guided sleeping giants the Cornhuskers to three national titles and 13 conference championships. He also ended his football career in style, winning 60 of his last 63 games.

6. Fielding Yost

Fielding Yost had a huge influence in popularizing college football across America. The one-time player coached six teams over a 29-year career, including Ohio Wesleyan, Stanford and San Jose State. But it was his lengthy stint at the University of Michigan which was to transform the game. Indeed, under Yost, the Wolverines won six national titles, ending the dominance of the East Coast teams.

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5. John Gagliardi

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It’s unlikely that anyone will ever break John Gagliardi’s record of 489 wins. The coach amassed his colossal tally of triumphs over a career which ran from 1949 until 2012, with the first four of those years having been with Carroll College. Gagliardi then went on to spend over half a century at Saint John’s University, picking up four national titles in the process.

4. Frank Leahy

Frank Leahy turned Notre Dame into America’s ultimate college football team in the 1940s, winning four national championships. And he’d surely have guided them to more had his career not been interrupted by a two-year Navy stint during World War II. Leahy also won a national title with Boston, coached four Heisman Trophy winners and boasts the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA Division I history.

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3. Knute Rockne

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Responsible for popularizing the forward pass while playing for Notre Dame, Knute Rockne proved to be just as influential when he became the school’s head coach. Not only did he guide the Fighting Irish to three national titles, but he also coached the Four Horsemen backfield and lost just 12 games in a 13-year career. Only a fatal plane crash prevented him from achieving even greater things.

2. Nick Saban

Dubbed “the most powerful coach in sports” by Forbes, Nick Saban is in fact the only man ever to have won a national championship with two different FBS schools. His victorious streak began with the LSU Tigers in 2003 before he led the University of Alabama to four national titles. And at 65 years old, Saban has plenty of time to extend his legacy even further.

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1. Bear Bryant

Of course, Saban still has some way to go to eclipse Bear Bryant, who is frequently cited as college football’s all-time greatest. During his 25-year spell with the Crimson Tide at the University of Alabama, Bryant won 13 conference championships and six national titles. Famed for his deep voice, houndstooth hat and casual stance, Bryant had a personality that was just as remarkable as his professional dominance.

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