The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 / The 18 Greatest Coaches in College Football History

The 18 Greatest Coaches in College Football History

Top 18 greatest coaches in college football history!

Current active coaches are not included in this list. That means don’t bitch because Nick Saban is not on the list because he is still active! Check out the top football betting strategies for betting on college football.

18) Darrell Royal

  • Career Record: 184-60-5
  • Record at Each School: 12-8 at Mississippi State, 5-5 at Washington, 184-60-5 at Texas.
  • Bowl Record: 8-7-1

Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982. 3 National Championships, 11 Southwest Conference Championships.

The University of Texas was one of the first schools to integrate African-American athletes into their programs, and Royal played an integral role in that. This had a huge impact on all of college football, not just his program.

Royal coached from 1954-1976 and didn’t record a single losing season. He won 11 Southwest Conference championships and three national championships at Texas. Not only was he inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, but Texas honored him by naming their stadium after him in 1996.He won more games than any other coach in Texas Longhorns football history. Royal also coached the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League (CFL) for one season in 1953. He never had a losing season as a head coach for his entire career. Royal played football at the University of Oklahoma from 1946 to 1949. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1983. Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, where the Longhorns play their home games, was renamed in his honor in 1996.

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17). John McKay

  • Career Record: 127-40-8
  • Record at Each School: 127-40-8 at USC.
  • Bowl Record: 6-3
  • Honors and Awards: Induced into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988. 4 National Championships, 9 Pac-8 Championships. 2-time Coach of the Year.

Many times, Mckay is remembered for his dry sense of humor, but he was a great football coach. During his only head coaching stint in college football, McKay reeled in four national championships and nine conference championships. His first two seasons with the Trojans were disappointing, recording a combined record of 8-11-1.

He was facing pressure and was on the hot seat at that point, especially at USC. However, in 1962 McKay somehow went 11-0 and won his first national championship. That had to have calmed the qualms of USC’s elite.

Following a disappointing 1975 season, McKay moved to the NFL as the first head coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1976 and 1977, Tampa Bay lost the first 26 games, but improved by the end of the 1970s. The Bucs made the playoffs three times under McKay, including an appearance in the NFC Championship Game in 1979. McKay was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1988. On January 1, 2014, McKay was named the All-Century Coach of the Rose Bowl Game during the 100th Rose Bowl Game celebration. His son represented him in the 2014 Rose Parade.

16). Bob Devaney

  • Career Record: 136-30-7
  • Record at Each School: 35-10-5 at Wyoming, 101-20-2 at Nebraska.
  • Bowl Record: 7-3

Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. Named the 1971 Coach of the Year. 2 National Championships, 4 Skyline Championships, and 8 Big Eight Championships. 

Nebraska only had two winning seasons two decades before Devaney’s arrival, but the Cornhuskers rattled off 40 consecutive seasons under his watch as the head coach and athletic director.

During his 11 years as head coach, Nebraska had 11 winning seasons, nine bowl appearances, eight Big 8 championships, and two national championships. Devaney completely transformed the entire program at Nebraska. Devaney also served as the athletic director at Nebraska from 1967 to 1993 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1981.

15). Barry Switzer 

Career Record: 157-29-4

  • Record at Each School: 157-29-4 at Oklahoma.
  • Bowl Record: 8-5
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001. 3 National Championships, 12 Big 8 Championships.

The Sooners did not suffer a losing season under Switzer, his worst record was 7-4-1 in 1981, and they only failed three times to finished in the top-10 at the end of the season.

He served for 16 years as head football coach at the University of Oklahoma and four years as head coach for the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). He helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has one of the highest winning percentages of any college football coach in history, he is one of only three head coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl, (the others being Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll). 

14). Glen “Pop” Warner

  • Career Record: 319-106-32
  • Record at Each School: 7-4 at Georgia, 36-13-3 at Cornell, 114-42-8 at Carlisle, 60-12-4 at Pittsburgh, 71-17-8 at Stanford, 31-18-9 at Temple.
  • Bowl Record: 1-1-2
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. 4 National Championships, 3 PCC Championships, 1 SIAA Championship.

Pop Warner, was an American football player and coach. He served as the head coach at the University of Georgia (1895–1896),Iowa State University (1895–1899), Cornell University (1897–1898, 1904–1906), the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1899–1903, 1907–1914), the University of Pittsburgh (1915–1923), Stanford University (1924–1932), and Temple University (1933–1938), compiling a career college football record of 319–106–32.

Pre-dating Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden, Pop Warner had the most wins of any coach in major college football history. Warner was the innovator behind the single-wing formation, a precursor to the modern spread and shotgun formations. According to Warner biographer Francis Powers, “In the late ’20s and early ’30s…football was flooded with coaches who learned their football from either Pop or Knute Rockne”.

Warner coached four teams to national championships: in 1915, 1916, 1918 with Pittsburgh, and 1926 with Stanford. He was inducted as a coach into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. Warner also contributed to a junior football program that became known as Pop Warner Little Scholars, a popular youth American football organization, that is still in existence to this day.

13). Amos Alonzo Stagg

  • Career Record: 314-199-35
  • Record at Each School: 10-11-1 at the YMCA, 251-114-27 at Chicago, 6-77-7 at Pacific.
  • Bowl Record: 0-1
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959. 2 National Championships, 7 Big Ten Championships, 5 NCAC Championships.

Hands down the most innovative coach in college football history, his lists of innovations that he brought to the game is around 20 total. Three high schools are named for him and the NCAA Division III championship game is named the Amos Alonzo Staag bowl.

12). Fielding Yost

  • Career Record: 198-35-12
  • Record at Each School: 7-1-1 at Ohio Wesleyan, 8-3 at Nebraska, 10-0 at Kansas, 7-2-1 at Stanford, 1-0 at San Jose State, 165-29-10 at Michigan.
  • Bowl Record: 1-0
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. 6 National Championships, 10 Big Ten Championships.

Fielding Yost spent most of his coaching career with the Michigan Wolverines, posting a record of 165-29-10 with the Wolverines. He was hired in 1901 when Michigan was still an Independent school and helped facilitate their move into the Big Ten, which they are still apart of today.

Most impressively, Yost’s 1901 team outscored their opponents a combined 550-0. That’s a mind-numbing statistic and something we will never see again.

Michigan won four straight national championships (1901-1904) under Yost. But what may be the most impressive aspect of his coaching career is that 72 players and assistant coaches under Yost went on to be head coaches in college and the NFL. His coaching tree is more like a coaching forest. Check out the top us betting sites.

11). Bo Schembechler

  • Career Record: 234-65-8
  • Record at Each School: 40-17-3 at Miami (OH), 194-48-5 at Michigan.
  • Bowl Record: 5-12
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993. 6-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. 13 Big Ten Championships, 2 Mid-American Championships.

He served as the head football coach at Miami University from 1963 to 1968 and at the University of Michigan from 1969 to 1989, compiling a career record of 234–65–8. Only Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne have recorded 200 victories in fewer games as a coach in major college football. In his 21 seasons as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Schembechler’s teams amassed a record of 194–48–5 and won or shared 13 Big Ten Conference titles. Though his Michigan teams never won a national championship, in all but one season they finished ranked, and 16 times they placed in the final top ten of both major polls.

Bo, never won a national title, but his turning around of the Michigan football team was unquestionable one of the bigger turnarounds in college football history. The most impressive thing about the turnaround was the speed with which he did it.

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10). John Gagliardi

  • Career Record: 489-138-11
  • Record at Each School:
  • Bowl Record: 1-0
  • Tournament Record: 4-1 in NAIA Playoffs, 34-18 in NCAA D-III Playoffs.
  • Honors and Awards: Most wins in college football history. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. 2 NAIA National Championships, 2 NCAA Division III National Championships, 3 Montana Collegiate Conference Championships, 27 MIAC Championships. 

St. John’s University, a small, men’s only college in Collegeville, Minnesota, possesses one of the most successful football programs in the entire nation. You’ve probably never heard of John Gagliardi or St. John’s, but that shouldn’t discount any of their accomplishments.

Gagliardi is the winningest coach in college football history. He has won four national championships and collected 30 conference championships along the way.

Winning a national title at the Division III level is slightly more difficult because of their 32-team playoff system, and not just a four-team playoff for the FBS schools.

Gagliardi is most famous for his unorthodox style of coaching. His practices only last 90 minutes, his players don’t have to lift weights, tackling is not allowed in practice, and his players aren’t supposed to call him coach. As odd as it may seem it works pretty well for Gagliardi.

9). Bobby Bowden

  • Career Record: 377-134-5
  • Record at Each School: 31-6 at Howard, 42-26 at West Virginia, 304-97-4 at Florida State.
  • Bowl Record: 21-10-1
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. 2 National Championships, 12 ACC Championships.

He coached the Florida State Seminoles football team from the 1976 to 2009 seasons. During his time at Florida State, Bowden led FSU to an Associated Press and Coaches Poll National Title in 1993, a BCS National Championship in 1999, and twelve Atlantic Coast Conference championships since FSU joined the conference in 1991. After a difficult 2009 season and amid questioning fans, Bowden stepped down, just weeks after his 80th birthday. But he was allowed to make his final coaching appearance in the 2010 Gator Bowl game on January 1, 2010, with a 33–21 victory over his former program, West Virginia.

Many people forget that he completely turned the Florida State program from also-ran to contender in a few short years.

8). Wayne “Woody” Hayes

  • Career Record: 238-72-10
  • Record at Each School: 19-6 at Denison, 14-5 at Miami, 205-61-10 at Ohio State.
  • Bowl Record: 6-6
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. 5 National Championships, 13 Big Ten Championships, 1 OAC Championship, 1 Mid-American Championship. 2-time Big Ten Coach of the Year.

During his 28 seasons as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football program, Hayes’ teams won five national championships (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970),[1] captured 13 Big Ten Conference titles, and amassed a record of 205–61–10. Over the last decade of his coaching tenure at Ohio State, Hayes’s Buckeye squads faced off in a fierce rivalry against the Michigan Wolverines coached by Bo Schembechler, a former player under and assistant coach to Hayes. During that stretch in the Michigan–Ohio State football rivalry, dubbed “The Ten Year War,” Hayes and Schembechler’s teams won or shared the Big Ten Conference crown every season and usually each placed in the national rankings.

Despite his great achievements at Ohio State, Hayes’s coaching career ended ignominiously when he was dismissed from the university after punching Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman for intercepting an Ohio State pass with two minutes left on the clock in the 1978 Gator Bowl. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1983.

7). Eddie Robinson

  • Career Record: 408-165-15
  • Record at Each School: 408-165-15 at Grambling
  • Bowl Record: 9-9
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. 9 Black College National Championships, 19 SWAC Championships.

For 55 years, from 1941 to 1942 and again from 1945 to 1997, he was the head coach at Grambling State University, a historically black university (HBCU) in Grambling in Lincoln Parish in North Louisiana. Many college football experts recognize Robinson as one of the greatest coaches in history. During a period in college football history when black players were not allowed to play for southern college programs, Robinson built Grambling State into a “small” college football powerhouse. He retired in 1997 with a record of 408 wins, 165 losses, and 15 ties. Robinson coached every single game from the field and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

6). Bud Wilkinson

  • Career Record: 145-29-4
  • Record at Each School: 145-29-4 at Oklahoma.
  • Bowl Record: 6-2

Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969. 3 National Championships, 14 Big 8 Championships. 1949 AFCA Coach of the Year.

He started off his time at Oklahoma by winning a share of the conference title and he would continue that trend for the next 13 seasons. From 1947-1959, Oklahoma won their conference. That’s incredible to not even have one down year over more than a decade’s time.

In addition to his conference championships, Wilkinson collected three national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956. Oklahoma only suffered one losing season under Wilkinson’s tenure. Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak under Wilkinson is still the longest winning streak in college football and a record that may never be broken.

5). Frank Leahy

  • Career Record: 107-13-9
  • Record at Each School: 20-2 at Boston College, 87-11-9 at Notre Dame.
  • Bowl Record: 1-1
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970. 5 National Championships. 1941 AFCA Coach of the Year.

Leahy made waves early at Notre Dame, he didn’t lose a game his first year and made major schematically changes his second year. Knute Rockne was known for his legendary “box” formation, which evolved from one of Glenn Warner’s schemes. The box used four different running backs, and the quarterback was mainly a blocker. However, Leahy scrapped that for the “T” formation.

He had great success with this new offense, winning three straight national championships from 1943-1947. He only lost 13 games from 1941-1953 at Notre Dame, placing him among the most elite coaches in their history.

4). Joe Paterno

  • Career Record: 409-136-3
  • Record at Each School: 409-136-3 at Penn State.
  • Bowl Record: 24-12-1
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. 2 National Championships, 3 Big 10 Championships. 5-time AFCA Coach of the Year, 3-time Walter Camp Coach of the Year, 3-time Big 10 Coach of the Year.

His career will be overshadowed by his handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but it can not change the fact that he was one of the greatest college football coaches in history. Coached multiple teams that deserved at least a share of a national championship in the 60s and early 70s. His greatest win had to be the 1987 Fiesta bowl upset over top-ranked Miami(Fla) to win his second national title.

3). Tom Osborne

  • Career Record: 255-49-3
  • Record at Each School: 255-49-3 at Nebraska.
  • Bowl Record: 12-13
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. 3 National Championships, 12 Big 8 Championships, 1 Big 12 Championship.

Tom Osborne IS Nebraska football, while his predecessor Bob Devaney who is on this list led Nebraska into the national spotlight, Osborne took them to heights never before seen. Everything you would want to know about Osborne’s greatness could be seen at the Orange Bowl in 1984, when down one point and only needing a tie to secure the national title he went for two and the win against the Miami Hurricanes. The Cornhuskers failed on the attempt, but nobody in Nebraska ever held it against him. His goal was not to tie it was to win.


2). Knute Rockne

  • Career Record: 105-12-5
  • Record at Each School: 105-12-5 at Notre Dame.
  • Bowl Record: 1-0
  • Honors and Awards: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. 4 National Championships.

During 13 years as head coach, Rockne led his “Fighting Irish” to 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties and three national championships, including five undefeated seasons without a tie. Rockne posted the highest all-time winning percentage (.881) for a major college football coach. His schemes utilized include the eponymous Notre Dame Box offense and the 7–2–2 defense. Rockne’s box included ashift. The backfield lined up in a T-formation, then quickly shifted into a box to the left or right just as the ball was snapped.

Rockne was also shrewd enough to recognize that intercollegiate sports had a show-business aspect. Thus he worked hard promoting Notre Dame football to make it financially successful. He used his considerable charm to court favor from the media, which then consisted of newspapers, wire services and radio stations and networks, to obtain free advertising for Notre Dame football. He was very successful as an advertising pitchman, for South Bend-based Studebaker and other products. He eventually received an annual income of $75,000 from Notre Dame, which in today’s dollars is millions.

1). Paul “Bear” Bryant

  • Career Record: 323-85-17
  • Record at Each School: 6-2-1 at Maryland, 60-23-6 at Kentucky, 24-14-2 at Texas A&M, and 232-46-9 at Alabama.
  • Bowl Record: 15-12-2
  • Honors and Awards: 7 National Championships, 14 SEC Championships, 1 SWC Championship. 12-time SEC Coach of the Year, 3-time AFCA Coach of the Year.

Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant is the most iconic head coach with his houndstooth fedora and stoic presence on the sidelines.

Before coaching at Alabama, Bryant helped turn terrible programs like Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M into very good teams. Kentucky went to its first bowl and had its first winning season under Bryant. The Bear turned the 1-9 “Junction Boys” into Southwest Conference champions at Texas A&M in 1955.

What I respect most about Bryant was how adamant he was about integrating African American players into college football. He ultimately decided to leave Kentucky and Texas A&M because both universities refused to integrate their programs.

Bryant found success quickly after he took over as head coach at his alma mater Alabama in 1956. The Crimson Tide went to 23 consecutive bowl games after they failed to make one his first season. Alabama did not suffer a single losing season under Bryant.




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