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Midweek Musing: Ranking the Big 12 Football Coaches

How much does success over time matter when you look at the conference coaches top to bottom?

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

I can promise you, you aren’t going to agree with this list. And that’s okay! I tried to bring in facts and figures to justify my choices, but we all know those things don’t play in June when it comes to college football and college football fans. One thing we do know is that most of you are incredibly loyal to your coaches, and will certainly take umbrage with their ranking - “my coach is too low!” and “my rival’s coach is too high!” - and you are certainly entitled to such. I feel strongly about four of these positions (namely first and last), but would love to hear your arguments for or against in the in-between.

So, chime in, tell me your thoughts and where you would rank your favorite, or least favorite, head coaches. It’s the off-season, let’s entertain each other while we watch the minutes until kickoff slowly tick away.

10. David Beatty

Sorry, Kansas. David Beatty walked into the worst situation in the conference, and one of the worst in the country, when he unpacked in Lawrence. The best thing that you can say since is “at least he hasn’t made things worse”. The Jayhawks will be paying for the sins of Charlie Weis for years to come, and while former cellar-dwellar partner ISU is a program clearly on the rise, KU is a rudderless point floating in a river to nowhere.

But... it’s almost basketball season?

9. Matt Rhule

The only situation worse than Beatty’s was Rhule’s who had all of one recruit committed when he was hired out of Philly and relocated to Waco. But, somehow, he put together a top-40 class in year one, on the fly, with about a month remaining until Signing Day, did even better in year two, and most importantly - identified a QB who looks to be the real deal in sophomore Charlie Brewer. The Bears won just one game a year ago but could be pushing for bowl eligibility in 2017, and while Baylor is still carrying the stench of the garbage pile formerly running the program, Rhule is trying to change the culture of the team and the campus (though it’s hard for outsiders to believe, as there have been several players and coaches accused of misdeeds since his arrival). Baylor will be better this year, hopefully on and off the football field, and Rhule’s imprint on the team will be a big reason why. The question will be how long he sticks around... all but un-fire-able, will he stay in Waco to see things through, or move on to greener pastures once he proves he can turn things around? There were NFL overtures this past offseason, so it’s definitely on the minds of fans and opponents going forward.

8. Kliff Kingsbury

The only thing hotter than Kliff these days is his seat, as the Prodigal Son has Tech fans clamoring for him to leave again. It seemed like a perfect fit when Kingsbury came home, but the man who tutored Johnny Manziel in College Station has yet to get the Red Raiders above .500 in conference play, never having won more than eight games in total in a season. Tech is supposedly, again, have a much-improved defense in 2018, but with much of their skill talent lost to graduation, the draft, transfers, or the police blotter, the offense may indeed be the weak link. If Kingsbury, who is another Air Raid disciple and brilliant offensive mind, can work his magic, he might be able to save his job.

7. Dana Holgerson

I initially had Holgo much higher on this list, and maybe one could still argue for him above the next three, strictly based on years of service, but the fact is - Dana hasn’t won enough. Coaching in Morgantown is no easy task when you play in the Big 12 - you are the lone East Coast outpost in a conference that pretty much runs a line straight through the middle of the country otherwise. Mining talent is difficult as well - there isn’t a ton of football factories in the area, and you’re competing against Penn State, Ohio State, and the rest of the Big 10 for what’s available. So Dana has built a pipeline to Florida, bringing in players that fit a Big 12 style offense (his version of the Air Raid, learned at the knee of the pioneer, Mike Leach), and produced a ton of pro prospects in the process. But the Eers are just .500 in conference play since joining the Big 12 (27-27), and have finished higher than fourth just once, when they went 7-2 in conference play on their way to their lone 10 win season in 2016. WVU has arguably the best QB in the conference in 2018, and are, once again, many people’s dark horse pick to play OU in Arlington in December. For Dana, this year may very well be win or go home.

6. Tom Herman

Herman should have come in in year one and done what Riley did, if you talk to Longhorns’ fans, that is. No school in the country has more assets than the one in Austin, who has one Signing Day seemingly forever, and been left wanting the rest of the year. An offensive savant, Herman’s squad fielded one of the best defenses in the country last year, but were held back by a scoring unit that... couldn’t score. Hook ‘Em t-shirt wearers will tell you that Charlie Strong drove the program into the ground - and while it’s true that he struggled to properly gauge talent at the quarterback position, he recruited at a high level nearly everywhere else on the field (namely that nasty defense). Herman is, unfairly, lumped together with Riley at OU, and the more success that Lincoln has in Norman, the more pressure Tom will feel in Austin. Texas fans are anything but patient when it comes to football, and they haven’t had much to celebrate in the last decade. Herman is a great coaching mind and an unbelievable recruiter, but it’s hard to imagine that the natives won’t be restless if they don’t take a significant leap forward in year two. For now, they’ll continue to compete with A&M in February, while the rest of the conference plays for meaningful things in December.

5. Lincoln Riley

I know, I know. He took Oklahoma to the playoffs in his first year. But, he had the best player in the country, lost at home to ISU, and gave up a massive lead in the Rose Bowl. I have zero doubt that Lincoln Riley will be much higher on this list soon, but there is certainly something to be said for having success over the course of several seasons, not just the one you were handed the keys to a Porsche. If Riley can produce similar results over the next three years, with his recruits, he has a shot to unseat the top of the pile. And, with his offensive acumen, recruiting ability, and access to unlimited funds from the Sooners (for facilities, of course), that should be the expectation, and the reality, in Norman.

4. Matt Campbell

I had a hard time putting Campbell ahead of Riley, until I remembered that he out-coached Lincoln in Norman and put on a clinic against Gary Patterson in Ames - both in the same season. Campbell is a rising star in the conference and in the country; in high demand after taking the Cyclones from 9th to 4th in just two seasons, Campbell stayed committed to the program he has just begun to build, much to the chagrin of conference opponents. Highly regarded at Toledo, it didn’t take long for the 38 year old to transform a team that hadn’t finished higher than seventh since 2011 into a hard-nosed, efficient team that truly believed it could win. Now that he’s actually playing the guys he’s recruiting, ISU is expected to be even better than they were a season ago - and will play under the weight of expectation for the first time in, well, practically forever. Something tells me that won’t be a problem.

3. Bill Snyder

This feels like more of a lifetime achievement award, but, the Cats could be sneaky good in 2018 and Snyder will quite possibly have them on the cusp of a conference title in November. Snyder has won a very {nice} 69% of his conference games over 19 seasons, and has seven more campaigns in the Big Eight preceding them. He has nine double digit win seasons to his credit, five division/conference crowns, and nine bowl wins. To put that in perspective, before Snyder came to the Little Apple, KSU had just one ten win season in its history - in 1910. He has recruited at a place that was desolate of talent prior to his arrival, regularly producing NFL talent and finding hidden juco gems that become all-league players. And the quarterbacks, oh, the quarterbacks. The Cats always seem to have injuries behind center, yet always find a way to stick a defensive lineman or first down marker holder back there that wins five straight and accumulates 400 yards per game. Sure, he’s not handling the day-to-day minutiae anymore, but the man can still coach, and still ruins at least one team’s season annually.

2. Mike Gundy

This is probably the most controversial ranking on this list, but all the mullet-ed man from Stillwater does is win. The Pokes have won at least ten games in six of his 13 seasons at the helm, have made a bowl every year but his rookie season in Stillwater, and have played in four BCS games. He’s recruited at a high level - and that’s no easy task, as you would know if you have every driven through that part of Oklahoma - and dealt with an administration that is seemingly trying to undermine him at every turn. Plus, that mullet, that glorious mullet. Gundy seems like a lifer for the Cowboys, but until he can regularly beat OU (just 2-11 in his tenure), it’s going to be hard for folks to accept him as elite.

  1. Gary Patterson

There is not a current coach in the conference who has accomplished more than Gary Patterson has at TCU; three conferences, six conference titles (including one in the Big 12), three BCS games, including the program-changing Rose Bowl win. Just now, as he enters year 18, does Patterson have the recruiting classes of his contemporaries, and the expectations will be higher than ever in Fort Worth as we enter the likely twilight years of his coaching career. Patterson has won at least ten games 11 times in his tenure, an absurb accomplishment, and missed a bowl game just twice. And, as an added bonus, transformed an entire university, not just a football program, as TCU now sees upwards of 20,000 applicants annually compared to just 4,500 in 2000. Oh, and he’s dominated his rivals: 7-3 vs Baylor, 5-2 vs Texas, and 14-2 against SMU. Yeah, he’s the best coach in the conference, purple-tinted glasses or not.