2020 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh

Comment by the judge: Exhaustive research piece on how Alabama’s Nick Saban stacks up against the all-time field of great coaches. Well-written, with excellent perspective on where he rates.

Christopher Walsh’s series ran in 26 parts between Aug. 27, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019.

By Christopher Walsh


Like with so many other successful coaches, Nick Saban has numerous ways to get a point across, and anecdotes that get retold every few years to new and younger audiences.

“Grampa Nick” telling a story goes something like this:

“I’ll never forget fishing as an 11-year-old in West Virginia, and I’m fishing down by this lake where the hot water runs off from the coal mine because that hot water is where the catfish like to hang out. This guy is just sitting there pulling in huge catfish, but throwing them back, and then he’ll catch smaller ones and keep them.

“I’m not catching anything at all, but I’m like ‘Hey man, why do you keep those little ones and throw back those huge ones.’ His answer was ‘Because I’ve only got a 9-inch skillet.’

“See? You have to know who you are.”

So who is Nick Saban?

Just the coach who will eventually go down as being the most successful coach in college football history — the one who everyone is chasing and emulating.

Over the course of the 2019 season, and as part of the 150th anniversary celebration, BamaCentral.com has compared Saban’s numbers with 25 of the best coaches the sport has ever known (they are listed below).

This is for the big-picture comparison with many of the same categories.

  • Wins: Saban has a long way to go if he wants to try and catch Joe Paterno with 409, but he’ll move into the top 10 next season. Moreover, he’s the only coach during the modern era of college football to be averaging 10 wins a season.
  • National championships: Saban and “Bear” Bryant have both won six, although Bryant was involved in more split titles.

However, Saban came into this season averaging a national championship every 3.8 season he’s been a head coach (Toledo and Michigan State included). The next best averages in history are Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne tied at one every 4.3 seasons, and John McKay at 5.3. Note: Dabo Swinney will move into that group if Clemson knocks off LSU in New Orleans on Jan. 13.

  • Recruiting: There’s no one to compare Saban to as recruiting rankings are still a relatively new phenomenon. Still, it might be a long, long time before anyone else can claim to win seven straight recruiting titles.
  • Dynasty: With five titles between 2009 and 2017, the question isn’t if Alabama’s had the greatest dynasty but when it achieved that distinction.

Was it after Alabama won the 2011 national championship, giving it two titles in three years and four straight 10-win seasons?

Perhaps it was when the Crimson Tide scored 79 unanswered points over seven-plus BCS championship quarters, stemming from the fourth quarter against Texas and concluding during the second half of Alabama’s 42-14 dismantling of the Fighting Irish?

It caused ABC/ESPN announcer Brent Musburger to say in the spring of 2013: “Getting in the game is the first part of the challenge, and that in and of itself is not easy, so I have not seen a run like this.”



The closest comparisons can only be found in other sports:

The 1960s Green Bay Packers, who won five championships in seven years, including Super Bowls I and II.

The New York Yankees won nine World Series and 14 pennants from 1949-64.

The Boston Celtics captured eight straight NBA titles from 1959-1966, and 16 from 1956-86.

The Montreal Canadians won four straight Stanley Cups three times, 1955-60, 1964-69 and 1975-79.

John Wooden at UCLA won 10 NCAA championships from 1964-75.

  • All-Americans: In 2017, Saban didn’t just top, but blew past Paterno for the most consensus All-Americans in history. While the Penn State legend had 33, Saban came into the 2019 season with 41. His 1.78 average per season barely edged Leahy’s 1.77 and Switzer’s 1.75 for the best in college football history.
  • First-round draft picks: See if this sounds familiar, Saban has the all-tie lead with 34, ahead of Paterno (33) and Bobby Bowden (32). Saban is averaging 1.48 first-round draft picks every year, with Urban Meyer second (1.35), Leahy third (1.23) and McKay fourth (1.13).
  • Players in the NFL: When the NFL held its 2019 kickoff weekend, which is the only time it does an official roster breakdown because they’re otherwise always in flux, Alabama had 56 former players who were active. Ohio State was second with 44. The Crimson Tide had at least twice as many active players than all but six other programs.
  • Big wins: No one will probably top Leahy’s amazing 86.5 winning percentage against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, but Saban came into the 2019 season with an extremely impressive 82-40 record against ranked foes, and 42-21 versus top-10 teams (66.7). He was tied with Bowden for second all-time for most wins against ranked opponents (and passed him with the win at Texas A&M), and trailed just Paterno with 86. Bryant is fourth at 66.

Saban’s 3.57 average wins against ranked opponents and 1.82 against top-10 teams are the best in history.

  • Wins against teams ranked No. 1: Saban has the most with seven. No one else in history has more than four. That statistic is ever more remarkable when you factor in all the weeks Alabama has been ranked No. 1.

The Crimson Tide has been No. 1 at some point of every season since 2008. The previous longest streak was seven years by Miami (1986-92).

  • Wins against unranked opponents: The streak is up to 91 straight victories, the longest in Bowl Subdivision history. The previous record was 72 games, shared by Miami (Fla.) (1984-95) and Florida (1989- 2000). Under Saban, Alabama holds a 95-3 (.969) (91-3, .968 after vacations) mark against unranked opponents.
  • The stat that will likely never be matched: Since the 2008 season, Alabama has played in 141 of 144 regular season games that have had national championship implications.

Earl “Red” Blaik

Although Earl “Red” Blaik is primarily known for his football prowess, he was also a military man and served his country in both capacities. In addition to being part of the United States Cavalry for two years, he was an All-American end as a player (1919), and returned to West Point for two coaching stints at the United State Military Academy, the first as an assistant from 1927-33.

His first head-coaching job was at Dartmouth, which went undefeated in 1925 and received some national title consideration (although Alabama is generally considered the consensus champion that year).

He led the then-called Indians (because Dartmouth was founded in 1769, in part to educate Native Americans) for seven seasons and compiled a record of 45-16-4, which included a 22-game unbeaten streak from 1934-37. The 1937 season saw the program’s best finish in the Associated Press poll at No. 7 following a 7-0-2 season.

In 1941, Blaik inherited a 1-7-1 team, but immediately turned the program around and went 121-33-10 over the next 18 years, with just one losing season. Among his assistants, 15 of whom went on to become head coaches, were Sid Gillman (line coach, 1948) and Vince Lombardi (backs coach, 1949-53).

Under his direction, Army, aided by numerous top-end players enlisting to fight in World War II, had one of the most impressive runs in college football history. The Black Knights enjoyed a 32-game unbeaten streak from 1944-47, won consecutive national titles in 1944 and 1945, and finished with a controversial No. 2 ranking after tying Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium in 1946.

The 1944 team averaged 56 points per game while yielding a total of 35, thanks in part to four shutouts. It also boasted six first-team All-Americans, who caused Blaik to once proclaim that the best game he saw his team play that season was a practice scrimmage (Note: Four years later he became one of the first college coaches to implement a two-platoon system, using players strictly for offense or defense). After finishing undefeated the coach received a 17-word telegram: “The greatest of all Army teams — STOP — We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success. MacArthur.” With another perfect record in 1945, and going 9-0-1 in 1946, Blaik received his only national coach of the year honor, from the American Football Coaches Association.

During his 1941-58 reign the Cadets had three Heisman Trophy winners: Don Blanchard (1945), Glenn Davis (1946), and Pete Dawkins (1958). While in the same backfield, Blanchard and Davis were known as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Ed McKeever, while coaching Notre Dame during the 1944 season, said: “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.”

However, Blaik was also the head coach during a cheating scandal that resulted in the dismissal of 90 cadets, including 37 football players. Among them was Blaik’s son, Bobby, who was also Army’s quarterback. Blaik had to be talked out of resigning by General Douglas MacArthur, who said, “Don’t leave under fire.”

Blaik rebuilt the program and retired after an 8-0-1 season, with a record of 121-33-10, 166-48-14 overall.

Among his other accomplishments, Blaik was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan in 1986, wrote the book You Have to Pay the Price with sportswriter Tom Cohane (foreword by MacArthur), and also wrote a syndicated newspaper column published twice a week during football season with the proceeds earmarked to graduate scholarships for football players.

Nick Saban vs. Earl “Red” Blaik

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Blaik

Seasons                                                             23               25

Consensus national titles                                      6                2

Top five finishes                                                  9                6-i

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               16-i

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 166-48-14

Percentage                                                         78.5            75.9

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

Bowl record                                                        14-10          0-0

Percentage                                                         58.3            0.0

Conference titles                                                 9                NA

Conference record                                               138-42-1     NA

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               16

First-round draft picks                                         34               3-i

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          27-19-7-i

Percentage                                                         67.20          57.55

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          13-12-6-i

Percentage                                                         66.67          51.61


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 12.5

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .64

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936

* vacated games


Bobby Bowden

One of the most memorable phone calls that Nick Saban ever received was shortly after his father died in 1973, when he was a graduate assistant at Kent State.

“This is Bobby Bowden,” said the voice on the other end from West Virginia, located roughly 25 minutes away from where Saban grew up. The Mountaineers’ football coach had known Saban’s father, knew that his mother was having a bit of a tough time, and offered more than just condolences.

“If you need to come home, if you want to be a coach, I’ll create a graduate assistant position for you so you can do what you need to and be around your mother,” Saban recalled Bowden saying.

It’s a story that both have told numerous times, including 37 years later when Saban won the inaugural Bobby Bowden Coach of the Year Award, and two of the subsequent three.

“His rise in coaching is just unsurpassed,” Bowden said.

That’s coming from someone who enjoyed a meteoritic progression of his own.

Bowden’s first head coaching job was at South Georgia Junior College (1956-58), which led to a four-year stint at Howard, now known as Samford University (31-6, 1959-62), and then West Virginia (42–26, 1970-75).

Meanwhile, Florida State, which until the late 1940s was a women’s school, didn’t start playing football until 1947, when Ed Williamson was appointed the first coach weeks before the inaugural season and there was no stadium, scholarships, budgeted salaries or nickname. The program wasn’t ranked in an Associated Press poll until 1964, when it lasted two weeks at No. 10 until a 20-11 loss at Virginia Tech. It occurred during Bill Peterson’s reign, when from 1960-70 the Seminoles went 62-42-11 and played in four bowl games, including a 36-19 victory against Oklahoma in the 1965 Gator Bowl.

But in the three seasons before Bowden arrived in 1976, Florida State was 4-29, including a horrendous 0-11 in 1973 that prompted talk of dropping the program.

“I tell you, everything’s changed so much from when I started, we had nothing,” Bowden said about first arriving at Florida State in 1976. At the time, it was $500,000 in debt, fans weren’t attending games and he had to sell Seminoles football to everyone.

In addition to recruits, Bowden set up a speaking tour throughout the state of Florida to raise money, and continually worked the media. He wrote in his autobiography Bound for Glory that at the time he thought of only two jobs that could have been worse, being elected mayor of Atlanta shortly after Sherman’s March or being the general who volunteered to replace George Custer during the last siege of the Little Big Horn.

“At West Virginia, they sold bumper stickers that said ‘Beat Pitt. When I came to Florida State, they sold bumper stickers that said “Beat Anybody,” he quipped.

But Bowden went from believing Florida State to be a stepping-stone for him, to turning it into a program similar to the ones he hoped to someday run like Alabama.

Over 34 years he coached more than 1,000 Seminoles and notched 300-plus wins, to easily outdistance the seven previous Florida State coaches combined. His teams won two consensus national championships, 1993 and 1999 after numerous near-misses, two Heisman Trophies (quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke in 1993 and 2000, respectively), and at least a share of 12 Atlantic Coast Conference titles despite FSU being an independent Bowden’s first 16 years in Tallahassee.

The 1993 championship was somewhat controversial in that Florida State had lost a No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular season meeting at Notre Dame, 31-24, a week before the Fighting Irish lost to No. 17 Boston College, 41-39. Although West Virginia was undefeated (and went on to lose to Florida in the Sugar Bowl, 41-7), FSU played No. 2 Nebraska for the national championship at the Orange Bowl, and won 18-16. The final rankings had Florida State No. 1, and 11-1 Notre Dame, which defeated Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl, 24-21, second.

In 1999, Bowden recorded his only perfect season when Florida State defeated No. 2 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, 46-29. Wide receiver Peter Warrick caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Weinke in the first quarter, returned a punt 59 yards for another score in the second quarter, and made a sensational catch of a 43-yard bomb to put the game away.

“Right before that play, I asked the offense, ‘Do you want me to finish them off?’” Warrick said. “They said, ‘Yeah.’”

“We had to make a decision to win the game right here or sit on the ball,” Bowden said. “He called about four guys over and he really said it to them.”

Bowden’s the only coach to ever lead his team to 10 or more wins over 14 straight seasons (1987-2000), during which the Seminoles finished in the top five of the Associated Press poll each year and were the preseason No. 1 team five times. During that string FSU went 152-18-1.

For the 1990s decade, Florida State finished 109-13-1 for a .890 winning percentage. Bowden also had an amazing 14-game unbeaten streak in bowl games (1982-95), though there was a 17-17 tie to Georgia in the 1984 Citrus Bowl.

“We’ve always told our players, ‘You’re the only team living in a dynasty,’” Bowden said prior to the 2001 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, which was the national championship (the Seminoles lost, 13-2). “’Bama was in a dynasty, Notre Dame was in a dynasty, Miami was in a dynasty, so-and-so was in a dynasty. We hope we keep it alive.”

Overall, Bowden won 411 games, with 12 vacated by an infractions ruling and the NCAA not counting his junior-college record, giving him a final record of 377-129-4, which when Florida State did not let him go out on his own terms placed him second to Joe Paterno in Division I wins (346 at major schools). However, sanctions handed down by the NCAA on the Penn State coach vacated all of his wins from 1998-2011, making Bowden the all-time career leader.

Regardless, on September 24, 2004, FSU honored him with a bronze statue in front of the Moore Athletics Center on campus.

“There’s not a gentlemen in this business who has more dignity and class, and honesty and integrity as Coach Bowden,” said Saban, who faced Bowden as a position coach, coordinator and head coach and lost all three meetings. “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone in our profession, or anybody anywhere, anytime. In a day in age where everyone negatively recruits and tries to kill everybody else, never did it once. Always won, always classy when he won and was always classy if he wasn’t fortunate enough to win. There’s no one in our profession I have more respect for than Bobby Bowden.”

Nick Saban vs. Bobby Bowden

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Bowden

Seasons                                                             23               40

Consensus national titles                                      6                2

Top five finishes                                                  9                15

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               27

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  346-123-4

Percentage                                                         78.5            73.6

Losing seasons                                                   0                2

Bowl record/CFP                                                 140-10        22-10-1

Percentage                                                         58.3            68.2

Conference titles                                                 9                12

Conference record                                               138-42-1     105–27-z

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               31

First-round draft picks                                         34               32

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          79-65-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          54.48

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          38-44-1

Percentage                                                         66.77          46.39


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 20

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .78

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .80

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.98

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; .95

z-West Virginia was independent, and Florida State was until 1992.


Frank Broyles

When he took over at Arkansas in 1957, Frank Broyles inherited a program with just five winning seasons over the previous 19 years.

He went 144-58-5 over the next 19 years with 10 bowl games and seven Southwest Conference titles (Note: He also went 5-4-1 one season at Missouri).

Although Broyles never had a team finish atop the Associated Press or coaches’ polls, Broyles came close numerous times including 1964, with a team that made a surprising 11-0 finish.

The key win was a showdown with reigning national champion Texas, which had not lost a regular-season game in four years.

It was decided by Ken Hatfield’s dramatic 81-yard punt return for a touchdown for a 14-13 victory.

Arkansas, which posted five shutouts that season, didn’t allow another point until the Cotton Bowl, where Bobby Burnett’s fourth-quarter 3-yard touchdown plunge capped an 80-yard drive to finish a 10-7 comeback victory against Nebraska.

Among those associated with the team were future football gurus Jimmy Johnson, Johnny Majors, Barry Switzer and Jerry Jones.

Nick Saban vs. Frank Broyles

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Broyles

Seasons                                                             23               20

Consensus national titles                                      6                0

Top five finishes                                                  9                6

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               17

Overall record                                                     232-62-1*   149-62-6

Percentage                                                         78.5            70.0

Losing seasons                                                   0                2

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10          4-6

Percentage                                                         58.3            40.0

Conference titles                                                 9                7

Conference record                                               138-42-1     94-38-5

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               6

First-round draft picks                                         34               3

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          17-31

Percentage                                                         67.20          35.4

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          10-23

Percentage                                                         66.77          30.3


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 0

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 0.30

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; 0.15

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 0.85

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; 0.5


Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

As part of the 150th anniversary of college football, BamaCentral.com has been comparing Nick Saban’s numbers to the all-time greats.

Whenever possible, the best coach of the upcoming opposing team on Alabama’s schedule has been the one profiled.

Well, even though he was only there four years (1954-57), and Homer Norton won the national championship in 1939, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant is undoubtably the best coach the Aggies ever had.

Sort of like with Saban and LSU, fans in Texas still wonder what might have happened had he not left. In the big picture, they might be 1 and 1A on the ultimate list of best college football coaches ever.

Here’s how a good of a football coach Bryant was:

From 1946-53, his teams enjoyed eight straight winning seasons to go with appearances in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls, and captured the program’s first Southeastern Conference title in 1950. That season capped with an invitation to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, which may have seemed like a looming execution considering Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners were riding a 31-game winning streak.

Only Bryant came out on top, 13-7 … with Kentucky.

Yes, the Wildcats, who have since won just one other SEC title, in 1976, and that was shared with Georgia.

Bryant famously made his initial mark at Texas A&M during training camp in 1954, when he took players 250 miles west to a barren army base in Junction, Texas, and put them through the mental and physical equivalent of a meat grinder. More than two-thirds of the players quit, with those who endured dubbed the “Junction Boys,” but it also defined the coach’s legacy as a hard-nosed disciplinarian.

“I don’t want ordinary people,” Bryant was quoted as saying. “I want people who are willing to sacrifice and do without a lot of those things ordinary students get to do. That’s what it takes to win.”

Bryant’s Aggies were closing in on the 1957 national championship when he was lured away by Alabama and made his famous statement: “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

Although originally from Arkansas, where he was born, it was in Tuscaloosa where Bryant changed more lives than he ever knew, and made his biggest impact. It’s also where the man who is still regularly quoted for saying, “I ain’t never been nothing but a winner,” did just that, win, a lot.

During his amazing 25 years with Crimson Tide, Bryant lost just 46 games, compared to 232 wins. No program in the nation won more than Alabama in both the 1960s and 1970s, as he’s considered the only college football coach since the Associated Press poll was created in 1936 to successfully lead not one, but two dynasties.

“He wasn’t just a coach,” former Southern California coach John McKay once said. “He was THE coach.”

During his 38-year career, only nine of Bryant’s teams finished unranked – including each of his first four years (1945 Maryland, 1946-48 Kentucky) – compared to 22 winding up in the top 10. He took 29 teams to bowl games and led 15 to conference championships.

Bryant set a similar standard in the Southeastern Conference with 159 regular-season league wins, which not only remains the record, but just three others have managed to top the century mark. He was named the SEC’s coach of the year an incredible 12 times.

No coach had his presence, either, as Bryant, the epitome of toughness, became a symbol for a troubled state and region, and an iconic presence that transcended college football. Even his nickname, which stuck after he actually wrestled a bear at a carnival as a teen, reflected his fierceness as a player with the Crimson Tide in the 1930s, and his stature as a coach.

“Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is,” Nick Saban said. “I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many peoples’ lives he affected in a positive way, players who played for him, because they all come back and say how he affected their life. They don’t come back and say, ‘We won a championship in ’78, ’79, ’61,’ whenever it was. They come back and say how he affected their lives. There’s a lot of Bear Bryant stories that I’ve learned a lot from, that have made me a better person.

“I certainly appreciate that, have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished. There’s no way that we have done anything close to what he’s done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times.”

When Bryant retired he was Division I’s all-time winningest coach with 323 wins He guided his teams to 29 bowl appearances, 15 conference championships, won an SEC-record 146 games, 13 league titles and six national championships, five consensus. No program won more games than Alabama (193-32-5) in both the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was simply the best there ever was,” former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney said of his peer.

Even though Bryant died January 26, 1983 at the age of 69, hardly a day goes by that most Crimson Tide fans still don’t mention his name at least once, while books and documentaries are still being made about him and his legacy. Fans still proudly wear the pattern of his trademark houndstooth hat around campus, and a good part of Tuscaloosa has been named in his honor.


He was the one who set the standard.

“Coach Bryant, in his tenure here, to have the kind of success that he had over time, consistency in performance over all that time and winning all those championships, the intangibles that his teams always seemed to play with, are the things that you really try to get your team to do,” Saban said. “Whether it’s the physical toughness, the effort, the finishing, the discipline to execute.

“I know that when I first started coaching, I read Coach Bryant’s book and it had a tremendous impact on me, in terms of some of the important things that would help you be successful as a coach, and believe strongly in a lot of the same intangible type things in terms of character, attitude, discipline, hard work. That’s the kind of program that we have here. I think that was the foundation really of his program.”

As a result, his shadow still looms large on the Capstone, similar to how the tower from which he watched practices stands like a monument.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s probably only a few people in college athletics history who have had as great an impact, maybe John Wooden at UCLA,” Saban said about Bryant on what would have been his 100th birthday, September 11, 2013.

“I don’t think you can really kind of put words into what it really has meant and how it has affected the University of Alabama.”

Nick Saban vs. Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Bryant

Seasons                                                             23               38

Consensus national titles                                      6                5-z

Top five finishes                                                  9                13

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               29

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  323-85-17

Percentage                                                         78.5            78.0

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

Bowl record/CFP record                                        14-10          15-12-2

Percentage                                                         58.3            55.2

Conference titles                                                 9                15

Conference record                                               138-42-1     177-57-10

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               23

First-round draft picks                                         34               18

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          63-43-5

Percentage                                                         67.20          59.73

Record against Top 10 teams                                42-21          33-23-1

Percentage                                                         66.77          58.77


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 7.6

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 0.61

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; 0.47

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.71

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; 0.87

z-Alabama claims 1973 for finishing first in the coaches’ poll, but Notre Dame is considered the consensus champion


Woody Hayes

Strangely enough, the football program that may have been most responsible for Woody Hayes getting hired at Ohio State was none other than its biggest rival, Michigan.

When they were scheduled to play in 1950, the temperature in Columbus was 10 degrees with winds up to 40 mph blowing snow everywhere. As school officials met before kickoff to discuss the idea of postponing, Michigan’s Fritz Crisler supposedly said, “We’re here and we’re not coming back down next week.”

In front of the 50,000-plus fans who somehow managed to show up, the two sides combined for 68 total yards, with Michigan scoring a touchdown and safety off blocked punts to pull out a 9-3 victory.

After going 0-3-1 against the Wolverines (but 21-10-2 against everyone else), Buckeyes coach Wes Fesler was subsequently fired despite having a ranked team and Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz.

Hayes, who had posted a 19-6 record at his alma mater, Denison, and 14-5 at Miami (Ohio) _ with the 1950 Redskins winning the Mid-American Conference and defeating Arizona State in the Salad Bowl in Phoenix _ was hired over the likes of former Ohio State coach Paul Brown, assistant coach Harry Strobel and Missouri coach Don Faurot.

It was just the first of many controversies surrounding Hayes at Ohio State, as was losing his first game against Michigan, 7-0, but led to arguably the best rivalry in college football, peaking from 1969-78, a period known as the “Ten Year War.”

That particular stretch began when No. 1 Ohio State, which had destroyed its first eight opponents that season, 371-69, and was riding a 22-game winning streak, lost at Michigan – which was coached by former Hayes assistant Bo Schembechler, 24-12.

However, Hayes, one of the most successful coaches in college football history, needed just four years to win his first national title in 1954. During his 28 years, he won 205 games, 13 Big Ten titles and two consensus national championships, with the Buckeyes on the doorstep for three more.

Hayes’ best team was probably the 1968 Buckeyes, who started five sophomores on offense and six on defense, including safety Jack Tatum, nicknamed “The Assassin.” Ohio State upset No. 1 Purdue 13-0, finished the regular season 9-0, and defeated Southern California in the Rose Bowl, 27-16, for the national championship. A total of 11 players from the team earned All-American honors during their careers, and six became first-round draft selections.

Hayes also had two players win the Heisman Trophy, the first being halfback “Hopalong” Cassady, who led the Buckeyes to the 1954 national title and captured the award in 1955. Despite lining up both ways, he had 2,374 career rushing yards and scored 37 touchdowns. Hayes once said Cassady “was the most inspirational player I have ever seen.”

The other may be the most famous Heisman winner in history, Archie Griffin, the only player to win it twice (1974-75).

Although he was just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Griffin accumulated 5,589 rushing yards, including an NCAA record 100 or more in 31 consecutive games. Despite this, in 1975 Griffin cast the deciding vote among teammates to name quarterback Cornelius Greene the team’s MVP.

Hayes, who once said, “You win with people,” called Griffin “a better young man than he is a football player, and he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.”

Griffin is also the only player to start in four Rose Bowls and was named Big 10 MVP twice (1973-74), but not in 1975 when he won his second Heisman. As a sophomore in 1973, Griffin had 1,428 rushing yards (more than he had as a senior, 1,357) and finished fifth in Heisman voting behind winner John Cappelletti of Penn State, while teammate John Hicks, a tackle, was second.

As for his enigmatic coach, the former lieutenant commander in the Navy once declared that “All good commanders want to die in the field,” but his emotions got the best of him in the 1978 Gator Bowl when he punched Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman after his interception sealed the Tigers’ 17-15 victory. Hayes, who had been a part of numerous incidents before but never with a player, was fired the next day.


Earle Bruce, who went 81-26-1 with the Buckeyes from 1979-87, replaced him. While Bruce couldn’t recapture Hayes’ level of success, his coaching tree is one the greatest ever developed, including luminaries like Pete Carroll, Dom Capers, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Nick Saban.

Nick Saban vs. Woody Hayes

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                         Saban         Hayes

Seasons                                                             23               30

Consensus national titles                                      6                3

Top five finishes                                                  9                10

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               18

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 219-66-10

Percentage                                                         78.5            74.7

Losing seasons                                                   0                2

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          6-6

Percentage                                                         58.3            50.0

Conference titles                                                 9                14

Conference record                                               138-42-1     159-38-7

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               26

First-round draft picks                                         34               27

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          41-31-5

Percentage                                                         67.20          56.49

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          23-21-4

Percentage                                                         66.67          52.08


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 10

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 87

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .90

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.37

Wins over top-10 teams                                       per year 1.82 every season; .77


Ralph “Shug” Jordan


From 1951 to 1975, Ralph “Shug” Jordan compiled a record of 176–83–6 and recorded the most wins in Auburn history, but there was a lot more to him than football.

After being a three-sport star, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers, became a major during World War II, and took part in the invasions of Northern Africa, Sicily, Normandy, and Okinawa.

Regardless, Jordan had the misfortune of coaching in the state of Alabama at the same time as another legend, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.

Jordan arrived first, in 1951, and six years later won the program’s first national title. After opening the season with a 7-0 victory against Tennessee, Auburn jumped up to No. 7, but didn’t claim the top ranking until its season-ending 40-0 domination of the Crimson Tide.

With Jimmy “Red” Phillips averaging 23.8 yards per reception, the Tigers ran the table, and despite not being bowl eligible due to improper recruiting inducements, the Southeastern Conference champions were still voted No. 1 by the Associated Press (No. 2 by United Press International to 9-1 Ohio State). It outscored opponents 207-28, of which only seven points were tallied by an SEC opponent (Mississippi State), and shut out its two biggest rivals thanks to two goal-line stands against Georgia.

“We went undefeated last year,” Jordan said. “It’s going to be awful difficult to improve on our record.”

That was especially true after Alabama responded by hiring Bryant away from Texas A&M, which he had been turning into a national power. Instead, he did something even grander with the Crimson Tide, bringing the Iron Bowl rivalry to new heights in terms of intensity.

In 1971, quarterback Patrick Sullivan led the nation with 2,856 yards, set an NCAA record for most yards per play with 8.57, and tied another with 71 career touchdowns. What he did best, though, was throw to Terry Beasley, with the passing combination accounting for more than 2,500 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns from 1969-71.

But the Jordan game a lot Auburn fans cherish the most was the 1972 Iron Bowl. Alabama had a 16-3 lead when Bill Newton burst into the backfield and blocked a punt, which bounced into the hands of David Langner, who returned it for a 25-yard touchdown. Following the Tide’s subsequent possession, Newton and Langner did the exact same thing, this time with 20 yards on the return, for a 17-16 victory.

“Always remember that Goliath was a 40-point favorite over little David,” Jordan once said.

Nick Saban vs. Ralph “Shug” Jordan

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Jordan

Seasons                                                             23               25

Consensus national titles                                      6                1

Top five finishes                                                  9                4

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               13

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 175-83-7

Percentage                                                         78.5            67.4

Losing seasons                                                   0                3

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10          5-7

Percentage                                                         58.3            41.7

Conference titles                                                 9                1

Conference record                                               138-42-1     98-63-4

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               9

First-round draft picks                                         34               8

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          33-45-2

Percentage                                                         67.20          42.50

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          16-28

Percentage                                                         66.67          36.36


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 25

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .36

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .32

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.32

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; .64



Frank Leahy

You may not have known that in addition to his illustrious football career Frank Leahy was credited with the now cliché quote of: “When the going gets tough, let the tough get going.”

He also had a lot of success before becoming one of the most accomplished head coaches in Notre Dame and college football history.

As a tackle, Leahy played on Knute Rockne’s last three teams, two of which went undefeated and claimed national championships.

As an assistant coach, Leahy had one-year stints at Georgetown and Michigan State before he created the famous “Seven Blocks of Granite” line at Fordham, which included future NFL legendary coach Vince Lombardi.

As a head coach, he first made his mark at Boston College, where during his two seasons there the Golden Eagles only lost two games. The 1939 team earned the program’s first postseason invitation (it lost to Clemson 6-3 in the Cotton Bowl), and the undefeated 1940 squad that included future College Football Hall of Fame inductees center Chet “The Gentle Giant” Gladchuk, end Gene Goodreault, fullback Mike Holovak, guard George “The Righteous Reject” Kerr, and halfback Charlie O’Rourke.

Although Minnesota was considered the national champion, and Stanford also finished undefeated, when Boston College capped the season with a 19-13 victory in the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Tennessee, which hadn’t lost a regular season game in three years under Robert Neyland, the team was greeted by an estimated 100,000 fans in downtown Boston.

“To me, this is the best football program in the world,” Leahy said at the time.

However, that didn’t prevent him from leaving for his alma mater, where Leahy created Notre Dame’s second dynasty. Although he shocked fans by switching the offense from the Notre Dame box to the T-formation due to the greater scoring possibilities, his first three teams won 24 games while losing three and tying three, and captured the 1943 national title.

While Angelo Bertelli won the program’s Heisman Trophy despite enlisting for the military before season’s end, Creighton Miller topped the nation in rushing with 911 yards despite skipping every day of spring practice to play golf.

Leahy later admitted, “He was the best halfback I ever coached.” To give an idea of how high praise that was, Leahy said of the 1949 team, which went on to win the national championship, “We’ll have the worst team Notre Dame has ever had.” Red Grange said about that same squad, “It’s the greatest college team I’ve ever seen.”

After spending two years in the Navy during World War II, Leahy returned to Notre Dame in 1946 and immediately had Notre Dame back in the title hunt. With Johnny Lujack leading the team it won controversial titles in 1946 and 1947 when the quarterback took home the Heisman Trophy, and was the consensus choice in 1949 when Leon Hart captured the award.

In Leahy’s final season, 1953, Notre Dame went 9-0-1 to claim another title, only the coach collapsed due to a pancreas attack at halftime of the Georgia Tech game. He announced his retirement on January 31, 1954.

All but two of his 13 teams finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll, with eight in the top three, and three more between No. 5-11. Consequently, he has the second-best winning percentage in Division I history, trailing only the man who was his mentor, Rockne. They’re the only two coaches with 10-plus years of experience who have no more losses than seasons coached.INLINE

Nick Saban vs. Frank Leahy

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                 Saban         Leahy

Seasons                                                    23               13

Consensus national titles                             6                3-z

Top five finishes                                         9                9

Top 25 finishes                                          16               11

Overall record                                            232-62-1*   107-13-9

Percentage                                                78.5            86.4

Losing seasons                                          0                0

CFP/Bowl record                                        14-10          1-1

Percentage                                                58.3            50.0

Conference titles                                        9                NA

Conference record                                      138-42-1     NA

Consensus All-Americans                            41               23

First-round draft picks                                34               16

Record against ranked teams                       82-40          32-5-4

Percentage                                                67.20          82.93

Record against top 10 teams                       42-21          22-3-1

Percentage                                                66.67          86.54


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 4.3

Consensus All-Americans (through 2013)      1.78 every season; 1.77

First round draft picks (through 2013 draft)   1.48 every season; 1.23

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 2.46

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; 1.69

z-For the purpose of this article Michigan is considered the consensus national champion in 1947.


John McKay

Although Southern California has had an impressive lineup of coaches over the years, John McKay is viewed as having the strongest legacy. From 1960-75, the Trojans won three consensus national titles, were on the doorstep of at least two more, played in eight Rose Bowls, and won two Heisman Trophies (Mike Garrett in 1965 and O.J. Simpson in 1968).

The coach was also one of college football’s true characters.

“I told my team it doesn’t matter,” he said after a 51-0 loss to Notre Dame in 1966. “There are 750 million people in China who don’t even know this game was played. The next day, a guy called me from China and asked, ‘What happened, Coach?'”

“Well, gentlemen, I guess I wasn’t so stupid today,” McKay said after a 21-20 victory against UCLA in 1967.

When asked why he gave the ball to Simpson so much in a game, McKay said: “Why not? It’s not heavy, and he doesn’t belong to a union.”

(His most famous quote came while coaching the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When a reporter asked about the execution of his offense, McKay quipped that he was in favor of it. Also, one of his quarterbacks in 1976 was Steve Spurrier.)

“He knew when to loosen a team up and he knew how to get after you,” former USC quarterback Craig Fertig (1961-64) once said. “You’d never have to worry about him slapping a player. He could do it with his tongue.”

McKay compiled a 127-40-8 record, including just 17 conference losses during those 16 seasons. Over his last nine years, USC went 18-3 against its two biggest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame.

The 1974 game against the Fighting Irish, dubbed “The Comeback,” is still talked about in Los Angeles. Despite a 24-0 deficit in the second quarter, tailback Anthony Davis (with Ricky Bell at fullback before he had 1,875 yards the following year to finish second for the Heisman) sparked the Trojans with a 102-yard kickoff return to open the second half and USC went on to score 55 points in just under 17 minutes.

“We turned into madmen,” Davis said.

The 1972 team, though, was considered one of the best in college football history. It went 12-0, beat six ranked teams by an average of 20.2 points, and never trailed.

“USC’s not the No. 1 team in the country,” Washington State coach Jim Sweeney said after his team lost 44-3. “The Miami Dolphins are better.”

McKay also coached offensive standouts like Sam Cunningham, Pat Haden, Lynn Swann and Ron Yary, but it was under his direction that the “Tailback U” moniker emerged with the Trojans’ trademark I-formation attack. Simpson became the school’s second Heisman winner in 1968 when he set the NCAA single-season rushing record with 1,709 yards. He also equaled or set 19 NCAA, conference and USC records before going on to establish the NFL single-season rushing record of 2,003 yards in 1973.

McKay’s also the father of former Buccaneers general manager and current Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, and his son J.K. played for him twice as a wide receiver, first for the Trojans (1972–75), and then with the Buccaneers (1976–79).

“I had a rather distinct advantage. I slept with his mother.”

Nick Saban vs. John McKay

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         McKay

Seasons                                                             23               16

Consensus national titles                                      6                3-z

Top five finishes                                                  9                6

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               12

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 127-40-8

Percentage                                                         78.5            74.9

Losing seasons                                                   0                2

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          6-3

Percentage                                                         58.3            66.7

Conference titles                                                 9                9

Conference record                                               138-42-1     70-17-3

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               19

First-round draft picks                                         34               18

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          34-20-4

Percentage                                                         67.20          62.07

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          21-15-3

Percentage                                                         66.67          57.69


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 5.3

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 1.19

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; 1.13

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 2.13

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; 1.31

z-Oklahoma was on probation in 1974, which excluded it from consideration for the final coaches’ poll, but the Sooners were No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll.


Urban Meyer

Nick Saban is not perfect. He’s not even close.

Plenty of times he and the rest of the coaching staff have made the wrong decision regarding a recruit. Yes, he makes mistakes in games. There are a number of things he wishes he could have back, like when he didn’t call a prospective assistant coach back in 1990 after taking over at Toledo.

“He called my house and talked to Terry,” Saban said about his wife. “Terry really interviewed him. She told me when I came home that night. She said this really interesting guy called and really sounded like a top-notch, bright, articulate…

“You really need to talk to this guy.”

Saban didn’t. At the time he was with the Houston Oilers, trying to finish that season while hiring his first staff as a head coach and preparing for the move. It was one of the things that slipped through the cracks.

The guy who had called was Urban Meyer.


Instead, when Earle Bruce got the head job at Colorado State, he hired Meyer as his wide receivers coach. Saban was left with a what-if story, while the thought of Saban and Meyer working on the same side might be enough to cause some coaches to second-guess their choice of profession.

“That was obviously one of the biggest mistakes I ever made,” Saban said.

Instead, Saban’s brief departure from the college ranks into the National Football League for the 2005-06 seasons coincided with the arrival of Meyer, who immediately replaced him as the toughest coach to beat in the Southeastern Conference.

Meyer had been a fast riser as a head coach, with Bowling Green going from 2-9 to 8-3 his first year, and after a combined 17-6 record over two seasons headed to Utah. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Utes became not only the first team from a non-automatically qualifying BCS conference to play in a BCS Bowl, but won, dominating Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.

But following Utah’s first perfect season since 1930, both Notre Dame and Florida came calling and to the surprise of some he chose the Gators and a lucrative seven-year contract that would pay $14 million, over one of the places he had been an assistant coach (1996-2000) and had repeatedly called his “dream job.” That Meyer also had to deal with former Florida coach Steve Spurrier being in the same division was problematic until he beat out Alabama for a player who would become the face of college football, Tim Tebow.

In 2006, the Gators survived the toughest schedule in the country to win the SEC championship and, thanks to UCLA upsetting Southern California in the regular season finale, played Ohio State for the national title. Although the Buckeyes scored on the opening kickoff, the Gators crushed them, 41-14.

“Honestly, we played a lot better teams than them,” defensive end Jarvis Moss said. “I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them.”

Due to the defense being depleted by graduation and departures to the NFL the Gators stumbled in 2007, losing three games and failing to return to the conference championship, but they were once again considered the team to beat in 2008. A one-point loss led to “The speech” by Tebow, who promised fans “you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season.”

Florida went on to crush every subsequent opponent, with the closest score 42-14 at Vanderbilt, until it faced No. 1. Alabama and Saban in the SEC Championship. The game went back-and-fourth until Florida finally pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 31-20 victory, and went on to beat Oklahoma for the national title, 24-14.

“I’m not sure I enjoyed that last one enough,” Meyer said. “I’m going to enjoy this one.”

The 2009 team looked like it could even be better, and after running the table in the regular season the rematch in the SEC Championship Game was billed not only as being the exclamation point to Tebow’s career, but he was on the doorstep of going down as the greatest player in college football history and Florida being a dynasty. However, Alabama’s focus over the offseason was on beating the Gators, and it showed.

The Crimson Tide arrived at the Georgia Dome with a mile-wide chip on its collective shoulder and took it out on the Gators in a game that wasn’t as close as the 32-13 score indicated. Overall, Alabama pummeled Florida nearly across the board statistically, including first downs (26-13), rushing yards (251-88), time of possession (39:27-20:23), and third-down conversions (11 of 15 vs. 4 of 11). The Tide never trailed, scored on six of its first seven possessions (minus running out the clock before halftime), and pulled up in the fourth quarter.

Tebow’s last-gasp pass wound up being intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Javier Arenas, reducing the quarterback to tears on the sideline. Alabama fans refer to it as “Tebow wept.”

”He’s a great player,” said receiver Julio Jones, ”but man, we’re tired of him.”

Mark Ingram rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns and Greg McElroy, who landed at Alabama after it got beat out for Tebow, threw for 239 yards and a touchdown to claim the MVP award.

Although a great rivalry appeared to be brewing between the coaches, their regular-season rematch in 2010 turned out to be a dud as Alabama easily won at home, 31-6. It was the first of three-straight losses for Florida, and after a lackluster 8-4 season Meyer shocked the college football world by announcing that he was stepping away from coaching due to health concerns and to spend more time with his family.

In six seasons, the Gators had won 65 games, two Southeastern Conference championships and two national titles, but also had 31 players arrested from 2005-2010 – a stigma that would stick with the coach for years.

Meyer ended up working for ESPN for a year and then got back into coaching at Ohio State in 2012. He stepped down at the end of the 2018 season after being suspended for three games over his handling of domestic abuse allegations against an assistant coach.

Previously Meyer had called himself an “organizational freak,” who had a speed-based spread offense that was particularly difficult to counter, but the secret of his success wasn’t too difficult to figure out.

“Back as a player, I was always the hardest working guy,” he said. “I would be so upset with myself if I wasn’t. Was I the best? I was average, but I outworked everybody. As a coach, am I the smartest? No. But I believe that in a lot of areas I outwork a lot of guys.”

Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                 Saban         Meyer

Seasons                                                    23               17

Consensus national titles                             6                3

Top five finishes                                         9                9

Top 25 finishes                                          16               14

Overall record                                            232–62–1*  187-32

Percentage                                                78.5            84.5

Losing seasons                                          0                0

Bowl record/CFP record                               14-10          12-3

Percentage                                                58.3            80.0

Conference titles                                        9                7

Conference record                                      138-42-1     114-22

Consensus All-Americans                            41               15

First-round draft picks                                34               23

Record against ranked teams                       82-40          43-15

Percentage                                                67.20          74.14

Record against Top 10 teams                       42-21         25-9

Percentage                                                66.77          73.53


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 5.7

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; 0.88

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; 1.35

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 2.53

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; 1.47


Gen. Robert Neyland

The biggest name in Tennessee football history is undoubtedly Gen. Robert Neyland, who transformed the Volunteers into a national power after taking the job in 1926.

Due to his military duties and obligations, the West Point graduate who served in France during World War I ended up coaching Tennessee at three different times. He was also called upon for a peacetime tour in Panama followed by another tour of duty as a brigadier general in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Known for his discipline and hard-nosed approach, Neyland was originally hired because of rival Vanderbilt, to which Tennessee had lost 18 of 22 games (with two ties). The turnaround was all but immediate, eventually prompting Dean Nathan Daugherty, the faculty chairman of athletics, to call Neyland’s hiring the best move he ever made. Led by quarterback Bobby Dodd, Tennessee went 27-1-2 from 1928-30.

During his three stints, Neyland compiled an amazing record of 173-31-12. In those 216 games the opponent failed to score 112 times, including all ten regular-season opponents in 1939. His 71 consecutive scoreless quarters is still an NCAA record.

“If Neyland could score a touchdown against you, he had you beat,” claimed Herman Hickman, one of Neyland’s players who went on to join the original staff of Sports Illustrated. “If he could score two, he had you in a rout.”

An 11-0 finish in 1938 led to a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, which it matched a year later (the Vols went 10-1 after a 14-0 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl). However, Neyland’s Volunteers were the consensus national champions in 1951, though they went on to lose to Maryland in the Sugar Bowl, 28-13.

One of his biggest games was on October 20, 1928, when Neyland approached Alabama coach Wallace Wade before kickoff in Tuscaloosa and asked if the game could end early if things got out of hand.

The gamesmanship worked. Halfback Norm McEver returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, and the defense frustrated the heavily favored Crimson Tide for a 15-13 victory. The two sides have been fierce rivals since, with their matchups each season now known as the “Third Saturday in October.”

Perhaps that’s why Knute Rockne once called Neyland “football’s greatest coach.”

“The general was not the easiest guy to work with Monday through Friday, but on Saturday he was a fatherly figure,” Neyland tailback Herky Payne said. “On Saturday, he was a warm man who gave you a lot of confidence.”

Nick Saban vs. Gen. Robert Neyland

(For consistency purposes, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Neyland

Seasons                                                             23               21

Consensus national titles                                      6                1

Top five finishes                                                  9                5

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               9

Overall record                                                     232-62-1*   173-31-12

Percentage                                                         78.5            82.9

Losing seasons                                                   0                0

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10          2-5

Percentage                                                         58.3            28.6

Conference titles                                                 9                7

Conference record                                               138-42-1     103-17-10

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               9

First-round draft picks                                         34               3-i

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          16-8-i

Percentage                                                         67.20         66.67

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          9-6-i

Percentage                                                         66.77          60.00


National title seasons                                          One every 3.8 seasons; 21

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .43

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936


Tom Osborne

Nick Saban will never, ever forget what it was like to face a Tom Osborne team. It was 1995, his first game as Michigan State’s head coach and Nebraska was the reigning national champion.

“They beat us 55-14, and the score did not indicate how bad they beat us,” Saban said. “I hadn’t been in college football for four or five years, being in the NFL. I’m thinking we’re never going to win a game. We’ll never win a game here at Michigan State. I must have taken a bad job, wrong job, no players, something.

“I remember Coach Osborne when we shook hands after the game, he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, ‘You’re not really as bad as you think.’ So I think he knew he had a pretty good team, and we actually ended up winning six games, so we weren’t really probably as bad as I thought.”

Actually, Nebraska was in the early stages of a dynasty, during which it won back-to-back consensus national championships, secured a split title in 1997, went 49-2, and had nine All-Americans. The Cornhuskers won two Outland Trophies, one Lombardi, and a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm trophy for best quarterback even though Nebraska wasn’t known for its passing.

Osborne too had a little bit of a rocky start after he replaced Bob Devaney in 1973, and developed a reputation for being unable to win big games after losing his first five, and seven of eight against rival Oklahoma. Once he cleared that hurdle, though, and finally played for the national championship at the end of the 1983 season, the coach came up short after making one of the gutsiest calls in college football history.

After a fierce comeback in the Orange Bowl against hometown No. 4 Miami, top-ranked Nebraska scored on Jeff Smith’s fourth-down 24-yard run with 48 seconds remaining. With No. 2 Texas, the only other undefeated team, having already lost earlier in the day to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, a tie probably would have locked up the national title (there was no overtime), but Osborne went for the two-point conversion and the win only to see Turner Gill’s pass knocked down.

“We wanted an undefeated season and a clear-cut championship,” Osborne said after the 31-30 loss that led to Miami finishing No. 1, ahead of Nebraska. “I don’t think we should go for the tie in that case. It never entered my head. I guess I’m not very smart.”

Instead, after Byron Bennett’s 45-yard field-goal attempt went wide left in the final seconds of the Orange Bowl, an 18-16 loss to Florida State to decide the 1993 title, Osborne had to wait until 1994 to win his first consensus national championship – although it was anything from simple, or easy, despite Nebraska’s 13-0 record.

Quarterback Tommie Frazier was sidelined after the fourth game by blood clot problems in his right knee, and a partially collapsed lung slowed replacement Brook Berringer. He still managed to lead a 24-17 victory against Miami at the Orange Bowl, and voters rewarded the Cornhuskers despite Penn State also finishing unbeaten at 12-0.

With Frazier able to return, Berringer went back to the bench in 1995 when Nebraska was able to defend its title and no opponent could come within 14 points of the Cornhuskers. Tragically, Berringer died the following spring in a plane crash.

“The Brook I knew, there was nothing he could have done better,” Osborne said. “The length (of his life) was not what you would have liked. But the quality couldn’t have been better.”

The split title came after a 42-17 victory against No. 3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, Osborne’s final game, when the coaches’ poll leapfrogged Nebraska over Michigan. Osborne called the squad “probably a little more talented than ’94, certainly not near as controversial as ’95. That was nice. So it was just kind of a nice way to go.

“Great leadership on the part of the players, and I didn’t have to do much.”

In the 1990s, Nebraska lost just three home games. While few programs have won 100 games in a decade, Nebraska is the only one in NCAA history to do it in consecutive decades.

Overall, Osborne had an incredible 255-49-3 record from 1973-97, when the Cornhuskers recorded 15 10-win seasons. Their worst showing was 9-3-1 in 1976, with a trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl – a 27-24 victory against Texas Tech. Between Devaney and Osborne, who in 2000 won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and served for six years, Nebraska appeared in a record 35 consecutive bowl games (1969-2003), including 17 straight January bowl appearances (1981-97).

Consequently, all 25 of Osborne’s teams received a bowl invitation, and finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll.

However, to give an idea of how times have changed in college football, over his whole career Osborne was involved in just three No. 1 vs. 2 games, going 1-2. When Alabama defeated Notre Dame for the 2012 national title it was Saban’s fifth over the previous 49 months.INLINE

Nick Saban vs. Tom Osborne

(Statistics through 2018 season for continuity purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Osborne

Seasons                                                             23               25

Consensus national titles                                      6                2-z

Top five finishes                                                  9                8

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               25

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 255-49-3

Percentage                                                         78.5            83.6

Losing seasons                                                   0                0

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          12-13

Percentage                                                         58.3            48.0

Conference titles                                                 9                13

Conference record                                               138-42-1     160-23-2

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               30

First-round draft picks                                         34               19

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          62-37-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          62.50

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          27-32

Percentage                                                         66.67          45.76


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 12.5

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 1.2

First round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .76

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 2.48

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; 1.08

z-Nebraska split the national championship with Michigan in 1997.


Ara Parseghian

Ara Parseghian is directly cut from the “If you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy, only with college football coaches the word “join” needs to be replaced by “hire.”

While best known for his successful years at Notre Dame he first was a player and coach at Miami of Ohio, as a running back/defensive back in 1946-47 for Sid Gillman and spent a year as an assistant coach under the direction of Woody Hayes. After he took over in 1951, Miami went 39-6-1 over the next five seasons, with three of the losses coming the first year, and the 1955 finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll.

Miami had already become a successful launching point for coaches (including Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank, George Little and Paul Dietzel), but to the surprise of some the school to come calling for Parseghian was Northwestern. The Wildcats had made a Rose Bowl trip at the end of the 1948 season, but was coming off a winless 1955 schedule. After taking the job he too had a winless season in 1957, yet five years later had Northwestern ranked No. 1 during the 1962 season.

Led by quarterback Tom Myers and receiver Paul Flatley, the Wildcats got off to a 6-0 start and spent two weeks atop the Associated Press poll until it was knocked off its pedestal by both No. 8 Wisconsin and Michigan State. However, Northwestern defeated Notre Dame four straight times, including 35-6 in 1962, which more than got the Fighting Irish’s attention.

Consequently, after five straight sub-.500 seasons including records of 2-8 in 1960 and 2-7 in 1963, it hired Parseghian in 1964 to turn the tables.

In addition to winning nine straight games against his former team, which went 17-41-1 during its first six seasons without him, Parseghian led Notre Dame to a 95-17-4 record over 11 seasons.

Under his direction (and with Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte), the Fighting Irish was poised to win the national championship his first season in South Bend, 1964, only to blow a 17-0 lead in the season finale at Southern California.

Instead, he would have to wait two more years, when Notre Dame went 9-0-1 and won an extremely controversial title over undefeated Alabama – the two-time reigning champion. The tie came against Michigan State in what was billed the “Game of the Century,” only to result in a 10-10 finish when Parseghian decided to have his players not go for the win after getting the ball back at their own 30 with 1:24 to play.

“We’d fought hard to come back and tie it up,” he explained later. “After all that, I didn’t want to risk giving it to them cheap. They get reckless and it could cost them the game. I wasn’t going to do a jackass thing like that at that point.”

Alabama and Notre Dame were both undefeated when they met in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1973 season, and the Fighting Irish pulled out a dramatic 24-23 victory. With the coaches’ poll holding its final voting before the bowls, the last time it did so, Alabama could claim a split title, but Notre Dame was the clear consensus champion.

Although Parseghian resigned in 1974 for health reasons after 11 years at Notre Dame, he got involved in the fight against Niemann-Pick Type C, a genetic, pediatric, neurodegenerative disorder responsible for the build-up of cholesterol in cells that results in eventual damage to the nervous system. Three of his grandchildren, Michael, Marcia, and Christa Parseghian, were diagnosed with NP-C in 1994, and all died by 2005.

The coach passed away in 2017. He was 94.

“I think Ara Parseghian probably was as classy a coach and as classy a human being, not only relative to what he did as a coach but all that he’s done since he’s not been coaching in terms of raising funds and money for research and fighting disease and different things that have affected his family,” Nick Saban said. “I just think he’s one of the all-time classy coaches who has ever had success. A lot of things that he did and the way he represented the program are things that we would like to be sort of remembered for as well.”INLINE

Nick Saban vs. Ara Parseghian

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Parseghian

Seasons                                                             23               24

Consensus national titles                                      6                2

Top five finishes                                                  9                7

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               11

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  170-58-6

Percentage                                                         78.5            73.9

Losing seasons                                                   0                2

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          3-2

Percentage                                                         58.3            60.0

Conference titles                                                 9                2

Conference record                                               138-42-1     41-33-2

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               23

First-round draft picks                                         34               14

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          21-30-4

Percentage                                                         67.20          41.82

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          16-23-3

Percentage                                                         66.67          41.67


National title seasons                                          One every 3.8 seasons; 12

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .96

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .58

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.11

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; .84


Joe Paterno

It was a moment in which everyone knew that they were witnessing history, but no one would completely appreciate until much later.

Prior to kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010, Nick Saban stood at midfield with not only opposing coach Joe Paterno, but special guest Bobby Bowden. The three laughed and smiled, enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime occasion, with the one fresh off a national championship graciously hosting the two winningest coaches in major college football history.

It certainly wasn’t lost on Saban, although even he didn’t realize that the photo op was really a sort of passing of the torch.

“I think the thing you take from guys like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno is that they are good and have been good for a long time,” Saban said that week. “They have also been great ambassadors for the game, and they have done what they do in a classy way. They don’t talk about other people. They don’t run other programs down. They just do it in a first-class way.

“I think that is probably the biggest thing that I have tried to emulate Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and those types of guys, is because of how they’ve done what they do, the kind of people that they are and the kind of character they have. I think that is important for college football. I think that is an important part of the integrity of the game.”

A lot changed during the years to follow, including the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal involving an assistant coach and subsequent toppling of an icon. Saban went from telling Crimson Tide fans before the previously mentioned game that he would take it as a personal insult if anyone booed when the Nittany Lions took the field, to handing Paterno his final loss a year later.

At the time there were few, if any, coaches that Saban respected more.

“Coach Paterno is probably one of the greatest coaches of all time in college football, not in terms of how many games he’s won, but how he’s contributed to the game in so many positive ways,” Saban said. “To give you an example, he was part of an academic committee. When I was at Michigan State, we had a player who sort of tried to get a waiver for a sixth year because he broke his leg twice. But he really couldn’t get into graduate school, he had to get into a continuing-ed program. At that time, you had to get into graduate school to be able to do that. Joe was the head of that committee, and he actually got it passed through and all that for us at Michigan State.

“What was amazing was, we were playing at Penn State. I forget the exact score of the game, but this guy that he got eligible ran for a touchdown with about a minute to go in the game that put us ahead. They went down and kicked a field goal and won the game. He did things for players and made decisions based on what was right, not what was politically correct for him or his school or anything else. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that because he’s done it a hundred times for lots of players and lots of people involved in college football.”

Paterno, an English major from Brown University who initially said that he never wanted to coach football, was hired as an assistant and subsequently named Penn State’s head coach in 1966. Over 46 years he won 409 games (111 were erased by an NCAA decision, only to be reinstated) and won two national championships, 1982 and 1986.

Under his direction, the school’s string of consecutive non-losing seasons wasn’t snapped until 1988 at 49. He notched wins at the Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Liberty, Sugar, Aloha, Holiday, Citrus, Rose, Hall of Fame, Outback, Capital One, and Alamo bowls, and over the years Beaver Stadium’s capacity went from 46,284 to 107,282.

He had a Heisman winner with running back John Cappelletti in 1973 (1,522 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns), an amazing collection of linebackers ranging from LaVar Arrington to Jack Ham, and had some epic matchups against Alabama along the way. Among them was the Sugar Bowl to decide the 1978 national championship, which was highlighted by a goal-line stand, and the 1981 game to set up Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s record-setting 315 win the following week at Auburn.

Paterno and his wife Sue donated more than $4 million to Penn State for building projects and to endow faculty positions and scholarships, and began a campaign to raise millions for the construction of a new library that bears his name. Yet despite all that, time will still be the deciding factor when it comes to his legacy.

“Joe Paterno is one of the greatest lessons in life, of I don’t care how good things are going you have to watch out,” Bowden said. “You know, here’s a guy for sixty years nobody did it better. I had to write an article about him fifteen years ago for a magazine and I said when Joe retires he’ll go out as the greatest coach ever. To go sixty years at one school, stay out of trouble and graduate his players, then all of a sudden this thing came up and didn’t have anything to do with it. He didn’t (react) like they thought he should, but it just ruined him. I just can’t believe that now he’s not here anymore, because I’ve known him, and we were very close for years. Again, it’s a great lesson for all of us, you had better watch your life, it can be taken away from you just like that.”

Nick Saban vs. Joe Paterno

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Paterno

Seasons                                                             23               46

Consensus national titles                                      6                2

Top five finishes                                                  9                13

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               32

Overall record                                                     232-62-1*   409-136-3

Percentage                                                         78.5            74.9

Losing seasons                                                   0                4

Bowl record/CFP record                                        14-10          24-12-1

Percentage                                                         58.3            66.2

Conference titles                                                 9                1-b

Conference record                                               138-42-1     31-54-b

Consensus All-Americans                                    41               33

First-round draft picks                                         34               33

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          86-85-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          50.29

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          35-47

Percentage                                                         66.67          42.7


National title seasons                                           One every 3.8 seasons; 23

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .72

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; .72

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 1.87

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; .76

*All wins from 1998 through 2011 were vacated from his career 409-136-3 record, but reinstated in 2015.

b- Penn State was independent until it joined the Big Ten in 1993. Before vacated wins his league record was 95-54.


Eddie Robinson

When it comes to coaching legends in the state of Louisiana, no one tops Eddie Robinson.

Robinson went 408-165-15 (70.7 winning percentage) during his phenomenal career, which spanned 56 years at Grambling, and saw more than 200 of his players go on to play professionally.

They included Hall of Famers like the Kansas City Chiefs’ Buck Buchanan; the Oakland Raiders’ Willie Brown; and the Houston Oilers’ Charlie Joiner.

He also coached quarterback Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII MVP with the Washington Redskins, who succeeded Robinson at Grambling.

Robinson won at least a share of 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, nine black college national titles, and from 1960-86 posted 27 consecutive winning seasons.

The Football Writers Association of America named its annual coach of the year award after him, and Baton Rouge, home of Grambling’s biggest rival Southern, named a street in his honor.

When he retired in 1997, the College Football Hall of Fame waived the requirement that a coach be out of the game for at least three years before being considered for enshrinement.

This past May, Nick Saban traveled to Grambling and participated in the 100-year birthday celebrations for Robinson.

“When I was a young coach, I couldn’t tell you when or where but it was one of those coaching clinics we have every year and I was just starting out in coaching,” the Monroe News-Star quote Saban as saying. “I may have been 25, 27 years old and he spoke at one of these clinics we have. He talked about humility and how important it was in being successful in being a head coach and the things you need to do to be successful. He talked about never being satisfied and treating other people the right way.

“He embodied so much class in the way he spoke, carried himself. Sometimes you see people that way and you say, ‘I want to be that way someday.’ That’s my first and probably greatest impression, lasting impression I have of coach Robinson.”

The Eddie Robinson Award is annually presented to “The nation’s most outstanding coach” by the Football Writers Association of America, and dates back to 1957 when Woody Hayes was the inaugural recipient.

Saban won the award in 2003 and 2008.

Nick Saban vs. Eddie Robinson

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Robinson

Seasons                                                             23               54

Consensus national titles                                      6                NA (9^)

Top five finishes                                                  9                NA

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               NA

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  408-165-15

Percentage                                                         78.5            70.7

Losing seasons                                                   0                8

Bowl record/CFP                                                 140-10        9-10^

Percentage                                                         58.3            47.4

Conference titles                                                 9                17

Conference record                                               138-42-1     182-76-7^

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               28^

First-round draft picks                                         34               6

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          NA

Percentage                                                         67.20          NA

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          NA

Percentage                                                         66.77          NA


National title seasons                                     One every 3.8 seasons; NA

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; NA

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; NA

^ Grambling competes at the FCS level


Knute Rockne

When it comes to the greatest coaches in college football, there’s definitely a top tier when it comes to the all-time greats.

Knute Rockne is definitely on it. He coached only 13 years at Notre Dame, but left the legacy of a lifetime.

Actually, Rockne’s influence on college football started to be felt before he became a coach, when he was a player. Born in Norway, his family moved to the Chicago area, and after high school he took a job as a mail dispatcher with the Chicago Post Office for four years until he had enough money to enroll at Notre Dame.

Rockne continued to work during the summer and in 1913 he and his roommate, quarterback Gus Dorais, were janitors and busboys for a beachfront hotel in Cedar Point, Ohio. During their down time they worked on a new weapon that had been legalized in 1906, the forward pass.

Their pass patterns and timing routes caught Army by surprise for a 35-13 victory to key an undefeated season.

But that was nothing like what was to come, with the coaching prowess possibly only exceeded by his abilities as a showman and motivator. His “Notre Dame shift,” a quick, pre-snap movement by his backfield was so successful that it was banned (and is why only one player can go in motion).

After graduating with a degree in pharmacy, Rockne was hired as an assistant coach at Notre Dame and continued to play on the side through the 1917 season with the Akron Indians and Massillon Tigers. When Jesse Harper stepped down after five seasons as head coach, with a 34-5-1 record and 86.3 percent winning percent, Rockne was promoted. It was a tough act to follow, but he got through a 3-1-2 rookie season shortened by World War I, and came back to go 9-0 in 1919.

One of his star players that year was George Gipp, perhaps the greatest player in Notre Dame history. The halfback is still high on the school’s all-time rushing list with 2,341 yards, and he also passed for 1,769 yards, scored 156 points, punted and returned kicks. But most people know him from Rockne’s inspirational “Win just one for the Gipper” speech in 1928, even though he died from strep throat and pneumonia in 1920.

Rockne considered the 1924 national champions his favorite team. Notre Dame outscored the opposition 258-44 during its nine-game regular season and then crushed Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 27-10. It was the last bowl game the Irish would play for 45 years, but the team was best known for the backfield including Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden.

“I think I sensed that the backfield was a product of destiny,” Rockne said. “At times they caused me a certain amount of pain and exasperation, but mainly they brought me great joy.”

Here’s the more famous quote about the backfield: “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again,” Grantland Rice wrote in the New York Herald-Tribune on October 19, 1924. “In dramatic lore, they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. Those are only aliases. Their real names at Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”

The program was at an all-time high when it won back-to-back national championships in 1929 and 1930 with undefeated seasons. The 1929 Fighting Irish, with guard Bert Metzger, helmetless guard Jack Cannon, and quarterback Frank Carideo, played every game on the road with Notre Dame Stadium under construction. Despite Rockne describing his team’s prospects as “fair” it finished 9-0, and then successfully defended its title in 1930 (10-0).

Incidentally, the stadium was designed by Rockne and built by the same company that constructed Yankee Stadium, the Osborn Engineering Company of Cleveland. Rockne also served as Notre Dame’s athletic director, business manager, ticket distributor, track coach and equipment manager. He wrote a newspaper column once a week, authored three books (one fiction for young adults), and even “Fighting Irish” became the nickname of Notre Dame during his time there, with university president Rev. Matthew Walsh making it official in 1927 (many had been calling them Rockne’s Ramblers, which he didn’t especially like).

However, right at the peak of his success, Rockne died in a plane crash at the age of 43. He had a remarkable record of 102-12-5, with the 88.1 winning percent still the best in Division I college football history.

While celebrities, prominent figures, and even some foreign dignitaries like the King of Norway attended his funeral on campus, thousands had to be turned away, and it was estimated that more than 100,000 people lined the procession route from Rockne’s house to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

“It was almost the size of President Kennedy’s impact,” Layden said of the funeral years later. “It was amazing. They turned out on the train and at the funeral. He was a national hero.”

Even humorist and social commentator Will Rogers paid tribute: “Notre Dame was Knute Rockne’s address, but every gridiron in America was his home.”

Nick Saban vs. Knute Rockne

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban        Rockne

Seasons                                                             23               13

Consensus national titles                                      6               3

Top five finishes                                                  9                NA

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               NA

Overall record                                                     232–63–1*  105-12-5

Percentage                                                         78.5            88.1

Losing seasons                                                   0                0

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10         1-0

Percentage                                                         58.3            100

Conference titles                                                 9                NA

Conference record                                               138-42-1     NA

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               11

First-round draft picks                                         34               NA

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          NA

Percentage                                                         67.2            NA

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          NA

Percentage                                                         66.7            NA


National title seasons            One every 3.8 seasons (2.4 at Alabama); 4.3

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; .85

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; NA

* vacated games

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936. Wade was at Duke from 1931 until 1950 minus the four years he served in World War II.


Bo Schembechler

Even though he never won a national championship, Bo Schembechler deserves a mention among the all-time greats after being one of the sport’s icons during his 27 years as a head coach, mostly at Michigan.

After six years at his alma mater, Miami of Ohio, where the Redhawks went 40-17-3, he was hired away by Michigan to deal with one of his former bosses, Woody Hayes at Ohio State.

While their rivalry could only be described as “epic,” Schembechler had one of the best records in college football and only Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne reached 200 wins in fewer games (Division I).

While they weren’t able to hold on, Schembechler had four teams reach No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, and 16 finish in the top 10 including ten straight (1969-78).

The Wolverines also won 13 Big Ten titles, but the coach went 2-8 in the Rose Bowl against the Pac-10 champion.

Overall, he went 194-48-5 with the Wolverines (1969-89), 143-24-3 in conference play.

Nick Saban vs. Bo Schembechler

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Schembechler

Seasons                                                             23               27

Consensus national titles                                      6                0

Top five finishes                                                  9                6

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               19

Overall record                                                     232–62–1* 234-65-8

Percentage                                                         78.5            77.5

Losing seasons                                                   0                0

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          5-12

Percentage                                                         58.3            29.4

Conference titles                                                 9                 15

Conference record                                               138-42-1     170-32-4

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               25

First-round draft picks                                         34               13

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          37-36-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          50.67

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          16-22-1

Percentage                                                         66.67          42.31


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; None

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .93

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; .48

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 1.37

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; .59


Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier has never really been known for biting his tongue, much to the delight of sportswriters everywhere.

Some of his gems over the years include:

“You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” about rival Tennessee regularly playing in the bowl game that featured the SEC’s best division runner-up.

”… But the real tragedy was that fifteen hadn’t been colored yet,” about an Auburn dorm fire in which numerous books were destroyed.

“You know what FSU stands for, don’t you? Free Shoes University.”

Alabama was not exempt:

“In 12 years at Florida, I don’t think we ever signed a kid from the state of Alabama … Of course, we found out later that the scholarships they were giving out at Alabama were worth a whole lot more than ours.”

There’s nothing in college football like a Spurrier zinger to get under the skin of opposing fans, but his career was nothing short of stellar, including as a player.

Against visiting Auburn on October 29, 1966, the quarterback essentially assured Florida of its first Heisman Trophy when, facing fourth down in the closing moments, he waived the kicker off to attempt the 40-yard game-winning field goal himself.

Spurrier had thrown for 259 yards — and to give you an idea of how times have changed he finished with 2,012 passing yards that season — and averaged 47 yards a punt. When he cleared the crossbar by about a foot, Coach Ray Graves could only smile. Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan called him “Steve Superior.”

As a coach, he turned the Gators into a national powerhouse, and over the span of 12 seasons they won seven SEC titles, one national championship and finished ranked in the nation’s top 10 nine times.

Florida became only one of six schools in major college football history, and one of two in SEC history, to win 100 games during a decade (100-22-1, 1990s). The Gators were also the first team in the conference to win at least 10 games in six straight seasons, and the third school ever to be ranked for 200 consecutive weeks.

Spurrier even slapped the “Swamp” nickname on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, saying “only Gators can survive a trip to the swamp.” Easily one of the loudest stadiums in the country, Florida was 70-5 there under his direction.

Although Spurrier has never won one of the major national coach of the year awards, he did become the first Heisman Trophy winner to coach another Heisman winner: Danny Wuerffel in 1996.

“He was a little different,” said Tommy Tuberville, who at Ole Miss and Auburn lost his first four games against Spurrier. “He was outspoken. You can be pretty much outspoken when you’re kicking everybody’s butt like he was.”

“If people like you too much, it’s probably because they’re beating you,” Spurrier said.

Despite their impressive resumes, Spurrier and Nick Saban faced each other only four times, with Spurrier holding a 3-1 advantage. Sadly they never met with a championship on the line. Saban came up empty his first two years at LSU when Spurrier was still at Florida, 41-9 and 44-15, and they split their two Alabama-South Carolina meetings.

The Crimson Tide won a pretty sloppy 20-6 game in Tuscaloosa during its 2009 national championship season, but Spurrier’s Gamecocks pulled off an emotional 35-21 home victory the following year. While Alabama was playing its third consecutive ranked SEC team, and had won 19 straight games, it was South Carolina’s first win ever against an opponent ranked No. 1.

“I think that this game was meant to be,” said Spurrier, who in the process earned his 107th SEC victory to move into second for the all-time lead behind only Paul W. “Bear” Bryant (159).

“I gave myself a game ball for that one,” he added.

While both coaches won a national championship before giving the NFL a two-year shot, Spurrier with the Washington Redskins (12-20, 2002-03), their careers have been very different after returning to the SEC.

Spurrier was solid at South Carolina, going 86-49 from 2005-15, including three straight 11-win seasons after the Gamecocks didn’t finish ranked in the final Associated Press poll during his first five years. When USC finally broke through and won the Eastern Division in 2010, it lost to Auburn in the program’s first and only appearance in the SEC Championship Game, 56-17.

The 2013 team had South Carolina’s best finish in the AP Top 25 at No. 4.

As for Saban … Yeah, you knew it was coming:

“He’s got a nice little gig going, a little bit like (Kentucky basketball John) Calipari,” Spurrier told ESPN.com in 2012. “He tells guys, ‘Hey, three years from now, you’re going to be a first-round pick and go.’ If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”

Spurrier, of course, was first a head coach at Duke, where from 1987-89 the Blue Devils went 20-13-1 and won the 1989 Atlantic Coast Conference championship before returning to his alma mater in 1990.

Four months later, Saban responded with: “LSU wasn’t winning when I went there. Michigan State wasn’t winning when I went there. Toledo wasn’t winning when I went there. And Alabama really wasn’t winning when I came here. I guess I gotta go someplace else. I don’t know.”

“I think it’s great, I love Steve. I’m always anxious to hear what he has to say — it’s always funny.”

Of course, he couldn’t help but needle the Ol’ Ball Coach a little himself.

“You know, there are other coaches in this league, like Steve Spurrier, who are older than me, that I look up to, that are my mentors, that I really learn a lot from, that I really want to try to be like,” Saban said at the next SEC Media Days. “In fact, I was even going to consider wearing a visor on the sidelines this year. I was afraid I’d throw it.”

Nick Saban vs. Steve Spurrier

(For consistency reasons, statistics through 2018 season)

Category                                                          Saban         Spurrier

Seasons                                                             23               26

Consensus national titles                                      6                1

Record in conference title games                           4-1             5-3

Top five finishes                                                  9                7

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               16

Overall record                                                     232–63–1* 228–89–2

Percentage                                                         78.5            78.1

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10          11-10

Percentage                                                         58.3            52.3

Conference titles                                                9                7

Conference record                                               138-42-1     137-61-1

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               16

First-round draft picks                                         34               17

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          64-57-1

Percentage                                                         67.2            52.89

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          27-34-1

Percentage                                                         66.7            44.35


National title seasons                One every 3.8 seasons (2.4 at Alabama); 26

Consensus All-Americans                                     1.78 every season; 0.62

First-round draft picks                                         1.48 every season; 0.65

Average wins vs. ranked teams                             3.57 each season; 2.46

Wins over top-10 teams per year                          1.82 every season; 1.04


Amos Alonzo Stagg

Even though the University of Chicago dropped football in 1939 (it restarted the program for Division III in 1968), it won a national championship in 1905, and seven Big Ten titles from 1899-1924.

Jay Berwanger was the first winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1935, and subsequently the first selection in the first National Football League draft (he never played pro ball, but is one of nine Chicago inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame). While the program also featured quarterback Walter Eckersall (1903-06) and guard Bob “Tiny” Maxwell (1902, 1904-5) — for whom both the Maxwell Club and Maxwell Trophy are named – the person most associated with Chicago is legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.

“The Grand Old Man of the Midway,” who was at Chicago from 1892-1932, invented the end-around, hidden-ball trick, fake punt, quick-kick, man-in-motion, double reverse, huddle, backfield shift, Statue of Liberty play, padded goal posts, and having numbers on players’ backs. Incidentally, he also invented the batting cage for baseball and the trough for overflow in swimming pools.

“All football comes from Stagg,” said Knute Rockne, whose football hero as a kid was Echersall.

His championship team shut out every opponent except one, Indiana, which managed just five points. Chicago “rebounded” by winning at Wisconsin 4-0, and eventually beat Michigan 2-0. Over 11 games it scored 271 points.

During his 42-year coaching career, which began at Springfield, Stagg went 275-121-29 for a 68.1 winning percentage at major schools, and 115-74-12 in the Big Ten. He also had 10 consensus All-Americans.

Stagg also coached at Pacific (1933-46), where he had five teams finish atop the Northern California Athletic Conference, giving him an overall record of 314-199-35.E

Nick Saban vs. Amos Alonzo Stagg

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Stagg

Seasons                                                             23               42

Consensus national titles                                      6                1

Top five finishes                                                  9                1-i

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               1-i

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  314-199-35

Percentage                                                         78.5            60.4

Losing seasons                                                   0                20

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          0-1

Percentage                                                         58.3            0.0

Conference titles                                                 9                12

Conference record                                      138-42-1; NA (115-74-2 Big Ten)

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               10

First-round draft picks                                         34               1-i

Record against ranked teams                                82-40         NA

Percentage                                                         67.20          NA

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          NA

Percentage                                                         66.67          NA


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 42

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .24

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936



Dabo Swinney

Only one coach has defeated Nick Saban more than once with the national championship at stake, Dabo Swinney.

Alabama fans can’t seem to decide if that’s fitting, or ironic (or both).

Not only is Swinney from Pelham, Alabama, but he played for the Crimson Tide, initially as a walk-on wide receiver in 1989. He was part of the 1992 national championship team under Gene Stallings.

Over three seasons he caught 7 passes for 81 yards, but was twice named an Academic All-SEC. Swinney also began his coaching career at Alabama, as a graduate assistant.

In 2003, he ended up at Clemson, working for his former position coach at Alabama, Tommy Bowden as the Tigers’ wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.

When Bowden resigned six games into the 2008 season (which began with a 34-10 loss to Alabama in Atlanta), Swinney was named the interim head coach.

At first he wasn’t considered a popular hire among the Clemson faithful. Needless to say, that changed.

Nick Saban vs. Dabo Swinney

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Swinney

Seasons                                                             23               11

Consensus national titles                                      6                2

Top five finishes                                                  9                4

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               9

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  116-30

Percentage                                                         78.5           79.5

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          9-5

Percentage                                                         58.3           64.2

Conference titles                                                 9                5

Conference record                                               138-42-1     68-16

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               10

First-round draft picks                                         34               11

Record against ranked teams                                82-40           27-18

Percentage                                                         67.20          60.0

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21           14-6

Percentage                                                         66.67          70.0


National title seasons                         One every 3.8 seasons; 5.5

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .91

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; 1.0

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 2.45

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; 1.27



Barry Switzer

When Chuck Fairbanks left Oklahoma for the New England Patriots after revitalizing the program (52-15-1 from 1967-72), Oklahoma turned to the offensive coordinator who had used the wishbone to record the most prolific rushing season in college football history with 472 yards per game.

The Sooners had also scored more than 500 points in 1971, and finished second in the final Associated Press poll for the second straight year.

At the time, Switzer was just 35.

Following his promotion from coordinator, Oklahoma won or shared the Big Eight conference title every season from 1973-80, with back-to-back national championships in 1974-75, and won another in 1985.

Switzer’s teams featured some stellar players including running back Billy Sims, who won the 1978 Heisman Trophy, and Lee Roy Selmon – considered by many to be the best player in Sooners history. With one of his brothers also on the team, “God bless Mr. and Mrs. Selmon” became a popular refrain among fans.

Switzer had a career record of 157-29-4, (for a.837 winning percentage). His Sooners never finished lower than second in the league, played in nine Orange Bowls, and only once finished a season unranked.INLINE

He is one of just two coaches to win both a collegiate national championship and the Super Bowl, the other being Jimmy Johnson. In 1996, Switzer led the Dallas Cowboys to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, and had a career NFL coaching record of 45–26.

However, his years at Oklahoma were filled with controversy as well, including the 1974 national championship. The Sooners were serving a two-year penalty for a recruiting scandal, and ineligible to play in a bowl game, but while the American Football Coaches Association had a rule that teams on probation were ineligible for rankings and national championship consideration, the Associated Press did not.

The Sooners finished the season undefeated, averaging 508 yards of total offense while winning by an average score of 43-8. The AP had it No. 1, but the coaches’ champion was Southern California (10-1-1).

Following numerous scandals, including various players jailed for shooting a teammate, selling cocaine to FBI officers, theft, and a gang rape, the NCAA found Oklahoma guilty of 20 violations and in December 1988 placed the program on three years probation. Switzer resigned in June 1989.INLINE

Nick Saban vs. Barry Switzer

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Switzer

Seasons                                                             23               16

Consensus national titles                                      6                3

Top five finishes                                                  9                10

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               15

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  157-29-4

Percentage                                                         78.5           83.7

Losing seasons                                                   0                0

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          8-5

Percentage                                                         58.3           61.5

Conference titles                                                 9                12

Conference record                                               138-42-1     100-11-1

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               28

First-round draft picks                                         34                16

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          43-21-4

Percentage                                                         67.20          66.18

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          23-17-2

Percentage                                                         66.67          57.14


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 5.33

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; 1.75

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; 1.00

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 2.69

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; 1.44


Johnny Vaught

When it comes to Ole Miss, no one comes close to John Vaught.

During his coaching career (1947-70, 1973), Vaught complied a 190-61-12 record, for a .745 winning percentage, and 18 bowl appearances.

The coach of Archie Manning preached diligence and preparation, but despite having three teams reach No. 1 didn’t have any finish atop a final Associated Press poll.

The 1959 and 1960 Rebels were both second, the latter being somewhat controversial as No. 1 Minnesota subsequently lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl, 17-7, while the Rebels beat Rice in the Sugar Bowl, 14-6.

The coaches had Ole Miss at No. 3.

Still, he’s the benchmark for the Rebels:

Nick Saban vs. John Vaught

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Vaught

Seasons                                                             23               25

Consensus national titles                                      6                0

Top five finishes                                                  9                4

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               14

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  90-61-12

Percentage                                                         78.5            74.5

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

Bowl record/CFP record                                        14-10          10-8

Percentage                                                         58.3            55.6

Conference titles                                                 9                6

Conference record                                               138-42-1     106-39-10

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               5

First-round draft picks                                         34               4

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          29-29-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          50.0

Record against Top 10 teams                                42-21          18-22

Percentage                                                         66.77          45.0


National title seasons                                  One every 3.8 seasons; 0

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; 0.20

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; 0.16

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 1.16

Wins over top-10 teams per year                1.82 every season; 0.72



Wallace Wade

Five years ago I published the book Nick Saban vs. College Football, which at the time made the case that the Alabama coach had already done enough to be on the Mount Rushmore of college football coaches.

That was two national championships ago.

It’s almost impossible to compare coaches from different eras, but a major part of the book was to compile every coaching statistic imaginable so readers could see them side-by-side and make up their own minds.

As part of college football’s 150th anniversary we’re going to dust off those charts, update them and post them here, once a week.

With Alabama opening the regular season against Duke it seemed only fitting to begin with the only coach who had the Blue Devils ranked in the Associated Press Poll at some point of every season he was there during the poll era (which began in 1936), Wallace Wade.

Of course, Crimson Tide fans know Wade from winning three national titles at Alabama before he left for Duke.

Nick Saban vs. Wallace Wade

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                 Saban                  Wade

Seasons                                                    23                        24

Consensus national titles                             6                         3

Top five finishes                                         9                         2-i

Top 25 finishes                                          16                        7-i

Overall record                                            232–63–1*           171-49-10

Percentage                                                78.5                     76.5

Losing seasons                                          0                         1

Bowl/CFP record                                        14-10                  2-2-1-i

Percentage                                                58.3                     50.0

Conference titles                                        9                         10

Conference record                                      138-42-1              113-28-5

Consensus All-Americans                            41                        3

First-round draft picks                                34                        2-i

Record against ranked teams                       82-40                   8-16-i

Percentage                                                67.2                     33.3

Record against top 10 teams                       42-21                   4-11-i

Percentage                                                66.7                     26.7


National title seasons:                                One every 3.8 seasons; 8.0

Consensus All-Americans:                           1.78 every season; .13

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams:                   3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year:                1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936. Wade was at Duke from 1931 until 1950 minus the four years he served in World War II.


Nick Saban vs. Glenn “Pop” Warner

There are few, if any, names more synonymous with football than Glenn Scobey Warner, who was tabbed with the nickname “Pop” when he played for Cornell from 1892-94 for being older than most of his teammates.

Warner’s subsequent coaching career began at Georgia in 1895, when the entire student body was made up of 126 students. It included stops at Iowa State (1895-99, he coached teams from two schools simultaneously three times), Cornell (1897-98, 1904-06), the Carlisle Indian Industrial (1899-1903, 1907-14), Pittsburgh (1915-23), Stanford (1924-32), and Temple (1933–38).

Not including his 18-8 record at Iowa State, which was still a decade from joining its first conference, the Missouri Valley, Warner went 311-103-32 over 42 years, for an outstanding winning percentage of .723.

He had only three losing seasons, and had four teams receive national championship consideration. His 1916 Pitt team was not only his best team, but considered the overwhelming consensus national champion before the poll era began (the other three were 1915 and 1918 teams at Pitt, and Stanford in 1926).

While Warner didn’t lose a game with the Panthers until his fourth season, the 1915 team featured the unique war cry from center Bob Peck: “When Peck fights, the team fights!” The 1916 squad beat Navy, Syracuse, Penn and Penn State while notching four of its six shutouts.

As for the 1926 title with Stanford, it was led by All-American end Ted Shipkey and sophomore fullback Clifford “Biff Hoffman,” to finish 10-0-1. The tie came in the Rose Bowl against Alabama, despite out-gaining the Crimson Tide 305 yards to 98, thanks mostly to a blocked punt. Stanford topped the power rankings computed by Frank Dickinson, a University of Illinois economics professor, but the majority of services preferred Alabama.

Warner also coached what’s undoubtedly the best college football program most fans have never heard of, Carlisle, which was the first federally supported school of Native Americans to be established off a reservation. Over 25 years, before closing in 1918, it compiled a record of 167-88-13, thanks in part to eight future inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame.

At one time the entire Carlisle coaching staff consisted of Warner and an Oneida Indian named Wallace Denny, the trainer, who doubled as the school’s night watchman. The team often played as many as 10 games in six weeks. In 1912, Warner’s squad went 12-1-1 and scored 504 points. The following year it finished 11-2-1 with 295 points.

His most notable player there was none other than Jim Thorpe, considered by some to be the greatest all-around athlete in United States history. As a halfback in 1907-08, and again in 1911-12, he played 44 games with 53 touchdowns and 421 points. According to the College Football Hall of Fame, statistics for 29 of the games show he averaged 8.4 yards per carry. In 1912, he had 29 touchdowns and 224 points, which led the nation.

“Thorpe was the greatest athlete of his time, maybe of any time in any land,” legendary sportswriter Red Smith once wrote, and with good reason. At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm he won the pentathlon and decathlon. Thorpe went on to play Major League Baseball (1913-19), pro football (1915-28), and was said to excel in every sport he attempted, including golf, tennis, lacrosse, field hockey, riding, rowing, gymnastics, archery, bowling, darts, billiards, basketball, swimming, boxing and wrestling.

Nick Saban vs. Glenn “Pop” Warner

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                 Saban         Warner

Seasons                                                    23               44

Consensus national titles                             6                1

Top five finishes                                         9                NA-i

Top 25 finishes                                          16               1-i

Overall record                                            232–62–1*  319-106-32

Percentage                                                78.5            73.3

Losing seasons                                          0                4

Bowl record/CFP record                               14-10          1-2-1

Percentage                                                58.3            37.5

Conference titles                                        9                4

Conference record                                      138-42-1     36-13-5

Consensus All-Americans                            41               23

First-round draft picks                                34               NA-i

Record against ranked teams                       82-40          1-3-1-i

Percentage                                                67.20          30.0

Record against Top 10 teams                       42-21          0-0-1-i

Percentage                                                66.77         50.0


National title seasons                         One every 3.8 seasons; 44

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .52

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936


Bud Wilkinson


He was a Minnesota guy and former aircraft-carrier deck officer on the USS Enterprise who quickly grew bored with the family mortgage-trading business. But did Bud Wilkinson ever have a knack for football, which he used to turn Oklahoma into a perennial power, and started a wave of success that the Sooners continue to ride to this day.

Just a year after agreeing to join Jim Tatum’s staff in 1946, he was the one to take over as both coach and athletic director when Tatum left for Maryland a year later. Wilkinson was just 31 when he unleashed his split-T formation on college football, which would never quite be the same again.

“His teams dispelled the Dust Bowl, Grapes of Wrath image of the Depression years,” said former university president George Cross, who hired Wilkinson. “They made Oklahoma proud and called national attention to the state’s potential.”

The Sooners went 7-2-1 during his first season in 1947, winning the first of 13 straight conference titles when the league grew from the Big Six to the Big Eight. He followed that initial season with records of 10-1, 11-0 and 10-1, with Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s Kentucky Wildcats snapping a 31-game winning streak with a 13-7 victory at the 1951 Sugar Bowl. The 1949 team outscored opponents 364-88, and topped the season with a 35-0 victory against LSU in the Sugar Bowl.INLINE

In 17 seasons, Wilkinson had an incredible record of 145-29-4, 93-9-3 in league play, with just one losing season. Oklahoma won consensus national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956, and finished off an 11-year run in which the Sooners always finished in the top five of the final Associated Press poll except once.

From 1953-57, they racked up a major-college record 47 consecutive victories (snapped by Notre Dame in 1958, 7-0) despite having stalwarts like Nebraska and Texas on the schedule. Center Jerry Tubbs was one of the players who after three varsity years finished his career without experiencing a single loss.

Additionally, the 1956 Sooners averaged 46.6 points per game, handed Texas its worst loss since 1908, 45-0, and pounded Notre Dame at South Bend, 40-0.

“Losing is easy,” Wilkinson said. “It’s not enjoyable, but easy.”

Nick Saban vs. Bud Wilkinson

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Wilkinson

Seasons                                                             23               17

Consensus national titles                                     6                3

Top five finishes                                                  9                10

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               15

Overall record                                                    232-62-1*   145-29-4

Percentage                                                         78.5            82.6

Losing seasons                                                   0                1

Bowl/CFP record                                                 14-10          6-2

Percentage                                                         58.3            75.0

Conference titles                                                 9                14

Conference record                                               138-42-1     93-9-3

Consensus All-Americans                                     41               15

First-round draft picks                                         34               9

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          28-18-1

Percentage                                                         67.20          60.64

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21          12-15-1

Percentage                                                         66.77          44.64


National title seasons                         One every 3.8 seasons; 5.7

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .88

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; .53

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; 1.65

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; .71


Fielding Yost

During his first of five years at Michigan, Field Yost’s teams went 55-1-1, outscored opponents 2,821-42 and won the first Rose Bowl game, 49-0 over Stanford.

The school claims six national titles for Yost, but with at least two that opinion was in the minority. In 1903, the National Championship Foundation had Michigan at No. 1, but every other service opted for Princeton.

In 1904, the NCF again liked the Wolverines, while most others preferred Penn.

The 1918 title was basically a split between Michigan and Pittsburgh, and in 1923 Illinois was a much more popular selection.

Although there are some discrepancies about Yost’s career numbers, the NCAA has him at 196-36-12.

Overall, he had one losing season (1919) and went 42-10-2 in the Big Ten.

The school claims that 64 men who either played for Yost or coached under him as an assistant went on to become head coaches in college football.

Nick Saban vs. Fielding Yost

(Statistics through 2018 season for consistency purposes)

Category                                                          Saban         Yost

Seasons                                                             23               25

Consensus national titles                                      6                6+

Top five finishes                                                  9                NA

Top 25 finishes                                                   16               NA

Overall record                                                     232–62–1*  196-36-12

Percentage                                                         78.5            82.8

Losing seasons                                                   0                 1

CFP/Bowl record                                                 14-10          1-0

Percentage                                                         58.3            NA

Conference titles                                                 9                10

Conference record                                               138-42-1     42-10-2

Consensus All-Americans                                     41              17

First-round draft picks                                         34               NA

Record against ranked teams                                82-40          NA

Percentage                                                         67.20         NA

Record against top 10 teams                                42-21         NA

Percentage                                                         66.67         NA


National title seasons                         One every 3.8 seasons; 4.2

Consensus All-Americans                            1.78 every season; .68

First-round draft picks                                1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams                    3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year                 1.82 every season; NA

+ Four of the titles were split before the modern era of college football

The first college football poll was created in 1934. The first NFL draft was held in 1936. 


Bonus: Walter Camp

It would be impossible to do series about all-time great college football coaches and not mention Camp, perhaps the game’s greatest innovator. He played at Yale from 1877-82 and was the program’s first official football coach, compiling a 68-2 record from 1888-92.

Three of his undefeated teams (1888, 1891 and 1892) are essentially considered undisputed national champions.

Among his many notable achievements was to standardize the game’s rules, thus becoming known as the “Father of American Football.”

He created the line of scrimmage, the 11-man team, signal-calling, the quarterback position, and was the originator of the rule whereby a team had to give up the ball unless it had advanced a specified distance within a set number of downs. Camp also coached three seasons at Stanford, then an independent, where he had a 12-3-3 record.

Some of the information in this report was also used in the book Nick Saban vs. College Football.


Christopher Walsh


Age: 52

College: New Hampshire

Background: Born in New Jersey, raised in Minnesota, went to college in New Hampshire, and broke into the business in Florida. I’m still shaking my head at it all. My career has followed a similar path, both in locations (Arizona, Wisconsin and then finally Alabama, which was supposed to be a pit stop), and media companies/outlets.

I thought that was dizzying enough.

Then 2020 happened, the year in which no amount of words will ever be able to fully put into perspective, no matter how hard we try. But it’s important that we do. Here’s hoping we’re all able to gather again soon to both celebrate and cry a little at everything that’s happened.