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The Elite 15: College Football’s Best Coaches In 2018

It’s August, which means college football is set to kick off later this month as summer winds down and starts to transition into fall. Coaches have a huge impact on the college game, and having an elite one could help make a school an instant contender. This order isn’t quite exact in terms of ranking the coaches, but these are my elite 15 college football coaches for 2018.


Of course, some coaches might be more elite than others, if you will, but I believe these 15 are among the best. A lot of notable coaches are left off the list, but that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t think highly of them. And money isn’t everything, but they’re all making a lot of it, so I can’t feel too bad for leaving anyone off the list—they probably won’t lose any sleep over it.


Nick Saban, Alabama

Six national championships. Seven SEC championships. Eleven SEC West Division championships. A 218-62-1 all-time record, and an 127-20 record with the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban’s record speaks for itself. He’s been in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in each of the Playoff’s four years of existence, and there’s no reason to think Alabama won’t keep getting there as long as he’s the head coach. There’s a case for Saban being the greatest college football coach of all-time.


Chip Kelly, UCLA

The SEC is tougher than the Pac-12, but even if you just take just Nick Saban’s record at Alabama, where he’s had amazing success, Chip Kelly’s 44-5 record at Oregon (.898 winning percentage compared to Saban’s .864 winning percentage at Alabama) is better. Kelly didn’t capture a national title in his four seasons with the Ducks, but he made the title game in his second season. Kelly is a clear top-five coach in college football, and I expect he’ll lead a quick turnaround for UCLA.


Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Urban Meyer’s all-time coaching record of 177-31 doesn’t match Saban’s or Kelly’s, but his 73-8 record at Ohio State (.901) is better than Saban’s run at Alabama. Like Saban, Meyer won a title at two different schools, winning twice with Florida and once with the Buckeyes. And the Ohio native is an extremely impressive 11-3 in bowl games.


Dabo Swinney, Clemson

The Clemson Tigers have become a college-football powerhouse, and Dabo Swinney has been the driving force behind it. Swinney is 101-30 in his career with the Tigers—the only team he’s been the head coach of—since taking over midseason in 2008; but he’s gotten it to the point where double-digit wins are expected (seven straight seasons), and national titles are the standard.


Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

I think Mark Dantonio is the most underrated coach in college football. At his first head coaching job with Cincinnati in 2004, Dantonio led the school to its first winning season in 23 years. And now he’s gotten Michigan State to heights the school hasn’t been to in some time—despite the Big Ten arguably being the best conference in the country over the last several seasons. Dantonio has a tough-but-caring demeanor that his players love, and he’s helped Michigan State surpass the titanic Michigan program in recent years.


Mark Richt, Miami

During Mark Richt’s 15-year run with Georgia, he was squarely among the top coaches in college football, leading the Bulldogs to a 145-51 record including a 10-5 record in bowl games. With Miami, his alma mater, Richt has quickly gotten the Hurricanes past Florida State and right behind Clemson among the best current programs in the conference. Richt and Miami might run the ACC Costal division for the next several seasons.


Scott Frost, Nebraska

Next up is another coach that’s back at his alma mater leading the program; I am very excited to watch Scott Frost’s Nebraska team in 2018 and beyond. In just his second year with UCF, he led the Knights to an undefeated season including a win in a New Year’s Six Bowl, defeating Auburn. Frost spent seven seasons at Oregon, and Chip Kelly had a major influence on his style of running a program. UCF half-jokingly claimed they were the national champions last year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Frost really win one with the Cornhuskers.


Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley had an ideal situation with Baker Mayfield quarterbacking his offense, but it’s an offense that Riley crafted during his two seasons as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator before he took over for Bob Stoops ahead of last season. Even without Mayfield moving forward, Riley’s offense should give defenses major problems for years to come. With a 12-2 record and a College Football Playoff appearance, he’s off to about as good of a start as possible as head coach.


Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher had an outstanding run at Florida State, which made last season’s final year with the Seminoles peculiar. Fisher has a 14-0 national championship season which came in the midst of a five-year stretch with double-digit wins (and a three-year stretch with a 39-3 record), and it seemed like he would be with the program for a while. However, it’ll be interesting to see how things work out in the SEC with Texas A&M.


Kirby Smart, Georgia

After eight seasons as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide, Kirby Smart made the move to his alma mater to run the Georgia Bulldogs program. Smart has quickly made Georgia look like an SEC East version of Alabama, as they have a bunch of explosive athletes that fly around and play at a very high level. Smart’s team made great adjustments in last year’s classic Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, and they had Alabama on the ropes before coming up just short in the title game.


Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Yet another former college football player that coaches at his alma mater makes the Elite 15. Jim Harbaugh’s time at Michigan has not gone as well as mostly everyone expected so far, but he’s entering his fourth season leading the program—which is the year he led Stanford to a 12-1 seasons after a 17-20 start to his tenure there. Harbaugh gets the benefit of the doubt now that more of the guys he recruited are becoming upperclassmen.


David Shaw, Stanford

After Jim Harbaugh left Stanford for the 49ers, his offensive coordinator David Shaw picked up right where he left off and has led the school to a 73-22 record in seven seasons. The Cardinal have won three Pac-12 titles in that span—the most in the conference. Shaw’s calling-card is offense, but Stanford plays tough defense and is competitive every week.


Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Gus Malzahn had Auburn as close as possible to a national title in his first season at the school, losing on a touchdown in the final 15 seconds versus Florida State. The Tigers went through an average stretch the next three seasons, but they bounced back with a 10-4 record and a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance last year. Malzahn’s balanced, quick offensive attack is one of the best in the nation.


James Franklin, Penn State

Former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin had a tough task taking over Penn State after Bill O’Brien steadied the program, but he built on O’Brien’s success and took the program to another level the last two seasons. The Nittany Lions are now back among the blue-chip college football schools, going toe-to-toe with other top-tier teams like Ohio State in the difficult Big Ten. Franklin has recruited some big-time athletes to Penn State, probably because he’s an energized motivator kids like to play for.


Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

The Elite 15 ends with another head coach that played for the school he’s coaching. Paul Chryst has led Wisconsin to three double-digit-win seasons in his first three years leading the team, and they’ve gotten better each season—including three bowl wins, two of which were New Year’s Six Bowls. The Badgers run the ball and play stingy defense, a recipe that’s worked exceptionally well for Chryst.


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