So the school president is tired of losing and wants a winning college football program? And it has to happen now?
The first call is to the athletic director – we are taking a naïve approach by saying the call doesn’t go to a big-time booster – and if said person is worth his/her salt, a list of names is already compiled. Winning is big business not only to an athletic department, but to a school. Merchandise sales soar, enrollment applications go up, the visibility of the university climbs and donations increase. Winning cures a bunch of ails, and getting those coveted W’s quickly can turn around the fortune of a school.
Granted, there may be a bump or three or (seven) in the road when it comes to the pesky NCAA, or your school may find itself on a television scrawl because of a police blotter incident or four if the long requirement is winning, but look around the country and you can see how often that is overlooked by an alumni base drooling for on-field success.
Money is not an issue, and neither is the arrest or graduation record of a team as long as the on-field product is one of success, so we did the easy part for presidents and athletic directors and stripped the search down to bare bones.
If a football programs needs to win now, open up the check book because there are five clear choices to hire:
Overall record: 182-92-1
Snyder is up there in years, but he can coach and he knows how to use personnel. Before he arrived at Kansas State, the program had one season in which it won six games between 1971 and 1988. He got the program rolling and then retired, only to come out of retirement when Ron Prince struggled in three seasons, and he is having a huge amount of success again.
In his time in Manhattan, Kan., Snyder won nine or more games nine times, and he went through a seven-year span in which he won at least 11 games six times. He mastered hitting the junior college ranks to fill out a roster, and made Kansas State so successful it replaced Prince after he went 17-20 in three seasons. Before Snyder arrived, that would have earned Prince a statue in front of the stadium.
Overall record 222-82-2
Before Spurrier landed as Duke’s coach in the late 1980s, the program had not won seven games in a season since 1962. In the last two of his three seasons in Durham, N.C., Spurrier went 7-3-1 and 8-4. In the four seasons before he arrived at Florida, winning seven games was the bench mark for the program. In his first season, Spurrier went 9-2, and that was his lowest number of wins with the Gators.
Spurrier went on to win six Southeastern Conference titles and a national championship with the Gators, and after a failed spell in the NFL, he returned to the SEC …but this time at South Carolina. He arrived with the Gamecocks in a bowl appearance drought, and entered 2014 with a 42-11 record the four previous seasons.
3. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Overall record: 51-23 (college only)
There is a reason so many Michigan fans are trying to fast-forward through the fall and to the end of the NFL season. They want to know if Harbaugh, the gritty former quarterback and favorite son of the Ann Arbor, Mich., faithful, wants to come back.
Forget, for a moment, Harbaugh’s stellar NFL record. Take at look at what he did in college. He was at the University of San Diego for two seasons and put together back-to-back 11-1 campaigns. He then moved to Stanford and built a rock solid program, and turned the Cardinal into a national power. Stanford was 1-11 the year before Harbaugh arrived. He finished his Stanford career 29-21, and that included going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl after the 2010 season. He built such a strong foundation it set in place for his successor, David Shaw, to go 34-7 in his first three seasons.
Overall record: 174-58-1 (college only)
Of course, Saban is on the list. The shock of him not being No. 1? Well, upon closer examination, it will make sense. It took Saban one year to show he could coach, and that came when he went 9-2 in 1990 at Toledo. The two previous seasons ended 6-5 for the Rockets, but he took off for an assistant’s job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and he waited a few years before he was handed the reigns of Michigan State’s program.
Saban had success with the Spartans, but it took some time. It wasn’t until his fifth year he won nine games, but his ability to win since is ridiculous. Since going 9-2 in 1999, Saban has won at least eight games in all but one season. The exception was in 2007, when he took over an Alabama team that went 6-7 the year before.
Before taking over Michigan State, the program had three straight losing seasons. He had none. Before taking over LSU, the Tigers won seven games the combined two previous seasons. Saban won eight in his first season, and won at least that many in each of the following, including a national title. Since Saban’s first year at Alabama, his worst season was 10-3, and he won three national championships.
Overall record: 132-26-0
Ridiculous doesn’t do justice to Meyer’s ability to win, and win quickly. His worst season – WORST! – was in his last year at Florida, when he went 8-5. The Buckeyes are his fourth headcoaching stop, and in the first year of taking over a new program, Meyer is 39-8.
In 12 full seasons, Meyer won at least 10 games seven times.
In the two years prior to his arrival at Bowling Green, the program was 7-15. He went 17-6 in two seasons. The year before he arrived at Utah, the Utes went 5-6. He was 22-2, including a 12-0 season and a Fiesta Bowl win. Prior to his tenure at Florida, the Gators were 7-5. He went 9-3 in his first season and went on two win two national titles.
And then there is Ohio State. The program was rolling when Jim Tressel was ousted, and it struggled to a 6-7 finish then. However, prior to that Ohio State won at least 10 games in eight of nine seasons, so the bar was pretty high already.
So what did Meyer do to top that? How about go 12-0 in his first season, 12-2 last season and 28-3 overall as Ohio State’s head coach?