Athlon Sports: Ranking All 130 College Football Head Coaches for 2017

Submitted by LLG on July 2nd, 2017 at 5:52 PM

#3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

With Harbaugh at the helm, it’s only a matter of time before Michigan is in the CFB Playoff and among the nation’s best every year. The Wolverines are 20-6 overall and 13-4 in Big Ten play under Harbaugh’s direction. One reason Michigan is poised for a return to the top of college football? Recruiting. The Wolverines have inked back-to-back top-five classes and another standout haul is on the way for 2018. Harbaugh also has a track record of success. At San Diego, he went 7-4 in his first year (2004) and proceeded to record a 22-2 mark over the next two seasons. After going 4-8 in his debut at Stanford (2007), Harbaugh improved the program’s win total in three consecutive years, culminating in a 12-1 finish in 2010. After a 44-19-1 mark with the 49ers from 2011-14, Harbaugh returned to his alma mater and is one of the nation’s best coaches.

Mark Dantonio is ranked #13.  



Mr. Yost

July 2nd, 2017 at 6:45 PM ^

Which would be accurate if we're honest.

#4 is the debate I like to start on here. I always says it's Dabo and I get killed because people don't like him. Toss in the fact that Chris Petersen brought Washington back from the dead last year and I was extra wrong.

However, they put Jimbo at #4 and Dabo at #5.

I also like to stand up for David Shaw as a top 10 coach. He's #7. I personally think that's too high, but he's a much better coach than people here like to give him credit for.

I'd put Whittingham ahead of D'antoni and Franklin without question. 

In all, it's not a bad list and I'm glad Hugh Freeze isn't in the top 20. 


July 2nd, 2017 at 9:10 PM ^

I'd like to see what Swinney does post-Watson.  If he keeps the engine running, then I like the #4 or #5 ranking.

I like Petersen a lot, and what he did at Washington was terrific.  If he sustains it, his #6 is reasonable.

Bill Snyder at #8 raises an eyebrow.  I have a lot of respect for what he accomplishes at K-State.  But if that's the criteria -- maximizing output given limited input -- then the list swizzles a bit.  

Gary Patterson at #9 doesn't feel right.  Just a gut feeling.


July 3rd, 2017 at 4:28 PM ^

maximizing output given limited input

If that is the criteria, then Bill Snyder is #1, 2, and 3.

What he has been able to do at Kansas State is stunning.

As somebody who has watched college football since the 70's, I can remember when Kansas State was one of the worst programs in the country by far with no hope of turning that around.

They have no natural advantages whatsoever.  The idea that they could become consistently good, much less championship-level, was completely ludicrous.




July 2nd, 2017 at 11:31 PM ^

Has won big at every collegiate spot he's been at, and hard to argue with 3 national titles and that doesn't include undefeated seasons with Utah in 2004 and Ohio St in 2012. Saban has 5 national titles .

Let's not kid ourselves . Those two are in a level of their own right now with success and current status .


July 3rd, 2017 at 10:49 AM ^

Yes at the college level, but if you are unwilling to challenge yourself at the top level I just can't respect you as much as others who at least tried. Who is the winningest coach in High school right know or ever. Are they a better coach than anyone currently coaching in the big ten. Hmm.


July 3rd, 2017 at 11:12 AM ^

The best on the field coach between Harbaugh, Meyer and Saban is Jim Harbaugh. That is a 100% accurate statement and most experts would agree. I just read an article on this subject on how Meyer has to continue to out recruit Harbaugh because of the coaching edge. Look at the coordinators Meyer needs. When Wilson and Schianno leave which I feel will be soon enough then we will see how the great Meyer does. He is not a better coach than Harbaugh and I will not bend on that. Dantonio is a better coach than Meyer. When you consistently have the best talent in the united states you should win. Let Meyer coach Rutgers this year and Saban can coach Vanderbilt and will see how they do. This is about recruiting and apples and oranges comparisons. Yes they are some of the best coaches but look at the programs they coach at. Peterson is a very good coach also. It's all apples and oranges to me until you have a proven track record at the NFL level. Harbaugh and Smith and maybe Mora.


July 3rd, 2017 at 7:22 PM ^

Big time......
Jim Harbaugh>Bear Bryant.... right?
By your rationalization, is Pete Carrol better than Jim Harbaugh? Or in that instance is head to head matchups what decide it?
And if so, is Urban Lyer better than coach because he has beaten him twice? Be impartial or lose credibility with your opinion.

AA Forever

July 2nd, 2017 at 7:38 PM ^

Based on what they've actually done as college coaches, Fisher and Swinney should both be higher, along with Sabah and Meyer. Right now, the competition is between Harbaugh and Petersen.

AA Forever

July 2nd, 2017 at 10:28 PM ^

It's about who the best coaches are right now.  Swinney and Fisher have better records and have done more as college coaches than Harbaugh.  That's not even remotely disputable, and neither shows any signs of falling off.  After the top 4, Harbaugh and Petersen are the next two, and we'll see over the next 2 or 3 years which one is better.  

AA Forever

July 3rd, 2017 at 7:11 AM ^

And has averaged 11 wins a season since then, with two playoff appearances and a NC.

Swinney also took over a 7-6 team, and has gone 14-1 the last two years, getting to the NC game both years, winning one.

Both of these guys are coaching at a higher level than Harbaugh right now. That's just a fact. Harbaugh hasn't even won a division championship here yet. Maybe he'll get to that level, but he hasn't yet.


July 7th, 2017 at 3:15 AM ^

Jimbo inherited a 7-6 team, and proceeded to go 19-8 in his first two years.
Dabo inherited a 7-6 team, and proceeded to go 13-12* in his first two full years.
*after going 4-3 as interim in that 7-6 year

Harbaugh inherited a 5-7 team and is 20-6 after two years.

Just facts, but Jim has easily done better. You're giving Dabo and Jimbo credit for having already established a program and comparing that to what Jim has done in two years. What Harbaugh's done is more impressive and shows a much better job of coaching.

Mr. Yost

July 3rd, 2017 at 6:58 PM ^

Honest questions...

Do you all think Harbaugh could've won equal to Swinney and Fisher if he arrived at those schools when they did?

Do you all think Swinney and Fisher could've won at Stanford if they arrived in Palo Alto when Harbaugh did?

I'm not suggesting anyting or saying this should be the determining factor - I just choose to believe that what Harbaugh did at Stanford proved he was a great football coach and I don't think Fisher or Swinney would've had the same success or better. However, I DO believe Harbaugh would have similar or better success if he was coaching FSU or Clemson for an equal period of time.

I also think what Harbaugh's done at Michigan doesn't get enough credit. He changed the culture, became a recruiting power...and no, you shouldn't get credit for losses, but that team last year was 4 plays away from a playoff and playing those Clemson Tigers in a 2/3 game.

They barely lost to FSU. My point is, the separation isn't that great.

And for the poster who gives Fisher credit for the head to head win...that is so stupid. #1 - Michigan didn't have it's best player. #2 - they barely won...that doesn't make either coach better than the other. It's sports...someone has to win. Kirk Ferentz isn't a better coach than Jim Harbaugh. #3 - the logic discounts someone like Harbaugh who had a MUCH lesser team when he was at Stanford for the first 3 years.


July 2nd, 2017 at 8:03 PM ^

Sorry, but #3 is definitely too high at this point. 


We are ranking "college" football coaches, after all. Dabo and Jimbo both deserve it more than Harbaugh, especially with the latter beating Jim last season head to head. 


Harbaugh should fall somewhere in the #5-8 range, until he wins the Big Ten and threatens for a national championship. 


July 2nd, 2017 at 8:22 PM ^

as if that is useful against Harbaugh's case? He took San Diego and Stanford from nothing to excellent and took a floundering Michigan program and took them to 10-3 in his 1st 2 years. I think it's hard to argue he's not top 5.

It took Jimbo 5 years to get Clemson nationally relevant. He's done a great job, but it's not like he was revelation there immediately. And for Jimbo- I don't think it's really a favorable comparsion for Jimbo. Yeah he won, but we were down Jabrill Peppers and Jake Butt and the game was Florida and we still lost by 1. I call that a push

I mean, 10-3 is 10-3, but of Jim's 6 losses only one was by more than one possession - the ugly 2015 OSU game. His track record is excellent


July 2nd, 2017 at 9:12 PM ^

Jimbo Fisher also has. National title, to go along with six straight NY6 bowl appearances and theee ACC titles. I don't think the head to head result should make a difference when looking at the two but the argument for Fisher over Harbaugh can be made without it.

This ranking doesn't make sense to me though. I know it's hard to do objectively, but they need a more defined system IMO


July 2nd, 2017 at 8:27 PM ^

21. Jim McElwain
24. Kirk Ferentz
25. Brian Kelly
29. Hugh Freeze
30. Butch Jones

It gets thin pretty fast outside the top 20, but not sure I agree with having most of those guys in front of guys like Ken Niumatalolo or Willie Taggart


July 2nd, 2017 at 8:52 PM ^

This list shows me how small of a list of sure winners there are - I'd take the top 9 and then Kyle Whittingham who I think is always overlooked.  Everyone outside of that is a meh to me.

Top 2 are by themselves and then I could argue a lot of people #3 thru #10 in different orders.

Fuentes and Herman will be interesting in the next 24 months - they will either vault into the top 10 or see their stars dim fast.


July 3rd, 2017 at 4:35 PM ^

I cringe to think what would have happened if we did not get Harbaugh.  There are not a lot of appelaing options out there.

Dan Mullen was a hot name for a while there during the post-Hoke coaching search as our Plan B, mostly because there were no better options.



July 3rd, 2017 at 1:26 AM ^

"Has won big at every collegiate spot he's been at, and hard to argue with 3 national titles and that doesn't include undefeated seasons with Utah in 2004 and Ohio St in 2012. Saban has 5 national titles .

Let's not kid ourselves . Those two are in a level of their own right now with success and current status ."


"Based on what they've actually done as college coaches, Fisher and Swinney should both be higher, along with Sabah and Meyer."


I really don't get this site. I said practically the same exact thing and get negged to minus 99 million points and was told to go suck off Urban Meyer. Not that I care about the point system, it makes me stand out. :)


July 7th, 2017 at 7:40 PM ^

Believe what you want. Have the site administrator run an IP comparison for all I care. Call me Donald Trump. Whatever helps you sleep at night. If you're comparing me to this Maizen person I like him/her already! Anyways, I couldn't care less. Matter of fact, this'll be the last time I'll address it. Stop wasting my time with trivial nonsense.


July 3rd, 2017 at 7:58 AM ^

This list is totally dependant on what your are actually ranking. Ranking by college accomplishment is an easier task and Little Nicky and Satan are definately 1-2. Fisher and Swinney are probably 3-4. And Mork would be top 6 or 7 for sure.

But if you are ranking the best coach, Harbaugh is 1. This is clearly more subjective but Harbaughs NFL success and where his teams were when he took over, weighs in here.


July 3rd, 2017 at 8:21 AM ^

I guess I got the article confused. Who is the best college coach is what it should read. College coaching has so much to do with recruiting. I also thought the NFL was the pinicle of playing and coaching. If a NFL team was looking for the best college coach who would they choose?. Would there first two choices be Meyer and Saban?. Maybe I am just naive, but I would think the NFL would want the best coaches. I wondered if you polled the 32 gm's who they thought were the best coaching candidates what this list would look like. I know one thing without even looking at the list, Lovie Smith would be right up near the top. Harbaugh and Smith have both coached a team to the super bowl which to me is a far greater accomplishment then going to a national championship game win or lose. That is because there is far greater parody in the league. As far as on the field coaching goes this list is not close. As far as recruiting, player development and use of boosters, maybe it is.

AA Forever

July 3rd, 2017 at 11:02 AM ^

than Saban or Meyer?  After two 3 loss seasons here?  And how will he "cement" himself as the best college coach in the country in two years?  Even if he won NCs the next two years (which he won't), that wouldn't put him above those guys.

Just curious how you defend that, without invoking the NFL (since we're talking about COLLEGE coaching here, a very different game).