Recent seasons have seen six Big 12 coaches guide teams to BCS berths. As much as any league outside the SEC, the Big 12 is loaded with big-name coaches. The No. 1 debate is a difficult one. How do you choose between a potential Hall of Fame, frequent conference-winning coach and a legendary coach who resuscitated an otherwise pathetic program (twice).
A pair of on-the-rise coaches has elevated their programs to respectable heights. Then, of course, there is the young newcomer in Lubbock who comes in with plenty of excitement – but no track record as a head coach.
Oh, and the guy in Austin won the league’s most recent BCS national title.
Here is our list:
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
By all means, please continue mocking Stoops for his recent inability to win big games. Just remember the moniker “Big-Game Bob” carried great relevance before taking on a more patronizing tone. Also remember that big games, when you get to Stoops’ level, are championship games and losses. For the public beating Stoops takes at times, his overall record speaks for itself. In 14 seasons, he has won eight conference championships, one national championship and has been to the BCS National Championship Game twice. Oklahoma has won 10 or more games in 11 of his 14 years. The Sooners have been to more BCS bowls (eight) than non-BCS bowls (six).
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Snyder inherited a program and took it from the dregs of national college football to a regular national contender. Snyder left, the program fell apart. He came back and the Wildcats surged back to the top of the conference – winning the Big 12 last season. Any tradition that exists at Kansas State is courtesy of Snyder. Winning in Manhattan, Kan. has never been easy but Snyder has made a career of it. Ten-win seasons didn’t exist at K-State before Snyder. He has eight to his credit. When your team plays in a stadium named for you, it’s because the work you have done is nothing short of spectacular.
3. Gary Patterson, TCU
Had Patterson come in and won the Big 12 immediately, he would be atop this list. He didn’t, though, in large part because of the first off-field scandal during his 13-year tenure – one that rocked the program and (arguably) contributed to starting QB Casey Pachall leaving the team four games into the season. Dennis Franchione put TCU on the map, but Patterson took the program to new dimensions. There is no TCU in the Big 12 without Patterson turning it into a juggernaut national contender from a mid-major conference. Under Patterson, TCU won four Mountain West championships in seven seasons. It also won Conference USA and WAC crowns. In 2009 and 2010, TCU went 25-1 with two BCS appearances and a Rose Bowl win in 2010. Plenty of Horned Frog fans still think that team could have beaten Auburn or Oregon if given the opportunity. Instead, TCU had to settle for No. 2 in the postseason poll. The next step is for Patterson to prove he can put TCU onto the same scale from a bigger conference.
4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Only a 2011 second-half road meltdown at Iowa State keeps Gundy off the list of Big 12 coaches who have led their programs to the BCS National Championship Game. That Oklahoma State team fared well, going 12-1 and winning Gundy’s lone BCS appearance. The Cowboys have won a conference championship and tied for a division title since Gundy took the reins in 2005. His offensive prowess has morphed Oklahoma State into a regular conference championship contender.
5. Mack Brown, Texas
Brown is one of two Big 12 coaches with a BCS national championship to his name – Stoops being the other. However, no coach has done less with more than Brown over the past two seasons. Texas seemingly never stops hauling in recruiting classes stockpiled with five-star recruits. Yet those highly prized talents have combined to stumble to a disappointing combined 22-16 record over the past three seasons. At least 2012 showed Brown is on the verge of returning the Longhorns to where they belong. They went 9-4 with a bowl win over a game Oregon State team. Brown has won two conference championships and has led Texas to a couple appearances in the BCS National Championship Game, beating USC in 2005 and losing to Alabama in 2009. Texas fans, it should be noted, still believe they might have another title if not for Colt McCoy getting injured very early in the 2009 tilt. Brown’s struggles against Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops – the Texas coach is 5-9 in the head-to-head matchup – keep him from ranking higher on this list. Instead of numerous conference titles, Brown had to settle for several co-division champion distinctions because Texas didn’t have the tiebreaker over the Sooners. Brown has led the Longhorns to five top-five finishes nationally during his 15 seasons.
6. Art Briles, Baylor
Four years ago, talking about Baylor as a bowl team led to scoffs and smirks. Thanks to Briles, simply making a bowl game is setting the bar low in Waco, Texas. The Bears have made bowl games in each of their last three seasons – including trips to the Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl in consecutive years. Briles also mentored the program’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner when Robert Griffin III nabbed the game’s highest honor in 2011. Losing Griffin didn’t slow Briles, who replaced his star pupil with a less-heralded quarterback in Nick Florence and didn’t miss a beat. Briles’ overall 33-30 record at Baylor doesn’t rank him high on this list. His ability to lift the Bears from the doldrums of the Big 12 does. Nobody looks at Baylor as a potential Homecoming game any longer. Briles received some feelers during the offseason but ultimately decided to stay with his program. Now he tries to jump from the league’s middle-class into the elite.
7. Dan Holgorsen, West Virginia
The free-spirited, third-year coach of West Virginia won the Big East – and dominated the Orange Bowl – during his first year at the helm. It looked like the Mountaineers had a chance to reach even greater heights a season later – their first in the Big 12 – before a disastrous final stretch of the season. This year will be a real test for Holgorsen, who must replace his best three offensive weapons from last year. Holgorsen made a name for himself as one of the nation’s top offensive minds. He built that reputation by serving as offensive coordinator for Mike Leach for three seasons, Kevin Sumlin for two and Mike Gundy for another. Those three coaches know a little about offense. Holgorsen’s lack of experience makes him a difficult coach to place with plenty of room to fluctuate within the next season.
8. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Few coaches nationally have shown a better ability to do more with less than Rhoads has during his four seasons at Iowa State. An Iowa man, Rhoads got his chance in 2009 and has made the most of it by compiling a better-than-it-looks-under-the-circumstances 24-27 record. It’s not as though the Cyclones have the resources or fertile recruiting ground of Oklahoma or Texas. Yet Rhoads has managed to get ISU into three bowl games over his first four seasons. It’s rare that Cyclones possess much more than grit, guts and guile, but – like their coach – they have those traits in spades. Rhoads’ coaching has consistently resulted in overachieving teams and big upsets.
9. Charlie Weis, Kansas
Back in the spring of 2007, Weis seemed poised for a long, successful college football career. Of course, that assumed he would stay in college rather than leaving to become an NFL head coach. Weis guided Notre Dame to a 19-6 mark through his first two seasons with back-to-back trips to BCS bowls. Granted, the Fighting Irish lost both games, but after underachieving under Tyrone Willingham, fans were willing to look past the bowl disappointments. Then the bottom fell out on Weis. Notre Dame went 3-9 in 2007 followed by a combined 13-12 mark over the next two seasons. Those three substandard seasons led to Weis being fired at Notre Dame. His prickly personality – he learned from Bill Belichik, after all – led to his not receiving another head-coaching shot as soon as he otherwise might have. Instead, he returned to the NFL ranks where he rehabilitated his reputation by transforming the Kansas City Chiefs into a strong offense team in Year 2. After his stop in KC, Weis left to coordinate Will Muschamp’s offense at Florida – a failed one-year experiment that might have ended regardless of whether Weis accepted the Kansas head-coaching position. The situation Weis inherited was hardly an enviable one – predecessor Turner Gill went 5-19 in his only two seasons before being fired. Weis made little improvement in wins and losses during his first season, watching his team go 1-11 with an 0-9 in-conference mark.
10. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Despite having been an assistant coach for just five seasons, Texas Tech made the bold call to hire Kingsbury in light of Tommy Tuberville seeking greener pastures. What Kingsbury lacks in experience, he makes up for in results. His offenses have helped Case Keenum become one of the nation’s most prolific passers and paved the road for Johnny Manziel’s Heisman path. The Texas Tech administration made a gamble in hiring the former standout quarterback, but he has energized – and galvanized – the fan base. As a Mike Leach product, Kingsbury inspires hope that the Red Raiders can reach similar – if not greater – heights than under his mentor.
Topics: Baylor Bears, Big 12, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders, West Virginia Mountaineers