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Big 12 Football: Ranking the League’s Head Coaches

Despite several new faces, the conference is top-heavy in leadership.

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Forty percent of Big 12 teams have new coaches entering the 2019 season.

Gone seem to be the days when coaches leave the league as Les Miles did for the SEC. In fact, Miles will eat Big 12 grass this season. There is a lot of excitement around the newcomers, but they join a solid group. Here is a ranking for all 10 of the Big 12’s coaches entering the 2019 season.

1. Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma)

In two seasons as a head coach, Lincoln Riley’s Sooners have had two Heisman trophy winners, two Big 12 titles and made two College Football Playoffs.

That’s honestly enough said. But if you’d like some more, Riley has shown he is able to sustain his success by bringing in top-of-the-line transfers, and recruiting at an elite level. The Sooners finished second to Texas in Big 12 recruiting for the 2019 class, but Riley has a sizable early lead on the conference with his 2020 class that already boasts a five-star recruit and six four-stars.

2. Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State)

In his 14-year career, Mike Gundy has had one season with a losing record and six seasons with 10 or more wins.

Recency bias doesn’t put Gundy up as high as he is on this list, but with a wide scope, he has been a powerful point of the conference. With so much turnover, Gundy has been a rock in a conference when other coaching slots have looked like a revolving door.

3. Gary Patterson (TCU)

Gary Patterson’s steadiness is similar to Gundy’s, and there is an argument to be made that Patterson should be ahead of the Mullet on this list.

Patterson is the only coach TCU has known since it joined the Big 12 in 2012. Patterson-led Horned Frog teams have hit double-digit wins in 11 of his 18 full seasons in Fort Worth. That has slowed down a bit since TCU made the jump from the Group of Five level, yet still TCU has hit double-digits in three of its seven Big 12 seasons. Patterson, like Gundy, has statue-in-front-of-stadium status upon retirement for all he has done for the program.

4. Les Miles (Kansas)

The only coach with an FBS national championship ring in the conference is at what has been a perennial bottom-feeder.

It’s been a while since Miles’ 2007 BCS-winning season at LSU, but you can’t deny his credentials. Miles is only 28-21 as a Big 12 coach, but he was excellent at LSU, going 114-34. Miles having not coached since the 2016 season is a reason he isn’t higher on this list. He is already helping turn the Kansas program around. Miles has 21 players committed to Kansas’ 2020 class. That’s tied for the most in the country with Ole Miss. KU had only 19 players in its 2019 class, so with it only being July 3, that’s a definite upgrade.

5. Tom Herman (Texas)

Some might be surprised how low I have Tom Herman on this list. Although it does look as if he is turning Texas around, the Longhorns still must produce on all this promise.

I’m not ready to put one Sugar Bowl win ahead of the years of success Gundy, Patterson and Miles have. However in a few more years, Herman can fly up this list. After a successful 22-4 tenure at Houston, Herman hit a wall in his first season in Austin, going 7-6. The Longhorns looked more doomed in 2019, losing in Week 1 to Maryland before beating Tulsa by a lone touchdown at home. But Herman worked it out, and the Longhorns finished 2018 10-4 with a Sugar Bowl victory against Georgia. Things look promising going forward, as Texas had the league’s top recruiting class for 2019.

6. Matt Campbell (Iowa State)

Before Matt Campbell became Iowa State’s head man in 2016, the Cyclones last winning season was in 2009.

Campbell had a rough Year 1, going 3-9, but back-to-back 8-5 seasons have put the program in a remarkably better spot than many would’ve imagined upon the hire.

7. Chris Klieman (Kansas State)

A four-time FCS national champion coach, Chris Klieman is an exciting hire to the conference.

Klieman’s North Dakota State dynasty was an outstanding group regardless of classification, but there are obvious differences between the FCS and FBS levels. One of those differences is recruiting, something Klieman seems to be doing a good job of thus far, as his 2020 class sits third in the conference.

9. Neal Brown (West Virginia)

After three straight 10-win seasons and three bowl victories at Troy, Neal Brown is onto what’s been one of the better program’s in the conference, West Virginia.

Brown has won 69 percent of his games as as head coach entering his first Power Five season. He is still young in his coaching career, only having been a head coach for four seasons, but Browns hire is a promising one for West Virginia.

9. Matt Rhule (Baylor)

Matt Rhule’s tenure at Baylor hasn’t gotten off to a roaring start, but neither did his time at Temple.

The Bears were 1-11 in 2017 and improved to 7-6 this past season. That’s a similar projection of the 2-10 to 6-6 jump Rhule’s first two teams took at Temple. The next two seasons at Temple, Rhule’s Owls won double-digit games. I wouldn’t say the Bears are going to do that next season, but they look to be recovering from the programs darker years.

10. Matt Wells (Texas Tech)

Matt Wells comes to Tech after an excellent 10-2 year at Utah State, but I’m not the most sold on him quite yet.

Although Wells’ Utah State squad was awesome in 2018, that was the Aggies first winning record since 2014. Wells was 44-34 at Utah State, but he brings a lot of promise particularly on the offensive side of the ball, something that fits into what already existed at Tech.

 

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