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Is Mike Gundy a Top-15 Coach in College Football Right Now?

How does he stack up against Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh?



My colleagues over at 247 Sports came out with an intriguing top 25 list this week of the 25 best coaches in college football. Mike Gundy was involved (unlike in a few other top-25 lists), and I want to discuss.

First, here’s the full list.

1. Nick Saban
2. Dabo Swinney
3. Ed Orgeron
4. Kirby Smart
5. Lincoln Riley
6. James Franklin
7. Ryan Day
8. Dan Mullen
9. Jimbo Fisher
10. Brian Kelley
11. Paul Chryst
12. Mario Cristobal
13. Gus Malzahn
14. Mike Gundy
15. Mark Stoops
16. P.J. Fleck
17. Scott Satterfield
18. Jim Harbaugh
19. Kirk Ferentz
20. David Shaw
21. Jeremy Pruitt
22. Pat Fitzgerald
23. Gary Patterson
24. Kyle Whittingham
25. Mike Leach

Whoo buddy, there is a lot going on here. Some notes and thoughts below.

• I guess my primary point in all of this is that I value longevity more than this list reflects. To me, what Gary Patterson, Kyle Whittingham, David Shaw, Mike Leach and Mike Gundy have done is far more impressive than Ryan Day or Lincoln Riley inheriting the keys to the kingdom. That doesn’t mean I think Riley or Day are bad coaches, I just don’t know that we know enough (especially with Day) to crown them.

Maybe the trajectory of some other guys is better, but Gundy’s resume at a previously-lowly program like OSU for a decade and a half speaks for itself. Somebody like Ryan Day might be a better coach, and I have no problem with him being ranked ahead of Gundy, but I’m just not sure the proof is there yet.

• Counterpoint: Taking over a monster and nearly winning it all is probably more difficult than people would think — could Gundy have steered Ohio State to within a play of the title game last year? Maybe. That’s why this is such a fun debate. What even is a good coach?!

• Orgeron at No. 3? I get it, titles cover a multitude of sins. But do we legitimately think Ed Orgeron is that much better as a college football coach than Mike Gundy? As a recruiter, sure, and that’s part of this whole thing (and costly to Gundy in the grand scheme), but that’s really high up the list for somebody who was 41-36 this time last year.

• On the flip side, does anyone following college football not think Dabo and Saban are 1-2 in some order? What Dabo has done at Clemson is out-of-this-world good. Sure, something might come out 10 years from now that Clemson was funneling money through its lacrosse program to pay top-25 recruits to come to school (it’s more likely that spending a BOATLOAD of cash to entertain recruits is the answer), but on the surface his body of work has been staggering.

• There are so many ways to think about this stuff that it’s almost impossible to come up with the right list. Do you value somebody like Gundy who has done absolute work at a school with little to no history? Saban, who has resurrected one of the all-time giants? Dabo, who is basically Gundy MAX? Do you value one title or eight 10-win seasons? Do you value mild success in the SEC over great success in the Pac-12? What about how a coach projects? Do you dock a coach who has been average the last few years (like Gundy)? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I do know it makes for interesting discussion.

• Let’s re-rank these guys by career winning percentage.

1. Ryan Day
2. Lincoln Riley
3. Dabo Swinney
4. Nick Saban
5. Kirby Smart
6. Jimbo Fisher
7. Scott Satterfield
8. David Shaw
9. Brian Kelly
10. Gary Patterson
11. James Franklin
12. Gus Malzahn
13. Kyle Whittingham
14. Paul Chryst
15. Mike Gundy
16. Jim Harbaugh
17. Dan Mullen
18. Kirk Ferentz
19. Ed Orgeron
20. Mike Leach
21. P.J. Fleck
22. Pat Fitzgerald
23. Jeremy Pruitt
24. Mark Stoops
25. Mario Cristobal

Pretty fascinating here, and Gundy ends up in almost exactly the same spot he was before. The Lincoln number is pretty tough to swallow given that he’s been there for three seasons now (OU is 36-6, or 12-2 every year). Dan Mullen maybe a little overrated? David Shaw maybe a lot underrated? I also didn’t realize James Franklin was that high up there. Mario Cristobal ? — he went 27-47 at FIU and somehow got hired at Oregon (where he’s actually done pretty well).

• Anyway, all things considered, I think Gundy is probably a top-15 guy (or really close to it) given the body of work. Yes, it only includes one conference title, but OSU is a top-15 Power 5 program since he took over in 2005.

That’s a long time with a lot of coaching changes elsewhere.

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• And finally, a tweet to end your Friday.

Happy weekend to all.

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