The Top 25 Head Coaches in College Football History

Which head coaches have been most successful at leading teams to victories and championships? Here are the 25 best coaches in college football history.

What classifies someone to even be considered among the best head coaches in college football? It is a question that has started many a barroom argument and heated internet debate over the years.

Ultimately, even the most heated debaters would tend to agree on a few key things:

  1. Great head coaches win. They wins games, they wins championships, and they keeps on winning. To be considered in this analysis, a coach had to have at least two recognized national championships on his resume. That served as the starting point for the analysis that follows.
  2. A great coach has staying power. Even if they don’t stay at the same school, notable head coaches will always have a job for as long as they want a job.
  3. That said, a great coach more than anything wins consistently. A coach who wins only two national championships in four decades of coaching is going to suffer in comparison to a coach who needs less time to haul in more hardware. Winning percentage and championship win rate are both factored into this analysis as well.

First I weighted a total for each of these categories so that they represent the coaches along a 1-10 scale. I then tabulated the totals from the five categories. That provided the final score that determined which head coaches ultimately made the final cut. Click ahead to see which legendary head coaches made the Top 25.

25. Red Blaik

Earl “Red” Blaik’s legend hovers over service academy football. But it is important to remember that the longtime Army head coach actually got his start at Dartmouth. While at Dartmouth, he led the team to seven straight records of .500 or better between 1934 and 1940. Convinced to take the job at West Point after Army had eased the restrictions on both size requirements and hiring only graduates as coaches, Blaik soon built his legend at the U.S. Military Academy.

Between 1944 and 1946, Army went 27-0-1 and won three straight national titles. “Mr. Inside” Doc Blanchard and “Mr. Outside” Glenn Davis won the Heisman Trophy in 1945 and 1946 respectively. Blaik’s teams dominated college football, with 13 shutouts in those 28 games (including the 0-0 tie with No. 2 Notre Dame in 1946 that forced Army to split the national title with the Fighting Irish).

Blaik also boasted a coaching tree that included legendary head coaches such as Vince Lombardi, Sid Gillman, Paul Dietzel, and Murray Warmath. His teams also finished with unbeaten records in 1948, 1949, and his final season before retirement in 1958.

24. Wallace Wade

When they name an entire stadium after you, it is likely that you did something special. That is certainly the case with Wallace Wade, who is a legend at two schools. In his first act as a head coach, Wade took over at Alabama in 1923. Within three years, he had won his first national championship after guiding the Crimson Tide to the school’s first unbeaten record and a landmark win in the 1926 Rose Bowl.

The Tide repeated as national champions in 1926 after another undefeated season, and added another national title in 1929 under Wade. But in a move that surprised the world at the time and that seems even more shocking in retrospect, Wade left Tuscaloosa after 1930 to take over at Duke. There he led the Blue Devils to six Southern Conference titles. Duke also finished in the top three of the AP poll in both 1938 and 1941.

Wade finished just ahead of Army’s Red Blaik due mainly to a slightly longer career with more wins and a marginally improved winning percentage. A legend at two schools, Wade is more than merely a name gracing the stadium where he spent the last two decades of his coaching career.

23. Darrell Royal

The man who played college ball for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma made his name coaching the Sooners’ Red River rival. Darrell Royal’s first head coaching job actually took place in the Canadian Football League, where he spent a year managing the Edmonton Eskimos. After his sojourn north of the border, Royal spent two largely forgettable years at Mississippi State and one at Washington before landing the gig in Austin.

As the head coach of the Longhorns, Royal quickly found success. He won his first Southwest Conference title after three years, and by 1963 he had led Texas to the university’s first national title. That season Royal’s Longhorns capped an undefeated season with a win over No. 2 Navy in the Cotton Bowl. Royal would lead the team to two more national titles, winning back-to-back crowns in 1969 and 1970.

In over two decades of coaching, Royal’s teams did not finish with a losing record even once. Twenty years after his retirement, Texas paid the ultimate tribute to the most decorated coach in school history by renaming their stadium Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

22. Bud Wilkinson

When Bud Wilkinson took over in Norman in 1947, the University of Oklahoma was still a stepping-stone destination for head coaches in college football.

Thomas Stidham and Jim Tatum had both won Big Six titles with the Sooners before moving on to other positions. Tatum’s departure opened the door for Wilkinson, and he used the opportunity to launch Oklahoma from a springboard school to a national powerhouse.

The Sooners would not relinquish hold of the conference title for Wilkinson’s first thirteen years at the helm.

By year four of his reign, Wilkinson claimed his first national title after a 10-0 regular season.

Between 1948 and 1950, the Sooners would win 31 straight games before their Sugar Bowl loss to Kentucky on New Year’s Day 1951. Then, between 1953 and 1957, his teams went 47 straight games without defeat.

The streak included national titles in 1955 and 1956 and another perfect record in 1954 where the Sooners finished third in the polls. After 1958, though, Oklahoma would not reach 10 wins until Chuck Fairbanks pulled it off in 1967.

By then, however, the Sooners were already a national brand name thanks to Wilkinson’s run of dominance.

21. Gil Dobie

“Gloomy” Gil Dobie might boast the most impressive streak among head coaches on this list. In 1906, he took his first head coaching job at North Dakota State. There he went 8-0 in two seasons before moving on to the Washington job. In nine seasons with the Huskies, Dobie went 58-0-3. From there he was hired to take over at Navy. He eventually lost his second game of his first season with the Midshipmen, ending a streak of 70 undefeated games to begin his coaching career.

When he took over for Cornell in 1920, Dobie’s career record stood at 84-3-3. The Big Red went 6-2 in his first season, then put up three straight 8-0 seasons from 1921 through 1923 that captured three straight national titles. It would prove the high-water mark of Dobie’s career, as he failed to post another unbeaten season over the final fifteen years of his career. Cornell tapered off to 2-11-1 in his final two seasons at the school, and he finished out his career at Boston College.

Dobie’s career gets lost in the shuffle because of the regression to the pack. But few head coaches can match the sheer magnitude of his dominance while in his prime. Dobie left an indelible mark on several schools over the course of a lengthy career.

20. Walter Camp

The man heralded as the “Father of American Football” wore many hats in the course of his long career in the sport. Camp was credited with innovations such as introducing the line of scrimmage and downs to the game. He wrote prolifically about the sport. But Camp also had a short but incredibly successful career as a college coach. He spent only eight seasons as a coach, but in that time he posted five undefeated seasons and three national championships.

Camp began coaching in 1888 at his alma mater, Yale, where he had played as a halfback in the 1870s. In five seasons with the Bulldogs, Camp lost only two out of 69 contests. The 1888 season saw Yale go 13-0 to win the Intercollegiate Football Association and the national title. Yale’s 10-0 loss to Princeton on November 28, 1889 ruined the chance of a second straight perfect season, and the Bulldogs lost to Harvard the following November to ruin another undefeated campaign.

But Yale would get the last laugh, winning Camp’s last 27 games at the school and taking the 1891 and 1892 national championships. Then, curiously, Camp bolted for the west coast and took over at Stanford for their 1892 season. He posted two unbeaten seasons and a 12-3-3 record during his time on the Farm, demonstrating an ability to win on either side of the country.

19. John McKay

Things honestly didn’t start all that great for John McKay with the Trojans. Taking over after Don Clark had resigned on the heels of an 8-2 season that ended with successive losses, McKay posted losing records in his first two years at the helm. Then everything came together in year three, as USC went 11-0 and defeated No. 2 Wisconsin 43-37 in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship.

Five years later, McKay’s Trojans won another national championship after knocking off Indiana in the 1968 Rose Bowl. Two more national titles followed, the first after USC finished 1972 with a perfect 12-0 record and the latter in in 1974 after a 10-1-1 season. During his tenure, Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy, and USC only twice finished outside the top three in the Pac-8 standings.

Ultimately, McKay decided to make the jump to the NFL when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. There were flashes of success in the pros, but nothing close to what McKay was able to achieve at USC.

18. George Washington Woodruff

George Washington Woodruff was a man of many successes. He served as Pennsylvania attorney general and acting Secretary of the Interior under Theodore Roosevelt. Before his political career was launched, though, Woodruff enjoyed a career spanning the 19th and 20th centuries as one of college football’s greatest head coaches. His teams at three different schools never finished a season with fewer than eight victories.

A former guard at Yale, Woodruff took over the Penn Quakers football team in 1892 and went 15-1. The only defeat in his inaugural season as a coach came against his alma mater as Yale went undefeated and won the national title. Two years later, without Yale on the schedule, Penn went 12-0 and won its first national championship. Penn went 14-0 for a second straight title in 1895 and won a third national championship by going 15-0 in 1897.

In their three national championship seasons, Woodruff’s Quakers posted 31 shutouts in 41 games. He went on to coach one season at Illinois, where he went 8-6 in 1903, and posted one more 10-win season at Carlisle in his final year of coaching in 1905.

17. Barry Switzer

Current generations remember Barry Switzer more for his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Super Bowls are great, but Switzer also remains one of the greatest head coaches in college football history. His time with Oklahoma built on the legacy of Bud Wilkinson and Chuck Fairbanks to turn the Sooners into a perennial national contender during the 1970s and 1980s. Oklahoma finished atop the Big Eight in 12 of his 16 seasons in Norman.

They also captured three national championships with Switzer at the helm. After going 10-0-1 in his first year as a head coach, Oklahoma followed up with an 11-0 season in 1974 that vaulted the Sooners to the top of the polls. Switzer’s crew successfully defended their national title in 1975, going 11-1 with another Big Eight title and a win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

A decade later, Switzer won his third national title with true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway leading the Sooners to the first of three straight 11-1 seasons.

Switzer will always be remembered as one of just three head coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl during his career. Ultimately, though, his exploits with Oklahoma overshadow even his NFL successes.

16. Bobby Bowden

For much of Bobby Bowden’s career, he was the head coach who kept coming oh-so-close to winning a national title but who could never quite manage to get over the last hurdle. His career actually began at Samford in 1959, where Bowden went 31-6 over four seasons before taking over at West Virginia. After six years in Morgantown, Bowden arrived at Florida State with a decade of coaching experience.

Within a few years in Tallahassee, Bowden had turned the Seminoles into a fixture in the national top 20. Florida State went 10-2 in 1977, 11-1 in 1979, and 10-2 in 1980. They finished as high as second in the final polls in 1987 and 1989, beginning a stretch of 14 straight seasons in the top five of the final AP and Coaches polls. But until they joined the ACC in 1992, the national title eluded Bowden and the Seminoles.

The 1990s proved much kinder to Bowden, as his team won the 1993 national title capped by an Orange Bowl victory and went undefeated in 1999 to take the second BCS national championship game. The Seminoles played in each of the first three national championship games under the BCS system, falling to Tennessee in 1998 and Oklahoma in 2000. Despite hanging on for another decade, though, Bowden never could recapture that glory in the 21st century.

15. Percy Haughton

Interestingly, Percy Haughton only played one season of college football during his matriculation at Harvard. He also played baseball at the school, and eventually went on to coach both sports at his alma mater. Haughton began his coaching career at Cornell, where he went 17-5 in two seasons leading the Big Red in 1899 and 1900. After that season, Haughton dropped off the map for nearly a decade before taking over as Harvard’s head coach in 1908.

In his first year leading his old school, Haughton led the Crimson to a 9-0-1 record that earned the school the national championship. The following year Harvard went 8-1, but returned to the top of the national picture in 1910 with another 9-0-1 season. The team regressed in 1911, but followed that up with back-to-back perfect 9-0 seasons and national titles in 1912 and 1913. Between 1911 and 1915, the Crimson posted a 33-game unbeaten streak under Haughton.

Haughton eventually left Harvard after 1916, resurfacing seven years later at Columbia. He coached the Lions to a 4-4-1 record in 1923, and had led Columbia to a 4-1 start to the 1924 season. Then, while coaching against Williams on Oct. 25, Haughton collapsed on the field and died two days later. It was a premature end to a celebrated career.

Apr 15, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes Scarlett team head coach Urban Meyer watches his offense during the first quarter of the annual spring game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

14. Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer is the first of two active head coaches on this list. He first made his name as the original BCS Buster before rebuilding both Florida and Ohio State. Back in 2004, Meyer was the hotshot coach that had led Utah to a Mountain West title, a perfect regular season, and an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl to face Big East champion Pittsburgh. Meyer coached the Utes to a landmark 35-7 demolition of the Panthers, then departed for the SEC.

With Florida, Meyer inherited a team that had fallen on hard times during former head coach Ron Zook’s tenure. In his second season leading the Gators, Meyer led Florida to its first national title in a decade. Two years later, he rode the unorthodox offensive firepower of Tim Tebow to bring a second national title to the Swamp. But after just five years with the team Meyer elected to leave the Gators in 2010, as he took a leave of absence to deal with health issues.

By 2012, he was back in coaching with Ohio State. After his first season ended prematurely due to sanctions on the Buckeyes from Jim Tressel’s time with the team, Meyer led Ohio State to the College Football Playoff national title in 2014. In Meyer’s five seasons in Columbus, the Buckeyes have won at least 11 games every season.

13. Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno will forever be a polarizing figure after the Jerry Sandusky scandal blemished his storied career at Penn State. He remains number one among head coaches in terms of wins at the I-A/FBS level, and coached in six different decades. But even if you set aside the circumstances that ended his tenure with the Nittany Lions and focus solely on his record on the field, Paterno doesn’t quite make the cut of the top dozen head coaches.

Paterno’s longevity is at once a positive mark and something which holds him back. No coach has more victories than the 409 compiled by Paterno, nor has anyone coached more games than the longtime Penn State leader.

However, the fact that the Nittany Lions won just two national championships during his tenure seriously hampers his championship rate totals. And the attempt to reach 400 wins also meant that Paterno’s winning percentage suffered through many a mediocre campaign.

Paterno’s legacy will always remain conflicted, and detaching his exploits on the field from what we now know about Sandusky will never be entirely possible. On the numbers alone, though, sitting in the middle of the Top 25 seems fair position for Paterno vis-à-vis other head coaches.

12. Bernie Bierman

Minnesota’s golden age came in the Depression era leading up to World War II. The Golden Gophers captured five national championships in an eight-year span between 1934 and 1941. All of the success was due in large part to the arrival of an alumnus as head coach. Bernie Bierman had already spent five forgettable seasons at Montana and Mississippi State before taking over at Tulane in 1927. In five years, he turned Tulane into a Southern Conference powerhouse and nearly won the 1931 national title.

By year three, he had also worked his magic at Minnesota. The Gophers won the first of three straight national titles in 1934. That year they outscored opponents 270 to 38 en route to a perfect 8-0 record.

They replicated the feat the following year, holding opponents to only 36 points all season. A third straight title came in 1936 despite losing 6-0 at Northwestern. After a losing season in 1939, the Gophers opened the 1940s with 16 straight victories and two more national titles in 1940 and 1941.

Bierman left Minnesota to coach the Iowa Pre-Flight team in 1942 at the beginning of the war. He returned to the Gophers in 1945 after the war, but could not recapture the magic of the 1930s. Bierman left after 1950 having seen his winning percentage plummet. In his first ten years at Minnesota, Bierman lost 12 total games; in his last six years from 1945 to 1950, he lost 23.

11. Tom Osborne

Right on the cusp of the top ten sits Tom Osborne. The Cornhuskers won three national titles in four years from 1994 to 1997 before Osborne retired, allowing the longtime Nebraska head coach to leave the sport at the pinnacle of his career. We remember him as an all-time great. But until that first title in 1994, Osborne was one of those coaches who seemed forever doomed to come close but never attain a title.

Osborne’s entire career was spent in Lincoln. He got his start in 1964 as an assistant to Bob Devaney. Working his way through the ranks on the staff, he was Devaney’s offensive coordinator when the Huskers won back-to-back national titles in 1970 and 1971.

For his first eight seasons, he kept Nebraska at a 9-to-10 win pace every year. He never could return the team to the top of the national polls, though. That nearly changed in 1983 at the Orange Bowl. After scoring a potential game-tying touchdown, Osborne elected to go for two against Miami. The plan backfired, and the Hurricanes won the national title.

Then the team returned to its 10-win plateau for another decade. The Huskers came within a missed 45-yard field goal of winning the national title against Florida State in 1993, setting up the streak that vaulted Osborne’s career from Bo Pelini-esque to a three-time national champion.

10. Robert Neyland

Robert Neyland was a linebacker for Army who took over at Tennessee in 1926 and turned the school from an afterthought into a national powerhouse. In his first seven years with the Volunteers, Neyland posted five unbeaten seasons and a 61-2-5 record in Southern Conference play. After moving to the newly-formed SEC, Tennessee went 15-5 over the next two seasons before Neyland was called to active duty serving in the Panama Canal Zone.

He returned after serving his yearlong tour of duty to a Tennessee team that had slumped to 4-5 in 1935 in his absence. Within a few years, Neyland rebuilt the Vols into a team that went 31-2 between 1938 and 1940 and won two national titles. By 1941, though, Neyland was recalled into active service and spent time in the Pacific theater during World War II. He once again returned to Knoxville after his military service was complete.

John Barnhill had maintained a strong team in Tennessee in Neyland’s absence, and they would go on to win the 1950 and 1951 national championships. Had Neyland not lost seven years of his coaching career to military service, he might be even higher up the list of head coaches.

9. Frank Leahy

Frank Leahy played tackle on Knute Rockne’s 1929 and 1930 national championship teams. But he actually got his start as a head coach not in South Bend but rather at Boston College. There he took his first head coaching job after a eight seasons as a line coach at Georgetown, Michigan State, and Fordham. In his first season with the Eagles, Leahy led Boston College to a 9-2 record. He followed that up with a perfect 11-0 season capped by a Sugar Bowl win over Tennessee.

Leahy’s success wasn’t lost on his former team, and he was hired to replace Elmer Layden in 1941. Only a 0-0 draw against Army prevented the Fighting Irish from posting a perfect record in Leahy’s first season at the helm, though they regressed to 7-2-2 in 1942. A 9-1 mark in 1943 was enough to snatch the national championship for Notre Dame, but entering the Navy for two years during World War II.

Upon returning to South Bend in 1946, Leahy got Notre Dame right back to their winning ways. The Irish went 36-0-2 between 1946 and 1949 and captured three national titles during the span. Leahy’s record tapered off over his final four seasons. He still posted a 9-0-1 mark in his final season before leaving Notre Dame for good. In the end, only his former coach was more prolific in terms of national title rate among head coaches.

8. Jock Sutherland

Jock Sutherland is one of the few head coaches in college football history to win a national title with more than one school. Sutherland got his start at Lafayette in 1919. He led the Leopards to a national championship in 1921, going 9-0 with five shutouts. Over his five years at Lafayette, Sutherland went 33-8-2 playing an independent schedule. The success was recognized by his alma mater, Pittsburgh, which hired him to take over for Pop Warner in 1924.

Sutherland established himself slowly but steadily at Pitt, leading the Panthers to the Rose Bowl in 1927 after an 8-0-1 regular season. In 1929 Pittsburgh was invited back to the Rose Bowl as the top team in the country. The Panthers won the national championship for the second time in three seasons in 1931 as they finished the year 8-1. They returned to the Rose Bowl in 1932, but lost their third straight game in Pasadena.

Pittsburgh’s breakthrough at the Rose Bowl finally came in 1936, when the Panthers shut out Washington 21-0. They were awarded a share of the national title that year and followed up with a 9-0-1 title defense in 1937. He eventually went on to coach in the NFL in a career interrupted (like so many other head coaches) by World War II.

7. Knute Rockne

Notre Dame had enjoyed successful head coaches prior to Knute Rockne. Rockne himself played on two of the early undefeated Irish teams in 1912 and 1913 for head coaches John L. Marks and Jesse Harper. In 1918, after four years as an assistant under Harper, Rockne took over the program. At that time Notre Dame was a successful Midwestern Catholic program; under Rockne the Irish became a national brand name.

Notre Dame went just 3-1-2 in Rockne’s first year, but then rattled off 18 straight wins to capture the national title in 1919 and 1920. Losses at Iowa in 1921 and at Nebraska in 1922 and 1923 prevented the Irish from capturing three more national titles in succession, but they went 10-0 in 1924 and captured Rockne’s third national championship as well as the school’s first Rose Bowl victory. Even as the school’s success rate tapered off in the late 1920s, Notre Dame was continuing to promote itself nationally thanks to Rockne’s early success.

The school rebounded to win 19 straight and two more national titles in 1929 and 1930. Then Rockne died in a plane crash in March 1931, a tragic and premature end to the life one of the greatest head coaches in football history. Notre Dame did not rebound until Frank Leahy took over the team a decade later.

6. Howard Jones

Howard Jones starred for Yale on their 1905 through 1907 teams. After graduation he spent one year coaching at Syracuse before returning to Yale in 1909. Jones went 10-0 that season, winning his first national championship as a head coach. Then he left to manage Ohio State in 1910 for just one year. Jones returned to Yale after a two-year hiatus, but an unsuccessful return led to two more years out of coaching. Finally, Jones moved on to Iowa in 1916.

It was with the Hawkeyes that Jones began to make his mark among head coaches. He led Iowa to back-to-back 7-0 records and conference titles in 1920 and 1921, but after eight seasons wanderlust grabbed Jones once again and he departed for Duke. The move proved ill-fated, as he went 4-5 in his one season with the Blue Devils. From there Jones left for the opposite side of the country. There he would find his greatest success in the sunshine of southern California.

Jones started at USC in 1925 and won his first national title with the Trojans three years later. Two more titles followed in 1931 and 1932 as USC developed into a West Coast powerhouse. The Trojans suffered a lull through the mid-1930s, but Jones rebounded to win the Pacific Coast Conference in 1938 and a fifth national title in 1939.

Apr 22, 2017; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban talks with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt during the A-day game at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

5. Nick Saban

Like his contemporary Urban Meyer, Nick Saban is the only other member of this Top 25 list that has a chance to continue rising in relation to his fellow head coaches. Saban has won national championships with two different programs at a time in college football history where the championship has been decided on the field more than any previous era. Given his success in turning Alabama into a perennial powerhouse, it is valuable to look back at his early career.

Saban spent nearly two decades as an assistant coach. He got his first chance to take charge in 1990 when he was named head coach at Toledo. Saban went 9-2 in his one year with the Rockets before accepting a position on Bill Belichick’s staff with the Cleveland Browns. In 1995 he returned to the college ranks with Michigan State. By 1999, his final year in East Lansing, the Spartans went 9-2 and ranked in the top ten of both major polls. Saban then engineered an even bigger turnaround at LSU, leading the Tigers to the 2003-2004 BCS national championship.

Saban left for the Miami Dolphins after 2004, but returned to college two years later. The rest has been history, as he has led the Crimson Tide to national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Alabama has been the only team to participate in all of the first three versions of the College Football, in large part thanks to Saban’s process.

4. Woody Hayes

Woody Hayes spent several years as a high school coach in Ohio before enlisting in the Navy in World War II. After the war, he returned to Ohio. There he got his start in college coaching at his alma mater, Denison University. Hayes went 2-6 in his first season with the Big Red before going a perfect 17-0 between 1947 and 1948. That success earned him a promotion to coach Miami University, where Hayes won the MAC title in his second season with a 9-1 record in 1950.

From there Ohio State came calling, and Hayes began his meteoric rise in earnest. His first national title came in 1954 as the Buckeyes went 10-0 and won the Rose Bowl. The second national title came three years later as Ohio State won the Rose Bowl again. A third championship arrived in 1961, when the Buckeyes went 8-0-1 but did not play in a bowl game. From there Ohio State suffered through a drought of sorts, going six years without winning the Big Ten.

The rebound was complete in 1968. Ohio State went 10-0 and won a fourth national title under Hayes. The team followed up with a fifth national championship in 1970. They remained atop the Big Ten for much of the 1970s under Hayes, but the Buckeyes never managed to capture another national crown. The lasting image of the coach, thus, was not of his championship moments but his sideline punch thrown against Clemson’s Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. That punch has long complicated his place among the greatest head coaches.

3. Pop Warner

Glenn “Pop” Warner was one of the great mastermind head coaches of the game. He spent more than four decades innovating the sport of college football from coast to coast. Warner was a guard at Cornell before taking his first head coaching job at Georgia in 1895. With the Bulldogs, he went 3-4 in his first season before engineering a perfect 4-0 record in 1896. From there he returned to his alma mater, where he went went 15-5-1 in his first two-year stint as head coach of the Big Red.

In 1899, Warner left Cornell to coach at the Carlisle Indian School. He spent five years in Pennsylvania, going 11-2-1 in his final season before returning to Cornell for three more years at his alma mater. By 1907, he decided to return to Carlisle. He led the team to five double-digit winning seasons in eight years. Then Warner made another shift that would greatly impact his overall legacy among head coaches. The move proved prescient, as Carlisle shuttered its football team three years later.

At Pittsburgh, Warner began his tenure with a 30-1 record and three national championships in his first four years. He spent five more years at Pitt before another relocating to Stanford. There he won a fourth national title in 1926, leading Stanford to a 10-0 regular season and a 7-7 tie against Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Warner posted a winning record at all six schools where he coached.

2. Fielding Yost

Fielding Yost put Michigan football on the map. He arrived in Ann Arbor in 1901 in his fifth season as a head coach. He learned the sport as a tackle for West Virginia and Lafayette between 1894 and 1896 and immediately jumped into coaching. Prior to taking over the Wolverines, Yost had successfully coached at Ohio Wesleyan (7-1-1 in 1897), Nebraska (8-3 in 1898), Kansas (10-0 in 1899), and both Stanford (7-2-1) and San Jose State (1-0) in 1900.

Once with the Wolverines, Yost quickly built a national powerhouse. Michigan went 43-0-1 in Yost’s first four seasons in charge, winning four straight national titles in the process. Yost helped inaugurate the Rose Bowl game, beating Stanford 49-0 in the 1902 contest to cap a 1901 season where opponents had not scored once. Over that four-year stretch, opponents scored just 40 points total in the 44-game streak.

A ten-year period as an independent did Michigan no favors between 1907 and 1916, but once returning to what is now the Big Ten the Wolverines returned to national prominence. Yost won two more national titles with Michigan with perfect seasons in 1918 and 1923. After winning two more conference titles in 1925 and 1926, Yost stepped down to focus on athletic director duties.

1. Bear Bryant

As of now, Paul “Bear” Bryant remains atop the list of college football’s greatest head coaches. With nearly four decades in the coaching ranks, Bryant managed to find success at four different schools. His greatest work took place at his alma mater, Alabama, but even before coming home to Tuscaloosa it was apparent that Bryant would have found success wherever he landed.

In 1945, Bryant got his first head coaching job at Maryland. He went 6-2-1 before jumping ship for Kentucky. While in charge of the Wildcats, Bryant led Kentucky to what remains its only outright SEC football title when they went 11-1 in 1950.

From Lexington, Bryant went to Texas A&M in 1954 and turned the team from a 1-9 outfit into 9-0-1 Southwest Conference champions in the span of three years. His work in College Station earned the offer from Alabama to come revive a program that had just posted four straight losing seasons under Harold Drew and Jennings Whitworth.

The first national title came in Bryant’s fourth year in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama went 11-0 and won the Sugar Bowl in 1961. They won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965, and could have had a third straight crown in 1966 after finishing behind several other undefeated teams that went on to lose their bowl games.

Bryant would have to wait until 1973 to capture his fourth national title, and the last two came in 1978 and 1979 as Alabama went on a 28-game winning streak. He retired after his last game on December 29, 1982, a win over Illinois in the Liberty Bowl, and died less than a month later.

This article originally appeared on