Ten Legendary Coaches in College Football History

Jan 15, 2011

From BestUniversities.com
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The identity of a college football program is shaped by its head coach. We associate the pass-happy Fun ‘n’ Gun offense with Steve Spurrier and the Gators, the swagger of “The U” with Jimmy Johnson, and a hard-nosed rushing attack, particularly the option, with Tom Osborne and his Huskers. The success of Florida State, for example, is attributed to Bobby Bowden, who made the once forgettable program into a national power. Given their impacts, it’s no wonder high profile athletic departments are shelling out five or six million dollars per season for the services of guys such as Nick Saban and Mack Brown. Every athletic director wants to hire the next legendary coach, and if they’re lucky, they’ll find someone who’ll achieve just a fraction of the success of the coaches listed below. Here are 10 who have cemented their places in college football lore.
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  1. Bear Bryant: Nick Saban may have a 43-11 record and a national championship in just four seasons at Alabama, but he has a long way to go before he comes close to earning the same kind of admiration and adoration from Tide fans as The Bear. Almost 30 years after Bryant’s death, his presence is felt during every game in Bryant-Denny Stadium, as numerous fans don his patented houndstooth hat to keep his memory alive. During his quarter of a century in Tuscaloosa, he compiled a 232-46-9 record, including 19-6 and 16-7-2 records against hated rivals Auburn and Tennessee, six national championships and 13 SEC championships. He coached notable players such as Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome. Bryant, a football lifer, died just four weeks after his final game as Bama’s head coach, almost confirming his prediction that he’d “probably croak in a week” after retirement.
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  2. Knute Rockne: Knute Rockne tragically died at the age of 43 in a plane crash, so his coaching resume isn’t as extensive as, say, Bear Bryant’s, Joe Paterno’s or Bobby Bowden’s. But he certainly made the most of his 13 years leading the Irish, going 105-12-5 and winning five national championships. His success, early use of the forward pass and knack for public relations and marketing — valued skills in modern head coaches — helped shape Notre Dame into the nation’s most beloved football program.
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  3. Robert Neyland: General Robert Neyland, a graduate of West Point, served as an officer in the Corps of Engineers during World War I, an aide to Douglas MacArthur, and in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II, earning the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit. The leadership skills he acquired while in the army transferred well onto the gridiron, where he led Tennessee to a 173-31-12 record, six undefeated seasons, four national championships and seven conference championships, five of which were in the SEC. Like modern SEC coaches, Neyland emphasized speed and defense, and his 1939 squad exemplified that, as it went the entire regular season without surrendering a point. Overall, the Vols recorded 17 consecutive shutouts from 1938 to 1940. His teams strictly adhered to his maxim to “Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.”
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  4. Bud Wilkinson: On Oklahoma’s Mount Rushmore of head coaches, which includes Bob Stoops, Barry Switzer and Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson is the most esteemed and recognizable. He coached 17 seasons for the Sooners, tallying a 145-29-4 record, three national championships, 14 Big Eight championships (previously known as the Big Six and Big Seven), and an 8-2 record in bowl games. Oklahoma’s dominance under Wilkinson was highlighted by three impressive streaks — 13 consecutive Big (Six, Seven and) Eight championships, an astounding 74-game lossless streak in the conference and, of course, a 47-game winning streak that still stands as the longest in college football history. Retiring at the age of 47 to pursue a career in politics, Wilkinson certainly wasn’t a “compiler” of wins, but had he stuck around for another decade or two, one could only imagine what his career record would look like today.
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  5. Woody Hayes: Woody Hayes had a temper that makes his one-time student Bobby Knight blush. Say what you want about his character flaws, there’s no doubt the guy knew how to coach and motivate a team of young men. During his career at Dennison, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio State, he amassed a 238-72-10 record, three national championships and 14 conference championships, including 13 in the Big 10. In the same way Robert Neyland represents the modern SEC coaching philosophy, Hayes represents the prominent Big 10 coaching philosophy through the years with his conservative three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. He coached 58 All-Americans, including two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. He was a disciplinarian who preached the value of hard work, attributing much of his success to simply outworking his opponents. His intense focus and surly demeanor can be explained by one quote: “Show me a gracious loser, and I’ll show you a bus boy.” He lived to win.
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    Click here for the rest of the list.
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