Ranking College Football Coaches With Best Playing Careers: No. 1-128

    Ranking the college football coaches who had the best playing careers, from No. 1-128.

    February 16, 2016

    Of the 128 current FBS college football coaches, who had the best playing career? And who never even suited up beyond high school?


    E-mail Rich Cirminiello | Follow me … @RichCirminiello


    Nick Saban. Urban Meyer. Bob Stoops. Jim Harbaugh. Everyone knows who’s in the discussion for top coaches in college football. But how would the rankings change if those same head guys were evaluated by their playing careers instead of their exploits on the sidelines?

    The majority of today’s coaches had anonymous careers on the field, often at tiny programs most fans couldn’t locate on a map. And it’s likely that that anonymity, along with the reality that the NFL wasn’t an option, provided an early impetus to contemplate careers in football that relied more on the mind than the legs.

    128. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota

    … Kansas State, but did not play college football

    128. David Cutcliffe, Duke

    … Alabama, but did not play college football

    128. Sonny Dykes, Cal

    … Texas Tech, but played baseball and not football

    128. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

    … Southern Miss, but did not play college football

    128. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

    … Western Carolina, but did not play college football

    128. Mike Leach, Washington State

    … BYU, but did not play college football

    128. Chad Morris, SMU

    … Texas A&M, but did not play college football

    128. Matt Viator, Louisiana-Monroe

    … McNeese State, but did not play college football

    120. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech

    … Notre Dame wide receiver

    119. Terry Bowden, Akron

    … West Virginia running back

    118. Doug Martin, New Mexico State

    … Kentucky quarterback

    117. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette

    … Delta State safety and quarterback

    116. Butch Jones, Tennessee

    … Ferris State wide receiver

    115. Trent Miles, Georgia State

    … Indiana State wide receiver

    114. Bryan Harsin, Boise State

    … Boise State quarterback

    113. John Bonamego, Central Michigan

    … Central Michigan wide receiver

    112. Jim McElwain, Florida

    … Eastern Washington quarterback

    111. Gary Patterson, TCU

    … Kansas State safety and linebacker

    110. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

    … Cincinnati defensive back

    109. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

    … Henderson State wide receiver

    108. Troy Calhoun, Air Force

    … Air Force quarterback

    107. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

    … William Jewell defensive back

    106. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

    … Tarleton State quarterback and safety

    105. Dave Doeren, NC State

    … Drake tight end

    104. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

    … Georgia Tech safety

    103. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

    … Alabama wide receiver

    102. Brian Polian, Nevada

    … John Carroll linebacker

    101. Jim Mora, UCLA

    … Washington safety and linebacker

    100. Ron Caragher, San Jose State

    … UCLA quarterback

    99. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

    … Ursinus tight end

    98. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State

    … Sam Houston State wide receiver

    97. Craig Bohl, Wyoming

    … Nebraska defensive back

    96. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

    … West Virginia defensive back

    95. Clay Helton, USC

    … Houston quarterback

    94. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

    … Presbyterian linebacker

    93. Bob Davie, New Mexico

    … Youngstown State tight end

    92. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

    … Air Force linebacker

    91. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

    … Assumption linebacker

    90. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

    … Iowa Wesleyan wide receiver

    89. Neal Brown, Troy

    … Massachusetts wide receiver

    88. Chris Ash, Rutgers

    … Drake defensive back

    87. Les Miles, LSU

    … Michigan offensive lineman

    86. Mike Riley, Nebraska

    … Alabama defensive back

    85. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

    … Angelo State quarterback

    84. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

    … Georgia safety

    83. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

    … Wisconsin quarterback

    82.Tom Herman, Houston

    … Cal Lutheran wide receiver

    81. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

    … Iowa safety

    80. Doc Holliday, Marshall

    … West Virginia linebacker

    79. Bret Bielema, Arkansas

    … Iowa defensive lineman

    78. Jeff Monken, Army

    … Millikin wide receiver

    77. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

    … Williams College defensive back

    76. Willie Fritz, Tulane

    … Pittsburg State defensive back

    75. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

    … Northern Arizona cornerback

    74. Tony Sanchez, UNLV

    … New Mexico State wide receiver

    73. Ron Turner, Florida International

    … Pacific wide receiver

    72. Art Briles, Baylor

    … Houston wide receiver

    71. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

    … Connecticut linebacker

    70. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

    … Rhode Island linebacker

    69. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

    … Southern Arkansas safety

    68. Mark Richt, Miami

    … Miami quarterback

    67. Matt Wells, Utah State

    … Utah State quarterback

    66. Sean Kugler, UTEP

    … UTEP offensive lineman

    65. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

    … South Carolina defensive back

    64. Kevin Wilson, Indiana

    … North Carolina offensive lineman

    63. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

    … Indiana center

    62. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

    … Appalachian State quarterback

    61. Gary Andersen, Oregon State

    … Utah center

    60. Chuck Martin, Miami U.

    … Millikin safety

    59. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

    … Hawaii quarterback

    58. Mark Whipple, Massachusetts

    … Brown quarterback

    57. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan

    … Kenyon College quarterback

    56. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion

    … Maine quarterback

    55. Seth Littrell, North Texas

    … Oklahoma running back

    54. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

    … Ole Miss defensive back

    53. David Beaty, Kansas

    … Lindenwood wide receiver

    52. David Bailiff, Rice

    … Texas State offensive lineman

    51. Jason Candle, Toledo

    … Mount Union wide receiver

    50. Nick Saban, Alabama

    … Kent State safety

    49. Kalani Sitake, BYU

    … BYU fullback

    48. Larry Fedora, North Carolina

    … Austin College wide receiver

    47. Bill Cubit, Illinois

    … Delaware wide receiver

    46. David Shaw, Stanford

    … Stanford wide receiver

    45. Chris Petersen, Washington

    … UC Davis quarterback

    44. Frank Wilson, UTSA

    … Nicholls State running back

    43. Dino Babers, Syracuse

    … Hawaii running back, linebacker and safety

    42. Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic

    … Drake defensive lineman

    41. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

    … Mount Union defensive lineman

    40. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

    … Oregon State linebacker and safety

    39. Matt Rhule, Temple

    … Penn State linebacker

    38. Lance Leipold, Buffalo

    … Wisconsin-Whitewater quarterback

    37. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

    … Hawaii quarterback

    36. Steve Addazio, Boston College

    … Central Connecticut State linemen

    35. Everett Withers, Texas State

    … Appalachian State defensive back

    34. Todd Graham, Arizona State

    … East Central defensive back

    33. Paul Haynes, Kent State

    … Kent State defensive back

    32. Darrell Hazell, Purdue

    … Muskingum wide receiver

    31. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

    … Murray State quarterback

    30. Mike Neu, Ball State

    … Ball State quarterback

    29. Mike Bobo, Colorado State

    … Georgia quarterback

    28. James Franklin, Penn State

    … East Stroudsburg quarterback

    27. Mike Norvell, Memphis

    … Central Arkansas wide receiver

    26. Brad Lambert, Charlotte

    … Kansas State defensive back

    25. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

    … Northern Illinois wide receiver

    24. D.J. Durkin, Maryland

    … Bowling Green defensive end and linebacker

    23. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina

    … Duke wide receiver

    22. Charlie Strong, Texas

    … Central Arkansas safety

    21. Rocky Long, San Diego State

    … New Mexico quarterback

    20. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee

    … Florida State quarterback

    19. Barry Odom, Missouri

    … Missouri linebacker

    18. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

    … Iowa safety

    17. Kirby Smart, Georgia

    … Georgia safety

    16. Bobby Petrino, Louisville

    … Carroll College quarterback

    15. Paul Petrino, Idaho

    … Carroll College quarterback

    14. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky

    … Louisville quarterback

    13. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

    … Purdue linebacker

    12. Bob Diaco, Connecticut

    … Iowa linebacker

    11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon

    … Southern Oregon quarterback

    [MORE: Way-Too-Early Top 25 College Football Rankings]

    10. Joey Jones, South Alabama

    … Alabama wide receiver
    Jones was more than a fan favorite in Tuscaloosa. He was an outstanding pass-catcher at a time when Bama receivers were rarely given a chance to shine. He was clutch throughout four seasons, catching 71 career passes for 1,386 yards and 15 touchdowns, including eight as a junior in 1982. As a senior, Jones was named to the All-SEC Team, and later to Alabama’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s.

    9. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

    … Samford quarterback
    Years before he became a head coach, Fisher was a very good quarterback at the lower levels. He was twice named the WVIAC Player of the Year while at Salem College before transferring with head coach Terry Bowden to play for Samford. In his lone season with the Bulldogs, Fisher was named the 1987 Division III National Player of the Year, setting the single-season D3 mark with 34 touchdown passes.

    8. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

    … BYU linebacker
    Whittingham crossed enemy lines when he joined the Utah staff in 1994, because he was a Cougar a decade before becoming a Ute. And a very productive Cougar at that, racking up 240 tackles, 10 stops for loss and six forced fumbles over his final two seasons in Provo. As a senior in 1981, Whittingham was named honorable mention All-America and the WAC co-Player of the Year.

    7. Frank Solich, Ohio

    … Nebraska fullback
    Solich has deep ties to Lincoln, both as a coach and a player. One of the key members of Bob Devaney’s first Husker recruiting class, Solich became an important cog in the ground game in the 1960s. “Fearless Frankie” was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1992, earning All-Big Eight honors while establishing a school single-game record for rushing yards by a fullback.

    6. Willie Taggart, South Florida

    … Western Kentucky quarterback
    Taggart has a certain appreciation for dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, because he once was one. In fact, he’s one of the most decorated players in Hilltopper history. By the time he was through as a four-year starter, Taggart had set the school standard for rushing and scoring, as well as the I-AA mark for rushing yards by a quarterback. And in his final two seasons, he was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, the I-AA equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

    5.. Scott Frost, UCF

    … Nebraska quarterback
    Frost’s playing career actually began at Stanford, though he became a household name after transferring to the Huskers. In two seasons in Lincoln, he was the quintessential Nebraska option quarterback, rushing for 28 touchdowns and throwing for 18 more. As a senior in 1997, Frost led Big Red to a perfect season while becoming just the tenth player in history to rush and throw for more than 1,000 yards in a year. He’s also the rare college head coach to be drafted by an NFL team.

    4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

    … Oklahoma State quarterback
    Though often overshadowed by his backfield mates in Stillwater, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, Gundy enjoyed a record-setting four-year career as the Cowboy starter. Gundy took over midway through his rookie season and went on to become the all-time leading passer in Oklahoma State and Big Eight history. His school mark of 7,997 yards still stands today, and he was the leader of squads that won 10 games in back-to-back seasons in 1987 and 1988.

    3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

    … Michigan quarterback
    Nah, Harbaugh never posted gaudy numbers. Who did in Ann Arbor when Bo Schembechler was in charge? Harbaugh started parts of three seasons with the Wolverines, winning 10 games in 1985 and finishing third in the Heisman vote as a senior in 1986. He finished his career as Michigan’s all-time leader in passing yards, while leading the program to a 21-3-1 record. Harbaugh was selected in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft, testament to his ability, setting the stage for a 15-year pro career.

    2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

    … Texas Tech quarterback
    Kingsbury plus Mike Leach equaled plenty of monster numbers and smashed records at Texas Tech. As a three-year starter as the rifleman of Leach’s Air Raid, Kingsbury rung up 95 career touchdown passes and more than 12,000 yards through the air. As a senior, he rewrote the Red Raider and Big 12 record books by passing for 45 scores and 5,017 yards. Kingsbury was the forerunner to the likes of B.J. Symons, Cody Hodges and Graham Harrell in Lubbock.

    1. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

    … Northwestern linebacker
    No individual has been more instrumental to Wildcat football, past and present, than Fitzgerald. Today, he’s the school’s all-time leader in coaching wins. In the 1990s, he was one of the game’s fiercest linebackers and the catalyst for a turnaround in Evanston. Fitz was a beast from the second level, overcoming modest athleticism to become a tackling machine. In both 1995 and 1996, he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the winner of the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy.

    MORE: Ranking No. 1 College Football Recruiting Classes Since 2002

    DOWNLOAD THE APP

    Have the full Stadium experience

    Watch with friends

    Get rewards

    Join the discussion