I'm as much of a sucker for a good list as anyone, but coming up with a list of the top ten coaches in college football like Mark Bradley does is a difficult proposition. First of all, we would have to define what we mean by "best coach." Are we playing the "if I had to win one game, this would be my guy" game? Does longevity matter? (This is obviously an important consideration when evaluating Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino, both of whom go higher on any list that isn't about finding a coach for the next decade.) Do I imagine that I'm the athletic director at a major program? A smaller program?
These last two questions are important because we cannot rank Paul Johnson and Mark Richt without them. Johnson runs a funky offense and has had great success at smaller programs that operate with less talent than their rivals. He's a perfect fit at Georgia Tech. If I were the athletic director at a school like Northwestern or Kansas, I would much prefer Johnson over Richt. On the other hand, Richt is a good recruiter, he runs a pro-style offense, and he does a good job of managing egos. A major program is often looking for a caretaker CEO type, which makes Richt a better fit at Georgia. UGA should not necessarily be looking for a coach like Johnson who can take overlooked recruits and put them into an offense that maximizes their talent; it should be looking for a coach who can use his own style and Georgia's profile to bring in top tier talent. If I were the athletic director at Ohio State or USC, I'd prefer Richt.
To use a military history analogy, Dwight Eisenhower was not a great general. If you plopped him down in a battle in which he has equal or lesser forces than his opponents, then he probably wouldn't be a great success. You certainly wouldn't want someone like Eisenhower leading a guerrilla force. However, he was a perfect fit in the role he was handed in World War II: keeping a bunch of talented, but disagreeable generals happy and pushing in the right direction.
I digress. Regardless of which standard you apply, Bradley makes two choices that are very hard to defend:
1. Mack Brown over Bob Stoops.
Brown and Stoops are at peer programs, with Brown at the somewhat more attractive school because he does not need to convince players to leave the state in order to assemble a talented roster. Brown and Stoops are in the same conference and play each other every year. Stoops has won six Big XII titles in ten years. Brown has won one Big XII title in eleven years. Case closed.
2. Pete Carroll behind Brown, Jim Tressel, and anyone not named "Urban Meyer."
Bradley writes that Carroll loses too many games that he shouldn't? Even so, he has the best winning percentage this decade. Are we going to punish him for assembling so much talent that his teams should never lose? In other words, are we going to punish Carroll for being a great recruiter? Carroll's record in big games is stellar, so if the question is "whom do I pick for one game," he'd be hard to pass up. Yes, Mark, Mack Brown did beat Carroll in a Rose Bowl, but calling the defense-less 2005 Trojans Carroll's "best team" is indefensible. Did Herbstreit and May really infect your judgment that season?
And Tressel over Carroll? Are you mad? Tressel is an OK coach and all, but he's coaching in a top-heavy conference in which one of his two major rivals is coached by the Queen of England and the other has been undergoing a transition from Lloyd Carr (who had one foot out the door for several years and was never a great coach to begin with) to Rich Rodriguez (who brings a radically different system). I suppose you can make the same argument regarding Carroll and the Pac Ten, but Carroll can point to numerous big wins outside of the conference. Tressel has the win over Miami and...?
Anyway, it would be unfair for me to gripe at Bradley's list without making my own. If I were a major program athletic director hiring a coach, here is my contact list:
1. Urban Meyer
2. Pete Carroll
3. Bob Stoops
4. Nick Saban
5. Bobby Petrino
6. Frank Beamer
7. Mike Leach
8. Rich Rodriguez
9. Brian Kelly
10. Mack Brown
11. Mark Richt
12. Jim Tressel
13. Houston Nutt
14. Mike Riley
15. Les Miles