The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 12, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Nick Saban muscling way to Top 10 list

MORGANTOWN — A day ago ESPN declared that Vince Lombardi was the greatest NFL coach of all time, a selection that certainly is hard to dispute

It was a list that followed Lombardi with Bill Walsh, Don Shula, George Halas, Chuck Noll, Paul Brown, Bill Belichick (the list was compiled before Belichick signed Tim Tebow),Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs and Curly Lambeau.

Seeing that got me to thinking about college football and putting together a list of its 10 greatest coaches, a list of the so-called modern game, for the roots of college ball go far further back in time than does the NFL.

Opting to set the parameters in the post-World War II era, we decided to put together a patchwork quilt of greatness that is strictly one man’s opinion, leaving it little meaning, if any at all, short of creating discussion.

That, of course, is never a bad thing, but especially so in this neck of the woods because it allows us to discuss whether our own Nick Saban, still in the prime of his coaching career, has coached himself into the top post-World War II coaches.

Let us first put forth a list that does not include the Alabama coach out of Marion County.

1. Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma – Record: 145-29-4 .826. Three national championships, a record 47 consecutive victories with three consecutive unbeaten seasons and 5-2 in bowl games.

2. Tom Osborne, Nebraska – Record: 259-49-3 .836. Two national championships, closed his career with three unbeaten seasons in final four years, beating Tennessee in his final game, 42-17, to win his fourth straight Orange Bowl.

3. Bear Bryant, Alabama – Record: 323-85-17 .780. Five national championships, 15-12 in bowl games. Defined the hard-nosed coach of his era and was able to put a rope on Joe Namath and Ken Stabler as college students.

4. Barry Switzer, Oklahoma – Record: 157-29-4 .837. Three national championships, 13 bowl wins. Took the wishbone offense to its greatest heights.

5. Bobby Bowden, West Virginia, Florida State – Record: 377-129-4 .743. One-time WVU coach holds Division I record for career victories and owns 22 bowl victories. At one point went 14 bowls in a row without a loss.

6. Eddie Robinson, Grambling – Record: 408-165-15 .707. This not a politically correct selection. Eddie Robinson was a great coach and if he didn’t win his games against Alabama, Ohio State or USC he didn’t win them with the players, facilities and budgets that they had, either. Considered Jake Gaithers of Florida A&M, who had an .844 winning percentage, but Robinson won exactly twice as many games.

7. Woody Hayes, Ohio State — Record: 238-72-10 .759. Won two national championships and was 5-6 in bowl games. OK, he punched a Clemson player in his final game on the sideline, but he and Bo Schembechler at Michigan defined what a college rivalry should be.

8. Joe Paterno, Penn State – Record: 298-136-3 .685. Won two national titles and compiled a 24-12 bowl record. Had a lily white reputation until the Jerry Sandusky scandal took the edge off his career.

9. Darrell Royal, Texas – Record: 184-60-5 .749. Won three national titles and was 8-7 in bowl games. In this game not consider someone who said “I want to be remembered as a winning coach, but I also want to be remembered as an honest and ethical coach” one of the greatest.

10. John McKay, USC – Record: 127-40-8 .749. Won three national championships and was 6-3 in bowl games. Not only did he invent student body left and student body right but coach O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen.

So does Nick Saban belong with this group. Certainly his record of 159-55-1 for a .742 winning percentage stands with the others, owning more victories than Wilkinson, Switzer and McKay and a winning percentage that might be a tad weak but he came into a rebuilding job at Michigan State for a few years before finding the answer.

In truth, his record in the Southeastern Conference, considered football’s toughest, while coaching LSU and Alabama has been miraculous … 116-29 at those schools.

If he continues through the next few years of his career as he has the last decade, he will muscle himself into the Hall of Fame and into this Top 10 list.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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Bob Herzel
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