The Times West Virginian

May 13, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: No right way to rank BCS coaches

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — What would you say if you were told that West Virginia University’s young football coach, Dana Holgorsen, is the 44th best football coach in college football?

That’s what The Sporting News says in its latest issue, doing a ranking of all 124 BCS coaches.

The Sporting News knows if you want to start some discussions — even arguments — and draw some attention to yourself, all you have to do is put out a feature ranking teams, players or coaches.

There is, of course, no subjective way to rank coaches, so many variables being involved. That means there really is no right or wrong. In truth, it’s far easier to rank the first 10 and the last 10 than those in the middle.

And no one is going to argue with a decision to pick Marion County’s own Nick Saban as the best coach in college football.

“The Nicktator has five BCS game wins under his belt, more than anyone else in the business, and his three national titles — two at Alabama in 2009 and 2011, and one at LSU in 2004 — stand alone. We may be even more impressed by the Tide’s 28-4 SEC regular-season record of the past four seasons, a run of outright superiority for the league that no conference has matched in college football history. This is an easy call for the top spot,” Steve Greenberg and Matt Hayes wrote in the dual-bylined story.

The Top 10 really wasn’t a difficult call, either, following Saban with Boise State’s Chris Petersen second, Ohio State’s Urban Myers third, LSU’s Les Miles fourth, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops fifth, Oregon’s Chip Kelly sixth, TCU’s Gary Patterson seventh, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier eighth, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer ninth and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy 10th.

This list may open your eyes into just what WVU is getting itself into with this switch to the Big 12, for no fewer than three of the top 10 coaches come from the Big 12 and five of their coaches — Stoops, Patterson, Gundy, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder at No. 11 and Texas’ Mack Brown at No. 16 — are in the Top 25, matching the SEC’s total.

The coaching is so good in the Big 12 that the league average on the list was 27.2, which crushed the SEC’s ranking of 43.3 … and that was the second-best ranking. The magazine does point out that if you just take the top 10 coaches in the SEC, it ranks slightly higher than the Big 12’s 10 head coaches at 26.6.

If anything is enlightening in the rankings, it is just how West Virginia runs throughout the game of college football at the coaching level.

Indeed there is a native son at No. 1 in Saban, Rich Rodriguez at No. 39, directly behind is former “neighbor” Jimbo Fisher, who ranked No. 38 at FSU.

Doc Holliday, who cast his lot with Marshall, ranks a disappointing 89th with the commentary:

“You have to admire Holliday’s versatility: He has coached virtually every position in his stops at several big-name programs. He’s a proven recruiter, too. And we like that his second season at Marshall was more successful than his first. From 5-7 to 7-6 — with a bowl victory — is called progress.”

In fact, Holliday is ranked far behind another WVU assistant now in his third year as a head coach at Cincinnati — Butch Jones.

Jones, at No. 28, is the highest ranked coach in the Big East.

“Jones cleaned house in Year 1, dealt with significant injuries and had some wondering about him after a three-win debut,” the commentary read. “Now look: 10 wins in 2011 from a team that probably shouldn’t have reached that high. Next problem for UC: keeping Jones. He won at CMU; he’s winning at Cincy. Another big season should lead to a big BCS job (hello, Tennessee).”

It goes on to quote an unidentified NFL scout saying: “If you’re just looking at the surface, you see him winning with what Brian Kelly built. Don’t believe that garbage. He can coach. He was one of those guys a few years ago where you just knew big things were coming his way. He’s not done, either. Not by a longshot.”

A few other notable coaches with West Virginia connections are Todd Graham, the vagabond man now at Arizona State, at No. 75; Terry Bowden right behind him at No. 76 at Akron and Darrell Hazell, a former WVU assistant, far down the list at 114 at Kent State.

But what to make of Holgorsen’s ranking at No. 44?

Would you say he is overrated or underrated by the magazine, that one season is not proof enough to make a judgment?

Certainly, most of the coaches ranked ahead of him have accomplished more, although you probably can wonder about Charlie Weis of Kansas at No. 40 and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, also 40 years old, as is Holgorsen, at No. 25 with a 6-7 record in his only year of coaching.

What did TSN say to justify this ranking?

“That’s right, it’s not a typo. It’s Vandy, and it’s six wins; heck, it’s a losing record,” it wrote. “But what Franklin has accomplished in such a short time — on the field and in recruiting—is groundbreaking. Good guy Bobby Johnson took Vanderbilt to a bowl game, too. But Johnson never recruited like Franklin — never beat Tennessee and Florida and Alabama for players. This pick this high is based as much on potential as it is performance. And the fact that Vandy, for the first time ever, is serious about spending significant money (recruiting budget, facilities) to get better.”

If that’s the case, does not Holgorsen really belong in the Top 25, too?

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.