Hot Reads: It's Hard to Rank Coaches
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: It’s Hard to Rank Coaches

May 10, 2019

Want a somewhat impossible task? Power rank the coaches in the Big Ten right now. It will probably be easier if you start from the bottom rather than the top, where Urban Meyer's absence means that the top spot in the league is open for the first time since 2012.

Got 'em in order? Great. Now how did you get there?

That's always the tough question to answer when it comes to ranking coaches. Or, maybe questions (plural) is more accurate. Do you rank them based on their success relative to expectations at their school? (This is my preference.) Do you rank solely based on wins and hardware? How do you account for small sample sizes and long tenures? All subjectively answerable but objectively unanswerable.

Nevertheless,'s team of writers took up the task of ranking every Power 5 head coach. Scott Frost came in at No. 25, down four spots four a year ago.

With Nebraska going 4-8 in Frost's first season, it's not a surprise to see his standing take a slight hit, but we're all still pretty high on him. Nobody thought he'd step in at Nebraska and the Huskers would suddenly be winning 10 or 11 games.

Strikes me as a pretty fair ranking for Nebraska's head coach. Personally, I don't know how much movement a coach ranking should have year to year, particularly for a coach with some significant years in the game. But without annual movement it's tough to have an annual list to publish. Quantifying feelings and hunches, even evidence-based feelings and hunches, is always hard. I get it.

But having some sort of order does at least allow for additional conversations. Here's one: The most interesting thing I took from Frost's ranking is not that he's sixth in the Big Ten, but that he's one of just three coaches in the top 25 with three or fewer seasons of head-coaching experience.

The other two: No. 6 Kirby Smart of Georgia and No. 3 Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma. (Note: Tom Herman’s in here, too, after four seasons.)

Smart, 32-10 over three seasons, stepped into a program that was somewhat similar to Nebraska post-Pelini. Under Mark Richt, Georgia had been consistently good and when a program is consistently good for long enough the cries to become great become louder each year. That's not a bad spot to enter in at for a new head coach. Better than inheriting a program that's bottomed out, but, as Husker fans know well, firing a good coach in hopes of finding a great one can be a pretty big risk. I would say the Smart hire has worked about as well for Georgia as it could have to this point. The Bulldogs have two division titles and a conference title since 2016.

Riley inherited an even better situation at Oklahoma, though it happened under stranger circumstances with the summer retirement of Bob Stoops. The Sooners were humming along under Stoops––at least on a national scale, the local perception is always more detailed––and haven't missed a beat since Riley took over: two Big 12 titles, two CFP appearances, two Heisman-winning quarterbacks, a 24-4 record the past two seasons.

That's pretty good company for Frost to keep. He didn't get to start his career at Georgia or Oklahoma. He took over a winless UCF program and then a Nebraska program at its lowest point in nearly 60 years. His career record, 23-15, reflects that reality, yet here he is, part of what looks like an elite class of new head coaches.

Now because the sample sizes are so small, that designation can change quickly. But it's still better to be there than to not no matter how difficult this process may be.

The Grab Bag

Today’s Song of Today

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.