The best active coaches in college football

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

February 11th, 2021

In light of Tom Brady’s recent Super Bowl win and clear ascension to undisputed G.O.A.T. status, some are taking an inventory of other greats throughout sports.

In college football, eligibility limitations put a natural restriction on the impact any individual can have as a player, which puts additional weight into the work done by the game’s greatest coaches.

With talent abounding, schemes ever-changing, and dynamic matchups that challenge conventional thinking, greatness as a college football coach is difficult to achieve but incredibly rewarding.

Let’s take a look at the top five active college football coaches.

5. Gary Patterson (TCU)

Overall record: 178-74
Postseason record: 11-6
Accolades: Two-time Coach of the Year (2009, 2014), Conference USA Coach of the Year (2002), two-time Mountain West Coach of the Year (2005, 2009), Big 12 Coach of the Year (2014), Conference USA championship (2002), four Mountain West championships (2005, 2009, 2010, 2011), Big 12 championship (2014)

Patterson has been overachieving for years at TCU, and was recognized in 2009 and 2014 as the Coach of the Year.

He has appeared in 17 bowl games, good enough for third on the active coaching list and tied for 17th in college football history.

Perhaps his most memorable was the 2015 Alamo Bowl, when TCU defeated Oregon, 44-41, with a backup quarterback and rallied back from a 31-0 halftime deficit.

Patterson has done more with less for an incredible length of time and wills his teams to compete at a level of consistency hardly matched in the sport.

4. Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M)

Overall record: 109-33
Postseason record: 8-2
Accolades: National championship with Florida State (2014), three ACC championships with Florida State (2012, 2013, 2014)

Fisher rose to prominence as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU and achieved ultimate success with his 2013-2014 Florida State team.

Now at Texas A&M, Fisher has the Aggies in the national spotlight. Although they just failed to make the College Football Playoff last season, they only lost one game, to the eventual champion Alabama.

Fisher's postseason record is impressive, and he has gotten nine quarterbacks under his tutelage drafted by the NFL, with Kellen Mond potentially next.

3. Matt Campbell (Iowa State)

Overall record: 70-43
Postseason record: 4-3
Accolades: MAC Coach of the Year at Toledo (2015), three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year (2017, 2018, 2020)

The Cyclones have enjoyed brief runs of success in their history but never anything resembling sustained excellence.

Under Campbell, who was hired ahead of the 2016 season, they're clearly on the right track. Campbell brings passion, brilliance, and innovation, and is remaking the Cyclones into a contender, both at the conference and national level. In 2020, Iowa State finished the season ranked No. 9 in the country, with a 9-3 record.

Campbell has built a culture of winning in what has historically been one of the most difficult places of to win, and for that he deserves a spot on this list.

2. Ryan Day (Ohio State)

Overall record: 23-2
Postseason record: 1-2
Accolades: Big Ten Coach of the Year (2019), two Big Ten championships (2019, 2020)

Day has not been the lead man for long in Columbus, but he has already made his mark.

He honed his craft under the leadership of former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, and Day is both a successful recruiter and a creative play caller.

He has the greatest win percentage of any active coach, albeit with a small sample size, and shows no sign of relenting.

1. Nick Saban (Alabama)

Overall record: 261-65
Postseason record: 17-10
Accolades: Seven national championships (one with LSU in 2003, and six with Alabama, in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020), nine SEC championships (2001 and 2003 with LSU, and 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020 with Alabama), MAC championship with Toledo (1990), two-time Coach of the Year (2003, 2008), five-time SEC Coach of the Year (2003, 2008, 2009, 2016, 2020).

There isn’t much that can be said about the greatest college football coach of all time that hasn’t already been said.

While Brady recently earned his seventh Super Bowl victory, Saban impressively won a seventh national championship this season. Saban has coached 41 consensus All-Americans and is synonymous with greatness in college football.

His coaching tree is the most extensive you’ll find, and his longevity of excellence is unsurpassed. As he reaches retirement age, there are certainly questions about how much longer he will continue to sit on the throne, but until that day comes, Saban is the king of college football.