Who is the best coach in the Power Five conferences?
It was a simple question with a rather easy answer for us here at CBS Sports, but what began as a light debate turned into a rather heavy one once someone finally asked, "How would you rank all the Power Five coaches?"
So that's what we did.
We treated it just like we would a top 25 poll with five voters turning in separate ballots including all 65 coaches (the 64 in Power Five conferences plus Brian Kelly of Notre Dame). Those votes were compiled into one final poll.
Once the question was posed to our five voters, the new question became, "What makes one coach better than the other?" Well, there were no set guidelines for any of us to follow. Whether you wanted to rank coaches based on what they've accomplished already, what you think they could accomplish, or by height, it was your call.
Each of our five voters (Dennis Dodd, Ben Kercheval, Chip Patterson, Barton Simmons and me, Tom Fornelli) were free to rank them based on whatever criteria he felt to be most important.
While I can't speak for my fellow voters, I know that when it came to putting together my ballot, I went with a blend of the coach's accomplishments and just who I would want coaching my team if I were an athletic director looking to hire somebody. Also, I tended to keep coaches entering their first year as head coaches at the bottom of my rankings. Meanwhile, coaches like P.J. Fleck and Willie Taggart -- coaches who are new to the Power Five but not new to being in charge -- got a bit more credit. Based on our final results, this seemed to be a theme with all five ballots.
Here are the 40 Power Five coaches that missed the top 25 this year.
|Chris Ash (Last season: 64): Ash falls from 64 to 65 this year. Last year, he was ranked so low because he had never been a head coach. This year he's there because he's 2-10 in his career as a head coach.|
|Justin Wilcox (NR): Wilcox has plenty of experience as a defensive coordinator, but he has never been in charge. He's inheriting a team that hasn't played much defense at all lately.|
|Tom Allen (NR): Allen is in an interesting situation, and we aren't just talking about how he ended up in this job. Kevin Wilson had built Indiana into a dangerous team thanks to its offense. How will Allen -- who has a defensive background -- maintain that?|
|Barry Odom (62): It's never easy being the guy that replaces The Guy, and Missouri struggled quite a bit in Odom's first season replacing Gary Pinkel. It will be interesting to see what changes in the second.|
|Matt Campbell (55): Campbell drops six spots this year, which might not be totally fair to him. He inherited a program that needs work and will take time to overhaul. Having said that, 3-9 is still 3-9.|
|David Beaty (65): Beaty went 2-10 last year yet he climbs five spots in the rankings. Why? Because he went 2-10 at Kansas, and one of the wins was in conference play.|
|Dave Doeren (50): Doeren just doesn't receive a lot of respect in our rankings, as he has fallen for the second straight year despite going to three straight bowl games. I'm guessing the reason is that he's 9-23 in ACC play.|
|Lovie Smith (49): Smith began his career ranked higher thanks to his work in the NFL. After a 3-9 season, however, he drops a bit in the rankings, and he still has a lot of work ahead of him in Champaign.|
|Kliff Kingsbury (47): This is the lowest Kingsbury has been ranked in our three seasons doing these rankings, and if things don't improve soon, there's a real chance he won't be around for us to rank next year.|
|Mark Stoops (56): Stoops has now finished four seasons at Kentucky, and is yet to take a step backward in any of them. Maybe if he takes another step forward in 2017 we'll move him up in the rankings, too.|
|D.J. Durkin (60): All things considered, a 6-7 start at Maryland with a bowl game wasn't a bad first season for Durkin. Still, that 3-6 mark in the Big Ten needs to improve.|
|Kirby Smart (46): Smart was ranked rather highly last year for someone who had never been a head coach before, but he had that Saban sheen. Seems some of it wore off over what was generally considered a disappointing 8-5 season in Athens.|
|Derek Mason (57): The Commodores have gone from three wins in Mason's first season to four in his second, and six last year. This is a very good sign, but that 5-11 mark in the SEC the last two years needs work.|
|Butch Jones (33): A Champion of Life, but not a champion of our rankings. Still, in my opinion, this is a pretty steep drop considering all the injuries Tennessee dealt with last year. Raised expectations will do that, though.|
|Dino Babers (45): Babers was brought in because of his high-powered offense. Well, the Syracuse offense actually scored nearly two fewer points per game last season than it did the year before hiring Babers. Transitions can be rough.|
|Steve Addazio (54): He's not exciting by any means, but there's a part of me that wonders if we don't respect what Addazio's done at Boston College enough. He has won seven games in three of his four seasons there, and he has done it in the ACC division that's home to two recent national champions.|
|Jim Mora (29): The Bruins have gone from 10 wins in 2014 to eight in 2015 and only four last season under Mora. When that happens you fall 20 spots in these rankings.|
|Ed Orgeron (NR): I don't think there are any of us who don't love Orgeron's personality, but we're all taking a cautious approach to what he'll do at LSU now that he's actually starting a season as head coach.|
|Jeff Brohm (NR): I'm an unabashed Brohm fanboy. I had him ranked higher than any of my colleagues, but the project he's undertaking at Purdue will not be easy, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him ranked lower next season. But not on my ballot.|
|Dave Clawson (59): Clawson has done so well at Wake Forest that not even attempts at sabotage by the team's radio analyst were enough to keep the Deacons from a bowl game. That alone was worth the 13-spot jump.|
|Clay Helton (51): I don't know if Helton is a great coach at this point. I don't think anybody does. What I do know is that he has a quarterback that could help make sure he continues to climb these rankings.|
|Rich Rodriguez (24): RichRod was in our top 25 last season, and he drops all the way down to No. 44. It's a steep drop, but his Wildcats have taken a step back in each of the past two seasons, so it's certainly a justifiable one.|
|Pat Narduzzi (40): I'm not sure why Narduzzi drops three spots in the rankings. I'm guessing it has more to do with having two new people voting this year than it does his performance on the field. Maybe it's because Narduzzi is a defensive whiz, but his Pitt defenses have yet to reflect that.|
|Todd Graham (36): I honestly expected Graham's stock to take a bigger hit than this considering he's 11-14 the past two seasons with a 6-12 mark in Pac-12 play. Also, he ditched the Britney Spears headset during games, and he should be penalized for that.|
|Gary Andersen (52): After having success at Wisconsin, Andersen fell from No. 38 to No. 52 following his first year at Oregon State. Now, after doubling his win total at Oregon State in Year 2, and going from 0-9 to 3-6 in conference play, it appears our voters remembered this guy knows what he's doing.|
|Kevin Sumlin (32): It certainly seems like A&M has plateaued, as the Aggies have gone 8-5 in each of the past three seasons under Sumlin. His ranking has not, however, as he falls for the second straight season, and he's now a top-40 coach with a top-10 salary.|
|Matt Rhule (NR): Rhule makes a nice debut in our rankings as he comes to Baylor from Temple, where he had quite a bit of success. I think he can be successful at Baylor as well, but he's going to need the time to do it.|
|Mike Riley (43): There was a marked improvement in Riley's second season in Lincoln, as the Huskers went from 6-7 in Year 1 to 9-4. It was Riley's first nine-win season since 2012, and only his third since 2008. Another step forward and I wouldn't be surprised to see him pushing into the top 25 next year.|
|Will Muschamp (44): I think Muschamp exceeded all of our expectations in his first year at South Carolina, and as a result, he climbs seven spots in the rankings. If he can do it again in 2017, it might help us all forget how things ended at Florida when we get together to vote again next year.|
|Dana Holgorsen (42): I honestly thought Holgo would climb further after a 10-win season with the Mountaineers in 2016. West Virginia has now improved in each of the past three seasons, yet Dana is still ranked behind a few coaches with thinner résumés.|
|P.J. Fleck (NR): Well it certainly looks like we're all rowing the boat here, doesn't it? It's hard to argue against anything Fleck accomplished at Western Michigan, but even if I'm a fan of the hire at Minnesota and believe it could pay off, I personally think this is a little too high.|
|Justin Fuente (38): Fuente had a Fleck-like ranking in his first season last year, and he climbs four more spots this season after a 10-4 debut and a division title with the Hokies. If he could accomplish that in his first year, what might happen in his second?|
|Hugh Freeze (21): It has been a rough year for Coach Freeze. His Rebels followed up a 10-win season and a Sugar Bowl appearance with a 5-7 dud last year, and topped that with some NCAA fun. Now he has fallen out of the top 25 of our coach rankings.|
|Bronco Mendenhall (26): Bronco was on the precipice of our top 25 last season, but after a rough start to his Virginia tenure, he tumbles a bit in the rankings. Last year's 2-10 mark was Mendenhall's first losing season as a head coach. Will 2017 be his second?|
|Willie Taggart (NR): This is Taggart's first year at Oregon, but he has shown at both Western Kentucky and South Florida that he can build a program. The question now becomes how he handles a situation where the foundation is already pretty solid, but the competition is quite a bit stiffer.|
|Mike MacIntyre (58): What happens when you follow a 10-27 start at Colorado with a 10-4 season that brings a moribund program back to life? Why, you climb an amazing 28 spots in the rankings! It'll be interesting to see how MacIntyre and the Buffs handle the encore, but we were all clearly impressed by last season's accomplishments.|
|Paul Chryst (39): I think most of us went into 2016 believing Wisconsin was going to take a step back after going 10-3 in 2015. Instead, the Badgers actually improved to 11 wins and won the Big Ten West. Chryst might not be the most exciting coach in the world, but it's hard to argue with the results he has had in Madison so far.|
|Tom Herman (NR): Herman is a rock star in the coaching world. He has only been a head coach for two years, but he's 22-4 with a Peach Bowl appearance. If he can bring that same kind of immediate success to Texas this season, he is going to absolutely fly up these rankings.|
|Bret Bielema (22): Bielema is one of three coaches to fall out of last year's top 25, and while I can't speak for everybody else, I believe it's because he just can't get over the hump in the SEC. His teams have been competitive, but even if you take out that 0-8 SEC record in Bret's first season with the Hogs, he's still only 10-14 in conference play.|
|Larry Fedora (35): Fedora's team went from 11 wins to eight wins last season, but he climbs nine spots anyway. Why? Well, my guess is that we were all still a bit skeptical following one really strong season in Chapel Hill, but last season showed that while 11 wins might be a bit much, Fedora's Tar Heels are still going to be a team to be reckoned with in the ACC.|