When we ranked Power Five college football coaches last year, there wasn't much change in the top 25. Whether it was nobody crashing and burning or soaring higher than ever -- or none of our voters wanting to take anything that happened during a pandemic season too seriously -- things remained largely the same. There were only two new entries in our top 25 at this point 12 months ago.
There are a lot more changes this year.
Three of the coaches in last season's the top 25 lost their jobs following the 2021 season, including a top-10 coach in Dan Mullen and another who won a national title in 2019, Ed Orgeron. That kind of turnover played a role in the shakeups all over our list of 65 coaches, and this year we have six coaches cracking the top 25 for the first time. Of those six, three were ranked 50th or lower last year.
How did they climb so high, so quickly? Well, volatility will always play a role in the process because our group of voters, consisting of writers from both CBS Sports and 247Sports, aren't given a set of guidelines to follow. We just rank coaches from 1-65 using any criteria we choose to follow, and then we see the results. Some value accomplishments on the field above all else, while others may give greater weight to recruiting prowess or the possibility of future success. In the end, nearly everybody is angry. It's a perfect process!
If you haven't yet checked out our ranking of Power Five coaches outside the top 25, you can.
|Dave Doeren: It's been a slow, steady climb for Doeren in our rankings. Some might say it's been too slow. He'd built momentum following consecutive nine-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, but a 4-8 record in 2019 was a setback. Now, he's gone 18-7 the last two seasons and turned NC State into one of the more formidable programs in the ACC. His reward is finally cracking the top 25. 2021 rank: 36 (+11) |
|Mel Tucker: Tucker has rocketed up our rankings faster than his annual salary, but guess what? His 33-spot climb isn't even the biggest jump by a coach this year. Tucker was at 57 last season following a 2-5 debut at Michigan State, but an 11-2 record and Peach Bowl victory catapult him into the top 25. The trick will be to see if he can keep it up because expectations have been raised. As our rankings have shown, we punish coaches for failing to live up to them around here. 2021 rank: 57 (+33) |
|P.J. Fleck: Fleck has been floating in that 20-30 range since coming to Minnesota from Western Michigan. He took the Broncos to a Cotton Bowl before getting the Minnesota gig, and after a 5-7 debut, he improved the team to seven and then 11 wins in consecutive seasons. The 2020 season was a disappointment, but the Gophers were hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and bounced back last season by going 9-4. They enter the 2022 season as a dark horse in the Big Ten West. 2021 rank: 25 (+2) |
|Sam Pittman: Two years ago, before Pittman began his first season at Arkansas, he was ranked at No. 65 in our rankings. He then climbed 15 spots after going 3-7 in 2020, and it's clear that Pittman math is every additional win is worth roughly five spots in the rankings. This season, he climbs another 28 spots after improving from 3-7 to 9-4 and finishing the year ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25. Maybe it's too big a leap, but it's important to remember Arkansas went 1-23 in the SEC in the three seasons before his arrival. They've gone 7-11 since. 2021 rank: 50 (+28) |
|Pat Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald is always an interesting coach to gauge with our voters. He cracked the top 10 last year, as our voters strongly supported the "doing more with less" aspect of his accomplishments at Northwestern. The Wildcats were fresh off a division title, after all. Unfortunately, they followed it up with a 3-9 mark last year, and while Fitz's teams have had down seasons before, it's their second 3-9 mark in the last three seasons. His ranking is a reflection of the up-and-down nature of his teams lately. 2021 rank: 8 (-13) |
|Mack Brown: Mack nearly cracked the top 10 last season after leading North Carolina to the Orange Bowl, but the 2021 season was a disappointment. The Heels finished 6-7 and went 3-5 in the ACC. While Brown is one of the few active coaches with a national title to his name, 2005 is a long time ago in the minds of our voters. Plus, since the 2010 season at Texas, Brown's teams have gone 51-38. That's good enough to get you ranked here, but you're not going to sniff the top 10 with a record like that. 2021 rank: 12 (-8) |
|Mario Cristobal: I was expecting Cristobal to get a mini-Miami bump in the rankings, but I guess he's being punished for only winning the Pac-12 North instead of his third consecutive Pac-12 title. Cristobal turned the Ducks into the West Coast's most fearsome powerhouse, and now he returns home to Miami. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if he wins multiple ACC titles like he did Pac-12 titles, he'll be ranked a lot higher than this. 2021 rank: 16 (-3) |
|Lane Kiffin: Ladies and gentlemen, Lane has done it. He has cracked the top 25. After spending last season at No. 30 following a 5-5 debut with the Rebels, he doubled his win total to 10 in 2021 and reached the Sugar Bowl. Take that success and combine it with Kiffin's consistent ability to provide quotes and content, and of course he's going to be loved by a group of sportswriters and sports talkers. 2021 rank: 30 (+12) |
|Dave Clawson: Finally! All Clawson did to finally convince the rest of our voters that he was worthy of being ranked in the top 25 was win 11 games at freakin' Wake Forest. Clawson has been exceeding expectations in Winston-Salem for years, but he won the Atlantic last season and led the Deacs to a Gator Bowl. The division title was Wake's first 2006, which is also the last time the Deacons won 11 games and finished a season ranked in the top 25. 2021 rank: 28 (+11) |
|Mark Stoops: Stoops continues his steady climb as he's turned Kentucky into a respectable SEC program, which is not something anybody has ever expected from Kentucky football. The Wildcats went 10-3 last year, the second time the 'Cats have won 10 games in a season under Stoops in the last four campaigns. The program had only two 10-win seasons in its history (1950, 1977) before Stoops showed up. While nobody is expecting Kentucky to topple Georgia for the SEC East, at this point, it wouldn't be a major upset if they pulled off a win against the Dawgs. 2021 rank: 22 (+6) |
|James Franklin: Franklin's standing has been in decline the last few years. He was a top-10 coach before the 2020 season, but the Nittany Lions have gone 11-11 since then and are only 8-10 in the Big Ten. Three 11-win seasons in four years before this stretch offer plenty of evidence that the downturn won't last, but some cracks are starting to show after eight seasons in Happy Valley. The 2022 season will be crucial for both parties. 2021 rank: 13 (-2) |
|Paul Chryst: I've had a lot of Wisconsin fans yell at me over the years, angry about Chryst being ranked behind other Big Ten coaches -- like Franklin -- because they think the Badgers coach has been underrated. Well, he's finally ahead of him, OK? Are you happy? Chryst climbs four spots into the top 15 after going 9-4 last year, but it was also the second straight season the Badgers didn't win the Big Ten West. At this point, nobody doubts Chryst is one of the best coaches in the country, but it's hard to imagine him climbing higher than this until Wisconsin wins the Big Ten. 2021 rank: 18 (+4) |
|Kirk Ferentz: Ferentz climbs four spots after going 10-4 last year and winning the Big Ten West. It was the second time the Hawkeyes won 10 games in the last three seasons after doing so only once (2015) from 2010-18. Ferentz has been at Iowa since 1999, and you know what you're going to get. The Hawkeyes are going to be solid defensively and frustrate their fans on offense while winning anywhere between seven and 10 games. 2021 rank: 17 (+4) |
|Matt Campbell: Campbell was already ranked ahead of Ferentz, but he's only one spot ahead after falling three spots this season. There's no need to thank us, sports radio hosts of Iowa. Campbell is starting to deal with the repercussions of expectations. After going 9-3 in 2020 and reaching the Big 12 Championship Game, people expected more from a Cyclones team returning most of its production than a 7-6 season and 5-4 mark in conference. I still think Campbell's one of the best in the business, but I don't know how much room for improvement there is for him at Iowa State. Ironically, he might be entering the same kind of spot occupied by Ferentz where he won't win enough to crack the top 10 permanently, but he'll garner too much respect to slip much further than this. 2021 rank: 9 (-3) |
|Dave Aranda: Meet the greatest climber in CBS Sports Power Five Coach Rankings history. Aranda was ranked 62nd last year and climbed an astounding 51 places after winning the Big 12 and getting the Bears to the Sugar Bowl. Do I think this is too steep a climb for one season? Yes, of course. But I don't blame my fellow voters for buying in. There's plenty of reason to think the 2021 season wasn't a fluke. That said, the kind of volatility we see in this ranking usually results in some regression, so I won't be surprised if Aranda is closer to 20 than 10 in next year's rankings. 2021 rank: 62 (+51) |
|Mike Gundy: Just ahead of Aranda is the man who came a yard shy of beating him in the Big 12 Championship Game. This year, Gundy climbs five spots to reach the top 10, and it's a deserved bump. Gundy's accomplishments at Oklahoma State are forgotten a little too easily, but getting the Cowboys to 12-2 was a friendly reminder of what he's been able to do in Stillwater. He's one win shy of 150 at the school, and his 11 bowl victories are more than every other Oklahoma State coach in history combined. 2021 rank: 15 (+5) |
|Jim Harbaugh: Harbaugh spent his first few years at Michigan ranked in the top 10, and detractors constantly told us he was overrated because he hadn't accomplished anything in Ann Arbor, including a winless record against Ohio State. Last season, he beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten and reached the College Football Playoff. That isn't likely to stop people from saying he doesn't deserve to be ranked this high because of what happened against Georgia, but Harbaugh's always been a polarizing figure. He's also one of the best coaches in the country, and while some may downplay his accomplishments, most would kill for the success he's had with the Wolverines. 2021 rank: 23 (+14) |
|Kyle Whittingham: Whittingham cracks the top 10 for the first time, and while some of it has to do with coaches no longer here, it's hard to argue that he hasn't always deserved consideration. Leading Utah to a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl berth only solidified the job he's done with the program. After a mediocre first three seasons in the Pac-12, Utah has gone 68-31 with four division titles and a Pac-12 titles in the last eight. Nobody has bette taken advantage of USC's struggles than Whittingham and the Utes, but I wouldn't recommend counting the Utes out now that Lincoln Riley is at USC. This program is simply too solid to slink into anybody's shadow. 2021 rank: 14 (+6) |
|Brian Kelly: He's traded in blue and gold for purple and yellow, and he's developed a strange accent, but none of it caused our voters to change their minds about him as a coach. While he falls two spots, that's more about what happened around him in these rankings than anything Kelly did. While it's understandable why some Irish fans weren't bothered by Kelly leaving for LSU, it's surprising how easily Kelly's accomplishments in South Bend were written off as nothing more than being the coach at Notre Dame. Kelly's Irish won at least 10 games in six of the last seven seasons, a run the likes of which Notre Dame had not enjoyed since 1988-93. Now, LSU is hoping he can bring that kind of sustained success to a program that's been too unpredictable. 2021 rank: 5 (-2) |
|Ryan Day: Nobody questions Day's offensive acumen, but we've seen some slippage on the defensive side of the ball in Columbus, and it's cost the Buckeyes a few games. Day has still gone 34-4 in three seasons, which is an incredible start, but a two-loss season is considered a failure at Ohio State -- especially when that second loss wasn't in the College Football Playoff. Last year also saw Ohio State's run of four straight Big Ten titles end, and it impacted Day's standing among our voters ever so slightly. 2021 rank: 4 (-2) |
|Jimbo Fisher: Being one of the few active coaches with a national title gives Fisher plenty of weight in the rankings, but that title was nearly a decade ago. Furthermore, while Texas A&M almost reached the College Football Playoff in 2020, it followed it with an 8-4 mark last season, meaning Jimbo has lost at least four games in three of his four seasons in College Station. The good news is that Jimbo's stacking excellent recruiting classes, but if those five-star recruits don't lead to playoff berths, I don't know how long Fisher will be able to hold onto a spot in the top five. 2021 rank: 6 (+1) |
|Lincoln Riley: Ever since Riley left Oklahoma for USC, Sooners fans have been talking about how they're fine with it because the program had been slipping recently anyway. While I think that's mostly the shock talking, it's proven true in our rankings! Riley drops a spot from No. 3 to No. 4, but even that drop has more to do with Kirby Smart than Riley. After five seasons at Oklahoma, 2021 was the first time Riley failed to win the Big 12. He's gone 55-10 and reached the College Football Playoff three times. Few coaches in the sport can claim the same accomplishments, so there are few coaches ranked ahead of him here. 2021 rank: 3 (-1) |
|Dabo Swinney: This is the worst ranking of the year, and it's nothing but recency bias. There are two coaches in the sport today who have won multiple national titles, and Swinney is one of them. He's won two at Clemson, but last season, in what's considered a "down year" by the standards Swinney himself set, the Tigers "only" won 10 games and failed to win the ACC. Nevermind that it was the 11th straight season Swinney's Clemson team won 10+ games or the first time they'd failed to reach the College Football Playoff since 2014. I don't mean this as disrespect to Smart, who took Swinney's spot at No. 2, but this is a failure by my fellow panelists. 2021 rank: 2 (-1) |
|Kirby Smart: Smart won a national title at Georgia, something that most Dawgs fans had begun to think was impossible. It took longer than hoped but felt inevitable, and it finally happened in Indianapolis earlier this year. So, of course, Kirby climbs in the rankings. Every coach that has won a natty has made a jump. Orgeron was in the top 10 a couple of seasons ago, too, and Smart shouldn't be lower than No. 3 on anybody's ballot. But as I said already, he shouldn't be ranked ahead of Swinney. Not yet, anyway. Even Kirby would agree with that. 2021 rank: 7 (+5) |
|Nick Saban: The King stays The King. Saban is not only the best coach in college football today, he's the best college football coach of all time. He's won seven national titles and was close to an eighth last season. As long as he's at Alabama, the Crimson Tide will be a threat to win it all again, and nobody is going to pass him in these rankings as long as he continues coaching. Hell, he might stick around at No. 1 in these rankings for a few years after he retires. 2021 rank: 1 (0) |