PFF’s top 20 coaches list tries a different angle:
These college football head coach rankings are a shoutout to the underdog and the unwanted, a chance to recognize those who might not be in the national spotlight but deserve their moment for clawing their programs up from the depths and steering it toward a new, compelling future.
It’s always difficult to examine coaches through the prism of wins, losses and efficiency rankings. After all, coaches who win a seemingly endless number of games aren’t necessarily good, and those who lose games aren’t necessarily bad.
The opportunity to win games was the biggest factor here. Flying above or below program expectations was the most important point when putting this list together.
Funnily enough, Saban and Swinney top the list. But check out number three:
Imagine a world in which Kirby Smart is a two-time national champion, one where his team did not blow a 10-point lead to Alabama in the fourth quarter of the 2018 championship game and then a 14-point third-quarter lead in the SEC Championship the following year.
It’s a future that Dawg fans can only dream of because Smart is still only a one-time SEC champion and zero-time national champion. It’s unfair, but it’s hard to hold two fluke comebacks against him — not that he’s totally off the hook for those two Bama losses — but he has surpassed Mark Richt’s 74% win rate with his 79% win rate in six years.
Georgia’s defense had fallen to 13th in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play in the two years before Kirby’s arrival, but he’s since straightened that out. The program ranks sixth in the same metric in the five years since he became head coach.
Gee, no mention of Justin Fields there. I’m not sure how seriously we should take that.
By the way, Dan Mullen pops up at number five, and there’s actually some valid reasoning behind it.
It’s hard to truly describe the offensive mess that Florida found itself in before Dan Mullen arrived in Gainesville. From 2014 to 2017, the Gators offense ranked 120th in EPA per play — that is not just bad, it is horrendous.
Mullen had them up to 29th in Year 1 and 30th in Year 2, and then they exploded with an 11th-place finish in 2020. Considering those advancements were mostly made with other coaches’ recruiting classes, those numbers are as impressive as it gets. We also shouldn’t forget his sterling 60% win rate as head coach of Mississippi State, where he took over a program that had only gone 21-38 in the five previous years under Sylvester Croom.
For all his flaws — and we’ve certainly documented plenty of them here — the dude has a seriously decent offensive mind. Just not decent enough to overcome said flaws.