Top 10 College Football coaches who have not won a conference championship

Follow TSS on Twitter @TheStudentSect

If you really get to thinking about it, there’s very little logic in fabled kids’ fairy tales. Take, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood. While yeah, it’s an all-time classic, there’s never any thought process about the absurd decision making throughout it. Never has a story been written with such blatant disregard for common sense, and here we are reading it to kids.

First, the parenting is downright suspicious. Today, the local PD would be all over Red’s parents for sending her out to “walk through the woods by yourself carrying a basket of cookies for your grandmother, fully knowing that there are talking, logic-making wolves out there looking to eat kids.” To be frank, DCS would be all over Red’s folks and social media would be wondering if they’d set Red up.

Then, you have the wolf, who by all accounts is either under the influence of something or just a stone idiot. First, for as hungry as the guy is, he meets Red in the woods and instead of … you know … eating her, he holds a conversation about what they’re doing. Then, he decides the obvious course of action is to leave his meal, go to grandma’s house, lock her up, and then cross dress using her clothing to trick Red into thinking he’s grandma and thus eating her.

As we all know, the wolf walks away empty handed and still starving, when the logical course of action would have been to eat the grandmother and then not deploy trickery on Red to get her to come close. Because at this point, he never left her in the woods.

At any rate, coaching is an odd thing to evaluate in pure black and white, because like Little Red Riding Hood’s folks and the wolf, there’s no blanket logic you can apply that’s being used. We all love evaluating everyone and everything by championships, which is fine of course, but in coaching, it really doesn’t work.

Not everyone’s given a blank canvass with the same set of markers to make a masterpiece, which is why you can be theoretically be a much better coach than one that’s won a lot of championships because he’s using new markers and you’re using broken crayons with the paper covering all the wax so you need to keep sharpening them.

There are great coaches out there in college football who have never won even conference championships. So let’s apply some logic and rank them, but first, rules.

1. Said Conference Championships that  have not been won only include at the FBS level

2. Newly minted coaches for 2015 are not eligible. Otherwise, it would just be a listing of lower level division coaches finally getting their chance because they have gobs and gobs of success

3. Any more rules than that, and I’m going to need to involve lawyers.

And away we go, off into the woods with a bag of cookies and hopefully a 12-gauge if there are man-eating wolves.

10. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Career Record: 60-53

From a pure wins and losses perspective, some of the shine has worn off of Fitzgerald as the Wildcats have posted three losing seasons in their last four, Big Mac sandwiched (three buns, and just enough meat to pass for half an actual cheeseburger patty, soaked in ammonia for your convenience) around a 10 win campaign. But Northwestern isn’t an easy place to win, and you’re recruiting against a stacked deck with the academic restrictions. While the Gary Barnett and then Randy Walker era changed the lexicon of how Northwestern football is viewed, you’re still trying to build a million dollar home with Mastercraft tools versus a whole bunch of other guys with a trunk full of DeWalts.

9. James Franklin, Penn State

Career Record: 31-21

Franklin also falls in the category that many of these coaches do, and that involves being the head man at programs with a history of losing fantastically. Making Vanderbilt competitive in the SEC is like being the ugliest guy in a group of friends who’s only kept in the group because he has a nice basement to hang out in and his parents are never home, nor do they lock the liquor cabinet. Because that’s too often what Vandy feels like in the SEC. But he was 24-15 there. Vandy was underwhelming at best before he got there, and that’s where they are now that he’s gone.

8. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Career Record: 46-31.

Mullen’s finest work was this past season, when for a period of time, the Bulldogs were ranked number one for the first time in school history. Considering the last SEVEN MSU coaches have departed with a losing record in SEC play, and you start to figure there are easier things to do than win in the SEC in Starkville. He’s finished with no fewer than seven wins every year but his first at the school, and while he has work to do to not be that eighth straight coach (22-26 overall in the SEC right now), he seems like he’s on the right darned path.

7. Joey Jones, South Alabama

Career Record: 40-35

If you’ve never heard of Jones, well, now you have, all 15 readers of you. South Alabama is entering its fourth year of FBS play, and it’s gone a lot better than it does for most teams. For most new clubs entering into that level, the first 5 or so years, minimum, are like that first time walking down frat row on a Friday night and thinking, “what am I getting myself into?” But you get the hang of it. The Jaguars have become almost immediately competitive after getting over that salty 2-11 first season and now are considered a favorite to compete for the Sun Belt crown. It comes from the top down. Jones has had an odd career arc, first as a wildly successful high school coach (and usually those guys stay at that level), then becoming Birmingham-Southern’s first coach since 1939 (just sounds odd to say) and then one year later taking over South Alabama and winning his first 17 games.

6. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Career Record: 57-35

I don’t know if this is a cop out or not, but you can’t exclude great coaches who don’t have the chance to win conference championships yet must include them because they haven’t. That all changes this year when they join the appropriately named American, but he’s won at least 8 games and been to a bowl game every season but one in Annapolis. He’s continued to oversee the Navy football program’s distancing itself from rival Army, having won the last 13 in the series, and was the head coach when Navy clipped Notre Dame’s 43-game win streak in the rivalry back in 2009. They’ve also captured the Commander in Chief’s trophy in four of his seven years at the helm.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State

Career Record: 96-38

Truthfully, Leach might have been #1 on this list if you do it 5 years ago. But a song titled and spelled “California Gurls” was in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, so we didn’t even know how to spell basic words back then and had much to learn. If you’re going to have a cooler of beer on your porch and one of these coaches to sit with, Leach might be the guy, but it’s surprising that after having 0 losing regular seasons at Texas Tech, it’s been a slow pull trying to get the Cougars back to respectability. It’s hard to tell if the program was THAT dour when he took over or what, but he’s yet to have a winning season there and the team regressed badly in 2014. Still, save his first two seven win seasons in Lubbock, Leach never failed to win at least 8 games in his time there. Arrrrgh.

4. Todd Graham, Arizona State

Career Record: 77-41

The man’s career has resembled a Taylor Swift album at times, specifically 2010 through 2012, when it was marked by nothing but surprising and somewhat awkward looking breakups, but it’s hard to argue that he has success wherever he goes and on top of that, is doing it with the career ladder in mind. Coaching is weird in the sense that like every other profession, you can’t turn down promotion opportunities, but at the same time you’re telling guys you recruit you’ll be there. I don’t have the answer. But for Graham, who immediately led ASU to their first winning season since 2007 in 2012, you figure wherever he goes, they’ll be fine. One always wonders what went into the Pittsburgh deal, where he spoke to ASU without permission before being slapped on the wrist and then saying, “you can’t hold me down” and going west. But he’s a good coach, to say the least.

3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Career Record: 63-28

Sumlin was the most surprising name when I was doing this. It’s like someone mentioning Bruce Springsteen and you just assume he and the E-Street Band had plenty of number one hits but never bothered to research it. Because when you research it, you find out they didn’t have a single one. Yet, I suppose. In 2011, Sumlin’s Houston Cougars went unscathed through the regular season only to lose to 2-loss Southern Miss in the title game by getting routed. Seriously, Springsteen never had a number one hit? Anyways, he won the C-USA West twice, and his career resume includes a 4-1 bowl game record. Sumlin has had one losing season on his record, oddly between 10 and 12 win seasons.

2. David Cutcliffe, Duke

Career Record: 75-73

From 1995 to the beginning of the Cutcliffe era in 2008, Duke football was morbidly bad. They had four winless seasons in that time, and basically were the Tylenol of the ACC … you went there when you needed to feel good about your program. But Cutcliffe … who was fired after only one losing season at Ole Miss … has done the impossible, which is make Duke into a respectable football program. They’ve been to bowl games the past three seasons and played for the conference championship! (not a typo) two seasons ago. Cutcliffe is well respected, but he was literally handed a few sticks, some glue, and some rusty bolts and told to make a house that could hold up in a wind storm. He’s somehow done it. Couple it all with the fact that the dude has had a triple bypass surgery, and maybe that’s the most amazing part of his success.

1. Mike Riley, Nebraska

Career Record: 93-80.

Time to get serious for a second. Prior to Riley’s arrival in Corvallis in 1997, Oregon State had won more than four games approximately ZERO times since 1971 and had nine 1-win or fewer seasons in that time span. That’s just awful. Riley immediately came in and the team won 5-games his first season there. Riley has overseen Oregon State’s success during a time when Southern Cal was resurrected and dominated college football, and also has done it during a time when in-state rival Oregon has gone from program off the radar to fixture in the top 5 with a national identity attached to their quirky uniform combinations that seem to be a big fan for recruits. Still, the Beavers not only have not gotten worse, but they’ve continued to win at that same time. It’s hard to tell what happens without the hall pass of just being better than average as acceptable (which it is not at Nebraska), but there’s little doubt the dude can coach. Folks forget he was offered the Alabama job in 2002. Those in the know … know he can do work.