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Top 10 CFB Coaches, Plus Coaches On the Rise And The Hot Seat In 2021

The analysis covers only power five programs. The data we are going to use will come from our Returning Starter and Total Talent Dashboard. The dashboard includes:

  • 247 Sports Total Talent ratings for the last three years.

  • The total number of players sent to the NFL the last three years.

  • The last three years' win percentages.

The data will provide a solid baseline for the analysis as all three are vital elements to the success of a major college football coach.

The Value Of Recruiting

The top ten football coaches in college football in 2021

Recruiting, as everyone who is an avid follower of college football knows, is the lifeblood of the sport. If you are not recruiting at a high level in today's college football, you are not competing for national titles. The days of recruiting several developmental three-star players and coaching them up for several years are gone. However, there are a few exceptions at schools with lower expectations, for example, Tom Allen at Indiana. Aside from the two or three exceptions, the coaches who recruit at a high level and win at a high level will be rated higher, while coaches who recruit at a high level yet fail to succeed at a high level will be listed lower.

Sending Players to The NFL

One trend you will likely see in the rankings will be that teams who recruit at the highest level are sending the most players to the NFL. Some teams send many players to the league yet fail to win at a high level, which presents a red flag. Michigan Football is an excellent example of a team in recent years that has had success sending players to the NFL, yet they are not performing at the highest level. Alabama and Ohio State are on the other end of that spectrum; they both recruit well, send players to the NFL at a high rate and win at a high level. The obvious rule of thumb, teams who can develop their players at a high level, especially teams who recruit at a high level, have the highest success rate.


The bottom line in college football is that you have to win. Winning matters, and we decided to add a three-year trend percentage to the dashboard so we can quickly evaluate the teams who are on the rise, stagnant, or consistently winning at a high level. The other day, I had a conversation with one of the 5 Tool Sports Podcast analysts about the difference in expectations between Ohio State and Michigan. My short answer; it is acceptable to consistently go 9-3 or 10-2 at Michigan, while 9-3 or 10-2 can get you fired at Ohio State. That is the difference. The expectations of the top-flight programs are higher, and for a good reason. If teams are consistently winning, the alumni and big-time donors are happy, which keeps the AD, school President, or the Regents comfortable. Once the higher brass starts to feel the heat, it rolls downhill fast in major college football.

Coach Salaries

Another critical data point to consider is coaching salary. According to USA Today Sports, the average Power Five head coach makes $2.7M per year. The top coaches in the country make $5M or more per year, and the elite coaches (we will use Nick Saban as an example) bring home $8-10M per year. LSU's Ed Orgeron, whose LSU Tigers completed an undefeated 15-0 season in 2019, followed up their incredible 2019 season in 2020 by going 5-5. Ed Orgeron earned $9M in 2020. That is an excellent $1.8M per win, or if you are a glass half empty kind of human, $1.8M per loss. The reality for a coach like Ed Oregon heading into the 2021 season is that the heat will turn up if they have another bad year, even after the historic 2019 season. Winning matters, LSU is in the toughest conference in college football, and for every coach, the leash is short. How many .500 seasons has Nick Saban had?


The Football Scout 365 Top Ten Power Five Head Coaches

#1 Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide

Strength: Recruiting, Development, Defense

Three-Year Win %: 92.7% (1st)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 1st

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 29 (1st)

Nick Saban wins games at the highest level winning six national titles with Alabama, including this past year and one with the LSU Tigers. Alabama's recruiting under Saban has been superb; they rank first in average total team talent, a measure we compiled using the previous three years' data from 247 sports total team talent composite rankings. As far as sending players to the NFL, no coach does it better. Under Saban, the Crimson Tide has been an NFL feeder school. Saban has sent 39 players to the NFL through the first round alone since he arrived in Tuscaloosa, and in the last three years, the Tide continues to roll, sending 29 total players to the NFL according to the data pulled from Pro Football Reference. Nick Saban is also 91-8 since the College Football Playoff era began.

#2 Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers

Strength: Recruiting & Development

Three-Year Win %: 92.2% (2nd)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 6th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 18 (8th)

The numbers scream more with less when compared to Nick Saban above, and some of that is true, but the reality is that Dabo is still building Clemson into the level that Alabama has been at for years. There were several seasons where Clemson was outside of the top ten in recruiting and still winning at a high level, but they are now bringing in consistent top ten classes. The key component for Dabo has been getting it right when recruiting QB's. Under Swinney, the Tigers had three back-to-back-to-back program-changing signal callers, Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson, and Trevor Lawrence. Swinney has two national titles under his belt, and arguably another program-changing QB (DJ Uiagalelei) heads into the 2021 season.

#3 Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners

Strength: Scheme, Development, Offense

Three-Year Win %: 84.4%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 11th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 17 *(9th)

Lincoln Riley is an offensive genius and a consistent go-to for offensive coaches around the country who are looking for new ideas. Since his days as an OC under Bob Stoops, he has been the constant force behind the Sooners Offensive resurgence since 2015. Since taking the reigns as the Sooner head coach, Riley has won 4 Big 12 titles and made appearances in three College Football Playoffs. The Sooners have the 4th highest win percentage in FBS since Riley arrived as the OC in Norman back in 2015. Riley has produced two Heisman Trophy-winning QB's (Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield) and one Heisman runner-up in Jalen Hurts. In 2020, Riley started his first QB (Spencer Rattler) as head coach recruited and developed by his staff rather than a transfer from another program. Rattler is now a projected top-five NFL Draft prospect ahead of the 2021 college football season. There is a reason NFL teams covet Riley as a potential candidate for open NFL jobs. That trend will continue moving forward due to his ability as an offensive guru. Riley needs to procure a national title to further cement his status as one of the top three coaches.

#4 Mack Brown, North Carolina Tarheels

Strength: CEO, Recruiting

Three-Year Win %: 46.23% (44th) (Brown Has Been on Campus Two Years).

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 25th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 8 *(27th) (5 drafted in 2021 NFL draft) Number will continue to increase under Brown.

Mack Brown has turned the Tarheels football program around in two short seasons, similar to his first stint in Chapel Hill, where he coached from 1988 to 1997. Brown bookended his first stint in Chapel hill by going 1-10 in 1988 to 10-1 and a top-five finish in 1997. Brown boasts a career 65% win percentage; from 1998 to 2013, Brown won 76% of his games at Texas, won a national title, produced a few Heisman winners (Ricky Williams and Vince Young). He has coached for 32 years and won 253 games. So why is Mack Brown rated 4th on our list? Brown is known for his recruiting prowess and has been dynamite the last two years. The total talent rating using the 247 Sports combined three-year total from 2017-2020; the Tarheels have risen to 25th with an 86.62 average rating. Their 2021 recruiting class rating of 90.88 ranks 15th, which shows they will continue their talent ascension. Again, recruiting matters, and Brown has been dynamite as a recruiter and a team CEO in his first few years in Chapel Hill. The Tarheels are a legitimate ACC title contender and a darkhorse CFB playoff contender in 2021.

#5 Ryan Day, Ohio State

Strength: Recruiting, Offense, QB Guru

Three-Year Win %: 91.0% (3rd)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 2nd

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 28 (2nd)

The last few years before 2020, we have watched Alabama take on Clemson for the king of college football. Ohio State is now in the driver seat at number two in key categories such as 247 Sports total talent ranking and sending players to the NFL. Ohio State is and always has been a football factory. They have gone from Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer, and now they have Ryan Day. Tressel set the tone in the early 2000s for a program that should have won several titles in the '90s had John Cooper found the secret recipe to beating arch-rival Michigan. Jim Tressel discovered that recipe (closing the Ohio Border to recruiting), Urban Meyer took that approach and expanded it nationally. Now Ryan Day is expanding the horizons of Ohio State with a coach dedicated to offense and high-level QB play. Ryan Day has one feat he must conquer to continue his ascension, win a national title. The two coaches prior did it in a few short years on campus. At Ohio State winning 11, or 12 games a year is the norm; making the college football playoff and winning a national title is expected. Ryan Day is positioning himself to reach that goal of a national title.

#6 Tom Allen, Indiana Hoosiers

Strength: CEO, Development, Defense

Three-Year Win %: 59.4% (24th)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 53rd

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 3

Tom Allen is the outlier on our list for many reasons, but the key reason is that he is at Indiana, where football is secondary to basketball. Allen inherited a cusp under current Ohio State OC Kevin Wilson, an offensive-focused coach fired for player mistreatment claims. Allen, unlike Wilson, is a defensive-minded coach. And the Hoosiers have never been better in the modern era on the defensive side of the ball. The Hoosiers ranked 43rd in yards allowed a season ago, but do not be fooled; they ranked 1st in the country in the red-zone scoring rate (64%). In addition, the Hoosier's offense was equally good in unique ways. They took care of the football ranking 9th in turnover margin nationally, and they ranked 31st in time of possession offense, two stats that benefit a team who wants to protect their defense. Compared to the previous five coaches, Allen does not have the resources, facilities, prestige that the others possess at name-brand universities known for football. Indiana is rated 53rd in total talent, according to 247 Sports Total Talent Rating in 2021. With 77% of their starters returning, the Hoosiers can make a play to compete in the Big Ten East and a potential shot at a trip to Indy for the Big Ten Title. It is a long shot, but certainly not out of the question.

#7 Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Strength: Motivator, Development, Offense

Three-Year Win %: 63.5 (16th)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 54th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 3 *(56th)

Matt Campbell is a highly coveted (does more with less) coach whose name popped up in NFL coaching discussion(s) this offseason. He reportedly turned down the Texas Longhorns to stay in Aimes, Iowa. Campbel is a player(s) coach, similar to Tom Allen; according to sources, his players love and respect him so much they would go into a literal war, not just on the football field with him if needed. In football, this is a highly valuable trait that some coaches try to develop but fail. Some of the best coaches in the game do not possess this leadership trait. Campbell, who owns the best winning percentage in Iowa State history, initiated his rebuilding plan and laid the foundation by instilling in his team to “Trust The Process.” His team(s) responded, delivering Iowa State into the most prosperous period in its history. Campbel is a three-time Big 12 Coach of The Year (2017, 2018, 2020) and could be in a position to win it again and even more in 2021.

#8 Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Strength: CEO, Recruiting, Offense

Three-Year Win %: 86.8% (4th)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 8th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 21 (6th)

Think about Notre Dame before Brian Kelly. Charlie Weis won 56% of his games, and before Weis, Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham combined to win 58% of their games. Brian Kelly has returned Notre Dame to a notch below Lou Holtz Era success, winning 72% of his games; Holtz won 76% of his games in the 80s and early 90s. In 2016, Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad went 4-8, an unacceptable mark. With Kelly at a crossroads, he let go of several coaches on his staff and retooled to keep Notre Brass from letting him go. The changes were a huge success. Since that 4-8 season, the Irish have went 43-7, appeared in the College Football Playoff two times, and played for an ACC title in 2020. Kelly has 252 victories in his career with stints at Grand Valley State, where he won two FCS championships, Central Michigan, where he won the MAC Title, and the Cincinnati Bearcats, where he won two Big East Titles before he moved on to Notre Dame in 2010. Brian Kelly has reached great heights, but Irish fans, alumni, and big-money donors are hungry for more. There were rumors a year ago that if Urban Meyer wanted the Notre Dame job, it was his to have. What this says to me is 10-11 wins, and a CFP beatdown is not enough. Kelly must deliver more soon to ascend higher, but as of right now, he is our 8th highest-rated CFB coach.

#9 Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Strength: CEO, Development, Defense

Three-Year Win %: 55.7%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 41st

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 4 (54th)

Like Tom Allen Indiana, Pat Fitzgerald is a coach who achieves more with less. The Wildcats are consistent, and from time to time, they have a down year, but each time they have a bad season, they follow it with a strong year. Northwestern is not a five-star NFL factory; they are known more for academics than sports. Pat Fitzgerald is the perfect coach because he played at Northwestern in the '90s and understands what it takes to be a student-athlete at a prestigious academic institution. His program consistently embodies toughness and resilience. Winning 55% of his games the last three seasons, the Wildcats finished 7-2 in 2020, won the Big Ten West, and represented the West Division in the Big Ten title game. The Wildcats lost talent to the NFL draft from its 2020 team, and they return only 31% of their starters from a season ago. Fitzgerald can solidify his top-ten status as a top ten head coach by putting together another Big Ten West contending season in 2021.

#10 Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Strength: CEO, Recruiting, Offense

Three-Year Win %: 73.6% (10th)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 13th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 13 (13th)

There is Jim Harbaugh, and there is Jimbo Fisher. The two are not the same, considering Jim has not won a conference title or a national title, but the conversation of coaching salary and failed expectations is very comparable. According to USA Today, Jimbo received the 5th highest pay of $7.5M last season, while Jim Harbaugh made the 4th highest pay at $8M. Why is this relevant? Fisher has yet to defeat Alabama. Now, Fisher is still an excellent football coach; he is one of the nation's best recruiters; though his offense has become stagnant, his teams are efficient. The Aggies know that the road to a title travels through Alabama. If there will be a better year to take down Alabama, it's 2021 while they are "reloading." For Jimbo to live up to this top ten ranking or move up higher, he has to beat Saban, win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff.


Coaches on The Hotseat

Ed Orgeron, LSU Tigers

Strength: Recruiting

Improvement Area: Development and Staff

Three-Year Win %: 75.6% (8th)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 4th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 24 (3rd)

LSU Football Head Coach Ed Orgeron Is on the hot seat

It feels like an eternity since the Tigers went 15-0 in a historic year where they had arguably the greatest offense of all time. That was in 2019, and in college football years, that's like ten years ago. After a 5-5 season in 2020 and a 4th place SEC west division finish, Orgeron is looking at a year where he has to prove he is not a one-hit-wonder. Being the head coach at LSU like Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson, the expectation is to make the playoff and compete for national championships. According to our three-year total talent average, the Tigers boasted the 4th most talented roster, yet in 2020 the on-field product appeared to be far from what the expectations require in Baton Rouge. There is one guy they could go after if things go south, and that is Carolina Panthers OC and the OC when they won the National Title in 2019, Joe Brady.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Strength: Recruiting

Three-Year Win %: 59.8%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 14th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 23 *(4th)

After a 2-4 season in 2020, Jim Harbaugh is taking the 2017 Brian Kelly route. He has retooled the majority of his staff, including his recruiting coordinator, to turn things around. Recruiting and talent have not been the issue; developing talent when it arrives in Ann Arbor is the issue. Will the changes be enough to get Michigan to 9 or 10 wins in 2021 and at least a competitive game vs. Ohio State? Harbaugh is betting on himself to do so, even taking a pay cut in a new contract to prove he can get Michigan back on track. If not, Harbaugh could be out by the end of the 2021 season.

Clay Helton, USC Trojans

Strength: Recruiting

Improvement Area: Development

Three-Year Win %: 62.2%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 5th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 11 *(21st)

Like Jim Harbaugh, talent is not the issue. Helton avoided the calls for Urban Meyer to replace him in 2021, but that still does not mean he is out of the woods. Helton won the Pac 12 and the Rose Bowl in 2017. Since then, he has posted a 5-7 record in 2017, 8-5 in 2018 but bounced back with a 5-1 record in 2020. He has an opportunity to bounce back even stronger in 2021. He has a promising QB Kedon Slovis who is getting 1st round NFL draft buzz, and the Trojans return 59% of their 2020 starters. The talent is there; they rank 5th in total talent average the last three seasons.


Coaches On The Rise

Mario Cristobal, Oregon Ducks

Strength: Recruiting, Offensive Line

Three-Year Win %: 70.7%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 17th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 13 (13th)

Oregon Head Football Coach Mario Cristobal is on the rise

Cristobal is building Oregon into a potential OL U. Cristobal, a former Miami Hurricanes OL Under Jimmy Johnson in the '80s is building Oregon from inside out by focusing on the trenches. Ducks fans should be happy to see a coach who believes in the trenches in a conference not known for physicality. For Oregon to ascend into a realistic national title contender, they will have to be more physical when facing the Ohio State's and Alabama's of the world, and Cristobal appears to get that. Cristobal is a CFB playoff appearance away from ascending into the top ten.

Lane Kiffen, Ole Miss Rebels

Strength: Offense, QB's

Three-Year Win %: 41.7%

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 23rd

Three-Year Total Players Drafted:

Lane Kiffen is on the rise once again, and this time we think it's for real. He is a brilliant offensive mind who can be a high-level head coach at a prestigious program if given the opportunity.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky Wildcats

Strength: Defense, Development

Three-Year Win %: 61.3% (21st)

Three-Year 247 Sports Total Talent Composite Rank: 39th

Three-Year Total Players Drafted: 13 *(13th)

How many Stoops are there? Stoops has built the Wildcats into a middle-tier SEC team after winning just 12 games in his first three seasons. Since that stretch, Stoops has won 37 games, and the Wildcats have made five straight bowl appearances. They are also developing and putting guys in the league.


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