All-Decade: Ten coaches that will impact the next decade
The past decade of college football has been highlighted by head coaches that transcend the sport. From Nick Saban to Urban Meyer, the larger-than-life personalities are more well-known than most of their players and will be mentioned for decades to come. But as we turn the page into a new decade in a little over a month, it’s time to look at the head coaches that will have a chance to take their careers to the next level and have a chance to cement their legacies among the sport’s best.
Swinney has already cemented his legacy among the sport’s most notable coaches, but his career is far from over so it’s hard to imagine him not having a major impact into the next decade. With two national titles under his belt already, a likely playoff appearance this year and one more year of Trevor Lawrence in 2020-21, Swinney is storming into the decade with one of the nation’s most dominant programs. Rumors have long circulated that he could leave Clemson to take over his alma mater, Alabama, when Saban retires and if he does it’s hard to imagine the Tide missing a beat.
A disciple of coaches Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer, Day has learned from the best and was groomed to take over for Meyer in Columbus. So far, the Buckeyes haven’t skipped a beat and at the time of this article, Day had yet to lose a game as a head coach (3-0 in 2018, 10-0 in 2019). Day is just getting started and while it’s not out of the question that he wins a national championship this season, Ohio State is built to contend for years to come with him at the helm.
Riley already has two playoff appearances under his belt and while it’s possible he could end up coaching in the NFL next decade, he heads into the roaring 20s as one of the brightest young minds in the sport. Riley has turned three transfer quarterbacks into stars and has spent 2019 quietly grooming former five-star Spencer Rattler to lead the program into the next decade. If Oklahoma can continue to show improvement on defense, they could finally get over the hump and win one or more national championships down the line.
Smart had a strong close to this decade, leading Georgia to within a few plays of a national championship and dominating the recruiting trail as well. As of the time of publication of this article, the Dawgs are once again in the hunt for a spot in the College Playoff and seem to be built to compete for championships to come. That’s why Smart is near the top of this list. If Georgia can break through a win a title, most believe it will be the first of many and Smart has a chance to take the torch from his mentor Nick Saban when Saban eventually retires.
It would have been pretty unlikely to think that Coach O would be on this list heading into 2019, but all of a sudden he has one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses and is dominating the recruiting trail like never before. Thanks to his willingness to evolve and modernize the Tigers offense, LSU sits at No. 1 in the polls and seems destined to head into the College Football Playoff for the first time. The appearance will likely be one of many for Coach O and the Tigers over the next decade, especially considering the war chest of talent he’s compiling in Baton Rouge.
Mullen has more head coaching experience than anyone on this list besides Swinney, but he’s just coming into his own in terms of leading one of the few programs that can compete for championships year-in and year-out. During his time at Mississippi State, Mullen kept the Bulldogs competitive, despite the inherent disadvantages the program faces. Now at Florida, Mullen looks poised to lead the Gators to back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 2008-09, when Urban Meyer was the head coach. A Meyer disciple, Mullen knows exactly what it takes for the Gators to win at the highest level.
Franklin has built Penn State into a College Football Playoff contender after taking over the program just a few years removed from major sanctions. He has the program reloading on a yearly basis rather than rebuilding and it appears the Nittany Lions are built to content on a yearly basis. While he seems set on staying in State College, his name is regularly mentioned with high-profile openings and even if he leaves he’s shown with his work at Vanderbilt and Penn State that he’s capable of building a winning program from the ground up.
Cristobal had to wait quite a while to get his crack at a Power Five coaching job, spending five years as an assistant coach after a stint as the head man at FIU. During that time, Cristobal spent time learning from Nick Saban as an assistant and he’s taken advantage of his chance to lead a program at Oregon. The Ducks are squarely in the mix for a berth in the College Football Playoff and Cristobal has transformed the Ducks from a program known for its flash into a hard-nosed team built around a strong offensive line and defense.
A media darling and a candidate for pretty much every high-profile job that becomes available, Campbell has taken Iowa State from near the bottom of the Big 12 to squarely in the upper-middle of the conference, including a current spot in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. The sad part for Cyclones fans is that while their coach is high on this list, it’s pretty likely that he builds his legacy at a more marquee program, whether that be USC, Florida State or somewhere else. Even if he stays in Ames, it’s not out of the question that he has the Cyclones competing for conference championships over the next decade.
This one is a bit of a wildcard as Brady has no head coaching or coordinator experience and is just 30 years old. But we’re projecting forward here and who could have imagined entering the 2000’s that Chip Kelly, an FCS assistant, would end up revolutionizing the game. Brady is credited with turning LSU’s offense into one of the most explosive in college football and he’s likely to pick up a coordinator title along with a hefty raise this offseason. Assuming the Tigers continue to have success under Orgeron, it’s very likely that Brady has a chance to become a head coach at a major program. Will he be able to transition from assistant to national championship contending head coach like Kelly did? If he does, Brady will close the next decade as one of the sport’s most recognizable names.