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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Future Members of the Hall of Fame: Coaches

So there are issues with the College Football Hall of Fame’s eligibility criteria for coaches, as discussed at length earlier today. Eliminating those whose career spanned less than 10 years is silly; excluding those with a career winning percentage less than 60 percent is ridiculous. But rules are rules: Howard Schnellenberger deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, but he’ll continue to be ineligible until the National Football Foundation alters its criteria. For now, active or recently active coaches who deserve Hall of Fame consideration must meet the Foundation’s existing — and puzzling — stipulations for inclusion.

As a reminder, the stipulations state that a candidate must coach at least 10 years; must coach in at least 100 games; must have a winning percentage over 60 percent; and must be retired for at least three years, unless the coach is over 70. If so, the Foundation will waive the three-year waiting period.

Ignore the final criteria for the moment. In the same vein as the earlier post focusing on players, which head coaches — active or recently active — deserve a future spot in the Hall of Fame? Let’s use the Foundation’s criteria, which disqualifies a Chris Petersen, for example, and try not to weigh potential too heavily into the mix; let’s judge coaches on what they’ve achieved through the 2011 season, though those who have completed a decade-long career and still have more in the tank will earn additional consideration.

Now we’re treading into choppy waters. What makes a Hall of Fame coach, anyway? Unlike a player winning the Heisman, a national championship does not automatically qualify a coach for the Hall. And as I wrote earlier today, success often lies in the eye of the beholder.

Eight wins every year gets you fired at L.S.U., for example. But averaging eight wins per year over a decade at Michigan State, along with a conference title or two, might be enough for a coach to squeeze into the Hall of Fame. And averaging eight wins per year over a decade at Air Force definitely gets you into the Hall, as Fisher DeBerry proved a year ago.

Let’s ignore any coaches whose career ended prior to the 2002 season, if only to limit the results to include only more timely candidates. And let’s use the Hall’s criteria, unfortunately. One note: Joe Paterno is already in the Hall, having been elected in 2007, while still the head coach at Penn State. Same for Bobby Bowden, who was elected in 2006. The list of coaches, compiled alphabetically by noteworthy school:

Nick Saban, Alabama Now a two-time national title winner with the Tide, joining his one B.C.S. title at L.S.U., Saban is the finest head coach of his generation. Already a legend, his stature seems to grow exponentially every fall.

Urban Meyer, Florida He just sneaks into the Foundation’s 10-year rule, with that number due to grow come the fall, when Meyer takes over at Ohio State. He’s already in for the two titles won at Florida, as well as his quick-hitting rebuilding jobs at Bowling Green and Utah.

Mark Richt, Georgia While Richt has been unable to claim a national title, like Vince Dooley, and has come under fire over the last three years, he still owns the highest career winning percentage in Georgia’s modern era. That he’s done so during the heyday of the SEC warrants a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Outside of Erk Russell, he’s the finest coach in Georgia Southern’s history. He’s the best coach in Navy’s modern history. And despite what most predicted just prior to his debut, Johnson has won — and won immediately — at Georgia Tech.

Bill Snyder, Kansas State Why the Hall of Fame elected Paterno and Bowden while each were still active yet has not done the same with Snyder is, yet again, puzzling. Snyder’s performance at Kansas State might be the finest coaching job in N.C.A.A. history.

Les Miles, L.S.U. After leading Oklahoma State to three bowl trips in four years from 2001-4, Miles inherited the Saban-built foundation with the Tigers. While somehow still not considered among the nation’s elite coaches, Miles has put L.S.U. in a place to compete for national championships for the foreseeable future.

Gary Pinkel, Missouri Prior to taking over in Columbia, Pinkel went 73-37-1 at Toledo from 1991-2000. But it’s the work he’s done at Missouri that makes Pinkel’s resume: after decades of near-incompetence, Missouri is neck-deep in the finest stretch in program history.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma He’s won a shade less than 81 percent of his games. He has one national title, and has played for three more. Stoops has built Oklahoma into a machine: the Sooners have completely dominated the Big 12 since his arrival, and the program isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Mike Bellotti, Oregon While Rich Brooks had Oregon in the Rose Bowl prior to his departure following the 1994 season, Bellotti was the point man behind the program’s surge into the nation’s upper crust. He might deserve to be in the Hall of Fame merely for hiring Chip Kelly, his eventual successor.

Steve Spurrier, Florida Yeah, he’s a lock. Outside of Bear Bryant, no coach more dominated the SEC for an extended period of time. In fact, Spurrier’s run with the Gators might be more impressive — considering the depth in the conference at the time — than Bryant’s run at Alabama. Sacrilegious, I know.

Mack Brown, Texas Another clear lock. There’s the national title, for starters, as well as his decade-long stretch of top-15 finishes. The Longhorns won at least 10 games every year from 2001-9, winning 13 games in both 2005 and 2009.

Gary Patterson, T.C.U. Over 12 years with the Horned Frogs, Patterson has won 109 games, including at least 11 games in six of the last eight years, and has twice reached B.C.S. play. He’ll have further opportunities to raise his profile as part of the Big 12.

Larry Blakeney, Troy He’s actually led the Trojans through several different incarnations: Since Blakeney took over, Troy has gone from Division II to F.C.S. Independent to the Southland Conference to F.B.C. Independent to the Sun Belt. The program has dominated the Sun Belt since 2006.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech Another lock, right? After starting slow, Beamer has made the Hokies into a model of consistency since the late 1990s. While many doubted Tech’s ability to hang with the A.C.C., the Hokies have been the class of the league over the last half-decade.

Which active coaches might join this list once they crack the 10-year mark? Petersen is one, obviously. Kyle Whittingham, who has been at Utah for seven years, might be another. Also: Mike Gundy, Bret Bielema, Bronco Mendenhall and Bobby Petrino. Each has at least a few years to go before reaching double digits.

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  1. travis says:

    Um, what happened to using the Hall’s criteria?

    For example Mike Riley’s record: 72-63, a winning percentage of 53%. Which, if I did the calculation right, is less than the required 60%.

    Paul: Dang. You’re right. Removing him. And, sadly, Jones misses the cut by less than one percent.

  2. travis says:

    Joe Tiller: 58% and he is retired. Hard to improve your football coaching record while playing golf.

    Paul: Alright, at this rate the list will be two names long.

  3. travis says:

    Maybe you want to adjust the premise. Keep people on that have a chance of becoming eligible. Jones yes, Tiller no. Then you could also add in guys like Peterson

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    Petersen is the one to keep an eye on. 73-6. He could challenge Rockne’s all time winning percentage record.

  5. Parker says:

    Hi Paul

    If Grant Teaff can make the Hall of Fame, then just about anybody with a pulse and a 60% winning percentage ought to be enshrined.

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