Ranking things is difficult. The first step in ranking anything is deciding what the criteria should be. This is often the root of any disagreement that stems from an attempt to develop a hierarchy.
If nothing else, I’d like us all to, at least, come close to an agreement upon what makes a college football head coaching job attractive.
It boils down to five categories: prestige (history), winning (chance of success), culture (fan base), challenge (building from scratch), and leeway (free rein to do it your way).
Now, people are going to value each of these to different degrees. For example, if you’re a person who wants to start with next to nothing and build up your program, chances are you won’t be doing it at a prestigious football school. Those opportunities just don’t come around often.
Considering these five categories, here’s the five most desirable head coaching jobs in college football.
Warning: This list is not going to be a simple rundown of the top programs in the country. Remember, prestige is only one of the criteria here.
Number Five: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
You think I’m crazy, but hear me out.
There is little winning history at Hawaii other than an undefeated 2007 regular season, which the Warriors followed up with a 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Win a New Year’s Day bowl game and you’ve just completed the program’s best season ever. There’s no serious pressure, as long as you finish .500 or above people will be thrilled with the performance.
Winning right away at Hawaii would be tough. Recruiting would involve a ton of travel, but after establishing yourself as a serious place to come play football it shouldn’t be too hard to convince the west coast’s best high school players to come spend four years at a vacation destination. Once you’ve done that take a look at your conference competition. Boise State is the only speedbump on that road.
The culture surrounding Hawaii football isn’t notable, mostly because the wins haven’t been there. It takes a diehard to genuinely root for a team that rarely wins anything significant. The locals don’t strike me as people who would waste their time following a loser.
The challenge and the leeway categories are why you take the job at Hawaii. As mentioned in the history section, there’s hardly any precedent or much to work with. This is a good thing though. It’s a blank slate with which you can try out pretty much anything you’d like. I don’t expect anyone to complain too much, as long as you can prove your method works. The only way to do that is by winning.
You want to take the job in Hawaii because expectations are low and there’s nothing but room for improvement. There’s only one team in your conference that will perennially give you trouble. Your team wears some of the sharpest-looking jerseys around. You get to live in Hawaii. And the toughest part of the gig would be trying to convince high school kids to come play their ball in a literal paradise. I’ll take that challenge.
Number Four: Baylor Bears
Baylor hasn’t been this good in thirty years. The Bears have won the last two Big 12 championships (2014 title shared with TCU). Other than those trophies, there’s not much to speak of.
They’re coming into this season as a favorite to make it to the playoff. Their chance of winning right away is the best on this list.
If you won a national championship, Baylor fans will love you forever. Texans live and die with their football teams, even in the eastern part of the state.
The Bears don’t need to be built from the bottom. They’re already near the top. This is the biggest plus about the Baylor job.
For the most part, Art Briles has been left to his own devices since taking over the Baylor program in 2008. As is the case with Hawaii (and every other job for that matter) if you win you tend to get your way.
You want to hop on the Baylor train right now because the program is on the rise. You could argue they’re the most underrated team of the past five years, despite choking in bowl games. The Bears had a great season in 2014, and are poised to make another run at winning it all. You want that job.
Number Three: Miami Hurricanes
We’ve all seen the four letter network’s documentary film on The U in the 80s (if you haven’t, I recommend it). The football history is evident. That would be a cool tradition to be a part of.
The Hurricanes need help with getting back to the winning part of their tradition. They haven’t won a national championship since 2001. 14 years is a long time to wait for a team that won five title in 18 years from 1983-2001. They haven’t even won a bowl game in five tries since 2006.
The culture, like the history, can’t really be questioned when it comes to Miami. They love their football in Florida too, and with many of the top high schoolers staying in-state to play it becomes that much more interesting.
Taking over Miami football, at this point, is a daunting challenge. There’s been a thick cloud of mediocrity encapsulating the program for years as everyone tries to figure out the Nevin Shapiro situation.
Politics seem like they play a big part in Coral Gables culture. You could end up having significant pressure coming from the administration and the community. Many have trouble behaving themselves in Miami. You’ll surely have to deal out a degree of discipline to your players.
How fun would it be to bring back The U? That’s about all you’d have to say. Recruiting almost takes care of itself. Like Hawaii, once you’ve got your players you get to the fun part of winning some games. You can put yourself in the history books while restoring a once-great program.
Number Two: UCLA Bruins
The powder blue tops and the gold accommodations make for the cleanest look in major college football, big plus. Recently, under Jim Mora, the Bruins have been on an upward trend. They’ve played in a bowl game three straight seasons, winning the last two
They’re part of a crowded Pac-12 South that looks like it’ll be the best division in college football this season. They’ll contend, but their work is cut out for them with tough competition throughout the conference.
Playing six home games per season at the Rose Bowl would be supremely cool. The atmosphere speaks for itself.
The Bruins aren’t far behind Baylor in terms of being ready to win now without too much work needed first. UCLA will start the season ranked somewhere in the teens with Baylor in the top 10.
Thinking about working toward overshadowing USC would be more than enough to get me out of bed every day. An inter-city rivalry is rare in college. Playing for the bragging rights to Los Angeles is the biggest perk of the UCLA job.
Number One: Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols haven’t had a double-digit-win season since 2007. The program won a vast majority of their games during the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, but has really fallen off since, with losing records in all but two of their last seven seasons.
Butch Jones has convinced some top recruits to finally believe in UT again. The players are there, now it’s time for them to prove their worth. Tennessee is my team to watch this season (says just about everyone). They have the potential to win some games this year.
Baylor fans would love you for bringing them a championship. Tennessee fans would worship you. A vast majority of the fan base has only seen their most recent national championship back in ’98. Neyland Stadium still sells out routinely, despite the team’s struggles. Vol fans crave a title like your dog craves people food (and they don’t have your kid sister slipping them pieces of steak under the table).
All the challenge and leeway you can handle are both in Knoxville. The team hasn’t won anything in a long time and the powers that be are ready to try almost anything to end the drought.
If you’re coaching Tennessee right now you’ve finally got some players on campus. There’s room to build your own way and a passionate fan base that’s yearning to burst into celebration mode. Things are looking up at UT and you’d be lucky to be a part of it.