The number of windy, time-worn college football fields seems innumerable, as they lie in wait for game day across the country. The scope of college football can be so vast and grandiose that sometimes it’s hard to sink your mental fangs into some of the details therein.
The reality is, there’s 245 division 1 teams, and more than three times that number in division 2, 3, and junior college teams. That’s a pretty huge number of players, coaches, staffers, program directors, and everything in between.
When you consider how long-standing college coaching jobs can be when successful, the thought occurs that there might be some lesser-known coaches with quite the record. Statistics alone indicate that in a sample of thousands, outliers will occur in both vast success and staggering failure.
So, yes. There are some coaches throughout college sports history with some staggering numbers. Most of them aren’t household names (though really, how many college coaches are ‘household’ names?)
Names like Joe Paterno (becuase of wins vacated by the scandal), Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz are residing in the college football Hall of Fame, and are not on this list. Perhaps that is surprising to some college football fanatics, but it’s true.
They might’ve coached teams you’ve never heard of, they might’ve coached in some other era in history, but all of them dominated their competition for decades.
10. Forrest ‘Frosty’ Westering: 305-96-7
This US Marine Corps veteran who served following World War II was a positive motivator as a coach and as a person outside of football. In fact, he was a motivational speaker and wrote a book Make the Big Time Where You Are. In football he won 305 games over 40 years of coaching with a win percentage of .756. He coached from 1962 to 2003, coaching Parsons College, Lea College and Pacific Lutheran University. He has the NAIA record for most wins by a coach, and won three NAIA national titles and an NCAA division III national title all for Pacific Lutheran. When he retired as a head coach in 2004 his son Scott Westering took over the job. Who says Monarchies don’t exist in America? Frosty was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
9. Amos Alonzo Stagg: 314-199-35
While he didn’t dominate win percentage wise like the other coaches on this list, he still coached a crazy 57 years and grinded his way to #9 all time. If you’re wondering about the 35 ties, there was a time before overtime, you know. Amos Stagg has the rare distinction of being in the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach and the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player. He coached football for Springfield College, University of Chicago, and University of the Pacific from 1890 to 1946. So yeah, if you’ve never heard of him, that’s because he’s a name in the history books. Also in the weird fact category, he is credited with inventing the batting cage in his short time in baseball. Furthermore, he’s considered a contributor in inventing such things in football as the center snap, onside kick, tackling dummy, statue of liberty play, forward pass (wow), unbalanced line, QB keeper run, the existence of the linebacker position, and varsity letters, just to name a few things. Whew. To think where cheesy high school movies in American history would be without the letter jacket. The Breakfast Club thanks you, Amos.
8. Roy Kidd: 314-124-8
Another College Football Hall of Famer, Roy Kidd coached from 1964 to 2002, all for Eastern Kentucky University. The same university he received a scholarship to play for as a youth in 1950. During his storied career he won 2 NCAA D-1-AA national championships in ’79 and ’82, won the Ohio Valley Conference 16 times, and was OVC Coach of the Year 10 times. That’s some good cookin. He retired with the most Division 1-FCS wins in college football history, and that mark still remains to this day. I bet you’re hiding an Eastern Kentucky Colonel mascot tattoo somewhere, Roy.
7. Ken Sparks: 318-86-2
At last we descend upon an active coach on this list. The only active coach on this list, as it were. Sparks is sure to jump at least two or three spots on this list, given the small win differential for the next few in line. Another one-team lifer, Sparks played for Carson-Newman University in 1967 as a receiver, and has coached for Caron-Newman from 1980 to present uninterrupted. Nestled in Jefferson City, Tennessee, the orange and blue Eagles led by Sparks have amassed 318 wins under his direction, with a dominant win percentage of .786. They’ve won 5 NAIA championships over that time, winning the South Atlantic Conference title 21 times. A Tennessee boy born in Knoxville, he started his career as many do coaching high school football. Just didn’t seem right beating up on that meager high school coaching competition, eh Sparky?
6. Glenn Scobey ‘Pop’ Warner: 319-106-32
Another name for the history books, Warner coached for 49 years for a handful of different universities, most notably Cornell, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Temple. The span of his career was from 1895-1938, so if this is another name that fails to jar any memories, it’s because not many who saw him coach are still around lurking the internet for sports articles. (If you are one of those few, I apologize, and kudos on keepin’ up with the times).
Glenn’s namesake is most recognized now for something he did off the field: he created the Pop Warner Little Scholars organization that brought the game of football to kids across America. The term Pop Warner has just become synonymous with little kids in oversized helmets and shoulder pads running around and bringing smiles to parents everywhere. As far as his coaching career goes, he won four different national championships in 1915, 1916, 1918 and 1927. He also was awarded the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award for contributions in coaching. This stuff always ends up tied together somehow, doesn’t it.
5. Bear Bryant: 323-85-17
Paul William ‘Bear’ Bryant is probably the most famous college coaching name on this list. 38 years of coaching, 34 of them in the SEC, Bear Bryant managed a dominant .780 win percentage, winning an incredible six national championships for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and won the SEC outright 14 times in his career. He is a college football legend, and is revered in Alabama school lore. One of his most famous quotes pertained to why he took the Alabama head coaching job in 1958 after leaving Texas A&M: “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’.” He coached some great teams and famous players, most notably a charismatic fireball of a quarterback named Joe Namath in 1962 to 1964. He also was supposedly responsible for convincing Alabama to allow black players to play for the team in 1970. The lack of diversity on the team before then Bear attributed had to a “prevailing social climate.” On a more comical note, he is famous for his houndstooth fedora he would wear regularly on the sidelines during his coaching career. The houndstooth hat is universally connected to Bear Bryant in Alabama. Football has amassed some peculiar details over the years, hasn’t it?
4. Larry Kehres: 332-24-3
It wouldn’t be that hard to argue that in the world of college football, division rankings aside, Kehres could easily be tabbed as the winningest coach of all time. He only lost 24 games in 27 years. His career win percentage? .929. Wow. Did they just tie the ball to a greased pig and run it into the end zone over and over?
Kehres was as dominant as a coach could possibly be. From 1986-2012, Kehres amassed 11, yes eleven NCAA division III national titles. His record in the playoffs was 77-12 for Pete’s sake. That’s a playoff win percentage of .778. Not surprisingly, he was Coach of the Year fifteen times. Not only did he coach University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, but he also was the Athletic director for that entire duration, and played QB for the team as a college student in 1970. He also holds the top two longest winning streaks in NCAA history, at 55 and 54 wins. Of the 27 seasons he coached, the Purple Raiders won the conference title 23 times. He also has a record of 3-1 against the #1 coach of all time on this list. If he had kept coaching, it seems a virtual lock he would be able to take the #1 spot in a decade or so. However, Larry stepped down as coach while continuing to be the Athletic director to allow his son Vince Kehres to succeed him as coach. Now that’s love of family.
3. Bobby Bowden: 377-129-4
Robert Bowden is another famous name in college football lore, though far more relevant to today’s game. He still holds the NCAA record for most wins by a Division 1 FBS coach. Unfortunately his win total was even larger than it reads, standing at 389, but 12 wins were vacated by the NCAA after a scandal with Florida State University involving ineligible players playing for the team. Despite all that, Bowden won two national championships for FSU, one of which was a BCS championship in 1999. Needless to say, he is beloved in FSU circles as a winner and quality coach despite the ineligibility scandal. He only had one losing season in 34 years as a coach in FSU. He coached 44 years in total, the other ten years for West Virginia and South Georgia Junior College, and had a career win percentage of .743.
2. Eddie Robinson: 408-165-15
Eddie Robinson is the only Black American on this list. Unfortunately, that’s not due to lack of talent, its due to lack of opportunity for Black Americans in our short history. He coached for 55 years in the historically black Grambling State University in Louisiana. Considering the circumstances and the racial challenges Robinson faced as coach, his win total and percentage are beyond impressive, and he is widely recognized as one of the greatest college football coaches in history. Grambling was modest in its size and resources, but Robinson managed to build competitive teams with continued success. He won Grambling 7 bowl games, and only had 8 losing seasons in 55 years. He is, of course, in the college football Hall of Fame. After Robinson resigned, fellow coach Joe Paterno was quoted that “nobody has ever done or ever will do what Eddie Robinson has done for the game. . . Our profession will never, ever be able to repay Eddie Robinson for what he has done for the country and the profession of football.” I can’t say it any better than you did, Joe.
1. John Gagliardi: 489-138-11
Here we are, at the top of the numerical mountain. John Gagliardi, coaching legend, prodigy, iron-man. He coached for 64 years. How is that possible? well, he began coaching high school football at the age of 16, because his high school coach was drafted into World War II in 1943. He kept the job of coach even while he played for Trinidad High School, and while he got his degree at Colorado he continued coaching high school football at St. Mary’s. He began his college coaching career at 22, and built up a 24-6-1 record over his first four years. He then went to coach Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he would coach the next 60 years. He won four National Titles for the St. John’s Johnnies, and won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference 27 times. He is perhaps most famous for his very unorthodox coaching methods; he never required players to call him coach, never used a whistle, didn’t allow tackling in practice, and didn’t demand his players hit the weight room, ever. His style clearly endeared himself to his players, as they helped him amass 489 wins, with a win percentage of .775. He retired in 2012. When he started coaching in 1949, unemployment was 3.8%, a stamp was $0.03, William Faulkner finally received a Nobel prize for literature, and the Minneapolis Lakers won the NBA championship. I think it’s safe to say your place at #1 will be safe for a long time, John.