Nick Saban Tops Consensus List Of Greatest Football Coaches Ever, Per Sports Analysts

The best college football coaches are the architects of victory. Their calm and collected demeanor is a testament to their experience and expertise. They’re the quiet conductors of an orchestra of chaos, transforming a group of younger athletes into a synchronized force to be reckoned with. Who are the consensus greatest college football coaches of all-time? Alabama’s Nick Saban, who announced his retirement in January 2024, tops the list, according to research spanning 10 experts’ lists.

What’s truly awesome is how coaches like Saban can turn ordinary Saturdays into epic showdowns. Each play is a stroke of genius, a chess move in a high-stakes game. You can’t help but marvel at the way coaches can adapt and strategize, their minds working like a well-oiled machine. The personnel they hire, from coordinators to specialty coaches to strength trainers, are also considered an extension of a head coach’s successes.

And let’s not forget the players themselves. Under the tutelage of these great coaches, they blossom into stars, their potential realized to the fullest. It’s a joy to see young talent develop, knowing that their journey is guided by someone with an unshakable commitment to their success. No need for flashy celebrations; the progress speaks for itself.

As the brains behind the team, who are the greatest collegiate leaders on the gridiron? This is a hot topic that is often debated, but StudyFinds has cultivated list of the best college football coaches of all time by turning to the pros. We reviewed 10 sports experts’ lists and came away with the five most frequently named and ranked coaches. Who is your favorite college football coach and why? Let us know in the comments!

Football coach plays written on a chalkboard
Football coach plays written on a chalkboard (Photo by Africa Studio on Shutterstock)

The List: 5 Best Football Head Coaches Of All-Time

1. Nick Saban

Nick Saban is a certified college football coaching legend and he easily heads our list of best college football coaches of all time. On January 10, 2024, Saban announced his retirement, ending his incredible career following a season that saw his University of Alabama team fall in the CFB semifinals.

“He started his coaching career at Toledo in 1987, followed by an NFL stint at the Cleveland Browns,” shares Sports Brief. “He then returned to college football with spells at Michigan State and LSU, where he won his first championship. After another short time in the NFL with the Dolphins, he joined University of Alabama in 2007 and has won 6 more titles since.”

January 24, 2017: University of Alabama Football Head Coach Nick Saban attends the Reese's Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
January 24, 2017: University of Alabama Football Head Coach Nick Saban attends the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. (Photo by Brad McPherson on Shutterstock)

It is no surprise that one of the leading college football teams of all time had Saban as their coach. According to a reviewer from One37PM, “In 2007, Saban accepted the head coaching position at the University of Alabama, a program with a rich history but in need of revitalization. He wasted no time turning the Crimson Tide into a powerhouse. With an emphasis on discipline, a relentless work ethic, and an ability to adapt his coaching style to the strengths of his players, Saban has led the Alabama program to glory.”

Watching Saban in action is like experiencing a thrilling rollercoaster ride of emotions, from nail-biting tension to fist-pumping euphoria. 247 Sports writes, “Saban, the winningest active coach in college football, is a model of excellence in the sport. Saban led LSU to the BCS National Championship in 2003 and Alabama to BCS National Championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, and College Football Playoff championships in 2015, 2017 and 2020. His seven titles are the most in college football history, and he, along with Bear Bryant, are the only coaches to win an SEC championship at two different schools. At four different programs across 27 years of coaching, Saban has never coached a team with a losing record and has guided his squads to 17 10+ win seasons. He boasts a career record of 286-69-1.”

2. Paul “Bear” Bryant

Paul William “Bear” Bryant was the beast behind the machine that became legendary University of Alabama. College Cliffs writes, “He coached the University of Alabama’s college football team for 25 years. He was an exceptional player himself and received an athletic scholarship. Although Bryant was selected to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1936 NFL Draft, he did not accept it and never made it to the professional league. After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1936, he received an offer to become an assistant coach to Frank Thomas. Over the years, he also gained coaching experiences at the University of Maryland, the University of Kentucky, and Texas A&M University. He decided to come back to UA and became the head coach.”

College football coaches aren’t just about X’s and O’s; they’re the motivational gurus who can turn a team of rookies into a squad of fearless warriors ready to conquer the gridiron. Sporting News adds, “He rebuilt Texas A&M from 1-9 in 1954 to 9-0-1 just two years later. Soon after, he returned to his alma mater and conceived the most consistent, enduring power in college football. By the time he retired at Alabama in 1982, he had accounted for more than half of the Crimson Tide’s 11 national championships. Biographers explained he had a goal of integrating SEC football as early as his time at Kentucky, but was not successful; it was even more difficult at Alabama under segregationist governor George Wallace. But after the Tide were destroyed at home by Southern California and running back Sam Cunningham in 1970, the restriction began to change. Alabama returned to the top of the game with such players as Ozzie Newsome, Woodrow Lowe and Dwight Stephenson, who helped Bryant to his final three national titles.”

Judging by his winning statistics, Bear Bryant deserves every accolade. SportsKeeda reports, “Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was the Alabama Crimson Tide head coach when they had their first dynastic run. He has the third-most wins in college football history with a 425-323-17 record throughout 38 years. He also excelled in bowl games with a 15-12-2 record in them. Furthermore, six national championships also help put him here on the list.”

3. Glenn “Pop” Warner

Third on our list of best college football coaches of all time is Glenn “Pop” Warner, a man whose leadership has literally made him a household name. NCAA writes, “Warner won two titles at Pittsburgh (1916 and 1918) and then at Stanford (1926) and revolutionized the sport with the single-wing formation. He was part of the inaugural College Football Hall of Fame class in 1951.”

Some coaches are good, while others exemplify excellence. “Pop Warner was an excellent college football coach as he finished 311-103-32 and won four national championships, including three in four years. He had a 30-game winning streak at one point and definitely deserves his shine on this list,” shares SportsKeeda.

Pop Warner may have set out to be a good coach, but he ended up influencing the entire football industry forever. “One of Warner’s most significant contributions to football was his emphasis on player safety. He implemented strict rules and techniques to protect players, including the use of helmets and padded equipment. Warner’s commitment to the well-being of his players helped establish safety standards that have become integral to the sport,” adds One 37PM. “In addition to his coaching career, Warner played a key role in the establishment and development of youth football programs. He founded the Pop Warner Little Scholars organization, which aimed to promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of young athletes. Today, the Pop Warner youth football and cheerleading program is one of the largest and most respected youth sports organizations in the United States.”

4. Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno deserves a spot on our list of the best college football coaches of all time. Why? According to College Cliffs, “Paterno successfully coached the Nittany Lions to national championships in 1982 and 1986. He also coached five undefeated teams that conquered major bowl games. Finally, in 2007, his name was inaugurated as part of the College Football Hall of Fame. Despite receiving offers to coach in NFL, he stuck through coaching the Nittany Lions. They were able to conquer 24 wins during their 37 bowl appearances.”

He not only groomed young athletes on the field, he also provided for their off season lives, earning his reputation as the coach who cares. “The Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993, and became a three-time champion. When Paterno became head coach, his team players were recognized not only for their sports performance but for their academic acumen as well. He also endorsed scholarships to college athletes. This was a big deal for most of his players who came from low-income families with no time to acquire part-time jobs,” writes College Cliffs.

Imagine being a powerhouse like Paterno. But even at 5’10 and 170 pounds, he was smaller than the average athlete he coached. “Paterno was the first coach with the distinction of having won each of the four major bowls — Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar — as well as the Cotton Bowl Classic, at least once. Paterno’s teams posted 10+ wins in 21 of his 46 seasons,” notes 247 Sports.

Experts say Paterno’s record of wins has yet to be broken. “Joe is the winningest football coach in the history of the NCAA, with 409 wins,” mentions Sports Brief. “He achieved this during a 6-decade spell at Penn State University, where he also won two national titles. His career ended in 2011 in controversy as one of his assistants was implicated in a child assault scandal.”

5. Frank Leahy

Frank Leahy definitely makes the cut in our definitive list of the best college football coaches of all time. “Frank Leahy was highly successful and influential, known for his exceptional leadership, strategic brilliance, and remarkable record of victories. Leahy achieved legendary status during his coaching career at the University of Notre Dame,” writes One 37PM. “His true coaching legacy was forged at the University of Notre Dame, where he became head coach in 1941. Over his 11-year tenure at Notre Dame, Leahy led the Fighting Irish to four national championships, winning in 1943, 1946, 1947, and 1949. He also guided the team to six undefeated seasons and secured numerous conference championships.”

Leahy leadership is impressive when you look at the statistics. A reviewer from SportsKeeda says, “With a 107-13-9 record, it is hard to argue with his ability to dominate on the field. Leahy coached four different Heisman Trophy winners as well.”

Before he became one of the greatest college football coaches, Leahy was a star player himself. According to Sports Brief, “Leahy is a legend of the University of Notre Dame who won two national championships as a player and coached the team to 4 more titles. Frank later served as the general manager of the Los Angeles Chargers in the 1960s before he died in 1973.”

Which of these college football coaches do you believe deserves the number one spot? Leave a comment to let us know!

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About the Author

Te-Erika Patterson

Te-Erika is the Publisher of The Feisty News for Women, the only full-service news source for women. Te-Erika is also the author of How To Love a Powerful Woman, Leave Your Baby Daddy and Loving Female Led Relationships: Relationships that Empower Women. A graduate of The University of Florida, Te-Erika enjoys a thriving career as a digital content creator that has spanned more than a decade. She enjoys chocolate, wine and solitude, and she is currently living a quiet life in Montgomery, Alabama. Follow her @Te-Erika

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Comments

  1. You forgot probably on purpose A Man who won more games than any coach except Paterno and that’s Eddie Robinson of Grambling why he isn’t ever mentioned among the best coaches

  2. Ok. Where is John McKay from USC? Forget Saban. McKay beat every coach onn this list. Alabama wouldn’t be great until John McKay and the Trojans whooped their ass! Yeah hee is top 3 in my opinion

  3. To name any coach as the greatest ever is absurd. Football has changed immensely over the last 100+ years, and to say a coach from the 1920s was not as good as current coaches makes no sense.

  4. I believe even though he only coached for a very short time, Frank Leahy was the best coach of all time. His team with a backfield of Lattner, guglehemi, Warden, and Heap defeated the champons of every major conference but were not awarded the National championsip.

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