Ranking Big 12 Head Coaches Leading Into 2020

Head Coaching within the scope of college football has become a turnstile in recent years. The days of keeping top tier coaches long-term are gone, and expectations for success are higher than ever. With coaches constantly under pressure, the greats rise to the top while the not so greats sink. So let’s take a look at who’s at the top (and the bottom) of the Big 12 heading into 2020.

Keep in mind, These rankings are based on each individual coach’s success in the Big 12, regardless of how many years they’ve been around. With Dave Aranda being brand new, he’s at a slight disadvantage.

Big 12 Head Coaches

Lincoln Riley

It’s no small feat to take over a program from the longest-tenured coach in the sport. Bob Stoops led the Sooners to prominence and there’s been little lost with the transition to Riley. It helps that Riley was the Offensive Coordinator under Stoops, which was and is all that Oklahoma is known for. He’s continued to bring in the best talent and producing NFL stars in the making. Look at the past three years alone with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, and CeeDee Lamb, among others.

During his tenure as head coach, Riley has amassed a 36-6 record, having lost only three conference games. Oklahoma has also made it into the College Football Playoffs every season under Riley, twice as a four seed and once as a two seed. In the three prior years since the CFP was born, Oklahoma reached the playoffs once.

Pair Riley’s success/record with the best chance at winning a National title for the conference and it’s no wonder the Sooners keep pulling in top talent. Riley is primed for continued success and he is the best of the Big 12 head coaches heading into 2020.

Mike Gundy

If the Sooners ever took their foot off the pedal or opened the door a bit wider, the Cowboys would be right up there with them. Mike Gundy has done big things for Oklahoma State, but there’s a potential the upcoming season could be his best yet. He’s by far the longest-tenured coach in the conference for a reason. Yes, you could stipulate Gary Patterson (TCU) is longer-tenured, but TCU hasn’t been in the conference nearly as long.

Gundy has a streak of 14 winning seasons going into 2020 and has 10 or more wins in six seasons. Gundy and the Cowboys finished third in the nation back in 2011 with a 12-1 record and the school’s only BCS bowl game appearance and victory. Since hitting that peak, the Cowboys have wavered but had three straight 10-3 seasons (2015-17). The last two seasons haven’t been kind to Gundy with a combined 15-11 record and 8-9 in the conference.

Under Gundy, the Cowboys have beaten the Sooners twice (2011, 2014). If he can get his troops over the hump this year, he could very well win the conference again, which would be the first time since 2011.

Here’s where the rankings get dicey.

Chris Klieman

Speaking of long-term coaches, the Wildcats made quick work finding the successor to Bill Snyder. He was the Tom Coughlin of college football, truly showing/looking his age. How do you go about replacing a 78-year old who’d headed the Wildcats for 20+ years? Hire the best coach in the FCS. Before taking over in the Little Apple, Klieman coached the North Dakota State Bison for five seasons. He won four National titles, the lone year being upset as the one seed in the semifinals.

Klieman had a rocky first year in the Big 12, with his Wildcats finishing tied for third after predicted a ninth-place finish. He came out of the woodwork when Kansas State upset Oklahoma for their only regular-season loss. The Wildcats also defeated Iowa State (ranked 23) at home to finish out the season and lost narrowly to Navy in the Liberty Bowl. Kansas State was ranked inside the top 25 four weeks, reaching as high as 16 before being upset in two close losses.

Matt Campbell

The Cyclones have climbed from the basement and ascended as high as third in the conference with Matt Campbell. Since the inception of the conference, Iowa State had never broken out of the middle of the pack till 2018, when they tied for third. He’s already taken them to three bowl games in four seasons, matching Paul Rhoads who coached for seven seasons.

Rhoads had marquee wins during his tenure but ended up with 32 wins and 55 losses. Campbell is on pace to become the winningest coach in program history, already posting 26 wins through four seasons. Currently, Dan McCarney holds the record with 56 wins after 12 years of coaching. Not only is Campbell churning out winning seasons, but he’s also bringing the Cyclones up the board in National recruiting. Without him, bringing on the likes of Brock Purdy, David Montgomery, Breece Hall, and players from the Texas and Florida pipelines would be less likely. He’s brought a winning culture to Ames and athletes want to play and win for him.

The next step for Campbell and the Cyclones is to finish out a season with a bowl win. They have one bowl win with Campbell back in 2017 at the Liberty Bowl.

Dave Aranda

It’s a tall task to take over for one of the best coaches in school history. Art Briles brought the Bears to prominence, but after the fallout with college football and the university, Baylor won just six games the prior year. Matt Rhule stepped in and made quick work by molding them back to greatness. In three seasons, Rhule had a combined 19-18 record, including 13 conference wins. The Bears are coming off an 11-3 season, their best finish since 2013 and 2014 with 11-2 records and winning the conference.

Rhule then departed to take on another project at the next level by taking the head coaching duties for the Carolina Panthers. Baylor then brought on Dave Aranda to fill the vacancy. Aranda helped LSU win the National Championship last year with arguably the best defense in the league during a historic season. Much of Baylor’s success last year came from a strong defensive unit, some of whom were drafted in the NFL.

Baylor has some key pieces returning this season on both sides of the ball and should be near the top of the conference again. Baylor fans are hoping there isn’t much turnover after getting a taste of being elite again under Rhule.

Baylor hires LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as head coach
courtesy of ESPN

Tom Herman

Texas has been all over the map since Herman took the reigns in 2017. Then again, the Longhorns have the highest of expectations, and anything short of a bowl victory or contending for the conference championship is seen as a failure. Charlie Strong was the shortest tenured coach in program history (three seasons) since Jack Chevigny back in 1934-36. Strong was a short-term experiment, and while Herman has been mediocre, he’s still done better.

Comparing the two, Strong finished with a 16-21 record and 12-15 in the conference. Herman has a 23-13 record through three seasons, including a 16-8 record in the conference. The biggest issue for Texas is keeping its talent in-state and not having them go to the Oklahoma’s or other progressing programs.

I could very well have flip-flopped Herman and Aranda at this spot, but seeing as LSU beat Texas last season, advantage Aranda.

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courtesy of Hookem

Gary Patterson

I mentioned earlier how Patterson has a longer-tenure than Gundy at this point, but the Horned Frogs haven’t been in the conference long. Since joining back in 2012, TCU has finished third or better three times. Patterson’s peak was back in 2014 when they ended with a 12-1 record and ranked third in the nation. Since then, he’s had mixed success, ascending to the top again in 2017 with an 11-3 record and ninth in the nation.

While last season was lackluster at best (5-7 record), the Horned Frogs led the conference in players drafted this year. They churned out five draft players drafted with Jalen Reagor and Jeff Gladney selected in the first round. TCU has the same issue as Texas though, losing top in-state talent to rivalry teams. Patterson was able to sign five-star RB Zachary Evans earlier this week which gives fans some much-needed hope the next couple of years.

Patterson owns a 172-70 record with TCU, with his tenure beginning back in 2000. Since they joined the Big 12, he has amassed 63 wins, 39 conference wins and four bowl wins.

Film Study: TCU's Gary Patterson Already Knows Your Playbook and ...
courtesy of Eleven Warriors

Neal Brown

The vision Dana Holgorsen had for the Mountaineers is now long gone. Since joining the conference in 2012, they’ve struggled to keep up, finishing middle of the pack. The Mountaineers had two highlight seasons, one in 2016 (10-3 record, 18th nationally) and the other being 2018 (8-4 record, 20th nationally). West Virginia struggled under Neal Brown’s first with a 5-7 record, tying for seventh in the conference. Brown has fans hyped though, doing what Holgorsen could not, by signing strong recruiting classes.

Prior to taking over, Brown led a dominant Troy program. Again, he struggled his first year by posting four wins with Troy. Brown made a vast leap by getting Troy to 10 wins the following year. He finished his tenure with a 35-16 record, winning 23 conference games, tying for first twice, and three bowl wins. Mountaineer fans are hoping Brown catches fire again after his slow start, but are pleased with his recruiting pull after one season.

Neal Brown Brings West Virginia 'Blue-Collar' Approach In Win Over ...
courtesy of The Smoking Musket

Matt Wells

Unlike West Virginia, the Red Raiders saw their former coach get promoted, not demoted, with his new position. Kliff Kingsbury managed to make the leap to the NFL, joining the youth coach movement. The most impressive part about all that is the fact Texas Tech never finished in the top half of the conference with him. Once he left, they brought in a coach with winning experience and in steps Matt Wells.

Prior to taking over at Texas Tech, Wells led the Utah State Aggies for six seasons. While there, he compiled a 44-34 record, 30 conference wins and two bowl victories. The Aggies finished tied for second twice, and Wells book-ended his tenure by winning the conference his first season and tying for first his last season. Texas Tech finished the 2019 season with four wins, including two conference wins.

The Red Raiders aren’t accustomed to making bowl games, their last appearance coming in 2017, and their last win in 2013. Since the departure of Mike Leach in 2010, the four coaches in-between him and Wells have won one bowl game apiece.

Texas Tech Coach Matt Wells pushes back over Torrey Green scandal ...
courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Les Miles

Kansas Jayhawk fans are hoping that bringing Les Miles on will help get them out of the conference basement. It’s tough to turn around a program that’s as bad as Kansas has been, even for Miles. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you know that Miles has a storied career with the LSU Tigers. While down in the Burroughs, Miles compiled a 114-34 record, 62 conference wins, two National Championship appearances, and one Title. All of that in the toughest conference in the sport.

Miles hasn’t lost his touch by any means, but it is Kansas. The Jayhawks got some much-needed hype when he made the official announcement. To be fair, Miles was able to tie the best record the Jayhawks had last decade, in one season. By comparison, David Beatty (coached 2015-18) won a total of six games. Kansas hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, which followed a remarkable 12-1 season under Mark Mangino. The Jayhawks also haven’t been won a bowl game, let alone been to one since ’08.

RCT Reviews: Miles to Go: Les Miles and KU Football - Rock Chalk Talk
courtesy of Rock Chalk Talk

For many of these coaches, and their teams, they can only improve. For now, everyone is chasing Gundy and Riley with hopes of shaking up the conference.

Check out Saturday Tailgate for more Big 12 news and analysis.

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