College Football’s Best Coaches of All Time

Published on 05/03/2018
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College Football’s Best Coaches of All Time

College football could be considered the game to end all games due to how competitive each and every contest is. College football has the most competitive regular season in all of sports and as such each team needs a world class coach. Today we are looking through the annals of NCAAF history in order to analyze the greatest college coaches of all time!

If you’re not familiar with college football, then we better provide some background. (Although you should know a thing or two about one of America’s greatest pastimes already, it’s practically a religion.) Unlike most sports in North America, there is no minor learn farm organization in American or even Canadian football. That’s why college football is thought to be the second tier of American football in both countries, the US and Canada. However in some states, college football is actually way more popular than professional football. Such as North Dakota, Alabama, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and Indiana to name a few. These are just a few states that follow their college football team religiously and who you support matters. From birth, the team you support classes where you’ll be on Sundays, which school you’ll go to and the friends you surround yourself with. Yes, sometimes the love of American college football is just that extreme. In fact, some claim that from the 20th century, college football was far more prestigious than professional football. And when you think about the NFL, that’s saying a lot. And speaking of the NFL, their performance while they’re in college will directly impact their future chances of making it pro. Moreover the greatest collegiate players will usually declare for the professional draft after they’re had three to four years of collegiate competition. Then the NFL will hold its annual draft in the spring in which 256 athletes are chosen. Those who aren’t chosen in the draft can still try to snag an NFL roster spot but as an undrafted free agent.

Now that you’ve got all that knowledge, and maybe you learned a thing or two, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and investigate which college football coaches have taken their schools to the next level. From Nick Saban to Urban Meyer to Jimbo Fisher, these are the kinds of coaches we want at our colleges. But how we decide who comes out at the very top? Let’s take a look and out just that.

Steve Spurrier

Let’s kick our list off with Steve Spurrier. Spurrier racked up a 228 – 89 – 2 record through 26 years of coaching. Spurrier helmed Florida, Duke, and South Carolina during his tenure behind the supreme tape that surrounds the coveted head coaching gig.

Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

Spurrier brought Florida to Top 12 finishes in the AP Poll every single year with the team (12 seasons). Spurrier racked up numerous Bowl wins and quite the reputation as a trash talker.

Ara Parseghian

We’re throwing back so far that you’ll need a private investigator to find this old school coach. We’re mostly kidding but still, Ara Parseghian cracks our list thanks to his 24 years coaching in Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Miami of Ohio.

Ara Parseghian

Ara Parseghian

Parseghian racked up a 170 – 58 – 6 record which was highlighted by only 17 losses through 11 years with the Fighting Irish. Parseghian could have climbed past some of the supreme tape between him and others if he hadn’t retired at 51 years old.

Dabo Swinney

Meet the current head football coach at Clemson University. Midway through the 2008 season, Swinney took over as head coach after Tommy Bowden retired. In 2016, Swinney led the Tigers to a victory during the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, earning a national championship.

Clemson University Football Spring Game Extras 2015 April 11, 2015 In Memorial Stadium Orange And White Game

Dabo Swinney

Get your pen ready to list the abundance of awards Swinney has received. Okay, okay – we’ll name only a few like: ACC Coach of the Year (2015), Home Depot Coach of the Year (2015), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (2015) and the George Munger Award (2015).

Brian Kelly

Since 2009, Brian Kelly has held the title of head football coach for University of Notre Dame. Since then he’s earned 2x Home Depot Coach of the Year Award, 3x Big East Coach of the Year, AP College Football Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, SN Coach of the Year, and the Walter Camp Coach of the Year.

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

He holds a record of 240–91–2, which is pretty impressive. After he graduated from college, he worked as linebackers coach, a defensive coordinator and once even as a softball coach.

Darrell Royal

You won’t need a private investigator to track down Royal’s impact on the college football world. Royal coached for 23 years at at three different teams: Texas, Washington, and Mississippi State. Royal went from a star player at Oklahoma to a star coach with Texas. Royal never coached Texas to a losing season thanks to his intense discipline.

Darrell Royal

Darrell Royal

Royal kept players focused and healthy and you’d be shocked if a diabetic player showed up due to a bad diet! Royal gathered 11 Southwest Conference ‘chips and he went to the Cotton Bowl 10 times.

Bob Neyland

Neyland turned Tennessee into a dynasty over his 21 years of coaching as he racked up a 173 – 31 – 12 record in 21 years of coaching. Neyland was a great defensive scheme setter and you’d need a private investigator to break through the supreme tape of his defensive planning. Neyland never coached a team with a losing record and his intensity on defense changed the game.

Bob Neyland

Bob Neyland

You’d have opposing coaches needing diabetic foot care from all of the shame eating they endured from consistent years of losses. Okay, not really, but the psychological effect was palpable.

Kevin Sumlin

That’s right, the head coach at Texas A&M University makes the list. Previously, from 2007 to 2011, Kevin Sumlin served as the head football coach at the University of Houston. Sumlin became the first ever head coach to win over 8 games in his first season as head coach.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Texas A&M Vs Oklahoma

Kevin Sumlin

Sumlin was a member of the 1984 Peach Bowl team. During his time, he finished in the top ten in tackles with 375, of which 191 were solo whereas the other 184 were assisted. He also made the top twenty list of solo tackles.

Fielding H. Yost

Yost is a College Football Hall of Famer and a lead figure in pioneering college football into a national phenomenon. When he was head football coach in Ann Arbor, he lead the Wolverines to six national championships wins and ten Big Ten Conference titles.

Fielding H. Yost

Fielding H. Yost

He also coached for Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the University of Kansas, Stanford University, San Jose State University, and the University of Michigan.

Mack Brown

Currently, Mack Brown is a college football commentator for ESPN. However before this, he served as the head football coach of the Texas Longhorns football team at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mack Brown

Mack Brown

Apart from his many, many accolades, in 2008 Brown achieved his 200th career win, marking him as the first Texas coach to reach that mark! Now that’s an achievement worth talking about.

Gary Pinkel

Gary Pinkel is a former college football coach who most recently worked as the head coach for the University of Missouri Tigers. From 1991 to 2000, he was coach at the University of Toledo, earning a Mid-American Conference championship in 1995 to his name.

Gary Pinkel

Gary Pinkel

As such, he is the winningest coach in Toledo’s history. Furthermore, he’s also the winningest coach in the history of Missouri, which is a position he held from 2001 to 2015.

Barry Alvarez

The College Football Hall of Famer is a former head football coach who is currently serving as the athletic director at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. For 16 seasons, he was the head football coach at Wisconsin, from 1990 to 2005, racking up a record of 118–73–4.

Barry Alvarez

Barry Alvarez

To date, he holds the longest head coaching tenure AND the most wins in Wisconsin Badgers football history. Here is a coach with enough experience to teach any new football player a thing or two.

Jimmy Johnson

Get this, Johnson was the first and only one of three football coaches to lead teams to both a major college football championship and a Super Bowl (the others are Barry Switzer and Pete Carroll).

Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy Johnson

When he was a head football coach, he worked at Oklahoma State University–Stillwater from 1979 to 1983 and the University of Miami from 1984 to 1988.

Lou Holtz

Holtz’s career took him to land the head football coach position at The College of William & Mary, North Carolina State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of South Carolina, snagging a career record of 249–132–7. While with Norte Dame, in 1988, the team went 12–0 grabbing a victory in the Fiesta Bowl and was the consensus national champion.

Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz

Holtz is also the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games AND is the only coach to guide four different programs to the final top 20 rankings.

Mike Gundy

Currently, Gundy is the head football coach at Oklahoma State University–Stillwater, a position he’s held since 2005. To date, he has earned the Big 12 Coach of the Year (2010), the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award (2011), and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (2011).

Mike Gundy

Mike Gundy

The 50-year-old coach’s record is 114–53. He used to play for Oklahoma State from 1986 until 1989 as a quarterback. Despite having had a stint coaching for Maryland and Baylor, Gundy has been loyal to his state of Oklahoma.

Tom Herman

Before Herman became the head coach at the The University of Texas at Austin, he was head coach at the University of Houston. In 2015, he picked up a win at the American Athletic Conference. He’s still young, but he has so much potential.

Tom Herman

Tom Herman

Herman has lobbied for a 7-on-7 coaches system for high school coaches. It has been met with great approval and praise from coaches across Texas. A number of coaches posted pictures on Twitter of letters they received from Herman.

Bud Wilkinson

The College Football Hall of Famer also was a player, broadcaster, and politician. While the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma from 1947 to 1963, he compiled a record of 145–29–4. He took the Sooners to three national championships wins and 14 conference titles.

Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson

Between 1953 and 1957, his squads won 47 straight games, a record that still stands at the highest level of college football. Bud Wilkinson is a name to look out for.

James Franklin

Meet the current head coach at Penn State University, whose current record stands at 49–30. In 2016, he quickly turned his losing team to winners and earned the Dave McClain Coach of the Year in the Big Ten.

James Franklin

James Franklin

James Franklin went to Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, and following that he attended college at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania There he played as a quarterback for four years.

Frank Beamer

Beamer is a retired college football coach, most notably though for the Virginia Tech Hokies, and as a former college football player. He jetted out on his coaching journey in 1972, and from 1981 to 1986 Beamer served as head coach at Murray State University. Beamer then become the head football coach at Virginia Tech from 1987 until his ~final~ game in 2015.

Frank Beamer

Frank Beamer

As a result, he was one of the longest tenured active coaches in NCAA Division I FBS and, when he retired, was the winningest active coach at said level.

Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham is the head football coach of the University of Utah Utes. Before this, Whittingham was Utah’s defensive coordinator for ten whole seasons. He was even named head coach of Utah after Urban Meyer left for the Florida Gators way back in 2004.

Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham

Whittingham earned the AFCA Coach of the Year and the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award in 2008. Before he became a coach, he played as a linebacker for the BYU Cougars. He was named MVP of the Holiday Bowl in 1981.

Pete Carroll

In case you somehow forgot, Pete Carroll is the head coach and executive VP of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. As head coach, he’s been with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and the USC Trojans of the University of Southern California (USC).

Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll

Additionally, Carroll is one of just three football coaches to win both a Super Bowl and a college football national championship. That’s a feat that will go down in the history books.

Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel is a retired head coach, but when he was head coach from 1986 ti 2010, he was with the Youngstown State Penguins and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both of Tressel’s teams went on to earn many national championships, earning him plenty of accolades along the way.

Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel actually played football for Baldwin–Wallace College as a quarterback. His father, Lee Tressel was his coach. Talk about it running in the family.

John Gagliardi

Alright you have to be a glutton for college football to even know who John Gagliardi is. Gagliardi has racked up almost 500 wins in his career coaching at St. John’s. He’s scored multiple National Championships and he is already in the College Football Hall of Fame.

John Gagliardi

John Gagliardi

Gagliardi is the opposite of Darrell Royal in that his practices were laid back, without tackling, and less strict. That doesn’t mean that his players needed diabetic foot care from lazy diets, they just bought into his confidence instead.

John McKay

McKay is a USC legend thanks to 16 straight seasons of excellence. McKay coached from 1960 to 1075 and his crowning moment was a Rose Bowl win over the then #2 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. McKay was known for his powerful offensive schemes and his domination on the national stage.

John Mckay

John Mckay

McKay’s team were so sweet to watch that you might end up needing diabetic foot care after re-watching his games! Okay not really, but you should really take some time off to watch them play.

Mark Dantonio

Of course the current head football coach at Michigan State University makes the list. Since 2007, Dantonio has held this position and heads over one of the most successful eras in the program’s history. To date, he’s led the Spartans to three Big Ten Conference championships and also seven victories over their arch rival Michigan.

Mark Dantonio

Mark Dantonio

In 2013, he coached the team to its first ever 13-win season and their fifth trip to the Rose Bowl, defeating Stanford and finishing the season ranked third in the nation. Not bad!

Gary Patterson

Meet the head coach at Texas Christian University, whose also the winningest coach in Horned Frogs’ history. Patterson has led the team to six conference championships, four Mountain West Conference titles, a Big 12 Conference title win, and nine bowl game victories, including the Rose Bowl and Peach Bowl.

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Gary Patterson

Gary Patterson attended Dodge City Community College and Kansas State University. He also played football at both of those institutions. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1983.

Mark Richt

Currently Richt is head coach at his alma mater, the University of Miami. Before this gig, he starred as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for 14 years at Florida State University, a year as offensive coordinator at East Carolina Uni.

Mark Richt

Mark Richt

Later he spent 15 years as the head coach at the University of Georgia. Does it surprise you that Richt played football in high school? He was recruited during this time by the University of Miami, Florida State University, and Brown University.

Bret Bielema

Bret Bielema is head football coach at the University of Arkansas. When he was the head football coach at the University of Wisconsin from 2006 to 2012, he achieved an impressive 68–24 record which really put him on the map and in the minds of football coaches and players across the States.

Bret Bielema

Bret Bielema

He played football in college as a defensive lineman under coach Hayden Fry from 1989 to 1992 at the University of Iowa. He served as team captain during his senior season. He eventually graduated with a bachelors degree in marketing.

Bobby Bowden

Can you believe that Bobby Bowden is 88 years old? He started his football passion when he was just a child, but then he found his calling when he actually started playing as a quarterback and running back during the late 1940’s and early 50’s.

Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden

Bowden was a prolific coach in his career at Florida State and West Virginia. Bowden went 357 – 124 – 4 over a 40 year span. Bowden took Florida State from a bottom of the barrel program into an annual AP Top Five team. Bowden’s reformation of FSU is something straight out of college football’s greatest hits.

Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer may be on his last legs as a head coach but he’s sure established himself as one of the greatest. Meyer currently coaches Ohio State but he’s seen time at Florida, Utah, and Bowling Green.

Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer

Meyer has won big at every stop along the way scoring huge Bowl wins thanks to his insanely talented offenses. It makes sense that Meyer earned himself a bachelor’s degree in psychology when he was at the University of Cincinnati.

Wayne ‘Woody’ Hayes

Woody Hayes lands just outside of our Top 10 but not by much! Hayes went 238 – 72 – 10 throughout 33 years of coaching. Hays was a Veteran of WWII and a true soldier on the sidelines. His presence is still felt on the field.

Wayne Woody Hayes

Wayne Woody Hayes

Hayes was the face of Ohio State football thanks to his winning of five, count ’em, FIVE national championships. This man knew what living life to the maximum is all about.

Gus Malzahn

Gus Malzahn is the current head coach for the Auburn Tigers Football program. Before this, he coached at Arkansas State University, Auburn University, University of Arkansas, and the University of Tulsa. He was a walk-on receiver at Arkansas and at the same time he obtained a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

NCAA Football: Auburn At Mississippi State

Gus Malzahn

For all of his many great accomplishments, Malzahn earned numerous “Coach of the year” awards including the SEC Coach of the Year, Home Depot Coach of the Year, Sporting News Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, Bobby Bowden Coach of the Year Award, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, and the AP College Football Coach of the Year.

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno was the brilliant head coach at the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011. With 409 victories to his name, Paterno is the most victorious coach in NCAA FBS history. He didn’t leave much room for anyone to compete, really.

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno

It was a sad day for everyone in the football world when he passed away in 2012. He will always be remembered for saying, “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.”

Barry Switzer

For 16 years, Barry Switzer was head football coach at the University of Oklahoma and four years as head coach for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. While in the NFL, he and the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX against the Steelers.

NCAA FOOTBALL 2011: TEXAS A&M VS OKLAHOMA NOV 05

Barry Switzer

Switzer has one of the highest winning percentages of any college football coach in history(!), and is one of just three head coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl, (the others being Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll).

David Shaw

Up next is David Shaw, the head coach at Stanford Cardinal’s football team. Shaw served as the team’s offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2010. Previously, he served as passing game coordinator at the University of San Diego and as assistant coach in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, and Baltimore Ravens.

David Shaw

David Shaw

Shaw played football for Stanford as a wide receiver between 1991 and 1994. It was after his playing career that he took to the sidelines to become a very successful coach.

Bernie Bierman

Bierman coached for 27 seasons on a variety of different teams: Minnesota, Iowa, Tulane, Mississippi State, and Montana. Bierman went 153 – 65 – 12 in his career and the highlight of his career came when he won a title with Minnesota. Bierman’s career was sidelined by World War II for a while, to say the least.

Tom Harmon Bernie Bierman

Bernie Bierman

But don’t think that Bierman was just involved in football, oh no. He was actually once a basketball coach at Montana as well. During the Second World War he served in the U.S. armed forces. This was a man who had character and unwavering motivation.

Pop Warner

His name is synonymous with youth football but you can trace his impact on the college game back for years. Warner coached over 44 seasons for seven different teams, racking up an incredible 319 – 106 – 32 record in the process.

Pop Warner

Pop Warner

Pop Warner had the honor of coaching the incomparable Jim Thorpe as well as bringing in Temple’s first Sugar Bowl. Pop Warner studied at Cornell University but should be remembered more importantly for how he influenced the modern way we play football.

Jimbo Fisher

Before landing the role as head coach at Florida State University, Jimbo Fisher served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisiana State University. Fisher’s inaugural year marked FSU’s first 10-win season since 2003 and also their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game since 2005.

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

During the 2012 season, he led the team to a 12-2 victory and record at the Orange Bowl. Fisher is one of the most respected college football coaches out there.

Bill Snyder

This College Football Hall of Famer has won numerous conference and national coach of the year awards. Due to his many years with Kansas State, the college even went on to name the stadium after him, Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.

Bill Snyder

Bill Snyder

When the 2016 season ended, Synder racked up 202 wins, which is the third-most of any active NCAA Division I head coach. His record lives on and probably will for years to come.

Walter Camp

Camp may be a bit overrated on our list but that’s only to make up for his lack of broader success. Walter Camp is the “Father of Football” and one of the most influential people in the history of the sport.

Walter Camp

Walter Camp

Camp coached Yale and Stanford for a total of 8 seasons, going 79 – 5 – 3 in the process. Camp scored three national title wins as a head coach. No-one can argue his place on this list.

Amos Alonzo Stagg

Speaking of Yale, Amos Alonzo Stagg was a star player for the school before turning to coaching. Stagg would coach for 57 years with three different teams: Chicago (1892 – ’32), Pacific, and Springfield.

Amos Alonzo Stagg

Amos Alonzo Stagg

Stagg coached his way into the history books thanks to his dedicated time at Chicago. Amos Alonzo Stagg is the author of four books that every budding football player or coach should read.

Les Miles

“The Mad Hatter” is known for his quirkiness and his signature white hat. Before he became a head coach, he was an assistant coach at a few places including, Oklahoma State, University of Michigan, University of Colorado at Boulder, and also with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Les Miles

Les Miles

In 2007, he lead the LSU Tigers football team to a victory over Ohio State, during the BCS National Championship Game. Les Mile’s name is heard throughout the colleges of America.

Jim Harbaugh

Former QB turned head coach is up next. Currently he’s the head coach at his alma mater, University of Michigan Wolverines. From 1994 to 2001, as a player, Harbaugh also was an unpaid assistant coach at Western Kentucky University, where his dad was head coach.

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

In 2004, he was head coach at San Diego, earing consecutive Pioneer League championships. Then in 2007, he moved to Stanford and earned two bowl berths in just four seasons, including the 2011 Orange Bowl.

Frank Leahy

During World War II there were few schools that actually prospered but Notre Dame was one of them. Leahy coached for 13 seasons, 12 of them at Notre Dame, where he would turn the Fighting Irish into the most dominant team of the ’40s.

Frank Leahy

Frank Leahy

But before he turned to coaching for Notre Dame, he actually played for them! Between 1928 and 1930, Leahy played the position of tackle for the University of Notre Dame. But even before then he had stood out as a football player.

Tom Osborne

Osborne coached for 25 seasons with Nebraska, retiring in 1997 after going 255 – 49 – 3. Osborne never had a team go un-ranked or lose more than three contests. Nebraska scored a trio of National Championships under Osborne as well as a dozen Big 8 titles.

NCAA Basketball: Texas At Nebraska

Tom Osborne

After the days of football had faded into the background, Osborne ran for U.S. Representative in Nebraska’s 3rd national district. He served three terms in that position between 2001 to 2007.

Eddie Robinson

Robinson might be a controversial choice on our list but we’ll keep him in, anyway. Robinson spent 56 years coaching at Grambling State where he would lead over 200 players to the NFL – not every coach can claim that one.

Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

Robinson won 408 games in his career, making him the winningest coach in the game. Eddie Robinson has been recognized as one of the greatest coaches in history by college football experts.

Bob Stoops

“Big Game Bob” is the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma, which is a position he has held since 1999! During the 2000 season, Bob Stoops went on to lead the Sooners to an Orange Bowl victory and also a national championship.

Bob Stoops

Bob Stoops

Stoops has also been awarded the 2000 Paul “Bear” Bryant Award and the 2000 and 2003 Walter Camp Coach of the Year. Not bad. Stoops got the nickname “Big Game Bob” by supporters and detractors.

Fielding Yost

Does Yost need an introduction? We are here in college football royalty. Yost coached for 30 seasons, making his biggest mark with Michigan and the six titles his team would win.

Fielding Yost

Fielding Yost

Yost led Michigan to one of the most historically dominated seasons ever in 1905 — outscoring opponents 495 – 0 through the first 12 games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Nick Saban

Saban scored a Top 10 finish for Michigan State and he brought LSU back on the map at with a BCS Title Win. Now Saban is standing tall at Alabama where he continues to craft a legacy that may compete with that of one of the next man on our list.

Nick Saban

Nick Saban

He played for Kent State between 1970 to 1972 as a defensive back. His coaching career stared in 1973 at his own home team of Kent State. Saban barely missed becoming part of the infamous 1970 Kent State shootings just because he decided to stay back and eat lunch.

Knute Rockne

Rockne was as big a part of college football as anyone ever could be. Rockne coached Notre Dame to a 105 – 12 – 5 record over 13 years of coaching. Rockne landed his coaching job after World War I and he immediately turned Notre Dame into one of the most storied schools of all time.

Knute Rockne

Knute Rockne

Rockne coached Notre Dame to 11 seasons with one or fewer losses. The Norwegian-American is remembered by his famous words, “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it.”

Bear Bryant

And here we are, the man who stands above Nick Saban at Alabama. Bear Bryant coached for 38 years for four different schools. Bryant took one season with Alabama to build his program and then he immediately turned on the boosters – leading the team to a domination that the SEC has rarely seen since.

Bear Bryant

Bear Bryant

He is noted with collecting six national championships as well as thirteen conference championships. There’s no questioning why Bear Bryant is sitting here on our list.

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