The hallowed halls of college football has had its fair share of influential as well as controversial coaches. But only a few are legendary, leaving their mark, long after their time has expired.
Their names are whispered in circles of prominence and with respect and veneration.
Some of these coaches are known for their offense, some for their defense and some for their discipline, but they’re all iconic figures at their respective programs.
Every athletic director wants to hire the next legendary coach, and if they’re lucky, they’ll find someone who’ll achieve just a fraction of the success of the coaches listed below.
Five coaches who have cemented their places in college football lore make our list, and plenty of worthy candidates were left off. It’s also not entirely a reflection based solely on wins and losses, but more as an tribute of their entire body of work.
5. Barry Switzer , Oklahoma (1973-1988):157–29–4 --- Switzer is one of only two head coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl. Frankly, it's hard to argue Switzer's success at Oklahoma. In just eight years patrolling the sidelines, he finished out his 16 season tenure with 12 Big Eight championships and three national championships while tallying up a .837 winning percentage, which is the fourth best of all-time. Switzer resurfaced in coaching in 1994 with the Dallas Cowboys wining Super Bowl XXX.
4. Bobby Bowden, Samford/West Virginia/Florida State (1959-2009): 377-129-4 --- Love him, or hate him, Bobby Bowden is -- Florida State football. The Seminoles were a paltry 4-29 in the previous three seasons prior to his arrival, and in just his second year at the helm, went 10-2. However, his most impressive work came between 1987 to 2000, when the Noles' finished each season with 10 wins and a top-five ranking in the polls. Bowden won both of his national championships and coached two Heisman Trophy winners during that stretch while collecting 12 ACC championships, nine of which were won consecutively from 1992 to 2000.
3. Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, Georgia/Cornell/Carlisle/Pitt/Stanford/Temple (1895-1938): 318-106-32 -- Perhaps the best early and most beloved college football coach, Warner was a pioneer and as well as an innovator. Best remembered for starting the Pop Warner Youth Football League in 1929, which today is still a national organized youth football program, he spent four decades as a coach in the early fledging days of football. Warner coached at six colleges during his term, but garnered the most success during his time at Stanford, where his teams won three Rose Bowl championships. Warner brought many innovations to college football, including the spiral punt, the screen play, single and double wing formations, the naked reverse, the three-point stance, numbering players jerseys and the use of shoulder and thigh pads.
2. Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, Maryland/Kentucky/Texas A&M/Alabama (1945-1982): 323-85-17 --Nearly three decades after "The Bear's" passing, his spirit still lingers in the locker room, tunnels and along the sideline of Bryant-Denny Stadium. During his quarter of a century in Tuscaloosa, he compiled 232 wins, including six national championships and 13 SEC titles. A football lifer, Bryant coached such notable players such as Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome, and died just four weeks after his final game as Bama’s head coach.
1. Joe Paterno, Penn State (1966-2009): 394-129-3 -- A living legend, the 84-year old JoePa's career at Penn State spanned six decades. During that span he earned the title of the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A/FBS. No other coach has recorded more bowl appearances (36) and wins (24) than Paterno. He’s the only coach to have won in each of the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton Bowls. He has collect two national championships and five undefeated seasons along the way to becoming our pick for the number one spot on our list.