March 31, 2009

Whispers: Ranking the Big 12 coaches

Any discussion of Big 12 coaches begins with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown. They are the conference's yin and yang, national coaching icons with multimillion salaries and national titles on their résumés.

But the coaching talent runs deep in this league. Texas A&M's Mike Sherman has NFL credibility from his five-year stint as Green Bay Packers coach. Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Missouri's Gary Pinkel have won at least shares of division crowns. And don't forget about the return of Bill Snyder at Kansas State.

And if you're looking for rising commodities, check out Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Baylor's Art Briles. Each appears on the precipice of big things. Paul Rhoads looks like a perfect fit at Iowa State, leaving Colorado's Dan Hawkins as the only Big 12 coach facing a crossroads this season – and don't best against the Hawk.

Ranking the Big 12 coaches:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Yes, Stoops has lost in his past five BCS appearances. But that doesn't diminish what he has built in Norman – the top program in the Big 12 and perhaps the best in all the land. Since arriving in 1999, Stoops has led the Sooners to six conference crowns. OU also has played in four BCS title games – more than any other school – and won the national championship in 2000. And check out the list of his coaching protégés: Mike Leach (Texas Tech), Mark Mangino (Kansas), Mike Stoops (Arizona), Bo Pelini (Nebraska), Kevin Sumlin (Houston) and Chuck Long (formerly at San Diego State). All hail King Bob!

2. Mack Brown, Texas
What more can you say about "Mack-Daddy"? The guy has made the Longhorns a national power, posting at least 10 victories each season since 2001 and winning a national championship in 2005. And don't say anyone could coach Texas to big success. Remember John Mackovic? David McWilliams? Fred Akers? Brown changed the underachieving ways of this mega-power. He's the ultimate salesman, a recruiting machine and an underrated offensive coach.

3. Mark Mangino, Kansas
A taskmaster who never has been given anything, the hard-working Mangino has made Kansas relevant on a national level. And that's no small task when you consider he inherited a talent-poor roster and some of the Big 12's worst facilities. Look at the Jayhawks now, in the midst of one of the most successful runs in school history – 20-6 in the past two seasons, with two bowl wins and a shared Big 12 North title. And the Jayhawks will be everyone's preseason Big 12 North favorite.

4. Mike Leach, Texas Tech
The guy never will have talent that's on par with Texas or Oklahoma. Doesn't matter. Leach has managed to stay competitive during a nine-year run in Lubbock that has brought unparalleled acclaim and attention to the school. Last season was Leach's crowning glory, leading the Red Raiders to a share of their first Big 12 South title and a heart-stopping win over then-No. 1 Texas. Still, Leach was dragged through a contentious negotiation to get a contract extension after the season. Insane.

5. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
The guy has delivered consecutive Big 12 North titles the past two seasons. That Pinkel has made the Tigers into a Big 12 contender speaks volumes. Remember, Pinkel arrived in Columbia following a stellar 10-year run at Toledo (73-37-3) and learned at the feet of Don James at Washington. Pinkel is good.

6. Art Briles, Baylor
In 1999, Briles was coach of Stephenville (Texas) High School. In 2009, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with some of the best coaches in America. Briles is knee-deep in a rebuilding project at Baylor following a 4-8 debut that has many around Waco thinking big. Briles showed he's a cut above by turning around Houston before taking over this rehab project, going 34-28 with four bowl bids in five seasons with the Cougars.

7. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
The Huskers are getting just what they expected – a passionate coach who is wise beyond his years. Even better: Pelini's debut showed that he can coach. He exceeded expectations, guiding the Cornhuskers to a 9-4 record, a Gator Bowl win over Clemson and a share of the Big 12 North title. Just wait until he has a roster full of his guys. It all makes you wonder: Where would this program be had it named Pelini coach after the 2003 season?

8. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Snyder is a living, breathing legend based on his first run in Manhattan from 1989-2005. He lifted this program from the morass in what many hail as the greatest building job in college football history. But it's difficult to ignore that Snyder went 9-13 (4-12 in the Big 12) in his final two seasons at K-State. And at 68, how much juice does he have left?

9. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
Before last season, he had not coached in college since working with the Aggies' offensive line in 1996, and it showed in many ways during a rough 4-8 debut for Sherman. But Sherman can coach. He posted a 57-39 record as coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2000-05. And he also has an eye for personnel. Give Sherman time to find players to fit the pro-style offense he has installed in College Station.

10. Dan Hawkins, Colorado
Is there a more spiritual leader? Of course not. Hawkins is a Zen Master at motivation, while also possessing an ability to X and O with the best of them. From 2001-05, Hawkins helped build what is now a Boise State empire, forging a 53-11 record with four bowls. But things haven't clicked in three seasons in Boulder, where Hawkins still is looking for his first winning season. The clock is ticking.

11. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Yeah, yeah, we all know Gundy is 40 and a man. We also are coming to discover that he's a rising force in the coaching community. Having T. Boone Pickens' money bags bank-rolling the operation helps. But give Gundy credit for building a killer offense and also continually hiring good assistants during his four-year run in Stillwater. He's coming off a breakout season that saw the Cowboys rank in the top 10 and earn a Holiday Bowl berth with a 9-4 record.

12. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
After Gene Chizik unceremoniously dumped Iowa State for Auburn, the Cyclones rebounded nicely by tabbing the blue-collar Rhoads. He's a bright defensive mind who has coordinated great defenses at Pitt and Auburn. And perhaps just as important, Rhoads – an Ankeny, Iowa, native who is a former Cyclones assistant (1995-99) – is thrilled to be in Ames.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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