Ranking coaches in all sports: Does Saban belong at the top?
Last week The Sporting News put out of a list of the 25 best active coaches in all sports right now and Alabama’s Nick Saban, fresh off a national championship win over Clemson, was ranked No. 1.
To which millions across the country scoffed. People who don’t follow college sports closely never give it enough credit. They assume – quite wrongly, mind you – that if guys like Saban or Urban Meyer, or basketball guys like Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari were so good, then they would be in the pros. They quickly want to toss out Saban’s losing record during his two years in the NFL.
They miss the point completely, of course. But it is a good argument all the same. Who’s really the best of the best?
The entire Sporting News top 25 rankings are in this link, but here’s the condensed version. Here’s their top 10:
- Nick Saban, Alabama football
- Mike Krzyzewski, Duke basketball
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, NFL
- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, NBA
- Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
- Urban Meyer, Ohio State football
- Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
- Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants, MLB
- John Calipari, Kentucky basketball
- Geno Auriemma, Connecticut women’s basketball
Here were a few others that we can relate to, since we are a college football website after all:
14. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football
20. Dabo Swinney, Clemson football
22. Bob Stoopes, Oklahoma football
So now let’s get down to the skinny. In my opinion, there are a few flaws with these rankings. And I know this is all very subjective, and we’re oftentimes comparing apples to oranges with all these fine coaches. But here are five things I’d correct in the top 10:
5. No Geno Auriemma in the top 10: I’m not being sexist in any way here, I’m really not. But he doesn’t belong near the top of this list for one reason. There’s just not nearly enough great women’s college basketball players to go around, and he hoards them all. It’s too much apples and oranges here. I’d drop him down several notches.
4. No Pete Carroll in the top 5: It’s just too high. Yes, he went to two straight Super Bowls and won one, and they’re also giving him props for what he did at USC, but I have a problem with that. The NCAA weighed in on those title years with some severe sanctions, so I don’t like giving Carroll too much credit for those. It’s just me, I know, but I’ve got a problem with how he ran things there.
3. No problems at all with the top 4: What can I say? All four of those guys are tremendous. They are the true legends of their sport, not only active, but of all-time.
2. Who’s ranked too low?: The only guy who could crack that top four might be Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Yeah, I know my southern audience here and most of you don’t give two hoots about hockey, but let me tell you something about Q, as a Chicago guy. The man’s amazing, running programs like those other top four guys. He’s won three titles in six years and is on pace to win another one. He’s second all-time in wins, and he does it all with class.
1. I wouldn’t rank Saban No. 1: Yeah, yeah, I know. Cater to your readership. And don’t get me wrong. Saban is tremendous and you’ll never hear me bashing him as a coach. But I would rank Belichick ahead of him because it’s much harder to win NFL Super Bowls than it is college football national titles. Saban gets 25 first-round picks every year as he picks and chooses who he wants in recruiting. Belichick pieces a team together around Tom Brady every year and still wins four titles and probably should have six. But even beyond that, I would put Krzyzewski first on the list, because he’s got four NCAA titles but he also has Olympic gold medals. I know the football guys can’t win those, and it’s an unfair comparison, but they matter to me.
It really is apples and oranges with those last five. Depending on your flavor, you’ve got legitimate arguments for all five guys to be the best. Heck, so do I, to be honest. I could have written this many different ways.
But total resume, give me Coach K.