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Lightning In A Bottle: Seven Lower-Tier Head Coaches With National Titles

head coach

head coach

Bill McCartney (2nd Tier)

Bill McCartney and the 1990 AP National Champion Colorado Buffaloes

Bill McCartney and the 1990 AP National Champion Colorado Buffaloes

He took over a bad Colorado program, but he did turn them into the national champs. So, we need to give credit where credit is due. However, Colorado wasn't a trash program; they had played in the 1977 Orange Bowl under coach Bill Mallory. So getting the Buffaloes back on track was not even in the neighborhood of impossible. Great recruiting put Colorado on top of the Big 8 by '89, but for his first seven seasons, he averaged just five wins per season.

His '89 team rallied around the memory of QB Sal Aunese, who had fallen to cancer in September of that season. Colorado would roll-off 11 straight wins on the way to a 1990 Orange Bowl date with Notre Dame. A loss in their near-miss title opportunity did not slow the Buffaloes. The following year, with a little bit of officiating help, they would again reach a national title crossroad. The Buffaloes would go 11-1-1 on their way to defeating Notre Dame in an Orange Bowl rematch, claiming its first and last AP national title. McCartney's record as a head coach is 93-55-5. He's about as close to 1st Tier as anyone on this list because of near-miss seasons in 1990 and 1994.

*Colorado defeated Missouri in 1990 33-31 in the infamous 5th down the game.

The Fifth Down Game was a college football game on October 6, 1990 that included a play that the crew officiating the game permitted to occur in error. That play enabled the Colorado Buffaloes to defeat the Missouri Tigers by scoring a touchdown at the end of the game.”

-Wikipedia

Bobby Ross (2nd Tier)

Bobby Ross and the 1990 AFCA National Champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Bobby Ross and the 1990 AFCA National Champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

He (Bobby Ross) arrived at Georgia Tech and, well, pulled off a miracle on The Flats. He took a program that was 2-9 in its first season and won a national championship in his fourth, the Yellow Jackets only modern-day title.

I.J. Rosenberg (the Atlanta journal CONSITUTION)

While Colorado was winning the 1990 AP trophy in Georgia, Bobby Ross and the Yellow Jackets were closing the deal on the coach's poll championship, their first title since 1952. It was also the first split title since 1978. However, this was an excellent Tech team with an epic rush defense. They had given up just 2.8 YPC and only seven rushing TDs for the season. It was monumental for Tech, but for Ross, it was his crown jewel sparkling atop a crown of mediocrity. Bobby Ross' had a college head coaching record of 103-101-2.

Gene Stallings (2nd Tier)

Gene Stallings and the 1992 Consensus National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide

Gene Stallings and the 1992 Consensus National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide

Tide fans will not like Stallings on this list, but it must be said in the interest of truth. His predecessor, Bill Curry, had won the SEC in '89 but had failed to beat Auburn. So in January of '90, when Curry and AD Hootie Ingram could not agree on a contract extension, Curry headed to Kentucky.

Stallings was Bama's 3rd hire since Bryant. A solid defense, little offense, NCAA troubles, and a National Title are good headlines for Stallings's tenure. Of course, we should never forget that he spent most of his time at Alabama in the shadow of Steve Spurrier. His overall college coaching record was 89–70–1.

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Larry Coker (3rd Tier)

Larry Coker and the 2001 BCS National Champion Miami Hurricanes

Larry Coker and the 2001 BCS National Champion Miami Hurricanes

Without mentioning Larry Coker, you can't talk about bad coaches who've won titles. His '01 Hurricanes are often considered the greatest college football team in history. But these weren't Coker's players; Butch Davis was the man who recruited them. When Davis headed to the NFL in 2001, the Miami players were sure that Coker was their guy. His 35-3 run was remarkable, but once the Davis recruits dried up, so did success. His record as a head coach is 86-47. More than a third of those wins came in his first three seasons at Miami.

Every offseason the debate emerges about who the best team in the history of college football is. The 2001 Miami football National Championship team had the most talent in the history of the sport. Seventeen Hurricanes from the 2001 Miami football team became first-round picks and 38 would go on to be drafted.

Alan Rubenstein (caneswarning.com)

Gene Chizik (4th Tier)

Auburn celebrates after defeating the Oregon Ducks for the BCS National Title (January 10, 2011)

Auburn celebrates after defeating the Oregon Ducks for the BCS National Title (January 10, 2011)

Chizik is the king of the one-and-done club; because of how different 2010 was compared to his other seasons. Auburn's transfer sensation Cam Newton put Auburn's offense on a championship trajectory, a course that Chizik would have never found again if he coached a hundred seasons. As a result, he was fired after posting a 3-9 record in 2012, just two years removed from his BCS title. His record as a head coach is 38-38, just 24-38 without his title season.

Jimbo Fisher (2nd Tier)

Jimbo Fisher and the 2013 BCS National Champion FSU Seminoles

Jimbo Fisher and the 2013 BCS National Champion FSU Seminoles

He had his moment at FSU in 2013, with Jameis Winston under center. But, when you take out the two Winston seasons, Jimbo's resume looks vanilla. Throughout his ten seasons without Jameis Winston, Jimbo has averaged 3 to 4 losses a year.

Currently, Jimbo resides in College Station, Tx, where he is still struggling to win the SEC West. His 9-1 season in 2020 remains his high-water mark at A&M. Jimbo's record as a head coach is 117-37, 90-36 without Jameis Winston. A good record, yes, but not an elite record. Maybe NIL will change things for Jimbo; only time will tell.

Ed Orgeron (3rd Tier)

Ed Oregeron and Joe Burrow celebrate winning the BCS National Championship (January 13, 2020)

Ed Oregeron and Joe Burrow celebrate winning the BCS National Championship (January 13, 2020)

They say Ed caught lightning in a bottle with the Burrow / Brady combo in 2019. This would appear correct when you consider his record outside of that '19 season, which is barely above .500. Ed is also remembered in Oxford, Ms as the worst Ole Miss coach ever. His 10-25 record is the lowest era in the program's history. However, his 40-9 record from 2016-2019 is the best run of his coaching career. Unfortunately, after the 15-0 season, Ed was back in more familiar territory with an 11-11 record in his final two seasons. Ed's record as a head coach is 67-47.