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Superlative backlash

Coaching rankings rile up the 'Bag's readership

Posted: Tuesday July 5, 2005 12:23PM; Updated: Wednesday July 6, 2005 11:50AM
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Mack Brown
Does Texas' Mack Brown deserve to be mentioned among the college game's top 10 coaches? Plenty of SI.com readers said no.
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Well, last week's list of the best, worst, overrated and underrated coaches had its intended effect -- a dramatic spike in e-mails -- but it also kind of backfired. Hardly anyone asked questions about anything else.

First of all, to the hundreds of you who, understandably, wrote in angrily wanting to know, "How could you leave off such and such" -- believe me, I think the world of Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Joe Tiller, Ralph Friedgen, etc., and would have loved to include them on the 10 Best list. But then it wouldn't have been a top 10, now would it?

As for the five worst list, I heard from plenty of Georgia Tech fans -- including at least one former player -- who were irate at Chan Gailey's No. 1 "honor," but almost as many wrote in to say they agreed. Same with Kentucky's Rich Brooks. Almost no one wrote in to defend poor Gary Pinkel, and, much to my surprise, more people commended me for including Joe Paterno on the list than admonished me as sacrilegious.

My only regrets are that I failed to mention Navy's Paul Johnson, Northern Illinois' Joe Novak, Colorado State's Sonny Lubick, Air Force's Fisher DeBerry, Connecticut's Randy Edsall and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe among the underrated (that list is approaching half of all Division I-A coaches by now, but oh well).

I'll answer a few of the more popular questions below before moving on to other topics. As I predicted, the most common thread went something like this ...

On what basis could Mack Brown, who has never won a conference championship in more than 20 years as a head coach, be placed in such elite company? For the past six years he has had material and resources approaching that of USC, yet has never come close to beating Oklahoma and manages to lose at least one game each year that he shouldn't.
--Michael Cuscurida, Waco, Texas

All valid, well-known points, Michael ... and certainly the major reason Brown was rated 10th and not, say, fourth. All I know is, he must be doing something right. He has finished in the top six in the polls in three of the past four seasons, he's the only coach in the country to win at least nine games every season during the time he's been in Austin and he has the third-highest winning percentage of any coach (.780) over the past decade. He runs a clean ship, his players stay out of trouble, and have you noticed that nearly every one of the Longhorns' recent stars -- Roy Williams, Cedric Benson, Derrick Johnson and Nathan Vasher -- elected to stay all four years when they could have easily left early and been very high draft picks?

Certainly Brown needs to beat Oklahoma and win a championship before he can be considered one of the truly elite, but to not acknowledge him as a top-10 coach, in my opinion, would be extremely short-sighted.

How can you justify putting Urban Meyer (No. 6) higher on your best coaches list higher than a successful, proven coach in the same conference? Phillip Fulmer (No. 9) has the highest winning percentage of all active coaches, leads a program with the most bowl appearances of all time and has continued to be a power in one of the toughest divisions (the SEC East) in all of football? I don't understand how a guy with a successful offense at Bowling Green and Utah can land a job at UF and be the sixth-best coach in the country. Meyer has yet to win a game at Florida. I feel like it's a slap in the face to Fulmer and the other coaches on your list who have accomplished bigger things over greater periods of time in tougher circumstances.
--Hunter Roberts, Richmond, Va.

First of all, Meyer would have made the list whether he landed the Florida job or not, based solely on his accomplishments at Bowling Green and Utah. Secondly, everything's relative. When you say Fulmer has faced "tougher circumstances," I assume you're referring to the level of competition. But it's not like Fulmer faced that competition with the same level of players as Meyer faced his, or vice versa.

Fulmer coaches at a school with one of the richest traditions in the country, unmatched resources and a built-in recruiting advantage over 90 percent of other I-A schools. He's done a very good job -- hence his presence on the list -- but I would argue that what Meyer accomplished at two schools with zero tradition, no recent track record of success, extremely limited resources and almost no natural recruiting lure was tougher than what Fulmer has achieved over the same four-year time period.

Now, this will all be moot come fall, when the two are competing head-to-head on equal footing. If Fulmer gets the better of Meyer over the next few seasons, then surely my rankings at the time will reflect that.