Finding Bowden's, Paterno's place among all-time coaching legends
Even without vacating wins, Bobby Bowden can't match Paterno in coaching lore
No more excuses for Virginia Tech; it's time to go from ACC contender to national
More on Ole Miss' chances, Todd Reesing's Heisman hopes, the Crush and "Lost"
Last week, I fielded a question about Bobby Bowden's 14 soon-to-be vacated wins, pending Florida State's appeal. I expressed my belief that whatever the final result of the Bowden-Joe Paterno all-time victory chase may be, it will have little effect on either coach's lasting legacy. This elicited an intriguing question from Mark Mills of Las Vegas.
Don't you think that regardless of whether Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden ends up with the most wins, neither will eclipse Bear Bryant as the biggest coaching legend of all time? If not the Bear, who do you think is the biggest name college football has seen?
The fact that this is even a viable conversation topic shows exactly why college football is so unique. In nearly every other sport, it seems like whatever happened most recently automatically trumps all previous history. Commentators instantaneously deemed each of the past two Super Bowls the greatest ever. Every time Roger Federer plays a Wimbledon final, it becomes the "greatest match ever played." And it's only a matter of time before basketball's talking heads decree either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James has usurped Michael Jordan on the all-time greats list.
In college football, however, history isn't rewritten so easily. If anything, the greats of the '20s, '40s, '60s and so on grow more mythical with each generation. Paterno's 44 seasons at Penn State and Bowden's 34 at FSU far eclipse Bryant's 25 at Alabama. More importantly, both Paterno (383 wins) and Bowden (382) have long since passed Bryant (323) when it comes to the single most important achievement any coach can boast, and they've done it during a far more competitive era.
And yet, I can't help but agree with Mark. While it's hard to truly judge contemporaries without the benefit of distance, my guess is 20 years from now, the Bear will remain the most iconic coach in history. Perhaps it's the hat (though Paterno's specs are just as distinctive). Perhaps it's the drawl (though Bowden's accent is equally unmistakable). Or perhaps it's the fact Bryant's tough-guy aura was synonymous with the sport's overall identity for so much of its history.
Forget about championships, winning percentages and bowl games. These, to me, are the sport's five most legendary coaches from a purely subjective standpoint:
1. Bryant: For a quarter-century (1958-82), his teams dominated the sport and his persona dominated the profession. We may never see that again.
2. Knute Rockne: Though he coached just 13 years, he singlehandedly created the Notre Dame dynasty, delivered the most famous locker-room speech in history and had a movie made about him. An estimated 300,000 people witnessed his funeral procession. He was kind of a big deal.
3. Paterno: It's impossible to truly comprehend that Penn State has had the same head football coach since 1966 -- and that he led the Nittany Lions to the Rose Bowl last year at 81. For much of his career, he also was the sport's most prominent voice on myriad moral and ethical issues.
4. Woody Hayes: He was the Bryant of the Midwest, a coach whose program's consistent dominance ceased only when Bo Schemebechler, a worthy rival, emerged during Hayes' latter years. Obviously, his legacy was to a degree forever tainted by that ghastly, final image.
5. Bud Wilkinson: His Sooners of the late '40s and '50s were arguably the sport's greatest dynasty, capturing 13 straight conference titles and three national titles and achieving an NCAA-record 47-game winning streak. Only his early retirement at age 47 precluded further greatness.
A few notable exclusions:
Tom Osborne: On paper, one could argue he was every bit as accomplished (.836 winning percentage, three national titles, 24 top 15 finishes) as the five names above, but unfortunately, his more bland personality made it harder to leave a lasting impression on most non-Nebraskans.
Bowden: He probably would have been on here had he retired in, say, 2002. His run of 14 straight top 4 finishes from 1987-2000 was Wilkinson-esque, but FSU's near-decade of mediocrity since has clearly dampened his legacy.
Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg: As the sport's unofficial founding fathers, they're unquestionably legends, but having coached in an era pre-radio/television, only hardcore historians possess any lasting image of these gentlemen.
Eddie Robinson, John Gagliardi and Tubby Raymond: It's hard enough comparing coaches from different eras, much less different levels. These guys deserve a list of their own.
That's my two cents. I'm sure many of you have your own, differing opinions -- and I'm sure I'm about to receive a whole bushel full of them.
Everyone knows Virginia Tech is returning almost everyone. Everyone also knows Virginia Tech has one of the best coaching staffs in college football. But probably, the most famous thing associated with Hokie football is their famous late-season blunders. Do you think a) Virginia Tech has shed that image? and b) is Virginia Tech getting any serious national title consideration?
Well Zach, those may well be the prevailing perceptions in Woodlawn, Va., but I'm not sure they jibe with the rest of the country. Yes, the Hokies have had a couple late-season collapses over the years (though last season played out in almost exactly opposite fashion), but my guess is the single most "famous" thing right now about Virginia Tech football is its perpetual failure to produce even a semi-decent offense.
There's no question the Hokies have established themselves as the perennial favorites in the ACC, and "everyone knows" Frank Beamer's teams can be counted on to produce some of the stingiest defenses and best special teams play in the country. But over the past three seasons, Virginia Tech has ranked 99th, 100th and 103rd nationally in total offense. In its three games before "exploding" for 30 points in last year's ACC title game, Tech scored 14, 14 and 17 points respectively against mediocre Miami (7-6), Virginia (5-7) and Duke (4-8).
To take that next step from ACC champion to legit national title contender, the Hokies need a more productive offense, period. QB Tyrod Taylor is entering his third season and finally has the job to himself, sophomore RB Darren Evans emerged as a bona fide star late last year while rushing for 1,265 yards, last year's freshman receivers are a year older and a pair of seniors man the left side of the offensive line. No more excuses.
Do the Michigan Wolverines have a real shot at a Big Ten title in the next year or two? Do you see them closing the gap with OSU?
Not this year. While I expected the Wolverines to struggle last year, I never would have predicted they'd slip all the way to 3-9. Meanwhile, Rich Rodriguez's first full recruiting class this year was decent, but not the blockbuster haul many anticipated, particularly at quarterback. As he's shown at his previous stops, Rodriguez's spread offense depends entirely on his quarterback's abilities, and right now there's a lot of pressure for one of his two signees, early-enrollee Tate Forcier or incoming Denard Robinson, to emerge as a star right off the bat.
The most realistic goal for Michigan this season is simply to get back on the right side of .500. Once we see what these quarterbacks are capable of, we'll have a better sense of whether they can return to conference title contention in 2010. But keep in mind: The four-time league champion Buckeyes aren't going anywhere. Terrelle Pryor will be in Columbus for at least the next two years, and Tressel just brought in another top-five recruiting class. Michigan isn't going to catch up with that overnight.
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