2019 Ed Orgeron
The road to taking LSU to the No. 1 ranking in the country and a place in the College Football Playoff wasn’t always obvious for Orgeron. Beginning his coaching career with Graduate Assistant posts at Northwestern State and McNeese State in the mid-80, it has taken the former Northwestern State defensive lineman over 30 years of paying his dues at various stops to reach the pinnacle of the college football landscape.
Orgeron cut his head coaching teeth with Ole Miss, being given just three years before being fired and replaced. He then – after some NFL experience – took USC to a 6-2 record as an interim head coach, before being passed over for the full time gig in LA. It was in this second head coaching stint where Orgeron really grew as a coach, toning down the aggressiveness that had worked as a position coach and taking a much more cerebral tone with his staff and players.
Orgeron was originally hired as an interim coach at LSU after the firing of Les Miles in 2016. Finishing that season with a 6-2 record and rapidly improving under their coach, the LSU administrators decided to take a chance on Orgeron and handed him the keys to the program. He has gone from strength to strength in Baton Rouge, with last year’s 10-3 record setting the stage for the Tigers 2019 campaign.
LSU started hot this season, picking up a statement win over Texas early in the year and never looking back. The offense – powered by the 2019 Premier Player of College Football Trophy winner Joe Burrow – is basically a machine, routinely blowing out opponents and overwhelming them with a sensational passing attack. This was never clearer than when LSU went touchdown for touchdown with Alabama as they picked up a 46-41 win in Tuscaloosa.
The evolution of Orgeron has been fascinating to watch. He is a perfect example of a coach who learned from mistakes early in his head coaching career to excel in a new school and a new situation. Orgeron has had an amazing 2019 and the future looks exceptionally bright for LSU football while he is at the helm.
2018 Nick Saban
Alabama Crimson Tide
It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when Alabama was actually bad at football and looking for a new direction. That new direction came in the form of a 2007 hire named Nick Saban. It was expected that Saban would have Alabama competing again in the SEC, but no one could have imagined that Saban would turn Alabama into the sport defining program that Alabama is today.
To have all that success and still be winning coach of the year honors is really quite incredible. It would be so easy to take what Saban does for granted at this point. That would mean dismissing the hours put in on the recruiting trail, the building of a coaching staff, the game planning, and the individual tweaks and changes in a game situation that makes Saban’s teams so hard to beat.
His 2018 Alabama squad is a different beast to many we have seen over the last decade. While the Crimson Tide have been their usual dominant force on defense, this vintage of the team has a quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa that has pushed the offense forward to new heights. Saban’s ability to handle the quarterback situation between Tagovailoa and incumbent starter Jalen Hurts cannot be overstated, with Hurts dropping into a reduced role but still being a key contributor to the team.
Saban may have put together his best coaching job ever in 2018 and he is a worthy recipient of the The Premier Coach of College Football award.
2017 Scott Frost
Central Florida Knights
The 2017 season was a remarkable one for Scott Frost and his UCF program. The second-year head coach led the Knights on a whirlwind adventure that ended with the unheralded program securing a spot in the Peach Bowl, a New Year’s Six Bowl Game that the Knights would never have dreamed of reaching at the beginning of the year.
Go back a couple of seasons though and you have a program that was more focused on finding a win, any win, than stringing together an unbeaten season. That is when Frost came in and took over, quickly implementing his playing style both on and off the field. His attention to detail and ability to get the best out of players left by the former regime, as well as pulling in important recruits to bolster and progress the Knights to the next level, is something few outside of Central Florida saw happening.
They realized it in 2017 though, when Frost pushed the Knights to the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, beating first USF and then Memphis in dramatic fashion to complete a dream of a conference season.
If anything the double-overtime win over the Tigers just pushed Frost’s coaching ability even more to the fore. At one point it looked like the two offensive juggernauts would play forever as they put together a combined 63 first downs and 15 touchdowns in a wild 62-55 UCF win. Their perfect season could have gone down in flames on multiple occasions, but Frost just wouldn’t let his players give in until they pulled out a late defensive play.
It was a walk-off interception that ended the contest; a fitting end to the season and to Frost’s brief – but sensational – run as the Knights’ head coach.
2016 Dabo Swinney
After losing in the National Championship Game to Alabama last season it would have been easy for Dabo Swinney to let his Clemson team take a year off. It is not that uncommon after all for a defeated finalist to find his team underperforming the next year for a variety of reasons. Swinney, however, was having none of it and as a result he has the Tigers competing at the national level once again.
This success has been coming to Clemson under Swinney for a long time. The coach just completed his eighth year with the Tigers and he has compiled an 87-28 record over that time. That though is nothing compared to his work over the last two seasons, where Swinney has combined outstanding recruiting, high level player development, and excellent game day work into a stunning 25-1 regular season record over the past two seasons
Swinney has put up this record in the ACC, a division that has improved dramatically over the last couple of years. His Clemson team, along with the work of Florida State, has been a key part of this overall conference improvement as the other schools have stepped up their game rather than let Clemson disappear into the distance. That is why a loss to Pitt in ACC play this year only resulted in Swinney and Clemson becoming hungrier for a successful conclusion to the 2016 season.
Swinney has slowly built Clemson into a team that will need to be watched season after season. The players, and the fans, love their head coach and the mentality and stability he has created at the program. That is why Swinney competes for the top recruits and has his Tigers competing for National Championships on a yearly basis.
2015 Kirk Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz has been the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes since before the turn of the century. In coaching terms this is an eon, but in 2015 he has put together his best coaching season to date, leading a generally unfancied Iowa team to an undefeated regular season and has recorded the most wins in a single season in school history.
This is the Ferentz whose name was linked to jobs in the NFL on a seemingly constant basis five years or so ago. The fact Ferentz has been able to pull out this kind of season at a school as unremarkable as Iowa is astonishing. Iowa does not have the fertile recruiting grounds of an SEC school or one in Texas, but Ferentz has masterfully made the most of the talent available. He has installed a work ethic and a lunch pail attitude of the kind that is whispered about in Big Ten lore through time.
In a world of spread offenses and throwing the ball a thousand times a game the Iowa attack does most of its work on the ground. This is a decision Ferentz made based on the way his offensive line can dominate games and it is a tactic that has been the backbone of this amazing season.
To complete a perfect regular season after starting the year unranked in one of the Power Five conferences is almost unbelievable. The Hawkeyes slipped into the Top 25 after winning at ranked Wisconsin and have been continually moving up in the polls ever since with win after win and teams in front of them falling by the wayside.
Ferentz has been the model of consistency while at Iowa, but 2015 marks the best coaching season of his long and potentially Hall of Fame worthy career.
2014 Jimbo Fisher
Florida State Seminoles
For Jimbo Fisher following up a 2013 National Title season was never going to be easy. What is remarkable though is that the coach may actually have had a better year in 2014, leading his team to an undefeated regular season despite the outside pressures from around the country baying for his team to lose.
When you reach the top of the mountain you become the hunted and Fisher has used that fact to rally his team around him this fall in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have won close game after close game, usually fighting back from deficits against schools that continually make facing Florida State their personal national title game.
The amount of pressure that comes with playing this kind of game week after week is almost unbearable, but Fisher seems to just have a way of getting his players up for the fight so that in the biggest, clutch moments it is always the Seminoles who deliver.
Seeing how Fisher deals with this pressure you would never guess that this is his first actual head coaching job. He is an undefeated 4-0 in bowl games, which are seen as the mark of great coaching because of the time given to prepare for an opponent. He also owns the ACC Atlantic division, having won it three out of his four years as the Seminoles head coach.
It is fair to say at this point that Fisher has had one of the most successful starts to a college coaching career, at this level, in history. At 49 years of age he has a long time to add to his already growing legacy at Florida State.
2013 Gus Malzahn
Gus Malzahn is a spread innovator making waves at the very top level of college football. After creating one of the most dynamic prep attacks in the country in the late '90s, Malzahn continued his success by competing in two state title games in his last four years as a high school coach in Arkansas. This was enough to get him noticed by the big boys in the SEC and he moved up to the college level joining Houston Nutt at Arkansas.
Initially, this was seen as little more than a ploy to keep much of the talent Malzhan had developed at Springdale High School in state, but critics were silenced when he was name National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by Rivals in 2006. Malzahn had proven himself to be one of the brightest offensive minds in the game and as his lore grew the offers came piling in. He first moved to Tulsa to work alongside good friend Todd Graham. There his squad became the first to have a 5,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard rusher, and three 1,000 yard receivers in a single season.
National title success followed at Auburn before a year at Arkansas State where the Red Wolves won a conference title of their own. Now at Auburn, Malzahn just engineered the greatest single season turnaround in SEC history and as a result of recent game finishes, he has the Tigers name on the lips of every potential recruit in the nation.