Ranking the top 10 coaches in college football for 2024


When we asked our college football reporters to rank the sport's top 10 coaches, we figured there wouldn't be much debate about who is No. 1 -- and there wasn't. Georgia's Kirby Smart, whose Bulldogs are 42-2 over the past three seasons, was the unanimous pick among our 10 voters.

But after that, there was very little consensus.

The only other coach to appear on all 10 ballots was new Alabama head man Kalen DeBoer, but his rankings ranged from second to 10th.

Two coaches appeared on nine ballots: Utah's Kyle Whittingham, whose rankings ranged from three second-place votes to two ninth places, and Florida State's Mike Norvell, whose votes included two second places and two 10ths.

Then there's Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who received four second-place votes and was left off four ballots altogether.

With points assigned based on our reporters' votes (10 points for first place, nine for second place and down to one point for 10th place), here are the complete rankings.

Also see: Surprises and snubs -- top 10 coaches reaction

Other top 10s: Receivers | RBs | QBs | Pass-rushers | DBs

1. Kirby Smart, Georgia

2023 record: 13-1 (.929)
Career record: 94-16 (.855)
Points: 100 (all 10 first-place votes)

With Nick Saban retired, Smart is unquestionably the preeminent coach in college football. He took his alma mater, Georgia, to back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022 and played for a third national title in 2017. The Bulldogs won an SEC-record 29 straight games before losing to Alabama last season in the SEC championship game. In eight seasons at Georgia, Smart has built a juggernaut in terms of evaluating, recruiting and developing great players. He has produced 55 NFL draft picks, including 15 first-rounders, and could have as many as 10 more players selected in the upcoming draft.

Smart is unbeaten against all active coaches over the past five seasons -- his only losses in that span are to Saban (3), Dan Mullen at Florida, Ed Orgeron at LSU and Will Muschamp at South Carolina. His consistency sets him apart. The Bulldogs finished 8-5 in his first season (2016), but since then, Georgia is the only team in the country to finish in the top 7 in the final AP poll every year. Smart's Bulldogs have played for and/or won an SEC title or national title in six of those seven seasons. -- Chris Low

2. Kalen DeBoer, Alabama

2023 record: 14-1 (.933)
Career record: 37-9 (.804)
Points: 62

After starting his career as an assistant at tiny Sioux Falls, his alma mater, DeBoer guided the NAIA Cougars to a 67-3 record with three national titles over a five-year stretch. From there, DeBoer embarked on a climb up the assistant-coaching ranks, during which each school he arrived at experienced near-unprecedented success, before being named the head coach at Fresno State. His modest two-year run there (12-6) led to the gig at Washington, where he transformed a team that won four games in 2021 to one that went 25-3 over the next two seasons, earning an appearance in the national title game this past season.

All DeBoer does is win. And now he takes over for the legendary Nick Saban, who set an unrealistic bar for what can be accomplished. -- Kyle Bonagura

3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

2023 record: 8-5 (.615)
Career record: 162-79 (.672)
Points: 56

Utah is the only home Whittingham has known since arriving at the school as the defensive line coach in 1994. He was elevated to defensive coordinator the next year and to head coach upon the departure of Urban Meyer just before the end of the 2004 season.

Since then, Whittingham has been a hallmark of consistency, finishing with just two losing seasons in 19 years (right after Utah made the jump from the Mountain West to the Pac-12). He guided the Utes to an undefeated season in 2008, two Pac-12 titles and eight top-25 finishes in the AP poll, including six in the past 10 years. All at a school without the resources of the other coaches' programs on this list. -- Bonagura

4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

2023 record: 9-4 (.692)
Career record: 170-43 (.798)
Points: 50

Swinney brought longtime underachiever Clemson back to the national stage and became the first coach who truly challenged Nick Saban's stranglehold on the sport. He guided Clemson to national titles in 2016 and 2018 -- the program's first since 1981 -- while beating Saban's Alabama squad both times. His teams made four CFP national championship game appearances in five seasons. Clemson won the ACC every year from 2015 to 2020 and never finished lower than No. 3 in the final AP poll.

A little-known wide receivers coach who became Clemson's interim head coach midway through the 2008 season, Swinney is 170-43 as the Tigers' head coach with eight league titles and 10 division titles. He won the Bryant Award as national coach of the year in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Under Swinney, Clemson has had stretches when it was the nation's premier program at positions such as wide receiver, defensive line and quarterback. Although the transfer portal/NIL era has brought more challenges, Swinney has won nine or more games in all but one full season as Clemson's coach. -- Adam Rittenberg

5. Mike Norvell, Florida State

2023 record: 13-1 (.929)
Career record: 69-33 (.676)
Points: 49

How best to quantify Norvell's greatness as a coach? Perhaps it's his use of the transfer portal. While so many other coaches around the country have moaned and complained about the portal in recent years, Norvell has found the perfect formula for using it, landing standouts such as Trey Benson, Jermaine Johnson, Keon Coleman and Jared Verse, among a host of others. Or perhaps it's the way he motivates his players, building a strong internal culture despite the extensive use of the portal.

But if you need one number to truly appreciate Norvell's impact, here it is: 23. Twenty-three wins in the past two years at Florida State, a program that had won just 26 games total in the previous five seasons. The turnaround -- in terms of wins, talent and culture -- is genuinely remarkable. -- David Hale

6. Dan Lanning, Oregon

2023 record: 12-2 (.857)
Career record: 22-5 (.815)
Points: 37

While only two seasons of work might make Lanning's lofty ranking seem a bit premature, it's hard to argue with what he has done in his first two seasons as a head coach. After helping Smart win a national championship in 2021 as Georgia's defensive coordinator, Lanning has guided the Ducks to a 22-5 record.

Like Ryan Day at Ohio State, Lanning couldn't get past what proved to be an insurmountable roadblock in the Pac-12: the Washington Huskies. Each of Oregon's three losses to Washington the past two seasons were by three points, and the last one, a 34-31 defeat in the final Pac-12 championship game, was the most painful because it might have kept the Ducks out of the CFP.

Lanning has proven to be a great recruiter, helping Oregon land the No. 4 class in the FBS in 2024. The Ducks landed the top class in the Pac-12 in 2023. Lanning and his staff have also been adept at working the transfer portal, adding former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, the starter the past two seasons, then Oklahoma passer Dillon Gabriel this year. There have been some questionable in-game decisions from Lanning, but one would expect he'll get better with experience. Time will tell if Lanning follows in Smart's footsteps as a former defensive coordinator who became one of the sport's premier head coaches, but he's well on his way to doing it. -- Schlabach

7. Steve Sarkisian, Texas

2023 record: 12-2 (.857)
Career record: 71-49 (.592)
Points: 35

It was only a matter of time until Sarkisian put all the pieces together. After all, the guy has studied under three of the greatest coaches in modern college football history in LaVell Edwards, Pete Carroll and Nick Saban. Be it throwing for nearly 7,500 yards in two seasons with Edwards at BYU, serving as quarterbacks coach for Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez under Carroll at USC, turning Jake Locker into a first-round pick (and then coaxing a pair of brilliant seasons out of Keith Price) while flipping Washington from 0-12 to 9-4, or averaging 47.2 and 48.5 points per game, respectively, in two seasons of calling plays for Saban at Alabama, Sarkisian has been heavily influential in offensive brilliance for most of the past 30 years.

His breakthrough as a head coach came in 2023. After going just 13-12 in his first two years leading a perpetually underachieving Texas program, Sark's Longhorns won 12 games, took their first Big 12 title in 14 seasons and made their first College Football Playoff appearance. Now they head to the SEC with legitimate top-5 bona fides and a coach capable of not only leading them back among the country's elite but keeping them there. -- Bill Connelly

8. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

2023 record: 11-2 (.846)
Career record: 96-49 (.662)
Points: 29

At 48, Kiffin is already in his fifth head-coaching stop. He was hired as the Oakland Raiders' coach in 2007, when he was only 31, and although there were some growing pains along the way, he has developed into one of the more creative and interesting coaches in college football. Entering his fifth season at Ole Miss, Kiffin has accomplished things in Oxford that hadn't been done before. The Rebels have won 10 regular-season games in two of the past three seasons; prior to Kiffin's arrival, they had never won 10 regular-season games. Kiffin is renowned as one of the top offensive minds in the game, and his offenses are both balanced and unpredictable. Ole Miss and Alabama are the only two teams in the SEC to average 33 or more points each of the past four seasons.

Kiffin is quick to troll anybody and everybody on social media and is polarizing among rival fan bases. He's still a bit of a lightning rod, but said his time working under Saban helped him become a more efficient manager of an entire program. Kiffin has also worked the evolving nature of college football to his advantage and scored big in the transfer portal. -- Low

9. Lance Leipold, Kansas

2023 record: 9-4 (.692)
Career record: 54-54 (.500)
Points: 28

In the six seasons before Lance Leipold arrived at Kansas, the Jayhawks went 9-60. In 2023, they went 9-4. You can almost rest your case right there. Hired after spring practice had already concluded in 2021, Leipold inherited a team that had gone 0-9 in 2020 and won two, then six, then nine games. While it's unfair to compare anyone to Bill Snyder, he has done one hell of a Snyder impression over his first three seasons in Lawrence, and with his track record, there's reason to believe he could keep it up.

This is, after all, a guy with six national titles on his résumé. Once a Division III dynasty builder at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold has since taken his masterful culture building to Buffalo and KU, and damned if it's not working wherever he goes. He'll face a new challenge in 2024, coaching without ace offensive coordinator and right-hand man Andy Kotelnicki for the first time since 2012. (Kotelnicki moved on to the Penn State OC job.) But if anyone in college football gets the benefit of the doubt, it's Leipold.

Kansas won nine games last year! Kansas! It boggles the mind. -- Connelly

10. Ryan Day, Ohio State

2023 record: 11-2 (.846)
Career record: 56-8 (.875)
Points: 27

Day's teams are 39-3 in Big Ten play the past five-plus seasons, 56-8 overall and played in a New Year's Six bowl game or the CFP in each of his full seasons. The Buckeyes won back-to-back Big Ten titles in his first two seasons (2019 and 2020) and are 18-8 against AP top-25 opponents under Day.

Unfortunately, those Big Ten losses came against that "Team Up North," Michigan, in each of the past three seasons, leaving some Ohio State fans to wonder if Day should be on the hot seat. Whether he can reverse the Buckeyes' losing streak to the Wolverines, especially now that former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is in the NFL, will go a long way in determining his future.

Day's offenses have been ranked in the top three in the FBS in scoring three times and in total offense four times. Yet the Buckeyes are only 2-4 in bowl games and haven't won a Big Ten title since 2020. Turning over the offensive playcalling to former UCLA head coach Chip Kelly might be the recipe to getting OSU back on top in the expanded Big Ten. -- Schlabach

Also receiving votes: Brian Kelly, LSU (23); Lincoln Riley, USC (20); Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (7); Luke Fickell, Wisconsin (7); Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri (6); Mack Brown, North Carolina (3); Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (3); Jonathan Smith, Michigan State (3); Deion Sanders, Colorado (2); Curt Cignetti, Indiana (1); Chris Klieman, Kansas State (1); Jon Sumrall, Tulane (1)