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Might as well call it the best of the next generation. A few years ago, CBS Sports had the idea of ranking the best coaches under the age of 45. The age seemed like a good place to draw the line. The average of age of the 130 coaches coming into the 2022 season is about 50 years old. In other words, the guys you see below are just coming into their prime.
The top 10 winningest coaches in college football average 50.5 years of age. The next 10 are 49.7 years. So, behold that next generation. Of the 29 new coaches hired this offseason, the average age is 43. Twelve of the 29 new head coaches are first-timers in the position, while eight of those 12 are under 45.
Through these hallowed column inches have passed the likes of Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin. Both are now 46, aging out of consideration in 2021. This year, it’s Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell (both 45) who no longer qualify.
Replacing them are Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz and Toledo’s Jason Candle, the latter of whom is the only Group of Five coach on the list.
The top two remain unchanged, though one is in a new job. Both missed the College Football Playoff after creating an annual expectation that their teams will play for the national championship. However, the No. 1 name on the list didn’t miss the brass ring, becoming reportedly the highest paid coach after a shocking move across the country.
Records listed below are at their current coaching stop unless otherwise indicated.
55-10 (.846) in five seasons at Oklahoma: Only Riley could make Oklahoma a steppingstone job. (Just kidding … I think.) After four Big 12 titles and three College Football Playoff appearances in five seasons, Riley sought a new challenge in Southern California. In becoming reportedly the game’s highest-paid coach, Riley made himself the biggest story of the offseason. He has the task of not only turning around the Trojans but making the Pac-12 nationally relevant. Riley is simply the nation’s best offensive mind given his collection of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. OU transfer Caleb Williams looks like the next one in the pipeline. 2021 ranking: 1
34-4 (.895) in three-plus seasons: For the first time under Day, the Buckeyes didn’t win the Big Ten or get to the CFP. In Year 3, Day lost his first Big Ten game (to Michigan). Still, it has been an excellent start to what could be a hall-of-fame career. The first Ohio State coach hired without previous head coaching experience since the 1940s has built his own powerhouse. If Riley is No. 1, then Day is No. 2 as the nation’s best offensive gurus. Day will forever be known as the coach who saved the program amid the ugliness of Urban Meyer’s final season. But he is quickly carving out his own legacy. 2021 ranking: 2
42-34 (.553) in six seasons: Already one of the best Iowa State coaches in history, Campbell has turned down interest from multiple schools as well as the NFL to stay with the Cyclones. Campbell winning at least eight games three times as not been achieved at Iowa State since Earle Bruce in 1978. Armed with a supportive athletic director (Jamie Pollack), increasing resources and an incredible ability to develop players, he is one of the country’s best young coaches. The question remains how long Iowa State can keep him. 2021 ranking: 4
40-12 (.769) in four seasons at Louisiana: Napier methodically climbed the ladder as one of the first products of Nick Saban’s coaching tree at Alabama. At the tender age of 29, he was Dabo Swinney’s first offensive coordinator at Clemson. The former Furman quarterback is a program builder who went 33-5 in the last three seasons at Louisiana. Napier was the perfect hire for Florida after the messy ending to the Dan Mullen era. Florida needed normal. It got it in the soft-spoken Napier. AD Scott Stricklin loves to hire coaches on the come up. Day and Riley are the only other coaches on this list to average 10 wins a season. 2021 ranking: 7
7-6 (.538) in one season: Tennessee needed to be exciting again. AD Danny White put the UCF band back together when he hired Heupel. The modest 7-6 Tennessee debut masks progress made in an impressive first season. Quarterback Hendon Hooker was third nationally in pass efficiency, throwing 31 touchdowns with only three interceptions. While his SEC success is still a developing situation, Heupel got the job after going 28-8 at UCF. Tennessee is also all-in on name, image and likeness, which it almost has to be in the SEC. 2021 ranking: 5
35-23 (.449) in five seasons: In his early 40s, Fleck has already coached 110 games and been to a New Year’s Six bowl (Western Michigan, 2016). Make fun all you want of “Row the Boat”, Fleck’s motivational techniques get results. Twice in five seasons, Minnesota as finished in the top two in the Big Ten West under Fleck. Peel away the gimmicks, and Fleck’s teams always play physical. Last year’s nine-win season was only the program’s fourth since 1905. 2021 ranking: 6
45-27 (.625) in six-plus seasons: Candle is now going on his 14th year at Toledo having served as Campbell’s offensive coordinator until getting the head job in 2016. The longevity suggests incredible loyalty. Candle’s name has come up increasingly for bigger jobs (UCF, Kansas, Rutgers, Miami offensive coordinator) at a place that has produced four Power Five head coaches since Nick Saban arrived in 1990. Candle might be at the point where he can take his time, turn down mid-level jobs and wait for something bigger. He’s that valued. With Candle as an assistant and head coach, the Rockets went to a school-record five consecutive bowls. 2021 ranking: NR
17-18 (.486) in three seasons: Brown is under .500 since midway through the 2020 season with the Mountaineers, but the upside is still there. He has beaten a ranked team in each of his three seasons. Brown’s work at Troy endures (a conference title and three seasons of at least 10 wins). 2021 ranking: 10
8-13 (.381) in two seasons: The shine has worn off a bit for Norvell at FSU with only eight wins in two seasons, but there was improvement in 2021. The former Memphis coach went into the portal to shore up the roster — wide receiver Mycah Pittman, running back Trey Benson and defensive end Jared Verse. This will be a pivotal year for Norvell with the ACC seemingly opening up to all comers if Clemson can’t regain traction. 2021 ranking: 8
11-12 (.478) in two seasons: Only one other coach on this list (Heupel) has coached an SEC game. Drinkwitz has coached 18 (8-10). Even though he is only 11-12 in his first two seasons, there is still plenty of promise for “Drink”. He has beaten LSU and Florida. This year’s 14th-ranked recruiting class included only the program’s fourth five-star prospect in history (WR Luther Burden III). Drinkwitz also has a 2019 Sun Belt title to his name. Riley, Day and Heupel are the only other coaches on this list to win 12+ games in a season. The Tigers are ascending going into Year 3 of Drinkwitz’s six-year, $24 million deal. 2021 ranking: NR
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Ranking the top 10 college football coaches under age 45 entering the 2022 season – CBS Sports