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Greatest Coach of All Time

treeplanter

Recruit
5 Year Member
There are only 5 coaches in the history of major collegiate football to have earned a career winning percentage higher than that of Tom Osborne. This, of course, is per the NCAA minimum 10 yrs head coaching experience. {Bump that figure up to 20 yrs, however, and Osborne becomes the winningest coach of all time}.

1. Knute Rockne - 13 yrs {1918-1930} - all at Notre Dame - .881%

2. Frank Leahy - 13 yrs {1939-1943, 1946-1953} - 2 seasons Boston College, 11 seasons Notre Dame - .864%

3. Urban Meyer - 17 yrs {2001-2010, 2012-2018} - 2 seasons Bowling Green, 2 seasons Utah, 6 seasons Florida, 7 seasons Ohio St - .854%

4. George Woodruff - 12 yrs {1892-1901, 1903, 1905} - 10 seasons Pennsylvania, 1 season Illinois, 1 season Carlisle - .846%

5. Barry Switzer - 16 yrs {1973-1988} - all at Oklahoma - .837%

6. Tom Osborne - 25 yrs {1973-1997} - all at Nebraska - .836%

Incidentally, some of the other legendary coaches ranking among the all time top 20 highest winning percentages include:

{#7} Fielding Yost - {#9} Robert Neyland - {#10} Bud Wilkinson - {#13} Bob Devaney - {#14} Bob Stoops and {#20} Bear Bryant

There are also 2 coaches currently active who rank among the all time top 20 winningest:

{#12} Dabo Swinney - 12 yrs {2008-present} - all at Clemson - .807%

{#17} Nick Saban - 24 yrs {1990, 1995-2004, 2007-present} - 1 season Toledo, 5 seasons Michigan St, 5 seasons LSU, 13 seasons Alabama - .791%

Then there are Osborne's coaching peers who rank outside of the all time top 20 highest winning percentages. Despite owning a significantly higher winning percentage than any one of these guys, Dr Tom is somehow frequently rated below and behind some of these individuals on lists of the all time best coaches as compiled by 'so-called' experts...

Among these coaches we find such familiar names as Paterno, Bowden, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Vince Dooley, Darrell Royal, John McKay, John Robinson, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier, Frank Broyles, Frank Kush, Don James, and Jimmy Johnson.

Anyway, getting back to the top 6, Tom Osborne stands out in that he is the only coach never to have faltered. Osborne is the very epitome of consistency. Not once did he ever turn in a down season or off year. Osborne won at least 9 games every single season and never lost more than 3 games in any given year. Osborne's 25 consecutive seasons with at least 9 wins represents the bulk of Nebraska's NCAA record 33 consecutive seasons with 9 or more wins. No other program, much less individual coach, in the entire history of college football, has ever won 9 or more games for any more than 14 consecutive seasons.


Osborne truly stands alone.


Each of the 5 coaches to own a higher career winning percentage screwed up at least once.

To wit:

Rockne led Notre Dame to a 5-4 season in 1928.

Leahy led the Irish to a 4-4-1 season in 1950.

Urbs went 9-4 at Florida in 2007 and then led the Gators to an 8-5 mark in 2010 - {during an era wherein 9 wins is no longer the benchmark, no less. 9 wins in Osborne's day being the equivalent of 10 or maybe even 11 wins in Urban Meyer's day}.

Woodruff finished 8-6 at Illinois in 1903.

Switzer guided the Sooners to a record of 7-4-1 in 1981 and then followed that up with back to back 8-4 seasons in 1982 and 1983.

As for Osborne...he never, ever screwed up. Ranked every year - usually top 10. Bowl game every season - usually New Year's Day.

It is this remarkable consistency that leads me to consider Dr Tom the single greatest coach the game of college football has ever known!

Should one counter that Knute Rockne is the greatest of all time then there is very little argument that I can make to the contrary. After all, Rockne owns the highest winning percentage of all time and remains, to this day, perhaps the single most famous name in the history of the game. A true legend.

That said, I would point out that comparing Osborne {or any other modern era coach} to Rockne is a bit like comparing apples to oranges because the game that Rockne coached was so different from the modern game.

*Fun fact = Rockne only lost 12 times in his career and 3 of those losses were at the hands of our Huskers. No team beat Knute Rockne more times than Nebraska - including wins over the legendary Four Horsemen of Notre Dame 2 out of 3 years.

Likewise, should one insist that Frank Leahy is the greatest coach of all time then there is little argument against this assessment to be made. After all, Leahy owns the 2nd highest winning percentage of all time and may well have wound up as the winningest coach ever had he not lost 2 seasons to WWII smack dab in the middle of his coaching career.

Again, though, I would point out that comparing Osborne {or any other modern coach} to Leahy is a bit like comparing apples to oranges because the game that Leahy coached was still a good deal different.

*Fun fact = Leahy was a native of O'Neill, Nebraska.

As for Woodruff, I won't even consider him. I doubt any serious college football fan would ever consider Woodruff when pondering the greatest coach of all time. Besides that, if comparing Osborne to Rockne makes little sense in that it's akin to comparing apples to oranges then comparing Osborne to Woodruff would be the equivalent of comparing apples to orange airplanes - that is just how shockingly different the game of football in the 1890s was as compared to the game that we know today. I doubt we would even recognize it as football.

What I am interested in doing is comparing Osborne to his peers and 'near' peers within the modern era - i.e. how does Dr Tom stack up against the likes of Barry Switzer, Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, and Nick Saban?

Granted, Uncle Barry owned Osborne head to head. However, it's worth noting that Oklahoma almost always had the better overall talent. There is no doubt in my mind that had the roles been reversed and Osborne enjoyed the consistently better talent that OU claimed for it's own then Osborne would have dominated the series - and this is coming from someone who considers Switzer, himself, to also be one of the all time greats...

The bottom line is this:
It is far more difficult to be successful and win big at Nebraska than it is at Oklahoma.
It is much, much easier to slip up in Lincoln than it is to slip up in Norman.

That said, Switzer slipped up at Oklahoma, but Osborne NEVER, EVER slipped up at Nebraska!

It seems obvious to me that Osborne would have torn the roof off the house and rewritten the NCAA record book had he been the head coach at Oklahoma.

If Osborne could manage what he did at Nebraska - just imagine what he could have done at an advantaged school with the natural resource of proximity to talent!

On the other hand, would Switzer have been as successful at Nebraska as he was at Oklahoma?
Would Switzer have been as successful at Nebraska as Osborne was at Nebraska?

NO!

And the proof is in the pudding:
Again, Switzer somehow managed to screw up at Oklahoma {where it is much, much easier to avoid screw ups} - so what would possibly lead one to believe that he would ever be able to manage not screwing up at a place like Nebraska?

This same argument holds true for Urbs, Swinney, and Saban.

Each of these guys screwed up at least once:

Urban Meyer has already been addressed in this post {9-4 in 2007 / 8-5 in 2010}
Neither of these records are ever acceptable for a top notch coach at a program as advantaged as Florida.

Swinney went from a 9 win season at Clemson in 2009 to a losing season of 6-7 before rebounding to double digit wins in 2011 - {an impressive streak now 9 years and counting}.

Saban sandwiched an 8-5 2002 season in between 2 double digit win seasons - one of which led to a national championship.
{I won't hold his record at Michigan St against him, but there is no excuse for a top notch coach at an advantaged school like LSU to slip to 8-5}.

It is far more difficult to be successful and win big at Nebraska than it is at schools like Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Ohio St.
It is much, much easier to slip up in Lincoln than it is to slip up in Gainesville, Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, or Columbus.

Still, Osborne managed never to slip while Switzer, Meyer, Swinney, and Saban did!
Osborne somehow managed never to slip while Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy did!

Because Osborne never, ever slipped - he is, in my opinion, the greatest coach of all time.

What do you think?
 

satcong2

Recruit
2 Year Member
The GOAT at any thing has an element of subjectivity in the decision. I think you are including that point. However, I buy what you are selling. I don't see anyone any better for sure. GBR
 

HuskerWeatherman

Husker Fan
20 Year Member
Osborne will always be mentioned among the best -- as he should be. Otherwise, ranking the coaches is subjective -- and even Osborne now is from a different era. Many/most times, I see Bear Bryant subjectively ranked as the best -- though Nick Saban is also commonly mentioned. Those two each have six national championships, which are the most by any head coach. There's different criteria that can be applied to determine who is best -- and none is necessarily better than the other.

One thing is very close to a guarantee: No coach will ever win at least 9 games each season over a span of 25 years. It's a virtually untouchable record. There's a list of baseball records that will never be broken. I'd suggest this is a college football record that will never be broken.
 
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Cisco

Recruit
5 Year Member
Osborne is certainly an all time great. GOAT are make believe however. You can't truly compare across eras and it's too subjective. Same for teams, players, and coaches.
 

Prairie Sage

Red Shirt
5 Year Member
I think to be listed as the Greatest of All Time a coach would have to have brought something to the game no one had done before. In other words, he would have to be an innovator, or at least someone who perfected an innovation. Rockne the forward pass, Wilkinson, the split-T and 5-3 defense are a couple. Switzer didn't invent the wishbone, but he certainly perfected it. Coach Osborne, along with Coach Devaney, were innovators/perfectors of two things, strength and conditioning and the walk-on program, both were instrumental in Nebraska's success over a 40 year period.
 

treeplanter

Recruit
5 Year Member
Osborne will always be mentioned among the best -- as he should be. Otherwise, ranking the coaches is subjective -- and even Osborne now is from a different era. Many/most times, I see Bear Bryant subjectively ranked as the best -- though Nick Saban is also commonly mentioned. Those two each have six national championships, which are the most by any head coach. There's different criteria that can be applied to determine who is best -- and none is necessarily better than the other.

One thing is very close to a guarantee: No coach will ever win at least 9 games each season over a span of 25 years. It's a virtually untouchable record. There's a list of baseball records that will never be broken. I'd suggest this is a college football record that will never be broken.
How about you personally, do you value more national titles with some crappy seasons tossed in OR fewer championships while being a championship contender every year?
 

HuskerWeatherman

Husker Fan
20 Year Member
How about you personally, do you value more national titles with some crappy seasons tossed in OR fewer championships while being a championship contender every year?
Let's just say, I'd love if Osborne also won in '82, '83, and '93 -- which he could have (and probably should have) if not for some some huge misfortune each of those seasons.

I guess that depends on how we define crappy. If we define it as the end of the Riley era and the first two seasons of Frost -- yeah, that's crappy. Otherwise, Bear Bryant never had a losing season in 25 years at Alabama. No losing seasons with 1 year at Maryland and 8 years at Kentucky. He did have a losing season his first year at Texas A&M. But still -- one season out of 38 with a losing record -- remarkable. Nick Saban has never had a losing season.
 

treeplanter

Recruit
5 Year Member
Osborne is certainly an all time great. GOAT are make believe however. You can't truly compare across eras and it's too subjective. Same for teams, players, and coaches.
Sure, everything is ultimately subjective...

My own subjective criteria is consistency
I believe that consistency is the greatest measure of coaching acumen

What criteria would you go with?

You honestly don't think it fair, though, to compare Osborne to Saban, Meyer, and Swinney?

Saban was an actual contemporary of Osborne
Urbs began his head coaching career within 5 yrs of Osborne's retirement
and Dabo came along just over a decade after Osborne's exit

I think it's close enough in terms of era to be a fair comparison
 

treeplanter

Recruit
5 Year Member
Let's just say, I'd love if Osborne also won in '82, '83, and '93 -- which he could have (and probably should have) if not for some some huge misfortune each of those seasons.

I guess that depends on how we define crappy. If we define it as the end of the Riley era and the first two seasons of Frost -- yeah, that's crappy. Otherwise, Bear Bryant never had a losing season in 25 years at Alabama. No losing seasons with 1 year at Maryland and 8 years at Kentucky. He did have a losing season his first year at Texas A&M. But still -- one season out of 38 with a losing record -- remarkable. Nick Saban has never had a losing season.
We were, for sure, the best team in the country in 82, 83, and 93!
Snake bitten!

I hear ya about the Bear, but let me put it this way...

Your choice:

6 national championships + back to back 6 win seasons smack dab in the middle of the coaching tenure
{Which Bear did at Bama in 1969 and 1970}

OR

3 national championships + NO season any worse than 9-3?

**Now that I spell it out like this... I'm almost inclined as a fan of the team itself to prefer 6 titles with a couple of dud seasons thrown in, but as a judge of the coaching - I still maintain that it's better to win 3 titles and never screw up than it is to win 6 titles while messing up a couple times
 

treeplanter

Recruit
5 Year Member
I think to be listed as the Greatest of All Time a coach would have to have brought something to the game no one had done before. In other words, he would have to be an innovator, or at least someone who perfected an innovation. Rockne the forward pass, Wilkinson, the split-T and 5-3 defense are a couple. Switzer didn't invent the wishbone, but he certainly perfected it. Coach Osborne, along with Coach Devaney, were innovators/perfectors of two things, strength and conditioning and the walk-on program, both were instrumental in Nebraska's success over a 40 year period.
Bob and Tom, like you say, definitely innovated and perfected strength and conditioning AND walk on programs!!!
 

HuskerWeatherman

Husker Fan
20 Year Member
We were, for sure, the best team in the country in 82, 83, and 93!
Snake bitten!

I hear ya about the Bear, but let me put it this way...

Your choice:

6 national championships + back to back 6 win seasons smack dab in the middle of the coaching tenure
{Which Bear did at Bama in 1969 and 1970}

OR

3 national championships + NO season any worse than 9-3?

**Now that I spell it out like this... I'm almost inclined as a fan of the team itself to prefer 6 titles with a couple of dud seasons thrown in, but as a judge of the coaching - I still maintain that it's better to win 3 titles and never screw up than it is to win 6 titles while messing up a couple times
If you are asking if I'd trade two of Osborne's 9-win seasons for two 6-win seasons -- but pick up a couple more national titles ... I'd say, absolutely!

Anyhow, Tom is one of the elite. No matter how we slice it. Whether or not someone ranks him as the all-time best in a subjective poll doesn't matter too much to me. :) But it's fun to discuss!
 
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