The top 25 FBS head coaches for the 2022 season

The 2022 college football season is near, and while it’s fun to highlight some of the best teams and players to watch, it’s also important to note the top coaches in the country. Considering career achievements, consistent success, and promise for the future, here are the 25 best FBS coaches for the 2022 season.


Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

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Northwestern has gone 3-9 in two of its last three seasons, but in 2020, it won the Big Ten West Division for the first time. It can be argued that nobody gets more out of his players than Fitzgerald, who is 109-90 in 16 seasons coaching at his alma mater. His Wildcats have also won four straight bowl games, beating the likes of Auburn, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and Utah in the process. The Wildcats aren’t expected to be much better than last season, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they surprised the college football world again.


Mack Brown, North Carolina

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Brown, turning 71 in August, ranks second all-time among active FBS coaches with 265 victories. North Carolina is not expected to contend for an ACC title in 2022, but Brown needs to be on this list because the Tar Heels have reached a bowl in each of the last three seasons since he returned to Chapel Hill. Should Carolina manage 10 wins in 2022, Brown will have recorded 100 in 14 seasons during his two stints guiding the program.


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23. Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Chris Klieman, Kansas State

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After going 69-6 and winning four FCS national championships with powerhouse North Dakota State, Klieman is 20-16 in his first three seasons at Kansas State. While none of those Wildcats teams finished better than a tie for third in the Big 12, Klieman has shown he can make the transition to the premier level of college football. Kansas State has a good thing going with Klieman, who is likely destined for a more high-profile gig at the FBS level.


Lane Kiffin, Mississippi

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Perhaps the knock on Kiffin is that he can’t stay in one place for too long. And we’re not even talking about his 20-game NFL stint with the Oakland Raiders in 2007-08. In the college game, he’s at his fourth school, but it seems things are different at Ole Miss. He’s coming off a 10-3 season and a second-place finish in the mighty SEC West in just his second campaign with the program.


Mark Stoops, Kentucky

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Kentucky is a basketball school, but Stoops has elevated the football program since getting the main job in 2013. The Wildcats have posted winning records in five of the last six seasons and posted 10-win seasons (2018, ’21) twice during that stretch. Last season, they finished second behind Georgia in the SEC East. Kentucky is also riding a four-game bowl winning streak under Stoops.


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20. Mario Cristobal, Miami, Fla.

Mario Cristobal, Miami, Fla.

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It seemed inevitable that, at some point, Cristobal was going to coach the Hurricanes. Whether going from Oregon to Miami is a step down can and should be questioned. But the chance to turn Miami into a consistent national power once again is too tempting to pass up, especially for a former player and assistant coach. Cristobal went 62-60 as a head coach at FIU and Oregon, but he won at least nine games with the Ducks in each of the last three seasons. We’ll see if he made the right move. 


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19. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

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Talk about a guy who has put in his time. Clawson’s college head-coaching career began on the Division I-AA level (now known as the FCS) at Fordham and Richmond. Then, he went 29-20 while guiding Bowling Green to three bowl games in five seasons. And since 2014, Clawson has turned Wake Forest from an ACC afterthought to a possible perennial league contender while going 51-48. The Demon Deacons will look to build on a stellar 11-3 record, Atlantic Division title, and Gator Bowl victory over Rutgers.


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18. Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

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When it comes to up-and-coming coaches starring in the Group of Five, Chadwell might be at the top of the list. After going 35-14 in building the Charleston Southern program while on the FCS level, Chadwell might be turning Coastal Carolina into a consistent winner. In the last two seasons, the Chanticleers are 22-3 and won a Sun Belt division title and a bowl game. If this keeps up, Chadwell could get his shot with a power conference program.


James Franklin, Penn State


While the college football powers still consider Franklin an option whenever a big-time coaching job opens, many well-educated fans of the game believe he might be overrated. Franklin has only missed a bowl game once since taking over the Nittany Lions in 2014, and he always made a bowl at Vanderbilt (2011-13). For all the hype and praise thrown in his direction, Franklin’s Penn State teams have just one Big Ten title in eight seasons but have finished second twice. The Nittany Lions are 11-11 over the past two years.


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16. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

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Narduzzi is a breath of fresh air regarding college football’s coaching characters. He loves his players, will get animated on the sidelines at times, and has no problem voicing his opinions on various topics within the realm of college football. Oh yeah, the guy is 53-37 in seven seasons as Pitt’s head coach and is coming off his second ACC Coastal Division title. His Panthers are also the reigning overall league champs, so Narduzzi and Co. have plenty on the line in 2022.


Dave Aranda, Baylor

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Aranda waited a while for what he felt was the right time to move into the college head-coaching ranks. A celebrated defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and LSU, Aranda took the Baylor head-coaching gig and has the Bears again believing they’re a consistent Big 12 contender — even if the league’s future is dire. Aranda went from 2-7 to 12-2 and was a conference champion in his two seasons at Baylor. The Bears are expected to be in the mix for a repeat in 2022. 


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14. Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame

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Notre Dame’s decision to stay in-house for its next head-coaching hire showed its faith in former defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. In fact, the backbone of any potential success the Irish achieve in 2022 could be a defense that returns star linebacker JD Bertrand (101 tackles) and defensive end Isaiah Foskey (11 sacks). Sure, Freeman has a daunting task to maintain the current elite level of success Notre Dame has achieved in recent years, but there is plenty of excitement to move forward.


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13. Brian Kelly, LSU

Brian Kelly, LSU

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With 275 coaching victories, Kelly is among the winningest active coaches in all of college football. However, his decision to leave for LSU after officially going 104-40 and putting Notre Dame in a position to win a national championship three times in 12 seasons had plenty of folks scratching their heads. Getting $95 million over 10 years is one reason to bolt, but Kelly apparently wants to prove that he’s good enough to win it all through the rigors of the SEC. If he can pull it off, the naysayers will run and hide. Otherwise, Kelly is setting himself up for potential disaster.


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12. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

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We touched on Pitt’s current coach, but one of its former bosses might be severely underrated among the FBS head-coaching ranks at the moment. Chryst posted a .500 record in three seasons at Pitt (2012-14) but is a stellar 65-23 over seven years at Wisconsin. During his time in Madison, Chryst’s Badgers have recorded four seasons of at least 10 wins, gone to a bowl every year, and won the Big Ten West Division three times (2016, ’17, ’19). 


Lincoln Riley, USC

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There are roughly 110 million reasons why USC better be among the best teams in the country this season. All those dollars will land in Riley’s pocket at some point, which doesn’t sit well with some college football purists or those who believe the Trojans, more than ever before, are running their program like a professional sports organization. So, Riley and his new team will have plenty of eyes fixed on Southern California, and many will be eager to see the former Oklahoma boss fail.


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10. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

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Once we get past the mullet (that’s gone for now) and his questionable choice of T-shirts, Gundy is among the most consistent winners currently coaching college football. Ahead of the 2022 season, he is one victory shy of 150 career wins. After his first Cowboys squad went 4-7 in 2005, Gundy’s Oklahoma State teams have posted 16 consecutive winning seasons. He’s also 11-5 in bowl games, but the most glaring negative on his resume is that Oklahoma has just one Big 12 championship. 


Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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If we count his time at Division I-AA Maine, Ferentz is 10 wins away from 200 ahead of the 2022 season. Longevity puts Ferentz in this position, and Iowa has remained a consistent winner since he took over the program in 1999. He’s won just two Big Ten titles (the most recent coming in 2004), which can be a testy topic to those who think it might be time for the program to move on and find someone capable of guiding the Hawkeyes to the promised land. However, familiarity can be tough to break from, which seems to be the case with Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.


Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

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After winning a national title at Florida State during the 2013 season, Fisher was brought to Texas A&M to do the same. Of course, when you’re in the same division as Alabama and presumed rival coach Nick Saban, that’s easier said than done. Fisher is 34-14 in his four seasons with the Aggies, with two second-place finishes. The truth is, most FBS programs would welcome Fisher as a coach, but breaking through in the SEC is still a serious task.


Kyle Whittingham, Utah

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Whittingham is up there when it comes to being underappreciated within the grand scheme of the overall college football experience. In 17 seasons as Utah’s head coach, Whittingham is 144-70, suffered just two losing campaigns, and is 11-4 in bowl games. Coming off their first Pac-12 title and first-ever Rose Bowl appearance, the Utes are favored to repeat that feat and further solidify Whittingham’s stellar legacy.


Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

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The rather enigmatic Harbaugh finally proved he can win a Big Ten title. Now, he has to prove he can do it again. This likely means having to beat Ohio State at Columbus this season, which a Michigan team has not done since 2000. Still, it truly seems that Harbaugh remains the right man to guide his alma mater to potential greatness at this point. Of course, the Wolverines would also like to win a bowl for the first time since 2015.


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5. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

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During Fickell’s first season as Cincinnati head coach in 2017, the Bearcats went 4-8. Since then, they are 44-7. Cincinnati has also won two consecutive American Athletic Conference championships and crashed the College Football Playoff party in 2021. Fickell’s presence this high on our list is obviously for what he’s done but also because of where he’s likely to go. He’s destined for bigger and better things when it comes to his next coaching gig. And, it might come sooner rather than later.


Kirby Smart, Georgia

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It took six seasons, but Smart finally won Georgia another national championship. Last year’s triumph — made better because the title-game win came over rival Alabama — earned Smart a sweet 10-year contract extension worth $112.5 million. That means the Bulldogs community is expecting more of the same more frequently. Is Smart, 66-15 at Georgia, really good enough to win multiple national championships for the program? It would be easy to say yes, but we’ll wait to see if the SEC and national title torches have truly changed hands.


Ryan Day, Ohio State

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The question for Day has now become if he’s capable of winning a national championship at Ohio State. His Buckeyes have already played for a national title (to conclude the 2020 season), and they appear in good shape for another shot this season. Even though Day is 34-3 with the Buckeyes and has suffered just one Big Ten defeat, it’s all about that national title. It seems Day can handle that pressure. One would think it’s only a matter of time before he conquers that task.


Dabo Swinney, Clemson

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In 14 seasons as Clemson head coach, Swinney has won 150 games (11 consecutive years with at least 10 victories), seven ACC titles, and two national championships (2016, ’18). That’s pretty special, yet the margin of error when it comes to national perception seems pretty slim at Clemson. The Tigers’ three losses from 2021 were the most since 2014, and Swinney sometimes found himself on the defensive. It’s possible that Clemson has become the program everyone loves to hate. Yet, Swinney keeps coming out swinging and confident with what he’s doing.


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1. Nick Saban, Alabama

Nick Saban, Alabama

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Saban’s spot atop our list is a no-brainer, right? No college football coach on the FBS level has won more national championships than Saban’s seven (2003, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17, ’20). Six of those titles came with Alabama, where his Crimson Tide will open the 2022 season favored to add to his total. He also joins Bear Bryant as the only coaches to win SEC titles at two different schools, while his 269 coaching victories are the most of any active FBS coach. Love him or hate him for being good at his job, Saban’s career is remarkable within the annals of all sports. 

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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