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Giger: Greatest college FB coaches ever are: 1. Bryant, 2. Osborne, 3. JoePa


November 8, 2010
By Cory Giger,

Athletic director Tim Curley stood on stage Saturday night at Beaver Stadium and declared Joe Paterno "the greatest college football coach ever," which many Penn State fans also believe.

JoePa is an icon and certainly in the discussion -- his record 400 wins will never be equaled in major college football -- but there are at least two coaches who belong ahead of him on the all-time list.

There should be very little debate when it comes to the No. 1 spot. Beyond that, like with any list trying to compare achievements from multiple eras, it comes down to a matter of preference.

I'll admit, in my criteria, I give preference to modern coaches over historical legends who coached a game that doesn't remotely resemble what it is today with the forward pass and face masks.

Here's my list:

SUBHD: No. 1: Bear Bryant

Any ranking that doesn't have the Alabama legend in the top spot should have its credibility questioned.

Bryant won six national titles -- five legitimate ones from the AP (1961, '64, '65, '78 and '79) plus one questionable one from UPI. In 1973, UPI declared Alabama the champion before the bowl season, then the Crimson Tide lost in the Sugar Bowl to Notre Dame, which claimed the AP crown.

Even if you say he won five, that's the most of any coach in the modern era of football and three more than Paterno. Bryant also went 4-0 against JoePa, including in the 1978 national title game in the Sugar Bowl.

Bryant's 323 wins stood as the Division I record until Paterno surpassed it in 2001. He finished with a record of 323-85-17 (.776 winning percentage).

SUBHD: No. 2: Tom Osborne

Just like in 1994, this decision is sure to anger Penn State fans. But Osborne's remarkable achievements cannot be overlooked just because he has far fewer wins than Paterno.

Nebraska won three national titles under Osborne, the first in 1994 when the Cornhuskers were declared champs instead of an undefeated and high-powered PSU club.

Nittany Lion fans can argue until they're blue in the face about who was better that year, but every major ranking entity had Nebraska No. 1.

Osborne won another title the next season and a third in 1997. Like Paterno, he just missed out a number of other times when he had great teams.

Osborne's record of 255-49-3 is phenomenal, an .835 winning percentage, compared to Paterno's .750. Incredibly, Osborne won at least nine games in each of his 25 seasons at Nebraska. Comparatively, JoePa has won at least nine games 29 times in 44 seasons and has endured five losing campaigns.

Finally, Osborne compiled his record -- most college football experts would agree -- while playing tougher competition year in and year out than the Eastern teams that Paterno beat up for decades until joining the Big Ten.

Osborne retired in 1997 at age 60. Had he coached 23 more years until age 83 like Paterno, he would have about 480 wins.

The lone knock on Osborne is he went just 12-13 in bowl games. He also took over a Nebraska program that was already excellent in 1973, and while Penn State was good before Paterno, he made it great.

Still, aside from the longevity aspect, the numbers favor Osborne in just about every category.

SUBHD: No. 3: Joe Paterno

JoePa has two national titles and was denied more during five other undefeated seasons.

The 400-win milestone, his sheer longevity and tremendous bowl success (24-11-1) are enough to rank him in the top three.

If you consider intangibles like integrity, fundraising abilities, importance to his university and overall impact to the game, a case can be made he deserves the top spot.

My rankings are based specifically on results.

SUBHD: No. 4: Bobby Bowden

He's second to Paterno with 377 victories, won two national titles (1993 and '99) and compiled a record of 377-129-4 (.742).

Bowden had a remarkable streak at Florida State as the Seminoles finished in the top five of the AP poll for 14 consecutive seasons from 1987-2000.

SUBHD: No. 5: Barry Switzer

You read that right. Barry Switzer. A very odd choice to some, but if you think it's a poor one, just check out the guy's resume at Oklahoma.

Switzer won three national titles (1974, '75 and '85) and compiled an incredible record of 157-29-4 for an .835 winning percentage that's fractions of a point higher than Osborne's.

Switzer ran a shady program -- Sooners players were always in trouble -- so it's no wonder Paterno once said he didn't want to leave college football "to the Jackie Sherrills and Barry Switzers of the world." Still, Switzer's titles and great record speak for themselves.

That's my list, and I'm sticking to it -- even the Switzer pick. Some people would have Knute Rockne, Woody Hayes, Eddie Robinson and others on their list, or they'd have JoePa No. 2 behind Bryant.

With these kind of rankings, there is no right or wrong. They make for good debates, though.

SUBHD: Afterthoughts ...

* Congratulations to Matt McGloin on another strong performance Saturday. This kid is a pleasure to watch. I said last week that Rob Bolden is the future of the program, but McGloin is without question the best quarterback on the team right now.

* ESPN's "College GameDay" will originate from Columbus on Saturday when Penn State plays Ohio State.

* Big number: The Buckeyes are favored by 17 over the Lions.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or

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