The 10 college football programs that have made best back-to-back hires

Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw.

Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw.

It’s too early to say if Lincoln Riley will be able to replicate at Oklahoma the same level of success as his predecessor, the recently retired Bob Stoops. But history isn’t necessarily on his side.

It can be hard to find one coach capable of competing for national championships, let alone winning one. Finding two such coaches in a row? That’s almost impossible.

This week’s top 10 list takes a look back at the recent past with a question: Since 1995, which programs have made the best back-to-back hires?

1. Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, Stanford

Stanford’s place in the national conversation is due solely to two outstanding hires. First Harbaugh, who to that point had spent just three years as a full-time college coach; then Shaw, who admittedly inherited a nice foundation but has absolutely carved out his own path and program since ascending to the head job in 2011.

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2. Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly, Oregon

Remember when Oregon was a laughingstock? Me neither. Bellotti went 116-65 with the Ducks, earning him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. But his legacy is partially built on his decision to hire Kelly away from New Hampshire in 2007. Kelly would then follow Bellotti in 2009 and make four appearances in Bowl Championship Series games in a row before leaving for the NFL.

3. Nick Saban and Les Miles, LSU

Saban had to show up somewhere on this list — but not for his stint at Alabama, which came on the heels of Mike Shula’s underwhelming four-year tenure. So he’s here as part of LSU, where he won a national title in 2003 and laid the framework for Miles, who went 114-34 overall and claimed his own championship in 2007.

4. Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Meyer’s tenure was brief — just two seasons — but it was wildly successful, with a 10-2 mark in 2003 followed by an undefeated 2004 season capped with a Fiesta Bowl win against Pittsburgh. Since replacing Meyer on a full-time basis in 2005, Whittingham has gone 104-50 with six top-25 finishes and four seasons with 10 or more wins.

Larry Coker had great teams and won a national title at Miami.

Larry Coker had great teams and won a national title at Miami.

5. Butch Davis and Larry Coker, Miami (Fla.)

Davis led Miami out of the wilderness of NCAA sanctions in the mid-1990s, eventually leaving for Coker one of the greatest teams in college football history — the 2001 squad that featured an ungodly amount of future NFL talent. While Coker’s tenure eventually fizzled out, these back-to-back hires helped put Miami back on the map after a brief stumble.

6. Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen, Boise State

Hawkins’ failure to win at Colorado has come to overshadow his 53-11 mark during five seasons with the Broncos. But he took the program to another level on the heels of Dirk Koetter’s tenure, thanks in no small part to the work of his offensive coordinator — that would be Petersen, his successor, who is easily one of the finest head coaches of his generation.

7. Les Miles and Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Miles pops up again. He got things started for Oklahoma State in the early 2000s, going 28-21 over four seasons before leaving for LSU. His replacement has taken it to another level: Gundy is 94-44 with the Cowboys, with the most wins, best winning percentage and most bowl victories of any coach in the program’s modern era.

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8. Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik, Auburn

Tuberville owns the fourth-most wins in program history with 85. Sandwiched between losing finishes in his first and last seasons with the program, Tuberville posted eight years with nine or more wins, including a controversial 13-0 mark in 2004 that left the Tigers on the outside looking in for the national championship. Chizik would lead Auburn to the title behind Cam Newton in 2010.

9. Randy Walker and Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Another option would be to list Gary Barnett and Walker, which would give credit to the coach behind the program’s memorable Rose Bowl run. But Fitzgerald’s long and successful tenure gives him the nod. Please don’t forget about Walker, who introduced the spread offense to the Big Ten in 2000 and was building a significant national reputation before his death in June of 2006.

10. Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson, Oregon State

Or is Erickson and Riley? Riley came first, in 1997, and left following the 1998 season to join the San Diego Chargers. Erickson spent the next four years in Corvallis, leading the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl win in 2000, before leaving and being replaced by … Riley. The Beavers hadn’t notched back-to-back winning seasons since 1969-70 until this pair came around.

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Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll

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