Randy Smith: The Greatest College Football Coach Ever?

Thursday, May 15, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

I’ve been asked the question, “Who do you think is the greatest college football coach ever?” many times. Most of the time, I have answered Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. The remaining few times I have had a more generic answer, such as, “Boy that’s a tough one. It could be one of several great coaches.”

With the days of summer just ahead and college football three months away from kicking off the season, I decided this was as good a time as any to try to figure out a definitive answer to this question. So, I devised a simple formula to determine the greatest coach ever. I gave each coach one point for a win, and took away a point for a loss. I gave two points for bowl wins and took away two points for bowl losses. I gave three points for each conference championship, and finally gave five points for each national championship.

If you open all categories of college football, the run-away winner is Coach John Gagliardi from Carroll College and NCAA Division III St. John’s University. Using the previously mentioned formula, Coach Gagliardi has a whopping 453 points, based upon 489 career wins and 30 conference titles.

If we include only NCAA Division I college coaches, it is amazingly close at the top. “Bear” Bryant and Bobby Bowden are separated by a mere two points, with Coach Bryant netting 316 points, while Coach Bowden has 314. Bowden’s 377 career wins and 20 bowl wins keeps it close, while Coach Bryant basically won it on his six NCAA championships. (Coach Bowden had just two)

They are the only two coaches with more than 300 points…..unless you give back the 111 wins that were vacated by Coach Joe Paterno in light of the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. With them he has 409 wins and his overall point total figures out to be 313 points, just one behind Bobby Bowden. As his current record stands, 298-136-3, he is much further down the list.

Is this formula scientific at all? No, but it’s as good as any other way I’ve seen to determine the best coach of all-time. Tennessee fans might say, “What about General Neyland , where does he stand?” It’s really hard to include Coach Neyland, unless you add back the eight years of military service he gave in the midst of his college coaching career. Giving him 80 more wins (10 wins a season) and adding in eight losses, (one per season), General Neyland still has just 227 points.

How do you measure greatness among coaches of any sport? Is it wins, championships and coach of the year awards? Or, is greatness measured by the impact a coach has on the lives of his many players? I say it is the impact on not only his players, but the impact on everyone he comes in contact with.

After spending a few hours over the last few days on this formula, I realize I have solved absolutely nothing, because there is no way to include the intangibles that all these coaches possessed in their careers. Oh, it’s easy to count up wins and come up with formulas to pick the greatest on paper, but it becomes impossible to tell which coach was more successful at actually being a good human being.

So, we’re back where we started. If you ask me that question, I’ll say Coach “Bear” Bryant every time. And now I have a few numbers to back it up. 


Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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