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Coaches' Actual Records Against Ranked Teams

A bad table went out yesterday. We can do better.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal put out a table containing the records of the 66 head coaches of Power 5 conference teams against ranked opponents. It was not very good.

The reason it's rubbish is that it contains records against teams who were ranked at the time of the game, not ranked at the end of the season. Rankings during the season are often bad. In September, faulty preseason rankings result in teams who shouldn't be ranked being in the poll and vice versa. In October, teams with backloaded schedules can be undeservingly ranked while teams with front loaded schedules might not be. Rankings are fairly settled by November, but even then, we get churn in the bottom five to ten spots in the polls.

Record against teams ranked at the time of the game is not something you should pay attention to. Record against teams ranked at the end of the season is what you want, assuming you want it at all.

I am not sold on even that as a solid metric. For one thing, it equates No. 1 with No. 25 and No. 26 with the worst team in I-AA. Beyond that, showing off career records against ranked teams penalizes coaches for having jobs at mid-majors, where most games against ranked opponents will be road games against better teams, and accepting rebuilding projects, where the record against ranked teams will be awful at first.

Take Mike MacIntyre, for instance. He did both of those things. He took on a rebuilding job at San Jose State and guided the team from 1-11 to 5-7 to 10-2 in his three seasons. Pretty great, right? After that, he went to Colorado for another rebuilding gig that began 4-8, an immediate improvement over the 3-9 and 1-11 seasons of his predecessor. He's done well, in other words, but because he's taken on jobs with a high degree of difficulty, his record against ranked teams is 0-12.

For perspective, Nick Saban is seven games over .500 against ranked teams at Alabama. In other words, he has averaged one more win than losses against ranked teams per season, and that's despite having some of the best teams in the country over that span. Toss out 2007 and Saban's rate is only 1.5 more wins than losses per year over ranked teams. Even if MacIntyre was to go on a Saban-at-Alabama-like string of success beginning next year (and obviously he won't), it would take him a decade to dig out of that 0-12 hole.

Anyway, it's easy to find records against teams ranked at time of game, which is undoubtedly why the WSJ used that metric. Stats on records against teams ranked at the end of the year are hard to come by. The supremely excellent does have record against teams ranked in the AP Poll at the end of the year going back to 2007, however.

So, I remade the WSJ's table with records since 2007. It won't accurately represent the entire careers of longer tenured coaches, but it's the best I could do.

School Coach W-L since 2007 W-L Current
Alabama Nick Saban 19-12 19-12
Arizona Rich Rodriguez 3-19 1-7
Arizona St. Todd Graham 5-10 4-5
Arkansas Bret Bielema 7-23 0-5
Auburn Gus Malzahn 3-4 3-2
Baylor Art Briles 4-19 4-18
Boston College Steve Addazio 0-4 0-2
California Sonny Dykes 0-15 0-6
Clemson Dabo Swinney 8-12 8-12
Colorado Mike MacIntyre 0-12 0-5
Duke David Cutcliffe 0-16 0-16
Florida Will Muschamp 5-12 5-12
Florida St. Jimbo Fisher 7-6 7-6
Georgia Mark Richt 10-21 10-21
Georgia Tech Paul Johnson 7-11 7-11
Illinois Tim Beckman 0-11 0-7
Indiana Kevin Wilson 0-8 0-8
Iowa Kirk Ferentz 9-15 9-15
Iowa St. Paul Rhoads 2-13 2-13
Kansas Charlie Weis 0-14 0-7
Kansas St. Bill Snyder 4-12 4-12
Kentucky Mark Stoops 0-5 0-5
Louisville Bobby Petrino 6-13 6-13
LSU Les Miles 18-15 18-15
Maryland Randy Edsall 1-14 0-7
Miami (FL) Al Golden 0-11 0-9
Michigan Brady Hoke 4-14 4-8
Michigan St. Mark Dantonio 8-21 8-21
Minnesota Jerry Kill 0-12 0-10
Ole Miss Hugh Freeze 2-11 2-10
Mississippi St. Dan Mullen 1-23 1-23
Missouri Gary Pinkel 8-20 8-20
Nebraska Bo Pelini 5-16 5-16
UNC Larry Fedora 2-6 0-3
NC State Dave Doeren 0-5 0-3
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald 5-16 5-16
Notre Dame Brian Kelly 11-14 7-7
Ohio St. Urban Meyer 10-13 3-2
Oklahoma Bob Stoops 17-17 17-17
Oklahoma St. Mike Gundy 10-17 10-17
Oregon Mark Helfrich 2-1 2-1
Oregon St. Mike Riley 2-25 2-25
Penn St. James Franklin 0-12 0-0
Pittsburgh Paul Chryst 2-3 2-3
Purdue Darrell Hazell 0-7 0-4
Rutgers Kyle Flood 0-4 0-4
South Carolina Steve Spurrier 17-16 17-16
Stanford David Shaw 10-5 10-5
Syracuse Scott Shafer 0-2 0-2
TCU Gary Patterson 8-12 8-12
Tennessee Butch Jones 1-12 1-5
Texas Charlie Strong 2-2 0-0
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin 5-11 4-6
Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury 1-3 1-3
UCLA Jim L. Mora 3-6 3-6
USC Steve Sarkisian 4-17 0-0
Utah Kyle Whittingham 5-14 5-14
Vanderbilt Derek Mason 0-0 0-0
Virginia Mike London 1-8 1-8
Virginia Tech Frank Beamer 8-16 8-16
Wake Forest Dave Clawson 0-6 0-0
Washington Chris Petersen 5-5 5-5
Washington St. Mike Leach 5-13 1-8
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen 4-5 4-5
Wisconsin Gary Andersen 1-9 0-3

One thing this study does is show how hard it is to beat ranked teams consistently.

Only six coaches have a winning record against ranked teams since 2007: Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Les Miles, Mark Helfrich, Steve Spurrier, and David Shaw. Helfrich barely counts, as has only one year of experience and took over a program in excellent shape. Shaw also took over a program in great shape, though it's been a few years and he went 6-2 against ranked teams a year ago. Spurrier had to go 5-0 against ranked teams last year to get above .500, so he barely made it. Fisher also needed a spotless record a year ago (3-0) to earn this distinction. Miles had to overcome going 1-8 in these games across 2008-09. Even with Saban, most of his distance above .500 comes from just two seasons: 2009 (5-0) and 2012 (4-1). Of course, being a game above .500 in the rest of his post-2007 seasons is still pretty great given the rest of this table.

I will also put in a good word for Bob Stoops, who is exactly .500 against ranked teams since 2007. He had one bad season, an injury-plagued 2009, in which he went 0-5 in these games. Absent that, he's a healthy 17-12 and comfortably third in winning percentage behind Shaw and Saban among those with more than one year's experience.

Not including Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, who's yet to coach a game as a head coach, 16 of the 65 guys on this list haven't defeated a single ranked team since 2007. Some of them are guys with little experience who either coached at mid-majors or are rebuilding or both, but notable guys in the O-fer camp include David Cutcliffe (0-16), Charlie Weis (0-14), Al Golden (0-11), and James Franklin (0-12).

Among those who have coached at least a season at their current school, 18 of 62 coaches haven't defeated a ranked team in their present gigs.