1. GARY PATTERSON TCU
He's never won a national title, but no one has done more with less, which makes Patterson the best coach in the country today. A brilliant game manager and motivator who gets dealt the talent left over by his in-state rivals, Patterson has transformed a middling, non-BCS program into a power that is 36--3 since 2008 and has finished in the top seven three straight seasons.
He is also a master tactician who outwits opposing coaches with confounding defenses that have led the nation the past three seasons. (He's the rare head coach who calls his team's defensive plays.) TCU's win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last January showed that the Frogs are more than cute overachievers. And with Patterson at the helm, TCU is here to stay.
2. NICK SABAN
August 21, 2011
The new Titan of Tuscaloosa already has two national championship rings (including one from LSU), as well as his own shiny statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Some thought Alabama paid him too much to leave the Dolphins in 2007, but Saban, who is 38--11 with the Tide, is now justifying his salary (roughly $5.2 million a year).
3. CHRIS PETERSEN
The man who turned the Greatest Show on (Blue) Turf from a curiosity into a powerhouse spurned an overture from Stanford over the winter. Since Petersen took over the program in 2006, the Broncos are 61--5, and have finished in the top 10 three times.
4. BOB STOOPS
Yes, Big Game Bob is just 3--5 in BCS bowl games, and yes, it has been more than 10 years since Oklahoma's last national title. Still, no other program has been this good for this long: In the Stoops era the Sooners have won 11 games in nine of the coach's 12 seasons, as well as seven Big 12 titles.
5. GENE CHIZIK
The Tigers wouldn't have won a national title in Chizik's second year without quarterback Cam Newton and perhaps not without offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. But Chizik, who also won the national championship in 2005 while the defensive coordinator at Texas, has nailed down elite recruiting classes and surrounded himself with a coaching staff that's as good as any.
6. MACK BROWN
The second-highest-paid coach in the nation ($5.1 million a year), Brown is the quintessential CEO type, the face of the Longhorns and, even at age 59, an ace recruiter. But last year's 5--7 debacle has dulled the shine on these boots a bit.
7. CHIP KELLY
He's currently under fire for his involvement with a Texas recruiting services provider, but in directing the Ducks to the BCS title game last season, Kelly showed that he's one of the country's most innovative offensive minds, a shrewd play-caller and a perfect fit at Nike U.
8. LES MILES
With all the maddening close calls and bizarre finishes, it's easy to forget that the Mad Hatter does win. In his six years in Baton Rouge, Miles has won a national title, is 5--1 in bowl games and has four seasons of 11 wins or more.
9. JIMBO FISHER
A rising star in the coaching world, Fisher waited his turn in Tallahassee and now has the Seminoles positioned to dominate the ACC. Stoops and Chizik won national titles in their second year; Fisher, who last year led Florida State to its first 10-win season since 2003, could be next.
10. BRIAN KELLY
Although the Irish's 8--5 record in Kelly's first year fell short of some fans' expectations, there's no ignoring his track record. He's won at Cincinnati and Grand Valley State, and he's on his way to doing the same at Notre Dame, which ended 2010 on a four-game winning streak that included victories over USC and Miami.
SI FANS' CHOICE
1. Joe Paterno 26.6%
2. Nick Saban 24.9%
3. Bob Stoops 10.8%