They’re heroes or heels, inspirations or exasperations. They’re college football coaches, the real celebrities of the sport.
Players come and go. For the best, fans might only get a season or two of sublime starting years before they make their way to the NFL. But the truly successful coaches stick around — sometimes for decades at the same school — becoming familiar faces for fans around the country.
Love them or hate them, these are some of the coaches you’ll want to watch this season. You may not see best of the best on this list — tip of the cap to Nick Saban — but these bench bosses are always exciting.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson – A champion worth a cheer
It’s hard not to get caught up in Swinney’s enthusiasm. The reigning national champion Tigers have given him plenty to get excited about, and his post-game remarks just exude the passion people love about the college game. In one memorable 2015 interview, following a dramatic win over then-No. 6 Notre Dame, he coined the term BYOG — “Bring Your Own Guts.” Of course, his favorite comments probably came after his team beat juggernaut Alabama for the title last January. The mix of emotion and humility made many a fan of the folksy coach.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan – A real Wolverine
A former Michigan quarterback who made his way back to his alma mater after stints with San Diego, Stanford and the NFL’s 49ers, Harbaugh was always destined for a return to Ann Arbor. He’s a former passer, but his past teams have been known for their toughness and strong defense — classic Michigan traits. It reflects the coach’s no-nonsense demeanor on the sidelines, something that carries over to his closet, where he has a seemingly endless supply of khaki pants. You’ll never see him without them at kickoff, even if his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, thinks it’s a fashion faux pas.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State – ‘A man’ among Cowboys
This coach is forever going to be known for his legendary “I’m a man, I’m 40!” rant to the media in 2007 (the money line is at 2:22 of this video). It’s been parodied ever since, and these days people are fawning over his masterful mullet. But it’s easy to forget his rant came while defending his players after a critical newspaper article. He’s also led the Cowboys, long the kid brother to Oklahoma University’s Sooners, to a sustained period of conference success and bowl game appearances.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame – The furious face of the Fighting Irish