Skip to main content

Study: Small college players make excellent FBS head coaches

FBSplayingexp

Coaching is a profession made up from people from many different backgrounds, some with playing experience at the major college level (guys like Les Miles, Bob Diaco, etc.), while others like Mike Leach or Charlie Weis, have playing experience that never went beyond high school.

Regardless of how long you've been a part of the coaching profession, chances are you've coached with guys that fit into both of those categories, as well as guys that fit everywhere in between (with D-II or D-III, or perhaps NAIA experience). General consensus among coaches and the business world is that just because you've played or worked at the highest level, doesn't necessarily mean you're a better coach or employee.

Based on that consensus, and following a conversation with a coaching colleague, I started to wonder if playing at the FBS level equated to a higher career win percentage among major college head coaches. With the help of Joe Bowen, one of our FootballScoop summer interns, we dug in to figure that out, and our results were somewhat surprising.

All told, 57% of all FBS head coaches have FBS playing experience, far and away the highest across all divisions, but we found that the higher playing experience doesn't necessarily translate to a higher career win percentage. When it comes to playing experience, head coaches with experience playing at the Division II level actually had the best winning percentage.

Surprisingly, coaches with NAIA playing experience finished second (64%), followed by coaches with D-III playing experience (62.46%) narrowly edging out those coaches with FBS playing experience (61.53%). FBS coaches with no collegiate playing experience was next on the list (59%), followed by FCS playing experience, which rounded out the rankings with a win percentage of just under 55%.

Of all current FBS head coaches, Miami (OH) head coach Chuck Martin, who played Division III ball at Millikin (IL) leads all active head coaches with a career win percentage of 91%, stemming from his 74-7 record while the head coach at Grand Valley State (D-II - MI).

As a staff, what this tell us is that there is no cookie cutter formula for filling major college coaching jobs. It's about motivating your players, connecting with the campus and greater community, and surrounding yourself with quality people that care. Playing experience really shouldn't be (and likely aren't) part of the equation for athletic directors.

The results of our research can be found below, and I've included the coaches with the highest career win percentage from each division just for a fun reference point.

*Win % equals career win percentage

FBS PLAYING EXPERIENCE

 

 

NOTABLE COACHES

FBS PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Urban Meyer (Ohio State)

Cincinnati

83.66%

David Shaw (Stanford)

Stanford

82.93%

Bob Stoops (Oklahoma)

Iowa

80.40%

FCS PLAYING EXPERIENCE

 

NOTABLE COACHES

FCS PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Bobby Wilder (Old Dominion)

Maine

76.67%

Dave Doeren (NC State)

Drake (IA)

66.67%

Kyle Flood (Rutgers)

Iona (NY)

57.69%

D-II PLAYING EXPERIENCE

 

 

NOTABLE COACHES

D-II PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Chris Petersen (Washington)

UC Davis

87.62%

Jimbo Fisher (Florida State)

*Samford (AL)

81.82%

Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

Henderson State (AR)

80.77%

*Samford was D-II then transitioned to FCS

D-III PLAYING EXPERIENCE

 

 

NOTABLE COACHES

D-III PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Chuck Martin (Miami, OH)

Millikin (IL)

91.36%

Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan)

Kenyon (OH)

75.14%

Jeff Monken (Army)

Millikin (IL)

70.37%

NAIA PLAYING EXPERIENCE

 

 

NOTABLE COACHES

NAIA PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Mark Helfrich (Oregon)

Southern Oregon

84.62%

Bobby Petrino (Louisville)

Carroll (MT)

73.45%

Charlie Strong (Texas)

Central Arkansas

69.81%

NO COLLEGE PLAYING EXP.

 

 

NOTABLE COACHES

PROGRAM

CAREER WIN PERCENTAGE

Bill Clark (UAB)

None

73.33%

Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)

None

71.43%

Bobby Hauck (UNLV)

None

62.84%