In the spirit of March Madness, Ty and Dan put together a bracket of 32 coaches and debate which they’d rather want running their programs. Using Bruce Feldman’s article as a seeding guide, they work through the top half of the bracket featured below. Is Nick Saban a shoo-in? Why’s Mack Brown seeded so low? And why is Jimbo Fisher vs. Kalen DeBoer the most interesting matchup of the first round.
Welcome back to The Solid Verbal, boys and girls.
My name is Ty Hildenbrandt, that fine gentleman over there, back from his trip westward to
Southern California, back in the comfy confines, the heart of the Midwest, Dan Rubenstein, back
in Chicago, sir.
How are you doing today?
I left you $100 for groceries and I said, you know, feed yourself a varied diet, just
like if I were in town, a content diet and you blew it all on Notre Dame gummy bears,
didn’t you, Ty?
You blew it all on gummy bears and Notre Dame licorice and Notre Dame chocolate chips.
Ty, what are you doing?
I trusted you.
You do a Notre Dame episode and then on our Verballers.com Q and A, you just have your
mom Notre Dame fan on.
You blew the whole hundred bucks, Ty.
We’re all children at heart, Dan.
What can I say?
Oh, come on.
I trusted you.
I’m good, Ty.
I’m glad, you know, daylight savings has me messed up, but nonetheless, this is a very
bracket full week.
I didn’t fill out an NCAA tournament bracket yet, mostly because I don’t watch college
I like college basketball.
I just haven’t watched it this season.
So I know nothing, but I think we should still create a Solid Verbal bracket.
We created one.
I created one and I posted it.
Oh, good, good, good.
I posted it in Discord.
I will create a link and post it out on social media for people who want to jump on in.
So we’ll play for pride, not prize, as they say.
And whoever is the victor will get the spoils and we’ll say a shout out on the show.
How about that?
So this is the only podcast, the only sports podcast, I’m sure, this week doing a bracket
My hunch is that it’s a popular construction for any sports themed episode, especially
for ones that aren’t college basketball related.
But March Madness kicks off officially on Tuesday if you want to talk about the first
But more broadly speaking, on Thursday, we have a coach bracket today, Dan.
We’ve got 32 coaches that we have bracketed off based on a recent column by our friend
Bruce Feldman, where he ranked his top 25 college football coaches.
We also added in seven extras just to keep things fresh and expand the field out to an
We’re not going 64 wide.
That will be more time than we’ve got here on the podcast.
But 32 coaches bracketed off.
You’ve got a rubric for determining who you’re going to advance and who you aren’t.
I’ve got sort of my own emotional rubric, let’s say, that we can speak to as we get
into this thing.
But if you are listening for the first time or maybe not for the first time, however you
choose to listen to the Solver, we’ll make sure you hit subscribe.
Make sure you tell your friends about the podcast, two public episodes every week.
Make sure you go on out to Verballers.com.
That’s where we do bonus content, the least of which is every Thursday.
But now is that now as we’re getting into March and spring football in April, we’re
going to start doing off topic stuff.
We’ll have a more varied diet, if you will, of items that we can present before the verbal
So again, that’s Verballers.com.
And last but certainly not least, make sure you follow along on YouTube and all of our
social media channels.
March Madness, huh?
I’ve got a bracket that I am holding up before the camera printed, printed out.
We’re going analog with this so that I can keep track so that I can be the pace car and
keep the discussion moving forward.
We’ve got thirty two coaches bracketed off into four groups of eight.
Again, we’re using that article by Bruce.
We will use that as kind of our go by here for our seating.
What is your, I guess, personal measuring stick for who’s going to go through and who
And that’s some of the titans of the sport.
Nick Saban, the number one overall seed, just like Alabama, actually in the NCAA tournament,
which again kicks off on Thursday and Friday, tips off, I guess I should say, on Thursday
But Nick Saban, number one overall seed here.
No great surprise.
His first round matchup, not to get too far out over my skis, is against Mack Brown, who’s
the eighth seed in this bracket.
How will you be scoring?
How will you personally be judging which coach you want to put through versus who gets kicked
to the side?
Well, look, I’m going to look at track record, right?
It’s great that a coach was excellent last year or the last couple of years, but I want
sustained success on some level or comparing coaches and who has sustained more success
and what is success?
Well, that’s an incredibly subjective term.
As you know, I want to see winning games.
I want to see beating good teams.
I want to see finishing in top fives, tens, fifteens, twenty-fives, whatever.
I want a track record of hiring well, recruiting well.
This one’s, I think, more specific to me.
I want finding multiple quarterbacks, quarterbacks plural.
I think that’s incredibly important to find, you know, not just have a flash in the pan
situation where you ride one guy through a stretch of your career, but otherwise you
weren’t able to find and develop that guy to do multiple eras.
I want you not losing to terrible teams, preferably ever, right?
Not being outclassed by clearly inferior teams on the field.
That would be a big deal.
And then I want at least one side of the ball to be largely excellent during your tenure
and a side of the ball, either side of the ball, whether it’s your background or not
as a head coach, when you were a position coach or coordinator, I want non-disastrous
sides of the ball.
And I know we’re on, we’re still on our Iowa moratorium, I believe getting too in-depth
about the twenty, twenty-two Iowa football season.
But I’m looking for no, or maybe just blip on the radar, disastrous sides of the ball
for a coach.
That’s what I’m holding against coaches or for coaches holding, you know, putting in
favor of coaches that like, look, they’ve never had a truly bad offense or defense.
And that’s, to me, that’s important because they are giving their team, they’re giving
their coaching staff every opportunity in the world to succeed.
So that’s mainly what I’m looking at in terms of how I’m going to grade coaches against
I mean, there are a couple other important context clues that I think I’ve got here in
front of me.
It is not everything.
It is certainly not the most important stat.
But if we’re doing any kind of bracket like this, you need to have all-time winning percentage.
You need to have some greater foundation for example, we’ve got Nick Saban, Mack Brown.
Right now, Nick Saban has two hundred and seventy-nine career victories at the college
football division one FBS level.
Mack Brown’s second, two sixty-four, two sixty-eight, excuse me.
So a historic matchup, to say the least, right out of the chute.
But where do these guys stand?
Some of the names that we’re going to discuss are actually higher up on this list than you
might expect, if only because they’ve been in one spot for a good long time.
Obviously, if we’re talking about some of the newer names on this list, that might not
Another bit of, I think, interest, intrigue, if you will.
Our good friends over at College Football Reddit, reddit.com/r/cfb, somebody over there
put together a five-year average of the twenty-four-seven composite recruiting rankings.
Again, not everything.
I mean, Nick Saban’s been there a good long time.
Nick Saban, as you might expect, has the highest average of all of the schools that are listed
They only did it out to the top 50.
But again, important context here to your point of, you know, who is doing more with
less, who is able to attract big time talent to the school.
These are things that I think we’re going to at least consider as we’re going through.
My emotional rubric is also guys that I would want as kind of my counterpart if I were in
a bar and things got scrappy.
The so-called crazy guy in the fight.
Those guys tend to motivate.
They don’t always win, but tend to motivate.
There’s belief there.
There’s belief there, right?
They’ve got the Ted Lasso belief sign hanging up in the locker room, like Penn State basketball.
And of course, just some guys like Brian Kelly in this list that I don’t like.
I’m going to need to figure out in my own time, in my own head, how to deal with that.
It’s a bracket.
And what do we do with our brackets in the NCAA tournament?
We just go with our gut.
And we’re like, I don’t like VCU.
Sorry, I don’t like them.
And so that’s a reason enough to fill out a bracket in a manner that we get used to.
So I’m totally good with you, you know, shooting from the hip with this one.
Ty, do you want to begin?
Let’s do it.
Got four brackets.
I changed the geography a little bit just to be more thematic.
And more appropriate for some of the coaches that we’re listing off here today.
We’ve got a South bracket, a Midwest bracket, an East and a Southeast.
A little bit weighted towards the lower right quadrant of the good old USA. First overall
seed Nick Saban squaring off against Mack Brown.
Saban is the one overall in the South bracket.
As I just alluded, Nick Saban right now has the most wins of any of these coaches, Division
One FBS, career.
Mack Brown is second on that list.
So this is an historic matchup of sorts, Dan.
I would be hard-pressed to not pick Nick Saban here.
I think because of what Nick Saban’s done, Nick Saban is also continuing to recruit,
continuing to perform at a very, very high level.
I think he obviously checks all the boxes for your little personal rubric.
He seems to be getting better with age.
He always hires at a really high level.
It does not seem like maybe on the Mack Brown side, which is what we’ve seen, maybe like
a little bit of steam coming out of the balloon.
That does not appear to be the case at all for Nick Saban.
They have reached critical mass with that Alabama program.
And so I’m not going to say it’s on autopilot.
He clearly is still the engine behind it, but it’s just continuing to produce at such
a high level that it’s got to be Nick Saban going through here.
First of all, do we put steam in balloons?
Is that a thing?
Hot air balloons!
That’s hot air, but it is that steam?
I’m going to have to do some research, Ty.
It’s hot air.
I’m going to have to do some research.
I don’t know how hot it is, but.
OK, I don’t understand the principles of flight. Let’s get that out of the way.
First of all, it’s interesting that we’ve got Nick Saban against Mack Brown here.
I’m gonna try to speed through this cause we’ve got a long list of matchups.
I think the 32-seed being Mack Brown is full-on disrespectful from you.
It wasn’t from me! It was from Bruce!
It’s our show!
It’s from Bruce! I went through 1-25 and then the others that he considered, I tacked on at the end.
He didn’t even list Cristobal! Maybe he shouldn’t be on the list, I don’t know.
I’m saying its’ disrespectful of us, it’s disrespectful of Bruce!
Mack Brown wins a ton at Texas, of course.
And then he doesn’t, right?
And now he’s at North Carolina.
It’s been sort of a mixed bag.
You know, Sam Howell and Phil Longo have been highlights.
You know, those, the running backs, the running back duo from a couple of years ago was a
Really strong receivers.
Defense has been a nightmare.
I think I’m with you in suggesting that we are looking at this maybe in the last five
Like that’s a good, like what you did in 2007 is not at all relevant when, you know,
recruits from the class of 2024 were born in 2007.
Like, it doesn’t matter what you did in the early 2000s or even most of the
20 teens or whatever.
So it’s disrespectful.
Mack Brown has had an incredible career.
But as of right now, and I like that you, we have North Carolina on the onset because
they’re the team that I’m considering to be the replacement level good team.
In that they’ve had a bunch of top 20-ish classes.
And if we look at, if we compare two coaches in a matchup to say who would do better at
North Carolina, no clear, clear advantages geographically or historically, no clear disadvantages
because there’s a lot of talent, you know, on the East Coast, Southeast, they have access
to and they’ve recruited pretty well.
The path is not super easy, but it’s not crazy difficult.
So I’m using North Carolina actually as my goodest team program in the country where
they’re like maybe right around 17 or 18.
So who would do better at North Carolina?
Nick Saban or Mack Brown?
I’m going to say Nick Saban.
How about that?
Let’s move on.
The number two seed in the South bracket, Brian Kelly squaring off against the number
seven in the South bracket, Troy Calhoun, Troy Calhoun of Air Force.
Brian Kelly, of course, of LSU.
I almost said Notre Dame.
So look, Troy Calhoun has been at Air Force since 2007.
He’s won 121 games.
He’s won his last four bowl games.
He’s won double digit games three of the last four year. To your point of doing more with
less, it’s hard to beat Troy Calhoun.
Air Force is never going to be a recruiting juggernaut.
They’re always going to have to run a system that suits their personnel.
Whether I like it or not, he’s been very successful at running that system and at being consistent,
That being said, Brian Kelly maybe isn’t doing quite as much with less, but has also been
That’s why he’s got the monster deal from LSU.
Why he decided to leave Notre Dame in pursuit of a national championship.
So sure, Brian Kelly has taken his programs to greater heights, but Troy Calhoun, you
could argue has been just as consistent, not working with the same level of talent.
And I think that makes that a very interesting matchup here between Kelly and Calhoun.
I think you have to respect and admire the job Troy Calhoun has done at Air Force with
the Falcons, but one top 25 finish during his tenure at Air Force, Brian Kelly is one
of those everywhere he’s been, he wins kind of coaches, which includes small, medium,
and large places now in his career.
So I don’t believe that Troy Calhoun would do a better job at North Carolina, even with
a limitation at Air Force and the kinds of system and athletes you can recruit to a service
I believe in my marrow, Ty, that Brian Kelly would do a better job at North Carolina.
He’s found quarterbacks, not top, top tier quarterbacks, but decently good quarterbacks
at various stops, has had good sides, has had very good offensive line, good defense.
Like there’s just a calling card to Brian Kelly and different ways to win that a recruiter,
I’m just, I would be much more confident in Brian Kelly going 11-1 in Chapel Hill
than I would Troy Calhoun.
But again, what we’re talking about three of the last three full seasons, I believe.
So if you eliminate the 2020 COVID year, double digit wins with the bowl win.
So nothing to smirk or scoff at Troy Calhoun, very much deserving to be in this bracket.
Who does better at Air Force?
Who does better at Air Force?
I don’t think that matters.
I don’t think it matters.
Look, I mean, Brian Kelly’s got the experience in his career of being at a place like Grand
He’s just shown it more.
Brian Kelly has gone bigger and bigger.
Troy Calhoun, whatever he’s done, he does not have varied stops.
He has varied hair shades.
He does, which I’m glad you brought up, which he had, I don’t know if it’s still going on
with the Just for Men look that Troy Calhoun sported a couple of years ago.
It is, speaking of varied diets, this is a varied color palette that he’s been working
with, but nonetheless, that does not pertain to the on-field success.
I just think it’s got to be, look, I’m not the world’s biggest Brian Kelly fan.
Brian Kelly has been successful at every level.
And we just don’t have that body of work with Troy Calhoun to the same degree.
And the thing I would also credit Brian Kelly with is had an incredibly down 4-8
season, much publicized 4-8 season.
I am aware.
Oregon had, Oregon won four and eight that same year, bounced back incredibly, right?
Made necessary changes, improved where improvements were needed.
And so Brian Kelly, to me, is the no brainer through to the next round.
Three seed in the South bracket, Kyle Whittingham squaring off against the six Bret Bielema.
This one’s interesting.
This one’s interesting.
This is a very interesting matchup.
So you look at Bret Bielema and of course had a ton of success at Wisconsin.
The Arkansas experience, the five years he was there, a bit of a mixed bag, right?
4-8, his final season in 2017, not exactly going out on a high note, but
what he’s done in very short order now coming back home to Illinois to the Big Ten has been
very successful in just two years.
I think there’s a lot of optimism around that program.
So you feel good.
You got good vibes for sure if you’re an Illini fan
Aand on the Kyle Whittingham side, I mean, we’ve been huge Kyle Whittingham
fans for a good long time.
Kyle Whittingham is kind of the model for consistency.
We talk about Troy Calhoun being in one place since 2007.
Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah since 2004.
He’s been there forever and has certainly, as of late, just in the last 10 years or so,
been very, very, very consistent with that program.
He had success early on in his tenure, but over the last eight seasons, Dan, they’re
They are just money.
They seem to have solved the riddle of putting a consistent product out there year in and
Two consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, unfortunately lost both, but nonetheless, Utah feels like
a program thatit’s just sort of ever so slightly trending up.
This is a good matchup in the first round here.
There are people who consider Kyle Whittingham to be one of the best five coaches in America.
Best six or seven coaches in America because of how consistently good Utah has been lately.
You mentioned the last couple of Rose Bowls.
You can say what you will about the Pac-12.
You can’t finish better than first, which they’ve done these past couple of seasons.
So I think he’s a terrific coach.
Now, hasn’t done it anywhere else.
Started his career sustaining the excellence that Urban Meyer put in place, but this has
been his program for well over a decade now.
This is not him just taking advantage of what Urban Meyer built.
This has been his program.
They are one of the lone consistent success stories of a program jumping up as from a
G5 level conference to a Power Five level conference, right?
We saw Colorado really struggle with that.
One of the success stories of realignment in general, a team trading conferences.
So Bret Bielema has proved it at different places.
The highs have been higher for Bret Bielema in the Rose Bowls.
One in those types of NFL players on both sides of the ball generated in terms of star
Russell Wilson, JJ Watt, guys like that at Wisconsin, but did struggle at Arkansas or
up and down anyway.
Both have found, I would say, multiple quarterbacks.
You know, there was some pretty terrific passing offenses, weirdly enough, at Arkansas.
Probably a couple of efficient quarterbacks at Wisconsin to say the least.
So I do give Bret Bielema points now because the exercise that we all put in place is,
but what would he do at Wyoming?
What would he do at Illinois?
What would he do at Wake Forest?
And Kyle Whittingham’s never left.
Whereas Bret Bielema, both by his own accord and by other people’s accords, has had to
prove it at multiple places.
And to win at Illinois has been sort of proven to be not super easy.
And with the defense, with the hiring, with the vision on offense, Bret Bielema has been
very impressive overall.
I’m still going to say Kyle Whittingham because you have to knock a failure against Brett
Bielema, but I think it’s incredibly close.
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very easy to look at what Bielema has done most recently in his
stop now with Illinois and say he’s building them back up.
And that’s admirable.
All too often when we’re looking at coaches, we have that same question in the back of
Are they able to build up whatever program they’re working on, build up to achieve something
We don’t talk as much perhaps as we should about coaches who take over for a
“legend” because that’s what Urban Meyer was at Utah.
And they’re able to maintain the success.
That’s really hard to do.
If not build upon.
If not build upon.
You can speak to the Mark Helfrich era, Dan.
I can speak to like the Dan Devine era at Notre Dame.
Every school has a story similar to this, right?
We can talk about Larry Coker’s Miami.
We can talk about all these instances we’ve seen throughout the history of college football
where the guy after the guy steps in and just isn’t able to keep the proverbial steam in
So steam in the balloon.
It’s our new thing here.
So I appreciate greatly what Brett Bielema has done, and I’m excited to watch Illinois.
But Kyle Whittingham has just been a staple in college football.
And though I credit Bielema for jumping around a little bit, Whittingham moves on.
Let’s go to the final first round matchup in the South Bracket.
This is an interesting one.
This is based on Bruce’s seeding, not ours.
So, Kalen DeBoer ahead of Jimbo Fisher in his rankings.
I love this matchup.
Kalen DeBoer is the four.
No pun intended.
No rhyme intended.
Jimbo Fisher is the five in this bracket.
The winner moves on to play Nick Saban, which is its own conversation.
But Kalen DeBoer against Jimbo Fisher, Dan.
Very interesting matchup.
Kalen DeBoer, I think, has fashioned himself as a bit of an X is an O savant.
Everywhere he’s been, he’s proven that he can coach offense at a really high level.
He’s very creative.
You saw what he did in his time at Indiana.
Saw what he did in his time at Fresno.
What he’s done in just one year at Washington.
It’s apparent that there is some real coaching talent there and that he can organize the
troops very quickly.
Jimbo Fisher, at least on the offensive side, is a ship going in an opposite direction.
He’s essentially had to fire himself and bring in a guy like Bobby Petrino to run the offense
because what he was trying wasn’t working.
What he was trying was very stale and stubborn, and it ticked off A&M fans to no end.
That said, the recruiting, for sure the recruiting at A&M, has been at a much, much higher level
in the time that Jimbo’s been there.
We could debate the merits of why that is or is not, but.
I don’t think there’s a debate.
I mean, it’s just results oriented.
It’s a fascinating matchup here between Jimbo and Kalen DeBoer.
So if you’re North Carolina today and you have $5 million and you have two checks, one
that says pay to the order of John James Fisher or James John Fisher, I forget which order,
or Kalen DeBoer, I would imagine the trustees, the chancellor, whoever at North Carolina
would probably be more enthusiastic about giving that money to Kalen DeBoer today.
In terms of a track record, in terms of finding multiple quarterbacks as a head coach, not
just having a good season with Jake Haener, but finding him and developing him, identifying
him and developing him, we still have a Heisman National Championship quarterback in Jimbo
We have both of these guys lately on the precipice of the playoff-ish, I guess, for Washington
and most certainly for Texas A&M with Jimbo Fisher.
So Jimbo Fisher has accomplished things and has been to heights fully unknown to Kalen
DeBoer as a head coach.
So I’m saying if I’m North Carolina today, I’m giving that money to Kalen DeBoer.
Because I’m too worried about Jimbo Fisher’s catastrophic predilection for offense lately.
And that’s not his predilection, but catastrophic offenses lately.
This is incredibly difficult.
The more accomplished coach is Jimbo Fisher.
The better coach today is Kalen DeBoer.
The coach who is able to accumulate talent, and you have talent, then you can do more
things than when you don’t have talent, is Jimbo Fisher.
I’m going to ever so slightly, because I believe winning a national championship is something
that you’ll never have to apologize for or look past, I’m giving it to Jimbo Fisher.
Even though Kalen DeBoer is the today North Carolina check, I’m giving it to Jimbo Fisher
just because, again, it was not that long ago that he got a team with a very average
quarterback to the brink of the playoff.
So I’m going A&M.
There’s a thing that they say about NFL quarterbacks, veteran quarterbacks, you saw it with Joe
Montana, you certainly saw it with Peyton Manning, but they say that these guys, these
notable legends of the sport, when they’re really at the end of their career, the arm
is the first thing to go.
And when it goes, it just happens.
It’s not like it happens gradually over the course of a couple of seasons.
It just sort of goes.
And suddenly there’s no zip on the fastball.
And I worry a little bit about that with Jimbo Fisher.
I worry a little bit about that, because what he has been running offensively, by and large,
has been the same thing since his time at Florida State.
He hasn’t changed a whole lot there.
He hasn’t really had to change a whole lot there.
He’s been very stubborn about doing so.
And even when it looks like it’s changing, it still seems like the vision and philosophy
is rooted in the same place.
So I wonder if we’re approaching a situation with Jimbo Fisher as a coach where he’s lost
that zip, where he’s lost that fastball.
And we’ll find out.
I mean, I don’t know if he’s equipped to handle a setup like this, where he is turning things
over to a guy like Bobby Petrino.
I think Bobby Petrino is just glad to be there.
I think Bobby Petrino will come with ideas, but I don’t think Bobby Petrino is going to
want to be pushed around because Bobby Petrino in his own right was a pretty successful coach,
at least for a moment in time.
I don’t know how Jimbo Fisher is going to deal with that scenario.
Now, I have high hopes for A&M because the talent that they have on hand is still pretty
And I expect great things from A&M this season.
I think they will be just fine.
Who’s the better coach?
I think. I, like you, would give the money to Kalen DeBoer if it were my program.
I would give the money to Kalen DeBoer.
He’s got, I think, a very bright coaching future in front of him.
But what you did before still has to count for something.
By the way, I think if I said Caleb DeBoer before, I apologize.
You did say Caleb.
I just now got paranoid that I did Kalen DeBoer, of course.
Can I mention something else?
How many seasons has Kalen DeBoer with a roster that he has built, coached
a Power Five team?
That’s exactly right.
That’s exactly right.
So I think I give it to Jimbo as well.
I don’t feel great about that matchup, but Jimbo in a buzzer beater.
I’m with you.
Got our first upset here, a five over a four.
Not a big one, but.
You want to work through this bracket, and then we might have to make this a two-parter
and finish this off on Thursday.
Whatever you want.
Nick Saban against Jimbo Fisher.
We had Nick Saban against Jimbo Fisher before the 2022 season, the War of Words.
Yes, we did.
This is Saban, right?
Obviously, it’s Saban.
I mean, you can line up basically any coach ever and say it’s Nick Saban.
Now we can have a conversation at another point of, if it’s today, are you giving that
$10 million check to Kirby Smart or Nick Saban?
That’s a worthwhile conversation.
Well, we might have that conversation, because Kirby Smart’s the number two overall seed,
but that might not be until our next episode at this rate.
Look, if we’re having this conversation in 2014, it’s an interesting conversation, Jimbo
Fisher, Nick Saban.
But at this moment, not much of a conversation.
It’s Nick Saban moving through with a 27 point win, early run in the first half.
What about Kyle Whittingham against Brian Kelly?
Now, this is fascinating.
This is a really good matchup.
This is a really freaking good matchup.
So let’s go back to North Carolina.
Let’s go back to, if you are running the Tar Heel program, if you are that chancellor,
if you are that trustee, whatever, that board of trustees, who does better in Chapel Hill?
By the way, just for reference, Bruce has Brian Kelly eighth overall, Kyle Whittingham
So this was close for him too.
This was close for him too.
If I am giving money to somebody at North Carolina, I am probably giving that money
to Brian Kelly.
I’m probably giving that money to Brian Kelly because everywhere Brian Kelly’s been, and
he’s been at a couple stops, he’s won.
He’s built from the lines out.
He hasn’t always had high level quarterback play.
You know, that’s my one gripe.
But by and large, everywhere he’s been, he’s found a way to win double digit games and
be really successful.
We have not seen Kyle Whittingham do that.
I have no doubt that he could do that.
We just have not seen it.
So through that lens, I probably put Brian Kelly through.
I’m putting Brian Kelly through, proving it at multiple places, winning the SEC West in
year one, taking Notre Dame to the national championship game and undefeated season, which
again, you can say whatever you want about Notre Dame’s 2012 schedule and the way they
Going undefeated is incredibly difficult.
Going to the playoff, perhaps easier when you play 12 games rather than 13 at Notre
Dame, but nonetheless went to the playoff.
Interestingly, I have qualms with both of these coaches in terms of developing offenses
and finding quarterbacks who have some pop down field, right?
That’s been the issue.
I still think Kyle Whittingham has found multiple quarterbacks.
Thought, I don’t know how many of them at the moment are playing in the NFL or have had much experience
in the NFL.
Same can be said about Notre Dame and I guess LSU since they’re not going to have an NFL
quarterback out of this past year’s team, but I think I’m still going to go with that
North Carolina element.
I would take Brian Kelly in Chapel Hill because I think he has a better understanding of navigating
a big place in a big conference or big conference-ish with Notre Dame.
So I’m going BK in this spot, albeit barely because some of the Utah lows didn’t thrill
Some of the hirings haven’t thrilled me, but damn if he’s done a great job there, but still
BK is just steady Eddie.
You know what you’re paying for with Brian Kelly.
You might not like the guy, he might have the fake accent, which I did deduct a few
points for if I’m being honest.
You know what you’re going to get.
So we’re putting BK through.
That means our final to come out of the South bracket is Saban against Kelly.
Which we’ve seen and we’ve seen different coaches win that matchup.
We could probably pencil Saban all the way through to the final, but Saban’s ability
to attract talent at a really high level, his ability to hire new guys seemingly every
year or every other year to run the offense or the defense, I think is perhaps the single
most impressive thing of any of these coaches on this list.
His ability to deal with coaching turnover, even roster turnover, frankly, with guys going
pro with new top flight recruits coming in every single cycle, his ability to manage
all that is a masterclass, you know?
Yeah, of course.
And we talk about Brian Kelly that he’s more of a CEO type and that’s kind of his style
of a coach.
And even guys who played for him have said, “Ah, well, you never really know what Brian
Kelly stands for.
You never get too close to him.
That’s by design.”
He’s obviously been very successful at it, but there’s got to be that element to Saban
too, because you can’t not be a CEO type, at least on some level, if you’ve got all
of these moving pieces every single season.
It just seems like a lot, and I’m sure he’s got the support staff to deal with at Bama,
but there are a lot of other guys who are dealing with similar things and they’re nowhere
near as successful.
Brian Kelly on a current win streak, head-to-head against Nick Saban, if I recall correctly.
That is correct, yep.
On a current win streak.
Now, there’s no real case for Brian Kelly.
They’ve played on the biggest stage, right?
The BCS National Championship 2012 season.
I fell asleep after the first quarter, but you can fill me in on 42-14.
The only thing is, you, the only, this isn’t even speaking realistically, but the only
conversation that you could have, hypothetically, would be if they’re both at their current
place for the next four years, who finishes with more wins.
If you are a believer that this is Nick Saban winding down, and if you’re the type of college
football thinker, like you mentioned, that when it goes, it goes, right?
When you lose the zip on the fastball, there’s no getting it back.
If you are believing that about Nick Saban, which I am not, at least not right now, then
that you can plant a flag and say, Brian Kelly, next four years, rejuvenated, LSU should win
a bunch of games, has quarterbacks, should have, he has a really strong defensive coordinator
at the moment, has had more continuity with his coordinators.
I’m still saying, until proven otherwise, even in the short term, even if we’re starting
from 2022, I have a lot more faith in Nick Saban.
Saban goes through, Saban in the final four.
Saban in the final.
Let’s move to the Midwest.
Number one overall seed in the Midwest, not overall seed, number one seed in the Midwest,
Jim Harbaugh squaring off against Willie Fritz.
Very interesting matchup.
A lot of people like Willie Fritz a lot, think he’s a really good coach.
I happen to be one of them.
With good reason.
Jim Harbaugh is ever the interesting character in college football.
I feel like more often than not, we’ve had a similar discussion on this show, maybe not
in the context of a 32 coach bracket, but we’re always trying to figure out where does
Jim Harbaugh rank among these?
I think we feel pretty confident that he’s in the top 10, but depending on what he says
or how he recruits or how his teams perform, we’re more willing maybe with Harbaugh than
anybody else to slide him up or down that list at a moment’s notice.
He’s just a controversial figure and he’s not that controversial of a guy.
He’s just a controversial figure for a multitude of reasons.
So Harbaugh against Fritz, Dan?
The case for Fritz is he’s not a wild card, right?
That, I mean, in his own way, I suppose he is.
He’s been at a number of places, won a number of places.
Jim Harbaugh has won exactly zero Mineral Water Bowls, whereas Willie Fritz, look it
up, look it up, people.
It’s Jim Harbaugh going back to San Diego, going to Stanford, which was as down a program
nationally when he took it over.
I think it was Walt Harris who predates Jim Harbaugh.
That was a bad era of Stanford football.
And immediately, right?
They beat USC as 40 point underdogs.
He takes them to the New Year’s six BCS-level bowl level, finds quarterbacks.
It’s found quarterbacks a little bit less frequently at Michigan, arguably, has relied
And that hasn’t always worked out in the longterm.
But nonetheless, Jim Harbaugh has taken teams to playoffs.
He’s gotten over the individual and team hump of beating Ohio State and winning the Big
Ten, going to the playoff in consecutive seasons.
To me, it’s a no brainer.
Willie Fritz though, look, beating USC in a bowl game.
A magical season for Tulane has a background on offense, but it’s been developing defensive
That’s been really impressive.
I give it to Willie Fritz in terms of credit, respect and being among the nation’s best
But right now it’s Jim Harbaugh.
Yeah, I think it’s Jim Harbaugh.
They’ve both had a couple stops.
You’re right about the Mineral Water Bowl.
Oh, thank God.
Back to his time at Central Mizzou back in 2001, right around the turn of the century.
But Jim Harbaugh, I think, you know, I referenced it at the top with this awesome chart that
we got from our friends over at CFB Reddit.
And they go through and again, they’re giving you the five-year recruiting average.
Michigan’s fairly low on that list.
Despite their recent success, despite winning the Big Ten two years in a row, despite going
to the playoff two years in a row, they’re 13th on this list over the last five years.
That’s behind Florida, behind Penn State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Oklahoma, LSU, Texas,
Clemson, A&M, Ohio State, Georgia.
Obviously, Georgia and Alabama are kind of the exceptions as is Ohio State at this point.
But a lot of teams in front of them there that have not had near the success that Jim
Harbaugh has had.
And so I think that is definitely a testament to he is finding a way to, I don’t want to
say do more with less, but he’s finding a way to maximize the talent that he has on
It’s still very good talent.
He’s bringing in great recruiting classes, but he is getting a lot out of those recruits.
And I think that’s meaningful.
Also, if we’re going to harken back to the Ty Hildenbrandt emotional scale, Jim Harbaugh
alongside you in a bar fight is an interesting thing to ponder.
Don’t know what you’re going to get.
Could be a very introspective commentary on society.
He could be totally nuts.
I don’t know which version of Harbaugh you get in that type of scenario.
Oh, I can tell you exactly which.
There’s no question to me!
You think he’s, you think he just loses it?
If Jim Harbaugh could, he’d still be an active University of Michigan football player.
All he wants to do is play football, think football, live football, and be on a football
team in a football locker room.
He’s a football guy, Ty, as they say.
Now, the interesting thing about Jim Harbaugh is what a difference two years makes, I guess,
because a couple of years ago, the narrative, the conversation around Jim Harbaugh is, is
he ultimately a disappointment considering his record against Ohio State and Michigan
You look at this rubric and I’m saying, how competitive are you against the best teams
on your schedule?
And the best teams on Michigan’s schedule outside of Penn State and best is relative, but the
teams that Michigan fans and the Michigan community most want to win are those Michigan
State and Ohio State games.
And he was a disappointment.
And you go two years later and he’s still lost one of those to Michigan State, but it’s
a new world.
And so it’s Jim Harbaugh, but fascinating that overall, and look, he got to a Super
Bowl too, that we’re now talking about a new era of Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football these
past couple of years, because this would be a more difficult conversation three, four
Let’s move on to, so we’re going to put Harbaugh through, right?
I think we’re both kind of an agreement on that front.
I mean, love him or hate him.
He’s a fantastic football coach.
This is a very interesting matchup and not so much because I think there’s any doubt
about who we’re putting through, but I think the conversation could go to a weird place.
The number two seed in the Midwest here is James Franklin.
James Franklin, per Bruce Feldman, is the fifth best coach in college football, which as he
mentioned in his article, receives more pushback perhaps than anything.
And he’s been steadfast with that line of thinking, Bruce.
For as long as we’ve known him, he’s been in on Franklin.
First round matchup here is against the seventh seed in the Midwest, Mario Cristobal.
I put Cristobal in.
He was not listed at all on Bruce’s bracket.
So he was not one of the top 25.
He was not one of the top 30 or 31 based on the names that he listed.
But I threw Mario in.
I didn’t know where he would be matched up here or against whom he would be matched up.
And the auto bracket thing did it for me.
Put him against James Franklin.
So I don’t think there’s really any debate here that it’s James Franklin.
I think it’s got to be James Franklin.
I think so much of Mario Cristobal in his tenure as a coach at Oregon, at Miami, his
tenure as an assistant coach everywhere he’s been.
Mario Cristobal has definitely carved out this little reputation for himself where he’s
seen as a big time recruiter.
And for sure that holds up.
He is able to attract talent.
I think the promise of Mario Cristobal as a top flight college football head coach,
that verdict is still out there, man.
I don’t know if we can say for sure that he’s ever going to be a great coach.
I don’t know.
That’s not to say that James Franklin has been a great coach, but James Franklin, I
think, has accomplished way more and is still kind of in his prime of accomplishing things
at Penn State.
Perhaps a big year incoming for the Nittany Lions in 2023.
I don’t know where Miami’s headed.
I mean, they just fired Josh Gattis after one year.
Clearly, Year One did not go well for Cristobal, even in going back home to a place where he’s
supposed to be more familiar.
So I just feel like a lot of what we’ve heard with Cristobal is the promise of greatness
and we’ve yet to really see it.
Who am I describing here?
One in a very difficult place to win, known as a terrific recruiter, won a bunch of games,
but ultimately fans were left pretty disappointed with offense and in-game decision-making.
Hired Joe Morehead.
There’s a lot of weird connective tissue. Known for making shrewd assistant hires most of
the time, not all of the time.
Is James Franklin a rich man’s Mario Cristobal?
It’s an interesting hypothetical.
I don’t know.
I don’t know because Penn State fans on a certain level have to respect the sustained
somewhat successful program that James Franklin has built.
But in the way that Oregon fans say, look, we loved winning a bunch of games, but it
wasn’t always fun.
I feel like Penn State might have that with some of the recent offenses.
Look, Miami’s offense this year, catastrophic.
Penn State’s offense last year, so the 2021 season, borderline catastrophic.
I think they finished-
Yeah, after Sean Clifford got hurt, it was catastrophic.
Yeah, and even with Sean Clifford, I think the full season, it was like 95th in points
Now, that includes, right, an injured quarterback, so you got to take that context into it.
But they have been prone to some lows on offense, and James Franklin has never had a quarterback
even close to what Justin Herbert was and could have been at that place.
But still, I think there’s a lot of overlap here.
I’m giving it to James Franklin.
He’s been there longer.
He’s been successful longer.
I don’t think there are the same questions.
He’s never had as low a season as Miami had this year.
This isn’t, but it’s not Mario Cristobal’s roster.
So I’m willing to forgive a little bit of that because, look, Mario Cristobal went to
the Rose Bowl and won, had some pretty high highs at Oregon, just in terms of results,
in terms of winning percentage.
But right now, I’m giving it to James Franklin because in this moment, sustaining something
means something to me, and Penn State is right there in the present and has been so for longer.
James Franklin also revived or started for the first time the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Which is not easy.
Same for Cristobal at FIU.
By any stretch.
Yeah, I mean, Cristobal is the only one of these two that was fired.
That move to fire him by FIU was something that’s been criticized over the course of
But both are, I think, there’s a lot of connective tissue, as you said.
I think you hit it best.
Franklin’s got to be the one that goes through, though.
At Chapel Hill?
At Chapel Hill, I think I put Franklin.
I think so, too.
I think Franklin’s the guy.
In this moment.
Two more interesting matchups here in the first round.
We’re going to start with the big dogs.
Dave Clawson against Mike Norvell.
So now that we’ve gotten down off of that top line and the big dogs, we’re starting
to talk about some, I would say, unsung heroes.
At least in the form of Dave Clawson, who has done a lot in his time at Wake Forest.
We deduct points for the slow mesh, yes?
I say do whatever it takes to win games.
I’m not deducting points.
I think we deduct one.
Just the half point for the slow mesh.
But Dave Clawson against Mike Norvell, Dan.
Interesting matchup here.
So Memphis won before Mike Norvell.
Just somewhat won after.
Not as much.
I think history has proven that winning at Wake Forest and Bowling Green is not for the
faint of heart or faint of ability.
Or there is something about, there is something Bar Rescue-y about Dave Clawson, who goes
to Bowling Green with a down reputation after his time at Tennessee, but the Clawfense
The Clawfense at Wake.
11 win Wake!
Mike Norvell has been a very good coach.
But in terms of degree of difficulty, North Carolina in this moment, especially with,
if we’re going to give Dave Clawson credit for knowing that state, recruiting that state,
I think he probably gets the nod after a disappointing start, but current flourishing of Mike Norvell
at Florida State, I’m giving Dave Clawson, having that ability to win wherever more easily
than Mike Norvell at this moment.
Dave Clawson has 91 wins at the FBS level.
He’s been a coach for a while.
He’s been around for a good long time.
As you said, he’s got an interesting track record.
Who would you rather have at North Carolina right now?
$5 million, you’re going to give the money to Dave Clawson or Mike Norvell?
Because the reason I bring that up is because Mike Norvell now, after a bit of a rocky start
at Florida State, seems to be trending in a good direction.
You and I are both pretty high on the Noles coming into 2023.
So if Mike Norvell continues that success, if he continues to build that program up and
make them more of a threat, you could argue the answer here would be Norvell.
Head to head, it’s been Wake these past couple seasons.
So there’s that.
I’m going Clawfense.
I’m going with Wake and that ability to win at North Carolina.
I’m going, sorry, going with Dave Clawson and that ability to win in Chapel Hill right
now, I think with more resources and the ability to, like this is not, Jordan Travis is not
Mike Norvell’s quarterback.
Whereas Sam Hartman before was Dave Clawson’s quarterback.
I think there is something about identifying and then so if you’re North Carolina, you’re
going to have the ability to swim in a bigger, bigger lake, a bigger sea, whatever in terms
of the quarterbacks you can attract to that school as we’ve seen now.
I think I’m going, yeah, I’m going Clawson here.
I sort of disagree with you.
I probably feel better about Clawson than Norvell, but this is the first one that I
Do you think Clawson is a cute story?
You can be honest.
A cute story?
Yeah, a cute story, but not an impressive story.
Like it’s cute that they won at Wake Forest.
No, no, no.
I don’t think so.
But when you get to the big boys, I trust Norvell.
I don’t know if I trust Norvell to that level.
Well, more than Clawson.
Yeah, I think, no, I don’t feel like it’s a cute story with Dave Clawson.
I think it’s been, a cute story is a flash in the pan.
A cute story is an underdog story for one season and then they go back to relative anonymity,
but this has not been a one and done type thing for Dave Clawson.
Dave Clawson has done a really good job at Wake Forest.
Took him a while to build this program up.
He’s had NFL caliber talent move through there at various positions.
It’s not like Sam Hartman or bust.
So this has been a little bit deeper than maybe most would realize.
I think I’ll give it to Clawson.
I do think though that this will be a pivotal year.
This will be a very interesting year.
If we come back a year from now and have this conversation, Norvell versus Clawson, if
we would feel differently because we’re going to see what Wake looks like without Sam Hartman
and we’re going to see what year three, I guess it’s year three of Norvell or year four,
whatever it is for him at Florida State with Jordan Travis, with a program that seems like
it’s aligned finally and moving in a good direction.
This one feels to me like we might change our mind a year from now, but I’ll go with
Clawson for now.
The only thing is Wake has struggled to figure out defense.
I won’t say I won’t say full on catastrophic, but it’s more of like 74th, 89th-type best
defense in the country where you’re going to be prone to losing a little too much in
the way of shootouts that I’m not comfortable with.
Whereas Florida State has steadily improved on both sides of the ball.
It has seemed and different place, different ability to recruit to Winston Salem than it
is to recruit to Tallahassee, but that’s what I would hold against Dave Clawson right now,
that he is a coach built for a place like Wake Forest and that Mike Norvell might have
a higher ceiling at a bigger place.
I get that.
And as you said, I mean, the recruiting at Florida State, obviously it’s not really even
in the same class as Wake Forest, whether you’re talking about recruits coming out of
high school or just transfers.
I mean, look at what Florida State did on the transfer market the last two years.
They’ve been very aggressive and that’s helped.
It’s helped in a big way.
This might be the most fascinating first round matchup that we have to discuss here.
All right, here we go.
Midwest, the number four seed against the number five seed.
Chris Klieman, who Bruce Feldman has as his 13th overall coach.
Squaring off against the one, the only Sonny Dykes.
National runner up this past season.
Bruce has met number 20.
It is almost unheard of that a first year coach or at least first year at a new place
coach in Sonny Dykes goes in the type of run that he goes on.
We’re not talking about taking over Alabama after Saban or taking over Georgia after Kirby
We’re talking about taking over a program left by Gary Patterson, kind of for dead.
It was for sure treading water.
Sonny Dykes takes it over.
It gets the most out of the same players as we’ve joked time and again.
As you love to say.
As I love to say, impressively goes on a run, gets to the playoff, gets to the championship,
got destroyed in the championship.
But the fact that they got there at all was incredible.
It was, it was historic in its own right.
So I could certainly won the Big 12, Ty!
Nearly won the Big 12.
Nearly, nearly won the Big 12.
We got two Big 12 coaches here between Chris Klieman and Sonny Dykes.
I am sort of infatuated with Chris Klieman.
I love Chris Klieman.
Chris Klieman came over from North Dakota State, had a lot of success at North Dakota State,
followed his old athletic director to Manhattan, Kansas.
He is consistent.
He seems like if you want to talk about guys who get the most out of their talent, more
with less, that is very much Chris Klieman’s story.
That is very much why they brought him to Manhattan, Kansas.
He’s very good at doing that.
I think this is a situation for him where it is a very slow build.
They’re going to give him time to build it.
There’s not an immense amount of pressure on him to turn out a national championship
caliber, a playoff caliber team.
They just want the floor to be raised from where it was previously.
And he is ever so slightly doing that.
Chris Klieman’s Kansas State Wildcats have been a pain in the ass, a pain in the ass
the last couple of seasons.
You just don’t want to play them because they’re fundamentally sound.
All they need are a few playmakers.
They know what they’re doing out there, and they’re always well organized.
They’re not beating themselves.
When they beat themselves, that’s when they lose.
But more often than not, they’re not doing that.
You’re always getting a really good game out of them.
Sonny Dykes, despite the fact that he had an incredible season this past year for TCU,
excuse me, which will go down in the history books.
We also have the Cal years for Sonny Dykes.
That’s the most a team has ever been blown out in a national championship game.
That’s in the history books.
There’s probably a conversation we need to have about the Cal years for Sonny Dykes
that you could probably speak to more than I can.
I think I put Klieman through.
I think Klieman’s my guy here just because, again, he feels rock solid.
He feels steady.
You could put him at almost any situation, and I think he would find a way to organize
the troops and put a quality product out there.
Sonny Dykes feels a little bit more boom-or-bust-y to me, and that’s fine.
He made it to a national championship, but if I’m giving my money to somebody, I think
I’d go Klieman.
I think he did an above average job at Cal, but that’s just a very difficult place to
You can build half teams at Cal, sort of, like Justin Wilcox has done on defense.
He was good at SMU.
They had one really good season, but they were sort of an eight-ish win team at SMU.
Was the correct hire for TCU and had an incredible year.
Chris Klieman, on the other hand, I think there’s just going to be less talent available to
play at Kansas State and has been very, very good.
He looked at a five-foot-five gentleman, smaller in every way, than the co-host of this very show,
Ty Hildenbrandt, and said, “Yeah, we can figure something out.”
Then you cut to, “Let’s build the whole offense out of this tiny individual.”
Then you have this magical season for TCU, and what’s the roadblock?
Well, it’s Kansas State.
It’s Kansas State, and they didn’t have as good a season as TCU overall, but they beat
them in the Big 12 Championship Game to win the conference.
I’m giving to Chris Klieman right now, just because the highs have been higher for Sonny
Dykes beating Michigan in that playoff game.
It’s incredible, just stupendous.
But Chris Klieman right now, I’ve seen more, I believe more, even if he thought Adrian
Martinez was also going to be the answer at quarterback, when it most certainly was not
going to be.
Look, I mean, I think both are obviously very good coaches.
That’s why they’re on this list to begin with, but do you recall what one of the biggest
selling points was about Sonny Dykes taking over that job at TCU?
No, not just offense, but his familiarity.
He’s got a lot of experience.
James Franklin against Dave Clawson.
This is a fascinating matchup.
At North Carolina.
I’m still going to say roster construction and maintenance.
I’m going to say James Franklin.
What’s hard for me to override as a Penn Stater is this feeling that James Franklin should
be doing better.
And I don’t know if that’s even reality.
You know, I mean, he’s on the same side or been on the same side of the conference as
Ohio State and Michigan.
And so it’s always going to be tough to get one up on those two schools, especially given
where they’re at.
He has left a lot out there on occasion.
I think by and large, it’s been a very successful campaign for Franklin.
I’m not one of the Franklin haters.
The Clawson thing to me, winning at Wake Forest in the way that he has, has been damn impressive.
I think I still probably take Franklin.
Franklin’s ability to recruit at a really high level and his ability to hire at a really
Those skills are transferable no matter where you are.
You could take him again.
You want to talk about putting a guy on Mars?
You could put Franklin on Mars and he’d recruit guys to Mars.
He would find a way to do it.
So I put Franklin through as well.
I think the defenses are the difference maker to me as well.
I think it’s talent level and defenses.
And in a conference that is now, I apologize if I’m forgetting anybody, but there have
been three playoff teams that have come out of the Big Ten, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio
And one out of the ACC.
Is my math correct?
That only Clemson has made the playoff from the ACC?
I believe that to be the case.
So a more difficult path at Penn State, I think that’s kind of a no brainer.
Just in terms of the roster construction of what he would bring there to North Carolina.
I would go James Franklin.
And I honestly wouldn’t think about it for very long.
Chris Klieman versus Jim Harbaugh.
So Jim Harbaugh has had more success.
Jim Harbaugh has taken a team to a Super Bowl.
Jim Harbaugh has been at a place that has traditionally been pretty down with football
in Stanford and one there.
Jim Harbaugh has not won an FCS national championship.
He’s not won an FCS national championship.
Although has FCS coaching experience, right?
San Diego is an FCS team.
The case for Klieman is more theoretical that you are in for a more stable experience, I
think, with Chris Klieman.
That the lows will be, I think there’s a higher floor, so the lows will be higher to me.
That there is not going to be this constant threat of a program in flux like there is
at Michigan at times.
Replacing coordinators, threat of the NFL.
That’s not going to exist.
But again, if your coach isn’t a threat to leave to the NFL, then maybe your coach isn’t
So I’m going to go Jim Harbaugh here over Chris Klieman.
I think Harbaugh is the answer.
And even though I think we want to view this through a strictly, a strict lens of coaching
ability, we also need to consider star power.
Jim Harbaugh has got name recognition.
He’s got a reputation that precedes him.
Chris Klieman has been a very successful coach, but I feel like Jim Harbaugh is always going
to have an easier time recruiting in the same way that Nick Saban.
You put Nick Saban in the living room of a defensive back, kid would be crazy not to
go to Alabama.
Nick Saban’s got that track record.
I think you got to go Harbaugh here.
I love Chris Klieman.
I would love to find a way to put him through.
By the way, if you gave Jim Harbaugh the North Carolina roster and you gave him two years,
I think he’d have him in the playoff.
I could see that.
I mean, given who they have at quarterback right now.
If you gave him Drake Maye and the ability to overhaul that defensive roster and hire
his own coaching staff at North Carolina, two years, maybe three, they’re in the playoff.
But I guess Drake Maye won’t be there in three years, but still.
Would you rather have Drake Maye or JJ McCarthy?
I got to take Drake Maye, right?
That got to be Drake Maye.
Final in the Midwest then.
Game we’ve seen before.
It’s Jim Harbaugh, it’s James Franklin.
I think the answer’s got to be Jim Harbaugh, right?
I think so.
We’ve seen lower lows at Michigan.
Which is important.
We’ve seen some questionable hires at Michigan.
We’ve seen some questionable hires at Penn State.
I think I’m still taking Michigan.
You got to prove.
If you get to this game, if you were talking about the Midwestern bracket final, the Elite
Eight, and you want to put a coach through, you got to prove that you’ve done something.
Saban’s done everything.
But there’s only one of the two coaches here that, at least given recent success, is the
answer, and that’s Jim Harbaugh.
He’s won the Big Ten consecutive years.
Do you think the best James Franklin Penn State team would beat the best Michigan Harbaugh
So you’re going back, Trace McSorley, Saquon, a bunch of good receivers, Mike Gesecki.
I don’t know when everybody overlapped.
Some really, really good, what were we talking about?
What was his name?
Talk to me about-
I don’t know if he’s the best defensive lineman James Franklin has had, but they had some
dudes who got after offenses, got after quarterbacks.
They’ve had some incredible pass rushers, and Micah Parsons, the level of talent has
been incredible at Penn State on defense.
Not to say it’s also been incredible at Michigan, of course.
But the best Penn State team, whenever that was, against the best Michigan team, I’m still
taking Michigan, I think.
I think Michigan because of the defense.
Let’s put it this way.
For Penn State to beat Ohio State, which happens once in a blue moon, that’s a big deal.
That’s a national championship in and of itself.
That is also true at Michigan.
Michigan’s just done it two consecutive years.
And they’ve made the playoff two consecutive years.
They’ve won the conference two consecutive years.
You could argue that Jim Harbaugh is getting better.
Jim Harbaugh is starting to figure this thing out.
We’ve talked a lot about, in recent months here, about Josh Gattis and his time at Michigan
and now recently his short-lived stay at Miami.
By the way, he got hired by Maryland since the time we last recorded.
I think there was always this idea with bringing a guy like Gattis aboard that he was going
to revolutionize the offense.
He was going to change things around.
He was going to make it better.
He was going to be more wide open.
He was there for a bit.
He kind of did it to a degree, but ultimately it’s turned into kind of a hybrid of what
Harbaugh was doing before with some new concepts.
It’s not all of that.
It’s different enough, but it’s not so drastically different that it feels like night and day.
I think Harbaugh’s ability to kind of stick to his roots in a sense, but also be creative
and move the needle forward, add steam to the balloon, what have you, his ability to
build kind of on previous success and stay true to his roots is, in and of itself, kind
I put Jim Harbaugh through.
Yeah, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan’s 2022 season, I think it was 2017.
That would have been the Saquon Rose Bowl year for Penn State.
So both the 2016 Michigan team and the 2022 Michigan team finished better in terms of
net points per drive in the same conference.
So offensive points per drive minus defensive points per drive.
So if we’re saying two Michigan teams were better than the best of Penn State in the
last six, seven years, I think I’m going Harbaugh Michigan here.
I mean, the other, I think easier argument to make is we’re going to talk about recruiting,
You’re correct in saying that the talent on hand at Penn State has been phenomenal.
The talent on hand per this chart that we got from our friends over at College Football
Reddit has Penn State 11th on this list.
Michigan is below Penn State and arguably has done more in the last five years.
Definitely has done more in the last five years.
So I think Harbaugh is the answer.
Why don’t we do this?
Let’s round out our final coach between the South and the Midwest bracket.
We can come back and finish this thing out on Thursday when the NCAA tournament actually
does kick off.
That brings us to Nick Saban against Jim Harbaugh, Dan.
Good matchup, high profile matchup here between the greatest college football coach of all
time and Nick Saban.
And Jim Harbaugh.
So the, like we have to put Saban through.
Saban has to be the guy who goes through here.
But if you are constructing an argument for Jim Harbaugh, what does that look like?
He’s taken an NFL team to a Super Bowl.
So there’s that.
He was able to succeed at a traditionally average to below average place like Stanford,
where Nick Saban has never proven it, depending on how you feel about the Miami Dolphins.
And even then they were .500 team, right?
There’s not much you can do in terms of a case, unless you want to look at the North
Carolina job and say that Jim Harbaugh would do a better job, that he’s much more of a
Chopped chef than an Iron Chef chef, that he could do better with lesser ingredients
than Nick Saban could, that he’s gotten a little bit snobby in his time at Alabama and
It’s just so, it’s just so hard to kind of go through those mental gymnastics because
anywhere Saban goes, people are going to want to follow.
He’s the greatest coach of all time.
So it’s like, you can’t even make that argument against him anywhere he goes.
He can take up any program, any program, and he would have an instant gravitas and ability
to attract talent.
But better NFL coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Much better NFL coach, yeah.
Which this is not an NFL podcast.
So whatever that means, that means.
But overall, Jim Harbaugh is going to attract talent.
He has, Nick Saban has done the most with the most.
Jim Harbaugh has done a ton with less.
Do I think if you gave Nick Saban top 12, top eight recruiting classes like Michigan
and Harbaugh have had that he would win national championships?
So I’m going to say Nick Saban in this one.
As Bruce says, this one is easy.
He put Saban one overall.
He’s won a remarkable seven national titles.
His teams have finished in the top eight, 14 of the past 15 years, which is hard to
It is hard to do.
We’re used to hearing the same teams at the top.
And of course, Alabama is one of them.
But if you look outside of that lead pack of Alabama and Georgia, Ohio State, we can
put Clemson in there.
If you look outside that lead pack, it is hard to be consistent in college football.
It is hard to be consistent.
You have a lot of the same teams that are kind of hovering in the top 20, but to produce
at that high level year in and year out, it’s just, there’s a reason he’s the greatest of
It’s unheard of to do what he’s done.
Jim Harbaugh is probably number three in this moment, somewhere like that.
He’s up there.
In this moment, in this moment, because of Clemson’s recent struggles, but it’s a conversation.
Maybe he’s four, but yeah, it’s, you know, that that’ll be a question for another day.
If you’re North Carolina, you want to pay Dabo, you want to pay Harbaugh.
I think it’s a relatively easy answer, but still at the same time, I took a second to
think about just because of what Harbaugh has accomplished overall.
And that, that body of work is pretty incredible, but just not as incredible as the best guy
of all time.
We’ve got 16 coaches left that we will talk through on the Thursday episode.
The winner of those 16 is going to square off against Nick Saban.
There are certain coaches that we have not discussed at all.
I think you know where this conversation is going, but some big names in the East and
Southeast brackets, Dabo Sweeney, Ryan Day, Scot Loeffler, Scot Loeffler, of course, Kirby
Smart, Lincoln Riley, some big, big time names here that, um, you know, Kirby is obviously
the easy name to throw out given recent success, but I don’t know.
Kirby against Ryan Day could be an interesting matchup.
Can I ask you two names?
Is Brent Venables in this side?
Brent Venables is not on the list at all.
Is Marcus Freeman?
This is based on Bruce’s.
I totally understand.
And um, there’s no body of work for any of those guys.
That’s the problem.
With the body of work, with the body of work, maybe we can do a separate bracket with the,
you know, the limited experience bracket, but.
PJ and the Flecktones, are they on there?
PJ Fleck is a first round matchup with Ryan Day.
Which is more interesting.
Ryan Day has done nothing at Western Michigan.
Dan, this is fun.
We will continue the conversation on our next episode.
We encourage everybody to stop on back, fill out your brackets, email us firstname.lastname@example.org,
let us know what we got right, what we got wrong.
Um, don’t forget to follow along on social media and check out the YouTube channel at
We’ll get you over there, or you can just go to youtube.com/@solidverbal and it’ll
get you there as well.
Both places will work.
Make sure you head on over to quickslants.solidverbal.com.
That is the weekly newsletter that we send out to keep you up to date with all things
college football, Dan, every Thursday.
For that guy over there, my good friend, Dan Rubenstein.
For myself, Ty Hildenbrandt, thanks so much for downloading, for listening, for playing
along our bracket game at home.
We will talk to you all on Thursday.
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