Maybe it's time to redefine what it means to be a hot, young coach. Lane Kiffin and Kirby Smart are no longer on that list, at least ours, which ranks the the top 10 coaches under age 45. It has nothing to do with their talent, of course. For our purposes, the coaches at Ole Miss and Georgia have aged out of this list. Both turned 45 in the last year, leaving spots open in our rankings. The same goes for Tom Herman, who was fired at Texas. He'll reach his 45th birthday in June as an offensive analyst for the Chicago Bears.
That means it's time to reconsider who are the nation's best coaches under 45. No surprise that Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley remains No. 1. His .849 winning percentage would be sixth all-time among FBS coaches if he had been around 10 years.
This is a live look-in at the best young coaches in the country. Five of the 10 were previously head coaches for Group of Five programs. No surprise that, for the first time, this list includes two Group of Five coaches. Records listed below are at their current coaching stop unless otherwise indicated.
1. Lincoln Riley (37), Oklahoma
45-8 (.849) in four seasons: It's hard to slide a piece of paper between Riley and Day, but the Oklahoma coach holds onto the top spot after winning a fourth straight Big 12 title. In four seasons since replacing Bob Stoops, Riley has won 45 games and been to three College Football Playoffs. By comparison, OU legend Barry Switzer won 41 games in his first four seasons as a coach. Bud Wilkinson won 38. You get the picture. This year the Sooners will be favored to win a seventh straight conference title overall. That's tied with Clemson (also six straight) for most currently in the Power Five since Florida State won at least a share of nine ACC titles from 1992-2000. 2020 ranking: 1
2. Ryan Day (42), Ohio State
23-2 (.920) in two-plus seasons: You know, 23-2 isn't a bad way to start a head coaching career, especially when the two losses are in the CFP. That's right, Day has yet to lose in the regular season. Perhaps Day's biggest accomplishment to date was helping will the Big Ten into playing fall football in 2020. The Buckeyes were loaded and Day knew it. In a season impacted by COVID-19, Day took Ohio State all the way to the CFP Championship Game. It wasn't pretty with the program dodging coronavirus along the way. Day now enters a new era in his third full season without Justin Fields and many of the Urban Meyer-recruited players. 2020 ranking: 3
3. Bryan Harsin (44), Auburn
45-8 (.849) in seven seasons (at Boise State): After a protracted search to replace Gus Malzahn, Auburn settled on the Boise State coach. That's a culture shift for both Harsin and the Tigers. The SEC will take some getting used to, but there's no reason to think Harsin can't win at a high rate. He is a quarterback maker and has already won at least 10 games five times, three conference titles and a New Year's Six bowl. Harsin made this list last year for his accomplishments in the Mountain West. He knows exactly he's getting into. Check out the "Team Up North" remark. 2020 ranking: 4
4. Matt Campbell (41), Iowa State
35-28 (.555) in five seasons: Forget the aforementioned record. Campbell has turned Iowa State into a Big 12 power. In 2020, the Cyclones won nine games for the second time in their history. They have four straight winning seasons for the first time since 1927. Next step, becoming a national power. Don't bet against it. Fewer coaches have better innovative support than Campbell with AD Jamie Pollard. Campbell was approached by at least a couple of NFL teams in the offseason (Lions, Jets) but chose to stay in Ames. He is the ultimate program coach, a Bill Snyder clones who takes three stars and makes them into NFL prospects. The Cyclones are loaded this year. Don't be surprised if they win the Big 12 a year after playing for it. 2020 ranking: NR
5. Josh Heupel (43), Tennessee
28-8 (.777) in three seasons (at UCF): AD Danny White went to a familiar source when he replaced Jeremy Pruitt. Heupel can coach quarterbacks and offense. We'll see if he can recruit defensive tackles to match up against Georgia and Alabama. After a quarterback, that's what the Vols need most. Sure, Heupel's record got worse each of his three seasons at UCF but this is a career-changing opportunity at a place with loads of resources. This is the chance of a lifetime for Heupel. 2020 ranking: 6
6. P.J. Fleck (40), Minnesota
26-19 (.577) in four seasons: The spotlight has dimmed a bit on Fleck who is 5-6 in his last 11. Heading into his fifth season at Minnesota Fleck is still an impressive 26-19 with the Gophers. He still has the arrow pointed up. We'll write off a depressing 3-4 season in 2020 because of, well, everything. A loss of defensive talent and COVID-19 knocked nearly everyone off kilter. Fleck has proved he can do it in the MAC and the Big Ten. Next step, playing for the Big Ten title. 2020 ranking: 5
7. Billy Napier (41), Louisiana
28-11 (.718) in three seasons: There is a reason Napier's name came up for almost every vacancy of substance in the offseason. The former Clemson offensive coordinator and Alabama receivers coach is ready to make his move. Napier has played for the Sun Belt title, winning a share of it last year, in his first three seasons as a head coach. In the last two seasons he has won more games (21) than Ed Orgeron. Keep that in mind if a certain job 70 miles west of New Orleans comes open this fall. 2020 ranking: NR
8. Mike Norvell (39), Florida State
3-6 (.333) in one season: There were some tangible advances in Norvell's first season at FSU. The offensive line solidified. There is depth at quarterback now with the addition of McKenzie Milton. It's going to be a heavy lift. The Noles were 3-6 in Norvell's first season. Clemson isn't going anywhere in the ACC. But Norvell was hired because of what he did at Memphis, winning 38 games in four seasons and taking the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl. 2020 ranking: 9
9. Jamey Chadwell (44), Coastal Carolina
19-17 (.527) in three seasons: College football usually does not do Cinderellas well. Coastal was the exception in 2020 thanks to Chadwell. In his second season, the former Charleston Southern head coach oversaw the feel-good story of the season. The Chanticleers became ranked for the first time, beat BYU and reset the career arc of the pride of Caryville, Tennessee. Understandably Chadwell's name came up at Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Coastal stepped up and extended him through 2027. Can the school hold on to one of the hottest coaches in the game? 2020 ranking: NR
10. Neal Brown (41), West Virginia
11-11 (.500) in two seasons: Coming off his first winning season as a Power Five coach (4-2 including a Liberty Bowl win), Brown still has tons of upside. He is still averaging almost eight wins per season and has won at Nebraska and LSU in his career. The scoring defense (20.5) was the best in a decade at West Virginia. 2020 ranking: 10