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College football coaches who deserve lifetime contracts


Signing coaches to "lifetime" contracts are risky endeavors, blank checks that necessitate worry when expectations aren't met.

Kentucky's recent agreement with hoops coach John Calipari shows the relationship between the two sides, loyalty for starters and confidence at both ends. With three Final Four appearances — highlighted by a national championship in 2012 — over 10 seasons, Calipari's success warrants security but very few rise to that stature across the coaching fraternity.

It's no different in college football, where only one-tenth of FBS head coaches deserve the lifetime discussion at their respective programs. These guys are structured, they win and their trajectory has never wavered despite a wide variance of expectations.

Slotted in no particular order, here are the current leaders nationally who could sign forever deals and no one would question the agreement:

NICK SABAN, ALABAMA

The man behind arguably the most successful process in college football history, Saban is worth every penny he receives in Tuscaloosa and then some. You can't put a price on his impact at Alabama, where he has turned one of the nation's most storied programs into a modern-day superpower that stands on the same wavelength as some of the top teams of all-time across different eras. An executive who is willing to adapt with the times and always makes the right call when staffers leave, Saban is a champion who won't be outworked in his continued pursuit of greatness. It's hard to imagine Alabama ever being the same — five national titles over past 10 seasons — whenever he steps away.

DABO SWINNEY, CLEMSON

Sometimes, you have to just sit back and chuckle at the folks continuing to push the "Dabo to Bama" narrative once Saban decides he is bored with SEC domination. Swinney loves Clemson and even if his alma-mater comes calling, his current job has everything the Crimson Tide have to offer and then some — college football's top facilities, fertile recruiting developments, staff continuity and best of all, an easier annual schedule. Nothing against the ACC, but the conference slate isn't exactly a meat-grinder when compared to the SEC. Swinney is going to win 10 or more games annually for the foreseeable future and once Saban retires, moves Clemson into the permanent throne room as the nation's top program.

LINCOLN RILEY, OKLAHOMA

Did the Sooners strike gold with Riley or what? He fell into Oklahoma's lap in 2015 after a terrific stint at East Carolina once Bob Stoops tapped him as the program's new OC. From there, he starred as a developer of quarterbacks and was the immediate choice to lead once Stoops stepped down. He's 24-4 as a head coach in Norman with an offense that has produced back-to-back Heisman winners and two trips to the Playoff. The NFL wants him badly, but Oklahoma isn't letting that happen. Stoops averaged a jaw-dropping 10.5 wins per season from 1999-2016 and to think Riley could better that number over extended years is really impressive.

MIKE LEACH, WASHINGTON STATE

The grass ain't going to get any greener in Pullman without Leach on the sideline. This is as good as it gets. Not only does his quirkiness command the spotlight out West, but the guy wins big and his Air Raid system rarely disappoints when there's a quality quarterback at the helm. A master of doing more with less, Leach is an Xs and Os extraordinaire and draws up crafty passing concepts in his sleep. Think Elon Musk with a headset. Leach is incredibly smart and lives in a different stratosphere than the rest of us in terms of football cognizance.

MATT CAMPBELL, IOWA STATE

Give Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard a lot of credit — he knows a smart investment when he sees one. For the second consecutive offseason, the Cyclones extend Matt Campbell's contract, making sure the Cyclones will be a force in the Big 12 at least through 2024. The Big 12's Coach of the Year the past two seasons, Campbell led Iowa State to a school-record six conference wins in 2018. He's never going to recruit at the level of Oklahoma and Texas, but he won't have to if he can consistently out-coach those two programs on the field. A master motivator, Campbell knows exactly what to say and when to say it. From the lineage of no nonsense coaches, Campbell is 5-5 vs. Top 25 teams over the past two years. Iowa State hadn't beaten five ranked teams over a two-year stretch ... ever.

PAT FITZGERLAND, NORTHWESTERN

This 44-year-old coach is a Northwestern man who appreciates the challenge of building something special at his alma-mater and the Wildcats, unlike most, have given him time to do just that. Taking over one of the Big Ten's bottom-tier teams in 2006, Fitzgerald has turned ruins to a cathedral in Evanston. Prior to his arrival, Northwestern managed two 10-win seasons in a century — Fitzgerald has three since 2012. He nearly had another last fall, along with his first Big Ten Championship. The Wildcats, with lesser talent than most opponents, have posted a 26-9 record in league play over the past four years — Fitzgerald's best stretch during his lengthy tenure.

LIFETIME CONTRACT COMING INTO FOCUS ...

Kirby Smart, Georgia — The Bulldogs are recruiting at a supreme level and have reached the SEC Championship Game twice during Smart's first three seasons. They've been a stop away from beating Alabama consecutive years — once for a national title and last season in Atlanta with another Playoff berth on the line — but it hasn't happened. Mark Richt's ceiling was high, but 10-win seasons got old for Georgia fans. The Bulldogs are now an actual national contender with Smart in charge.
Tom Herman, Texas — The guy just fits in Austin. Entering Year 3, the Longhorns are indeed back, at least from a national respect standpoint, and have a legitimate shot at unseating Oklahoma's multi-year reign atop the Big 12. Say Herman coaches at Texas for the next decade — you'd have to think the Longhorns would have a couple conference titles and trips to the final four during that stretch, right? With Herman, this program is low risk when it comes to underachieving. His coaching track record speaks for itself.
Jeff Monken, Army — This is not a one year overreaction. Monken has led Army to unprecedented new heights with 29 wins over the past three seasons, including three consecutive bowl victories for the first time in program history. Only three times since 1970 have the Black Knights posted three straight years above .500 and Monken will hit No. 4 in 2019 with returning star quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr.
Chris Petersen, Washington — Petersen achieved sustainable success at Boise State, leaving that program better than he found it after leaving for a Power 5 opportunity following the 2013 season. In five years with the Huskies since, Washington has played for three Pac-12 Championships and won two — easily the most successful team out West during that stretch. There aren't many coaches you can pencil in for 10 or more wins annually, but Petersen is included in that fraternity.
 

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Coach Saban, check
Dabo Swinney, check

The rest of this is stupid...
 

It Takes Eleven

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LIFETIME CONTRACT COMING INTO FOCUS ...

Kirby Smart, Georgia — The Bulldogs are recruiting at a supreme level and have reached the SEC Championship Game twice during Smart's first three seasons. They've been a stop TWO STOPS away from beating Alabama consecutive years — once for a national title and last season in Atlanta with another Playoff berth on the line — but it hasn't happened. Mark Richt's ceiling was high, but 10-win seasons got old for Georgia fans. The Bulldogs are now an actual national contender with Smart in charge.
Fixed. RTR.
 

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