Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have dominated coaching rankings for much of the last decade. The Hall of Famers have combined for 370 career wins, 21 bowl victories and eight national championships. They also have a small city's worth of NFL draft picks, dozens of individual honors and 13 conference championships.
Though conference titles are occasionally dismissed, they're nothing to scoff at. In four years, Meyer has only one conference crown (Ohio State was ineligible to win the Big Ten in 2012). The Buckeyes have won 49 games, lost two Big Ten games and appeared in two playoffs in those four years. Yet, Meyer has just one conference title.
Conference championships are an oddly difficult-to-attain achievement in a sport dominated by the big boys, therefore it should be no surprise that many of college football's best coaches have never won a league title.
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Here are the 10 best active FBS head coaches who have never won a conference championship with any team.
10. Todd Graham – Arizona State
Eleven total wins in the last two seasons have stained an otherwise solid résumé for Todd Graham.
He has five 10-win seasons in 11 total years as a head coach, including two at Arizona State (2013-14). Graham's 28 wins between 2012-14 are the most ever for a Sun Devils' coach in his first three years. They were ranked in the AP top 15 at least once between 2013-15, the first three-year run of top-15 rankings since 1996-98.
9. Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M
Nope, Kevin Sumlin didn't win a conference title in four years at Houston, not even during their 12-win 2011 season — they lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship.
Though he hasn't won an SEC title in six seasons at Texas A&M — or a division title — and his tenure has been bogged down with failures to meet expectations, Sumlin has still recruited like a champion and posted five-straight seasons of eight or more wins. The Aggies hadn't done that since the R.C. Slocum days in the Southwest Conference.
8. Dan Mullen – Mississippi State
Dan Mullen has brought stability to a program that waded in mediocrity — or downright misery — for much of the last century.
The Urban Meyer disciple has won 61 games in seven seasons, reached seven-straight bowl games, delivered just their third 10-win season (2014) ever and remained mostly competitive in the SEC West. And he managed to avoid a complete post-Dak Prescott collapse in 2016.
7. Ken Niumatalolo – Navy
Ken Niumatalolo has coached just two seasons as a conference member, but the 11th-year Navy coach still qualifies.
In two seasons in the AAC, the Midshipmen have won 20 total games and reached the conference title game twice. Niumatalolo has 77 wins in 10 seasons (.647 win percentage), has won fewer than eight games once and owns two of Navy's three all-time double-digit-win seasons.
6. Mike Leach – Washington State
Mike Leach's accomplishments at Texas Tech were forgotten after his ugly divorce from the Red Raiders in late 2009. He went 84-43 in 10 seasons, winning at least eight games in his final eight seasons, including 11 and the Big 12 South title in 2008.
He's not only done the unthinkable at Washington State by making the Cougars competitive again, he's transformed them into a Pac-12 title contender. Their 17 wins over the last two seasons are the most since 2002-03, and he has won as many games in 2015 (nine) as Paul Wuff won in the preceding four years.
5. Jim McElwain – Florida
Jim McElwain's two years at Florida have been partially sullied by his 2015 on-field tirade against a player and a pitiful SEC East.
While the East misery is real, you cannot discount his 19 total wins (13-3 in the SEC) and two division titles that immediately eliminated the sting of 11 total wins in the last two years the Will Muschamp era. Not to mention, McElwain turned around Colorado State in just three seasons, winning 18 games over his final two years (most since 1999-2000) and won 10 games for the first time since 2002.
4. Paul Chryst – Wisconsin
Paul Chryst is a conundrum with a small sample size.
He was a .500 coach in three seasons at Pittsburgh but has been brilliant in two seasons at Wisconsin. Though Chryst, a longtime offensive coordinator and revered play-caller, hasn't got the Badgers offense running on all cylinders, he has won 21 games in two seasons.
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Chryst has not only kept Wisconsin relevant after two bizarre coaching departures in 24 months, he's won a Big Ten West title and built a roster that could contend for the College Football Playoff in 2017.
3. Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern
Gary Barnett deserves all the credit for turning around a putrid Northwestern program in the 1990s; Pat Fitzgerald deserves all the credit for keeping them competitive and making an occasional Big Ten title run.
He's averaging seven wins per season, hasn't won fewer than five games since his first season — which doesn't sound like much but that's a really, really big deal at Northwestern — and has two of their three 10-win seasons since 1903.
And Fitzgerald routinely lures elite prospects to Evanston, no easy task given the lack of resources.
2. David Cutcliffe – Duke
David Cutcliffe is the most underrated coach in the ACC, as I declared after the 10th-year Duke coach received an extension this offseason — and maybe the country.
Duke won 10 total games between September 2000 and November 2007, a period of 2,640 days. Cutcliffe needed just 92 days to win 10 games in 2013. It's impossible to overstate how remarkable of a job the former Ole Miss coach has done in Durham.
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Cutcliffe has come close to conference championships twice, winning the ACC Coastal crown in 2013 and the SEC West title in 2003 with the Rebels.
1. Jim Harbaugh – Michigan
Harbaugh haters will gladly point out his zero Big Ten titles in two seasons at Michigan, but did you know he also never won a Pac-12 title at Stanford?
He rebuilt a horrid Cardinal program in just four years, taking them from a one-win team in 2006 (and 16 total wins in the five years before he arrived (2002-06) into a national title contender and 12-win team in 2010.
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Harbaugh then eradicated the stench from the failed Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke tenures at Michigan and has won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Lloyd Carr in 2002-03.