Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
With a playoff system now present in college football and a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality, head coaches tend not to stick around like they used to.
Looking back to the 1990s, coaches tended to have a bit more leeway. Here’s a glimpse back at five really good coaches who had their best years during the decade, but were never quite able to capture college football’s ultimate prize:
Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin
Tenure: 1990-2005, 2012*, 2014*
Record at School: 120-73-4
Highest AP Final Ranking: No. 4 in 1999
Overview: Wisconsin had won a grand total of six games in three years when Barry Alvarez became head coach in 1990. After three straight losing seasons, Alvarez would coach the Badgers to the Big Ten title three times over the next seven years. During the 1990s, only Washington and Michigan played in as many Rose Bowls as Alvarez’s Badgers teams. Wisconsin went a perfect 3-0 in those Rose Bowls and finished in the top 10 in each of those seasons.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at School: 238-121-2
Highest AP Final Ranking: No. 2 in 1999
Overview: During the 1990s, Frank Beamer was just getting started at Virginia Tech. Known for stellar defense and special teams, Virginia Tech finished in the AP top 25 on 16 occasions in 29 seasons under Beamer. That includes seven top-10 finishes. Beamer’s Hokies won the Big East three times under Beamer and the ACC four times in their first seven years as a member. With Michael Vick at quarterback, Virginia Tech reached the Sugar Bowl for the BCS national title in 1999. The Hokies took a 29-28 lead into the fourth quarter against No. 1 Florida State, but were outscored 18-0 in the final period.
John Cooper, Ohio State
Record at School: 111-43-4
Highest AP Final Ranking: No. 2 in 1996 and 1998
Overview: When John Cooper leaves the earth, his headstone might need, “But He Played Michigan”. In 13 years as Ohio State head coach, Cooper coached the Buckeyes to three shares of the Big Ten title. In each of those seasons, Ohio State had one conference loss and two of those were to Michigan. If you can get past Cooper’s 2-10-1 record against the Maze and Blue, his tenure in Columbus was pretty good. Ohio State finished ranked every year from 1992 to 1998 and at No. 2 twice. In 1996, Ohio State rallied past No. 2 Arizona State for its first Rose Bowl victory since 1974.
R.C. Slocum, Texas A&M
Record at School: 123-47-2
Highest AP Final Ranking: No. 7 in 1992
Overview: After serving as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator, R.C. Slocum hit the ground running upon being given the head coaching job in 1989. The Aggies finished in the top 20 in 10 of Slocum’s first 11 seasons in College Station. The Aggies won the Southwest Conference in four straight seasons from 1991 to 1994 although they were ineligible as a result of probation in 1994. Under Slocum, Texas A&M had an undefeated regular season in 1992 before falling to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl; it went undefeated with a tie in 1994. In 1998, Texas A&M won its only Big 12 title, rallying from 15 points down to stun No. 2 Kansas State in double-overtime.
Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Tenure: 1989-2005, 2009-2018
Record at School: 215-117-1
Highest AP Final Ranking: No. 6 in 1999
Overview: Bill Snyder served two stints as Kansas State head coach, totaling 27 years. When Snyder arrived in Manhattan, the Wildcats were coming off back-to-back winless campaigns and had suffered through four straight seasons with two wins or fewer. In 27 total years under Snyder, Kansas State finished ranked 13 times, including six top-10 finishes. Kansas State won the Big 12 in 2003 and 2012. The closest Snyder came at a national title shot was in 1998. The Wildcats ascended to No. 1 in the Coaches Poll and finished the regular season 11-0, but were upset by Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship.
*Coached one game as interim head coach