2024 Big 12 football head coach rankings from 1 to 16: Kyle Whittingham, Lance Leipold top the list

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton04/09/24


It’s the spring, which means pollen-covered cars, March Madness and head coach rankings!

That’s right, it’s time for the 2024 series ranking the head coaches from each Power Conference, the Top 10 in the Group of 5 and an updated Top 25 for all of college football. 

We started the series last week looking at the 16 head coaches in the SEC. Then I looked at the 18 head coaches in the Big Ten. Followed by the 17 head coaches in the ACC. 

We conclude the Power Conference rankings with a look at the 16 coaches in the Big 12.

While the sport continues to adapt to a new landscape, coupled with losing venerable coaches like Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly, these head coach rankings will look much differently than they did a year ago

For the uninitiated, these lists are totally subjective. This is meant to be a fun exercise, but it’s my rankings.

While career achievements are taken into account, college football has become a sport that’s constantly changing, so recent performance (wins, recruiting, working the transfer portal, hiring assistants, producing NFL Draft picks, etc) is weighed much more heavily than what you’ve done in the past. 

The Big 12 is a grab-bag of head coaches. There’s fairly defined Top 5, but after that it’s pick your favorite Starburst jelly bean flavor for the rest of the head coach rankings.

Let’s dive in.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks on in the first half against the Weber State Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks on in the first half against the Weber State Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium. (Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Overwhelmed by a cascade of injuries, the Utes slipped to 8-5 last year— the program’s worst full season since 2017 (7-6). Whittingham has overseen one of the most consistent programs in the nation, with eight Top 25 finishes and two Pac-12 Championships in the last three years. 

Whittingham, who is set to enter his 20th season with Utah, has maintained remarkable staff continuity (coordinators Andy Ludwig and Morgan Scalley have each been on staff for the last nine years). The Utes are the favorites to win the Big 12 this fall, providing Whittingham with a third conference to win a championship in. 

2. Lance Leipold, Kansas

Leipold is widely considered college football’s miracle worker. He built a dynasty at Wisconsin-Whitewater, winning six D-III national championships. He then won a pair of MAC division titles at Buffalo, but his most impressive rebuild job is what he’s done at Kansas, taking over a moribund program that went 0-9 in 2020 and was 9-60 the prior six seasons to his arrival in 2021. 

In Year 1, he beat Texas. In Year 2, he snapped Kansas’ long bowl drought, and last season he went 9-4 despite juggling multiple quarterbacks. Leipold coaches a fun, creative brand of offensive football, and while culture-builder is an overused term for most coaches, it isn’t for him.

3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

The Cowboys went 7-6 in 2022, and then sputtered out of the gate last year (2-2), leaving some to wonder if Gundy was ready for a fresh start elsewhere. But then the Pokes surged the rest of the season, reaching the Big 12 Championship for the second time in three years and finishing the season in the Top 25. 

Oklahoma State’s 10-3 season was Gundy’s eighth double-dight season since 2018. The elder statesman’s has taken the team to a bowl game an impressive 18 straight years. 

4. Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Like Leipold, Klieman has translated his lower-level success to real highs in Power Conference football. He won four FCS national championships at North Dakota State and already has a Big 12 Championship and another 9-4 season at Kansas State. 

The Wildcats play a tough, physical brand of football, and have won at least eight games in four of five seasons under. Klieman.

5. Gus Malzahn, UCF

Outside of an outlier 12-2 season in his first year at Auburn where the Tigers made the national title game, Malzahn has settled into 8-9 win coach. After two straight 9-4 seasons at UCF, the Knights dropped to 6-7 in Year 1 in the Big 12 — the lone losing season of Malzahn’s 13-year career has a head coach. 

Still, Malzahn has recruited better than many of his new conference peers, so the program should be able to compete for more wins this fall. 

6. Willie Fritz, Houston

Fritz is finally getting his shot as a Power Conference coach, leaving Tulane after winning 23 games over the last two seasons. The well-traveled veteran has delivered positive results at every level of football in his career (two JUCO national titles, two FCS runner-up finishes, and conference titles at Georgia Southern and Tulane), but he inherits another challenging rebuild with the Cougars.

7. Sonny Dykes, TCU

A year after taking the Horned Frogs to the national championship game, Dykes’ team stubbled to 5-7 in 2023. So which coach is he: The national coach of the year, or the guy who averages just over six wins a year the other dozen seasons of his career?

Aside from TCU’s 13-2 season, Dykes has just one other double-digit win season as a head coach (SMU in 2019). After a natural regression season, Dykes needs a rebound year in 2024.

8. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

While the shine has worn off Campbell from a national perspective, the longtime Cyclones’ head coach proved his chops as a program builder in 2023. Coming off a 4-8 season, Iowa State was then rocked by a gambling scandal that cost the team starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers. But the Cyclones then went 7-6 with a freshman QB, as Campbell took the program to a bowl game for the sixth time in eight years. 

He’s unlikely to ever be considered for an NFL head coaching job again, but he’s still the best head coach at Iowa State in close to 50 years.

9. Joey McGuire, Texas Tech

McGuire is 14-11 in his first two seasons with the Red Raiders — the exact same record Mike Leach had with the program to start his tenure in Lubbock. The longtime Texas high school head coach has raised the program’s recruiting profile (1st in the Big 12 for the 2024 cycle), keeping 5-star wideout Micah Hudson in the class. McGuire has also shown he can get impact transfers to come to Texas Tech

While 2023 was seen as a bit of a letdown (7-6) considering the team’s Big 12 title ambitions, there’s no Oklahoma or Texas in the conference anymore which should provide McGuire more winnable games.

10. Neal Brown, West Virginia

Brown was adamant he didn’t have the worst team in the Big 12 last season, and he was right. The former Troy head coach staved off any hot seat talk by delivering his best season in Morgantown with a 9-4 record and a win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

It was just Brown’s second winning season at West Virginia, but it netted him a reworked contract and short extension. After a Top 25 finish, can Brown replicate similar results again this fall?

11. Dave Aranda, Baylor

No coach on this list faces more pressure to win in 2024 than Aranda. Entering his fifth season with the Bears, Aranda has a conference title under his belt (12-2 in 2021) — and that’s about it. Outside of the aberrational season, the former Wisconsin and LSU defensive coordinator is just 11-23. 

This offseason, Aranda overhauled his coaching staff. He is now in charge of Baylor’s defense and will call plays, and he swiped Jake Spavital away from Cal to fix a broken Bears’ offense that averaged just 5.3 yards per play last season.

12. Deion Sanders, Colorado

Because of all the bluster and talk about ‘Do you believe?’, many viewed Year 1 as a failure for Deion Sanders. It wasn’t. The Buffs went 4-8 in Coach Prime’s first season in Boulder — a legitimate success story for a team that went 1-11 and lost its last four games by an average of six touchdowns in 2022.

However, the idea that Sanders is on some fast track to a big, blue-blood job is premature. Sanders doesn’t appear interested in doing what to takes to sustain a longterm rebuild at CU. He’s continued to mostly ignore prep recruiting in favor of hammering the portal. He reshuffled a staff, that on paper, was much more impressive last season. 

With the additions on the roster, the Buffs should be even better in 2024, but with Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter likely to bolt for the NFL after the season, the question is will Sanders follow them out the door, too?

13. Kalani Sitake, BYU

Sitake is set to start his ninth season with the Cougars, taking his alma mater to a bowl game six times. The move to the Big 12 came with the expected growing pains (5-7), and the challenge for Sitake will be getting a program use to making the postseason on an annual basis to a bowl game facing a much stiffer schedule. 

The Cougars do recruit at a much better clip than many would guess, though, inking the 7th-best class in the Big 12 in 2024 — ahead of the likes of WVU, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and others — all schools with better resources.

14. Scott Satterfield, Cincinnati

Satterfield’s relocation tour quickly hit a roadblock in Year 1 with the Bearcats, as the former Louisville head coach went 3-9 in the program’s first season in the Big 12. The former App. State quarterback was very successful in his stint as his alma mater’s head coach (51-24 with three Sun Belt Championships), but since his move to the Power 5, Satterfield has just two winning seasons in six years.

Following in Luke Fickell’s footsteps was never going to be easy for Satterfield, but after a rough first season with the Bearcats, he needs his portal-heavy roster to show real improvement this fall.

15. Brent Brennan, Arizona

Brennan has spent the last seven years working at one of the hardest jobs in all of FBS football — slowly but surely turning San Jose State into a respectable Mountain West team. 

After going 3-22 in his first two seasons, Brennan took the program to a bowl game in three of the next five years before getting the Wildcats’ gig this offseason. Arizona’s athletic department is in bad shape, but Brennan does take over a roster ready to win now. Despite some attrition following Jedd Fisch’s departure, the Wildcats held onto star quarterback Noah Fifita and wideout Tetairoa McMillan, so there’s an opportunity for Brennan to pick up some Ws quickly in the program’s first season in the Big 12.

16. Kenny Dillingham, Arizona State

I did not anticipate Dillingham rounding out the bottom of the Big 12 head coach rankings for the second straight year. Dillingham looked like a hand-glove fit at Arizona State, with the Phoenix native returning to his alma mater where he started his coaching career fresh out of high school. 

However, it’s been a rocky start for the once-dubbed 33-year-old offensive wunderkind. The Sun Devils were awful offensively last season (last in the Pac-12 in yards per play, scoring), and the recruiting potential Dillingham was thought to be bringing to ASU hasn’t materialized yet (9th-overall recruiting class in the Big 12). The Sun Devils remain a portal-heavy team, signing another 23 transfers already this year.