It's a thrill for all of us to see nationwide discussion of the possibility that Bill Snyder could be the "Greatest College Football Coach of All-Time". Typically, some of us opine "yes!", others "Maybe...", others, "Man, he's unprecedented, but I don't know if that means 'the greatest'" and others, "Who knows?" There's merit to all responses in this continuum. But I feel like I can bring us to unanimity one one, related, question. A half-decade or so ago, Pete Fiutak rated coaches on the "Greatest Program Turnaround Ever". I read the headline and settled in for another fun read about Bill Snyder, Bill Snyder, and BILL SNYDER. I was appalled. Bill showed. But above Snyder's Miracle in Manhattan, he placed Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin and Bobby Bowden (yes, Bobby Fucking Bowden) at FSU. He pointed out that both programs had been dormant and both reached the level of national powers under these two great (and they were great) coaches. His bottom line seemed to be that Wisky under Alvarez was, on the whole and on average, better than Snyder's Wildcats. And Bowden, of course, had that insane streak of Top Five finishes. Frothing at the mouth (I also had rabies at that time...), I ran to my College Football Encyclopedia to compare records. (We'll limit the programs' histories to 1947 and forward, seeing as that's when the FSU program began.)
The details of the Malfeasance in Manhattan has been injected into the DNA of everyone reading this. But to summarize:
1947 - 1988 Winning Seasons: Four (with two more .500 campaigns 1947 - 1988 WinLESS Seasons:Seven 1947 - 1988 Best Season: 7 - 3 (1954) 1947 - 1988 Bowls:One Years Since Last Winning Season, Pre-Snyder: 6 Years Since Last WinLESS Season, Pre-Snyder: Um, 1 (Also winless two years before Snyder's arrival) Wins in the Five Seasons Pre-Snyder: Six 1947 - 1988 Record and Winning Percentage: 107-325-7 (.252)
As for Barry Alvarez's job in Wisconsin...Well, it wasn't a good program. And now it is a very good program. And Barry Alvarez is unquestionably a Hall of Fame coach. Did he match the turnaround wonder that our guy created in Manhattan? Let's see 1947 - 1988 Winning Seasons: 18 1947 - 1988 WinLESS Seasons: 1 1947 - 1988 Best Season: 1962 (8-2 with one of three Big 10 Championships) 1947 - 1988 Bowls: 6 (But note that the Big 10 until the 70's allowed only one team to go bowling--this number would have been doubled if Wisky had not been in the Big 10) Years Since Last Winning Season, Pre-Alvarez: 6 Years Since Last WinLESS Season, Pre-Alvarez: 22 Wins in the Five Seasons Pre-Alvarez: 14 1947 - 1989 Record and Winning Percentage: 195-225-18 (.466)
Bobby Bowden as the most successful coach in college football history? Hey, I'd listen to the argument. That string of Top Five finishes was remarkable. He changed the game. But was the FSU turnaround on par with what Bill Snyder made out of what he inherited in Manhattan?
1947 - 1988 Winning Seasons: 15 1947 - 1988 WinLESS Seasons:2 1947 - 1988 Best Season: 4 Seasons stand out from 1950 to 1964; These FSU teams were a combined 33-3-1 1947 - 1988 Bowls: 8 Years Since Last Winning Season, Pre-Bowden: 4 Years Since Last WinLESS Season, Pre-Bowden: 3 Wins in the Five Seasons Pre-Bowden: 19 1947 - 1975 Record and Winning Percentage: 160-130-13 (.553)
I either wrote to Fiutak in outrage or meant to and never got around to it. More recently, I've searched for the article online, as it still sticks in my craw, but am unable to track it down. I've enjoyed Fiutak's writing and trust his judgment. But he was so utterly and OBJECTIVELY wrong in this appraisal. Alvarez took a mediocre program that had been more down than usual over the past decade and made it a national power. Bowden took a good program--in a region of the country on the verge of becoming football dominant--that had had winning records in SEVEN OF ITS PAST TEN SEASONS!!! and made it great. Bill Snyder took absolutely, completely, totally, unequivocally the most miserable program in the history of the sport, a program that had zero history, zero tradition, no "natural" pool of talent to draw on, and that was coming off one of the worst five year stretches in college football history and he built a national championship contender. Please, someone help me find Fiutak's original article. And then we'll send this to him and DEMAND a public retraction.
Bill Snyder: Engineer of the Greatest Program Turnaround in College Football History.