Sean Pendergast

The Top 10 Head Football Coaches in Big XII History

Mack Brown is undoubtedly one of the all-time great Big XII head football coaches.
Mack Brown is undoubtedly one of the all-time great Big XII head football coaches. Screen grab from YouTube
Of all the Power Five conferences in college football, the Big XII, for a variety of reasons, strays the furthest from overall conference royalty. While the other four conferences — the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC — have undergone some sort of realignment-induced facelift in the past few years, they've just been around a lot longer, leaving the Big XII as the shakiest of the five, born as the illegitimate child of the Southwest Conference and the Big Eight.

The one good thing, though, about the Big XII's state is that its chronological footprint is fairly tight. The conference turns 22 years old this season, so doing any sort of historical analysis (for a 48-year-old like me) is pretty easy. The Big XII's footprint is essentially my adult life.

Thus, when a great head football coach like Bob Stoops decides to step down (as Stoops did last week), while it certainly feels like he is, far and away, the best coach in the history of the conference, cobbling together the actual data to confirm that isn't too difficult.

So with that in mind, let's go through one man's top ten head football coaches in the comparatively brief history of the Big XII conference. Please note that all "Overall Records," "Conference Records" and "Bowl Records" are records ONLY from seasons spent in the Big XII. Also, the years in parentheses after conference records are years in which that coach won the Big XII conference title.

Here we go...first we have to get this out of the way...
Overall Record:
24-2 (1997 national title)
Big XII Record: 16-0 (1997)
Bowl Record: 2-0 (Orange, Orange)
Accolades: 1-time Big XII Coach of the Year (1996)
Proportionally, no Big XII head coach did more in his Big XII body of work than Osborne, winning a conference title, a national title and a Big XII Coach of the Year award in two seasons. He never lost a Big XII game. It's just hard to stack this two-season body of work alongside Stoops's and Brown's and even Snyder's because there's so much more nuance with longevity, and to stack Osborne in the next tier (Gundy, Leach, etc.) doesn't do him justice. So we will just mention Osborne's awesome two-season Big XII run here. Acknowledged!

10. GARY BARNETT, Colorado (1999-2005)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 34-22 (2001)
Bowl Record: 2-2 (, Houston)
Accolades: 2-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2001, 2004)
Barnett is probably best known for putting Northwestern football back on the map in the mid-'90s, but he also did a few good things at Colorado, including a Big XII championship in 2001. Eventually, he resigned in 2005, and today is part of the Buffalo game day broadcast team.

9. R.C. SLOCUM, Texas A&M (1996-2002)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 34-22 (1998)
Bowl Record: 1-4 (
As with Barnett, Slocum's best work was done before the formation of the Big XII, as Slocum averaged nearly ten wins per season for his seven years coaching in the Southwest Conference. In the Big XII, Slocum was largely an average coach.

8. GARY PINKEL, Missouri (2001-2011)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 47-42
Bowl Record: 4-4 (Independence, Cotton, Alamo, Independence)
Prior to Pinkel's arrival in 2001, the Tigers had won five or more games just four times in the previous 17 seasons. Pinkel turned the Missouri program into a formidable conference stalwart, even garnering a No. 1 ranking at one point in the 2007 season. The program became a big enough brand to attain an SEC invitation prior to the 2012 season, essentially saving it from the shifting plates of realignment going forward.

7. ART BRILES, Baylor (2008-2015)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 39-30 (2013, 2014)
Bowl Record: 3-3 (Alamo, Holiday, Russell Athletic)
Briles is a tricky one to rank. If we are merely talking football, he is probably in the top four all-time in the conference, considering the depths to which Baylor's on-field product had fallen when he took over in 2008. However, the sexual assault scandal that led to his ouster before 2016 is not only a blight on his résumé, but a cloud that still hangs over the program as Matt Rhule takes over this season. Briles is a great football tactician with extremely questionable moral fiber, judgment that likely will affect the program, to some degree, for the foreseeable future.

6. GARY PATTERSON, TCU (2012-2016)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 25-20 (2014)
Bowl Record: 2-2 (Peach, Alamo)
Accolades: 1-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2014)
In a conference that has become much younger in its head coaching ranks over the past two years, Patterson is the conference's elder statesman, and will coach at TCU until he decides he no longer wants to do so. Patterson led TCU through multiple conference changes over his 17 seasons, four conferences in all. Patterson deserves credit for being the main reason that TCU is even in the Big XII.

5. MIKE LEACH, Texas Tech (2000-2009)
Overall Record:
Big XII Record: 47-33
Bowl Record: 5-4 (Tangerine, Houston, Holiday, Insight, Gator)
Accolades: One-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2008)
While Mike Leach is probably best known by casual fans for a) awesome YouTube press conference clips (see above), b) locking Craig James's kid in a shed (his eventual demise), and c) an offense that throws the ball about 60 times a game, his overall record at Texas Tech should not be overlooked. The Red Raiders were bowl-eligible in all ten of Leach's seasons, and won eight or more games the final eight seasons. In Lubbock, it probably will never get any better than that.

4. MIKE GUNDY, Oklahoma State (2005-present)
Overall Record: 104-50
Big XII Record: 63-39 (2011)
Bowl Record: 7-4 (Independence, Insight, Alamo, Fiesta, Heart of Dallas, Cactus, Alamo)
Accolades: One-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2010)
He's a man! He's FORTY! Actually, he turns FIFTY in August, and while he's gotten older, the only thing that's really changed is his salary. (Gundy just got a raise to $4.2 million annually this week.) He's won ten or more games five times since 2010, and has the Cowboys in the Big XII title conversation seemingly every season, even when they've been expected to backslide.

3. BILL SNYDER, Kansas State (1996-2005, 2009-present)
Overall Record: 156-66
Big XII Record: 96-54 (2003, 2012)
Bowl Record: 6-9 (Fiesta, Holiday, Cotton, Holiday, Buffalo Wild Wings, Texas)
Accolades: Four-time Big XII Coach of the Year (1998, 2002, 2011, 2012)
The only coach on the list with TWO Big XII stints, Snyder could make a case as the greatest college football coach of all time when you factor in the degree of difficulty in winning routinely in Manhattan, Kansas. If you thought it was grim before Pinkel got to Missouri, how about this — when Snyder arrived at Kansas State in 1989, the Wildcats had won more than four games just SEVEN times going back to 1935. There's a reason Snyder plays in a stadium with his name on the side of it.

2. MACK BROWN, Texas (1998-2013)
Overall Record:
 158-48 (2005 national title)
Big XII Record: 98-33 (2005, 2009)
Bowl Record: 10-5 (Cotton, Holiday, Cotton, Rose, Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Fiesta, Holiday, Alamo)
Accolades: 2-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2005, 2009)
The only pointed criticism you can make of Brown is that he probably stuck around about two or three seasons too long, a backslide that continued into the Charlie Strong era and ended with the hire of Tom Herman. (At least they hope the backslide has ended.) That said, Brown won a national championship and a ton of football games, and spearheaded a resurgence in the Longhorn brand that led to the school getting its own television network.

1. BOB STOOPS, Oklahoma (1999-2016)
Overall Record:
190-48 (2000 national title)
Big XII Record: 121-29 (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016)
Bowl Record: 9-9 (Orange, Cotton, Rose, Holiday, Sun, Fiesta, Insight, Sugar, Sugar)
Accolades: Six-time Big XII Coach of the Year (2000, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2015, 2016)
Bob Stoops coached the Sooners for 18 seasons and won ten conference titles. So there was better than a coin flip's chance that you were winning a conference title each season Bob Stoops was your head coach. You know the roster of bowls that shared the BCS title game? The BIG ones? Yeah, Stoops won all of those at least once — Orange, Rose, Fiesta, Sugar (twice). Hell, he even threw a Cotton Bowl in there! He had a 60-30 record against Top 25 foes, and handed Nick Saban his worst loss in a decade in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago.

It is confirmed — historically, in the Big XII, it's Bob Stoops and everyone else is down in the valley fighting for second place.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast