The 10 longest-tenured college football coaches working today

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on during the fourth quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on during the fourth quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

The 10 longest-tenured college football coaches today, including Alabama’s Nick Saban and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz who make the list.

As rapid as the turnover rate in college is, so is the turnover rate for college football coaches. On display before millions each year, coaches face immense pressure to create a sustainable, winning culture that lasts, hoping they will too.

For teams stuck in a constant cycle of incongruous coaches, candidates often only make it a few years or so. The Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC are rife with examples of just how fleeting the head honcho title can be.

Fortunately, there are a few anomalies: coaches who have lasted for more than a decade maintain prominent programs that draw talented recruits every year. For these tenured coaches, they have the security to rely on their football instincts while building dynamic new teams each season.

There’s a certain level of respect awarded to those who have held onto their jobs the longest, which is why the coaches on this list merit respect from players and fans alike.

10 longest-tenured coaches in college football

10. David Cutliffe, Duke: Hired on Dec.14, 2007 (13 seasons)

Upon his arrival, David Cutliffe whipped the Blue Devils into shape — literally. After challenging the team to collectively lose 1,000 pounds, Cutliffe built a strong program that saw a historic 2012 season. That year, they beat arch-rival UNC for the first time in nine years, which led to their first bowl appearance in 18 years and an ACC Coach of the Year award for Cutliffe.

9. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: Hired on Dec. 8, 2007 (13 seasons)

Ken Niumatalolo has been the leader of the Navy Midshipmen for the past 13 years for a reason: he’s only had a losing season in three out of those 13 years. Although Navy only won three games in 2020, Niumatalolo has seen his share of success over the years, including two AP Top 25 finishes, two 11-win seasons, and at least eight-win seasons during his first nine years as head coach.

8. Nick Saban, Alabama: Hired on Jan. 3, 2007 (14 seasons)

If Nick Saban hadn’t bounced around the NFL and NCAA, perhaps he’d be higher on this list: he did get his first head coaching gig at the University of Toledo in 1989. But thankfully, Saban blessed LSU with a National Championship, then went on to build a true dynasty at Alabama in 2007. Since rolling with the Crimson Tide, Saban has won six National Championships and seven SEC championships.

7. Troy Calhoun, Air Force: Hired on Dec. 22, 2006 (14 seasons)

After a brief NFL coaching stint alongside Gary Kubiak, Calhoun returned to the college team he quarterbacked for in the mid-80s. He took the team to 9-3 in his first season as head coach, then was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year the following season. The longest-tenured active head coach at a service academy school, he has 102 career wins, including an 11-2 season in 2019.

6. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: Hired on July 7, 2006 (15 seasons)

Since taking over the program in 2006, Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to 106 career wins, including three 10-win seasons and Big Ten West Division titles in 2018 and 2020. It seems Fitzgerald is currently on a hot streak: his teams have landed five AP Top 25 finishes, three of them coming in the last four seasons.

5. Rick Stockhill, Middle Tennessee: Hired on Dec. 12, 2005 (15 seasons)

Although he doesn’t boast the same record or reputation as others on this list, there’s a reason Rick Stockhill has stayed in Murfreesboro the past 16 years: he’s given mediocre stability to the team. His best year was a 10-3 finish in 2009, but he barely has a winning career record. Still, 16 years is a feat few others have managed.

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: Hired on Jan. 3, 2005 (16 seasons)

Although hired in 2005, the Cowboys didn’t see success under Gundy until 2008 — then they saw eight seasons with nine or more wins between then and 2014. As the winningest coach in school history, Gundy saw his best year in 2011 when he won the team a Big 12 title and a No. 3 AP ranking.

3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Hired on Dec. 9, 2004 (16 seasons)

The longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12, Kyle Whittingham took the Utes to unforeseen heights, transforming a Mountain West team into a Power 5 contender. Whittingham started his Utah career with a 2004 Fiesta Bowl win, continuing with a 33-win stretch from 2008 to 2010. Since his invitation to the Pac-12 in 2011, Whittingham ranking four times and has 135 career wins.

2. Gary Patterson, TCU: Hired on Dec. 8, 2000 (20 seasons)

In two decades as the Horned Frogs head coach, Patterson has led the Texas school to qualify for the Big 12 conference, accomplish a perfect 13-0 season in 2010, then defeat Wisconsin in that year’s Rose Bowl. With seven Top 10 Ap finishes and just four losing seasons, Patterson’s long-standing tenure is indicative of a coach that has transformed TCU football.

1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: Hired on Dec. 2, 1998 (22 seasons)

Entering his 23rd season with the Hawkeyes, Ferentz’s career spans exactly half of Penn State legend Joe Paterno’s 46-year tenure and comes in seventh of longest CFB tenures of all time. The former NFL offensive line coach who served under Bill Belichick has brought the Hawkeyes 181 wins and 9 AP Top 25 finishes, including three consecutive top-10 finishes from 2002-2004.

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