Big 12’s Top Returning Coaches

The Big 12 is adding four AAC schools in 2023. As we get started in talking season, we rank the Big 12's Top Returning Coaches.

Two summers ago, the Big 12 was seemingly on life support. Texas and Oklahoma sent the realignment carousel spinning by announcing they were leaving the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference. Rumors of the Big 12’s demise were greatly exaggerated. It stands to be argued that of the five “Power 5” conferences, the Big 12 is in the best position outside of the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC is stuck in a bad media rights deal that has its teams held hostage until 2036. The PAC 12 is negotiating (begging) everyone but Jackson Pilot for a new media rights deal and is ripe to lose anywhere from two to six teams to the Big 12.

Through the efforts of the Big 12 coaches and new commissioner Brett Yormark, the conference stabilized. It got out in front of the Pac-12 with a new media rights deal with ESPN and Fox with a payout of around 31.5 million per team. In addition, the conference strengthened by taking three strong AAC teams (UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston) and an independent (BYU). Yormark is still “open for business” and rumors continue to swirl about Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State. Finally, it resolved the exit fee for both Texas and Oklahoma and made the conference $100 million richer.

BIG 12 Distingues Itself On the Field

For all the moves Yormark has made, it still comes down to the play on the field. It was the Big 12 that made an appearance in this year’s national championship game. The ACC and Pac-12 were both shut out of the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row. The Big 12 had six players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Two more than the ACC and three more than the Pac-12. When new jobs opened, plenty of Big 12 coaches’ names were on the list.

Last Word on College Football is renewing its series on the best-returning players, by position, by conference. Over the next handful of days, we will look at the Big 12. We have already looked at the best-returning quarterbacks and this year we will not only be focusing on players but coaches as well. Here is our list of the Big 12’s top returning coaches.

#5 Steve Sarkisian

His career record is barely over .500 (.557 to be exact). He has yet to play for a Big 12 title. He won’t even be in the Big 12 next year, as Texas takes its talents to the SEC. So what is Sarkisian doing at #5 on the Big 12’s top returning coaches list? Sark is a coach’s coach, he can draw and scheme up plays to get his best players the ball. He was a wizard with Devonta Smith in 2020 finding new ways to get him the ball even when the other team knew it was coming to him. Sarkisian has shown his ability to recruit with Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. Sarkisian’s first class was ranked fifth in the country and had the most four-star recruits (20) out of any team.

This year, the Longhorns finished third behind Georgia and Alabama. His prize possession was getting Arch Manning to commit and come to Austin. Manning was arguably the biggest name and one of the top recruits in the callas. Texas reportedly pulled out all the stops last June to make sure that Manning was wearing burnt orange. He has also used the Transfer Portal to fortify this class. This year, he brings in Adonai Mitchell (Georgia) to pair with Xaiver Worthy. The Longhorns will see the fruits of Sarkisian’s labor in 2023. Texas is back.

Matthew Mcconaughey Hook Em GIF by Texas Longhorns - Find & Share on GIPHY

#4 Chris Klieman

Klieman is a winner. He guided Kansas State to its first Big 12 title since 2012 last year. Prior to coming to Manhattan in 2019, Klieman coached at North Dakota State. He worked his way up from defensive backs coach to eventually taking over the Bison in 2014. During his five years as head coach, Klieman won four FCS national championships and was a semifinalist the other year. During his time at Kansas State, he is 30-20 and has only suffered one losing season. Kansas State does not have a track record of success with coaches not named Bill Snyder. They have found a gem in Klieman and he was rewarded in December. The future is bright in the Little Apple.

#3 Lance Leipold

What if we told you that the Kansas Jayhawks coach was wanted for multiple jobs during the 2022 coaching carousel? That was the case this Winter. Many in the media speculated that Leipold would leave the rebuild at Kansas and return to his old coaching grounds in Nebraska or Wisconsin. Leipold took over a Kansas program that many could argue was one of the worst jobs in FBS, not just the Power 5. He was hired in April, Spring camp, and the coaching carousel was over. It took Leipold a year and a half to do something that none of his four predecessors could do: finish the regular season with a .500 record and get the Jayhawks to a Bowl Game. The lift has been heavy, the Jayhawks lost seven of their last eight last year to show how far they still have to go. But they are in good hands.

Leipold was 109-6 at D3 Wisconsin Whitewater and won six national championships in eight years. After two losing seasons in Buffalo, he ended his final four years with three bowl appearances and never having a record under .500. Leipold is bringing that same mindset to Kansas and giving the fans something to cheer about.

#2 Joey McGuire

McGuire is special and he stole the hearts and souls of the Red Raiders faithful last year at his introductory press conference. Before he got to thanking anyone, he led the Texas Tech faithful in their raider cheer. The moment showed the passion and energy McGuire has for the job. He went from coaching Texas high school football to Associate Head Coach at Baylor to the Texas Tech Head Coach in six years. Matt Rhule saw the energy and passion and McGuire helped to identify and bring in talent to help Baylor quickly turn around after the Art Briles scandal. Texas Tech’s big win over Texas is a sign of things to come for the high-rising McGuire.

#1 Sonny Dykes

Our top spot on the Big 12’s top returning coaches list belongs to TCU. Dykes was the first coach in the state of Texas to lead his team to the College Football Playoff. While we don’t have to discuss the result, Texas and Texas A&M can’t even say that. He understands the importance of football in Texas and how to capitalize on it.

Dykes has embraced the way football has changed in 2023. His Air Raid concepts are the perfect fit for the top in-state talent in Texas. He is able to use his mastery of the Transfer Portal to bring former DFW players back home to a Power 5 team. An easier sell than when he was down the road at SMU. He also understands branding. TCU is now DFW’s team. He embraced the Hypnotoad and those amazing techno-hallucinogenic videos after a Horned Frog win last season. Dykes is finally home and is setting up TCU to thrive going into the future.

Photo courtesy: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports