Let’s go back to Sept. 18, 2016, the day after Michigan State defeated Notre Dame and the high point of what turned out to be the worst season for the Spartans in coach Mark Dantonio’s 10-year tenure.
On that Sunday, though, life was good for Spartans fans. Michigan State was ranked No. 8 in the country and coming off a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance. Dantonio was dominating the rivalry with Michigan.
Spartans fans were, generally, the picture of contentment when it came to the state of their program and the competency of their head coach.
Michigan State fans would probably have been at the top of any satisfaction rankings on Sept. 18. A 3-9 season and off-the-field issues can burn up a lot of good will. Now, while no doubt most Spartans fans are confident Dantonio can right the program, he has to go out and do it.
Assuming that only the lunatic fringe among Alabama and Ohio State fans has issues with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, what other fanbases should be totally cool with their coach heading into 2017?
The top six in order:
Death Valley is all unicorns, rainbows and pizza parties now that Dabo Swinney has brought a national title back to Clemson. It’s not just the shine of the championship trophy that has Tigers fans swooning over Swinney. Remember, a national championship never was enough for LSU fans to fully embrace Les Miles. Clemson fans take comfort in knowing that this is all Swinney. He built it over nine years, and he seems to have no interest in going anywhere else. At least not until Nick Saban retires and Alabama — his alma mater — comes calling.
The Cardinal fanbase is not big relative to that of other college football power programs. But there’s the point: Under David Shaw, Stanford has been a national power. Only Alabama and Clemson have won more games than the Cardinal over the last six years. Stanford has won three Pac-12 titles under Shaw. Plus, Shaw routinely bats down NFL rumors so emphatically that Stanford supporters don’t have to get caught up in the coaching carousel. Pop open another bottle of white wine and enjoy the ride, Cardinal fans.
You would have to go back to the days of Roger Staubach to find a more sustained run of success than Navy has had during the last 14 years under Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo. Coach Niu has been at the helm the last nine and gone 77-42. Navy has smoothly transitioned into a conference during that time and — most importantly — lost to Army only once. Niumatolo’s name rarely gets serious run on the rumor mill, which is nice, too. And for a guy who did not attend the academy, he seems to embody its ideals.
Gary Patterson saved TCU football after it had been cast adrift when the Southwest Conference disintegrated in the early 1990s. The Horned Frogs conference-hopping success under Patterson in the early 2000s led to an invitation from the Big 12. In 16 seasons at TCU, Patterson has won 149 games. The victories have been tougher to come by in the Power Five, but the Frogs have more than held their own. Nothing says contentment like putting up a statue of the coach while he is still working — which TCU did in 2016.
One of the greatest players in Northwestern history and a local guy to boot, Pat Fitzgerald has become synonymous with success at a program that has had very little when he has not been involved. The Wildcats have had 13 bowl teams. Fitzgerald has been either a player, assistant or head coach on 11 of them. Here’s how you can tell Northwestern fans are content with Fitz: When the Wildcats are scuffling, the complaints are mostly directed at the assistants.
Cowboys fans would love for Mike Gundy to beat Oklahoma more often (2-9), and the melodrama that is his rocky relationship with billionaire booster Boone Pickens can get old. Other than that there’s not much to complain about in Stillwater. Gundy, the former Cowboys quarterback and Oklahoma native, has a .681 winning percentage since taking over in 2005. By comparison, Jimmy Johnson and Les Miles combined for a .538 winning percentage in 106 total games at Oklahoma State. Plus, who doesn’t trust a guy with a mullet?
Six more who didn’t quite make the cut:
Florida State. Jimbo Fisher can claim the spot right behind Saban and Meyer in any ranking of active head coaches — and Seminoles fans are quick to make that case.
Washington. A playoff appearance in Chris Petersen’s third season confirmed what we all suspected: He is the perfect fit for the Huskies.
Michigan. Wolverines fans are all in with Jim Harbaugh, but two years is still the honeymoon phase.
Duke. David Cutcliffe has made Blue Devils football relevant.
Ohio. After 12 seasons, Frank Solich is pretty much Bobcats coach for life.
Old Dominion: There literally was no Old Dominion football before Bobby Wilder helped restart the program in 2009.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
More college football at http://collegefootball.ap.org/