The Winningest Coaches in College Football History

Saint John's head coach John Gagliardi
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

When it comes to winning, there are just a handful of college football coaches whose records truly stand out. Three men can lay claim to the title of winningest coach in college football, and each is a legend of the game. Several coaches boast impressive win records worth noting, too. Rankings are based on total wins, not winning percentage.

John Gagliardi (489-138-11)

No one can match the overall record of John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football. His career spanned more than 60 years, from 1949 to 2012, and he coached at two small Division III schools. Gagliardi spent his first seasons at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., before moving to St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., in 1953. He remained at St. John's until 2010. During that period, he lead the Johnnies to four national titles, the last in 2003. 

Eddie Robinson (408-168-15)

Eddie Robinson spent his entire coaching career at Grambling State University, a historic black institution (HBCU)  in Grambling, La. During his tenure, Robinson turned Grambling into a football powerhouse, sending more than 200 players to the NFL. As coach, Robinson led the Tigers to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and almost as many black college national football championships. During his career, Robinson didn't miss a single game.

Joe Paterno (401-135-3)

Victories aside, Joe "JoePa" Paterno holds a number of college football records, among them the distinction of having spent the most years on a coaching staff of one university. Paterno joined the Nittany Lions as an assistant coach in 1950 and was promoted to head coach in 1966, where he remained until stepping down in 2011. During his tenure, Penn State won two national titles and five teams enjoyed undefeated seasons. For a brief period of time, Penn State's Joe Paterno disappeared from the college football record books. In 2012, the NCAA stripped Paterno of 112 of his wins after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal came to light. Those wins were restored in 2015.

Bobby Bowden (377-129-4)

In 34 years at Florida State University, Bobby Bowden had only one losing year. That was in 1976, his first year as head coach of the Seminoles. Bowden began his coaching career in 1954 as an assistant at Howard College (now Samford University), moved briefly to South Georgia College, then Florida State, before heading to the University of West Virginia in 1965. He spent the next 11 years there, first as an assistant and then as head coach of the Mountaineers. During his tenure at Florida State, Bowden led teams to 12 conference titles and one national championship. The NCAA stripped Bowden of 12 wins for recruiting violations during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Larry Kehres (332-24-3)

In 27 seasons, Larry Kehres led the Purple Raiders to 11 NCAA Division III titles, more than any other coach. Equally impressive is his .929 winning percentage, the highest of any college football coach. Kehres set a number of other records during his tenure with the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, including 21 undefeated regular seasons, and a streak of 55 wins from 2000 to 2003. 

Other Winning College Coaches

Just a handful of football coaches can boast career records with more than 300 wins. These coaches round out the list of the 10 winningest:

  • Amos Alonzo Stagg (329-190-35, 1892-1946): Springfield College, University of Chicago, College of the Pacific
  • Paul W. "Bear" Bryant (323-85-17, 1945-1982): University of Maryland, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M, University of Alabama
  • Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner (318-106-32, 1895-193): University of Georgia, Cornell University, Carlisle College, University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, Temple University
  • Roy Kidd (314-124-8, 1964-2002): Eastern Kentucky University
  • Ken Sparks (338–99–2, 1980-2016): Carson-Newman University

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