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The dominant storyline this offseason has been the Ohio State scandal, which has continued to unfold with new developments throughout the past several months. The latest bombshell came Tuesday when Terrelle Pryor -- the most-hyped recruit of Jim Tressel's career -- announced that he was leaving OSU. Later on Tuesday, Outside the Lines' Tom Farrey and Justine Gubar reported that the Buckeyes QB made thousands of dollars autographing memorabilia in 2009-10.
Tressel did many great things for the Ohio State Buckeyes' program and the community that surrounded it. There's no doubting that during the decade he was in Columbus, Tressel elevated the program to a place it hadn't been in more than a quarter-century. But in the wake of this mess, the depths of which no one knows just yet, you have to wonder how far things might fall back down because of violations that happened on his watch, given that a significant NCAA investigation is still ongoing.
An attempt to size up the impact Tressel had on the Ohio State program inspires this week's Top 10 list: the best elevation jobs done by coaches over the past 25 years.
(One caveat here: I'm focusing on guys who took over programs that had never been to such heights previously, or were dormant for a very long time. This excludes coaches at programs that had won titles or been outstanding in the previous decade, no matter how exceptional their coaching jobs were. In other words, that means no Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Urban Meyer or Kirk Ferentz.)
1. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech Hokies
After winning five games in his first two seasons at Tech in the late 1980s, Beamer has gradually built the Hokies into a national name. Before he took over, VT had only had two seasons in its history in which the Hokies finished ranked in the top 20. Since 1995, they've only been ranked outside the top 20 twice. In the past seven seasons, they've never won fewer than 10 games and have gone to four BCS bowls. They've also finished in the top 20 in 11 of the last 12 seasons and been in the top 10 six times, including a second-place finish in 1999.
Beamer's impact on the brand has been sizable. The community has embraced "BeamerBall," Lane Stadium has expanded by almost 15,000 seats, new hotels have been built and facilities have been overhauled. A regional program has gone national in a very big way.
2. Nick Saban, LSU Tigers
For all of his great work reinvigorating the Alabama Crimson Tide, it's Saban's efforts in Baton Rouge that merit his place on this list. After all, as down as the Tide was before he got there, they still had won a national title in the previous decade. Before Saban came to SEC country, the Tigers had only won three league titles in about a 40-year stretch and they hadn't finished in the top 10 since 1987.
It only took two seasons for Saban to get the Tigers back into the top 10, and in his fourth season he led LSU to a BCS title. The national championship was only the second in school history and the first since 1958. Saban bolted from Baton Rouge a year later for the NFL, but the foundation he built helped spur momentum for his successor, Les Miles, to win another BCS title for LSU, and the program hasn't lost any traction since.
3. Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin Badgers
The former Nebraska linebacker, who had spent years on the Iowa and Notre Dame staffs, inherited a listless Badgers program. They went 1-10 in his debut season in 1990, but he sparked them to a Rose Bowl and a top-five finish in his fourth season. He would take the Badgers to two more Rose Bowls and step down after a 10-win season in 2005. Now, with Alvarez as the AD, his protégé Bret Bielema has gone 49-16 and been in the top 25 in four of his five seasons.
4. Chris Petersen, Boise State Broncos
Broncos football and its famed blue turf had flashed onto the national radar before Coach Pete took over for Dan Hawkins, but they were more of a curiosity then. They'd still only had one top-15 finish before Petersen's first season in 2006. Since then, they've gone a staggering 61-5, been in the top 15 four times and in the top 10 three times.
5. Gary Patterson, TCU Horned Frogs
Dennis Franchione left Fort Worth after three solid seasons, and his defensive coordinator, Patterson, took over. Patterson had two good years and two mediocre ones before getting things really cranked up when the Horned Frogs hit the Mountain West with force. In the six seasons since then, TCU has won at least 11 games five times, and finished in the top seven the past three seasons. Not bad for a program that had been treading water seemingly since the old Southwest Conference disbanded. Before Patterson taking over, the Horned Frogs had had one Top 25 finish (2000) since 1959. TCU is now being counted on to breathe some much-needed energy into the Big East, starting in 2012.
6. Bill Snyder, Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats' level of ineptitude pre-Snyder was epic. They'd had just two winning seasons in the previous 34 years. They'd lost 27 games in a row. His first season wasn't much better, going 1-10. But then he went 5-6, before going 7-4. By the final season of the Big Eight Conference, K-State went 10-2 and finished No. 6 in the nation. Snyder, who struck gold on a ridiculously high percentage of his junior college transfers, produced a run of five top-10 seasons in six years. He would be higher on this list if things hadn't tailed off over the last seven seasons, but he did get K-State back to a bowl game in his second season back running the show.
7. Mike Bellotti, Oregon Ducks
Thanks to a lot of creative marketing by the folks in Oregon -- and the work of Bellotti and his staff -- people from all over the country now know about the Ducks. Bellotti elevated the program from being respectable, as it was under Rich Brooks, to being very good, as it often was during Bellotti's 14-year run, which included three top-10 finishes and a lot of bowl trips. Bellotti left to become the Ducks' AD while his old offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly -- whom he hand-picked over several higher-profile candidates -- has kicked things up to an even higher level in Eugene.
[+] EnlargeJason O. Watson/US PRESSWIRE
Jim Harbaugh transformed Stanford's football program.
8. Jim Harbaugh, Stanford Cardinal
Yeah, there was Elway and Plunkett and a bunch of other guys who attained NFL stardom, but this was a program that had only had one 10-win season since 1940, and considering what a mess Cardinal football was when Harbaugh came to town from San Diego, it's remarkable what he did there in such a short period of time. Talk about a guy leaving a place a lot better than what he found it. David Shaw takes over a program with the best player in college football, Andrew Luck, and a cast of other former blue-chippers still in the pipeline. Harbaugh helped make going to a gorgeous campus with one of the nation's most prestigious academic reputations a viable option for top recruits.
9. Gary Barnett, Northwestern Wildcats
The former Missouri Tigers wide receiver's first college head coaching job was taking over a dismal NU program that hadn't been to a bowl game in almost 50 years, and had long been at the bottom of the Big Ten. The Wildcats won eight games in his first three seasons before Barnett produced a shocking 10-2 season (8-0 in Big Ten play), leading the Cats on a storybook ride to Pasadena. Barnett followed that up with a tie for the league title and another top-15 finish.
After two mediocre seasons, Barnett left for Colorado, and since then NU has gone on to have better success than the coach did in Big 12 country. Under Randy Walker, Northwestern won a share of the Big Ten title in 2000, and in recent years, former Wildcats star Pat Fitzgerald has taken his team to bowl games in three straight seasons.
10. Howard Schnellenberger, Louisville Cardinals
The job Schnellenberger did saving a Miami program that was on the brink of being dropped and transforming it into a national champion is a performance for the ages, but since it's out of our time frame here, Schnelly's job at Louisville gets him a spot on this list. The Cards had become perennial losers, and there was talk of the program dropping to Division I-AA. Schnellenberger gradually built the program up and got the Cardinals to the Fiesta Bowl in his sixth season, going 10-1-1 and finishing ranked in the top 15. The work he did at Louisville, literally building the football program, is documented by his name being used on the football facilities that he played a huge part in upgrading.