Michigan Football: All-Time Best Head Coaches

One of the many remarkable things about Michigan Football is that in over 200 years of playing college football (1810-current) there have only been 18 head coaches. Even more astonishing is that since 1901 there have only been 12 head coaches at Michigan. In this installment of Michigan’s All-Time Top 10 we will take a look at the 10 Best Head Coaches in Michigan lore.

william mccauley michigan#10 – William McCauley (1894-95): Was named as Michigan’s head coach while a medical student in Ann Arbor. His record as Michigan coach was 17-2-1. He also earned a key 12-4 victory over Cornell in 1894. That was the first time a western school had defeated an established power from the east.


gustave ferbert michigan football coach#9 – Gustave Ferbert (1897-99): In his short tenure as Michigan coach he led the Wolverines to a 24-3-1 record.



bump elliott michigan#8 – Chalmers (Bump) Elliott (1959-68): His finest season was in 1964 when Michigan went 9-1, won the Big Ten Championship, and defeated Oregon State in the Rose Bowl. His career record at Michigan was 51-42-2. In 1967 his Michigan team was 4-6 and prior to 2008 that was Michigan’s last losing season. Elliott resigned in 1968 after Ohio State humiliated Michigan 50-14. Michigan’s Athletic Director, Don Canham hired Bo Schembechler to take over.



gary moeller michigan#7 – Gary Moeller (1990-94): Moeller’s tenure as Michigan’s head coach was cut short by an unfortunate incident at a Southfield, Michigan restaurant. Who knows how good his resume would have been if he had continued to serve as Michigan’s coach. In five seasons he led Michigan to a 44-13-3 record, four Bowl Game wins, five Top 20 finishes and a Big Ten record 19 straight conference victories. Moeller coached the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner, Desmond Howard.



Michigan Football coaches#6 – Harry Kipke (1929-37): His Michigan teams dominated College Football from 1930-33 winning four straight Big Ten titles and two National Championships (1933 and 1934). Kipke recruited Tom Harmon (1940 Heisman Trophy winner) to Michigan and even convinced Harmon to stick with Michigan after he was let go as head coach.




University of Michigan football coaches#5 – Bennie Oosterbaan (1948-58): Oosterbaan led Michigan to a 63-33-4 record during his time as Head Coach. In 1948 he guided Michigan to a 9-0 season and a National Championship. His teams won three Big Ten Championships.
Oosterbaan was a three time All American Football player at Michigan.
He was described as a players coach. His former players said he was never a shouter but his message was always clear.
Oosterbaan turned down chances to play professionally because he wanted to stay at Michigan and coach. Oosterbaan loved everything about Michigan. Per Oosterbaan’s wishes, after his passing Ron Kramer spread Oosterbaan’s ashes at Michigan Stadium, Yost Field House, and Michigan’s baseball stadium.


fritz crisler michigan#4 – Fritz Crisler (1938-47): Crisler’s career winning percentage of .805 is the best of any Michigan Football coach. He directed Michigan to a 71-16-3 record.
In his final game as head coach, the 1948 Rose Bowl, Crisler’s Wolverines routed Stanford 49-0 and claimed the National Championship. That team was known as “The Mad Magicians”. Crisler was an innovative offensive mind. He introduced Michigan’s now famous winged helmets when he arrived from Princeton. He developed the two platoon system, which featured a platoon of different players for offense and defense. His offense also featured specialists, including passing specialist Bob Chappuis. Crisler’s offense was described as intricate and precise.
“There was a majesty about him,” said Howard Wikel, who played for Crisler. “I don’t care how well you knew him. You didn’t say hello to him until he said something first. That’s just the way it was.”
Another former player, Pete Elliott said, “He had a unique commanding personality that gained the absolute attention and respect of those in his presence.”

Michigan’s basketball center is named in honor of Fritz Crisler.


lloyd carr michigan# 3 – Lloyd Carr (1994-2007): Carr guided Michigan to a 122-40 record with 5 Big Ten Championship and the 1997 AP National Championship. Carr is the first Michigan coach to win four consecutive Bowl Games (1998-01). Carr’s final game was the 2008 Capital One Bowl against the heavily favored Florida Gators who were coached by Urban Meyer and led on the field by Tim Tebow. With newly anointed coach Rich Rodriguez watching from the sidelines Michigan upset the Gators 41-35.
Carr coached the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, Charles Woodson.
Carr was a model of professionalism during his tenure as Michigan head man. His personality was that of a stoic and proud general. His halftime interviews with sidline reporters had become legendary as Carr usually had a look of, “why are you asking me that question” and he answered in short, matter of fact replies.


bo schembechler michigan#2 – Bo Schembechler (1969-89): Bo Schembechler is an icon of not just Michigan Football, but College Football. His career win-loss record is 194-48-5. The 194 wins are more than any other Michigan Football coach. When he took over many returning players left the team and that prompted Schembechler to coin the phrase, “Those who stay will be champions”. He redefined Michigan Football during his tenure. His teams won 13 Big Ten Championships and played in 17 Bowl Games, including 10 Rose Bowls. The Sporting News recently ranked the top coaches of All-Time including all sports college and pro. Schembechler checked in at #36 on the list.
Schembechler was a magnetic personality, an outstanding motivator, and tactician.  If Carr was the stoic and proud general then Bo was the fiery, take no prisoners general in the mold of General George Patton.


Fielding H. Yost Michigan#1 – Fielding H. Yost (1901-23, 25-26): Yost’s teams were known as the “Point-a-Minute” teams. From 1901-05 Yost piloted Michigan to 56 straight games without a loss and they outscored the opposition 2,821 to 42. Michigan captured 4 National Championships during that span (1901-04). Yost also won 10 conference championships and had 20 players earn All American honors. His career win-loss record at Michigan is 165-29-10.
Yost created the position of linebacker for his star player Germany Schulz. “Many have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare” was a Yost maxim. He was so intent on proper preparation and teaching that he would often put on pads to demonstrate the proper techniques to his players.

The Best of Michigan Football

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Linemen
Defensive Linemen
Defensive Backs
Kick/Punt Returners
“What if” Team

  • Randy

    You have Elliott and Oosterbaan coaching over the same time frame.

    • Rob White

      Good catch, thanks Randy. Oosterbaan coached from 1948-58 and I have corrected that.