It is seen as a symptom of what ails college football that the two best coaches of the past 10 years had never been college head coaches when the decade began and barely made it to the end of the 2009 season.
The financial rewards are greater than ever.
So are the demands.
In that cauldron of expectation, however, the coaches at the top of our list resurrected once-great programs that had lost their way. USC had wandered in the desert for 20 years, Florida for only three. Yet the speed with which the Trojans and Gators returned to their winning ways highlighted a change in the sport. Coaches rarely get five years to prove themselves any longer.
That pressure makes these coaches special all the more.
1. Urban Meyer, Bowling Green/Utah/Florida
He won in two seasons at Bowling Green. He won two Mountain West Conference championships in two seasons at Utah. And he won two national championships at Florida. In nine seasons, Meyer had a record of 96-18 (.842). He is 6-1 in bowl games, 2-1 in SEC championship games and 4-1 against Georgia. Meyer restored the Gators to the top of the SEC, where they spent most of the '90s. However, Meyer ended the decade unsure when and whether he would coach again.
2. Pete Carroll, USC
Carroll, a two-time washout as an NFL head coach, arrived in Los Angeles to snickers. He left earlier this month after nine seasons of unprecedented success. Under Carroll, the Trojans performed on the field (97-19, .836 winning percentage) and won two national championships, seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and three Heisman Trophies in a four-year period. Carroll's teams went 7-2 in bowls and, more important, 8-1 versus Notre Dame.
3. Nick Saban, LSU/Alabama
The first coach in the history of the sport to win national championships at two different schools would be higher were it not for the two-year hiatus he took from the SEC to coach in the NFL. Saban took LSU from the bottom to the top and Alabama from the middle to the top. In five years at LSU, Saban went 48-16 (.750) with two league titles and the 2003 crystal football. In three years with the Crimson Tide, Saban has gone 33-8 (.805). His 2009 national champions became the first in league history to finish 14-0.
4. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Stoops won the first national championship of the decade in his second season with the Sooners. He hasn't won another one. But Oklahoma's four appearances in the BCS National Championship Game led the nation in the past 10 years. The Sooners won six Big 12 titles in seven championship game appearances and finished with a record of 110-24 (.821). They also won the decade against archrival Texas (6-4). Stoops produced two Heisman winners and turned away speculation that he ever wanted to coach anywhere else.
5. Mack Brown, Texas
Brown began the decade known for being the most successful coach never to win a conference championship. He ended it with the highest winning percentage (110-19, .853) of any 10-year coach -- and two Big 12 titles. The Longhorns won at least 10 games in the past nine seasons and went 7-3 in bowls and 3-1 in BCS bowls. Why not rank him higher? Brown's winning percentage is higher than Stoops' in part because he coached in five fewer games this past decade. Brown made it to only three Big 12 championship games. Stoops coached in seven.
6. Jim Tressel, Youngstown State/Ohio State
In nine seasons, Tressel won one national championship, played for two more and won six Big Ten championships. He is 94-21 (.817) with the Buckeyes and went 9-4 in 2000 at FCS Youngstown State. Tressel transformed Ohio State into a repository of antique football. His Buckeyes won the old-fashioned way with defense, field position and special teams. The three consecutive losses in BCS bowls from 2006 to '08 made Ohio State look another kind of old-fashioned: slow and outdated. Tressel shrugged off the criticism. Besides, Ohio State went 8-1 against Michigan. Does any other result matter?
7. Brian Kelly, Grand Valley State/Central Michigan/Cincinnati
Kelly climbed the ladder throughout the decade. In four seasons at Grand Valley State, he won two Division II national championships, played for a third and finished 48-6. In three seasons at Central Michigan, he rebuilt the Chippewas into a MAC champion. And in three seasons at Cincinnati, he built the Bearcats, a newcomer in the Big East, into a two-time league champion. Kelly's record at the three schools: 102-28 (.785). Now he has reached the highest-profile job in the game. If Kelly remakes Notre Dame as he did his past three schools, he'll finish the next decade even higher on this list.
8. Chris Petersen, Boise State
In only four seasons, Petersen has lifted the Broncos from mid-major champion to national contender. His career record is 49-4 (.925), including a 14-0 record in 2009. He is 2-0 in BCS bowls and has won three WAC championships. Peterson's Broncos are 4-1 against schools from conferences with an automatic BCS bid. Those five games show not only his talent but also the hardship under which he operates. The bigger, wealthier schools won't play Boise State. With more seasons, he would be ranked higher.
9. Larry Coker, Miami
Yes, he got fired after the 2006 season. But in the previous six, Coker went 60-15 (.800). He won one national championship and lost a second one in double overtime to Ohio State. Coker's Hurricanes won three Big East championships and went 4-2 in bowl games. They also went 5-2 against archrival Florida State. Coker did have the dubious distinction of losing as many or more games in each succeeding season, concluding with the 7-6 record in 2006. But the results are what they are. His predecessor, Butch Davis, took the Hurricanes to the edge of the promised land. With Coker, they entered it.
10. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
When the Hokies left the Big East for the ACC, they immediately rose to the top of their new league. Beamer's Hokies have won three ACC championships in six seasons. Their record of 99-32 (.756) during the decade transformed Beamer from a good coach into a certain future Hall of Fame inductee. Beamer made blocking kicks sexy, and with him in charge, Lane Stadium became one of the toughest places to play in the game. Beamer begins the 2010s tied for second with Tressel among active coaches in all-time victories with 229.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.