In 1944, the Maryland Terrapins were 1-7-1. The next year, in Bear Bryant's first coaching job, he gave the Terps one of their best teams in decades with a 6-2-1 record.
The Kentucky Wildcats were a dismal 2-8 in 1945. When the Bear took over, he finished 7-3 in 1946. By 1950, Bryant had coached Kentucky to a 10-1 regular season and a victory over No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. But he always was overshadowed by legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp, who was gifted a Cadillac one year by the alumni while Bryant got a cigarette lighter.
In 1954, Bryant cleaned house on a Texas A&M Aggie program that had won just 7 of 20 games in two previous seasons. This was the famous Junction Boys year, and the only losing season of his career after team went 1-9. Within three seasons, he had A&M in contention for the national title, finishing at 9-0-1 in 1956.
Bryant always said "Mama called" in 1958, when he became head coach of Alabama, his alma mater, where he had played on offense and defense in the 1935 Rose Bowl (Bama won). But times were hard at Alabama under coach "Ears" Whitworth, who sat Bart Starr his entire senior year. The Tide had won just four games in its previous three seasons before Bryant arrived, but he led them to 5-4-1 finish his first year. Three years later, in 1961, the Tide finished 11-0, and Bryant won his first national title.
Bryant: Four (Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Alabama)
In 1990, Nick Saban began his head coaching career, turning around the Toledo Mudhens from 6-5 in 1989 to 9-2.
After a stint as an assistant coach in the NFL, in 1995, Saban inherited a Michigan State Spartans program that had lost all 11 games the season before. His first MSU team was 6-5-1.
LSU, or the Bayou Bengals, won just 9 of 24 games in the two seasons before Saban arrived. When he took over in 2000, the Tigers were 8-4. By 2003, LSU was 12-1 and won several national championship polls.
In 2007, he was recruited to coach a Crimson Tide team that had not won a national title since 1992 and was mired in mediocrity. Saban’s Tide has played in six national championship games in the last 11 years, taking home five titles, and will vie for another in the 2018 College Football Playoff.
Saban: Four (Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, Alabama)