We like both Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson, and the choice for the best Beaver football coach ever often comes down to an argument between these two.
But that’s a false dichotomy. With all due respect to these leaders, Oregon State's greatest football coach is Tommy Prothro.
Erickson has a higher overall winning percentage, at .646, and that’s the best at Oregon State since the mid-1890s, but he only coached the Beavers for four seasons.
Prothro coached for 10 years for Oregon State and amassed a .627 record, with just one losing season. The coaches before and after him had records of .357 and .444.
Riley, who coached the Beavers both before and after Erickson, had a total winning percentage of .538.
Prothro coached at Oregon State from 1955-64. The season before he took the job, the Beavers had a miserable 1-8 record. He turned them into a Pacific Coast powerhouse.
Oregon State improved to six wins in Prothro’s first year, and they made the 1957 Rose Bowl in his second.
He also led the team to the 1962 Liberty Bowl win, and the Beavers’ last appearance in the Rose Bowl, a 34-7 loss to Michigan in 1965. (Trivia bonus – Prothro played quarterback on the 1942 Duke Rose Bowl team that lost to Oregon State.)
Prothro also is responsible for the Beaver football team’s longest winning streak with 10 games in a row, during the 1962 and 1963 seasons.
In 1965, Prothro took the UCLA head coaching job, leading the Bruins through the 1970 seasons. He later coached in the NFL.