Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Ranking the Coaches in the SEC
SEC Media Days are next week and that signifies the beginning of college football season to me. This year, SEC Media Days will see four new head coaches enter the fray: Gary Pinkel of Missouri, Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M, Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, and John L. Smith of Arkansas. After a lot of thought, I have decided to rank all 14 head coaches in the SEC.
1) Nick Saban - Is there any doubt who the main man in the SEC is? Saban is entering his 11th season in the SEC (5 at LSU, 6 at Bama) and has a 60-20 conference record, a 103-28 overall record in his time coaching at Alabama and LSU, 3 SEC titles, and 3 BCS titles to his credit. He turned LSU into the power it is today and has taken an Alabama program that was dangerously close to becoming irrelevant to the promised land twice in five years. He is an innovative and constant recruiter who has consistently brought in the top five recruiting classes. The future is bright for this man and will only dim when he is tired of being the relentless head coach he has become.
2) Les Miles - The Mad Hatter has his own style of football and is quite the enigmatic figure. Les is entering his 8th year in the SEC and has compiled a 41-15 conference record, a 75-18 overall record coaching LSU, 2 SEC titles, and 1 BCS title. Les is a great coach who is one of the few in the nation to hold his own with Nick Saban. Les is 3-3 against Saban and will not back down from the challenge. He had a two rough years in 2008 and 2009 but has rebounded nicely from those subpar seasons. He continues to bring in great players and was also responsible for building Oklahoma State up to the great team they have been the last few years. Les Miles and many in the nation are looking forward to the next Alabama-LSU game as conference and national title hopes will surely be on the line.
3) Steve Spurrier - The Old Ball Coach has done something at South Carolina that no one has ever done before: He won 11 games in a season. Spurrier is entering his 20th season in the SEC and has a conference record of 116-39, an overall record of 177-62-1 coaching at Florida and South Carolina, 6 SEC titles, and 1 national title. A lot of people, me included, thought that he was not going to be able to recreate his success at South Carolina. But after bringing in several top recruits and assembling a great coaching staff, South Carolina has become a perennial SEC East contender. While he may never win a BCS title at South Carolina, an SEC title is not out of the question.
4) Mark Richt - Mark Richt is always on the brink of having a great team before being derailed by somebody he should have beaten. Richt is entering his 11th season coaching and has a 60-28 conference record, 106-38 overall record, and 2 SEC titles. He is always in the top third of the coaches in the SEC but his team's constant discipline problems combined with lack of winning the big game seem to hinder his ascension to the top of the coaching ranks. He has a lot of talent coming back on this year's squad and an easy schedule so anything less than an SEC title will be looked at as a failure by the UGA faithful.
5) Gary Pinkel - Gary Pinkel is entering his first year in the SEC and is already one of the best coaches in the conference. He has taken a team that was always a second class citizen in the Big 8/Big 12 and made them respectable. He has acquired a 46-42 conference record in the Big XII, with an 84-54 overall record at Missouri while winning 3 Big XII North Division crowns. His DUI arrest aside, he has been a stalwart of character at his program and consistently made them bowl eligible. If he is able to mirror his success in the SEC, he will definitely move up the list.
6) James Franklin - James Franklin has created a buzz around Vanderbilt football that has not been seen ever. His first year coaching resulted in a 2-6 conference record and a 6-7 overall record. But he was able to take Vanderbilt to their fifth bowl game ever and second since 1982. He brought in a very respectable recruiting class and has an energy that invigorates the Vandy fan base. If he continues to improve Vanderbilt's standing in the SEC, he will not be there for very long. He definitely has a lot of potential to rise.
7) Dan Mullen - Dan Mullen has taken made Mississippi State a respectable program again. He is entering his fourth season in Starkville and has a conference record of 9-15 and an overall record of 21-17. A lot was made of his 2010 season that saw Mississippi State finish the season ranked in the top 20 in both polls. He has two bowl victories in his resume and has beaten Ole Miss all three years he has been there. He is a couple of recruiting classes away from challenging the big boys of the SEC West but will need to beat the midtier teams consistently before going after the big boys.
8) Kevin Sumlin - Kevin Sumlin took a very sophisticated passing attack at Houston and had them one game away from being in a BCS Bowl Game. His record at Houston was 24-8 in conference and 35-17 overall with two Conference USA Western Division titles. He has a lot going for him entering his first year at Texas A&M and should have the Aggies looking to be a very dangerous program within the next few years. He has a huge upside and the Aggie faithful are counting on him to make a lot of noise in the SEC.
Tie 9) Will Muschamp - Will Muschamp had a rough first year as head coach of the Florida Gators having a 3-5 conference record and a 7-6 overall record. He does have a lot of talent returning on his Gator squad that could vastly improve this year. He is a great recruiter and a disciple of the Nick Saban school of coaching. We may need two more years to see what he is capable of though. With that said, Muschamp could be on the hot seat if he doesn't get the Gators to at least 10 wins this year and a once bright star of coaching will descend back to the ranks of defensive coordinator.
Tie 9) Gene Chizik - I know Gene Chizik has a national title under his belt but his other two seasons without Cam Newton are not that good. Chizik is entering his fourth year at the plains with a conference record of 15-9, an overall record at Auburn of 30-10, 1 SEC title, and 1 BCS Title. Chizik has been looked at by many as a guy who caught lightning in a bottle with the 2010 BCS Title run. He still has to prove that he can win on a consistent basis in the SEC and must be able to beat Nick Saban at least every other year. If Chizik is unable to do better than his 8-5 seasons, he will be gone within three years.
Tie 11) Joker Phillips - Joker Phillips is at a school that cares more about basketball than it does about football. He is doing his best to carry on the momentum that Rich Brooks brought to the program. In Phillips' two years at Kentucky he has a conference record of of 4-12 and an overall record of 11-14. He does have the ability to get good players to Kentucky but many of these players would not be starters in the SEC if they were at the elite programs. He has an uphill road to climb and probably has at least 2 more seasons in him before the Wildcat faithful grow impatient.
Tie 11)) Hugh Freeze - Hugh Freeze did a great job in his year at Arkansas State and two years at NAIA Lambuth. His record at Arkansas state was 8-0 in conference and 10-2 overall. A lot of buzz is surrounding him as he comes into the SEC but he takes over a program that Houston Nutt ran into the ground. He has a lot of work to do and is capable of turning Ole Miss into a decent program in the SEC but he is also in the division with Saban, Miles, and Mullen. He must win the state of Mississippi first before he can go after bigger prizes.
13) John L. Smith - John L. Smith is entering a situation that will in all likelihood see him fired after this year. He is inheriting a good program from Bobby Petrino but is in over his head. His last gig as a head coach was at Michigan State from 2003-2006. In his time there he compiled a conference record of 12-20 and an overall record of 22-26. Smith is your typical coach that excels at a smaller school but once he reaches the big time, fails miserably. His best season at Michigan State was 8-5. That's not going to cut it at a school that would have contended for the SEC West and possibly more this year. Look for him to be gone after this season.
14) Derek Dooley - Derek Dooley is entering his third and probably last season as the Tennessee head coach. In his previous two years he has a conference record of 4-12 and an overall record of 11-14. His overall career record is 28-34. He is a disciple of Nick Saban but has fallen from that tree. You cannot have a grating personality if you do not win. Nick Saban may be a rough individual but he knows he has to keep the fans on his side. Dooley has not done that at all and has treated the fans around the state as if they are not worthy to be in the room with him. He is the worst coach in the SEC and will be unemployed at the end of the year.