College Football Power Rankings: SEC Head Coaches
SEC Boasts Deepest, Talented Group of Coaches in League's History
The SEC is unquestionably the foremost authority when it comes to success on the gridiron, having won a staggering seven consecutive BCS National Championships. The primary reason for the success is the exceptional work of the SEC’s head coaches.
This conference has seen its players flocking to the NFL where they are being selected at a record pace, and claim four of the past five Heisman trophy winners. The SEC is home to outstanding players, but it’s the coaches who recruited them as high school athletes and developed them into great college players and eventually high draft picks. The job of a college coach is unlike that of an NFL head coach because of the recruiting, and the fact they're dealing with 18-23 year old young men that need their coaches to be father figures.
The factors that I used to determine these rankings included experience in the conference, ability to recruit, knack to develop NFL talent, ability to maximize talent and resources, ability to build a program and win-loss record. It’s far too short-sighted to simply look at a win-loss record to evaluate a college coach without looking at all the factors that come into play. For example, winning eight games at Vanderbilt is reason for a parade through downtown Nashville, but eight wins at LSU or Alabama and that’s reason enough to riot.
The hardest part of this list was evaluating the four newcomers because they haven’t been a head coach in this conference before, so it was difficult to rank some of them ahead of some of their established coaching brethren. With that said, I believe the four new coaches in the conference give the SEC the deepest and greatest crop of coaches in all of college athletics.
Which coach did you think I ranked too high or too low? Let the debate begin.
14. Mark Stoops-Kentucky
Stoops is in his first season at Kentucky and has already injected enthusiasm into the downtrodden program, as evidenced by the 50,000 who showed up for the Wildcats' spring game. However, this is his first year as a head coach and in the SEC, he has a daunting task to get Kentucky out of the cellar of the SEC east. He has a great resume as a defensive coordinator, but being a head coach in the SEC is a completely different animal. He’s the right man for the job at Kentucky — give him a couple of years and he’ll turn the program around.
13. Gus Malzahn-Auburn
Malzahn enters his first season as Auburn’s head coach after a successful stint on the Plains as the offensive coordinator for the BCS Championship team in 2010. Like Stoops, he needs to prove he can be successful in the nation’s toughest conference. He is a brilliant offensive mind and I think this is the lowest he’ll ever be on a list like this.
12. Gary Pinkel-Missouri
Pinkel has been a fixture on the sidelines for Missouri for more than a decade, but the Tigers' move to the SEC did not yield the results on the field that was the norm in the Big 12. Missouri missed a bowl and Pinkel had his worst season since his second in Columbia. He has a better resume than many in front of him on this list, but he hasn’t had success in the SEC and is seeing his competitors dominate on the recruiting trail. He could be out in a year or two if Missouri doesn’t rebound in the conference.
11. Will Muschamp-Florida
Muschamp may come as a surprise to rank this low on the list considering Florida was one play away from competing for the SEC Championship Game. However, his team played below their talent level last season and was thoroughly outplayed on the national stage in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. His 18 wins in two seasons were impressive and he has recruited Florida well, but so far he looks like a great defensive coordinator and a good head coach. Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but Muschamp has a plum job and a number of opportunities to prove me wrong this year. A win over Georgia and South Carolina will go a long way toward that.
10. Bret Bielema-Arkansas
Bielema came to Arkansas after a highly successful seven-year stretch at Wisconsin, but he inherits a tough rebuilding job at Fayetteville. The lure of the SEC was too tempting for Bielema to walk away from, and he’s going to get a taste of how difficult this conference and the SEC west is. I have faith in Bielema based on his track record at Wisconsin, but the results in the win-loss column are not likely to show up until 2015.
9. James Franklin-Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt may be the toughest job in America considering they have the smallest stadium in the SEC, miserable facilities and stringent academic requirements that hurt their ability to recruit some athletes. As a result, I may have Franklin rated too low, but this is a loaded conference. Franklin has taken the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games and is coming off a mind-boggling nine wins in 2012. That is an unprecedented feat for Vanderbilt, who was able to assemble a top-25 recruiting class last year and should be there again this year. The big questions I have are how Franklin will do in replacing the stars on his offense and if he’ll stick around or take a job at a bigger program after this season.
8. Butch Jones-Tennessee
I wanted to rank Jones higher on this list because of the phenomenal job he’s doing on the recruiting trail and the job he’s done reviving this sleeping giant of a program. He’s also won four conference titles in his six seasons as a coach prior to his arrival at Tennessee, which is why he’s ranked the highest of the four new coaches hired this offseason. Jones could have Tennessee challenging for a bowl game this season and a nine-win season in a year of two if he can keep recruiting as well as he has been. He has big expectations on his shoulders so he will feel the pressure to win instantly, but I hope the Volunteer fans will be patient and recognize the job he has to do in fixing the mess left by predecessor Derek Dooley.
7. Dan Mullen-Mississippi State
I’m a bigger fan of Mullen than others and I’m not going to strictly judge him based on his 29-22 record. Rather, I’m judging him based on the fact he’s taken Mississippi State to three straight bowl games. The renaissance under Mullen’s watch has taken the one-time cellar-dweller into the middle of the pack in the conference, and Mullen has beaten Ole Miss three of the past four seasons to invigorate the former one-sided rivalry. He has had the Bulldogs ranked as high as No. 11 in the nation. Mullen is a signature win over a marquee SEC west team away from having a statue built in his honor outside Davis-Wade Stadium. The question is whether this is as good as it gets for Mullen in Starkville, considering the newcomers who are nipping on his heels.
6. Hugh Freeze-Ole Miss
Freeze is already entering into legend status in Oxford for the work he’s done in his first season at Ole Miss. He took over a 2-10 team and took them to a 7-6 season with a win over rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. He is trending upward and based on what he’s done on the recruiting trail the last 18 months, he could be ranked even higher. Let’s see what the Rebels do in year two under Freeze and how they handle expectations, because this time next year, Freeze could be a top-five coach in the conference. Ole Miss is a rising program with one of the game’s brightest, most engaging, innovative coaches in the nation, who has become the face of the program overnight.
5. Kevin Sumlin-Texas A&M
Sumlin’s first year at Texas A&M included a win over Alabama, a dominating performance in the AT&T Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma, and the development of Johnny Manziel into the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy. He did everything but win the conference for the Aggies in his debut SEC season, but the future looks bright for Sumlin and A&M, who currently boast the No. 1 recruiting class on the heels of a top-10 class in 2013. Sumlin has a 23-3 record over the last two seasons and could find himself in the BCS Championship Game if he can make it two years in a row with a win over Alabama.
4. Les Miles-LSU
Miles catches a lot of flak for his unique and outlandish personality, but I think that may be due to unfair and unrealistic expectations. He’s won a national title, played for another, won double-digit games a season, consistently has teams ranked inside the top-10 or top-five and is the biggest threat to Alabama on a yearly basis for the SEC west division title. Certainly his 1-3 bowl record over the last four years is disappointing, especially considering the talent level of his roster during that time. In his defense, however, he has done all of this without a threat at quarterback, and LSU annually is among the leaders in NFL draft picks. This year could be Miles’ biggest challenge with the number of new faces on the roster and a division with more depth than ever before.
3. Mark Richt-Georgia
Richt has been a victim of his own success at Georgia. His teams are always in the postseason and with the exception of one or two down years, he is a threat to win 10 or 11 games and another SEC coach of the year award. He has six SEC east titles and the Bulldogs have played in five SEC Championship games during his 12-year tenure, but after back-to-back SECCG losses to Alabama and LSU, the fans in Athens are growing restless and wondering when and if Richt can get past his western adversaries. In one of the most fertile recruiting bases in the country, Richt will have Georgia contending for the conference title as long as he’s on the sidelines, which should be for another 15 years.
2. Steve Spurrier-South Carolina
Spurrier has turned his second SEC team (Florida) into a consistent winner, and this is the golden age for the Gamecocks after back-to-back 11-win seasons and bowl wins in each of the past two seasons. If the Gamecocks can win the conference under Spurrier, he will officially become one of the three or four best to ever coach in the SEC. His teams aren’t as dominant as his Florida teams, but his rebuilding job at South Carolina may be even more impressive all things considered. I wonder how much time Spurrier has left before he retires to the golf course since he turned 68 in April, but as long as he’s in Columbia, the Gamecocks will be a threat to Florida and Georgia for the eastern division.
1. Nick Saban-Alabama
No surprise here as Nick Saban earns the top spot on this list of SEC coaches after three BCS National Championships in the last four years to bring his total up to four, including his title at LSU. Alabama is the favorite in 2013 to win an unprecedented third straight title and fourth in five years of the BCS era. What’s scary is that Saban has only been in Tuscaloosa since 2007 and he has already accomplished so much with the Crimson Tide. In addition to being the best coach in the country, he is also the best recruiter as Alabama routinely claims the top recruits across the nation. He is 61-7 in the last five years and shows no signs of slowing down.