It’s only been a few months since we last ranked the SEC coaches, but things have changed dramatically since then. A couple of surprising bowl appearances and an NCAA scandal later, the rankings look different.
Of course, things didn’t change substantially at the top or bottom. Nick Saban is still the class of the SEC; Barry Odom has some work to do. The rest of the conference’s coaches are in some muddle in between.
Finding criteria to rank them is difficult, especially considering the vastly different situations of each conference coach. Accomplishments matter, but so does contextualizing them to each school’s resources.
Here’s how all 14 coaches rank heading into the 2017 round of spring camps.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
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Record: 210-61-1 (119-19 at Alabama)
Obviously, the 2016 season didn’t end perfectly at Alabama. Regardless, Saban remains the best coach in the SEC and in college football. At this point, Saban and Urban Meyer are in a class of their own. Regardless of the loss in the title game, Alabama remains the best-run program in college football. No one in the SEC comes close.
2. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Record: 61-42 (all at Mississippi State)
When we last did this list, the other Mississippi coach was second on the list. But despite a losing record, this may have been Mullen’s most impressive coaching job. After Mississippi State lost to South Alabama in the opener, Mullen coached the Bulldogs back into the bowl picture and to an impressive 55-20 win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. No other coach has won nine games three times at Mississippi State.
3. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Record: 44-21 (35-18 at Auburn)
Evaluating Malzahn is difficult. Most remember the immediate success at Auburn, taking the Tigers to the 2013 national championship game. However, a 6-6 season and inconsistent offense in 2016 threw all that into whack. Malzahn is still the only current SEC coach not named Nick Saban to win a conference championship, so that has to be factored in. However, this will be a crucial year for the program.
4. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Record: 49-28 (39-25 at Ole Miss)
Before the allegations, I had Freeze pegged as the No. 2 coach in the conference. Obviously, endangering the future of the program is problematic. Regardless, it’s hard to drop Freeze any lower than four. Regardless of any recruiting violations, Freeze put together a well-rounded team and talented offensive scheme every year. It’s no wonder that the program is reluctant to let him go – he’s one of the better coaches in program history.
5. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Record: 79-38 (44-21 at Texas A&M)
Sumlin is better than detractors think he is but probably not as good as Texas A&M fans want him to be. He’s put together elite recruiting classes and produced a first-round draft pick every year as head coach. However, the program has gone 8-5 each of the last three years. Winning at Texas A&M is harder than fans let on, but it’s fair to wonder if Sumlin has a ceiling. His only better seasons were with Johnny Manziel, a historically good player.
6. Jim McElwain, Florida
Record: 41-24 (19-8 at Florida)
McElwain is the only active coach to win an SEC East championship with their current program. However, McElwain won both championships on the back of his defense. His offenses – which are supposedly his specialty – have been horrific. His resume is impressive, but he still has plenty left to prove.
7. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Record: 93-50 (25-26 at Arkansas)
Bielema still gets credit for his success at Wisconsin. But after seeing multiple other coaches have similar success with the Badgers, the luster is starting to fade. Granted, Bielema would likely look better if Arkansas pulled off the bowl win against Virginia Tech, but the program is starting to generate some fair criticism. Bielema did a nice job turning around the program after the John L. Smith disaster, but results have to come quicker.
8. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Record: 34-28 (6-7 at South Carolina)
The 2016 season was Muschamp’s most impressive coaching job. The Gamecocks were at a significant talent disadvantage after attrition and graduation. However, Muschamp and an improved offensive staff leveraged it into an unlikely bowl game. Muschamp’s recruiting prowess remains among the best in the SEC.
9. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Record: 80-48 (30-21 at Tennessee)
Placing Jones is difficult. He built one of the most talented rosters in the SEC last season. However, the players couldn’t stay healthy and ultimately fell far below expectations. There was no reason Tennessee should not have won the SEC last season, especially after beating Florida and snapping a massive losing streak. With the resources he’s been given at Tennessee, it’s fair to question the limited results.
10. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Record: 19-30 (all at Kentucky)
Earlier in the year, it appeared Stoops might be the first coach fired. Early losses against Florida and Southern Miss were embarrassing. But after beating hated rival Louisville in the finale, Stoops is in the good graces of Big Blue Nation. Stoops dragged the program back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. He’ll need to keep the momentum building, but Stoops earned himself more time.
11. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Record: 8-5 (all at Georgia)
We didn’t learn very much about Kirby Smart during his first year coaching, but his recruiting was a huge bump to his reputation. The Bulldogs reeled in the No. 3 class in the nation, behind only powerhouse recruiters Alabama and Ohio State. The jury is still out on his coaching ability, but talent advantages are where championship programs start.
12. Ed Orgeron, LSU
Record: 22-29 (6-2 at LSU)
After Coach O’s disastrous stint at Ole Miss, many thought he’d never get another head coaching job. And really, it took the perfect turn of events at LSU for it to happen. LSU played at a tremendously high level after Orgeron took over, finishing the year with a 6-2 run. The only losses were against No. 1 Alabama and No. 23 Florida. Maintaining his outstanding coaching staff will be key.
13. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record: 13-24 (all at Vanderbilt)
This seems tremendously unfair after the season Vanderbilt just had. Before James Franklin, the Commodores had only been to one bowl game since 1983. Even after choking away a terrible loss against South Carolina and losing another to Missouri, Vanderbilt persisted and upset Ole Miss and Tennessee the last two weeks. The inconsistent play is worrisome, but winning at Vanderbilt is really, really hard.
14. Barry Odom, Missouri
Record: 4-8 (all at Missouri)
We didn’t learn much about Odom in his first season. There were obvious growing pains at times, like late-game execution errors against Georgia and Middle Tennessee. That’s to be expected. Mizzzou fans just need to hope he learns and capitalizes next season.
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