Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
If you are a free agent coach, which programs are the most attractive jobs in the SEC?
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Pros: Location. Location. Location. Florida is a public university in a state that produces a tremendous amount of top-flight talent. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers one of the best atmospheres in college football, and the fan base is as rabid as there is in the nation.
Cons: Expectations are sky-high at a school that has won two national championships in the past four seasons. If you don’t win — and win big — things can turn ugly very quickly. Just ask Ron Zook.
Final Verdict: Florida presents one of the elite coaching opportunities in college football. You have everything at your disposal to compete for national championships on an annual basis. There is no excuse not to be good at Florida.
Pros: Tradition. With the possible exception of Notre Dame, no school in the country has more tradition than Alabama. The Tide have won 22 SEC championships and (depending on who you ask) 12 national titles. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate and the recruiting base is strong.
Cons: Coaching football at Alabama is arguably the most stressful job in collegiate athletics. It’s takes a certain kind of coach to deal with that type of scrutiny.
Final Verdict: Alabama is unquestionably one of the premier jobs in the nation. The coach who can deal with the demands of the job — like Nick Saban — will win at a very high level in Tuscaloosa.
Pros: Georgia has tremendous tradition and is located in arguably the finest college town in America — Athens. The Peach State might not produce talent at the same rate as Florida, Texas or California, but metro Atlanta is always strong, and small towns such as Columbus, Valdosta and Warner Robins consistently produce elite talent.
Cons: There are really no negatives to be found at Georgia, other than the fact that you are competing in the very difficult SEC East and you have a fan base that demands you win at a high level.
Final Verdict: Georgia is a great situation, but you clearly have to have the right guy in place to win big. After Vince Dooley won the third of three straight SEC crowns in 1982, the Bulldogs went nearly two decades — and went through two more coaches — before their next league title, won by Mark Richt in 2002.
Pros: It’s become a bit of a cliché, but there really is nothing like being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in the fall. That environment is one reason the Tigers are able to recruit so well. The other? The state of Louisiana is arguably the most underrated talent producer in the nation.
Cons: LSU has so much going for it, but why have so many coaches failed to win at a high level in Baton Rouge? From 1971 though 2000, the Tigers only won one outright SEC championship, in 1986 under Bill Arnsparger.
Final Verdict: It’s hard to find a reason why LSU would not be a desirable coaching position. Sure the competition is tough and the fans are demanding, but that comes with the territory. The school has won two national titles in the past eight seasons.
Pros: Who wouldn’t want to recruit to picturesque Neyland Stadium, with its 100,000-plus orange-clad zealots cheering on the Vols each week? And while Tennessee has struggled a bit in recent years, the program enjoyed tremendous success in the not-too-distant past. From 1989-2001, the Vols went 80–20–1 in the SEC and claimed four league titles. During that span, they were ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll seven times.
Cons: The Vols must recruit nationally because the state of Tennessee does not produce enough BCS conference players to stock the school’s roster. This is not a concern for UT’s chief SEC rivals Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama.
Final Verdict: Tennessee is a great place to coach, but the Vols have slipped down the SEC food chain over the past decade. Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama are clearly better jobs right now.
Pros: Auburn and Georgia are the only two schools in the SEC with at least five winning conference seasons in each of the past four decades. Clearly, this program can be a consistent winner in the nation’s most difficult conference.
Cons: Auburn is a state school with a great following, but it will always be No. 2 in Alabama behind the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa.
Final Verdict: If your ego can handle being the second most important coach in the state, then Auburn can be a destination job. The school — with its fine tradition, strong facilities and outstanding recruiting base — has proven over time that it can compete on a national level. The Tigers, after all, are the defending national champs.
7. South Carolina
Pros: South Carolina is home to arguably the most loyal fans in the nation. What other program has routinely filled an 80,000-seat stadium while averaging only six wins per season over the last two decades? In addition, the facilities are great, and the recruiting base is strong.
Cons: It’s one of the big mysteries in college football: Why can’t South Carolina win more consistently in the SEC? Since joining the league in 1992, the Gamecocks are 59–92–1 in conference games, with a high water mark of 5–3 on four separate occasions.
Final Verdict: South Carolina broke through with its first SEC East title in 2010, but the Gamecocks only went 5–3 in a down year in the division. The program still needs to prove it has staying power.
Pros: Newly renovated Reynolds Razorback Stadium — with its 76,000 seats and 30x107-foot LED video screen — is one of the most underrated venues in the nation. Arkansas is the only BCS program in the state, giving the school an advantage in recruiting homegrown talent.
Cons: The Hogs have found it tough to win consistently since bolting the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s. Arkansas is 72–78–2 in the SEC and has failed to have a winning league record in back-to-back seasons
Final Analysis: Arkansas is quite similar to South Carolina and Ole Miss — solid programs that can’t seem to get over the hump in a great league. It’s a good job, but it’s not a destination job for a coach with national title aspirations.
9. Ole Miss
Pros: Historically, Mississippi produces as many Division I prospects per capita as any state in the nation. There is plenty of competition for these recruits (Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, etc.), but a good coach will be able to keep the Rebels stocked with solid talent. Support for Rebel football is also very strong; the Rebs averaged 55,898 per game in 2010. Also, Ole Miss’ facilities have improved tremendously in the past five years.
Cons: You have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time in which Ole Miss was a major player in the SEC. The Rebels haven’t won a league title since 1963, and they are only team in the West that has not played in an SEC Championship Game. Also, Mississippi State’s recent uptick under Dan Mullen has made life a bit more difficult for Ole Miss.
Final Analysis: Ole Miss has made the commitment to its football program, but it takes more than a commitment to beat out Alabama, Auburn and LSU on a consistent basis. The Rebels had arguably their most talented team in several decades in 2009 yet still failed to finish with a winning record in the SEC.
The Cats have outstanding facilities and a solid fanbase, but basketball is king.
11. Mississippi State
Facilities are good, but competition is brutal.
Glamour of the SEC, but so many hurdles.