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SEC Football: Ranking the 25 Best Coaches in Conference History

The coaches on this list account for more than 30 national titles

Since its founding in 1932, the SEC has fielded some of the best teams in college football history and has been the home to plenty of head coaches who are members of the College Football Hall of Fame. As difficult as it may be to rank the 25 best in the conference's rich history, here's an attempt to do so. These rankings are based on a head coach's body of work in the SEC (when their school was a member), so success at other programs or before the conference was formed does not count.

 

25. Gus Malzahn

Auburn (2013-present)

Record: 62-31

SEC Titles: 1

Division Titles: 2

Bowls: 7

Losing Seasons: 0

 

An offensive guru, Malzahn designed Auburn's Cam Newton-powered attack in 2010 and won a national championship as a coordinator. When he returned as a head coach in 2013, he won the SEC title his first season and came within one drive of beating Florida State for the national title.

 

24. Dan Mullen

Mississippi State (2009-17)

Florida (2018-present)

Record: 90-51

Bowls: 10

Losing Seasons: 2

 

In 2014, Mullen led Mississippi State to the top ranking, which the Bulldogs held for four weeks. That's the only time Mississippi State has held the No. 1 spot. Mullen has also had two straight 10-win seasons since taking over at Florida.

 

23. William Alexander

Georgia Tech (1933-44)*

Record: 85-54-5

SEC Titles: 3

Bowls: 4

Losing Seasons: 4

 

Alexander took over for John Heisman in 1920 and won three SEC titles after the Yellow Jackets joined the conference in 1933. He also won a national championship in 1928 while Georgia Tech was in the Southern Conference.

 

22. Tommy Tuberville

Ole Miss (1995-98)

Auburn (1999-2008)

Record: 110-60

SEC Titles: 1

Division Titles: 5

Bowls: 10

Losing Seasons: 3

 

Tuberville was named SEC Coach of the Year twice, at Ole Miss in 1997 and at Auburn in 2004. His 2004 Tigers went 13-0 and finished ranked second in the country. The squad missed out on the opportunity to play USC for the national title because of the BCS rankings and remain one of the best teams in college football history to not get a shot at a championship.

 

21. Allyn McKeen

Mississippi State (1939-48)

Record: 65-19-3

SEC Titles: 1

Bowls: 1

Losing Seasons: 0

 

In 1941, McKeen won the only SEC title in Mississippi State history. He retired in 1948 with a career .747 winning percentage.

 

20. Doug Dickey

Tennessee (1964-69)

Florida (1970-78)

Record: 104-58-6

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 2

Bowls: 9

Losing Seasons: 3

 

Dickey turned around a fledgling Tennessee program and his 1967 team won the Litkenhous national championship. In 1970, he went back to his alma mater of Florida and became the first coach to lead the Gators to four straight bowl appearances.

 

19. Pat Dye

Auburn (1981-92)

Record: 99-39-4

SEC Titles: 4

Bowls: 9

Losing Seasons: 2

 

After going 5-6 his first season, Dye's Tigers went to nine straight bowls, won four SEC titles, and finished in the top 10 five times. Oh, and they also beat Alabama six times during that run.

 

18. Paul Dietzel

LSU (1955-61)

Record: 46-24-3

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 2

Bowls: 3

Losing Seasons: 2

 

He only spent seven seasons in Baton Rouge, but during that time, Dietzel won two SEC titles and a national championship in 1958. He left for Army in 1962 and finished his coaching career at South Carolina (1966-74) when the Gamecocks were still members of the ACC (before becoming an Independent in 1971).

 

17. Wally Butts

Georgia (1939-60)

Record: 140-86-9

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 4

Bowls: 8

Losing Seasons: 7

 

Butts deployed the passing game in an era where many teams scoffed at the idea of throwing the pigskin. His Bulldogs had their best run in the 1940s, winning three SEC titles and the 1942 national championship.

 

16. Charles McClendon

LSU (1962-79)

Record: 137-59-7

SEC Titles: 1

Bowls: 13

Losing Seasons: 1

 

"Cholly Mac" had the misfortune of coaching in the same era of Alabama's Bear Bryant and Ole Miss' Johnny Vaught, but LSU was a force in the conference during his 18-season career.

 

15. Johnny Majors

Tennessee (1977-92)

Record: 116-62-8

SEC Titles: 3

Bowls: 11

Losing Seasons: 3

 

Majors won a national championship at Pitt in 1976 and then went home to rebuild Tennessee's program. When he left in 1992, the Vols were a powerhouse in the SEC.

 

14. Ralph "Shug" Jordan

Auburn (1951-75)

Record: 175-83-7

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 1

Bowls: 12

Losing Seasons: 3

 

To give you a sense of Jordan's influence at Auburn: Not only is he Auburn's all-time winningest football coach, but he also has the fifth-most basketball wins of any coach in Tiger history.

 

13. Les Miles

LSU (2005-16)

Record: 114-34

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 2

Division Titles: 3

Bowls: 11

Losing Seasons: 0

 

The "Mad Hatter" had 10 or more wins in seven of his 11 full seasons in Baton Rouge. He also produced more excitement than arguably any coach on this list.

 

12. Bobby Dodd

Georgia Tech (1945-63)*

Record: 142-56-7

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 2

Bowls: 11

Losing Seasons: 1

 

Dodd's Yellow Jackets won 31 straight games from 1951-53, including the 1952 national title. He was also so committed to his players getting an education that the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award honors the coach whose players excel on the field and in the classroom.

 

11. Gene Stallings

Alabama (1990-96)

Record: 70-16-1^

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 1

Division Titles: 4

Bowls: 6

Losing Seasons: 0

 

A protege of Bear Bryant, Stallings came to Tuscaloosa and won with stout defense and a commitment to the running game.

 

10. Mark Richt

Georgia (2001-15)

Record: 145-51

SEC Titles: 2

Division Titles: 5

Bowls: 15

Losing Seasons: 1

 

The Bulldogs went to a bowl game and averaged more than nine wins a season in Richt's 15 years in Athens.

 

9. Phillip Fulmer

Tennessee (1992-2008)

Record: 151-52-1

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 2

Division Titles: 5

Bowls: 15

Losing Seasons: 2

 

A master recruiter, Fulmer brought in top-tier talent from all over the country, winning Tennessee's last SEC and national titles.

 

8. Urban Meyer

Florida (2005-10)

Record: 65-15

National Championships: 2

SEC Titles: 2

Division Titles: 3

Bowls: 6

Losing Seasons: 0

 

During Meyer's six seasons in Gainesville, he won two national championships and finished in the top three of the polls three times. After taking a year off, he went to Ohio State and won another national title.

 

7. Frank Thomas

Alabama (1933-46)

Record: 98-21-7

National Championships: 2

SEC Titles: 4

Bowls: 6

Losing Seasons: 0

 

Thomas coached Bear Bryant as a player and won the SEC's first national championship in 1934. He was also known for smoking on the sidelines during games, and poor health sadly cut his brilliant career short.

 

6. Johnny Vaught

Ole Miss (1947-70, 1973))

Record: 190-61-12

National Championships: 3

SEC Titles: 6

Bowls: 18

Losing Seasons: 1

 

Ole Miss has never been the same since Vaught retired 50 years ago (he filled in as an interim coach for eight games in 1973). To put it into perspective, Vaught won 185 games during 24 full seasons in Oxford. The program's coaches since then have combined for a total of 282 victories. His six SEC Coach of the Year Awards are surpassed only by Steve Spurrier (7) and Bear Bryant (12).

 

5. Vince Dooley

Georgia (1964-88)

Record: 201-77-10

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 6

Bowls: 20

Losing Seasons: 1

 

Dooley inherited a Georgia program that only had three winning seasons in the previous 10 years and he promptly won two SEC titles in his first five seasons. His Bulldogs reached their peak with the arrival of Herschel Walker in 1980, as Georgia won a national championship and finished in the top five for four straight seasons (Walker left for the USFL after the 1982 season.).

 

4. Steve Spurrier

Florida (1990-2001)

South Carolina (2005-15)

Record: 208-76-1

National Championships: 1

SEC Titles: 6

Division Titles: 8

Bowls: 20

Losing Seasons: 0

 

The "Ole Ball Coach" became Florida's all-time winningest coach with his revolutionary "Fun 'n' Gun" offense. After a brief stint in the NFL, Spurrier went to South Carolina and became that program's all-time leader in wins utilizing the run more than he ever had in Gainesville.

 

3. Robert Neyland

Tennessee (1933-34, 1936-40, 1946-52)

Record: 112-29-7

National Championships: 4

SEC Titles: 5

Bowls: 7

Losing Seasons:

 

General Neyland's Vols recorded 68 shutouts during his tenure in the SEC. That means Tennessee held more than half of its opponents scoreless during that time. A brigadier general in the Army Corps of Engineers, Neyland also designed the stadium named after him that can hold more than 100,000 fans today.

 

2. Nick Saban

LSU (2000-04)

Alabama (2007-present)

Record: 205-39^

National Championships: 6

SEC Titles: 8

Division Titles: 12

Bowls: 21

Losing Seasons: 0

 

Saban resurrected the LSU program, winning two SEC titles and a national championship. He then spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins before going to Alabama and winning five more national titles. He is one of two coaches to win SEC championships at two different schools. The other one to do that tops this list.

 

1. Paul "Bear" Bryant

Kentucky (1946-53)

Alabama (1958-82)

Record: 292-69-15

National Championships: 7

SEC Titles: 14

Bowls: 28

Losing Seasons: 0

 

The all-time winningest coach at both Alabama and Kentucky tops this list for a number of reasons:

  • He is the all-time leader in SEC titles and — now that Kentucky claims the 1950 crown — national championships.
  • He won national titles in both the one-platoon (players playing both ways) and two-platoon eras.
  • He did it with offenses that ranged from the T-formation to the Wishbone.

And while Bryant did win two national championships and lost the bowl games in the era where titles were awarded before the postseason, he also did not have the benefit of playing under the BCS or College Football Playoff. Eight of his non-championship teams finished in the top five, meaning today they would have been vying for a playoff spot.


 

*Georgia Tech left the SEC after the 1963 season.

^Includes vacated wins.

±Departed with 2-4 record during the 2015 season.

 

— Rankings by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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