Alabama's Nick Saban is clearly the top coach in the SEC.
Coaching is one of the driving forces in building a national championship team or program. No matter how much talent a program has, it can’t win a national title if the coaching is questionable.
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how each conference stacks up with its head coach rankings for 2013.
Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an X's and O's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference.
Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Record at Alabama: 68-13 (2007-present)
Record at LSU: 48-16 (2000-04)
Record at Michigan State: 34-24-1 (1995-99)
Record at Toledo: 9-2 (1990)
Overall Record: 159-55-1 (17 years)
Saban is without question the best coach in college football. He started his career as a head coach in 1990 with Toledo, then spent the next four seasons as the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. In 1995, Saban was hired as Michigan State’s head coach and guided the Spartans to a 34-24-1 record under his watch. Saban left East Lansing for Baton Rouge and LSU in 2000 and led the Tigers to a 48-16 record in five years, including a national championship in 2003. Saban had a two-year stint with the Dolphins but jumped at the opportunity to lead Alabama in 2007. After a 7-6 record in his first season, Saban is 61-7 in his last five years with the Crimson Tide, which includes three national championships. At 61 years old, Saban is still at the top of his game and should have Alabama in the mix for a SEC and national title every year he is on the sidelines.
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 66-37 (2005-present)
Record at Florida: 122-27-1 (1990-2001)
Record at Duke: 20-13-1 1987-89)
Overall Record: 208-77-2 (22 years)
After six consecutive seasons with at least five losses, Spurrier has delivered two (if not three) of the best seasons in South Carolina football history. It clearly took some time to build the Gamecocks into a consistent winner for the first time in program history. But there is no doubt the Gamecocks have become one of the league's top contenders. Not only is Spurrier extremely relevant in the league heading into the 2013 season at age 68 (April 20), but he has achieved at a high level over time as well. in a conference known for its ability to devour quality coaches, few have proven to be as adaptable and as consistent as Spurrier. He has an incredible 122-41 record in SEC play over his 20-year career in the league for an average of more than six conference wins per season (6.1). With one national championship under his belt from his time at Florida, should he bring a conference crown to Columbia, his name would belong with those two guys from Alabama as the SEC's greatest of all-time. The only problem is Carolina has gone from first to second to third in the East the last three seasons despite appearing to get better on the field.
3. Mark Richt, Georgia
Overall Record at Georgia: 118-40 (2001-present, 12 years)
Yes, Spurrier has been around longer than the Georgia coach, but along with Gary Pinkel of Missouri, Richt is your longest tenured coach in the nation's toughest league. And he added his sixth SEC East title and fifth SEC title game appearance to his resume in 2012. A model of consistency, Richt has won at least eight games in all but one of his 12 SEC campaigns and has never finished a regular season under .500 and never missed a postseason. Fans were restless following the low point of the tenure — a loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl following the 2010 season, but he made quality staff adjustments and has rebounded with back-to-back SEC championship game appearances. Richt returned the Dawgs to prominence with two SEC titles in 2002 and 2005, but after two straight losses in Atlanta, Georgia faithful are eagerly waiting to cap a season a with a win in the Georgia Dome rather than a loss. A win would likely earn Richt his third SEC Coach of the Year award.
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4. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Record at Texas A&M: 11-2 (2012-present)
Record at Houston: 35-17 (2008-2011)
Overall Record: 46-19 (5 years)
Sumlin’s debut at Texas A&M was a rousing success. In the Aggies’ first season in the SEC, Sumlin guided Texas A&M to an 11-2 record, helped to propel quarterback Johnny Manziel to the Heisman, and had the Aggies on the doorstep of playing in a BCS bowl. Sumlin came to Texas A&M after a 35-17 record in four seasons at Houston, which included a 12-1 mark in 2011. The Alabama native built a strong resume as an assistant, making stops at Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue, Texas A&M and at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. One of the underrated aspects of Sumlin’s hire was a top-notch coaching staff, which included Kliff Kingsbury and Brian Polian, who both departed for head coaching jobs in the offseason. However, Sumlin restocked his staff, and with Texas A&M reeling in a top-10 recruiting class, the future looks bright in College Station. Sumlin’s next priority? Cut into Texas’ hold on the state and elevate Texas A&M into a consistent contender in the SEC.
5. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Overall Record at Vanderbilt: 15-11 (2011-present, 2 years)
Vanderbilt had never been to back-to-back bowl games in program history, but in just two short years, that is exactly what Franklin has done for the Commodores. It really is the only statistic that matters as Vandy has achieved at a higher level than ever before in the 117-year history of the program. With the only exception of attendance — which is still very strong compared to pre-Franklin standards — everything about this program screams S-E-C. Franklin has the Dores recruiting at an all-time rate, the offense is scoring at unprecedented levels and the program as a whole has a swagger never before seen on West End. Franklin is meticulous in his holistic and forward-thinking approach to selling a program and its exactly what a program like Vanderbilt has to have if it wants to continue to grow and contend with much more powerful SEC programs.
6. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Overall Record at Mississippi State: 29-22 (2009-present, 5 years)
Each BCS conference seems to have one coach that cannot be judged strictly on his record. Mullen fits that profile for the SEC, as he is coming off his fifth year in Starkville and has a 29-22 overall record. Although Mullen’s overall record isn’t overly impressive, Mississippi State is arguably one of the toughest jobs in the SEC. The Bulldogs have played in three consecutive bowl games under Mullen and are coming off a 4-4 conference record in the always loaded SEC. Mullen is 3-1 against rival Ole Miss and has won seven or more games in each of the last three seasons. Prior to taking the top spot at Mississippi State, Mullen worked as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. There’s no question Mullen needs to consistently beat some of the top teams in the SEC West to climb higher in the coach rankings. However, it’s not easy to win the division right now, especially as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M could all be top-15 teams in 2013. If Mullen was at one of the top jobs in the conference – Florida, Alabama, LSU or Georgia – he would easily win at a higher level.
7. Les Miles, LSU
Record at LSU: 84-21 (2005-present)
Record at Oklahoma State: 28-21 (2001-04)
Overall Record: 113-42 (12 years)
Needless to say, Miles’ interesting personality sometimes distracts from his coaching ability. The Ohio native got his chance to be a head coach in 2001, as he was hired to lead Oklahoma State. The Cowboys went 4-7 in his first year but recorded at least seven victories in each of the next three seasons. Miles parlayed his success with Oklahoma State into the top spot at LSU, which he has held since 2005. Under Miles, the Tigers have had plenty of success – 84 victories and seven finishes in the Associated Press top 25 poll. LSU is 34-6 over the last three years and played for the national championship after the 2011 season. Although the Tigers have experienced plenty of success under Miles, there’s also a sense of disappointment. LSU went 10-3 with a team that was picked among the top two by most preseason polls last season. The Tigers also had a disappointing 8-5 2008 campaign and are 1-3 in their last four bowl games. There’s no question Miles is a solid coach, but he has plenty of talent at his disposal, and the Tigers have slightly underachieved.
8. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Wisconsin: 68-24 (2006-2012)
Overall Record: 68-24 (7 years)
Bielema’s decision to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas came as a surprise, but the lure of coaching in the SEC was tough to turn down. In seven years with the Badgers, Bielema had a 68-24 record, and led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Bielema led the Badgers to five finishes in the Associated Press' top 25 and had four seasons of 10 or more victories. Although Bielema was a good coach in the Big Ten, the road is much tougher in the SEC. Arkansas is in for a transition year in 2013, and the team will have to contend with improving programs at Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the West. While Bielema isn’t likely to lead the Razorbacks to a 10-win season in 2013 or '14, he is a good pick for a program that should be a consistent bowl team. Bielema will need some time to adjust to the SEC, but he should be a good fit at Arkansas.
9. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Record at Ole Miss: 7-6 (2012-present)
Record at Arkansas State: 10-2 (2011)
Record at Lambuth: 20-5 (2008-09)
Overall Record: 37-13 (4 years)
After a successful debut in Oxford, a case could be made Freeze should be ranked higher on this list. The Mississippi native inherited an Ole Miss team that went 2-10 in the year prior to his arrival and guided the Rebels to a 7-6 finish with a victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. After finishing 2011 as the SEC’s worst team, Ole Miss was one of college football’s top 40 teams last year. Success and improvement hasn’t just been limited to one stop for Freeze, as Lambuth was 20-5 from 2008-09 under his watch, and Arkansas State went 4-8 prior to his arrival, only to win 10 games in Freeze’s only season in Jonesboro. Freeze is bringing in a top-five recruiting class to Oxford, and the program is clearly headed in the right direction. The Mississippi native has never been a head coach at one stop long enough to show he can sustain success for five or more seasons. However, considering his recruiting haul and track record so far, there’s little to doubt Freeze will continue to climb on this list in the coming years.
10. Will Muschamp, Florida
Overall Record at Florida: 18-8 (2011-present, 2 years)
The fiery Florida coach proved a lot in his crucial second season at the helm in Gainesville. His team was one lost fumble at the goal line away from playing for a national championship in the SEC title game. His teams play with fierce physicality and his side of the ball, the defense, has been a major strength. His track record of big-time success — two national championship game appearances as a defensive coordinator — under Nick Saban, Mack Brown and Tommy Tuberville points to his ability to grind it out in a brutal conference. Yet, at times, his teams tend to play out of control — much like his coaching style — and its the only thing keeping him from being one of the league's elite field generals. So with a reworked defense and third(-ish) year starter under center, Gators fans are anxiously awaiting Muschamp's third season. Finishing a game against Georgia would go a long way to proving Muschamp is the long-term answer.
11. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Record at Tennessee: First Season
Record at Cincinnati: 23-14 (2010-2012)
Record at Central Michigan: 27-13 (2007-2009)
Overall Record: 50-27 (6 years)
The book on Jones is fairly straight forward. His teams have won at least a share of a league championship in four of his six seasons as a head coach. Two of them were outright while at Central Michigan and two of them were co-championships in the always murky Big East with the Bearcats. He has an excellent win-loss record and has taken a forward-thinking approach in his short tenure at Tennessee and it has made for big waves on the recruiting trail. However, he took over programs built up by Brian Kelly at his previous two stops and it remains to be seen if he can compete with the likes of Spurrier, Richt and Saban every single season. There is some renewed energy in Knoxville but fans can't be in anything but wait and see mode with Jones, the Vols' fourth head coach since 2008.
12. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Record at Missouri: 90-61 (2001-present)
Record at Toledo: 73-37-3 (1991-2000)
Overall Record: 163-98-3 (21 years)
Pinkel has a long and storied career on the sidelines at both Toledo and Mizzou with at least 70 wins at both. He built the Tigers football program to never before seen levels of success, both in the win column and in the box score. He is essentially responsible for Missouri being an attractive option for the SEC and needs to be given a lion's share of credit for the three-letter patch currently on their shoulder pads. He is No. 3 all-time in wins and is just 11 wins from becoming Missouri's winningest coach in history. That said, he never broke through in the Big 12 with a conference championship and, last year, watched his team post its worst finish since Pinkel's second season (2002). He has been around a long time and gets a lot of credit for building Mizzou football into what it is today, but now he is facing the biggest and best the game has to offer.
13. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Record at Auburn: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Arkansas State: 9-3 (2012)
Overall Record: 9-3 (1 year)
Although Gene Chizik was the head coach for Auburn’s national title team in 2010, it’s pretty evident much of the credit for the team’s success was due to quarterback Cam Newton and Malzahn. And after spending one year at Arkansas State, Malzahn is back at Auburn as the head coach. In his one season with the Red Wolves, Malzahn led the team to a 9-3 record. There’s no question Malzahn is one of college football’s top offensive minds, and his one year of experience at Arkansas State should have him better prepared for coaching in the SEC. However, Malzahn still needs to prove he can be a successful head coach at the SEC level. With more head coaching experience, Malzahn should rank higher on this list. And with his familiarity with the team in 2013, Auburn could be the most-improved team in the SEC.
14. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Overall Record at Kentucky: First Season
The newest kid on the SEC block, Stoops' future as a head coach is anyone's guess. What we do know is this: He hails from Youngstown, Ohio and played defensive back for Iowa before he worked his way up through the ranks. Stoops was a defensive coordinator for Houston then Miami then Arizona (with his brother, Mike) and ultimately Florida State in 2010. He took the 108th-ranked defense and turned it into the 42nd-rated unit in one season before finishing fourth and second nationally in total defense in 2011 and '12 respectively. He did a great job finishing the recruiting cycle for the Wildcats, but at one of the toughest power conference jobs in the nation, it takes more than a few recruiting wins to be successful in Lexington.
Want to know more (stats, history, records, etc) about SEC coaches? Check out CoachingRoots.com.
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