By David Bradford, for VFL Insider
There’s no need for drama. Nick Saban is the best coach in the SEC. And a case can be made that his dominance has completely deprived other SEC programs of quality coaching.
Still, we have to find a way to rank these guys.
Criteria: Overall record and how well they’ve performed given the circumstances.
No. 1) Nick Saban (Alabama)
Record at Alabama: 114-19 (66-12 SEC)
There is no debate. The SEC, once the deepest conference in college football, has now become Saban’s playground. Since 2008, the Crimson Tide have won the conference championship five times, totaling four national championships in the process. And by the looks of it, there’s no slowing this mad man down, as Saban extended his contract all the way out to 2024.
In other words, your favorite team isn’t winning the SEC anytime soon.
No. 2) Gus Malzahn (Auburn)
Record at Auburn: 35-18 (18-14)
Malzahn’s placement on this list truly exemplifies the nosedive we’ve seen in SEC coaching. Without two miracle plays in 2013, Malzahn’s resume looks fairly thin. Since 2014, Auburn is 23-16 overall with a putrid 11-13 mark in the SEC. Ever since the Kick Six, Alabama has outscored the Tigers in the Iron Bowl 114-69. Had Auburn not backed its way into a Sugar Bowl appearance last season (which they lost 35-18 to annual big-bowl choker Oklahoma), then there’s a legitimate chance Malzahn isn’t manning the sidelines at Jordan-Hare. But he is and that’s good news for Saban.
No. 3) Jim McElwain (Florida)
Record at Florida: 19-8 (13-3)
Aside from his odd off-the-field behavior, I guess Jim McElwain is a good coach… maybe? Florida has won the SEC East two years in a row, but they’ve never felt like the strongest overall team. If Tennessee doesn’t collapse a few times, maybe McElwain is lower on this list.
Speaking of the Vols…
No. 4) Butch Jones (Tennessee)
Record at Tennessee: 30-21 (14-18)
Butch has his faults, but he didn’t inherit the 1998 Tennessee Volunteer national championship team. He inherited Derek Dooley’s mess and brought Tennessee out of that mess. Now, he needs to take the next step: Get the Vols to 10 wins and win the SEC East. Butch didn’t reach that goal last season when the entire college football world expected him to, but after massive turnover in both his coaching staff and roster, Tennessee’s success on the recruiting trail proves the Orange and White still have reason for optimism.
No. 5) Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
Record at Texas A&M: 44-21 (21-19)
Sumlin rode the cotails of Johnny Manziel for two years at College Station before falling victim to one bad defense after another. It always appears that Texas A&M has the requisite talent to compete, but since winning 11 games in 2012, Sumlin and the Aggies are stuck on the 8-win plateau.
No. 6) Will Muschamp (South Carolina)
Record at South Carolina: 6-7 (3-5)
Now we’re getting to the rough part of the list. Muschamp has an 11-win season in his resume at Florida, but not much else. His first season in Columbia proved to be a success — the Gamecocks overachieved at 6-7 last season and earned a pivotal victory over Tennessee — but it isn’t much to get excited over.
No. 7) Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
Record at Mississippi State: 61-42 (29-35)
Mullen saw success with Dak Prescott at quarterback, but before he moves up the list, he needs to work the same magic with Nick Fitzgerald.
No. 8) Bret Bielema (Arkansas)
Record at Arkansas: 25-26 (10-22)
Bret Bielema took Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls, but for some reason, thought it was a smart business decision to become a mediocre coach at Arkansas. Given that Fayetteville won’t attract the upper-echelon recruits, Bielema’s days are clearly numbered.
No. 9) Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
Record at Ole Miss: 39-25 (19-21)
Freeze is probably a better than half of the coaches ranked above him, but his recruiting tactics are running Ole Miss into the ground. He has to be penalized for that.
No. 10) Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
Record at Vanderbilt: 13-24 (5-19)
Mason probably has the toughest job in the conference. While Nashville is a tremendous city, it doesn’t present the same college-town atmosphere so many other SEC towns feature. Plus, it’s the Harvard of the South. Despite the uphill battle he faces, Mason has Vandy football in a state of relevancy in the context of the SEC East. That’s all you can ask for.
No. 11) Mark Stoops (Kentucky)
Record at Kentucky: 18-30 (9-24)
Tennessee fans love to poke fun at Kentucky football, but let’s not pretend the job was in Lexington is easy. Stoops, like Mason, is giving his University a reason to be optimistic for football.
No. 12) Kirby Smart (Georgia)
Record at Georgia: 8-5 (4-4)
I imagine Smart will climb this list as the years drag on, but for now, he’s too unproven to be any higher than No. 12.
No. 13) Ed Orgeron (LSU)
Record at LSU: 6-2 (4-2) *interim status in 2016
No human annoys me more than Ed Orgeron. From the way he looks to the way he talks, he just boils my blood. And by the way, the last time he was a head coach in the SEC, it was a dumpster fire. Orgeron will likely run LSU into the ground the same way he sent Ole Miss into the Earth’s mantle several years ago.
No. 14) Barry Odom (Missouri)
Record at Missouri: 4-8 (2-6)
It’s hard for anything good to happen at Missouri. Thanks to their snowflake student body, there’s no lesser-appealing SEC destination than Columbia, Missouri.