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The SEC’s Best Football Coaches

Now that the 2010 SEC head coaching lineup is set (we think), it’s time for us to rank the league’s football bosses from 1 to 12.

To understand our ranking, think IROC.  The now defunct racing series used to take drivers from different circuits, place them in absolutely identical cars and have them compete.

So, in our view, if each coach was given a program identical to the other 11, here’s who we believe would recruit and coach their way to the top (and bottom) of the SEC:

1.  Nick Saban

In this decade, Saban has built up two dormant SEC programs into national title winners.  He did so quickly at both stops.  Not only is Alabama’s coach at the top of the conference, he’s also the top coach in America.  As one of only four coaches to win national titles at two different schools, Saban is historically good.  He’s equal parts ace recruiter and gameday strategist.  Throw in his motivational skills and the race isn’t even close for the league’s top spot isn’t even close.

2.  Urban Meyer

Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun has written that you can’t separate between Saban and Meyer.  Perhaps you have to live outside of Alachua County to see it, but it there is a clear cut difference between the two coaches.  Last year, Saban almost beat Florida’s BCS Championship team with a much less talented roster… and this year he DID whip the Gators in the SEC title game and still his roster lacks the depth and talent of Meyer’s.  UF’s coach would probably be #1 in any other league in the country, but the SEC isn’t any other league.  And we’ll not even get into Meyer’s health and job status.

3.  Mark Richt

Richt has had one bad season in nearly a decade at Georgia.  The Bulldogs continue to collect talent — nearly 20 players have been good enough to leave early for the NFL this decade.  That said, Richt had better have a good season in 2010.  As the dean of SEC coaches, he’s becoming stale in Athens and fans are starting to wonder if someone else might be able to do a Saban-like number on Georgia.  (The fear should be that someone might do a Kiffin-like number on Georgia.)  If Todd Grantham is the answer at defensive coordinator, the Bulldogs could return to previous form.  If not…

4.  Les Miles 

Miles has had two disappointing seasons back-to-back.  Nine losses in a two-year span won’t cut it when the man you replaced is quickly turning around a rival program.  Like Richt, Miles will need to win in 2010 to keep the wolves at bay.  Miles’ greatest strength appears to be recruiting, as opposed to game-planning and in-game strategy.  The gambles of 2007 paid off… the same shaky decisions of 2009 (see: Ole Miss game) most certainly did not.

5.  Bobby Petrino 

Petrino is handicapped by a weak recruiting base and that has to be taken into account.  Recruiting was actually easier for him at Louisville.  Still, he has already turned UA into one of the nation’s best passing offenses.  Now he’ll need to prove that he can build an SEC-caliber defense.  If he can, Arkansas is set to capitalize on upheaval elsewhere in the conference.

6.  Houston Nutt

Nutt is a “solid” coach.  Never known for his top o’ the line recruiting at Arkansas, he’s now in the talent-rich state of Mississippi.  As of today he’s still behind Mississippi State in terms of commitments.  That seems to spell more “solid” years to come.  Not bad, not great.  Just good.  And in the SEC, fans aren’t usually good with “good” over the long haul.

7.  Gene Chizik

Last year, Chizik was Derek Dooley.  Yes, he had a fine pedigree, but his short stint as a head coach had been less than stellar.  A season later, one has to be impressed by Chizik’s ability to build a staff, to recruit, to ignore his detractors, and to coach up a thin roster.  Another year like this past one and Chizik will pass Nutt and perhaps Petrino.  (He also needs to hang on to Gus Malzahn.)

8.  Steve Spurrier

Things just aren’t the same for the man who owned the SEC in the 1990s.  Spurrier has upped Carolina’s recruiting, but he’s still far from an ace in that department.  Making matters worse, he’s no longer able to fun ‘n gun and X and O his way around opposing coaches.  This is a make or break year in Columbia.  Spurrier will have a more experienced team in 2010 and that includes the SEC East’s most experienced quarterback.  In addition, the big dogs in Carolina’s division are all going through some amount of turmoil this offseason.  The door is open for the old Spurrier to come walking through.  Will he?

9.  Dan Mullen

Mullen came within a yard (versus LSU) of getting his first MSU squad bowl eligible.  He has energized the Bulldog fanbase, tweaked the nose of Nutt, won the Egg Bowl in blowout fashion and improved State’s recruiting.  Like Chizik, he appears to be a coach on the rise.  But I want to see more before I push him up these rankings.

10.  Bobby Johnson

Johnson is as good a coach as Vanderbilt will ever have, even taking the Commodores to a bowl game in 2008.  Last season was big disappointment, but Vandy’s roster simply couldn’t withstand the number of injuries it suffered last year.  I’m not sure what kind of recruiter Johnson is… and that hurts him in these rankings.  Could he recruit at another program with lesser standards?  Can’t say.  So I can’t move him any higher on our list.

11.  Derek Dooley

He’s the anti-Kiffin and Tennessee fans are now embracing that.  The Vols have gone from Lil Wayne (“Smoke weed, talk s**t like Lane Kiffin”) to the Darlings (“Dooley, slippin’ up the holler, Dooley, tryin’ to make a dollar…”).  Like Chizik, his head coaching record is hardly a selling point.  And the biggest pluses he has going for him are his last name and his past role as Saban’s recruiting coordinator at LSU.  Though to be fair, who do you credit with Alabama’s current success: Saban or his recruiting coordinator Curt Cignetti?  That’s what I thought.  Dooley is simply an unknown commodity at this point.

12.  Joker Phillips

If Dooley is an unknown commodity, Phillips is a REALLY unknown commodity.  A long-time UK assistant, the Wildcats’ new head coach has no previous head coaching experience.  He made quick coaching changes on the offensive and defensive lines as soon as he assumed the throne from Rich Brooks and that suggests that the man has his own plan for the Cats.  But until he coaches a game, Phillips will remain the SEC’s biggest question mark.



  1. [...] Mr. SEC rates the conference coaches and picks Coach Richt at #3. I guess it is reasonable to rank Richt behind Saban and Meyer although it remains to be seen if either of them stick around for the long haul. [...]

  2. [...] Ranking the SEC’s head coaches. [Mr. SEC] [...]

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