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Ranking The SEC’s Coaches From Saban To Stoops

nick-saban-blesses-the-massesThe end of summer is upon us — at least those of us here at — and what better way to wind things down than with a list?  Lists have become as American as the flag, Ford trucks and apple pie.

See?  That was a list, too.

From ESPN to Bleacher Report, everyone is list crazy.  They’re simple to put together and they tend to tick off 99.9% of those reading them.  With that in mind, we give in to list-mania and provide you with this countdown of the Southeastern Conference’s best football coaches.

FYI: Body of work and degree of difficulty played a big role in our rankings.  Here goes…


1.  Nick Saban, Alabama

Simply the greatest coach of this generation.  The only man since World War II to win national crowns at two different schools and the only man with four — four! — BCS titles, Saban’s name upon retirement will likely go down next to the names Stagg, Warner, Rockne, and Bryant.


2.  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

The man won at Duke.  Then he turned a sleeping giant at Florida into wide-awake giant.  After a stubbed toe in the NFL, he landed at South Carolina.  He adjusted his own style — pass happy — to his talent — run the ball, play defense — and has made his USC better than the one out on the left coast.  Just look up Carolina’s record pre-Spurrier and you’ll see why he belongs on the SEC’s Mt. Rushmore of football coaches.


3.  Mark Richt, Georgia

Richt has won consistently in Athens.  In fact, he’s been more consistent than even the legendary Vince Dooley.  But how can he be ranked ahead of someone with a national title?  Because Richt hasn’t gotten the break of losing his division and still landing in a BCS Championship Game.  He hasn’t gotten the benefit of the doubt and been invited to a BCS title game with two losses.  Georgia


4.  Les Miles, LSU

People make fun of Miles’ penchant for gambling.  There’s a reason they call him the “Mad Hatter.”  (Well, he gambles and he wears a poorly-fitted cap.)  But Miles has kept proving the doubters — especially the ones at — wrong and he’s kept the machine that Saban built running smoothly.  He’s just #4 on our list because a) Saban did leave him a tremendous program and b) he wouldn’t have a BCS title if he weren’t the only coach to reach a national title game with a pair of losses.  That’s pretty lucky.


5.  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

He hasn’t coached in the SEC yet and, no, the Big Ten isn’t up to Southeastern Conference snuff.  Still, Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl time and again under Bielema.  That’s a good track record in one of the major conferences.  That’s good enough for #5.


6.  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Sumlin won at Houston.  Sumlin won big in his first year at Texas A&M.  He’s a fast-rising star in the coaching profession, but we’ll watch for another year or two before moving him this list.


7.  Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Again, body of work.  Last year was rough for Mizzou and this year could be, too, but that doesn’t change the fact that Pinkel took over a long-struggling program and actually took it to the top of the polls for a while in 2007.


8.  Will Muschamp, Florida

Here’s where things start to get tougher.  Muschamp only has two years under his belt.  One was great — 11 wins — and the other wasn’t — 6-6 regular season.  But we’ll give him this spot based on that 11-win season last year.  Those aren’t easy to come by in the SEC.


9.  James Franklin, Vanderbilt

To do what Franklin has done in two years at Vandy is remarkable.  And if he keeps it up, he’ll zip right up this list.  Degree of difficulty is high in Nashville, but we still want to see a bit more from the fiery Commodore coach.


10.  Butch Jones, Tennessee

Jones ranks higher than two other first-year SEC coaches simply because he’s been around longer and had more success as a head coach.  In six seasons at Central Michigan and Cincinnati he’s won or shared four conference titles.


11.  Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Last year, Mullen finally beat an SEC West team not named “Ole Miss.”  But his team hit the skids when its schedule toughened.  After a promising start, it seems that MSU’s coach might have plateaued.


12.  Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Year One was a big success considering the mess Freeze inherited in Oxford.  A bowl game and an alumni-pleasing victory in the Egg Bowl put him on Mullen’s heels.  That said, his track record is short.  This guy was coaching in the high school ranks less than a decade ago.


13.  Gus Malzahn, Auburn

… Speaking of recent high school coaches.  If we were ranking coordinators or offensive minds, Malzahn would be much higher on the list.  But this will be just his second year as a college head coach.  He’s low on the list now, but we expect him to start climbing.


14.  Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Florida State’s ex-defensive coordinator is off to a flashier start than anyone expected, but he’s never been a head coach in the college ranks before.  By default he’s last on this list.  But if he starts improving the Wildcats, that’ll change.




Getting rid of Pinkel would be the worst idea ever for Missouri.  I think many fans forget just how terrible the Missouri program was prior to his arrival.  We basically went from almost "Kansas Bad" to becoming a national title contender for at least a year or 2.  Sure last year was AWFUL, but when your entire offense relies on great qb play... and your star qb is injured for the entire season... and to make matters worse your OL is also destroyed by injury... then it is hard to have a very good season.  It was really a perfect storm of bad luck... and imho... if they would have had just a few less injuries, then I think they beat Vandy and Cuse, finish with 7 wins, make a bowl game, and everybody calls it a pretty decent debut in the SEC.

Personally, I would have him above Sumlin.  Kevin had a great year... but he also came into a TON of talent, the best recruiting grounds in the country, and caught lightening in a bottle with Johnny Football.  I think the 2012 Aggies were better than ANY Mizzou team Pinkel has had, even the '07 squad... but Pinkel had all of that success with mostly 2 and 3 star talent, so I give him a slight nod (for now). 


John, last I recall, you had Spurrier as the best coach in the SEC and Saban number 2.  Glad to see you've re-thought that.  I think a lot of people forget what Spurrier accomplished at Florida and don't realize what an incredible job he's doing to make USC competitive now, but Saban is head and shoulders the better coach.  I'd say Saban has a 50-50 chance to surpass Bryant in most people's eyes before he retires.


I have to take major issue with Richt over Miles. The harping point was the 2007 BCS Title with two losses and something about going to a BCS Title game after not winning your division (but that was Saban, not Miles). And It's almost like the unbelievable 2012 LSU season was totally forgotten. Miles has a national championship, two NGC appearances, three BCS appearances, two SEC titles and six 10-win seasons in eight seasons at LSU. In 12 years, Richt has zero NCG appearances, the same BCS appearances, the same SEC titles and just one more 10-win season. Miles has a better overall winning percentage since joining LSU and a better SEC winning percentage. And if you go back to Oklahoma State, Miles hasn't had a losing season since 2001. Richt had one in 2010.  I'm not sure how you compare the resumes and Richt comes out on top. 


                     Can  we please stop the nonsense about how a team that doesn't win their division or conference can't be a national champion?  That is the thinking of  a small mind, a black and white mind. It means every NBA or Super Bowl champ that didn't win their division is a fraud. The NC is the best of, well, the nation, not who came out on top of a 6-team division featuring home field advantages and uneven scheduling.  So Miles should be ahead of Richt, who has benefited greatly from scheduling.  As for LSU winning the NC with two losses,  well, WVU blew it against Pitt, and LSU was the best alternative left. And I don't remember much whining after they whipped "the greatest offensive team ever", OK, in the NC game. 


I agree that the SEC has not seen the best of Mizzou and Gary Pinkle.  A couple of things going on, injuries were big factor and Pinkle had recruited to a Big 12 style of  football.  He has adjusted to recruiting bigger linemen on both sides.  I don't think speed is a problem for Mizzou, or ever has been in the Pinkle era.  Also, with more SEC teams going to the hurry up and spread, I think you will see Pinkle show some success dealing with what he is used to.  Finally, Gary Pinkle started his career with the same teacher as Nick Saban.  He has a similar work ethic and approach, note that Mizzou and Alabama were only two SEC football teams to rank in top 10% in APR.  Pinkle is no Saban, but he is pretty darn good IMHO.


On second thought, I might also flip-flop Muschamp and Franklin.  I just think that you've got to give extra bonus points for what he's done at Vandy.  Even with an 11 win season, no one knows yet if Muschamp can field a quality offense.


I would generally agree with this list with the possible exception of Pinkel.  Yes, he brought Mizzou back to respectability and yes, he's had some nice seasons.  However, his body of work is predicated on competing in a very weak Big 12 North division and his squad often looked like they just didn't know how to adapt to playing bigger, stronger, faster defenses last year.  I think he deserves more time to get the ship righted but should be a couple slots down farther on the list.


@bpa_kc I don't know if his style will work in the SEC. It worked great for the Big 12. Time will tell. 


  1. [...] Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Meanwhile, John Pennington, who goes by the Twitter handle @MrSEC, ranked the SEC’s coaches from top-to-bottom. The coach who grabbed No. 1 should go without saying, but where do you think he placed Malzahn? [...]

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