The end of summer is upon us — at least those of us here at MrSEC.com — 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 MrSEC.com — 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.