The season is over and the bowls have run their course. With that in mind we take one final look back at the men who led the SEC’s football programs in 2010. Below are our final grades for each man’s work this season. And we’ve changed a couple since the end of the regular season. Like the Birmingham school district, we reserve the right to make adjustments when necessary.
1. Gene Chizik — A+
Auburn’s coach earned an additional “+” for winning the BCS Championship Game and that results in him being the MrSEC.com SEC Coach of the Year. Prior to the national title game, we had marked his grade down a tad because Chizik’s team happened to boast the obvious best player in college football. The thought being: Just about anyone could win big with Cam Newton. But three things changed our thinking on Monday night. First, Newton wasn’t at his best against Oregon. Second, Auburn won that game with defense… and defense is Chizik’s specialty. Third, when you win a national crown, you deserve an A+ even without the benefit of the last two facts.
2. Dan Mullen — A
Mullen got more from less than any other coach in the league this year. A 9-4 record, bowl win, and heartless beatdown of Michigan (and a then-fading Rich Rodriguez) were all accomplished without the aid of a star player. If you asked a college football fan in Colorado to name an MSU player from 2010 you’d get a blank stare in response. Now Mullen will have to prove that he was the man behind the Bulldogs’ success and not departed D-coordinator Manny Diaz.
3. Les Miles — A
Miles looked to be in serious trouble after he nearly bungled the end of the Tigers’ game with Tennessee. Fans began making it very clear that they were tired of his time-management woes. But Miles led LSU to an 11-2 record, a Top 10 finish (for the first time in three years), and a big bowl win over Texas A&M. Most importantly, he also went head-to-head with Nick Saban and won. Tiger fans loooooved that.
4. Bobby Petrino — A
The Razorbacks were blessed with a Heisman-candidate quarterback and a high-flying offense. They were expected to step forward and make their presence known on the national stage in 2010. They did. The Hogs won 10 games, wound up ranked 12th in the country and earned the school’s first BCS berth. If only they hadn’t gotten stage fright against Ohio State. Petrino has the Razorbacks headed in the right direction.
5. Steve Spurrier — B+
The final record for Carolina was 9-5. The nine wins were special (considering the Cocks’ history). But it’s hard to grade someone too highly when their team loses five games, gets whipped in the SEC title game and fails to show up for their bowl game (again). But we’ll give Spurrier a “+” mark because he did lead Carolina to its first SEC title game. We’ll not be so easy on the Ol’ Ball Coach next season. His team should be better in 2011.
6. Nick Saban — B
Saban is in most folks’ opinion the best coach in the country. But he didn’t prove that this year. Saban’s team had most of its talent returning from the 2009 BCS championship squad. But the Tide never seemed to have the same mental toughness as the previous year’s team. Three losses — especially the loss at LSU — with such a strong team were surprising. It goes to show how difficult repeating as SEC champs can be. The blowout win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl gave Saban a late grade boost.
7. Derek Dooley — C
Dooley inherited a mess at Tennessee and he finished with a 6-7 record. His unit did reach a bowl game and that counts in his favor. But Dooley’s season went just as most had predicted. Zero wins over teams with winning records, six wins over traditional doormats. That’s an average job. But Vol fans can thank him for keeping their zillion-year streak over Kentucky alive. For Dooley, the big test comes on signing day.
8. Robbie Caldwell — C
How can we give Caldwell a “C” grade when he went 2-10 and was fired? Because a 2-10 record and a firing were the expectations for 2010. The Commodores were bad. Caldwell was a stop-gap hire. He did exactly what we expected. Thus, an average grade.
9. Joker Phillips — C-
Phillips’ Wildcats took a slight step backward from 2009 with a 6-7 finish and a bad, ugly loss to a coachless Pitt team in the BBVA Comp… oh, whatever it was called. The Cats were picked to finish ahead of rival Tennessee this year in the SEC East. They did not. And Phillips wasn’t able to stop UK’s losing streak against their most-hated rivals, either. The fans noticed. And they responded by letting Phillips and his team travel to Birmingham all by their lonesome. Phillips has some work to do in 2011… just to win over Cat fans.
10. Urban Meyer — D
Not the best way for Florida’s legendary coach to go out. But the expectations were high in Gainesville. A roster stocked with four- and five-star recruits led most everyone to believe the Gators would keep right on rolling sans Tim Tebow. Not so. And when things went from bad to worse on offense, Meyer never really came up with an answer. There were no major changes made to his system. With each loss he simply threw another quarterback into the rotation. Meyer will be remembered for his great days at Florida… not his final season.
11. Mark Richt — D
Who knows if Georgia gets off to a better start with AJ Green on the field in September or not? Clearly, Green’s suspension hurt, but the coach had 84 other scholarship players to work with. His team improved once Green returned and his staff did get quite a bit out of a redshirt freshman quarterback, too. But the failure to show up for the Liberty Bowl hurt. It’s one thing to lose to C-USA — the SEC always struggles in that bowl — it’s another to show no fight. Richt is on a very hot seat in 2011.
12. Houston Nutt — F
Speaking of hot seats. Nutt took the Rebels to their first back-to-back New Year’s Day bowls in 50 years. Just ask him. But 2010 was a nightmare. It started with the bad press received for bringing in Jeremiah Masoli. It continued with losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. It grew worse as the defense went totally belly-up. And a second-straight loss to Mississippi State was the kicker (in the pants). Nutt’s program at Arkansas had its high moments but it never seemed stable. The pattern seems to be repeating in Oxford.