By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
SEC Coach Rankings Part 1
During the SEC’s dominant run in college football from 2006 through 2012, the league boasted the best coaches of any conference from top to bottom. While Alabama and Nick Saban have won two championships in the last five seasons, the rest of the league has not been nearly as productive.
The talent level certainly hasn’t dropped off in the SEC. The league is sending more players and more first round picks to the NFL than any other conference. However, the league was essentially Alabama and 13 other teams for five seasons.
But that’s finally starting to change. The coaching depth in the league has improved considerably as programs have brought in Saban disciples to turn things around. Georgia is already reaping the benefits two years into the Kirby Smart regime. Saban obviously remains the best coach in the conference – and arguably the best coach in the history of college football – but other programs in the league have made strides to make life more difficult for Saban and the Crimson Tide.
14. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee. It’s difficult to judge Pruitt since he’s yet to coach a game, and Saban assistants have had mixed results as head coaches. The last Saban assistant to serve as the head coach of Tennessee was Derek Dooley, and he only lasted three seasons in Knoxville. Pruitt won national titles as the defensive coordinator at Alabama and Florida State, but it might take a couple of years to establish a winning culture at Tennessee.
13. Matt Luke, Ole Miss. Luke was thrust into an impossible situation during his interim stint as head coach at Ole Miss last season, but he made the most of it and led the Rebels to six wins. The interim tag was removed, and Luke has an opportunity to navigate his alma mater out of the dire conditions of NCAA sanctions. The expectations will be low in 2018, but the talent is there to win six or seven games.
12. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State. Penn State’s offense thrived under Moorhead over the last two years, and he inherits a Mississippi State team capable of competing at the top of the SEC West Division. Moorhead’s only head coaching experience came at FCS-member Fordham from 2012-2015, and he was 38-13 with the Rams. Moorhead’s recruiting prowess will be tested in Starkville, but he should be able to put together a very successful inaugural campaign.
11. Chad Morris, Arkansas. The Morris hire was greeted with mixed results in Fayetteville this offseason, and it’s unlikely that he’ll have a very good team in 2018. Morris is known for his hurry-up/no-huddle offense, which is the antithesis of what Bret Bielema ran with the Hogs. That transition might be challenging, but Morris took over a one-win SMU team and led it to seven wins during his third season. Morris has recruiting ties in Texas and in the Southeast but has plenty of work to do to catch up to other SEC West programs.
10. Barry Odom, Missouri. Missouri started the 2017 season 1-5, and it appeared as if Odom might lose his job after only two years at his alma mater. However, the Tigers closed out the regular season by winning six straight games to finish 7-6. To be fair, some of those six wins came against clearly inferior opponents (congrats on beating Idaho and UConn), but Odom did enough to earn himself a third season. With likely NFL first round pick Drew Lock returning at quarterback, Odom has a chance to lead the Tigers to an even better year in 2018.
9. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt. Winning at Vanderbilt isn’t easy. Mason has not had a winning season yet during his four seasons in Nashville and has complied an overall 18-31 record. None of that sounds good at all, but this is the toughest job in the conference, and Vanderbilt has been far from a cellar-dweller under Mason. If the Commodores take a step back in 2018, however, Mason might find himself in trouble entering his sixth season.
8. Mark Stoops, Kentucky. Consecutive 7-6 seasons were enough to buy Stoops some time in Lexington, and now the question is whether he can sustain that success and build on it. Kentucky isn’t an easy place to win, either, but the good news for Stoops is that football will always play second fiddle behind basketball. Kentucky has not won more than eight games in a season since 1984, and it remains to be seen if Stoops is the man to take them to the next level.