By Cole Frederick
SEC Coach Rankings
14. Barry Odom, Missouri
13. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Odom and Smart are the two newcomers to the head coaching ranks as they are entering their first seasons at Missouri and Georgia, respectively. Odom served as the defensive coordinator at Missouri last season under Gary Pinkel and was promoted to head coach after Pinkel resigned. Odom was previously the defensive coordinator at Memphis and was an assistant at Missouri from 2003-2011. He played at Missouri from 1996-1999. Odom has no head coaching experience.
Smart is also taking over at his alma mater. He played for the Bulldogs from 1995-1998, and since he has worked on the defensive side of the ball, primarily under Nick Saban. Smart has served as Saban’s defensive coordinator since 2008 and was a part of four national championships at Alabama. Smart’s recruiting acumen bodes well for Georgia, and while he’s untested as a head coach, expectations will still be high from the start for his Bulldogs.
12. Mark Stoops, Kentucky. Stoops inherited a disastrous program in Lexington, so he was given a pass for the first couple of years of his tenure. However, last year was supposed to be the year the Wildcats earned a trip to a bowl game. Yet, they stumbled to a second consecutive 5-7 season, and Stoops has found himself on the hot seat entering his fourth year. Anything less than a winning season might not be enough in 2016.
11. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt. James Franklin set the bar extraordinarily high at Vanderbilt for Mason. After two seasons in Nashville, Mason is only 7-17 but the Commodores were much more competitive for most of the 2015 season. Vandy should have a very good defense in 2016 and will have a good chance of reaching a bowl game if it can knock off South Carolina in Week 1.
10. Will Muschamp, South Carolina. Muschamp’s tenure at Florida ended unceremoniously, but after spending one year as defensive coordinator at Auburn, he is back in the SEC East Division. Muschamp is an effective recruiter and excellent defensive coach, but his offenses at Florida were incompetent. He won’t have much to work with in his first year in Columbia, but bowl eligibility isn’t out of the question.
9. Butch Jones, Tennessee. 2016 will be the most important year of Butch Jones’ coaching career. Te-nnessee has improved its win total by two wins in each season under Jones, and this year the Volunteers are the favorites to win the SEC East. In 2015, the Vols went 9-4 and lost all four games by less than a touchdown. Jones has recruited at a high level in Knoxville, but he will have the pressure on him to deliver a trip to Atlanta this fall.
8. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. The temperature on Sumlin’s seat in College Station continues to rise. Another 8-5 season seemed much worse after the departure of two different former five-star quarterbacks, and the Aggies are seemingly stuck in the middle of a loaded SEC West. Sumlin has recruited at an elite level and has the talent to compete for a di-vision crown, but A&M is far behind Alabama, LSU and even Ole Miss. Texas A&M has the talent to compete at a high level again, but if the Aggies stumble, Sumlin could be looking for a new job next offseason.
7. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. Freeze has turned Ole Miss into a power in the SEC in only four years. The Rebels improved their win total by one game every year under Freeze, including last year’s impressive 10-3 season that culminated with a Sugar Bowl win. So why is Freeze so low on the list? He’s compiled a 34-18 record in four seasons in Ox-ford, but with the talent he acquired, it feels like he should have accomplished much more. Ole Miss has been loaded with NFL talent in recent years, but the highlight of each season has been defeating Alabama. It’s still unclear whether Freeze is capable of turning Ole Miss into a national contender with staying power.
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas. Bielema has a losing record at Arkansas, but he has the Razorbacks trending in the right direction. Arkansas probably won’t contend in the SEC West again but should be competitive in a loaded division. Bielema’s success at Wisconsin also can’t be ignored, especially since he took the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls. Arkansas won’t be national title contenders anytime soon, but the Razorbacks will be consistently good under Bielema’s direction.
5. Jim McElwain, Florida. Perhaps this seems too high after only one season in Gainesville, but McElwain’s first season was incredibly impressive. Florida was loaded on defense a year ago but there was a lack of offensive talent and depth. Winning 10 games and the East Division with that roster can’t be ignored, and he also did a remarkable job of turning Colorado State around in just three seasons. Tennessee is the favorite to win the East, but don’t count out McElwain and the Gators.
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. The majority of the coaches on this list are in-terchangeable. Malzahn comes in at No. 4 even after two consecutive seasons in which his teams failed to meet preseason expectations. If Auburn has another disappointing year, Malzahn likely will be ranked lower, or not at all if Auburn’s 2016 campaign is bad enough. But his first season on The Plains was such an impressive turnaround, and he deserves credit for taking that Auburn team to the national title game. However, the pressure is on Malzahn to deliver again in Auburn.
3. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. Mullen has never won a national title as a head coach. He’s never won a conference title. He hasn’t even won a division title. But Mullen is also in charge of the toughest job in the SEC West, and Mississippi State is constantly competitive in the division. Freeze has garnered more praise and national attention over the last four years, but he and Mullen have the exact same record during that time frame (34-18). 2016 will be a rebuilding season after the departure of Dak Prescott, but make no mistake – Dan Mullen can flat-out coach.
2. Les Miles, LSU. Under Miles, LSU has won one national title, played for another and won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 seasons. Yet Miles still finds himself on the hot seat. Nick Saban and Alabama have overshadowed Miles’ success in Baton Rouge, and LSU has lost to Alabama five straight times after winning the “Game of the Century” in 2011. LSU is loaded again this year, but will Alabama once more stand in the way? If so, will that be enough to quantify dismi-ssing Miles? LSU has been a constant contender under Miles, but Tiger fans want to see another championship sooner than later.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama. Forget ranking coaches in the SEC, or even the country. At this point, Saban is in the discussion for the greatest college football coach of all time. He has five national titles overall as a head coach, including four at Alabama since 2009. He has built perhaps the greatest modern dynasty in the sport. And the scariest part is he isn’t finished yet. Alabama is loaded yet again and will be among the favorites to win the national title. This trend will likely continue as long as Saban remains in Tuscaloosa, because he continues to recruit better than anyone, gets the most out of his players and surrounds himself with the best assistants in the sport. As long as Saban is the head coach at Alabama, Saban will have the top spot on any coach ranking secured.
In & around SEC football
By Cole Frederick