In & around SEC football


2015 SEC head coach rankings

14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt. (Record: 3-9). When Mason was hired at Vanderbilt before the 2014 season, no one expected him to immediately have the same success as his predecessor James Franklin, who had taken Vanderbilt to almost unprecedented heights in the context of modern college football. The Commodores enjoyed back-to-back nine win seasons for the first time in school history and made it to three consecutive bowl games. In Mason’s inaugural season, Vanderbilt reverted back to its old ways of being the doormat of the SEC. It’s a harsh reality, but not an uncommon position for the program. The only thing that’s worse for the Commodores is the 2015 figures to be just as bleak. There are only two guaranteed wins on the schedule for Vandy, and the Nashville squad is staring at another winless conference season. It’s probably too early to put Mason on the hot seat due to the difficulty of the job, but perhaps the taste of success under Franklin will cause the school to be less patient with Mason. 

13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky. (Record: 7-17). Stoops is in the process of turning Kentucky around, with the Wildcats almost sneaking into a bowl game last season. Regardless Kentucky was much more competitive in the SEC. Stoops has also recruited well, and the ‘Cats have landed a couple of top 25 recruiting classes since his arrival. The next step is securing a bowl game for the first time since 2010. 

12. Jim McElwain, Florida. (Record at Florida: 0-0; overall record: 22-16). McElwain is entering his first season as head coach of the Gators. He’s replacing Will Muschamp, who was fired at the end of last season. McElwain rebuilt a struggling Colorado State program over the last three years and is very familiar with SEC football. From 2008-2011, McElwain was the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban and helped lead the Crimson Tide to two national titles during that span. Florida is one of the best jobs in the country, but there’s tremendous pressure that comes with that position. McElwain will need to at least win seven games this year to keep fans and the athletic administration pleased. After that, his teams will need to compete for championships pretty much every season. Otherwise, McElwain will suffer the same fate as former UF coaches like Muschamp and Ron Zook after just a few short years in Gainesville. 

11. Butch Jones, Tennessee. Record at Tennessee: 12-13; overall record: 62-40). There’s quite a bit of hype surrounding Tennessee entering the 2015 season, and Butch Jones has quickly rebuilt a program that was slowly fading away. The Vols return several starters from a team that ended last year strongly, and they could be a factor in the East this season. As promising as the future looks for future of Tennessee football, however, it might be a little premature to assume the Vols are ready to compete for an SEC championship. Jones is a good coach, but he also has a losing record in SEC play, and UT has a lot to prove before it can be labeled as a contender. 

10. Kevin Sumlin, Te-xas A&M. (Record at A&M: 28-11; overall record: 63-28). Sumlin had instant success in College Station, as he and quarterback Johnny Manziel took the SEC by storm in 2012. The Aggies have still been good following that 11-2 season, but the wins have gradually decreased each year. A&M figures to be in the middle of the SEC West again, and it seems like Sumlin’s teams are stuck there. Hiring John Chavis to run the defense was a smart offseason move, and Sumlin still recruits extremely well. As long as Sumlin wins 8-9 games per season, his job won’t be in jeopardy. But it remains to be seen whether he can win championships in College Station. 

9. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. (Record at Ole Miss: 24-15; overall record: 54-22). Since Ole Miss hired Freeze in 2012, his teams have improved their win total each season. Freeze inherited a mess in Oxford and quickly turned the program around. It will be difficult for the Rebels to improve the win total this year, but they should be competitive again in the difficult SEC West. Freeze has had tremendous success on the recruiting trail and has a winning record over archrival Mississippi State. Last season’s victory over Alabama was one of the biggest wins in school history, and despite ending the season with a bad loss, it was still a great year for the Oxford squad. 

8. Bret Bielema, Arkansas. (Record at Arkansas: 10-15; overall record: 78-39). It might seem like a contradiction having Bie-lema ahead of Butch Jones since the latter has a better record in the SEC, but the situation Bielema inherited at Arkansas was actually worse than what Jones ac-quired in Knoxville. After two seasons, Bielema’s Razorbacks are already back in the picture in the SEC West. Plus, Bielema’s previous job at Wisconsin is a solid indicator for his coaching acumen. Bielema won three straight Big 10 titles in Madison, and while the SEC is a tougher conference overall, he’s certainly capable of winning a conference title at Arkansas. 

7. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. (Record at MSU: 46-31). Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West and one of the toughest jobs in all of college football. What Mullen has accomplished in Starkville has been extraordinary. The Bulldogs were in the playoff hunt last season while having one of the best seasons in school history. After five straight seasons with a winning record, Mullen’s job security is safe for the foreseeable future. 

6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri. (Record at Missouri: 113-66; overall record: 186-103-3). Missouri had a difficult transition season in its first year in the SEC, but since that 5-7 season in 2012, the Tigers have won back-to-back East division crowns, and Pinkel deserves every bit of the credit. The Tigers weren’t picked to win the division in either season, yet Pinkel’s teams kept finding ways to win close football games. Missouri won’t be picked to win the East again this year, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Tigers are right back in the division race yet again this fall. 

5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. (Record at Auburn: 20-7; overall record: 29-10). Malzahn overachieved and nearly won a national title in his first season at Auburn. In his second year, his team underachieved and finished 8-5. Adding Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator was a major move that has excellent potential for the Tigers. Malzahn’s offense should be explosive, since he is one of the most innovative offensive minds in all of football. The Tigers are expected to be one of the nation’s best teams this season, and the pressure will be on Malzahn to deliver for Auburn. 

4. Mark Richt, Georgia. (Record: 136-48). Richt’s tenure in Athens has been perplexing, and it’s complicated to define. Some think he’s underachieved, and there’s some merit to that argument. Richt has had some loaded teams, yet Georgia hasn’t played for a national title under his regime. Conversely, his consistent success is at least somewhat impressive, and he has won a pair of conference titles. Either way, there aren’t many coaches in the country as good as Richt. Some are better, and perhaps he should’ve taken the Bulldogs to a national title game by now. Richt has averaged around 10 wins per season, however, and that’s a difficult task in the SEC.

3. Les Miles, LSU. (Record at LSU: 103-29; overall record: 131-50). In terms of wins and losses, the numbers during the Les Miles era at LSU are staggering. Miles has won 78 percent of his games at LSU, a national title and two SEC championships. He averages 10 wins per season and never has coached an LSU team that won less than eight games. His teams have been consistently good and his be-havior has been consistently strange. But LSU fans love him, and despite questionable clock management skills, he’s one of the best coaches in college football. 

2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. (Record at USC: 84-45; overall record: 226-85-2). Spurrier is the best coach in school history at two different SEC schools. Despite a down year a season ago, what he has accomplished at South Carolina has been incredible. Less than five current coaches could have had the success he’s had in Columbia, and he still might have one last great season in him. Spurrier won 11 games in three straight years. Prior to his arrival, South Carolina had never won 11 games in a season. The Gamecocks probably aren’t winning the East this year, and they might not win it again under Spurrier. But that still wouldn’t take away from his extraordinary run at South Carolina. 

1. Nick Saban, Alabama. (Record at Alabama: 86-17; overall record: 177-59-1). Was there any doubt who would hold the overall top spot? Saban is one of the best coaches in college football history, and he’s currently enjoying a historic run at Alabama. Seven straight seasons with at least 10 wins, three national titles, and three SEC titles, all since 2008. Saban has been so successful at Alabama that some are wondering if something is wrong because he hasn’t won a national championship in two years. It’s more than just consistency. Saban’s teams have dominated college football for years, and he’s been able to do it in the best conference in the sport. It might be a while before another coach dethrones Saban from the top spot. 

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