The 2012 college football season is over, and it is time to rank the SEC head coaches on their performance. This is by far the toughest group of guys to rank, because it is simply the most competitive conference in the country. With success oozing out of many of these programs, coaches in the SEC are held to much higher standards than other conferences.
What may be considered a wonderful season in the Pac-12 or ACC can often be looked down upon in the SEC. You must be able to recruit at a high level, get those players ready in time and win the majority of your games come Saturday. If you can't follow the simple formula, you likely won't be around long to try and turn things around. There is a reason there are four new coaches in this conference.
There were many great stories in the SEC, and a few coaches were able to put themselves on the map. But a couple of other guys may have taken a backseat.
Here are the SEC coaching rankings with the 2012 season in the books.
Note: The rankings are put together based off of this season. I don't care about a championship appearance a decade ago or how articulate a particular coach was during his latest press conference. This is a "what have you done for me lately" type of league, and that is how these rankings were treated.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: The former Wisconsin head coach led the Badgers to three straight BCS Rose Bowls. He has a proven track record as a head coach, but he may find that recruiting in Arkansas isn't as easy as he thought it would be.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Malzahn has experience with Auburn, as he was the offensive coordinator when the school won a national championship back in 2010. With the familiarity of the program and his offensive mind, Auburn may have made the best coaching decision it has made since Pat Dye.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: Stoops is the only coach in this conference who doesn't have any head coaching experience. He has shown that he can quickly turn around a team on the defensive side of the ball, but won't have nearly the same caliber of athletes in Kentucky that he had other places.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: Jones was able to win at Central Michigan and was able to keep Cincinnati afloat when Brian Kelly left. If he ends up being anything like Kelly, Volunteer fans will eat this guy up. However, he better show progress soon; the folks out in Tennessee are starving for something to be happy about.
2012 Record: 5-7
Why He Is Ranked Here: Gary Pinkel really struggled in his first year as an SEC coach. This would usually be perfectly fine due to the transition, but there was another new coach who was able to bully his way to respect instantly.
It's a tough world out there in the SEC, and Pinkel wasn't able to lead his team to one respectable win in the Missouri Tigers' first year in the new conference.
What He Can Do to Improve: Pinkel may actually be on the hot seat heading into 2013. He has been with Missouri forever, but hasn't really been able to get the program over the hump. Obviously, a bowl appearance is a small victory next season, but the Tigers need to have that one great year that turns everybody into a believer.
2012 Record: 8-5
Why He Is Ranked Here: Dan Mullen may actually have the most upside of any coach in this conference. He is very young at the age of 40 years old and has shown to be a bright coach who's come up under some of the biggest names in the business. He also has proven that he can recruit in an area that isn't exactly the easiest in which to do so.
However, losing five of the last six games, including a bowl matchup to Northwestern, is really inexcusable.
What He Can Do to Improve: Mullen has had a steady flow of success at Mississippi State, leading the program to three straight bowl games. The problem is that he really hasn't had that marquee win and is absolutely terrible against ranked opponents. With the typical brutal SEC West schedule on tap once again, it is time Mullen knocks off some of the big boys.
2012 Record: 11-2
Why He Is Ranked Here: I've given Will Muschamp his credit throughout the year for what he has done with Florida this season. Nobody expected the Gators to win as many games as they did, and he clearly has them on the right track to begin competing for national titles.
However, he was simply out-coached by Charlie Strong in the Sugar Bowl. With such a devastating loss, you are forced to look back at many of the close games against subpar opponents and really question if Muschamp has arrived yet.
What He Can Do to Improve: Muschamp is obviously the man for the job and has what it takes to get this school back to where it belongs. He just must keep recruiting well and making progress heading into next year. Muschamp should be just fine once he teaches his team how to close games with a little more consistency.
2012 Record: 7-6
Why He Is Ranked Here: Hugh Freeze left Arkansas State after one season and took over an Ole Miss program that only won two games back in 2011. Nobody expected much from the Rebels or Freeze, as it appeared it was going to take a small army to get Mississippi up and running again.
Instead, Freeze led the team to seven victories, including the first bowl win since 2009.
You should always receive major props for doing more with less, and that is what Freeze is doing right now.
What He Can Do to Improve: Continue to climb up the SEC West ladder. The recruiting is taking off as of late, and Mississippi could soon be that dark horse that other SEC schools don't want to play. It is going to be interesting to see if Freeze can continue this surprising run.
2012 Record: 10-3
Why He Is Ranked Here: We can talk about the two SEC titles and the national championship victory Les Miles earned back in 2007. But is there anybody that actually trusts this guy on the sidelines?
Miles has become the Tony Romo of play-calling, and it seems to get worse the more you watch. Despite having one of the more talented teams in the country, LSU lost three games, including looking absolutely pathetic against Clemson in the bowl matchup.
What He Can Do to Improve: Get somebody else to call the plays and stop giving Tiger fans heart attacks in crucial situations. If that isn't a reasonable scenario, Miles just needs to overtake Alabama next season and become the face of the SEC again.
2012 Record: 11-2
Why He Is Ranked Here: Steve Spurrier proved for a second season in a row that you actually can have success at a school such as South Carolina. His team was able to knock off three Top 25 teams and only lost to LSU by two points on the road.
It seems that Spurrier has been drinking from the fountain of youth as of late and is really turning the Gamecocks into a contender.
What He Can Do to Improve: Spurrier has enough talent on both sides of the ball to put his team into the SEC championship next year. He's won 11 games two seasons in a row, but it is now time to take that next step forward. An SEC title matchup could do the trick to take South Carolina to completely new heights.
2012 Record: 9-4
Why He Is Ranked Here: James Franklin has been able to turn Vanderbilt into a winning program.
Known more for high academics and a great medical program, Vanderbilt wasn’t known for competing well on the gridiron. But Franklin has led the Commodores to 15 victories in just two seasons, which is only one fewer than the four seasons combined before he stepped on campus.
If this guy decides to stick around for a while, this is a school that can do some major things in a couple of years. Yes, the success is that great.
What He Can Do to Improve: Just keep on winning. As long as Franklin can continue to lay down the foundation for success, things will continue to improve for this program. Vanderbilt is far from a national powerhouse, but with each and every small victory, it is quickly gaining the respect from its SEC peers.
2012 Record: 12-2
Why He Is Ranked Here: I really can't say enough about just how great of a coach Mark Richt is. We are talking about somebody who has won double-digit games in eight of his 12 seasons at Georgia and has won a little more than 74 percent of his games.
Let's also keep in mind that his team was only a few yards away from playing in the national championship.
Richt has received a bad rap for not being able to win the big matchup, but his overall consistency makes him a top-tier coach.
What He Can Do to Improve: With the team that is returning next season, Richt has no more excuses not to win the SEC. This upcoming season will either make or break things for the head coach and the program as a whole.
2012 Record: 11-2
Why He Is Ranked Here: Nobody knew what to expect from Kevin Sumlin or his team in the first season in the SEC.
As the Aggies enter the second season in the conference, there are soft whispers about them being able to compete for a national title.
Sumlin was a winner in Houston and has quickly gained everybody's attention with Texas A&M. There is just something about him that you have to like. and I get the feeling we have yet to see the best of what he has to offer.
What He Can Do to Improve: Sumlin has already beaten Nick Saban and lost the only two games of the year by a combined eight points. The bar was set extremely high in the first year, but an SEC title is the goal that is being talked about on campus.
2012 Record: 13-1
Why He Is Ranked Here: Obviously, you can't possibly be ranked any higher than No. 1, and that is what the Alabama Crimson Tide are at the moment. Nick Saban has won three of the last four national championships, and his squad will have a great chance to do it again next year.
Saban is going to remain in this spot for a very long time. Unless, you know, he ends up leaving for the NFL at some point.
What He Can Do to Improve: Fix the economy? Stop world hunger? Ban reality television? Seriously, Saban would have to do something on a much larger scale to actually improve his ranking. As far as football is concerned, it currently gets no better than the guy that is running the Crimson Tide.