Grading Every SEC Head Coach Through 10 Games
A seismic shift of power is underway in the nation's most powerful conference.
SEC newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M took little time adapting to the league's level of competition, and perennial powerhouses like Florida, Georgia and LSU have been knocked off of their pedestals.
The Southeastern Conference introduced four new coaches in 2013, with their amounts of first-year success ranging from catastrophic to jaw-dropping. It's well known that the SEC is the most competitive on the field, but coaches understand how competitive the league can be off the field as well.
With money from both television contracts and school donors pouring in, it's never been more lucrative to coach in the SEC. After seven straight national championships, top recruiting classes and big-name coaching hires, it's also never been more difficult.
Though the 2014 offseason appears to be headed for a quiet one, several coaches find themselves on the hot seat. Let's make our way through every coaching job this season and take a look at who's helped secure his job and whose career could be dependent on a turnaround in 2014.
And remember—this only applies to this season. An overall ranking will come during the offseason.
14. Will Muschamp
2013 Record: 4-6 (3-5 SEC)
Overall Record: 22-14 (13-11 SEC)
Gator fans expected a lot from 2013. Returning its starting quarterback from an SEC Eastern Division champion squad that won 11 games and reached a BCS bowl, Florida was ranked in the nation's Top 10 and slated to challenge for the national championship.
Instead, Muschamp's squad has fallen flat on its face. A defensive coordinator, Muschamp has apparently let his offense go, and it shows. While many of the issues this squad has faced have been due to injury, an elite program like Florida should have backups that could reach a bowl game. Without an epic upset of second-ranked rival Florida State, that looks like a pipe dream.
The Gators lost to rival Miami earlier in the season and have lost five straight, including a 34-17 shellacking at home at the hands of Vanderbilt.
Muschamp has failed. He's failed his team, he's failed his program, and he's failed his fans. The sheer amount of injuries his team endured saved his grade from an "F," and his recent BCS berth will save his job this season. He can't expect the same niceties in 2014.
13. Bret Bielema
2013 Record: 3-7 (0-6 SEC)
Overall Record: 3-7 (0-6 SEC)
The Razorbacks are in rebuilding mode. Everyone knows that, and they didn't expect miracles right away out of first-year head coach Bielema. What Arkansas fans were hoping for, though, is that their new program leader wouldn't be a distraction off the field.
It all started with his comments while coaching at Wisconsin. He called out his future home, stating, "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form." Now that he's employed by an SEC institution, he's probably still working on wiggling his foot out of his mouth.
Then came 2013. Bielema publicly called out Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn for hiding specific plays on its game tape, potentially breaking league rules, and then ran that exact play against the Tigers.
While talking the talk is great, you generally need to be able to walk the walk. With Arkansas' most impressive win coming against Louisiana-Lafayette and losses to Rutgers and a struggling Florida squad, Bielema can't walk the walk.
While his job isn't in danger yet, this being his first season at the helm, he sure hasn't helped his cause with his attitude and coaching.
12. Mark Stoops
2013 Record: 2-8 (0-6 SEC)
Overall Record: 2-8 (0-6 SEC)
Having missed bowl eligibility every year since 2010, not a whole lot was expected from the Wildcats this season.
Mark Stoops delivered exactly that.
Turning Kentucky into a competitor is not an easy task. The level of talent, the recruiting base and the fanbase support are simply not comparable to that of other SEC institutions. Despite a scare to then-13th-ranked rival Louisville, this season has turned into what UK fans expected.
Though this season has been a struggle, Stoops will have a loose leash due to the success of the UK basketball squad. The administrators know how difficult of a job he has in front of him, and he'll be allowed to progress as long as he shows improvement.
11. Dan Mullen
2013 Record: 4-6 (1-5 SEC)
Overall Record: 33-28 (14-24 SEC)
Once among the nation's most elite college football names, Mullen was allegedly sought after for openings at historic programs like Michigan and Florida.
Though Mullen has done nothing short of an extraordinary job in turning the Bulldogs program into a competitive team, he's struggled to overcome the MSU curse.
Oh, you've not heard of the MSU curse? Some may call it the "so close" curse. After losing starting quarterback Tyler Russell to injury against Oklahoma State, MSU played a competitive three quarters against the 13th-ranked Cowboys before falling 21-3.
A last-minute touchdown drive sank what would have been a massive win over Auburn on The Plains, LSU scored 28 in the fourth quarter, highly ranked Texas A&M won by only 10, and the Bulldogs nearly upset top-ranked Alabama. The list goes on and on.
MSU has talent. MSU has a great coaching staff. MSU can't find a way to take it to the next level.
The day is soon approaching where "good" won't be good enough for Dan Mullen. His job is not nearly in jeopardy the way many think, as he's long since proven his value, but the former Urban Meyer assistant desperately needs to find a way to compete with the SEC's big dogs.
With a huge amount of experience returning, a generous league schedule and a potentially down SEC, 2014 might just be his year.
10. Les Miles
2013 Record: 7-3 (3-3 SEC)
Overall Record: 92-24 (50-20 SEC)
As I've mentioned before, there is only so much room at the top. With programs like Texas A&M, Missouri and Auburn all emerging, someone had to make room. This year, LSU is one of those programs.
The Tigers have by no means been poor. Ranked 22nd, LSU has beaten everyone it was supposed to. The problem is, it hasn't beaten anyone in that top echelon. Those losses include Georgia and Alabama, and when a road loss to Ole Miss is factored in, this has been a disappointing season for the Tigers.
The amount of talent and coaching ability at LSU can't be denied. Nor can LSU's immense program history. A national champion and two-time national championship contender, Les Miles will not be denied his success at the helm of LSU.
He just can't win 10 games every year.
9. Mark Richt
2013 Record: 6-4 (4-3 SEC)
Overall Record: 124-44 (71-32 SEC)
Georgia joins LSU and Florida in programs that took a step back this season, allowing the limelight to fall on newcomers. A perennial SEC Eastern Division powerhouse, Georgia has never found a way to put itself into the national championship discussion for long.
Injuries helped doom this season. At one point, the Bulldogs were exhausting their supply of running backs. Star quarterback Aaron Murray had to carry his team, and he will end his career without a single BCS bowl game to his name.
Mark Richt has built a superpower but can never seem to find his way off of the hot seat. UGA fans are hungry to join Alabama among the nation's elite, but the program always seems to be a step away.
Losing all three quarterbacks who touched the ball this season, 2014 doesn't seem to be looking any better.
8. Butch Jones
2013 Record: 4-6 (1-5 SEC)
Overall Record: 4-6 (1-5 SEC)
Don't look now, but Butch Jones is sneakily doing better than you think.
Though the Vols will likely barely edge into a bowl game this season, they have been more competitive than the record suggests. A win against 10th-ranked South Carolina is joined by close losses to Georgia and Florida, showing that the best is yet to come in Knoxville.
Jones has had a solid season in his first year at the Tennessee helm after a quick rise to power through the Central Michigan and Cincinnati programs.
His recruiting class currently ranked second in the nation, Jones is serious about utilizing Tennessee's program history and resources to its benefit. The Volunteers are likely back to a bowl for the first time since 2010 and are on an upward trend.
7. James Franklin
2013 Record: 6-4 (3-4 SEC)
Overall Record: 21-15 (10-13 SEC)
It's been a long while since a Vanderbilt head coach had a winning overall record. James Franklin has turned this typical SEC cellar-dweller into a legitimate threat in the SEC East.
The Commodores are headed to their third consecutive bowl game for the first time in program history and are proving more competitive on the field and on the recruiting trail. The 'Dores have wins over Florida and Georgia, close losses to South Carolina and Ole Miss and a couple of winnable games ahead of them.
This squad has snuck under the radar but is only a few points here and there away from having competed for the SEC East this season. Though Vanderbilt loses its starting quarterback for 2014, it would be smart not to bet against James Franklin reaching yet another bowl at the helm of the Vandy program.
6. Steve Spurrier
2013 Record: 8-2 (6-2 SEC)
Overall Record: 74-39 (41-31 SEC)
How do you introduce a man who needs no introduction? With 216 wins under his belt, Steve Spurrier is a college football living legend.
After attending eight BCS bowls at Florida, Spurrier took some time off and returned to the SEC to help turn around the Gamecocks program. That he's done, having sent USC to five consecutive bowls and in contention for the program's first-ever BCS bowl berth.
Though reaching 11 wins for three straight years will mean not losing another game, including to rival seventh-ranked Clemson, Steve Spurrier has done an exquisite job in Columbia.
With the tumultuous and competitive SEC always breathing down his neck, time will tell whether Spurrier can take South Carolina past the level of BCS contention and into the national championship discussion.
5. Kevin Sumlin
2013 Record: 8-2 (4-2 SEC)
Overall Record: 19-4 (10-4 SEC)
Head coach Kevin Sumlin didn't enter into the most advantageous situation a year ago. Leaving a successful stint at Houston, Sumlin inherited a program that would be competing for its first time in the ultra-powerful SEC, led by a freshman quarterback to boot.
Never mind that.
A&M racked up 11 wins in 2013, including an upset of eventual national champion Alabama, and that freshman quarterback, a man by the name of Johnny Manziel, went on to make history as the only freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
A year later, and TAMU is about on par with 2013. Losses to perhaps the league's top two teams spoiled the Aggies' chances at a national championship, but Manziel is on track to compete for a second consecutive Heisman, and Texas A&M is competing for a BCS bowl berth.
In an offseason overall ranking of SEC head coaches, rest assured Sumlin will rank higher than fifth.
4. Hugh Freeze
2013 Record: 7-3 (3-3 SEC)
Overall Record: 14-9 (6-8 SEC)
Less than a year ago, new Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was making national headlines with one of the best recruiting classes in program history. Ranked in the nation's top 10, the class included some of the best talent in the nation, bypassing Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen's recent domination of the in-state recruits.
The freshmen have shown their value in 2013. The Rebels have already matched their win total from a season ago, with wins over Texas and eighth-ranked LSU, and have an outside shot at double digits.
Hugh Freeze, in his second season in Oxford, has quickly taken an Ole Miss program being dominated by a powerful SEC and built it into a roadblock. If his momentum on the field and in recruiting continues, Ole Miss could be yet another program ready to knock an SEC power off of its throne.
3. Nick Saban
2013 Record: 10-0 (7-0 SEC)
Overall Record: 73-13 (43-9 SEC)
Contrary to popular belief, when you're on top, there are two directions to go. Down, and horizontally. Head coach Nick Saban and his goliath Alabama dynasty have gone the latter.
Being ranked third on this list is by no means a knock on a man who has established himself as potentially the greatest coach of any sport on any level. Yes, I gave extensive thought before I said that.
With the sheer amount of resources and talent at his disposal—easily the best situation in the nation—just how good of a job he's done is difficult to perceive. Simply put, making the most out of little is better than making the most out of most.
Alabama is undefeated in 2013, with wins over Texas A&M, Ole Miss and LSU. The Iron Bowl, in what promises to be one of the most epic in its history, with one-loss Auburn looms large on the horizon. If the Tide can tame the Tigers on the Plains, 'Bama will be well on its way to its third straight national championship.
2. Gus Malzahn
2013 Record: 10-1 (6-1 SEC)
Overall Record: 10-1 (6-1 SEC)
What Texas A&M's Sumlin did a year ago and Malzahn has done this season are true rarities.
The Southeastern Conference has more talent, more national champion head coaches and more resources than any other conference in the nation. Perhaps ever. Winning on this level isn't supposed to happen in a coach's first year.
Particularly not after a three-win season.
Malzahn took a squad, though recently removed from a national championship, that had lost its identity and breathed life into every facet of it. The Tigers have lost only a single game and are an upset of rival Alabama away from an SEC Western Division crown and potentially much more.
The top two selections were tough. Both coaches have enjoyed rebound seasons and knocked off some pretty potent teams in the process. With Auburn's recruiting foundation, ultimately it had slightly more to pull from, and Gus Malzahn finished second.
The top coaching job thus far is...
1. Gary Pinkel
2013 Record: 9-1 (5-1 SEC)
Overall Record: 99-62 (7-7 SEC)
When Missouri joined Texas A&M in moving to the SEC, it was Missouri that most thought would compete from day one. That proved not to be the case.
Texas A&M enjoyed a tremendous 11-win season in 2012 while the Tigers limped to five wins. That matters little in 2013, where Pinkel has led Missouri to a potential SEC Eastern Division championship and BCS bowl berth.
Missouri survived an injury by star quarterback James Franklin without a scrape and is one three-point loss to South Carolina away from making its case for national championship consideration. If the pieces fall right, and that's a very big if, Missouri still may have a case.
Pinkel has worked wonders in Columbia. Despite one of the lowest-recruited rosters and the strength of the new league, the Tigers have rebounded and shown that the newcomers are here to compete. That is the definition of making the most with less.
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