With the BCS National Championship Game behind us, the season for coaching changes is upon the SEC and the rest of the country.
Coming off a recent seven-year stretch of consecutive national championships and consistently owning the best bowl record among the BCS leagues, the SEC is the pinnacle of college football coaching. With six national championships and 26 conference championships of some variety between them, the head coaches of the Southeastern Conference are an impressive lot.
The network of former SEC head coaches or assistant coaches reaches across the nation, from the AAC to the ACC, the Big 12 to the Pac-12, and it grows every year. Most recently, James Franklin left Nashville to become Penn State's new head coach after a hugely successful stint at Vanderbilt. The league's staffs are always in high demand, and the 2014 offseason has been no different.
Let's take a stroll across the conference to check out the inner workings of each, ranking them as we go.
Head Coach: Derek Mason
Offensive Coordinator: ?
Defensive Coordinator: ?
Newly appointed Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason falls into the SEC's last spot by default. Replacing Franklin, Mason has yet to announce a staff and is hemorrhaging recruits in the meantime.
Mason first joined San Diego Mesa College in 1994 and has spent the majority of his career coaching wide receivers and defensive backs. After stints at schools including Bucknell, Utah and the Minnesota Vikings, the Phoenix, Ariz., native joined Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford in 2010.
As the Cardinal's defensive backs coach, Mason's group ranked 19th nationally in his first year in interceptions. Under near head coach David Shaw, Mason was promoted the next year to co-defensive coordinator and his team responded to rank 26th nationally in total defense.
As a 2012 finalist for the Broyles Award, given to college football's top assistant coach, Mason has been in high demand on the coaching circuit for years. Now with a solid understanding of how to recruit to a academically elite university, Mason seems to be a great fit for a Vandy program that looks to have some rebuilding to do.
Head Coach: Mark Stoops
Offensive Coordinator: Neal Brown
Defensive Coordinator: D.J. Elliot
In his first year at the helm in Lexington, Mark Stoops—the brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops—led the Wildcats to a, well, forgettable season.
The 'Cats showed flashes of competitiveness in losses to Louisville, South Carolina and Mississippi State, but the operative word there was "losses." Kentucky managed just two wins in 2013, against Miami (OH) and Alabama State, and opened the season with a 35-26 loss at Western Kentucky.
The talent is needed. This is a young staff, with both Stoops and Elliot in their first go-round at this respective positions. Brown did relatively well in stints at Troy and Texas Tech, but as a whole, this staff is unproven and has a long ways to go to get UK competitive in the SEC.
Head Coach: Butch Jones
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bajakian
Defensive Coordinator: John Jancek
Butch Jones certainly has the passion.
Jones, hailing from Saugatuck, Mich., took over a solid program at Central Michigan in 2007 and won two MAC Championships in three years. Moving to Cincinnati, he did the same for a program that needed rebuilding after a big Sugar Bowl appearance in 2009. The question here is just how much of this success came as a result of following in the rip current that Brian Kelly left behind in both positions.
His project is similar in Knoxville. A once-historic Vol program hasn't seen a winning season since 2009, and Jones' job is to give it some luster. His first year at the helm brought five wins—the same amount as the previous two seasons.
Much of the defensive staff is without much "name" value, largely carried over with Jones from Cincinnati. None of Jones' teams have been known for their defense and his offenses, each with Jancek at the offensive coordinator spot, have endured the same Brian Kelly asterisk as Jones does.
Whether Jones can turn Tennessee around in the face of a hugely competitive SEC is still to be seen. One thing is certain: 2014 will say a lot about the short-term future of UT football.
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Chaney
Defensive Coordinator: ?
Bret Bielema's jump from Wisconsin to Arkansas remains one of the biggest surprises, and mysteries, to hit college football's coaching carousel in recent memory.
Before his departure, Bielema had won three consecutive Big Ten titles, and the Prophetstown, Ill., native had compiled a gaudy 68-24 record with the Badgers. Known for his defenses, Bielema's relationship with defensive coordinator Chris Ash was a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Fast forward a year, and the Razorbacks managed just three wins, including nine straight losses, and have lost their outstanding defensive coordinator to Ohio State.
Still, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been around the block. Coming from Tennessee at the same position, the experienced Chaney brings a solid recruiting acumen and free-handed offense to Fayetteville.
Of note, offensive line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the business. After leading Tennessee to an SEC-leading performance in fewest sacks allowed, he did the same with less talent at Arkansas in 2013.
As a young team matures, Bielema has a chance to start some forward momentum on the rebuilding project in 2014.
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
Offensive Coordinator: ?
Defensive Coordinator: Geoff Collins
Quickly becoming an SEC veteran, Dan Mullen nearly lost both coordinators this offseason.
Following a successful revamping of the MSU offense, taking over a program that finished nearly last nationally in offense under previous head coach Sylvester Croom, offensive coordinator Les Koenning helped bring State's numbers up to respectability. He recently left to coach wide receivers at Texas.
Reported to be flirting with Florida State for the defensive coordinator job in Tallahassee, according to the team's website, Collins chose to stay in Starkville thanks in large part to a significant pay raise. And for good reason. Collins' defense as a first-year defensive coordinator was physical and aggressive, ranked 33rd nationally in points allowed and 40th in passes intercepted.
Mullen, longtime offensive coordinator under famed head coach Urban Meyer, quickly took a lowly Mississippi State program to yearly bowl expectations. After four straight bowl appearances, Bulldog fans are beginning to expect that big year. With a hugely talented quarterback/wide receiver tandem returning to face a young SEC in 2014, it could be on the horizon.
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze
Offensive Coordinators: Dan Werner, Matt Luke
Defensive Coordinator: Dave Wommack
An exciting 2-10 to 7-6 turnaround made Hugh Freeze one of the most talked-about head coaches of 2012. The glass ceiling in the SEC, though, is pretty substantial, and the Rebels edged up to an 8-5 record this season.
Freeze's impact has been most notable on the recruiting trail. His first class at Ole Miss was ranked seventh nationally and included the country's top recruit in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. His 2014 class is currently ranked 15th.
Keep in mind that Freeze's job is to bring these recruits to Oxford, Miss. Though his experience is limited as a head coach, Freeze has been a hit everywhere he's been. His overall record after six years as a head coach in three positions is an almost unbelievable 45-18, showing that talent really can overcome inexperience.
Though none of the coordinators' work on the field has been noteworthy as of yet, their efforts on the recruiting trail certainly have been. With an improving lot of talent, this crew has a chance to break out against a relatively youthful 2014 SEC.
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
Offensive Coordinator: Josh Henson
Defensive Coordinator: Dave Steckel
Entering the SEC was a bit of a shock for Pinkel and crew, but the miracle year that was 2013 sent the Tigers to the conference title game after an Eastern Division title and put Mizzou back on the map.
Pinkel-led teams have won their conference's division a total of eight times, and the Akron, Ohio, native has taken a lower-tier Big 12 program into the limelight in both the Big 12 and the SEC. First-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson, no doubt helped by tremendously gifted quarterback James Franklin, led a unit ranked 13th nationally in scoring offense. Henson has turned out to be a better big-picture scheme guy rather than a positions coach as in his previous stint as co-offensive line coach, which wasn't nearly as successful.
Steckel has been reliable on defense, though they've never kept up with Mizzou's offenses. This year's unit was good enough to be successful, ranking 34th nationally in points allowed.
This staff's weakness has been recruiting, which will have to improve if the program hopes to continue its forward momentum in the SEC.
Head Coach: Will Muschamp
Offensive Coordinator: Kurt Roper
Defensive Coordinator: D.J. Durkin
Coming from an outstanding two-year stint as co-defensive coordinator for Texas, Will Muschamp matched expectations by taking a struggling powerhouse to 11 wins just two years after taking the helm. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease struggled throughout, though, and was fired this season after a miserable performance that held the Gators to just four wins.
In his stead comes Kurt Roper. Beginning his career at Ole Miss under David Cutcliffe, Roper coached the first pick of the 2004 NFL draft in quarterback Eli Manning. The Ames, Iowa, native followed Cutcliffe all the way to Duke, where his 32.8 points per game in 2014 were good enough to vault a historically terrible Blue Devils team to 10 wins. Well-versed in the SEC after stints at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky, Roper brings both recruiting and coaching acumen to the position.
Durkin is perhaps one of the most underrated coordinators in football. Despite just four wins, Durkin's unit ranked 15th in the country in scoring defense in his first season at the position, and his special teams were consistently one of the fastest, most athletic in the country. He's got a pedigree, too, having coached under both Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer.
If the Gators can stay healthy, next season should be a rebound campaign.
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bobo
Defensive Coordinator: ? Jeremy Pruitt
Mark Richt, the proverbial father (Steve Spurrier would be the grandfather, of course) of SEC head coaches, has never coached at the helm of any program outside of Athens, Ga. Deservedly so, after 126 wins to match just 45 losses. In just his second year, Richt took the SEC crown and led the Bulldogs to 14 wins. Though his last conference championship came in 2005, UGA took the Eastern Division in both 2011 and 2012.
After installing a 3-4 defense in his four years with the Bulldogs, former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham leaves in 2014 for Louisville. After an injury-plagued season, well-known offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's unit still ranked 21st nationally in scoring offense, led by four-year starter Aaron Murray.
Bobo has had his share of criticism for making little out of a lot, but his efforts have improved during the past several years. Running back Todd Gurley will have to largely carry the squad in 2014 as Bobo's offense flips back to a run-based attack.
Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was added to the staff about a week ago. His resume is solid, including an outstanding year for the Seminoles who dominated defensively and, of course, won the last-ever BCS National Championship.
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Offensive Coordinators: Jake Spavital, Clarence McKinney
Defensive Coordinator: Mark Snyder
The staff in College Station is young, bold and energetic. And it's paid dividends on the field.
Bringing Houston and then Texas A&M both into relevancy, Sumlin has been an all-star from the outset. His 2011 Houston squad lost just a single game, and a year later, his Aggies lost just two in their first year in the SEC. Known for his offenses and recruiting diamonds in the rough—including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, a 3-star recruit—Sumlin has shown himself to be one of the top program leaders in the nation.
First-year offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, one of the nation's hottest names in assistant coaches, joined McKinney to run an offense that ranked fifth nationally in scoring and saw Mike Evans mature into one of the SEC's top wide receivers. Snyder has been competent at the defensive lead, but not exemplary.
In-state rival Texas has been known to let recruits fall through the cracks. If Sumlin and his A&M team can keep finding that caliber of missed talent, both will be in for a lot of success in the SEC.
Head Coach: Les Miles
Offensive Coordinator: Cam Cameron
Defensive Coordinator: John Chavis
LSU, known for quite some time for its physical play on defense, suddenly transformed in 2014 into an offensive juggernaut behind the arm of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Much of that improvement can be credited to new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. A longtime student of Bo Schembechler, Cameron struggled as a head coach at Indiana before various jobs in the NFL. His one-year stint as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007 was even more disastrous, losing all but one game.
Despite that, the Chapel Hill, N.C., native has proved his acumen as an offensive mind. Miles is among the most thoroughly experienced head coaches in the SEC, with 13 years under his belt, and among the few with a national title. He hasn't won less than eight games at LSU, and only once during his entire career as a head coach.
Chavis is no slouch, coaching what is perennially one of the top defenses nationally. His 2013 edition ranked 21st nationally in points allowed, and he seems pretty content at the defensive coordinator spot.
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
Offensive Coordinator: Rhett Lashlee
Defensive Coordinator: Ellis Johnson
In just eight years, former high school head coach Gus Malzahn shot up through the ranks of offensive coordinator positions to coaching a team to the national title game. Malzahn's fantastically rapid rise to power is unlike what has been seen in college football in a long, long time.
After a single year at Arkansas State and a Sun Belt Championship, Malzahn returned to Auburn where he served as the offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011. All he did was take an offense ranked 110th in the nation to breaking Auburn's single-season total offense record the next year, coached a Heisman winner in Cam Newton and won the 2010 Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.
His trip back to Auburn has been just as incredible. A year following a three-win season and the ousting of his previous boss in Gene Chizik, Malzahn took the Tigers to the SEC title and within minutes of a national championship. Enough can't be said about the potential of Malzahn.
Ellis Johnson isn't much of a head coach. His most recent attempt was a 0-12 year that trashed Southern Miss' program. As a defensive coordinator, though, there aren't many better. The Tigers, despite the lack of big-time athletes, ranked among the top half of the conference in points allowed and sacks this season. Johnson is a seasoned leader and has a massive amount of influence on the recruiting trail.
Together with young Malzahn protege Lashlee, this staff is enormously talented and has already shifted the balance of power in the Southeastern Conference.
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Offensive Coordinator: N/A
Defensive Coordinator: Lorenzo Ward
You just can't question what Steve Spurrier has done. Beginning his career as a head coach in 1987 at Duke, Spurrier has claimed one ACC title, six SEC titles and a national title. He's taken a historically mediocre South Carolina program into a perennial powerhouse, winning 11 games the past three consecutive seasons. His record as a head coach? He has 219 wins, 79 losses and two ties, including 20 bowl appearances. That's 20. Two zero.
A living legend, Spurrier calls his own plays on offense. Rarely with elite talent, the Gamecocks always seem to make the most with a comparatively low amount of talent.
Lorenzo Ward has become a hot commodity on the coaching market, due in large part to his unit's 12th-ranked scoring defense this season and big names like Jadeveon Clowney. His defenses are among the league's most aggressive and most intimidating.
Spurrier owns the South Carolina program, for best and for worse, and it shows. No one outcoaches the Ol' Ball Coach.
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Offensive Coordinator: Lane Kiffin
Defensive Coordinator: Kirby Smart
Very, very few coaches ever win a BCS National Championship. Nick Saban won three in four years between 2009 and 2012. Saban has won nearly three times as many games as he has lost, at 165-57-1, and that level of consistency just shouldn't be possible in today's climate.
Bear Bryant won big at Alabama, but he did so when the NCAA was far less strict and competition far weaker. What Saban has built at Alabama is history made in our time.
Needless to mention his other accomplishments. Two other national titles are to his name, one at Alabama and another at LSU. Two more SEC Western Division Championships, one more SEC title and a MAC title are all under his belt.
He is unequivocally the best collegiate head coach alive and, perhaps, the best to coach the game.
Under him are two highly experienced, thoroughly talented coordinators and recruiters. Kiffin, as much a mess as he turned out to be as a head coach, knows offense. The former Tennessee and USC head coach broke offensive records at USC and now has some of the nation's most elite athletes at his disposal.
This season's Alabama defense was the worst for the Tide in six years. It also ranked fourth nationally, allowing 13.2 points per game. Smart's defense has held opponents to an average of fewer than 12 points per game over the past six years and has featured some of the most highly touted names in the NFL draft.
Whether it be recruiting or coaching, this staff is as deep and talented as the athletes it coaches.
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