Ranking Every SEC Coach by Their Recruiting Skills
The college football season never sleeps.
While the season progresses, coaches juggle the pressure of winning football games with the sales aspect of the job, structuring official visits that coincide with big home games in the hopes of impressing the next crop of high school talent.
When the season wraps up, it's a sprint to the finish and national signing day, which is the first Wednesday of February every year. In the SEC, that sprint is the equivalent of the 100-yard dash in the Olympics, with some of the best head coaches and recruiters in the country vying for the gold medal.
Which head coaches are the best recruiters in the SEC? We rank them based on past recruiting success, resources to work with and the progress their programs have taken.
14. Barry Odom, Missouri
Missouri head coach Barry Odom took over for Gary Pinkel in December and did a good job of piecing together a decent recruiting class that included junior college running back Natereace Strong, as well as a bevy of 3-star prospects who, under the old regime, would be coached into 5-stars by former head coach Gary Pinkel.
Can Odom follow that same path?
That remains to be seen. From a recruiting perspective, though, Odom's chops are still in the rough-and-tumble world of the SEC.
Can he contend with the big boys? Can he go into fertile recruiting grounds like Georgia and Texas—two areas that Pinkel made an effort to focus on—and lure 4- and 5-star players away from the big boys?
He didn't do that during his first class, but that's also a lot to ask for a new head coach in just a two-month span. The real test comes in the class of 2017, when the new regime is a little more settled in Columbia.
13. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Head coach Derek Mason is at a bit of a recruiting disadvantage with the increased academic requirements that exist at Vanderbilt, but he also has the chance to use the lure of the Vanderbilt degree to his advantage if players want to play football while preparing for their futures at one of the best schools in the country.
He signed an underrated 4-star corner this cycle in Joejuan Williams, picked up three versatile wide receivers and recruited three 4-star prospects a year ago including 4-star pro-style quarterback Kyle Shurmur—who took over as the Commodores starting quarterback late in the 2015 season.
He landed Trent Sherfield in his first class at Vanderbilt in 2014 and turned him from a safety into a wide receiver. Sherfield led the Commodores in receiving in 2015.
Mason isn't going to go head-to-head with the big boys on the recruiting trail, but he's doing a good job for where he is and recognizes talent that he can develop.
12. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Mark Stoops has done a decent job of recruiting at Kentucky, but the tailspins during each of the last two seasons indicate that the depth he needs to compete in the SEC East—which isn't exactly the toughest division in the sport—just isn't there.
He does do a good job of locking down the borders of Kentucky as much as possible, including this year when he inked offensive linemen Drake Jackson and Landon Young—two 4-star players at a position of need for the 2016 Wildcats.
Stoops also increased his recruiting efforts in the state of Ohio since taking over the program and has had some success, including with tight end C.J. Conrad, wide receiver Dorian Baker and safety Mike Edwards.
But the program hasn't become the recruiting power that it needs to in order to contend for the SEC title.
11. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is the SEC equivalent of "fire and ice" on the recruiting trail.
Sometimes, he misses on players in his own backyard, like he did this cycle with 4-star wide receiver A.J. Brown from Starkville. That led to this shot from Brown on national signing day, according to Michael Bonner of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
Strong words from AJ Brown: "I was going to stay, but I felt like they didn't do a good job of recruiting. I didn't feel wanted."— Michael Bonner (@MikeBBonner) February 3, 2016
From a talent development perspective, Mullen is one of the best in the SEC. From a recruiting perspective, though, he's not among the big boys in the SEC.
10. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is slowly building back an Arkansas program that once was in the national conversation under former head coach Bobby Petrino, and Bielema has had a decent amount of success on the recruiting trail in the process.
He lured former running back Alex Collins and former lineman Denver Kirkland out of Florida to help stabilize the program, has given himself options at quarterback with prospects Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey and 5-star USC transfer Ricky Town and landed star running back Devwah Whaley and defensive lineman McTelvin Agim in the 2016 cycle.
On top of that, Bielema has developed Arkansas into "tight end U" with the likes of former Razorbacks Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle.
He finds talent, coaches that talent up and keeps the program competitive in most of its SEC games.
9. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Will Muschamp was a recruiting power when he had the backing of a big-time college football power at Florida. He did well in his one season as Auburn's defensive coordinator and closed strong in his first season as the head coach of South Carolina.
He convinced dual-threat quarterback and Major League Baseball prospect Brandon McIlwain to pass on that guaranteed pro baseball money to play both sports in Columbia. On top of that, he inked 4-star receiver Bryan Edwards after the Conway, South Carolina, native decommitted from the program during the coaching turmoil in the fall of 2015.
Jamarcus King was another big get for Muschamp on signing day; he should step in from junior college and compete right away for a starting spot in the defensive backfield.
It was a solid start for Muschamp in Columbia, but the class lacked the beef needed to compete for the SEC East. With a full year to prepare for the class of 2017, things could change based on Muschamp's track record of recruiting success.
8. Kirby Smart, Georgia
As an assistant as the defensive coordinator at Alabama, Kirby Smart was one of the best.
As a head coach, it was more of the same on national signing day.
He landed 5-star athlete Mecole Hardman and landed underrated wide receiver Tyler Simmons. He also preserved a class that included 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason and 4-star defensive tackle Julian Rochester.
It wasn't all great news earlier this month, though. Smart did lose 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown to Auburn and, as Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Sanjay Kirpalani noted earlier this week, appears to be fighting an uphill battle for the late commitment of receiver Demetris Robertson.
Much like Will Muschamp at South Carolina, there was a lot for Smart to be happy about in Year 1 as the Georgia head coach on the recruiting trail. The best is likely still yet to come.
7. Jim McElwain, Florida
Jim McElwain knew the rigors of the SEC recruiting trail when he took over the program prior to the 2015 season. He immediately made an impact with a solid class in Year 1 that was headlined by defensive end CeCe Jefferson.
In Year 2, he flipped pro-style quarterback Feleipe Franks from LSU, landed an immediate impact junior college running back in Mark Thompson and signed 4-star wide receiver Freddie Swain and stud corner Chauncey Gardner. All of these players are early enrollees and should have the opportunity to play right away for the defending SEC East champions.
Through two recruiting cycles, McElwain has kept the program at the same recruiting level that former head coach Will Muschamp left him with, but he has yet to ink that elusive, program-defining class.
6. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin didn't have the close to national signing day in 2016 that he wanted, but that was the exception, not the rule.
Over his tenure in College Station, he inked defensive end Myles Garrett, stud wide receivers Christian Kirk and Speedy Noil, safety Armani Watts and 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. While the Aggies careers of those two signal-callers didn't go according to plan, the ability of Sumlin to land them speaks to his recruiting prowess.
Are there issues in College Station? Sure, and Sumlin is coaching for his job this year.
The reason he is coaching for his job is because he has amassed the kind of talent on his roster that should land the Aggies in SEC West contention on an annual basis.
5. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones inherited a mess when he took over from Derek Dooley prior to the 2013 season, but he has built the program back to a point where it was one 4th-and-14 conversion by Florida away from winning the SEC East in 2015.
How did he do it?
By recruiting his tail off.
Nearly all of the players who are stars for the Vols were signed under Jones' watch, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd, wide receiver Josh Malone, defensive end Derek Barnett and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
In addition to the key contributors, tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle are just a few of the future stars who are biding their time on Rocky Top.
Tennessee has the personnel to return to glory, and Jones is a big reason why.
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Gus Malzahn likely has to contend for the SEC West in order to stay employed beyond the 2016 season, and much like Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, that is an indictment of his on-field coaching rather than his ability to get players on campus.
From a recruiting perspective, Malzahn has been a star.
He closed strong this year with wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers and defensive tackle Derrick Brown, signed two dual-threat quarterbacks in junior college transfer John Franklin III and true freshman Woody Barrett and finished with the ninth-best class in the country, according to 247Sports' team rankings.
Malzahn has reeled in top-10 classes during each of his four recruiting cycles as the head coach of the Tigers and has given himself plenty of resources to contend for the division title every year.
3. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has bettered his win-loss record in each of his four seasons as the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, and he has done it while attracting top-tier talent to Oxford.
It started with that stellar class of 2013 that included Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Tony Conner, continued with players such as C.J. Hampton, Van Jefferson and Demarkus Lodge and was most recently on display in 2016 with a class that included quarterback Shea Patterson, offensive tackle Greg Little, wide receivers DeKaylin Metcalf and A.J. Brown and defensive tackle Benito Jones.
Those talented players have helped Ole Miss earn two consecutive New Year's Six bowl berths and have the program in legitimate contention for the SEC West title in 2016.
Simply put, Freeze has made Ole Miss a desirable place to play football again.
2. Les Miles, LSU
Les Miles routinely cleans up in the talent-rich state of Louisiana, dips into Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia when he wants to and has the LSU roster loaded with stars.
Among those stars are running back Leonard Fournette, defensive end Arden Key, linebacker Kendell Beckwith, corner Tre'Davious White and wide receiver Travin Dural.
Those are just some of the freaks on the 2016 Tigers, and all of them are backed up by players who essentially are clones of the starters.
The one drawback to Miles' recruiting efforts is his inability to consistently find quarterbacks who fit what he wants to do offensively, but the rest of the roster is simply stacked.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
In a runaway, Nick Saban is the best head coach in the conference when it comes to recruiting.
And pretty much everything else, for that matter.
Saban has posted the best class in the country for six straight seasons, has built the program to a point where 10-win seasons are the floor and anything below that would cause panic in the streets of Tuscaloosa, has adjusted his offensive philosophy ever so slightly to be a little more dynamic and has a defensive front seven that is the best and deepest in the country.
Nick Saban is not human. To stack these classes on top of each other and have kids not worried about the depth chart is truly mind boggling.— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) February 3, 2016
In recruiting, it's Saban and everybody else.
Everybody else is riding a bike, while Saban is driving a Ferrari.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.