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Ranking Every SEC Coach by Their Recruiting Skills

Christopher WalshCollege Football National ColumnistFebruary 14, 2017

Ranking Every SEC Coach by Their Recruiting Skills

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    The road to winning a trophy like this often begins with beating out other coaches and teams for top-notch recruits.
    The road to winning a trophy like this often begins with beating out other coaches and teams for top-notch recruits.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    There’s been a significant shift in the Southeastern Conference.

    From 2006-12, the league won seven straight national championships, and while Alabama was clearly leading the way, a number of other schools were able to make their mark as well.

    But while Alabama is still regularly playing for crowns, the others have not been able to keep pace. Outside of Nick Saban there’s only two active head coaches in the league who have won or tied for an SEC division title and advanced to the SEC Championship Game, Jim McElwain at Florida and Gus Malzahn at Auburn.

    As always, it begins with recruiting, and with national signing day recently putting a bow on the 2017 class, fans already have an idea about which teams might be playing for the next few championships.

    While considering which SEC head coaches are the best recruiters, each team ranking by Scout.com is included minus the calendar year he was hired. For example, Saban landed in Tuscaloosa in January 2007, just a month before national signing day, so that year isn’t listed.

    Readers should also take into consideration that the class for the first year listed may have been primarily put together by the coaches’ predecessor.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

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    If going 2-6 in SEC play last season wasn't frustrating enough, Hugh Freeze is still dealing with looming NCAA penalties at Ole Miss.
    If going 2-6 in SEC play last season wasn't frustrating enough, Hugh Freeze is still dealing with looming NCAA penalties at Ole Miss.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2013: 10
    • 2014: 18
    • 2015: 16
    • 2016: 5
    • 2017: 29

     

    This isn’t to imply that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze isn’t a good recruiter, but with the ongoing NCAA issues continuing to linger if he was to receive a letter grade it would have to be an “I” for incomplete.

    Freeze went from having his best recruiting class to date to his worst as other programs are using looming sanctions against the Rebels, and no one knows when they might be handed down. 

    “It was ugly and I didn’t enjoy it,” Freeze said during his press conference on national signing day.

    “Some of it is personal with some people probably. I don’t talk about other schools in recruiting. I will not do that and our staff has been charged to do the same. There are several others that they thought it was a prime opportunity to use it in recruiting and that’s the route they go. I won’t forget who they are.”

    In 2016, Ole Miss landed 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson and tackle Greg Little. It might be a while before it adds another prospect of that caliber.

13. Barry Odom, Missouri

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    Barry Odom's first season as Missouri's head coach resulted in a 4-8 finish.
    Barry Odom's first season as Missouri's head coach resulted in a 4-8 finish.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2017: T46

     

    A year after Gary Pinkel retired due to health-related issues, Barry Odom’s first full recruiting class at Missouri didn’t exactly turn heads. After finishing last in the SEC East with a 2-5 league record, 4-8 overall, the Tigers didn’t land any 4-star recruits.

    It also didn’t add any in 2016. Wide receiver Da’Ron Davis was the only in-state player added. Although that was partly due to it being considered a down year, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Nebraska all added key additions from the Show Me State.

    Landing some immediate help on the defensive line was an obvious priority as Missouri signed four junior college players, but they’re not among the three early enrollees. 

12. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

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    Vanderbilt's Derek Mason earned in-state bragging rights with a victory against Tennessee in 2016.
    Vanderbilt's Derek Mason earned in-state bragging rights with a victory against Tennessee in 2016.Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    2015: 74

    2016: 69

    2017: 72

     

    Head coach Derek Mason is looking to build on last season’s momentum, when Vanderbilt notched wins against Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee en route to playing in its first bowl game since 2013.

    “I truly believe the impact of this class will be to push this program to its limits,” Mason told VUCommodores.com on national signing day. “In years past, we’ve been foundational in what we’ve been able to do, with blue-collar classes and guys who have had to play early. But this class is talented with size and athleticism. It has impact guys at different positions that I truly believe will push this program forward.” 

    According to Scout.com, the latest class doesn’t include any 4-star recruits, but it does feature eight linemen and is about as diverse geographically as possible—with players from places like Alabama, Hawaii, Georgia, Florida, California, Indiana and Utah.

11. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

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    With a 7-6 finish and 4-4 record in SEC play, Kentucky was the league's surprise team of 2016.
    With a 7-6 finish and 4-4 record in SEC play, Kentucky was the league's surprise team of 2016.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2014: 21
    • 2015: 45
    • 2016: 39
    • 2017: 35

     

    Knocking off Louisville in the season finale gave Kentucky some in-state bragging rights, and head coach Mark Stoops appeared to gain some more momentum in recruiting despite the state’s top prospect, tackle Jedrick Wills, ending up at Alabama.

    Kentucky landed only one player rated in Scout.com’s top 100, Lynn Bowden, but Stoops still called the 2017 class his best yet with the Wildcats. 

    “That’s the big thing about this group, they’re winners,” Stoops said during his press conference on national signing day. “They have great character. We didn’t lose one guy since the start of the season.

    “That’s a special group.”

    Kentucky successfully raided neighboring Ohio to secure seven players, but it also made major strides in Florida by landing eight players.

    One of them was defensive end Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald, a late commitment who was rated to be just a 2-star prospect by Scout.com, but Kentucky feels he has tremendous upside. 

    Born in Nigeria, he’s only been in the United States for a few years and played football since his freshman year in high school. He’s also listed at 6’7” and just 245 pounds.

10. Bret Bielema, Arkansas

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    Bret Bielema's 2015 signing class was his first to be ranked in Scout.com's top 25.
    Bret Bielema's 2015 signing class was his first to be ranked in Scout.com's top 25.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2014: 29
    • 2015: T21
    • 2016: 32
    • 2017: 27

     

    Arkansas already had nine early enrollees, so national signing day was a pretty quiet one, but head coach Bret Bielema still called it his best class yet with the Razorbacks.

    “It addresses the needs that we have right now with some players that can help us immediately,” he said during his press conference on national signing day. 

    In addition to adding some immediate help with junior college players like wide receiver Brandon Martin, the class is headed by 4-star cornerback Chevin Calloway and safety Montaric Brown.

    While Arkansas fans are wondering what it’ll take to land a top-rated class, when Bielema was the head coach at Wisconsin (2006-12), he never had a class finish in the top 25 of Scout.com’s team rankings.

    The Badgers won two division titles and played in three straight Rose Bowls. Arkansas has yet to have a team finish ranked and its best showing in the SEC West standings was tied for third in 2015.

9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

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    Despite having a losing SEC record as a head coach, 29–35, Dan Mullen is only behind Nick Saban as dean of the league.
    Despite having a losing SEC record as a head coach, 29–35, Dan Mullen is only behind Nick Saban as dean of the league.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    2010: 40

    2011: 45

    2012: 18

    2013: 20

    2014: 39

    2015: 19

    2016: T34

    2017: 25

     

    Dan Mullen should probably be higher on this list, but Mississippi State simply doesn’t have the same name recognition as a lot of the programs he regularly competes against for recruits. 

    Having a star player in the NFL with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will obviously help with that, as will topping Ole Miss in terms of in-state recruiting this past year. According to Scout.com, the Bulldogs landed four of its top 12 players, while the Rebels only got one.

    Mississippi State is playing up that it landed the state's top defensive player with outside linebacker Willie Gay, who followed his former teammates at Starkville High School Kobe Jones and Gabe Myles, and having 13 early enrollees.

    “When I first came here, if you even suggested that a high school player should graduate early, they would throw you out of the school,” Mullen said during his press conference on national signing day. “I got thrown out of a high school once when I suggested that. The principal threw me out of the school saying ‘We don't do that here. We aren't letting you graduate players early.”

8. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

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    Although Will Muschamp didn't have much to work with at South Carolina, the Gamecocks went 6-7 last season.
    Although Will Muschamp didn't have much to work with at South Carolina, the Gamecocks went 6-7 last season.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2017: 20

     

    Although rival Clemson made a bigger recruiting splash nationally, South Carolina landed the majority of the top in-state players this year. 

    Overall, the Gamecocks landed 11 from their home state, plus three from North Carolina, which head coach Will Muschamp considers essentially in-state as well, especially the Charlotte area.

    “This state has really good players and really good coaching,” he said during his press conference on national signing day. “These are all guys—every one of these guys we had in camp. We were able to work all of these guys out.”

    While Muschanmp was the head coach at Florida (2011-14), he had three recruiting classes finish in the top 10 of Scout.com’s team rankings. As his program gains momentum so should his ability to land top talent.

7. Butch Jones, Tennessee

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    Tennessee coach Butch Jones is taking heat for his "champions of life" and "5-star heart" comments
    Tennessee coach Butch Jones is taking heat for his "champions of life" and "5-star heart" commentsScott Halleran/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2014: 4
    • 2015: 5
    • 2016: 18
    • 2017: 16

     

    Although head coach Butch Jones has won some big recruiting battles at Tennessee, including defensive end Derek Barnett and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, the Volunteers have hit a big recruiting bump the past couple of years. 

    Outside of landing 5-star tackle Trey Smith, the Volunteers struggled in recruiting this year, seeing two top in-state recruits land at LSU and two more at Clemson. 

    Instead, Jones’ biggest headlines this offseason have been from saying his seniors are “champions of life” and regarding recruiting: “The only 5-star that we even concern ourselves with is a 5-star heart. We want 5-star hearts and 5-star competitors.”

    Coupled with the Volunteers failing to win the SEC East despite being the 2016 preseason favorite and the words “hot seat” are being heard in Knoxville—especially after the 45-34 loss to Vanderbilt.

6. Jim McElwain, Florida

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    Jim McElwain has notched two division titles already, but Florida fans want to see the Gators challenge for more.
    Jim McElwain has notched two division titles already, but Florida fans want to see the Gators challenge for more.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2016: 11
    • 2017: 10

     

    Although the Gators have played in back-to-back SEC Championship Games, there are growing questions about Jim McElwain's recruiting prowess.

    In addition to continuing quarterback issues, Florida only landed one of the state’s top-10 prospects in the Scout.com's rankings for the class of 2017 in guard Tedarrell Slaton, with defensive end Zachary Carter the only other Gator recruit in the state's top 20.

    Moreover, two of his key signing-day additions had significant off-field issues, running back Adarius Lemons and wide receiver James Robinson.

    “Obviously, as in all players, the important thing is you do your research and your background,” the school website quoted McElwain as saying about Robinson on national signing day. "My guess is there's a few people in this crowd right here that have some regrets on things they've done, and yet at the same time take responsibility for it. Here is the good thing: We get an opportunity to be involved in his life.

    "We get an opportunity to help him move forward, as we do all the players on this team. I'm excited about him being a Gator."

5. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has landed some big-name recruits but now needs to result in a higher finish in the SEC West standings.
    Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has landed some big-name recruits but now needs to result in a higher finish in the SEC West standings.Butch Dill/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2013: 6
    • 2014: 7
    • 2015: 10
    • 2016: 20
    • 2017: 9

     

    After signing the likes of top prospects Myles Garrett, Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk and quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyle Murray (who both transferred), Kevin Sumlin’s recruiting reputation had taken a bit of a dip. 

    However, with Baylor and Texas having some issues, the Aggies bounced back this year with a strong class led by 5-star interior linebacker Anthony Hines. He’s one of nine early enrollees already on campus.

    “These guys have a chemistry that is really, really good,” Sumlin said during his press conference on national signing day. “You don't have a class that stays together without a bunch of guys decommitting or going other places or doing something crazy today. That didn't happen.

    “These guys have been recruited and have relationships not only with us but with each other already that is of a championship mindset. They want to be good. They want to play for it all.”

4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

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    Since leading Auburn to the national championship game, Gus Malzahn's teams have gone 23-16, 11-13 in SEC play.
    Since leading Auburn to the national championship game, Gus Malzahn's teams have gone 23-16, 11-13 in SEC play.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2014: 8
    • 2015: 3
    • 2016: 9
    • 2017: 11

     

    Although most of the top in-state players eluded him, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn went heavy on the homegrown players for the signing class of 2017, inking 10, more than any of his previous classes.

    The increased priority has been reflected in the coaching staff with the addition of offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, a former high school coach in Alabama and Georgia. New secondary coach Greg Brown also spent a season with the Crimson Tide (2013).

    “We're a relationship staff, a relationship school,” Malzahn said during his press conference on national signing day.

    The key looking forward, though, is at quarterback, the crucial position with the Tigers offense, and where they’ve had a question mark since Nick Marshall left in 2014.

    Jarrett Stidham, who started as a freshman at Baylor in 2015 and sat out last year, is the latest addition along with early enrollee Malik Willis out of Roswell High School in Georgia.

3. Ed Orgeron, LSU

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    Ed Orgeron's recruiting prowess was a big reason why LSU promoted him to be Les MIles' full-time replacement.
    Ed Orgeron's recruiting prowess was a big reason why LSU promoted him to be Les MIles' full-time replacement.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2017: 7

     

    Ed Orgeron had been an SEC head coach before at Ole Miss (2005-07), and even though he only held the interim title at USC in 2013, he was the Trojans’ recruiting coordinator from 2010-13. 

    Among the big recruiting names he landed at Ole Miss included offensive tackle Michael Oher, defensive lineman Jerrell Powe and quarterback Brent Schaeffer, though the latter two didn’t play up to their lofty 5-star reputations.

    Of course, for every player like them there’s someone like playmaker Dexter McCluster, who was just a 3-star prospect.

    Oregeron was given the interim reins at LSU in September, but not named head coach until Nov. 26, which obviously impacted the 2017 signing class. He took a big hit when all but one of the top in-state players went elsewhere, but otherwise added to the strong talent base that LSU is known for. 

    He can't afford to let that happen again. 

    “We're going to get the best players in the state of LSU to come here,” Orgeron said during his press conference on national signing day. “We missed out on some guys and obviously we have work to do and that's in our primary area. Those are some of the things we need to get fixed.”

2. Kirby Smart, Georgia

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    After his first full year at Georgia, Kirby Smart came close to landing the nation's top recruiting class.
    After his first full year at Georgia, Kirby Smart came close to landing the nation's top recruiting class.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
    • 2017: 2

     

    Kirby Smart built a strong recruiting reputation while working for Saban at Alabama. Now back at his alma mater, Georgia, he spent a good part of his first year trying to keep as many in-state players at home. 

    “This state is very fertile [in talent],” Smart said during his press conference on national signing day. “It's number one in supplying roster spots for the SEC teams. When it comes to the two-deep in the SEC, more kids are from the state of Georgia than anywhere. When you go to the ACC, two-deep rosters in the ACC, it's second.”

    Led by the likes of safety Richard LeCounte III, tackle Andrew Thomas, quarterback Jake Fromm and safety Deangelo Gibbs, the Bulldogs sent a very clear message to other teams that it’ll be a lot tougher getting top prospects out of the Peach State.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

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    No college football head coach has done as consistently well in recruiting as Nick Saban in Alabama.
    No college football head coach has done as consistently well in recruiting as Nick Saban in Alabama.Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Year, Scout.com team ranking

    • 2008: 1
    • 2009: 2
    • 2010: 4
    • 2011: 7
    • 2012: 2
    • 2013: 4
    • 2014: 1
    • 2015: 2
    • 2016: 1
    • 2017: 1

      

    There’s no head coach in college football who’s better at recruiting than Nick Saban, and if you can’t understand why, you should consider his record and ring collection, and then check out his cameo appearance in the movie The Blind Side.

    Every recruiting class since 2008 has played for a national championship, and Alabama has had more draft picks over the last six years than any other school in the nation, 44—and may be on the verge of having its best draft ever.

    Oh, and he might have just added his best recruiting class yet.

    “We obviously try to identify needs that we have each year and I think in this class we sort of hit every spot but one,” Saban said. “We wanted to recruit one corner, maybe two. It just worked out it didn’t happen that way for us.”

    Crimson Tide fans don’t need to fret, though. The recruiting class of 2018 is expected to have a lot of top-notch cornerbacks available.

         

    The recruiting rankings courtesy of Scout.com unless otherwise noted.

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Christopher Walsh is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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