As was the case with the College Football BlogPoll, the infinite wisdom of those responsible for the SEC Power Poll is now also shown to be seriously lacking. Why? Because Power Poll Administrator and guru CockNFire over at Garnet and Black Attack has thrown reason to the wind and allowed Gate 21 to join the mix — a sure sign that Power Poll is doomed.
Be that as it may, on this first week of the 2008 Power Poll, since there have been no games played, we the pollsters have been charged with the task of ranking the current head coaches for the SEC schools. Given my complete inability to follow conventional wisdom, I have a somewhat unusual No. 1 — a point that I’m sure will leave both of my readers scratching their heads.
Either way, here’s my ballot (with my contorted rationalizations as to why I believe such foolish things):
SEC Power Poll — The Coaches
1. Sylvester Croom — Mississippi State
A lot of folks will probably think I am crazy for tabbing Sly Croom as the top coach in the SEC, but I really do strongly feel that he is deserving, and is the best coach in the SEC at present. I know I’m going to have to defend this one, probably.
I discussed my reasons for choosing Croom as the best in Week 4 of the Big Orange Roundtable (Question 5). In that response, I wrote:
When Croom took over, the Bulldogs were awful — they just plain sucked. After 3 years of winning only 3 games, however, Croom finally seemed to turn the corner in Starkville in 2007 finishing 8-5 (4-4 SEC) for the season — the first winning season for Miss. State since 2000.
While I realize his win / loss record is not what it could be (17-30 overall) managing to bring the Bulldogs back to respectability is, in my book, a major accomplishment. Let’s be frank here, it’s called “Stark“ville for a reason. Recruiting for the Bulldogs is probably as challenging as any other school in the SEC, perhaps with the exception of Vanderbilt. Yet, somehow, Croom has managed to right the ship and bring the program back from the bowels of football hell.
What’s more, this year’s team returns 14 starters — all of whom were recruited by Croom — and looks to be set to make another strong showing this year. They should be even better than they were in 2007, and I’d be highly surprised if the Bulldogs don’t end up in a bowl this year. I have real fear when it comes to the Vols’ game against the Bulldogs this year. My only hope is that the boys in orange don’t “overlook” the cowbell clan — if they do, they will lose.
For me a coach’s overall record is not nearly as important as their ability to demonstrate progress in moving toward a goal — is the program better, worse, or the same as it was when the coach arrived on campus. Winning 9 games in your first season at Florida followed by a national championship is not nearly as significant to me as managing to drag a program which has collapsed back to success. Sly Croom has lost a lot of games in Starkville over the past few years, but it appears that he has finally managed to get the program back on track. That impresses me a great deal, and that is why he’s at the top of my list.
2. Mark Richt — Georgia
Here I return back to the thoughts of the masses. It is difficult to argue with Richt’s successes at Georgia. In seven years as head coach, he’s had five 10-win (or more) seasons. Over that time period he has garnered three BCS bowl bids for the Bulldogs, has had a 72-19 (40-16 SEC) record, and earned two SEC Championships. That is impressive.
My only criticisms of Richt (which keep him out of first place) are that he has failed to win a national championship for the Dawgs or contend for one. Of course, the same can be said for Sylvester Croom. The reason I hold this against Richt is due to the state off the Georgia program when he took over the reins. The year before Richt was hired, “Whisperin’ Jim” Donnan led the Dawgs to an 8-4 (5-3 SEC) record and a bowl. That is not exactly a derelict program.
Thus, even though Richt has advanced the Bulldog program from where it was, he has one more step to go before he — in my twisted mind — manages to match the level of improvement Croom has brought to Mississippi State.
3. Tommy Tuberville — Auburn
Tommy Tuberville has been quietly building a great tradition down on the plains. Since taking over in in 1999, Tuberville has amassed a 80-33 (49-23 SEC) record, an SEC championship, and has pretty much owned the Iron Bowl. He has also used about 5,000 gallons of hair shellac. Tuberville’s teams always seem as prepared as any team in the country on gameday, which is as impressive as it is rare these days. His strong record and proven system puts him right near the top in my book.
All of that said, Auburn is always seemingly right on the cusp of winning a championship, but never seem to be able to finish the deal. For that reason, he’s only third.
4. Les Miles — LSU
It’s hard to argue with the power of the hat over the past three years. The reason Miles comes in at number four, rather than higher up the chain is due to the fact that he is just beginning to field teams peopled with players he has recruited. Furthermore, going back to my “advance the program” notion, when Miles took over the Tigers were coming off of a 9-3 (6-2 SEC) season. It’s pretty easy to win in that situation.
If he continues to win going forward, then he will most definitely move up.
5. Urban Meyer — Florida
Meyer has won a BCS title game and has racked up an impressive record since taking over in 2005. My criticisms of Meyer largely mirror those I made for Miles with one addition. In 2007 Meyer’s Gators showed real weakness on offense (against everyone but the Vols, that is … ugh). A lot of that weakness appeared to come from Meyer’s belief in a system which doesn’t meaningfully employ the running back. In my opinion a team cannot sustain success without that. What’s more, he seemed to rely a little too much on Tebow, which further made the Gators one-dimensional on offense.
6. Great Punkin‘ — Tennessee
Phillip Fulmer has been the head coach of Tennessee Volunteers for 14 years. He is the senior-most coach in the league and has an impressive record, including a BCS title, two SEC Championships, and has three additional SEC East titles. Fulmer has been consistent, but over the past few years has probably been a bit too consistent in failing to reach the top level of the polls and BCS bowl games.
Though I think Phil Fulmer is one of the great coaches of college football, over the past few years the program has not seemed to be advancing as much as it has been holding position. The addition of Dave Clawson as offensive coordinator along with a new scheme may, however, change that and result in Fulmer’s stock rising once again.
7.(tie) Rich Brooks — Kentucky
Rich Brooks has done a nice job at Kentucky over the last four years. He wins more than he loses and appears to run a clean program. Every now and then, he has managed to win a big game. Kentucky is respectable, but really not much more than that. Thus, it’s hard for me to place him much higher.
7.(tie) Houston Nutt — Ole Miss
Were Houston Nutt still at Arkansas, he would probably rank higher. He was consistent and recruited some stellar players while coaching the Hogs. That said, he never seemed to be able to push the team to the championship level. Now that he is at the helm of the Ole Miss Rebels, he has his work cut out for him. If he can turn it around, then he will rise quickly in my eyes, but Oxford has not been very kind to coaches over the past decade. The old adage that “there is nowhere to go but up,” simply isn’t true — for Nutt and Ole Miss, “sideways” is a real possibility.
9. Steve Spurrier — South Carolina
A decade ago, “The Ole Ball Coach” would have been my hands-down choice for best coach in the country. Whatever it is that he did while coaching the Washington Redskins, however, changed that. While his Gamecocks have posted solid overall records since 2005, they have never had any meaningful success in the SEC. That is not going to win you any coaching awards.
10. Bobby Johnson — Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is a tough place to coach and win. I realize this. Still, I think it is reasonable to expect a winning season every five years or so.
11. Nick Saban — Alabama
Slick Nicky has real coaching abilities — there is no question about that (as the Vols learned last year). That said, I give Saban this low rating largely on principle. For what he is getting paid, a 7-6 (4-4 SEC) record isn’t enough.
12. Bobby Petrino — Arkansas
Bad hire. He is a mercenary coach who is only interested in where he can get the most money on a given day. I give him four years — max — before he moves on to greener pastures leaving Arkansas with little to show for it.
The Rest of the BlogPoll
Now that you have wasted your time looking at my ballot, go check out what everybody else is saying over at Garnet and Black Attack. I will also try to update this post with links to the other pollsters’ ballots as soon as I can.
How long do you think it will be before they kick me out?
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