SEC Football: Power Ranking Conference's 2015 Head Coaches

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterApril 23, 2015

SEC Football: Power Ranking Conference's 2015 Head Coaches

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban
    Alabama head coach Nick SabanButch Dill/Associated Press

    The SEC has evolved into a pseudo-all-star team of college head coaches.

    Five head coaches are currently in possession of SEC title rings, and three—Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier—have national title rings as head coaches (Spurrier won his at Florida).

    How do they stack up against one another?

    Our ranking of the 14 SEC head coaches based on overall record, program prestige and potential power are in this slideshow.

14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

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    Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason
    Vanderbilt head coach Derek MasonMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Overall record: 3-9

    Record at Vanderbilt: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)

    It's safe to say that Derek Mason's first season at Vanderbilt didn't go according to plan. 

    Fresh off back-to-back nine-win seasons under former head coach James Franklin, Mason flipped the script and posted nine losses in year one and went winless within the conference. The absence of a downfield threat didn't help, and a revolving door of starting quarterbacks indicated Mason may be spinning his wheels in his first season as a head coach.

    He handled it like a seasoned SEC head coach, though, by making coaching changes at both coordinator spots, including naming himself the defensive play-caller.

    Will it work? 

    That remains to be seen. So far, not so good, though.

13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

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    Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops
    Kentucky head coach Mark StoopsGarry Jones/Associated Press

    Overall record: 7-17

    Record at Kentucky: 7-17 (2-14 SEC)

    Mark Stoops appeared to have turned the corner midway through the 2014 season. The program sat at 5-1 with that only loss coming in triple overtime at Florida. Then, the bottom fell out. The Wildcats lost their final six and missed a bowl game after being on the brink of bowl eligibility in mid-October.

    It's going to take time in Lexington, and Stoops is the right man for the job.

    He's recruiting better than Kentucky has in the past, has made a concerted effort to compete for prospects in Ohio and has differentiated his offense from the rest of the SEC, which is something programs playing at a talent disparity must do.

    But until he starts winning conference games consistently with that system, it's hard to put him above other established SEC coaches who have proved they can.

12. Jim McElwain, Florida

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    Florida head coach Jim McElwain
    Florida head coach Jim McElwainPhil Sandlin/Associated Press

    Overall record: 22-16

    Record at Florida: 0-0

    It's nearly impossible to accurately rank first-year coaches in the SEC, and Florida's Jim McElwain is no different than his predecessors. He turned around Colorado State in three years to a point where the Rams were battling for the "group of five" bid to a New Year's Six bowl late into November.

    Now he has to turn Florida around. That could take some time, based on the offensive line problems he inherited. McElwain does know what it takes to win in the SEC, though. He was Alabama's offensive coordinator when it won national titles in 2009 and 2011, and he certainly has the talent base both on the roster and along the recruiting trail to build a consistent winner.

    He just has to prove it first.

11. Bret Bielema, Arkansas

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    Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
    Arkansas head coach Bret BielemaL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Overall record: 78-39

    Record at Arkansas: 10-15 (2-14 SEC)

    It might shock many to see Bielema so low on this list, but let's try to put where he is into perspective. He did tremendous things at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, but he has only won two SEC games in two seasons, is sub-.500 overall and hasn't won more than eight regular-season games in three years.

    Is the program moving forward? Absolutely. Does Bielema deserve the credit for that? Yes.

    There's a difference, though, in potential and reality. Once Arkansas' potential becomes reality and the program wins in the SEC consistently under Bielema, he will fly up the SEC coaching rankings.

    He just hasn't had the opportunity to prove that yet.

10. Butch Jones, Tennessee

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    Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
    Tennessee head coach Butch JonesWade Payne/Associated Press

    Overall record: 62-40

    Record at Tennessee: 12-13 (5-11 SEC)

    Butch Jones inherited a mess in 2013 from former head coach Derek Dooley, but progress has been made. Jones reeled in each of the last two seasons and led the Vols to their first bowl appearance since 2010 last year—a 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

    The next step is contending for the SEC East, which should happen in 2015 based on the roster Jones has returning and the current state of the division.

    He needs to actually do it, though.

    Jones has done a tremendous job laying the foundation, as he always says, "brick-by-brick." He's no longer in the masonry business, though. It's now time to put the roof on, solidify the structure and move in as a division title contender.

9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
    Mississippi State head coach Dan MullenRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Overall Record: 46-31

    Record at Mississippi State: 46-31 (22-26 SEC)

    Dan Mullen led the Mississippi State program to its fourth straight bowl game following the 2013 season, which was a first in program history. It was the start of a lot of "firsts."

    In 2014, Mississippi State achieved a No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history, was ranked No. 1 in the first ever College Football Playoff rankings and made its first Orange Bowl since 1941. Can he sustain that success? Was 2014 the product of a down SEC West?

    Mullen has to answer that this season, and he will do so with some significant roster turnover that includes five starters in its defensive front seven and three starters along the offensive line. 

    Even if it takes a step back, Mullen has elevated Mississippi State to a point where bowl eligibility is the norm, which was unthinkable in Starkville just a decade ago.

8. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
    Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Overall record: 63-28

    Record at Texas A&M: 28-11 (13-11 SEC)

    Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M career started out with a bang. In his first season with the Aggies—which was also their first in the SEC—Sumlin reeled off an 11-win season, beat Alabama on the road and won the Cotton Bowl.

    Since then, the Aggies have posted just 17 total wins in two years and are 7-9 in the SEC.

    Sumlin did his best to fix the glitch by getting rid of former defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and luring John Chavis away from LSU, but that move has to coincide with a little more dedication to the running game on offense and an increase in wins in 2015.

    The middle of the SEC coaching pack is loaded with talent, and Sumlin must prove that the regression over the last two seasons is only a minor speed bump before he's considered one of the SEC's top coaches.

7. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

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    Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze
    Ole Miss head coach Hugh FreezeRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Overall record: 54-22

    Record at Ole Miss: 24-15 (11-13 SEC)

    Hugh Freeze is on the wrong side of the mirror image of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin's SEC record, but what Freeze lacks in wins, he gains in program trajectory.

    Ole Miss danced around the College Football Playoff for the majority of the 2014 season, before injuries took their toll and the Rebels sputtered to a 9-4 record. That shouldn't take away from what Freeze has accomplished, though.

    "My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year," Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in November. "That was the goal. To be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game."

    What's more, Freeze has led the program out of the Houston Nutt abyss with defense—which is not what earned him the job in the first place. Once Freeze's offense catches up, Ole Miss is going to be a tough out in the SEC West.

    That should happen this season.

6. Mark Richt, Georgia

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    Georgia head coach Mark Richt
    Georgia head coach Mark RichtJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Overall record: 136-48

    Record at Georgia: 136-48 (78-34 SEC)

    Mark Richt's career at Georgia is littered with "what ifs." 

    What if Miami and Ohio State hadn't gone undefeated in 2002? What if it hadn't lost to 6-6 South Carolina in 2007? What if Aaron Murray's pass wasn't tipped at the line of scrimmage at the end of the 2012 SEC Championship Game?

    Richt deserves a ton of credit for his sustained success, because most programs would kill for it. But his inability to get to the big game—coupled with several inexplicable losses that prevent Georgia from either making it to the SEC Championship Game or even contending—deserves criticism.

    Under Richt, Georgia is a solid program that sends players to the NFL and is routinely either in or on the periphery of the national conversation. There are worse places to be, even for Georgia. See: Jim Donnan and Ray Goff.

5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

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    Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
    Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Overall record: 29-10

    Record at Auburn: 20-7 (11-5 SEC)

    All Gus Malzahn did in his first season at Auburn was win an SEC title and come within 13 seconds of the crystal football. In 2014, though, the Tigers sputtered down the stretch and lost four of their last five, including a blowout at Georgia and a shootout at Alabama.

    The defense has been an issue, and Malzahn has attempted to rectify the problem by hiring Will Muschamp to replace Ellis Johnson as his defensive coordinator after Muschamp was let go as Florida's head coach.

    It should work.

    Auburn has talent on the defensive side of the ball, and Malzahn now has the right leader in place. Malzahn's smashmouth, two-back system out of the spread has proved to work against even the best SEC defenses, and all it takes is a little consistency on the defensive side of the ball for Auburn to win its first title since 2010 and solidify Malzahn as on of the top head coaches in college football.

4. Les Miles, LSU

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    LSU head coach Les Miles
    LSU head coach Les MilesMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Overall record: 131-50

    Record at LSU: 103-29 (56-24 SEC)

    Les Miles has been in this position before. Following eight- and nine-win seasons in 2008 and 2009, respectively, Miles was squarely on the hot seat and needed to resurrect the program to save his job. All he did was reel off four straight double-digit win seasons, win an SEC title and play for a national championship.

    He might have to do something similar soon, because the taste of last season's 8-5 debacle, coupled with seemingly annual quarterback questions, has made LSU fans a bit restless. 

    Miles is unorthodox, but he typically makes it work. He has averaged 10.3 wins per season over the last decade, won a national title and kept the program at an elite level in the post-Nick Saban era without really missing a beat.

    Are there speed bumps? Sure, but Miles has gotten over them before and has earned the benefit of the doubt until falling out of contention becomes a trend.

3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri

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    Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel
    Missouri head coach Gary PinkelDavid Richard/Associated Press

    Overall record: 186-103-3

    Record at Missouri: 113-66 (16-8 SEC)

    What does Gary Pinkel have to do to earn a little respect around the SEC? Win the division? He already did that—twice. Win 11 or more games? He's done that twice, too.

    Replace superstars with other well-coached superstars and continue to win at a high level? That's par for the course for Pinkel.

    Missouri was "the other team" during the realignment bonanza prior to the 2012 season, but it has announced its presence with authority with Pinkel leading the charge. He's won 10 or more games in five of the last eight years without the benefit of the stellar recruiting classes national powers generally reel in.

    The program should have earned the benefit of the doubt in the division this season, despite some rather massive holes to fill on both sides of the ball.

    If you aren't giving Missouri and Pinkel that, you haven't been paying attention.

2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

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    South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier
    South Carolina head coach Steve SpurrierRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Overall record: 226-85-2

    Record at South Carolina: 84-45 (44-36 SEC)

    What's more impressive, Steve Spurrier winning six SEC championships and one national title (1996) at Florida between 1990-2001, or winning 11 games for three straight seasons (2011-2013) at South Carolina?

    You can debate that in the comments section, but my answer is, "He's a really good coach."

    Spurrier has led two programs to unprecedented heights in the SEC and deserves a ton of credit for both. He changed the landscape of offensive football during his wide-open days at Florida, and then he became more run-based when his personnel necessitated it at South Carolina. That's what great coaches do.

    Has South Carolina taken a step back? Yes, and Spurrier has his work cut out for him if he wants to turn it around again before he hangs up the visor and hits the golf course five days per week. That shouldn't take away from his work in the past at Florida and more recently at South Carolina.

    He's a legend, plain and simple.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban
    Alabama head coach Nick SabanButch Dill/Associated Press

    Overall record: 177-59-1

    Record at Alabama: 86-17 (50-11 SEC) 

    Of course, the unquestioned king of SEC coaching sits atop our list. After all, where else would Nick Saban be?

    After a rather lackluster first season at Alabama that included vacated wins left over from the textbook scandal (which are not included in the record above), Saban has ripped off seven straight double-digit win seasons, won three national titles, three SEC titles and finished no worse than second in the SEC West six times in the last seven years.

    Is he polarizing? Yes, but that's because he wins at an extremely high level virtually every season.

    He recruits at an elite level, develops at an elite level and consistently has the program in the thick of the national title discussion. No other coach in the SEC can claim that.

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Coaching records do not include wins vacated by the NCAA. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

    Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

    Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.