Putting coaches on a pedestal to dissect their each move is what us media love to do. Grading them on what they did right and of course what they did wrong by giving our own opinion as we are the Paul Bear Bryant of all our armchair quarterback strategies serving as the cream of the crop compared to these college football coaches.
Personally, I always try to stay away from critiquing coaching and playing styles because I have my job as a writer and scout and they have theirs both coming with reason (though Nick Saban may think differently on how deserving media analysts are with his own criteria of the position – but that can be addressed at a different time). The times when I throw my benefit of the doubt reasons for the coach out the window is when coaches stray so far away from the K.I.S.S. method and getting themselves into trouble.
Coaches sometimes become too cute (Gus Malzahn) while others are almost too conservative (Les Miles) not getting enough bang for their buck with the players they have on the field. Though you have to factor what those coaches have on the field in terms of what to run but that’s what practice is for.
Coaches, especially at the SEC level, are seen as gods and kings receiving luxuries and royalties when their well-coached team performs well, but once the market slips below equilibrium all hell breaks loose. Here are the top coaches in the SEC based strictly off this season’s performances and how they compare with last season’s results and preseason expectations:
1. Jim McElwain, Florida (9-1 Overall, 7-1 SEC)
Comparing the Gators’ 2014 season to this season, it’s a night and day difference in the execution on the offensive side of the ball as McElwain has increased the production of this once anemic offense. McElwain got gut punched by the NCAA when the news came out about Will Grier’s 2015 playing status, but backup quarterback Treon Harris has filled in nicely leading the Gators to a 3-1 record since taking over. McElwain had the luxury to rekindle a strong Gator defense put together by former head coach Will Muschamp, but even with an offense that looks better on the field they average less points than last season but have decreased the amount of turnovers giving them a chance to win in every outing. Well done, Coach McElwain.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama (9-1, 6-1)
Obviously the best coach in football, but Nick Saban just falls to second place because of McElwain’s immediate success in his first season at Florida. Having the quarterback controversy to deal with for the second season in a row, it seems as this narrative has already been written. This Alabama defense is one of the best Saban has possessed in his tenure at Tuscaloosa and continue to put themselves in manageable situations to win football games not making quarterback Jake Coker have to do too much. It’s another normal Alabama season that has playoff bound characteristics written all over them.
3t. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3)
Having been placed to finish last in the SEC West this preseason, Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs have been quietly effective this season with seven wins. Dak Prescott has been playing better than ever (Alabama game just average performance: 22-43, 300 yards, Int) and the defense has been just fine holding opponents to just 18 points per game. Mullen has this team contending every week and even with a couple of tough games left on the season 9 or 10 win season is not out of the picture. Dating back to the 2014 opener, the Bulldogs have 17 overall wins which is tied for second in the SEC with Georgia (Alabama ranks first with 212 wins).
3t. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2)
Some coaches can’t even take down Alabama twice in their careers, nonetheless taking down the Tide in back-to-back seasons like Ole Miss has. Hugh Freeze has a unique style to his system scoring big and keeping opponents under 25 points. The philosophy has worked and Freeze has coached up another junior college quarterback to help guide his team. With an ample amount of NFL caliber players you could ask more of the Rebels but with another win over Alabama under their belt and potentially a road win in the Egg Bowl, the season will be a success once again.
5. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (6-4, 4-2)
Seeing how the Razorbacks started it’s strange to see Arkansas riding on a four game winning streak with wins over Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU. Hiring former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos to run his offense, Bret Bielema has turned his run first offense into an effective balanced attack scoring 34 points per game and an increase of total yards per game of 63 to 469. With the recent win over LSU, Arkansas looks to finish out the season on a six game winning streak getting to eight wins for the first time since 2011.
6. Les Miles, LSU (7-2, 4-2)
It’s a tossup on whether LSU has either overachieved or underachieved with a 4-2 conference record. The quarterback position has been in doubt over the past two seasons with the combination of Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings and neither one of them being effective enough to control the outcome of a game. With a talented filled roster it’s expected for the Tigers to have a little more eye candy and firepower than they have produced this season with just a mediocre showing with a couple of potential losses left on their schedule.
7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3)
In his fourth season at the helm, along with Texas A&M’s fourth season in the SEC, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies were expected to see the Aggies contending for league titles by now with the improved personnel and coaching staff within the past few years. With another underwhelming season, Sumlin’s seat isn’t getting warm but it’s time to get going on the right road because another eight win season isn’t cutting it.
8. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4)
Taking matters into his own hands making changes in the coaching staff, Derek Mason has transformed this 2014 struggling team into a black and white difference in 2015 though the Commodores are still in jeopardy of not producing a bowl eligible season. Mason has this program heading into the right direction and could be a quarterback away from bringing back what James Franklin started in Nashville.
9t. Butch Jones, Tennessee (6-4, 3-3)
This was supposed to be Tennessee’s year. Returning quarterback Joshua Dobbs with key skills players and experienced players in the trenches, this was Butch Jones’ best shot at capturing an SEC East title crown but has fallen short with his team collapsing late in games.
9t. Mark Richt, Georgia (7-3, 5-3)
A 7-3 record isn’t too bad, but it’s just the same ole thing in Athens. Mark Richt has created this program to be on a level to compete for championships every season so this disappointment comes each season when the Dawgs fail to even scratch the surface of at least an SEC East title. Richt’s time could be limited in Athens and with the University of Miami head coaching job vacancy it makes an interesting story…potentially.
11. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (4-6, 2-6)
Sure, the expectations weren’t high for the Wildcats this season but falling apart in the middle of the season was not part of the plan. Mark Stoops’ team has dropped five straight games averaging just 16.8 points per game with poor play on all cylinders. The Wildcats can still reach bowl eligibility with wins over Charlotte and Louisville, but Stoops just has two SEC wins in his three years as head coach in Lexington. It’s time to get it done on the field.
12. Gus Malzahn Auburn (5-5, 2-5)
It’s crazy to see a Gus Malzahn offense struggle so much without having a productive player at quarterback and any big-time playmakers on offense (or we just don’t get to see them get the ball much). Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp seems to finally have his defense playing at a high level, but the Auburn offense has not even been mediocre not being able to capitalize in the red-zone. Who is to blame? I’m not sure, but the finger always gets pointed back at the heacd coach so Malzahn takes the fall with the Tigers extremely underwhelming 5-5 record.
13. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (5-5, 1-5)
Unfortunately, long-time head coach Gary Pinkel has to hang up his coaching career for now and it would have been nice to see his team end on a good note, but that’s not the case. Pinkel’s team ran into more than enough trouble at quarterback decreasing its stock value this season giving reason to its 1-5 conference record. The Tigers are possibly now in rebuilding mode, but moving forward with freshman quarterback Drew Lock can be a good thing.
14. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (2-4, 0-4)*
Well, if you tap out in the middle of season because of losing you’re not going to find yourself at the top of many lists. Steve Spurrier has been rumored to be a sore loser and we may have witnessed just that this season. The Gamecocks have found themselves in the victory circle just once since Spurrier’s departure, so The Ole Ball Coach may have been foreshadowing when leaving, but still at least finish out the season, right?