Here’s SDS’ preseason stock watch for all SEC coaches, and we welcome four newcomers in the process in Gary Pinkel, John L. Smith, Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze. All four newcomers have their work cut out for them.
Being a coach in the SEC is all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’
I’ll update the stock watch mid-season and reflect after 2012 is in the books as well.
Nick Saban, Alabama: Could it be possible that Nick Saban’s stock is rising? It’s through the roof after leading the Crimson Tide to their second national championship in two years (2009 and 2011). He recruits the best players, and he develops them into first-round draft picks. He’s the top coach in the country, and one of the best ever in the college game. I’m not sure his team will come close to last year’s numbers overall, but I’m buying and holding for the long haul.
Mark Richt, Georgia: There was hot seat talk surrounding Mark Richt entering last season, and it certainly didn’t start well losing his first two games. But Georgia finished strong during the regular season and actually ended the year on a two-game losing streak in the SEC Championship and Outback Bowl. But I like this team he has built in Athens, and I’m buying Richt right now. Now, his offensive staff might be another question, but I like where this team is entering 2012. I know it’s the same position they’re always in entering a new year – near the top – but if Richt is going to get over the hump, it will be this year.
Les Miles, LSU: The Hat had a near-perfect season last year. We knew he was a good coach before that, and he is still one of the best in the country. He’s a proven recruiter and a national championship winner. Miles is great for the game of football – not just in the SEC but around the country, too. He boasts an overall 103-39 record (.725). His quirky style and in-game clock management have been under question for several years, but Miles has one of his best teams returning in 2012, along with a quarterback who can stretch the field. I look for a lot more wins this season, too.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: Spurrier has been around this league for a long time now, but he is doing his best work right now, in his older years. He has taken a team that has historically been middle-of-the-pack in the SEC East to a championship contender every year. He’s been able to recruit the best talent and nabbed South Carolina’s top recruits over the last several years. The thing that I love about Spurrier is that he has changed his offensive mentality to fit the talent on his team, a more run-based offense. All he wants to do is win, and he has a chance to do a lot of that this season.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: James Franklin’s name is becoming more popular as every day progresses. Known for his recruiting prestige, he has brought a mentality to Vanderbilt that has not been there before, ever. He’s rivaling Florida and Georgia for the top prospects in the Southeast. He’s building a brand at Vandy, not just a football team, and everyone is taking note. The question remains, “How long will he be at Vanderbilt?”
John L. Smith, Arkansas: The SEC as a whole doesn’t know how good of a coach John L. Smith has it. In his first year as a head coach, he’s been given the keys to a Ferrari. With offensive firepower to spare, the Hogs certainly look the part, but they are going to miss former head coach Bobby Petrino’s play calling and in-game adjustments and decision making. However, John L. Smith is 132-86 overall (.606), and he has his best team ever. In addition, Smith is a defensive-minded coach, and that will bode well for an offensive-minded team that hasn’t put much emphasis on the defense. Most view Smith as a short-term precursor in Fayetteville.
Gene Chizik, Auburn: With one SEC Championship and national championship under his belt, Chizik came back last year with a very young and inexperienced team. The Tigers finished 8-5 and beat two top 25 teams last season. I’m giving Chizik the benefit of the doubt. He made changes to his staff over the off-season – he had to at offensive coordinator and named Brian VanGorder as new defensive coordinator – in order to take his defense to another level. His young team played soft last year, but that comes with inexperience. I’m not ready to write Chizik off yet, and he’s proving he can recruit with the best of them.
Will Muschamp, Florida: Much like Derek Dooley, Will Muschamp inherited a mess at Florida after Urban Meyer left. The team chemistry was awful, superstars had no discipline and there was some much-needed depth in Gainesville. And Florida did exactly what a team does with very little discipline or star players: 7-6. With one year under his belt, Muschamp is looking to grow as a head coach and rebuild the Florida team, all the while working on not losing his cool on the sidelines. Muschamp is a proven coordinator and a football guy, but will he be the guy to lead Florida back to prominence? He has a top 10 defense nationally but an offense with no game breakers entering 2012.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Yeah, I know Dan Mullen had a down year with one of his best teams last year. But I’m buying his stock for the long haul. I like his mentality, and he coached under one of the game’s best in Urban Meyer and has developed similar philosophies. We have to remember where he’s coaching, and it’s not in a hotbed ground where recruits grow on trees. He seems to really like Starkville, and he has put butts in the seats, too. MSU recently announced the stadium expansion, and Mullen welcomes the pressure of it all.
Gary Pinkel, Missouri: Gary Pinkel is one of the oldest coaches in the SEC, and he’s leading an offensive-minded team into a defensive conference. Since arriving in Columbia, Pinkel has guided the Tigers to eight bowl games in 11 years, winning four of them. Pinkel’s teams have struggled at Missouri against ranked opponents, winning only three of 17 games (.150) against top 15 opponents. He’ll have to earn every paycheck moving forward in this conference, and he knows that. We’ll take Pinkel’s temperature at mid-season and reflect at that time.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Freeze got a taste of the SEC on Ed Orgeron’s staff at Ole Miss back in 2006-2007. So, he’s not new to the big stage that is SEC football. But he inherits a decimated roster and a team with little firepower and depth. It will take some time to build this program back up to where it’s been before. Freeze has a 30-7 overall head coaching record, having come from a very good Arkansas State program he took over in 2011. Again, this year won’t be much of an indication of Freeze as a coach until he can get his guys on campus.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: The more I see and hear of Kevin Sumlin, the more I like him. I think he set a record for saying ‘damn’ at SEC Media Days. He has a combined record of 35-17, and this is his second stop in College Station, after having been on RC Slocum’s staff in 2001-2002. He’s an up-and-coming offensive mind who coach who can lead this university to many wins, if they give him enough time to recruit his talent. I like Sumlin’s attitude towards football, winning and, of course, his wife Charlene. We’ll revisit Sumlin at mid-season.
Joker Phillips, Kentucky: If there is a seat that is close to being hot as Derek Dooley, it is Joker Phillips. He inherited a good team with solid depth from Rich Brooks, but he hasn’t exactly taken it to levels the Cats thought when they hired him. The team has regressed, and many are looking at this year as a make-or-break year for Phillips. His victory against Tennessee might have bought him another year in itself; however, if he doesn’t lead the Wildcats to another bowl game, it won’t end well. This could be Kentucky’s third straight losing season.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee: Derek Dooley is the coach everyone admits is on the hot seat in the SEC. It’s going to take a bad year (five to six wins) for Dooley to be out of his job next year. If Tennessee wins seven to nine games, he will be back. This program can’t afford to have any more coaching turnover, period. With that being said, Dooley’s stock is down right now, but I am a risk taker. I would purchase some Dooley and Tennessee stock right now based on their passing game alone. This team has the most to gain and the most to lose in the SEC, much like Arkansas. But Dooley does have to show improvement in order to corral the fan base.
Derek Dooley & Joker Phillips have identical coaching records: 11-14 overall, 4-12 in SEC
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) July 21, 2012