Which new SEC head coach has the best chance to win next season?

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Four new coaching faces will be at SEC Media Days next July in Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Gus Malzahn and Mark Stoops. And each of them has a very difficult and different task ahead of them in their first season.

First-year head coaches always have a difficult task, no matter the situation. Maintaining team continuity, reviving energy, etc. are always at the forefront after the new staff is hired and recruiting ends. But once teams have a chance to go through a complete offseason with their new coach, the expectation level of the team starts to pick up under the new coaching leadership and regime.

Specifically, however, how will these new four head coaches fare in their first season? Which coach has the best chance to win in year one?

Here is how head coaches in the last 10 years (2003-2012) have fared in their first season of their new teams – 27 coaches in all.

Coach Team Year Record
Mike Shula Alabama 2003 4-9
Nick Saban Alabama 2007 7-6
Bobby Petrino Arkansas 2008 5-7
Houston Nutt Arkansas 1998 9-4
Gene Chizik Auburn 2009 8-5
Tommy Tuberville Auburn 1999 5-6
Will Muschamp Florida 2011 7-6
Urban Meyer Florida 2005 10-3
Ron Zook Florida 2002 8-5
Mark Richt Georgia 2001 8-4
Joker Phillips Kentucky 2010 6-7
Rich Brooks Kentucky 2003 4-8
Les Miles LSU 2005 11-2
Nick Saban LSU 2000 8-4
Hugh Freeze Ole Miss 2012 6-6
Houston Nutt Ole Miss 2008 9-4
Ed Orgeron Ole Miss 2005 3-8
David Cutcliffe Ole Miss 1999 8-4
Dan Mullen Miss State 2009 5-7
Sylvester Croom Miss State 2004 3-8
Steve Spurrier USC 2005 7-5
Lou Holtz USC 1999 0-11
Derek Dooley Tennessee 2010 6-7
Lane Kiffin Tennessee 2009 7-6
Phillip Fulmer Tennessee 1993 10-2
Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M 2012 10-2
James Franklin Vanderbilt 2011 6-7
Bobby Johnson Vanderbilt 2002 2-10

Of the 27 head coaches listed above, they combined for a 153-141 record in their first year, winning 52 percent of their games. Keep in mind, situations like what Les Miles and Urban Meyer took over are unique, as the cupboards were full of talent.

Here is how I would rank them, in order of the coach with the greatest chance of winning in year one:

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
The Buzz: The best aspect of Gene Chizik’s coaching game was recruiting. Yes, there has been attrition in his top recruiting classes, but for the most part, those top-ranked recruits are on the team right now. According to Rivals.com, Auburn has finished with three top ten classes in a row from 2010-2012. I look for Malzahn’s offense to have a similar effect that Hugh Freeze’s had this season. It’s different, and it’s tough to prepare for. And he has two quarterbacks on campus to run it in Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Malzahn will win some games he’s not supposed to in year one.
Way-too-early projected win total: 8

2. Butch Jones, Tennessee
The Buzz: Jones likely loses his top three offensive playmakers in Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter to the NFL Draft, but he returns four of five offensive linemen, two running backs and eight of 11 starters on defense. But after all, the Vols’ defense was the last-ranked unit in the SEC in ‘12, and this unit needs much work. I do think Jones can lead the Vols to a bowl game after whiffing on two in a row under Derek Dooley.
Way-too-early projected win total: 6

3. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
The Buzz: Bielema’s biggest impact will be on the defensive side of the football. Linebacker and the secondary has the biggest need of a scheme change and a different mindset overall. The secondary was brutal, and the Hogs lose multiple linebackers on the depth chart. Bielema also loses Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis at the offensive skill positions, although Davis failed to live up to any kind of preseason hype. The core of the offensive line returns, however, and they will lead the offensive unit with Bielema’s power running game.
Way-too-early projected win total: 6

4. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
The Buzz: Stoops has the toughest job in front of him. Not only is he a first-year head coach, but the cupboard is also pretty bare of talent. The good news for Stoops is that the offense will be an air attack, and he will have Max Smith back. The bad news is that the defense is depleted of playmakers outside of Bud Dupree. Kentucky has one of the toughest schedules in the country next season, not to mention playing a Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky to open things up. Four wins in his first year after the Cats only managed two would be a huge accomplishment for Stoops and his staff in their first year.
Way-too-early projected win total: 4

Photo Credit: John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

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