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Unlike the NFL game, college football demands head coaches to be successful, while the NFL demands quarterbacks. In a time where college football has so much parity, having an edge in the coaching column with planning, preparation and in-game calls is the difference between eight- and ten-win seasons.
Head coaches are all different. Some are CEO types like Georgia’s Mark Richt, and some are football fanatics like Florida’s Will Muschamp. To each his own, but if I had to choose between one or the other, I’m going with a football guy.
Here’s the SEC’s head coaching rankings heading into 2013:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Alabama record: 68-13 (2007-present)
Overall record: 159-55-1
Buzz: Was this really a question? Let’s see…four national championships with two different SEC teams, including two in a row, top recruiting classes year after year and the most meticulous and detailed demeanor in the country. Simply put: Nick Saban is the most accomplished college head coach of several lifetimes, and he’s well on his way to being the best college coach ever.
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
South Carolina record: 66-37 (2005-present)
Overall record: 208-77-2
Buzz: Steve Spurrier is the weathered veteran of the SEC. He dominated at Florida, going 122-27-1, including one national championship. Spurrier is 122-41 in the SEC and trails only Bear Bryant for the most conference wins. What’s so impressive is that he’s winning in a totally different manner than at Florida. He traded his high-octane air attack for a smash mouth running game and rugged defense. And he just keeps on winning…
3. Les Miles, LSU
LSU record: 84-21 (2005-present)
Overall record: 113-42
Buzz: Les Miles is the definition of a player’s coach. His sometimes-goofy comments make for great one-liners, but he can also coach ‘em up, too. There’s nothing flashy about what Miles has accomplished. He’s bored us by averaging nearly 11 wins per year since 2005, including one national championship in 2007 and another championship appearance in 2011. You can say LSU has ‘underachieved’ during his tenure, but I’ll take 10.63 uninteresting wins every year.
4. Mark Richt, Georgia
Georgia record: 118-40 (2001-present)
Overall record: 118-40
Buzz: Gary Pinkel aside, Mark Richt is the SEC’s longest-tenured coach and has lasted 12 years at Georgia during the golden age of the SEC without winning a national championship. That’s both surprising and very impressive. He’s won the East six times and the SEC Championship twice in 2002 and 2005. Known as an excellent recruiter, Richt is still searching for that elusive national championship, despite putting players in the NFL year after year. Could it all come together in 2013?
5. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Texas A&M record: 11-2 (2012-present)
Overall record: 46-19
Buzz: As one the sexiest up-and-coming coaches in the country, Kevin Sumlin has found a home in College Station. The former Purdue linebacker is known as an offensive guru who puts together nasty offensive numbers. Sumlin guided the Aggies to an 11-2 record last year, but winning is nothing new to him. He was 35-17 at Houston with record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. Sumlin has a chance to make a powerhouse out of Texas A&M, as the Aggies begin to tighten their grip on the fertile state of Texas. I just wonder if he’ll coach college long enough to become No. 1 on this list. He’s clearly on his way.
6. Will Muschamp, Florida
Florida record: 18-8 (2011-present)
Overall record: 18-8
Buzz: If nothing else, the many faces of Will Muschamp will keep you entertained. Known as a Saban disciple, several say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve heard two different well-respected analysts say Muschamp is like Saban…only smarter. Muschamp will always put together a great product on defense, and his team has taken on his ‘tough’ identity. The Gators won ugly even with a hairline margin of error. I truly think Muschamp will stick around Florida for a long time.
7. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Overall record: 68-24
Buzz: Everyone knows Bret Bielema won at Wisconsin, and everyone is looking to see how his style translates in the SEC. He managed a 68-24 record in seven years for the Badgers, including three Big Ten Championships. And you have to admire him for walking away from the comforting Big Ten and taking a leap of faith to come to the best conference in college football. And he’s not afraid to dish it out on Twitter either. Winning should return to Arkansas…and soon.
8. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt record: 15-11 (2011-present)
Overall record: 15-11
Buzz: I don’t care as much for CEO-type coaches, but James Franklin is one I’d hire yesterday. His vision for the future of the program is making serious headway, and he’s struck up a legit rivalry with in-state power Tennessee. His attitude, his personality – all of it is infectious. The Commodores continue to make new ink in their football record book, and he’s looking to take the next step and make a serious push for 10 wins. Will the Dores become elite? It’s certainly not out of the question.
9. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Ole Miss record: 7-6 (2012-present)
Overall record: 37-13
Buzz: The Ice Man – Hugh Freeze – exploded on to the scene last year. You can laugh at him for being a former girls basketball coach if you want, but Freeze wins the respect of his players and they love him. Did I mention the guy can recruit? He took a 2-10 Ole Miss team and transformed it into a seven-win team with only a different quarterback. That tells you a lot about quarterback play and his coaching style. Freeze was 10-2 at Arkansas State before Ole Miss, after inheriting a four-win team there. The guy can coach.
10. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Overall record: 50-27
Buzz: Butch Jones has won everywhere he’s been. He was 20-3 in conference play at Central Michigan and finished 23-14 at Cincinnati. He’s already been making his mark at Tennessee, making sure every top prospect in the South knows who Tennessee is and that he intends on dominating there. And we can’t truly judge Jones by his first season, because it could get ugly. The reality of the roster and a brutal schedule will take its toll, but let’s not be quick to judge him. It’s going to take time to build the fallen power back to where it can compete with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina every year, but Butch is the man for the job.
11. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
MSU record: 29-22 (2009-present)
Overall record: 29-22
Buzz: The stock for Dan Mullen is falling for me. I like Mullen and think he’s a solid coach, and he’s done a good job in Starkville. But his 2-16 record against ranked opponents, including 0-8 against top 10 opponents, isn’t exactly comforting. Winning the SEC West at a school not named Alabama or LSU is tough enough, and adding an in-state program like Ole Miss who’s making a strong push only makes things more difficult. This all points to one annual question: how long will Mullen stay at State?
12. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Missouri record: 90-61 (2001-present)
Overall record: 163-98-3
Buzz: Don’t think 2012’s season is indicative of Gary Pinkel’s entire career. He’s won 90 games at Missouri and 163 games total during his career. So, the guy can coach. Winning is a lot about timing, and the untimely injuries in 2012 were the biggest reason Missouri didn’t make a bowl game. With that being said, Pinkel enters 2013 as the one coach who’s feeling the hottest seat.
13. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Overall record: 9-3
Buzz: Man, Gus Malzahn can coach an offense. I’m sweating just thinking about it, and I don’t want to even think about what a 6-6, 290-pound tackle thinks. It’s not that Malzahn isn’t a good head coach, but we just don’t know yet. Ranking him at No. 13 is not a knock, but the sample size just isn’t there yet. He finished 9-3 at Arkansas State, but this league is a whole other ballgame…as he already knows. And being a head coach in this league is a lot different than being an offensive coordinator. Nonetheless, it was a sexy hire for Auburn and one that should pay dividends, starting this season.
14. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Overall record: 0-0
Buzz: Mark Stoops has already made his mark on this league, because he’s penetrating the fertile state of Ohio and bringing SEC-caliber players to Lexington. However, things will get real for the first-time head coach. But coming from Florida State, he knows how to recruit and how to develop a defense. And he has OC Neal Brown to put together an explosive offense. The question isn’t whether Mark Stoops will have success at Kentucky, but rather how long Stoops will stick around Kentucky.
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