Ranking the top 15 SEC defensive coordinators of the decade
Our All-Decade countdown marches on with our list of the best defensive coordinators over the past 10 years in the Southeastern Conference. This list does not include any head coach who acted as his own defensive coordinator and did not consider the achievements of assistants that coached at schools outside of the SEC.
15. Dave Wommack (Ole Miss)
Dave Wommack’s time in Oxford was something of a roller coaster as the Rebels at one point led the SEC in scoring defense but also ranked as the worst scoring defense in the league by the end of his tenure. While Hugh Freeze and the offense get most of the credit for the success of the Rebels this decade, Wommack’s defense was among the league’s best in 2014.
14. Manny Diaz (Mississippi State)
Before becoming Miami’s head coach, Manny Diaz served 2 stints as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator under Dan Mullen. Each time, Diaz did a better job with the players he inherited from his predecessor. And each time, did he was lured away by schools with stronger traditions. (First Texas hired Diaz, then later Miami did the same).
13. Dave Steckel (Missouri)
Before landing the Missouri State head coaching job, Dave Steckel did a great job helping Gary Pinkel’s Mizzou program adjust to life in the SEC. It could not have been an easy transition from the Big 12’s style to the toughest and most physical league in the nation, but the Tigers reached back-to-back SEC Championship Games with Steckel running the team’s defenses both seasons.
12. Barry Odom (Missouri)
Barry Odom’s stint as Missouri’s defensive coordinator was brief, but it was impressive enough to turn the Tigers into an elite SEC defense and land him the full-time job following Gary Pinkel’s retirement. Odom took over following Steckel’s departure and improved Missouri’s defense across the board.
11. Mike Elko (Texas A&M)
When Jimbo Fisher was hired at Texas A&M, he had several tasks to mark off on his to-do list. Fixing the strength and conditioning program might have been priority No. 1, but fixing the Aggies’ issues defending the run could not have been far from the top. Hiring Mike Elko immediately fixed that issue in 2018. Elko’s unit regressed a bit in that regard this fall, but that came after losing nearly the entire front 7 in one offseason. If Fisher can keep Elko in College Station, next year looks to be the best season yet for Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator with all the defensive talent projected to return next fall.
10. Matt House (Kentucky)
Matt House didn’t serve a long tenure in Lexington as the program’s defensive coordinator before leaving for the NFL, but his impact on Kentucky was profound. The 2018 Kentucky defense was arguably the best in school history and featured maybe the best defender in school history in Josh Allen. House deserves a ton of credit for seeing the potential in Allen and finding ways to best maximize the talent of his outside linebacker. In addition to being stout against the run, Kentucky’s secondary in 2018 might have been the best in program history.
9. Mel Tucker (Georgia)
Kirby Smart really nailed his first 2 coordinator hires in Athens as Jim Chaney and Mel Tucker proved to be solid choices to help start the new era of Bulldog football. Under Tucker, Georgia’s defense never ranked outside the SEC’s top 5 in scoring defense and finished the 2017 season as the nation’s No. 6 scoring defense. Tucker was so impressive he landed the head coaching job at Colorado.
8. Geoff Collins (Mississippi State, Florida)
While everyone credits Dan Mullen and Dak Prescott for Mississippi State’s No. 1 ranking in 2014, few outside of Starkville give enough credit to Geoff Collins’ defense. They were incredibly physical and tough against the run and featured plenty of talent in the secondary, which caused nightmares that season in the SEC. Collins wasn’t a 1-school wonder, either. Jim McElwain earned back-to-back extensions in Gainesville thanks to the job Collins did with the defensive talent inherited from the Will Muschamp era as those Florida offenses had no business playing in Atlanta.
7. Todd Grantham (Georgia, Mississippi State, Florida)
Todd Grantham will always be known as “Third and Grantham” to some, but to me, he’s the coach who inherited the worst SEC defense I’d ever seen at Mississippi State and in 1 offseason, turned them into a respectable SEC unit. After moving to Gainesville with Dan Mullen, despite issues with depth and injuries, Grantham has managed to keep the Gators’ defense among the league’s elite. There’s a reason the Bengals tried to hire him last offseason and another NFL team might try to do the same in the coming weeks.
6. Bob Shoop (Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Mississippi State)
My choice for the Broyles Award in 2018, Bob Shoop has twice led some of the best defenses in the SEC despite being at different programs that consistently rank near the bottom of the league recruiting rankings and annually enter the season as overlooked programs. James Franklin built his reputation on the job he did at Vanderbilt, but Shoop was leading those defenses. Shoop inherited a talented unit when he took the MSU DC job and got the most of the defenders as Hail State had the SEC’s best defense during the 2018 season.
5. John Chavis (LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas)
Don’t let the past 2 seasons in Fayetteville completely ruin your image of what John Chavis accomplished in the league over the past decade. The 2011 Broyles Award winner helped lead LSU to the 2011 SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game that season, but thanks to a punchless LSU offense, the Tigers could not finish the deal. Every Chavis defense at LSU was formidable and he managed to have some success as Texas A&M’s coordinator before taking over the defense in Fayetteville.
4. Dave Aranda (LSU)
Les Miles’ final hire in Baton Rouge was a great one, and the start of Ed Orgeron’s success at LSU can be traced to his relationship and decision to keep Dave Aranda as the program’s DC. Since his hire at LSU, the innovative Aranda has often been the league’s best coordinator and would rank slightly higher on this list if not for some inconsistent performances from the defense spanning back to last season.
3. Kevin Steele (LSU, Auburn)
If not for Kevin Steele, Gus Malzahn likely isn’t the head coach on The Plains right now. When things went sideways at Auburn during the 2018 season, the defense remained the strength and that obviously carried over to 2019. Steele’s defense is the reason Auburn has 9 wins despite starting a true freshman quarterback who struggled at times this season. True, Will Muschamp arrived at Auburn with a ton of hype, but Steele has proven to be Malzahn’s best DC hire.
2. Jeremy Pruitt (Georgia, Alabama)
When Mark Richt sought out a coach to modernize his Georgia defense and program, Jeremy Pruitt was his top choice. The fit wasn’t perfect, but the defense got right in a hurry before the team’s offense cost the program a shot at winning the SEC. After Richt and Georgia parted ways, Pruitt took over Kirby Smart’s Alabama defense and ran one of the best defenses in program history in 2016. Pruitt helped the Tide win it all in 2017 before taking over at Tennessee.
1. Kirby Smart (Alabama)
The only choice for this selection. The debate regarding the best defensive coordinator in the SEC over the past decade begins and ends with Kirby Smart.
Smart helmed 3 defenses that won a national championship in Tuscaloosa and 4 that won the SEC. In addition to his accomplishments as an elite defensive mind, Smart helped cherry-pick elite Georgia prospects for Alabama for years before leaving the program to run UGA’s program.