Coach approval ratings: SEC East
Coaching in the SEC is a fickle business. With few exceptions, every coach is a divisive figure, his moves questioned by parts of the fan base and lauded by others. Every coach has a myriad of responsibilities on and off the field, serving as the commander in chief of their program.
How are the East’s coaches viewed by the public?
Jim McElwain, Florida
Approval rating: 90 percent
Championships aren’t won in one offseason, but McElwain’s first at the helm of the Florida Gators has them on the right path. McElwain took over the program with the recruiting war chest almost completely barren and managed to pull out a class that ranked in the top 25 in the nation. It’s a class that includes two centerpiece players, Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson, that the offense and defense can build around. Most importantly, those players come from Florida, and the Gators need to get back to winning at home if they hope to win on a national scale.
The one question mark for McElwain is his hire at offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeyer. Nussmeyer followed McElwain as OC at Alabama, and he was allowed to leave for Michigan a year ago. The Wolverines, as you may have heard, were a tire fire in 2014. While the choice might not be a home run, McElwain will be running the show on that side of the ball. If he can find an answer at quarterback, his approval rating will soar through the roof.
Mark Richt, Georgia
Approval rating: 60 percent
Richt, by all accounts, is one of the best men in college football. Good guys don’t always finish first, and that’s the problem with Richt. He’s been at the helm in Athens for 15 seasons now, including the upcoming one, and doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it in recent years. The Bulldogs haven’t won an SEC title in a decade and have come up short in frustrating fashion a few too many times.
Georgia fans may be spoiled by Richt’s consistent level of “very good,” but there are signs that the fan base is growing tired of that with all of the talent in Athens. That “good not great” trend carried over into Brian Schottenheimer’s hiring as offensive coordinator, a move that received lukewarm reviews. Richt isn’t on the hot seat, but the Bulldogs need to win big to assuage fans concerns.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Approval rating: 65 percent
In basketball-crazy Lexington, the standards for success aren’t quite as high on the football field. Stoops was coming off a two-win season when he received an extension in October. Despite a six-game losing streak to end the season, Kentucky still improved by three wins in Stoops’ second season. While missing a bowl game after a 5-1 start isn’t acceptable going forward, Stoops has still made huge strides.
Before he came aboard, Kentucky was scuffling along the bottom of the SEC’s recruiting rankings. In Stoops’ first three recruiting cycles, they’ve had a recruiting class in the national top 40 each year, including No. 22 in the 2014 247sports industry composite. And while the 2014 ended on a very sour note, the campaign still included one more win than the previous two years combined. Next season will determine Stoops’ future at UK, but for now he’s done a good enough job to earn most fans’ approval.
Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Approval rating: 85 percent
At this point in his career, Pinkel is an institution at Missouri. He’s been the head man for 15 years, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be going anywhere for the time being after some time on the hot seat a few years ago. Two straight SEC East titles, even in down years in the conference, will give you that kind of staying power.
One thing that should endear Pinkel even more to Missouri fans, outside of those division title and propensity for his teams coming up in the clutch, is his ambition for the program at Mizzou. He wants the Tigers to get caught up in the arms race and provide the team and fans with a top-notch program, from facilities to the stadium, even after a $46.5 million renovation completed before 2014.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Approval rating: 50 percent
Is patience with the Head Ball Coach running thin? Despite three straight 11-win seasons from 2011-13, South Carolina has only won the East once. They were blown out in the SEC Championship in 2010, and have so far failed to meet Spurrier’s goal of bringing an SEC title back to Columbia.
While he has taken the Gamecocks to heights the program had never previously experienced, this offseason has many fans more than a little concerned. Spurrier’s wavering on how many more years he’ll coach likely cost the Gamecocks several of the nine decommitments from the 2015 class, and his commitment to Lorenzo Ward as defensive coordinator raised plenty of questions. If hiring Jon Hoke to help run the defense doesn’t work out, or the last two subpar recruiting cycles come back to bite Carolina, people will really be wondering if Spurrier should hang up the headset.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Approval rating: 80 percent
Jones has become one of the best program salesmen in the country, and in just more than two years he’s returned Tennessee to a dominant position in recruiting. Fresh off the heels of consecutive top-10 classes, Jones has the Vols read to return to the limelight in the very near future.
While he’s great at talking up the program, Jones is only just beginning to deliver results on the field. Tennessee looked like a potent team once Joshua Dobbs got on the field at quarterback, but Tennessee still was just 3-5 in the down SEC East. Registering the program’s first bowl win since 2008 is a great way to get back on a winning track, and the promise Jones’ Vols showed at the end of the season has folks labeling them as a potential division champion next year.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Approval rating: 45
In his first year as a head coach, Mason didn’t exactly live up to the expectations set by former head coach James Franklin. The Commodores took a major step down from consecutive nine-win seasons, stumbling to a 3-9 mark and a winless SEC season. Not all of that falls on Mason; Franklin pilfered the incoming recruiting class, and many of the players that piloted Vandy’s resurgence in 2012 and 2013 were gone when Mason got to town.
Vanderbilt’s flop in 2014 cost several coaches their jobs, including both coordinators. Mason gave himself the defensive coordinator position, putting the onus on himself for major improvement in 2015. If he doesn’t have a better handle on the program in 2015, Mason’s stint in Nashville could be cut short.