Grading the SEC's head coaches for 2017
The regular season is history and so is current employment for about half of the SEC’s head coaches. Here’s how they graded out this year.
Gus Malzahn: A
Don’t call it a comeback. Well, actually, call it a comeback. Very recently, rumors had been dribbling out about Malzahn taking his coaching skills to Arkansas or other parts where he might be more appreciated.
Given the quick hook that Auburn gave Gene Chizik, Gus’s future has been in doubt at times this year. The season-opening loss to Clemson was hardly a shock, but blowing a three-score lead on LSU was pretty brutal.
So the Tigers just dug in, improved offensively as the year went on, and pulverized the league’s top two teams in the last three weeks. If you graded on season improvement, Malzahn would get an A+.
Nick Saban: A-
Yes, the Tide have had injuries. But given the fact that Alabama is the recruiting gold standard and Saban is the coaching gold standard, his failure to get the Tide beyond losing to Auburn and nearly losing to Mississippi State is a bit disappointing. Bama probably should make the CFP, but they don’t feel like a real title threat right now.
Ed Orgeron: A-
From losing to Troy to rallying from three scores down to upset an SEC title game-bound Auburn squad, it’s been quite a year for LSU. The biggest issue Orgeron faced was a feeling that he didn’t belong as a coach at this level. A 9-3 season later, it’s hard to say that.
Dan Mullen: B+
Sure, the season-ending loss to Ole Miss hurts the overall feel of State’s year. But the injury to Nick Fitzgerald was just an unaccountable fluke. Had he been in the lineup, Mullen would have ended up 9-3 with losses only to Auburn, Alabama and Georgia. That’s about as high as the ceiling goes in Starkville.
Matt Luke: B
On the one hand, it’s a 6-6 season. On the other hand, Luke took over late, coached the season with an NCAA cloud and a bowl ban hanging over his head, and got some super football out of the Rebels. The team, frankly, was at its best after franchise QB Shea Patterson was lost to injury. Few gave the Rebels a chance, but the Egg Bowl upset kept Luke from a losing season. He made a good case to lose the interim tag off his job title, and Ole Miss obliged.
Kevin Sumlin: C-
It was an up-and-down season for Sumlin, but it opened with a historic down as the Aggies blew a 27-point fourth-quarter lead to UCLA. It finished with an embarrassing 24-point loss to LSU. In the middle, A&M won seven games and lost to Alabama and Auburn by eight and 15 points respectively. Expectations went unmet by Sumlin, but his team was a tough out in midseason.
Bret Bielema: D-
A 4-8 mark in year five just wasn’t going to cut it. The Razorbacks lost their last two games in competitive fashion, but they struggled even to get past Coastal Carolina late in the season. The fact that Arkansas was still competitive late gives Bielema a slight boost over the East’s cellar dwellers, but it didn’t save his job.
Kirby Smart: A
For a second-year coach who often looked clueless last season, Smart showed massive improvement. From handling the Jake Fromm QB transition to balancing talented running backs to dealing with expectations, Smart has done good work in 2017. Other than the loss at Auburn and narrow win over top 10 foe Notre Dame, UGA has won games by 21, 28, 28, 41, 31, 25, 35, 14, 29 and 31 points. That’s not leaving much to chance.
Will Muschamp: A-
An 8-4 season and a second-place finish in the East was superb work for a coach who had his best offensive playmaker for only 2 ½ games of the year. After Deebo Samuel went down, Muschamp figured out a way to guide his team through all winnable games. Losses to Georgia and Clemson are just a talent gap. Losses to Texas A&M and Kentucky are a little harder to defend, but the Gamecocks did win five one-possession games this season, so Muschamp did plenty with not much.
Barry Odom: A-
After beating an FCS team, Mizzou lost five consecutive games. At that point, Barry Odom was 5-13 and his second year looked like a downward spiral. But lo and behold, Missouri swept their last six games to boost the team into a bowl and Odom into the league’s upper echelon of coaches. What a difference two months makes!
Mark Stoops: C+
Consecutive 7-5 seasons have Stoops on the plus side of the ledger — but just barely. An embarrassing loss to a pitiful Florida squad and a tough home loss to Ole Miss marred the season a bit. So did getting absolutely blasted by Mississippi State, Georgia and Louisville. It was a solid season, but many Kentucky fans felt that more was on the table.
Derek Mason: C-
The Vandy boss took on a fearsome schedule and impressed early with a win over a ranked Kansas State team. But after starting 3-0, Vandy stumbled to 4-7, including losses by 59, 31, 22, 23 and 28 points. A win over Tennessee added some satisfaction, but Mason has to get his team more competitive in a hurry.
Jim McElwain: F
Five weeks into the season, the Gators were 3-1, and Jim McElwain was 22-9 as the head coach at Florida, with SEC East titles in his first two seasons. Three rough losses and an apparently phony death-threat scandal later, McElwain was the former coach, and Florida was on the way to a 4-7 dumpster fire of a season. How Florida could never manage a competent offense with the massive amount of talented recruits they retained is a significant mystery. Looks like Dan Mullen will have to solve it.
Butch Jones: F
There’s no championship of life for the first eight-loss season in school history and the worst record in the league. UT stumbled past Georgia Tech without halfway slowing the Yellow Jackets’ running game in week one. And the wheels basically fell off from there. Everything Butch Jones touched turned to manure.