Midseason grades for every SEC head coach
With the SEC at or near the midpoint, it’s a good time to evaluate the evaluators, chastise the chastisers, and, well, coach the coaches. We’re grading the SEC’s head honchos. The results aren’t always pretty.
Nick Saban, Alabama: A
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. While ‘Bama stumbled a bit against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide have otherwise been more or less sterling. It’s hard to foresee the Tide not being favored by more than two scores against all of their remaining regular-season opponents. Saban has coached his team exactly the way he always does — with the cool efficiency of a machine, a machine that wins a lot of football games.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: B+
We can’t give an A to somebody who blew a 34 point lead in 19 minutes. But after that, though, Sumlin’s season has come up aces. He’s done a phenomenal job dealing with a true freshman quarterback and, with a good November, A&M might finish second in the West. If there was an award for “Coach of the Year Who Could Have Been Fired After Week 1,” here’s your winner.
Ed Orgeron, LSU B+
Many were skeptical that Orgeron could be the long-term answer for LSU football. This season has had its stumbles — home loss to Troy, butt-kicking at Mississippi State. But despite a relatively high amount of chaos and program transition, Orgeron continues to be the guy who could motivate a statue. He’ll get the long-term shot he deserves.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: B+
After State won 19 games in 2014 and 2015 combined, the Bulldogs fell to 6-7 last year, and the narrative was that Mullen might have lost a step or two. But while his team has been up and down (great win over LSU, embarrassing losses to Georgia and Auburn), Mullen runs his system well enough to make State a couple of wins better than it should be pretty much annually. This year feels like a logical time for him to jump ship.
Matt Luke, Ole Miss: B-
Honestly, if we grade on doing the most with the least, Luke would be doing even better. He was placed in an incredibly bad position and has done a good job sticking with the strengths of this Rebel team. A more talented version of the same team went 5-7 for Hugh Freeze before the NCAA storm cloud rolled in and the coach was run off in disgrace. Luke might coach his way into the full-time job in Oxford.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: C+
It’s hard to go all in on trashing the Gus bus, because Malzahn’s team has done well in games when it needed to do well. Auburn thumped a bowl-bound Mississippi State squad and held serve against weaker opponents. But the Tigers couldn’t score on Clemson and coughed up a three-score lead at LSU. That isn’t the sort of stuff that will enthrall the Tiger fan base.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: F
In Bielema’s fifth season at Arkansas, he’s 10-25 in SEC games. Sure, having Alabama in the league imposed a substantial glass ceiling. But there’s no reason for Arkansas to be at the back of the pack; the Razorbacks never have won more than seven regular-season games at any point in Bielema’s tenure. Bielema was essentially replacing Bobby Petrino, who won 12 SEC games in his last two seasons before Motorcyclegate. Arkansas fans probably don’t miss the dirtbag coach, but they probably miss the wins.
Kirby Smart, Georgia: A-
Smart might be getting a little more credit than he deserves. His Georgia team is by far the class of the East, but how will he handle success? Can UGA finish an undefeated regular season? Can the Bulldogs hang with Alabama, assuming the teams meet in the SEC title game? There are several questions still to be answered, but based off what we know the future is bright for Smart in Athens.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina: B+
Muschamp continues to build on a steady foundation of improvement at Carolina. The season-opening win over North Carolina State was one of the SEC’s best out-of-conference performances this year. The fact that South Carolina will be bowl eligible despite losing its best offensive player to a Week 3 injury is even more impressive. Credit Muschamp for stepping into the SEC East vacuum behind Georgia.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: B+
In five years after taking over a 2-10 Kentucky team, Stoops has UK ready for perhaps its first winning SEC season in 40 years. UK isn’t always doing things in the prettiest fashion, and Stoops is still learning on the field at times, but the even, steady progress in Lexington hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: C
Mason had big shoes to fill after James Franklin departed. After three seasons of building the Vanderbilt team, this year’s Commodores ran into a schedule juggernaut which might knock them out of bowl eligibility. There will always be recruiting issues for Vandy, between its academic standards and being second (or third) in the state in program prestige. Mason’s long-term future is still a very open question, and 2018 looks significant for his career path.
Jim McElwain, Florida: C-
It’s hard to give a worse grade to a guy who was 19-8 in his job entering this season. But this year has been awful. The same offensive woes that left Florida short of being a legitimately good team in 2015 or ’16 are even worse. McElwain brought a reputation as an offensive guru but an offense full of five-star recruits struggles to score on his watch. This season, bad as it will be, will be endured, and 2018 might tell the tale of McElwain’s time in Gainesville.
Barry Odom, Missouri: D-
Why does Odom getting a passing grade? Because it’s not all his fault. Coaching 101 says to not follow the legend, follow the guy who follows the legend. Mizzou had started to crumble in Gary Pinkel’s last season. But in two seasons with Odom, the program looks doomed to the SEC basement. It was probably headed that way regardless of who the coach was, but Odom has done nothing to distinguish himself.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: F
In his five seasons, Jones is 14-21 in SEC play. Bear in mind that these five years weren’t exactly banner years for the East. Missouri won the East twice in that span and this season’s Georgia team (which beat UT 41-0 in Knoxville) is the first really good East team in that time. There’s no reason that Tennessee should struggle with Vandy or be eclipsed by Kentucky. Jones is gone.