Ranking SEC coaches midway through season (based entirely on 2019)
It’s easy to rank coaches based on their career résumés.
We can point to national titles, conference titles, wins vs. ranked teams, etc. It’s a subjective argument, but oftentimes, it’s pretty cut and dry.
But what about ranking coaches based on how they’re performing in an individual season? That, in my opinion, is a different discussion.
It takes preseason expectations and midseason adjustments into account. And again, this is only through 7 weeks of 2019. This is based entirely on that.
So with that said, let’s rank the SEC coaches midway through the 2019 season:
14. Chad Morris, Arkansas
You don’t get to move past a loss to San Jose State like it’s nothing. Although Arkansas came into 2019 with low expectations, Morris still doesn’t have his quarterback situation figured out because neither seems to be able to fully grasp his system. The defense? Well, Arkansas just let a receiver start at quarterback and run for nearly 200 yards in a loss to a Kentucky team that was in rough shape offensively before Saturday. Perhaps “Club Dub” should’ve opened when Morris finally beats a Power 5 team at Arkansas. That’ll happen someday … right?
13. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Again, despite low preseason expectations, there’s no excuse for what we’ve seen from Vandy so far. Most recently losing to 1-4 UNLV by 24 points is stunningly awful. Vandy has yet to cover a spread this year. That’s saying a lot considering what the oddsmakers think of the Commodores. Despite the question marks in the secondary coming into this year, there’s no way a defensive-minded coach like Mason should be leading the No. 120 defense (2nd-worst among Power 5). Vandy looks like a team that has quit, and Mason is starting to look like a coach that could be looking for a new job at season’s end.
12. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
I’m a Moorhead apologist to a fault. I can admit that. Having said that, what we’ve seen from his offense so far is unacceptable. Yes, Tommy Stevens getting hurt early in the year didn’t help matters. But why Moorhead continues to roll out Stevens and not stick with Garrett Shrader is beyond me. This offense has been Kylin Hill-dependent for far too much of the season, and against a Tennessee defense that loaded the box, we saw how costly that was. Moorhead in Year 2 looks like he’s about to come up short of expectations for the 2nd consecutive year.
I understand this is all about 2019, but it’s hard to dismiss that his offense continues to struggle mightily against SEC defenses.
11. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
Is Tennessee in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl in Year 2 of the Pruitt era despite the preseason expectations of 7-8 wins? Yes. Did the Vols lose to Georgia State and BYU to start the season? Double yes. And has Pruitt’s splashy offensive coordinator hire disappointed so far? Absolutely. But Saturday’s win over Mississippi State said a lot about where the Vols are.
That defense delivered arguably the most impressive defensive performance of the Pruitt era to date. They haven’t quit on him, which I can’t necessarily say about the 3 coaches ranked below him.
10. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
We’re at the midway point of the season and the Aggies’ lone Power 5 win is … by 4 points against Arkansas? Picture if Kevin Sumlin had that kind of start. Fisher lost his featured back Jashaun Corbin, but my goodness, it’s been a disaster running the ball. That offensive line has struggled mightily and made the Aggies look extremely mediocre for most of the season. The good news for Fisher is that despite him being a $75 million man in Year 2 of that insane contract, expectations were relatively in check coming into the year because of the strength of schedule.
But a team that started in the top 15 should be much better than this, and that’s on Fisher.
9. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Again, we’re talking relative to expectations. Up until the 4th quarter against Florida, Kentucky looked like it was going to squash the preseason narratives about that dramatic fall off the face of the Earth. And that was despite the loss of Terry Wilson.
But then Kyle Trask happened, the Cats missed a field goal and the losing streak began. That team misses Wilson badly. Well, they didn’t Saturday night thanks to Lynn Bowden. Kentucky won’t flirt with 10 wins like it hoped, but I actually think Stoops has already shown signs that he’s still capable of winning more games than people expect. And for what it’s worth, he still has a top 50 defense.
8. Matt Luke, Ole Miss
I think Luke has done a lot of things well to be Ole Miss’ coach beyond 2019. The atypical decision to hire Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre looks smart despite the 3-4 start. The Rebels pummeled the inferior SEC foes they faced and actually look like they have an offensive identity (if John Rhys Plumlee gets all the snaps).
Here’s the issue for Luke. Despite my optimism based on what we’ve seen so far — actually scoring vs. Alabama, the controversial ending vs. Cal, crushing Arkansas and Vandy — there might not be 3 wins left on that schedule. A&M and Auburn are bad matchups for how well they defend the run and LSU’s offense cannot be contained.
7. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Ask me this question a week ago and Muschamp is probably in the 11-12 range. But after the defensive game plan he drew up to beat Georgia, how can you not be impressed? It was vastly different from the plans that failed against Mizzou or UNC. The Gamecocks didn’t give Georgia’s receivers any room and that defensive line won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Muschamp won a game that nobody (especially not me) thought he could win. Muschamp is the only coach in America who has a road win against a top 3 team this year. Not bad for someone who hadn’t beat a ranked foe since 2016.
6. Kirby Smart, Georgia
I know, I know, I know. Why have Smart ahead of Muschamp? Yes, I saw what happened Saturday. But that’s not the entire 2019 story. Smart did lead Georgia to a win against a top 10 Notre Dame team, and the Dawgs won their 2 other SEC matchups by a combined score of 73-20. The Dawgs are still in the Playoff hunt. That’s still the No. 6 defense in the country that Smart is leading. That’s the good. The bad was his team sleepwalked through its 3rd straight first half. It failed to make the right adjustments and lost in embarrassing fashion to a more prepared but less skilled South Carolina team. And there were questionable decisions made by Smart all day that proved costly.
That can’t happen with a team that talented. That’s on Smart.
5. Barry Odom, Missouri
I blasted Odom after the opener against Wyoming. His defense let up nearly 300 rushing yards and lost to a 6-win Mountain West team. Can you blame me? But since then? Odom made some major adjustments. His team just won its 5th consecutive game by double digits and moved into the AP Top 25. The competition will get tougher, but it’s hard not to be impressed with Odom flipping the script in such convincing fashion.
Even better? The guy who he recruited and surprised many when he came to Mizzou, Kelly Bryant, looks like one of the nation’s better quarterbacks. If Odom can continue racking up wins and shake up the SEC East picture without Cale Garrett and without knowing about the bowl ban, he’ll be a legitimate SEC Coach of the Year candidate.
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
I love me some New Gus. And no, I’m not selling my New Gus stock despite the offensive struggles against Florida. That Florida defense played incredibly well and Bo Nix struggled. Part of that was on Nix, and admittedly, part of that was on Malzahn for, as he said, not putting him in enough positions to succeed. But let’s reset here. Even with that loss, Auburn is a borderline top 10 team with a pair of wins against ranked foes away from Jordan-Hare. That’s not a bad first half for someone who was on every hot seat list in America entering 2019. How does Malzahn continue to rise on this list? Develop Nix and beat a team like LSU, Georgia or Alabama.
3. Ed Orgeron, LSU
Nationally, it’s time that more people respect Coach O. On the year, LSU has:
- No. 2 AP ranking
- 2 wins vs. Top 10
- No. 1 offense
- 6 games with 40-plus points
I get it. He’s a defensive-minded coach and Dave Aranda is one of the highest-paid coordinators in America. But here’s what Orgeron deserves credit for. He talked Joe Brady into coming to LSU and working with Steve Ensminger to retool the offense. That’s obviously been a smashing success. Orgeron also went out and got Joe Burrow last year and recruited weapons galore for him to work with. Another smashing success, that’s been. And hey, what about just getting a team ready to play on a given night? I mentioned earlier how Smart’s teams sleepwalked through the last 3 opening halves. LSU doesn’t sleepwalk in big games or really ever. Orgeron deserves more praise than many — and maybe even me — are giving him.
2. Dan Mullen, Florida
Once again, it’s not all just about head-to-head stuff. Even though he suffered his first loss of 2019 on Saturday, how impressive has Mullen been? With a first-time starting quarterback and an extremely inexperienced offensive line, the Gators continue to play well. A lot of that is on the defense, but look at what Mullen has been able to do with Kyle Trask. He has big windows to throw the ball into, he has been accurate and efficient even though he’s not as mobile as a typical Mullen quarterback. There’s no doubt that Mullen would be getting National Coach of the Year consideration if that were being decided today.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Just because it’s the boring default answer doesn’t make it the wrong answer. Before you say that “anybody can win at Alabama,” consider this. The Crimson Tide are No. 1 in the country. They have scored at least 47 points and had a margin of victory of at least 19 in every game. A big reason? The guy who Saban got ripped for hiring, Steve Sarkisian, is on the same page with Tua Tagovailoa. And despite plenty of key injuries in the front 7, Alabama has a top 15 scoring defense.
So far, it looks like the revenge tour is a nearly unstoppable force. As strange as this sounds, Saban deserves more credit than he’ll get for that.