Ranking every SEC head coaching job
There’s no good way to break this to SEC fans, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: Not all of the league’s head coaching jobs are created equal.
Even within the SEC, where every job is a GOOD job, there is a distinction between what is good, better and best. Though admittedly, those differences can be pretty small.
So when given the task of ranking them, I thought it only fair to share my line of thinking on several different factors that a coach may use to make a decision on which SEC job to take if all 14 happened to be open at the same time and he got his pick of the lot.
Sure, that method still includes a heavy dose of my opinion, and I’m fully prepared for 75 percent of you to hate me when this is over, but it’s what we’re working with here.
Here’s a definition of each of the categories we’re going to be grading the jobs on:
- Location: The city/state in which the campus is located. Quality of life there for family, entertainment, etc.
- Fan support: Amount of fans, fans ability to show up in the stands when things aren’t going well, etc.
- Tradition/prestige: The clout the program carries based on its past accomplishments.
- Stadium: Quality of the stadium, size of the stadium, crowd, and vibe of game day atmosphere.
- In-state talent: The quality of high school recruits that are predisposed to come play for the football program.
Note: I have purposely left “facilities” off this analysis because, quite frankly, nearly every school in the league has a top-notch football training facility relative to the rest of the country. And because I am not on the inside of these facilities on a day-to-day basis, I find it difficult to accurately differentiate one from another.
Got it? Good. Now, let’s get started:
Location: High marks here. Nashville is one of the “it” cities in America right now, and can safely be called the SEC’s top city.
Fan support: The Commodores are not fighting a fair fight here. The worst support in the league comes from being the only private school with a small enrollment, populated primarily by folks that don’t call the Vanderbilt area home.
Tradition/prestige: Aside from recent brushes with success under James Franklin, there just hasn’t been much in the way of winning since Dan McGugin left the job in the 1930s.
Stadium: In spite of recent renovations, Vanderbilt Stadium is far and away the worst stadium in the league.
In-state talent: Tennessee has developed a better reputation for recruiting in recent years, but Vanderbilt’s admission standards leaves coaches unable to recruit a significant number of them.
Location: Lexington is a nice city with plenty to do for a family. Nothing wrong here.
Fan support: Basketball will always come first for Kentucky fans, and that’s a big detractor to this job. It is the only job in the league that isn’t the “top dog” on campus.
Tradition/prestige: Again, basketball owns the tradition and prestige around campus.
Stadium: Commonwealth Stadium has some nice, new renovations to unveil, but it is still in the bottom third of the league.
In-state talent: Kentucky is generally a pretty weak state for recruiting, but the Wildcats do enjoy a close proximity to Ohio, which is rich with talent.
12. Mississippi State
Location: Starkville has an earned reputation of being one of the worst cities in the league. (Sorry, I still think you’re nice people).
Fan support: While not as large a fan base as some of the others in the league, this group does love their Bulldogs.
Tradition/prestige: Nothing wrong with the tradition here on a national scale, but it just doesn’t match the SEC elite.
Stadium: Davis-Wade Stadium is one of the smaller venues in the league, but some of the recent additions make it a desirable destination on game day. Cowbells, anyone?
In-state talent: Though each and every quality Mississippi high school player requires a battle with Ole Miss, there is a decent amount of talent in Mississippi.
11. South Carolina
Location: There’s plenty of good golf within a short distance of Columbia. Just ask Steve Spurrier.
Fan support: Considering the long view of the history of the program, the fan support here is remarkably good.
Tradition/prestige: Setting aside the Spurrier era, the on-field history just isn’t very good.
Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium is one of the more underrated game-day experiences in the country. A very cool place to take in a game, and a very lively crowd.
In-state talent: South Carolina is a pretty small state, but it produces its share of high-quality youngsters. Jadeveon Clowney and Alshon Jeffery are recent examples.
10. Ole Miss
Location: One of the SEC’s cooler small college towns. Its close proximity to Memphis allows for a big city feel.
Fan support: Ole Miss fans win the award for the most colorful pants selections on game day, but truthfully, they’re a pretty good bunch to have in your corner as well.
Tradition/prestige: As far as SEC schools go, the history involved is pretty tame. Still yet, Ole Miss is known nationally as a quality college football program. That counts for something.
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is nice and all, but everyone leaves here talking about the tailgating at The Grove. One of the best game-day environments in the country.
In-state talent: Mississippi is a very good state for high school football, but the Rebels do fight Mississippi State and neighboring states to keep them around.
Location: Situated between St. Louis and Kansas City, you’re getting a nice college town with easy access to big cities.
Fan support: It’s a solid fan base with plenty of passion, but not quite on the level of some of its SEC counterparts.
Tradition/prestige: A history of solid performance and quickly-earned respect within a new conference have the Tigers positioned well here.
Stadium: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium is nice enough, but it can’t hang with the big boys in the league in terms of size, volume or intensity.
In-state talent: Missouri is actually a pretty underrated state for high school football recruits, and the Tigers are the only FBS school in the state. There is opportunity to do well with players from here.
Location: Fayetteville is a lovely city located near the Ozark Mountains. Lots of growth and development in the area.
Fan support: Aside from a few loyal Arkansas State fans, the Razorbacks pretty well own the entire state from a college football fan support perspective.
Tradition/prestige: More known for their accolades in the old Southwest Conference than what they have done in the SEC, Arkansas prides itself on being a strong football program.
Stadium: It’s middle of the pack as far as SEC stadiums go, but there’s nothing wrong with Razorback Stadium, provided you’re cool with calling the Hogs for a few hours on a Saturday.
In-state talent: Middle-of-the-road as far as high school players go, but being the only Power 5 option in the state helps with the retention rate for the Razorbacks.
Location: Often branded as being in the middle of nowhere, proximity to the Georgia state line and Atlanta is a plus for many reasons.
Fan support: Not quite willing to go to the extremes that their bitter rivals may (poisoned trees, anyone?), but make no mistake about it: Auburn fans are passionate.
Tradition/prestige: National championships, Heisman Trophy winners and all that good stuff. Plenty build upon.
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium is loud, now boasts the largest scoreboard in college football, and that eagle is pretty cool.
In-state talent: There is plenty of elite talent here, and easy access to Georgia gives Auburn two plentiful states in which to recruit.
Location: The Smoky Mountains are lovely, and Knoxville is a good-sized town for a family.
Fan support: Though they haven’t had much to cheer for in recent seasons, Volunteers fans are as dedicated as they come.
Tradition/prestige: There are conference and national championship aspirations surrounding this program, in part because their impressive history says it is possible.
Stadium: It may be old and a little tight on space, but the 100,000-plus crowds clad in orange and singing Rocky Top at Neyland Stadium create one of the best home-field advantages in college football.
In-state talent: Tennessee, as a state, is nowhere near the league’s top talent producers, but the Volunteers generally have their pick of the lot on what has been a decent state for recruiting in recent seasons.
Location: If you like Cajun food, Baton Rogue is the place to be in the SEC.
Fan support: In my estimation, some of the best fans in college football in terms of their loyalty and intensity.
Tradition/prestige: Things have been fantastic since the turn of the century, but this program has had its struggles from time to time. Still yet, the program has done more winning than losing and holds a high position in the national perception.
Stadium: Tiger Stadium is what every other college football stadium aspires to be. Just a fantastic venue that is perhaps the toughest in the nation on visiting opponents.
In-state talent: Louisiana’s in-state talent is what sets LSU above Tennessee in these rankings. The Tigers have a very nice pool of players from which to draw each season.
4. Texas A&M
Location: Conveniently nestled within a reasonable car ride to Dallas or Houston, the location of College Station could be far worse.
Fan support: The mystique surrounding the 12th Man mantra really speaks for itself. The Aggies are a proud bunch.
Tradition/prestige: The perception is that the Aggies are the second-best program in the state of Texas, but comparisons to the Longhorns are not as relevant now that they no long play each other.
Stadium: Kyle Field has a top-notch game-day atmosphere. Unlike anything else in college football.
In-state talent: Texas, like Florida or California, produces some of the best high school football players in the country. You can form a team full of winners here, all within an afternoon’s drive to campus.
Location: Athens is quite possibly the perfect college town. Good proximity to Atlanta as well.
Fan support: Any time a group of adults is willing to bark like dogs in approval of your play, you know they are committed.
Tradition/prestige: Though everyone likes to talk about how Mark Richt underachieves in the modern era, the Bulldogs have built a very nice tradition of winning.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium is one of the league’s best and playing between the hedges is never easy thanks to an electric atmosphere.
In-state talent: The state of Georgia is loaded with high school football players, so much so that several other conference teams prefer to raid it.
Location: Ahh, sunshine and humidity. Gainesville could be a little closer to the beach, but we’re nitpicking here.
Fan support: Florida fans are among the most rabid and passionate in the nation. Whether or not they’re wearing jorts is not relevant to the discussion.
Tradition/prestige: While the long-term tradition of the program probably isn’t at the top of the league, it is hard to argue with what the Gators have done in the last quarter of a century.
Stadium: Few stadiums can match the lore of The Swamp. One of the most intimidating environments in the country.
In-state talent: You could build a national championship-caliber team without leaving the state of Florida to recruit. Enough said.
Location: Alabama gets hot in the summer and stays warm in the winter, but at least Tuscaloosa is near a big city (Birmingham) and major interstates.
Fan support: There aren’t many fan bases in the country that are as rabid as the Crimson Tide. That’s great when you’re winning, and brutal when you’re not.
Tradition/prestige: The best in the league, by far. More conference and national championships than anyone else.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium ranks near the top of the league both in size and game-day atmosphere.
In-state talent: Alabama has a healthy amount of college prospects in any given season, though sharing them with Auburn does hurt.