Part of the SEC’s mystique is its noteworthy head coaches. Some aren’t as Xs and Os savvy as others, however. We polled the SDS staff on who they think is the league’s best in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario.

Ask this question a year or two ago, and the most popular answer may have been Steve Spurrier.


Jon Cooper (@JonSDS): Gus Malzahn

They don’t call Gus Malzahn the Wizard for nothing. I hear what you’re saying. Malzahn has to have the right personnel to run his offense. So does Nick Saban and Les Miles. College football is changing, and offense is taking center stage, even in the best defensive conference in college football. Malzahn scheming against a defense is a nightmare scenario for any opposing coach, and scoring points is the name of the game. I’m convinced that although Malzahn hasn’t surpassed Nick Saban yet, he’s well on his way to becoming the best coach in college football in the near future.

Christopher Smith (@CSmithSDS): Nick Saban

Talk about a tough question. This could be a senior thesis length answer both in its length and in the amount of research required to answer it completely and properly. But, given seven days or more to prepare, I can’t imagine a tougher opponent in the SEC than Saban. Gus Malzahn is a terrific offensive coach, but he’d need the right personnel and some time to institute his offense. Les Miles is a fantastic leader, but I don’t trust his clock management and in-game decisions. I considered Hugh Freeze, but he doesn’t have as much experience in pressure-packed situations. Steve Spurrier isn’t nearly as good at dealing with adversity. We all know Mark Richt’s track record in big games. I don’t think it’s a runaway, but with a conference title on the line, I feel most comfortable with Saban.

Ethan Levine (@EthanLevineSDS): Gus Malzahn

Malzahn has done nothing but win since arriving at Auburn prior to last season, and his spread rushing attack continues to overwhelm some of the nation’s best defenses. He’s 19-3 as the head coach of the Tigers, and won the SEC championship in his first year on the job. Prior to taking over at Auburn, the Tigers were a dismal 3-9 in 2012 including an 0-8 record in the SEC. Malzahn took one of the conference’s worst teams and shaped it into a champion in a matter of months. His team is in the hunt to defend its conference title and once again compete for a national championship this season, showing last year was not a fluke or a product of lucky finishes against Georgia and Alabama. Whatever Malzahn is doing, it’s working, and if I have one game to win I want him on my sideline leading my team.

Jordan Cox (@Jordan_Cox): Dan Mullen

He’s shown the ability to put together great game plans this season, and is really good at making in-game adjustments. Against Texas A&M and Auburn, Mullen’s plan attacked the weaknesses of those two teams. Two weeks ago against Kentucky and last week against Arkansas, Mullen saw the run game was working and stuck with it.Perhaps what I’ve been most impressed by this season is his ability to not let the moment get too big for his team and have them ready to play each week. For a program that has never played as a No. 1 team, Mullen has kept his guys level-headed, a huge reason the Bulldogs are still undefeated.

Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS): Gus Malzahn

I still like Spurrier’s ball plays with his back against the wall and a nothing to lose mentality (see Auburn game, 2014), but college football’s in a new offensive era and his days are numbered. Malzahn’s the new offensive genius in the Southeast, a playcaller with a relentless passion for tempo and running the opposition — literally — into the ground. His scheme reminds me a lot of Chip Kelly’s success at Oregon, but better.

Jason Hall (@JasonHallSDS): Nick Saban

Based on his track record, Saban has the best odds to win with equal talent. Even during his first season at Alabama, the veteran coach exceeded early expectations with a depleted roster. Some coaches may be hot commodities right now, but I’m going with consistency.