Building the perfect SEC coaching staff for 2018
If you could take any coaches from any of the staffs in the SEC and combine them to make the perfect coaching staff for 2018, what would it look like?
In consideration for this list, the rules are simple: We used only current SEC coaches at their current positions. Sure, it would be great to have Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt on the same staff again coaching defense, but now that they all are head coaches, we can only select one for this staff.
We loaded up on defensive line coaches for two reasons. Outside of having strong quarterback play, success on the defensive line is the most critical factor to winning ball games in the SEC and college football in today’s game. The second reason? These two coaches were simply too good to leave off. Due to having two coaches on the defensive line, we didn’t have room to add a (full) receivers coach, but two of my offensive coaches (Enos and Brewster) have experience coaching receivers in college.
Here’s what we came up with:
Head Coach — Nick Saban, Alabama
This one needs no explanation.
Offensive Coordinator — Jim Chaney, Georgia
This was a difficult selection. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of Jim Chaney’s collective work and believe had Georgia’s offense struggled last season, Smart might have been forced to make a change. Obviously, the offense did the opposite of struggle and was at times remarkably efficient considering a true freshman piloted the offense for a UGA team that nearly won the national championship.
Keep in mind, the SEC is breaking in 10 new offensive coordinators this season (if you count Florida’s co-offensive coordinators as two), so veteran options were also somewhat limited.
While Chaney certainly has had his struggles as playcaller at times — the vast majority of Arkansas and Pitt fans were pleased to see him go — when he has an abundance of talent, he’s certainly shown the ability to produce incredible results. Having Drew Brees on his resume doesn’t hurt. Chaney’s offenses were certainly potent at Tennessee once the unit matured in 2012 and his work with Jake Fromm helps his stock heading into 2018.
This was a masterful call by Chaney on the opening offensive snap for Georgia. It broke the game open early and gave Fromm some confidence early in the season. Remember, his previous game against a Power 5 opponent was against Notre Dame, which was probably his worst game of the season. This aggressive decision played a huge role in this game and gave UGA momentum against a Mississippi State team many thought could come into Athens and challenge the Bulldogs.
Quarterbacks Coach — Dan Enos, Alabama
The former Arkansas offensive coordinator is coming off a disappointing season in Fayetteville, but that tends to happen when the middle of your offense is decimated by injury. Austin Allen never seemed right during 2017 and lost significant time after being hurt (that came after being a human tackling dummy in 2016), Frank Ragnow battled nagging injuries all season and was forced to play out of position at times due to the lack of surrounding talent on the line and starting running back Rawleigh Williams had his career ended in the spring following a potentially life-altering injury scare.
Taking that into consideration, I’ll largely give Enos a pass for 2017. Two coaches that must have felt the same were Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban. They both swooped in quickly and hired Enos this offseason, that should tell you something about how well respected Alabama’s new quarterback coach is around college football circles.
Before arriving in Fayetteville, Arkansas fans were very eager to see someone other than Brandon Allen play quarterback. Following his one and only season playing for Enos, Allen led the SEC in passer rating (166.48), yards per attempt (9.3) and touchdowns against SEC opponents (21). His 30 passing touchdowns also led the SEC and marked the second-most thrown in a single season in school history. A year later, Austin Allen took over as starting quarterback and led the team to back-to-back game-winning drives in his first two games.
One of my favorite Enos calls during his time at Arkansas, the Razorbacks needed this conversion to tie the game and potentially set up overtime.
Offensive Line Coach — Sam Pittman, Georgia
Arguably the nation’s best offensive line coach, Sam Pittman might be the best recruiter of the position, too. Pittman has a history of working with Chaney, so his placement on this list makes even more sense when you take that into consideration.
Tennessee’s offensive line has never been the same since Pittman left, and that was in 2012. While in Knoxville, Pittman helped develop Ja’Wuan James and Zach Fulton into NFL Draft picks. Bret Bielema is known by many as an offensive line guru, but the decline of his program began when Pittman left Fayetteville for Georgia. While his first season in Athens resulted in some shaky O-Line play, the unit, which was full of young players — outside of Isaiah Wynn (who was just selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft), was one of the team’s strengths.
In the past two recruiting cycles, Pittman has helped Georgia sign eight offensive linemen that ranked as 4- or 5-star prospects.
Running Backs Coach — Dell McGee, Georgia
A relative newcomer to the SEC, Dell McGee has gotten off to a terrific start working in Athens. Two of his former running backs were just taken in the top two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft (Sony Michel in Round 1, Nick Chubb in Round 2) and rising sophomore D’Andre Swift has already flashed enough potential to have many believing he will successfully fill the void as Georgia’s lead back in 2018.
While many might argue Georgia’s ground game is successful simply due to the fact McGee inherited a loaded running back room — although he served as Swift’s UGA recruiter, that would discount the job he did at Georgia Southern, where he served as running backs coach. The Eagles led the nation in rushing in 2014 (379.92 rushing yards per game) and in 2015 (363 rushing yards per game) with McGee on staff.
Another reason to have McGee on staff, he was credited as the nation’s No. 1 recruiter for the 2018 recruiting cycle by 247Sports after helping Georgia land 5-stars QB Justin Fields, RB Zamir White, OL Jamaree Salyer and DL Brenton Cox, and 4-stars RB James Cook, OL Warren Ericson and DB Chris Smith.
Tight Ends Coach — Tim Brewster, Texas A&M
Tim Brewster gets the slight edge over Jeff Banks due to his lengthy track record as both an elite recruiter and showing he knows how to get production from his tight ends. While you may think he’s a somewhat of a psychopath if you follow him on Twitter, the man has proven time and again he knows how to get elite players to sign on the dotted line, regardless of what position they play.
The list of notable tight ends Brewster has coached in college is impressive, Alge Crumpler and Freddie Jones at North Carolina, Derek Lewis and Bo Scaife at Texas, and Nick O’Leary at Florida State. When you consider all of these players were all-around tight ends that could excel in run blocking just as easily as haul in passes, that adds significant value to offenses.
In addition to those players, the best NFL tight end Brewster has worked with is Antonio Gates. Brewster helped teach Gates the position for the Chargers following a collegiate basketball career. Gates, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, would go on to catch 927 passes for 11,508 yards and 114 touchdowns to date. The fundamentals taught by Brewster would be implemented in an exceptional way by Gates as he’s a sure Pro Football Hall of Famer when he walks away from the game.
Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach — Dave Aranda, LSU
For my money, there has not been a better coordinator in recent SEC history than Dave Aranda. Obviously, LSU feels the same way as the Tigers signed Aranda to a four-year, $10 million guaranteed contract this offseason to keep him away from College Station.
In his first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Aranda’s defense has held opponents to 10 points or fewer in nine out of 25 games. There’s no telling how far LSU would have gone in 2016 if the offense would have only performed at a respectable level against top competition. While the Tigers lost four games that season, the offense only put up seven points in the loss to Wisconsin, 13 against Auburn, zero against Alabama and 10 against Florida. The Crimson Tide averaged 38.8 points per game in 2016 when Aranda’s held them to only 10 — the lowest margin any defense held Alabama to that season.
Aranda has coached every level of the defense, but he’s shown he can really get the most out of his linebackers. Devin White has quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s best backers and coached Wisconsin LB Chris Borland to Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014. Aranda served at Wisconsin for three seasons his defenses once went 18 consecutive games without allowing more than one touchdown in any contest.
Defensive Line Coach — Rodney Garner, Auburn
Rodney Garner has been one of the most successful defensive line coaches in recent SEC history. Following a standout playing career for the Tigers, he began his coaching career at Auburn before heading to the East to coach at Tennessee before a lengthy career in Athens. Now that he’s back on The Plains, he’s helped the Tigers recruit and develop arguably the league’s best defensive line.
During his days in Athens, Garner coached David Pollack, Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Charles Grant, Geno Atkins, Charles Johnson and Johnathan Sullivan among many others who became NFL players. Some of his recent Auburn standouts include Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell, Jeff Holland, Derrick Brown, Nick Coe, and emerging players Big Kat Bryant and T.D. Moultry.
Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers Coach — Craig Kuligowski, Alabama
Craig Kuligowski’s record coaching on the defensive line speaks for itself.
Arguably the best defensive line coach in the nation left Missouri after Barry Odom took over the program and to join Mark Richt at Miami and quickly turned the Canes’ D-Line into one of the better units in the ACC. The Hurricanes ranked third in the nation with 44 sacks and fifth in the nation with 111 tackles-for-loss last season. In his 15 seasons coaching the D-Line at Mizzou, he coached 24 all-conference players.
Defensive ends Shane Ray and Michael Sam won SEC Defensive Player of the Year awards in back-to-back years under Kuligowski. Other standout D-Line that he helped produce at Mizzou include Charles Harris, Kony Ealy, Sheldon Richardson, Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood and Justin Smith. Now with an opportunity to coach some of the best defensive line prospects in the country, it will be scary to see what ‘Bama’s new D-Line coach produces. The vast majority of the prospects he coached at Mizzou were all unheralded recruits coming out of high school that Kuligowski developed into NFL prospects.
If Mizzou makes a coaching anytime soon, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kuligowski get a serious look at the role.
Defensive Backs Coach — Corey Raymond, LSU
LSU is known by many as DBU, thanks in part to Corey Raymond’s outstanding ability to produce elite college defensive backs.
A former standout Tiger himself, Raymond knows quite a bit about taking elite prospects and turning them into difference makers. He’s coached four All-American defensive backs in Baton Rouge and his unit finished second in the SEC in passes defended with 76 in 2017. He’s also shown that he can get a high level of production from young players, something that’s not always a given in the defensive secondary.
Some of the notable DBs coached by Raymond in Baton Rouge include Greedy Williams, Donte Jackson, Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Eric Reid, Tharold Simon, Jalen Collins, Rashard Robinson, Jalen Mills and, of course, Tyrann Mathieu.
Special Teams Coordinator/Receivers Coach — Andy Hill, Missouri
How long has Andy Hill been at Mizzou? He was on the coaching staff when Barry Odom played for the Tigers. Considering he has not left since that time, he’ll enter his 22nd season on staff in Columbia in 2018. Odom clearly thinks highly of Hill’s ability to coach, as Missouri’s head coach named Hill the first special teams coordinator in program history.
Missouri’s new associate head coach and special teams coordinator has a long history of producing receivers for the Tigers. Johnathon Johnson, Dimetrios Mason, J’Mon Moore, T.J. Moe, Michael Egnew, Danario Alexander, Jeremy Maclin and Justin Gage are among the receivers Hill has coached to all-conference honors at Mizzou.
Head of Strength and Conditioning — Scott Cochran, Alabama
Aside from Saban, this was the easiest selection on the list.
It would be tough to argue against the notion that Cochran is the second-most important coach to Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa, as he’s served on every one of the head coach’s staff with the Tide. Simply put, Cochran gets the most out of the insane amount of talent on campus and it’s rare that Alabama is beset with injury. That’s partly what made last season’s injury toll stand out, the rarity of it in the Cochran-era running the strength program. There’s a reason every Saban disciple turns to Cochran when they land their own program, they know there’s no one better to ask to run their weight training program than the man doing so in Tuscaloosa.
Offensive Analyst — Hugh Freeze
OK, so we cheated a bit here, but there’s plenty of smoke out there that Hugh Freeze acted as an analyst last season — at least, in some capacity, so it’s safe to assume he could be asked to do so again in 2018. While he has his shortcomings when it comes to his character and the way he ran his Ole Miss program, there might not be an offensive mind coaching in the SEC today who can challenge Freeze. Having him on staff as an analyst would be a wise move for any coach not afraid of any potential backlash.
Offensive Analyst — Joe Osovet, Tennessee
Tennessee made a bold move this offseason luring Joe Osovet, one of the nation’s best junior college coaches, to Knoxville to help the offensive staff. Known as an innovator of RPOs and explosive downfield passing, Osovet’s hire showed the Vols were fully committed to building up a support staff that similar to Alabama’s. The genius of a move like this, if the Vols were to lose any offensive assistant to promotions, they have an in-house candidate ready to slide in and take his position.
Intern — Butch Jones, Alabama
Someone’s got to take out the trash. Might as well hire Butch Jones to do it.