It was 2006 when coach Rich Brooks stepped to the podium at SEC Media Days wearing a sly grin. And then he cracked us all up by leaning into the mike to say, “I’m baaaack.”
It was a surprise Brooks was back for a fourth year given Kentucky’s awful record in his first three (9-25), but an even bigger surprise was that all 14 coaches were returning in the SEC. We found out what an offseason would be without a juicy firing, scandal or coach jumping to the NFL.
That was the last time every SEC coach repeated at SEC Media Days. Until this year.
Then again, we haven’t made it to July yet.
Still, all 14 coaches who were in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame last year are expected to be at the Hoover Wynfrey starting July 15 when Florida’s Dan Mullen kicks it off with whatever new kicks he’s bringing to the clambake.
That’s a rarity in a conference that has no tolerance for average. Does it mean that schools are showing a little more restraint, that they are realizing stability at the top is a major factor in having a consistent program?
It’s circumstances as much as anything. Coaches on the hot seat won just enough to survive and — most importantly — there were six new head coaches last year (if you count Matt Luke being elevated from interim) and even this cannibalistic league allows for a grace period.
There are coaches who will be perceived as being on the hot seat after their first loss of 2019. Only their athletic directors know for sure.
The best thing about all of the coaches being back this year is we have a body of work at their current jobs. With some, it’s a small sample size, but it’s better than ranking coaches who have yet to coach a game.
So as we get closer to the unofficial start of football season in Hoover, Ala., and some great story-telling at the On Tap Sports Cafe across the street from the hotel, we continue with talking season and our annual ranking of the SEC coaches.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama.
Shocking, I know. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens at Alabama when he leaves, but it sure feels like he’s going to be coaching the Tide forever. Saban is the bar and every other coach in this conference is reaching for the untouchable.
2. Kirby Smart, Georgia.
Smart is the closest, but let’s not forget that he has only had three seasons, two of them good, but last year the Dawgs did end with a whimper. The way he is recruiting, Georgia is not going away.
3. Dan Mullen, Florida.
I think this is a big year for Mullen to show just how good a coach he is, but he won at Mississippi State (had he stayed he would have become the school’s all-time winningest coach this year) and won 10 games in his first Florida season.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M.
You can certainly make an argument that he should be third. I saw The Sporting News ranked him second in the league. But in his first year in the SEC, he won only one road game. Points deducted.
5. Ed Orgeron, LSU.
Reluctantly. He does seem to know how to get the best out of his players. But he also finds a way to lose a lot of big games. If you want good, he’s your guy. Great may not be in his DNA.
6. Mark Stoops, Kentucky.
Every year under Stoops, the Wildcats have improved. The big question is whether or not they peaked last year.
7. Gus Malzahn, Auburn.
Go ahead and call me a hater, but I’m just not impressed with Arthur Gustavo Malzahn. He has had two 7-1 seasons in conference play and is 14-18 in the other four at Aubie. That’s hardly consistent.
8. Will Muschamp, South Carolina.
This is a big season for Muschamp, who is slowly building a team that could contend for, well, the Citrus Bowl.
9. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State.
Maybe this is low for a coach who won eight games in his first season. But that team was loaded. This will be an interesting season for Moorhead because a lot of the talent Mullen left him has departed.
10. Barry Odom, Missouri.
Didn’t like the hire when it happened, but he has surprised me. Especially in November when he is 10-2 in three seasons. Now about those other two months and the bowl games.
11. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt.
Two bowl games in five years at Vandy isn’t bad, but zero winning seasons isn’t good anywhere. Definitely a hot seat candidate.
12. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee.
There is no way this ranking will be this low next year. But all we have to work with is six games where the Vols allowed at least 38 points under a defensive-minded coach. If this is your 12th best coach, you have a great league of coaches.
13. Matt Luke, Ole Miss.
With what he has had to deal with NCAA-wise, it’s difficult to be too critical. But he is 4-12 in the SEC.
14. Chad Morris, Arkansas.
He inherited a mess and seems to be righting the ship in terms of culture. But as a head coach at Arkansas and SMU, he is 16-32 and someone has to be last.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.