Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post In praise of the SEC’s coaches

Thursday November 29, 2012

The story around the SEC this week is the three high-profile programs (plus Auburn) looking for a new coach. The stories of the collapses at Arkansas, Tennessee, and Auburn – as well as Kentucky’s backslide from modest success with Rich Brooks – have all meant much enjoyable drama and schadenfreude for the rest of the conference. A conference is only as good as its coaches though. As spectacular as some of those flameouts were, it’s really been a good year for coaching in the SEC. There are at least seven if not eight of the remaining ten coaches who have left smiles on the faces of their fans after the regular season. This isn’t really a “best coaches” list…this is how I’d stack them up in a “coach of the year” poll for this season. There were a lot of tough calls.

  • Sumlin (Texas A&M): First-year coach, first-year QB, and no one in the nation wants to touch this team right now. Expectations will be sky-high next year, and he’ll have a hot product to sell on the recruiting trail. We’ll see if Sumlin can continue to evolve as he manages those expectations and attempts to bring the defense up to SEC standards.
  • Saban (Alabama): Like his “boring” team, it’s tempting to overlook what Saban does every year and talk about other coaches first. Alabama lost most of a defense plus the amazing Trent Richardson to the NFL, and they’re in a position to repeat as national champs. Successful coaching is about program management as much as it is game management, and few do the former as well as Saban.
  • Franklin (Vanderbilt): Vandy has improved on the field, but – like Saban – the program management really makes Franklin stand out. He had an enormous challenge of low expectations to overcome, and he followed up a nice debut with a solid eight wins and very competitive home losses to South Carolina and Florida. With head-turning success in recruiting, he should be able to continue to back up his bombastic ambitions for the program.
  • Richt (Georgia): The “lost control” and hot-seat memes that are punchlines now were no joke after the 2010 season. Richt now has consecutive division titles, and his transformation of several areas of the program from S&C to defense have the Dawgs on the cusp of a national title game appearance. He, along with his players, were able to hold the team and season together after a loss so complete that it could’ve easily undone the gains made over the past two seasons, but we have to hold the coach responsible for a team that failed to show up in such a big game. The Dawgs enter the postseason playing as well as anyone in the nation on both sides of the ball and have earned another shot at their goals. Will Richt’s team be better prepared for a Gameday showcase the second time around?
  • Spurrier (South Carolina): Spurrier’s scheme and playcalling need no discussion, but South Carolina’s ability to plug the next guy in has been one of the underrated stories of the past two seasons. In the season opener it looked as if the Gamecocks were adrift without Connor Shaw. By the end of the year, the Gamecocks could go to Clemson without Shaw or Lattimore and play as if that were the plan all along. Despite injuries at two critical positions on offense and despite some big departures from 2011, Spurrier put together another impressive 10-2 season.
  • Muschamp (Florida): You’d think that a 1-loss coach would rate higher, but Florida has walked the edge a little too much in 2012. The defense has been excellent, but the offensive transformation has been slow to come about. At least they’ve had the sense to lean on the strengths of their players on offense, and that alone is an improvement. It’s to Muschamp’s credit that nearly all of those close games have gone his way, but there’s still work to do.
  • Miles (LSU): Yes, Miles has built a program good enough to contend for the BCS despite the circus around Mathieu and continued questions at quarterback. The Tigers have very quality wins over A&M and South Carolina, and they nearly clamed Bama’s scalp. A program with a goal of national titles just can’t continue to be deficient at such a key position. Miles’ quirkiness and must-see press conferences are great fun, but they’re not great coaching.
  • Freeze (Ole Miss): A very impressive debut effort. The program was in such a state that it was enough just to post an SEC win, but Freeze and his offense delivered a .500 season and a bowl bid. A dominant win in the Egg Bowl was a significant bonus and gives Freeze a huge amount of legitimacy in the state. The same questions apply for Freeze as for Sumlin: with such a successful debut, expectations will adjust for Year 2. Can he manage them?
  • Mullen (Miss. St.): Some programs should be very careful about rolling their eyes at 8 wins. Yes, the 7-0 start was fool’s gold. The question now is whether Mullen has reached his ceiling at MSU or if anyone could do more there.
  • Pinkel (Missouri): Pinkel has produced some excellent teams over the years, but this one was overmatched for its debut campaign in the SEC. It was a bad enough season that rumors circulated about his departure, but he seems to have weathered the bloodletting of the past few days. He’ll be charged with building his program’s talent and depth up to competitive levels, and he’ll need the school’s commitment to match his effort.

Comments are closed.