1. Nick Saban — Alabama
Saban recruits the best, beats the best, and is the best. His official record is 100-18 since taking over as head coach for Alabama in 2007. That year, Alabama went 7-6, but a 2009 ruling by the NCAA forced the Tide to vacate five wins from the 2007 season, giving Alabama a 2-6 record on the year. Alabama’s 100 wins since 2006 are more than any other program in college football. Saban and the Crimson Tide have won four of the last seven national championships, and they don’t look like they’ll be slowing down any time soon.
2. Les Miles — LSU
If Nick Saban was the father of modern-day college football, Les Miles would be his little brother. Before Miles, LSU had only recorded five seasons in program history with 10 or more wins. Nick Saban had two of those in 2001 and 2003. Since Miles has taken over as head coach, LSU has had seven such seasons. Only two of his 11 LSU teams have finished outside the top 20 in the postseason AP Poll. He consistently brings in top-tier recruiting classes and is a year-by-year threat to win the SEC West. However, he’ll need a few more trips to Atlanta to keep his place near the top of the list for much longer.
3. Hugh Freeze — Ole Miss
Freeze has beaten Nick Saban and Alabama two years in a row, but has failed to lead Ole Miss to Atlanta for a chance at an SEC crown. Despite allowing plays like this to ruin its chances at an SEC title two years in a row, Ole Miss’ record has improved by one win each year under Hugh Freeze. The Rebels have been a top-five AP Poll team at some point in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. His impressive recruiting classes and ability to beat the beasts of the SEC West should have the Rebels in Atlanta soon.
4. Dan Mullen — Mississippi State
Mullen has taken a program that averaged under four wins a season from 2001-2008 and turned the Bulldogs into a consistent +.500 team. After his first team in Starkville went 5-7, Mississippi State has had a winning record every year since. His ability to take that program and create a winning culture has him in the fourth spot of the power rankings. That, and the lack of returning coaches around the league.
5. Bret Bielema — Arkansas
Just like the other coaches at the top of this list, Bielema has taken an otherwise losing school and turned around the program. Although Arkansas had some success in the 2000s under Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino, the program wasn’t in a great place when Bielema took over in 2013. The Razorbacks went 3-9 that season, but went 7-6 and 8-5 in the following two years, respectively. He has recruited talented running backs and stout offensive linemen to anchor his smash-mouth offense, and his development of Brandon Allen should have Hog fans excited about the potential of the program in the coming years.
6. Butch Jones — Tennessee
Butch Jones has recruited well enough to be higher on this list, but he just hasn’t had a team break through and announce the program’s re-arrival to elite status yet. The only reason he isn’t a top-five coach in the SEC yet is because he hasn’t beaten any of the coaches above him in this list. His 2015 Tennessee team squandered away leads against Alabama, Arkansas and Florida. Jones’ recruiting classes have brought in the talent the Vols need to be a top program in the country, but the wins over elite programs have to start coming next year.
7. Jim McElwain — Florida
Jim McElwain had quite the up-and-down first year as head coach of the Gators. He led them to convincing wins over Ole Miss, Georgia, as well as most of the SEC East, but the team fell apart once Treon Harris had to lead the team down the stretch. Although he beat Butch Jones this year, we haven’t seen enough from McElwain yet to rank him among the elite coaches in the conference. He was gifted one of the best defenses in the conference — one that single-handedly kept the team afloat in its final few games. McElwain gets credit for getting the most out of a patched-together offense, but more evidence is needed before McElwain can be heralded as a household name in the SEC.
8. Kevin Sumlin— Texas A&M
Texas A&M has had four consecutive eight-win seasons for the first team since 1992-1995. Although he got a bit of a gift in Johnny Manziel for his first two years, Sumlin has held his own in the toughest division in college football. However, his teams have had plenty of talent, and the end results from the past couple of seasons have left a lot to be desired. Sumlin’s coaching ability will shine through next season when he his offense tries to rebound from the transfer of what seemed like every quarterback on the team.
9. Gus Malzahn — Auburn
Think about how this power ranking would look if it were done after the 2013 season. Malzahn would be at the level (if not higher) of Jim McElwain, no? Nick Marshall led Auburn’s offensive juggernaut all the way to the BCS Championship Game before losing to Florida State. There was a lot of buzz about what Malzahn could do in the next few years, but that all has led to… what, exactly? Not much. The Tigers’ win totals have declined each year under Malzahn. He hasn’t shown the ability to develop a quarterback or the ability to coach a team through adversity. He has an excellent offensive mind, but his status as a head coach is looking increasingly worrisome by the year.
10. Kirby Smart — Georgia
Smart gets the highest rating of any new SEC coach because of his resume. Smart was an assistant under Bobby Bowden before finding his way to Nick Saban’s side as a defensive backs’ coach in 2004. He followed Saban to the NFL and finally to Alabama, where Smart was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2008. His defenses have ranked near the top of countless statistical categories during his time as a defensive coordinator. His players develop into college football stars and high NFL draft picks. He won’t lose much recruiting talent at Georgia. Players will flock to play for someone with such a rich track record, and that alone should make Georgia a constant threat in the SEC East under Smart.
11. Barry Odom — Missouri
Odom’s 2015 season as the defensive coordinator at Missouri was a good one. The Tigers had the sixth-best defense in the country. But, the hire is a bit of a mystery in terms of what Odom brings to the table as a head coach. He’s a good defensive coordinator, but doesn’t have any head coaching experience at the collegiate level. This is about as “neutral” of a spot as he could get in the rankings, because the list goes from neutral to bad after Odom.
12. Mark Stoops — Kentucky
Stoops has recruited well (for Kentucky standards), but that’s about where the praise stops for a program that has squandered bowl opportunities in back-to-back years. In 2014, the Wildcats started out 5-1 and just needed one measly win the make a bowl game. Instead, Kentucky was outscored by an average of 22 points in its final six games — all losses — and missed out on a bowl. A similar situation occured in 2015 when the Wildcats started 4-1, but still couldn’t muster up two wins in their final seven games. The ‘Cats blew a 24-7 halftime lead to rival Louisville to lose and miss out on another bowl, something that accurately represents the Mark Stoops era as a whole.
13. Will Muschamp — South Carolina
South Carolina… poor South Carolina. The Gamecocks got the short straw when it came to the offseason coaching carousel. It seemed like everyone on their list got hired elsewhere or decided to stay home, so they went with a coach with SEC coaching experience. Not a great move. Muschamp recorded more than seven wins just once at Florida after the Urban Meyer era ended. He gave Florida its worst season in program history, a 4-8 disaster in 2013. He recruited well at one of the easiest schools to recruit at, but fell flat on his face when it came time to put a team on the field. He’ll have a harder time recruiting to South Carolina, and Gamecock fans can’t be confident that his coaching skills got miles better in a year.
14. Derek Mason — Vanderbilt
Sometimes it is just an unfortunate job that gets coaches pitted at the bottom of lists like these. But, for Derek Mason, it’s a combination of that and many awful attempts to make an offense, you know, do stuff. Mason has failed to develop anything resembling a decent quarterback. If he didn’t have 1, 000-yard rusher Ralph Webb, Vandy might have had trouble averaging its FBS fourth-worst 15.3 points a game in 2015. Mason did a solid job taking control of the defense, but the worst program in the SEC is going to need to score a lot of points to win games. That doesn’t look to change soon under Mason.
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