Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 SEC Coaches

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It's all the rage! Somebody somewhere did their annual ranking of all coaches in college football, starting with a complete ranking of the SEC coaches. Pundits have an issue with their rankings. You have an issue with their rankings. Me? Yeah. I take exception to them, too. 

I'm not going to post their rankings up here on my blog. Why? Well, because I am too lazy, mostly. But also because they don't link my stuff and I am spiteful. 

I will say that they took the easy way out and voted Saban first and Mason last. Big surprise. 

1) Nick Saban- Yeah, it's the easy way out. Even though I could play my Auburn Tiger card and put him last, without really feeling bad about it. I could easily point out how he has been out-coached when it really matters. It's true, and don't deny it. When Saban doesn't bring his A-Game (specifically when he is overlooking a game), he looses. I point to South Carolina and Auburn in 2010. How about his 2 different Sugar Bowl meltdowns. Look no further than Kick 6 or how about that loss last year to Ohio State and a 3rd string QB? 

That's enough beating up on him, for let's move on to why he is number 1. 
  • One of Two coaches to win National Championships at Multiple schools. 4 Overall. That's a feat in and of itself. And, he has done it in under 15 years.
  • He revolutionized recruiting, across the board. Recruiting has always been the avenue to winning games, but it wasn't in the spotlight until Saban came to the Capstone. He has never finished outside the top 5 and is becoming an annual #1. ESPN really needs to write him a large check for the solid he did them in making recruiting what it is.
  • He churns out an impressive number of NFL talent on defense. And, while the offense turns out its fair share of draft picks, it's becoming impossible to deny that his process is making players appear better than they really are. 
  • He may lack at coaching prowess in some games, but his ability to assemble top notch coaches and make them better is undeniable. Much like the Bear pipeline of the 60s and 70s, in 10 years, there won't be a top coaching staff in the country that doesn't have a Saban legacy member. 
  • Despite all the groaning by his own fans, his "process" may not be glamorous, but it is the most stable one in the country. Even in years without elite talent and with massive NFL turnover, his process is good for 8 games a season. 
2) Steve Spurrier-South Carolina is the 3rd stop of this coach where he came to a dreadful program and turned it into a really good program. Keep in mind that several top coaches had turns at SCAR and couldn't do the job. By the time Dr. Lou had left, it didn't look possible to win in Columbia, SC. He has proven otherwise. Obviously his time in Florida is what puts him in the discussion of all-timers and number 2 on this list, I can't help but stress that the job he has done at SCAR. In my opinion, you take the opening game loss to TAMU last year out of the occasion, and the "bad" 2014 season is a slightly down year to the 3 straight 11 win seasons (best in the SEC, mind you). He has recruited exceptionally well for the top recruits(Lattimore/Clowney/Jeffery) and if he could close the gap on the middle of the road recruits, he will start winning the east. The only gripe I have has been his inability to consistently get to Atlanta in a down period of the East. His ability to develop QBs is most impressive, turning in average guys into clutch QBs. 
  • Until 2014, he had coached 3 straight 11 win seasons. While SCAR doesn't have a NC to show for it, that kind of streak is something that Auburn hasn't has never done, despite their NC appearances. 
  • Produced a number 1 NFL Draft Pick in Clowney. Obviously, that's a big deal. 
  • Has beaten a #1 ranked team. Not many coaches can boast being a Number 1. And, beating a #1 ranked Saban team is something that should really stand for something. 
  • Has produced a Heisman winner
  • Has won a National Championship. Again, Championships really mean something. He has 1 NC and 6 SEC Championships, which is more than a lot of SEC programs. If he didn't have them, we might be naming the #3 guy on our list as the #2. 
3) Mark Richt-Other than Chris Peterson and his stint at Boise State, I don't think there has been a more undervalued coach than Mark Richt.  He has the longest tenure in the SEC, having arrived to the Hedges in 2000 and has compiled a 136-48 record, which is good for nearly 0.750. He has 6 SEC-East and 2 SEC Titles. The largest difference in he and the two above him is the ominous parity in being in the big game. He has stood toe-to-toe with Spurrier since Spurrier came to SCAR, splitting the series 5-5. Against Saban, Richt has been 1-1 in regular season, losing a crucial SEC-Championship game on the very last play. Though Saban has consistently recruited for that top spot on the board, Richt has been a stalwart recruiter who finishes extremely well every single year.  In my opinion, he has matched the rest of the SEC in the ability to churn out NFL draft picks. Though Saban has gotten "over the hump" more than any other coach, Richt is on the same level of program stability. To top it off, he runs a clean program, in that any trouble makers are booted off the team without question, regardless of their talent level. 

  • Recruits extremely well. Richt has quietly been a perennial top 10, having finished no lower than 15th in the last 10 years. 
  • He has an incredible win-loss record in the SEC, even against the top tier coaches and programs. 
  • He has an impressive resume of producing NFL-talent.
  • In terms of stability, he ranks 2nd only to Saban.  
  • He simply can't close out a season and make it to the big game. 
4) Dan Mullen - Unlike the coaches listed above, I don't determine Mullen has the #4 based upon just wins/losses/championships. If I did, I would have to list Les Miles as the #4. But I think that Les Miles isn't here because Mullen does so much more with less. Also, there have never been gaping holes at MSU nor the absolutely bone-headed calls that plague Les Miles. Let's start from the beginning, where he was the QB coach at Utah under Meyer, producing QBs that went on to finish 27-0 in a 2 year stint, which produced a 1st rounder pick in Alex Smith. With Meyer at Florida, Mullen turned a struggling Chris Leak into a National Championship winning QB while developing Tim Tebow, who would be a perennial Heisman finalist (and winner). Tebow would become one of the most iconic players in all of college football. At Mississippi State, he is  46-31 and 22-26 in the SEC. While those numbers are not on the level with the coaches preceding him (and following), he became a coach in the SEC-West during its most competitive era. Since his entry as head coach, the SEC-West has been a legitimate 5-team league and while LSU, Auburn, and Alabama have been the representatives for the division, he has been on their heels, alternating between 4th and 5th in the league until 2014, where he finished 2nd with a 10-win season, only the 2nd in program history. Thought that looks pedestrian, he has been 3 plays away from beating Auburn teams, including two squads that would make the NC game.  Despite being bracketed on all sides by talent-rich pools that are gobbled up by other bordering SEC competitors, including a high water mark for Ole Miss recruiting, Mullen has been able to recruit...and develop....impressive talent. 
  • While he isn't a top-10 recruiter, as per recruiting services, he is recruiting at a higher level than MSU has been accustomed to, perhaps better than ever DESPITE having borders with Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Louisiana has been a talent-rich area that most major SEC programs continue to dip into, despite having an LSU program who recruits in the top-10 annually. Alabama as two top-tier SEC programs and few top talent players leave Alabama. Conversely, both schools recruit Mississippi heavily, with success.  Even their own in-state rival is recruiting at an all-time high. It is impressive that Mullen can pull Top-20 talent, despite this. 
  • Despite solid finishes in recruiting, he has had a single 5-Star player (which he kept in-state), which speaks to his ability to develop average talent into winning seasons. 
  • Though he "got over the hump" in 2014 by winning 10 games, Mullen has been on the cusp of being a top SEC-West team since he came into the league. As mentioned, he has been 3 plays away 3 different years from finishing in the top 3 in the division (in a division that featured eventual SEC and National Champs).
  • It bears mentioning that he had MSU at #1 for the majority of the 2014 season, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, something that had never been done before. And, he did that by beating a #2 Auburn team.  
  • He has been able to assemble a balanced and impressive coaching staff. Unlike some of his competitors, State has been good on both sides of the ball, never relying on one side or the other, something that his divisional competitors have done. 
  • In terms of stability, have you heard of any behavioral issues in Starkville? I didn't think so. 
  • There is hardly a coach out there who has done more with less, and in the toughest division in college football. 
5) Les Miles- Though Nick Saban may have been the best coach to come through Baton Rouge, Miles did something that Saban couldn't do...and did it in his first two seasons. He won 10 games in 2 seasons. And, in 2007, he won 12 games on his way to a National Championship. He has finished with less than 10 wins only  3 times. Additionally, he has 2 SEC Championships. After Saban, Miles may be the best recruiter in the sport, finishing in the top 10 annually. Despite being an offensive-minded coach, LSU has been one of the best NFL-pipelines, specifically for defensive players. Though he doesn't have the rings that Saban has, he could be one of the top 3....if he didn't have some gaping holes in his game. His inability to recruit and develop NFL-caliber (much less college football winning) QBs is simply mind-boggling, despite his background as an offensive play caller.  Additionally, he has had some of the most ludicrous clock management and clutch play calling of any major coach I have ever seen. The only time I have ever seen it actually work was against Auburn in 2008 where he went for a TD on the last play of the game instead of a field goal. Perhaps the biggest knock against Miles will be his dreadful rematch performance against Alabama in the 2011 NC game. Again, despite being an offensive mind, he coached his offense into the worst offensive production of the BCS era. That brings us to another point, when he losses, he frequently losses to teams he shouldn't, a la Kentucky in 2007 and Tennessee in 2005. Despite that, I don't think I have ever seen someone who can recruit as many NFL caliber running backs and receivers as Miles. Unfortunately for both, he doesn't get to utilize them to their full potential. The former because he has routinely had 3 NFL backs in a single backfield, all who share carries. In the latter, he hasn't been able to field a QB to throw to the receivers, aside from Mettenburger, who wasn't his recruit to begin with. But, defensively, no one can question he and his coaching staff's ability to prepare young men for the NFL. 
  • Aside from Saban, Miles has been the most consistent top-tier recruiter in college football. Despite having the worst NFL turnover in college football, he continues to recruit top talent.
  • And, he develops them...well, at least defensive players. NFL has churned out defensive backs and d-line more than any other program in college football. When they get to the NFL, they turn out to be just as advertised, something that can't be said for all of Saban's recruits, who benefit from the system more than the development. 
  • Les Miles is the only coach that can constantly go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban. That doesn't mean he has the best record doing it, but he has one better than anyone else, despite losing 4 straight. However, he has been in every game with Saban, which not many coaches can say. 
  • Stability. He has had only 3 seasons with under 10 wins. In the SEC-West, that is a major accomplishment. He has held his coaching staff mostly together, over the years, though the loss of Chavis this year may change all of the above bullet points. 
  • Along with his unconventional play calling and time management, Miles is one of the most fun coaches to watch. That's got to stand for something. At least his isn't Nick Saban. 
Just for fun, I asked my wife for her Top 5. Here is what she had to say:
1) Saban
2) Gus
3) Spurrier (although that's more about past than present success) 
4) Richt,
5) Les Miles

So, I know a lot of you are asking about why I didn't list some other coaches in this top 5. Let's just visit that.

Malzahn- The jury is still out, simply because he hasn't been a head coach for 5 years yet. Though he spear-headed the best year to year turn around in college football history in his very first year on The Plains, hallmarked by two plays that will live in infamy, he followed it up much like his predecessor, Chizik, with a disappointing season. There is no doubt that his offensive mind can tear up opposing SEC teams, but can he do what Chizik (despite being a former CD) couldn't do and get am SEC West caliber defense on the field? The proof will be in the pudding,as it was in 2012 for Chizik. If he can develop talent, which signs point to "yes", then he could make this day. Though these lists are all about data points and trending, there simply isn't enough of them to give a real opinion. I sometimes think we haven't seen the best....or worst....from Malzahn. 

Freeze- Top-notch recruiter? Yep. There is NO DOUBT that Freeze can recruit. Can he bring energy to a program that feeds off it? Yep. However, despite the amazing focus on the team from The Grove, I haven't seen too much in the way of production. There isn't a team in college football that has had the benefit of hype that Ole Miss has received since Freeze came on campus. The fact is that in the last 3 years, no one has started hotter and finished colder than Ole Miss. Yes, I realize that he won a terrific game against the Tide in 2014. How did the season end? The one time top 5 team faltered, just as they had in previous years. My main gripe with Freeze is that he has won games despite himself, many times. In all 3 years, he used Bo Wallace to spearhead his uptempo dual-threat QB attack. And, no one gave the ball away like Bad Bo. Listen, I believed in both of them. So much so that I drafted him in both the last two years in fantasy. Though he may throw for 350 yards and 4 TDs, he would have 3 INTs and a fumble to go with it. He single-handedly lost the two most important games for the Rebels in 2013. So, if Freeze is such a recruiting whiz and a great offensive mind, why are we still debating whether or not another JUCO transfer (Chad Kelly) will be his QB in 2015? Additionally, you cannot win in the SEC West without a run game. It as well might be the 11th commandment. And, Freeze refuses to heed this. And it he cannot win down the stretch because he can't run out the clock without running his QB (who usually fumbles). 

Bielema- I really am a Bielema fan. I would love Arkansas to win against everyone but Auburn. Though it isn't really pertinent to this conversation, he runs his mouth a lot and he looks like a whale with his shirt off. What he has done is take an approach very similar to Saban's initially approach at Alabama. He has taken his lumps in his first years, but has focused on player development. Those first 2 years without a divisional win were tough. Tough enough to cry in front of the media......but, it all paid off as there wasn't a hotter team in the SEC by season's end than the Hogs. Believe me, Auburn wouldn't have stood a chance if they would have played them in November rather than September. HOWEVER. Can he recruit? It isn't enough to develop players in this league. You have to get top talent in the West. Similar to MSU, he is bordered by talent rich states in which he has nearly no chance to compete. That's markedly different than Wisconsin where he had ample talent on all sides and few programs to compete with. Also, he had Barry Alvarez standing over his shoulders, whom I think was the man behind the curtain the entire time. I sometimes wonder who was really calling the shots that got them to all those Rose Bowls. 

Jones- Similar to Freeze, but with less defense. He has created a lot of hype on Rocky Top. He hasn't delivered. All I heard about was the great improvement that was going on. I watched a lot of games last year, specifically those late games where they were trying to win the East. Let's not get it twisted. The East sucks. Take any....and I mean in the West and put them in the East ...and you will have your divisional winner. All this hype over the Vols and Josh Dobbs. Are you kidding me? The only good product coming out of Jone's team is the receivers. Which is ironic, because "receiving it"  is the only thing the Vols have been doing. In all seriousness, they have pumped out some great ones. There are two that made my list of fantasy must-haves. You can read about that here:

Best5Zach's Best 5 Fantasy Receivers for 2015

Recruiting has been solid, but it's time to win games. Can he develop Dobbs? Will Hurd become the dominate game closer? The clock is ticking. That's not something a good coach has to worry about.

Sumlin- This guy. I don't know what he is doing. I just don't understand. I have never seen a program win a few games and turn everything we know about college football ON ITS HEAD only to see them melt. Take Manziel's Magical Year. They win all these games they shouldn't, including the Bama game. They STILL don't make it into the SEC Championship...which is what really matters. More of the same in 2013. Then, in 2014, they snapped necks with their first few games with Kenny Trill. We all questioned what was really going on in College Station. The Auburn game aside (which I don't award a win to TAMU, just a loss to AU), THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. Jokers. It's like those ghosts from Mario Bros 3. When you don't look at them, they get you. When you are watching out for them....just kidding...they aren't real. When it comes to recruiting, he is doing a magnificent job at landing some monster classes. How is he doing it? I'm not going to say he is cheating....but.....

Pinkel- Everyone has this guy in their top 5?!?!?! I don't have anything to say about Pinkel. Sure, he has gotten to the SECCG two years in a row.... And lost.... Badly. In case you missed it, I firmly believe the SEC East is garbage, so it's no real feat. Let's keep in kind that if James Franklin were still at Vandy, they might represent the SEC East. In both years, the Mo Tigers have melted down in terrific fashion at some point in the year, something that good coaches (except for Saban) don't allow. His greatest achievement? Getting DGB. His second? Kicking DGB off the team. Oh, and Micheal Sam. Without Frankin at QB late in 2013 and in 2014, the Tigers looked 2nd class.

The rest? Who cares. 

How about her remaining picks?
Mullen Freeze, then everyone else is a lump at the bottom, I might list Jones in there somewhere after this next year