Nick Saban is obviously the best coach in the SEC, but will anyone be able to catch up to him this season?
It’s not a surprise to anyone that Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is the best coach in the SEC. Heck, he’s the best head coach in the country each and every year and will go down as one of the greatest head coaches of all time.
While Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen hasn’t accomplished anywhere near what Saban has and it would take quite some time for Mullen to even approach Saban in the all-time coaching rankings discussion, it sure looked like Mullen caught Saban off guard on Saturday. And for a brief moment, it looked like the Gators were going to find a way to win and surpass the Crimson Tide as well.
Alabama ended up escaping the Swamp with a 31-29 win in a game that was far closer than it initially appeared it would be. Because of Florida’s performance and adjustments, it’s safe to have Mullen ranked as the second-best coach in the conference right now.
But, there are plenty of other great coaches in the league as well. Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss team is rolling right now, shocking folks and scoring points by the dozen. Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart can’t be forgotten. Plus there’s Sam Pittman who seems to have Arkansas improving each and every week.
After three weeks of action in 2021, here’s how the SEC head coaches stack up:
The Vanderbilt Commodores started the year off in historically awful fashion. Losing by 20 points is something that could give Clark Lea and his coaching staff nightmares for years to come. That’s just not something that’s supposed to happen. But it did. The Commodores responded appropriately by beating Colorado State, but they were just steamrolled by Stanford. Vanderbilt is a tough place to win and it’s hard to comprehensively judge Lea right now given that he’s just three games into his time in Nashville, but there’s been nothing to give me a ton of confidence about this situation right now. That could change if this team pulls off some unlikely upsets though.
Just like with Lea, it’s hard to get a great read on Shane Beamer because the sample size of his head coaching tenure at South Carolina is so small. So far we’ve seen South Carolina run over Eastern Illinois, hold on to beat East Carolina, and then get flattened by the Georgia Bulldogs. Like Lea, Beamer and his staff are also facing an uphill battle when it comes to rebuilding this team. Also like Lea, nothing we’ve seen up to this point says things are going to turn around in a hurry. South Carolina fans may need to stay patient.
Speaking of patience, Tennessee fans likely had their patience tested a week ago when Josh Heupel and the Vols failed to slow Pitt at all. As such, the Panthers embarrassed Tennessee’s defense in Knoxville. But, even if that defense is still a work in progress, Heupel has shown that he can get the Vols to score points in a hurry and this offense seems promising, even if the Vols haven’t really been tested by a great defense yet.
If this were a lifetime or total head coaching tenure power ranking, Mike Leach would be near the top of the list. Few have been able to completely reinvent the way offenses operate the way that Leach has. But the Bulldogs have been sputtering on offense at times and clearly haven’t been playing to their potential. Yes, this is a team that handled NC State, but this bunch also almost lost to Louisiana Tech and then lost to Memphis. At the end of the day, that falls on Leach and his coaching staff. We’ll see how Leach and company respond against LSU.
Missouri’s defense could use some work, but Eliah Drinkwitz is still developing this team and so far the only loss the Tigers have suffered came at the hands of an SEC foe. Granted, Mizzou just gave up 28 points to SEMO and then 24 points to Central Michigan a few weeks back. So, this defense thing needs to get resolved sooner rather than later if the Tigers are going to compete against better teams.
A week ago, Kentucky threw itself into the spotlight by getting a nice, fairly respectable win over Missouri. No, that bunch of Tigers isn’t a powerhouse and that team is still being built, but it was a competitive win over a team that, in theory, is on the rise. Kentucky needed that. This week, Kentucky barely managed to beat Chattanooga. Mark Stoops is a good coach, but he’s gotta figure out how to get his team to compete against both inferior foes AND solid competition.
Was it really only a couple of seasons ago that Ed Orgeron won a national title? After starting off the season with a road loss to UCLA, the LSU Tigers and Orgeron truly seemed like a shell of that 2019 team. The 2021 version of LSU went back home and got some issues resolved on offense. As such, the Tigers won in back-to-back weeks, handing McNeese State and Central Michigan losses.
LSU is about to be back on the road as it heads to Starkville, which is the perfect opportunity to start building a winning streak and momentum before facing Bryan Harsin’s Auburn team. But, if LSU loses against Mississippi State, Orgeron will drop down this list and his seat will warm up even more.