Ranking Coaches Is Fool's Errand

I had one of those "WHAT?!?!" moments the other day. While browsing through the Scout.com sites of Southeastern Conference teams and of non-conference teams Alabama will play this season—something I do nearly every day—I saw a story on FightinGators.com ranking the top coaches in the SEC.



There are a lot of those "rank the coaches" type stories this time of year, a frustrating time when there is precious little hard news about football. Almost every such story I have seen this year ranks Alabama Coach Nick Saban as the number one coach in the conference. But not the one from the Florida site. It had Saban number two behind the Gators' Urban Meyer!

Blasphemy! Homer!

I actually read the article, and the writer conceded that one and two were probably interchangeable. I calmed down a little. It could have been worse. FightinGator.com might have listed Ol' Favorite Steve Spurrier, now of South Carolina, number two.

I really don't keep up with those rankings. After all, a year ago when Florida was coming off the national championship and being universally picked to repeat in 2009, all those rank-the-coach stories had Meyer number one. few would argue.

Did Meyer forget something about coaching in a year? Did Nick Saban learn something new and pass Meyer?

(I, for one, am not judging Meyer based on his off the deep end belly flop "retirement" announcement at the Sugar Bowl, which has nothing to do with coaching.)

Saban was probably considered the top coach in the SEC after he revived LSU's football fortunes. Does anyone seriously believe that he forgot something about football by being a head coach in the NFL for two years? But when he returned to the college game from the Miami Dolphins, he wasn't at the top of those rankings.

Coach rankings are something like baseball pay in the days before multi-year contracts. Back then, players were paid based on what they had done the year before. Saban led Alabama to the national championship (thumping Meyer's Gators along the way), and so he's at the top—except on FightinGators.com.

Of course, Saban and Meyer aren't contending just for best coach in the SEC. Both are at the top of the heap on the national scene, too. One of those national contenders is Mack Brown of Texas, and deservedly so. But I remember a time when he was head coach at Tulane and his brother, Watson, was head coach at Vanderbilt and those bad teams were playing one another. A longtime observer of SEC football commented, "If I had known you didn't have to be any better than the Brown brothers, I'd have gone into coaching."

In the 25 years Paul Bryant was coach at Alabama there were probably some of those coach rank stories that had the occasional off-the-wall pick of someone better, sort of like the pick of Ole Miss to win the SEC last year, but Bryant pretty much had a lock on sane discussion. Gene Stallings had his supporters as best in the league, but he was competing against Spurrier when he was Coach Superior.

Is it possible that sportswriters aren't really qualified to rank coaches? The head man at Vanderbilt is hardly ever going to be considered a better coach than the head man at Alabama. As the aforementioned Bryant once pointed out, "I'm a lot better coach with good players."

As for today, I'd rank them like this:

1. Nick Saban of Alabama

2.-12. Who cares.

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