Analyzing the SEC's Football Coaches

Phillip Marshall writes about each of the 12 SEC football head coaches.

Few groups of people have their performances analyzed more than Southeastern Conference football coaches. On a slow summer day, I'll take my crack at it.

I'm not going to rank them. I find such lists silly. There are too many variables between one job and another to blame everything bad or give credit for everything good to the head coach. Instead, I'll simply give my impressions here of the 12 SEC head coaches.

MIKE SHULA, ALABAMA: Who knows? At 37, Shula has inherited an extremely difficult situation. His talent base is dwindling and he was not around for spring practice. He has spent his entire career coaching in the NFL, a much different thing than coaching in college. He'll have three weeks or so in August to get his team beyond the Mike Price debacle and ready to play South Florida.

Shula is a bright and impressive young man. He has done the right thing in hiring some veteran coaches on his staff. There is little doubt he is going to be fighting tough odds for a few years. If he can weather that storm, my guess is he will be successful. But weathering that storm might be too much to ask.

TOMMY TUBERVILLE, AUBURN: Tuberville has patiently rebuilt the devastated program he took over in late 1998. He's done it the right way, recruiting talented players with good character.

Tuberville is secure in his job at Auburn. He has proved he is a good coach in turning around programs at Ole Miss and Auburn. He has a chance now to prove he is a great one.

HOUSTON NUTT, ARKANSAS: Obviously, Nutt is a good coach. Personally, I wish he'd get rid of the tears in public. When there are so many bad things happening in the world, it's disgusting to see a grown man who makes a rich man's salary crying in public over the outcome of a football game.

Nutt has done good things with the Razorbacks. He's won big games and gotten them to the SEC Championship Game. My guess is he's taken the program about as far as it can go. I'd be surprised to see Arkansas become a national contender in the near future.

MARK RICHT, GEORGIA: Richt caught lightning in a bottle last season when he coached the Bulldogs to the SEC championship. That's not to say he didn't do a fine job; he obviously did. But the ball bounced his way at the right times.

Richt is a bright and impressive young coach, but is he really the master that he was portrayed to be after last season? I think that remains to be seen. He learned some hard lessons in the offseason when he had to deal with a rash of off-field incidents, the most publicized being several of his players selling their championship rings. I think Richt has a chance to be an elite coach, but to label him that after just two seasons is very premature.

RON ZOOK, FLORIDA: Zook may turn out to be an outstanding coach. He may win championships. But I'll be surprised. I do not remember a more stunning hire than when Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley chose Zook for one of the nation's top coaching jobs.

Zook lost five games in his first season, creating an uproar among the Gator faithful. It would have been even worse had Damon Duval not given him a hand up by missing a 23-yard field goal that would have given Auburn a victory in Gainesville. Following Steve Spurrier would have been a huge challenge for anybody. For Zook, who had never been a head coach, it was even more daunting. Will he make it? My guess is he won't.

RICH BROOKS, KENTUCKY: After spending five seasons in the NFL, Brooks, the national coach of the year at Oregon in 1994, was out of coaching when Kentucky came called him to replace Guy Morriss.

I've never met Brooks and don't really know a lot about his coaching ability. What I do know is that no one is likely to win big at Kentucky. If he can average 6-7 wins a year, he can be a Wildcat until he retires.

NICK SABAN, LSU: Saban is a terrific coach. He proved it at Michigan State and he's proved it at LSU. He took over a program with unlimited potential and quickly made it a big winner.

Those who know Saban best say he has itchy feet. His name is often mentioned in connection with NFL jobs. It won't be a big surprise to see him take one of those jobs in the next year or two. He's not the most personable of coaches. He is difficult to work for and is not popular with his colleagues, but he knows how to win.

Nobody will ever accuse Jackie Sherrill of being popular with his fellow college coaches.

JACKIE SHERRILL, MISSISSIPPI STATE: Sherrill has made Mississippi State a winner in most seasons, and that's quite an achievement. How he's done it is a question that the NCAA is looking to answer as we speak.

Sherrill can be charming, but he is widely disliked in the coaching profession. He won't likely survive if the NCAA comes down hard on his program.

DAVID CUTCLIFFE, OLE MISS: Cutcliffe is a nice guy with a very good offensive mind, but even with Eli Manning at quarterback he hasn't been able to make Ole Miss much more than a mediocre football team.

Cutcliffe openly flirted with Kentucky last season, finally deciding to stay at Ole Miss when athletic director Pete Boone gave him mere hours to make up his mind. That might have started the countdown on his career at Ole Miss. With Manning returning for his senior year, this could be Cutcliffe's best Ole Miss team. Despite saying when he was hired that he wanted to retire at Ole Miss, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cutcliffe look elsewhere when this season is over.

LOU HOLTZ, SOUTH CAROLINA: Holtz is a great football coach. He's proved it for almost four decades. South Carolina had been a graveyard for football coaches before he arrived.

Holtz has taken the South Carolina program near the top. He is driven to take the next step. It's never happened at South Carolina and it's not likely to happen now, if anybody can make it happen it's Holtz.

PHILLIP FULMER, TENNESSEE: For mystifying reasons, Fulmer doesn't seem to be overly popular even among Tennessee fans. He is the only Southeastern Conference coach with a national championship on his resume other than Holtz, who did not win his while in the SEC. It's a surprise when he doesn't win 10 games in a season.

Former Tennessee coach John Majors will never forgive Fulmer. He believes with all his heart that Fulmer undermined him to get the job. But the fact remains that, once he got the job, Fulmer made Tennessee a dominant force in the SEC.

Phillip Fulmer will be bringing his Volunteers to Auburn this season.

BOBBY JOHNSON, VANDERBILT: Nice guy. Bad job. Vanderbilt's football program is in over its head in the SEC. The problems go far deeper than academic requirements. There is precious little tradition. The fan base is small and apathetic.

Johnson won big in Division I-AA at Furman. Like other coaches before him, he insists the job can be done at Vanderbilt. Like other coaches before him, he will find out it can't be done.


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