Rating The SEC Football Coaches--First To Worst

With all 12 Southeastern Conference head football coaches scheduled to be at the league's annual SEC Media Days that start on Tuesday, columnist Phillip Marshall analyzes the leagues coaches.

It's almost time. Southeastern Conference football coaches and selected players will gather in Birmingham next week for Media Days. A few days later, freshmen will report and practices will begin. Another season beckons.

Coaching football in the SEC has become an extraordinarily lucrative profession. A head coach who doesn't make a million bucks a year these days might consider himself underpaid. With the big bucks comes big pressure. Some handle it better than others. Here is one man's view of how the coaches in the SEC stack up:

1. Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee--Maybe you don't like the way he looks. Maybe you don't like what he says. But the numbers speak for themselves. What Fulmer has done since replacing John Majors, first on an interim basis in 1992 then permanently in 1993, is mind-boggling. His overall record is 95-20. His SEC record is 61-13. Had it not been for Steve Spurrier, that record would be even better. It must be remembered that Tennessee was not a dominant program and had not been since the days of General Neyland. Fulmer turned Tennessee into a national recruiting power and made it happen.

Phillip Fulmer's Vols are expected to challenge for another SEC East title after winning it last season.

2. Lou Holtz, South Carolina--Some, including me, thought Holtz had taken leave of his senses when he agreed to become the head coach at South Carolina. We thought our opinions were validated when he promptly went 0-11 in his first season. We were wrong. Holtz has made South Carolina a contender in the SEC East and a player on the national stage. He's done it at a school with precious little history to suggest it could be done.

3. Nick Saban, LSU--It took Saban just two seasons to turn an LSU program that had become accustomed to losing into a champion. The Bayou Bengals went 10-3 last season and stunned Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. The only question that remains is if Saban can sustain it. With the talent he has recruited, there is no reason to believe he can't.

4. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn--Though Tuberville's overall record in seven years as a head coach is 46-35, one must look at it in context. He took over an Ole Miss program in 1995 that had been leveled by NCAA sanctions. He played an SEC schedule for four seasons with Division I-AA numbers and held his own. He took over a dispirited Auburn program in 1999 after Terry Bowden had left at midseason in 1998. In 2000, Tuberville took the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game in his second season. The talent level has increased dramatically. Tuberville needs one big season to establish himself as one of the nation's elite.

5. Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State--He should perhaps be higher, but he pays the price for last season's 3-8 collapse. Sherrill, the dean of SEC coaches, is going into his 12th season at Mississippi State. He's taken the Bulldogs to six bowl games and to the SEC Championship Game. He had a 10-win season in 1999. Before Sherrill arrived, Mississippi State had suffered through eight losing seasons in nine years.

6. Dennis Franchione, Alabama--Most of the praise Franchione gets from his first season as the Tide's head coach is based on one game. The Tide was less than ordinary before its 31-7 victory over Auburn and no better than ordinary in beating Southern Mississippi and Iowa State after the Auburn game. Franchione did great things at Pittsburg State, Southwest Texas State, New Mexico and Texas Christian. But those schools live in a different world than Alabama. He still has to prove he can win big in the SEC.

7. Houston Nutt, Arkansas--If there was an award for enthusiasm, Nutt would certainly be a candidate. He inherited a team from Danny Ford in 1998 that was ready to win and went 9-3. He went 8-4, 6-6 and 7-5 after that. As players Ford recruited have left, his record has slipped. This could be a tell-tale season for the Razorbacks and for Nutt.

8. David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss--The Rebels seem to be running in place under Cutcliffe. They were 8-4 in 1999, 7-5 in 2000 and 7-4 last season. Despite not being saddled with the crippling sanctions Tuberville faced, he has not had a team finish better than .500 in SEC play. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the Rebels didn't get in a bowl game last season, but they brought it on themselves by losing three of their last four.

9. Mark Richt, Georgia--Maybe Richt is going to prove himself a great head coach. Maybe not. He was 8-4 in his first season with the Bulldogs. His late-game decisions played large roles in losses to Auburn and Boston College. Many are picking Georgia as a Top 10 team this season, and Richt is being hailed as a hero. If the Bulldogs don't reach those lofty predictions, Richt will find out just how tough it really can be to be a head coach in the SEC.

10. Guy Morriss, Kentucky--He has at least restored some spirit to the program that was left in tatters by former head coach Hal Mumme. Sadly for Morris, who seems to be a straight-up guy, winning consistently in football at Kentucky isn't likely to ever happen. With a bowl ban and scholarship limitations handed down by the NCAA, it sure isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Not Rated. Ron Zook, Florida, and Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt--Neither has ever coached an SEC game so it wouldn't be fair to rank them in comparison to other SEC coaches. Zook, who has never been a head coach, inherits the SEC's strongest program. He probably won't win at the level Spurrier did, but he could put it on cruise control and have a good record. Johnson, who was 60-36 in eight seasons at Division I-AA Furman, is on the opposite end. Vanderbilt has never won consistently in the SEC in the modern era. There is no reason to believe it ever will.

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