With spring football wrapping up this weekend, it’s time to ponder all sorts of statistical and non-statistical nonsense in the Southeastern Conference. Today, we rate the 14 SEC football coaches by category.
Nick Saban, Alabama: He’s 119-19 in 10 years with four national championships. Since going 7-6 in his first season (2007), Alabama’s worst season since is the 10-3 record in 2010.
ROCK SOLID (2)
Jim McElwain, Florida: He’s won the SEC East two straight years with an offense that only shows up on occasions and inconsistent play from his cornerbacks. He’s 19-8 at UF and now that he’s filled the holes in the roster with solid recruiting, he has Florida on track to regain its elite status both in the SEC and nationally.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Think of what he’s done in Starkville as the equivalent of dog years. One human year is like seven years to a dog. To win seven or eight games in a season in Starkville is like going 12-2 or 13-1 just about everywhere else in the SEC. Mullen is 61-42 in eight seasons with seven straight bowl games which is almost unheard of. Starkville isn’t at the end of the earth but there are signs that will direct you there in 15 minutes. With five wins this season Mullen will move into second place on the all-time wins list at MSU. He needs 15 to overtake Jackie Sherrill as the winningest coach in MSU history.
GOOD ENOUGH FOR NOW (7)
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: If Jarrett Stidham is anything close to the quarterback they expect him to be Auburn should win at least 9-10 games in the regular season. They expect more than that at Auburn, but it would be a signal that Gus has the program going in the right direction again. That could change, though. Remember, this is the school that fired Gene Chizik two years after he won the national championship with an undefeated season and a Heisman Trophy QB.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: The good news is that Stoops won seven regular season games and got the Wildcats to the Tax Slayer Bowl in 2016. The bad news is now that he’s gotten to a bowl game, the UK fans will expect him to do it again. This isn’t like basketball where they expect a national championship every year. They’re more than content with 7-8 wins a year in football and spending lovely days in Shreveport or Birmingham. The only problem is other than Bear Bryant (they ran him off but he’s still the winningest coach in their history) and Rich Brooks no one has won consistently.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina: When he was hired he wasn’t expected to win until year three. That Muschamp got the Gamecocks to a bowl game in his first year with a quarterback who should have been a high school senior has bought a lot of good favor. If he follows that up with another winning season – even if it’s just seven wins – Muschamp will move up to the rock solid list. He’s probably in a situation that works well for him. They don’t expect national championships in Columbia. They do in Gainesville.
Kirby Smart, Georgia: The spin in Athens is look at what Nick Saban did his first year at Bama – 7-6 – and Kirby got the Bulldogs to 8-5 in his first year on the job. That works for now but if he goes 8-5 again this year there will be a good bit of buyer’s remorse in Athens. They ran off Mark Richt for averaging almost 10 wins a season. Can Kirby Smart outdo Mark Richt? If he doesn’t get the Bulldogs to Atlanta in a hurry, he won’t last long.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: They don’t like firing coaches at Vandy but they got spoiled by James Franklin, who took the Dores to three bowl games in three years on the job. It took Mason three years to get Vandy to a bowl game and that satisfied what constitutes the masses (it’s Vandy, okay?) for now. If he can win 5-6 games this year, they’ll be content. Anything worse and he might be on shaky ground in 2018.
Ed Orgeron, LSU: He just got hired and LSU is paying a bundle in buyout money to former HBC Les Miles and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. No matter how they try to spin it in Baton Rouge, Coach O was far from the #1 choice for AD Crazy Joe Alleva. But he can recruit like crazy, has hired a great staff and the kids absolutely adore him. Plus Crazy Joe can’t afford to fire another coach anytime soon. If Coach O challenges Bama for the SEC title in his first full year on the job, they’ll adore him even more than they do already in Baton Rouge but remember this, however: they fired Les Miles for going 114-34 in 12 seasons.
Barry Odom, Missouri: In his first year on the job, Mizzou went from a team that averaged 13.6 points and 280.9 yards per game in 2016 to one that scored 31.4 points and averaged 500.5 yards. Even if he doesn’t get the Tigers to a bowl game in 2017, if they can put up offensive numbers like that the folks will stay excited enough to give Odom another year.
VERY WARM FANNIES (3)
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: Arkansas fans might be the most delusional in all of the SEC. They think they should contend for the national championship every year even though the only national title they won was 1964 by the Football Writers Association of America (Alabama was the AP and UPI national champ). Bielema has taken the Razorbacks to three straight bowl games but hasn’t challenged for the SEC West title. He needs a minimum of eight wins in the regular season although nine would calm the masses.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: Last year was supposed to be THE year. Last year he had a bazillion starters back and a defensive coordinator (Bob Shoop) who promised that nobody would run on the Vols. Folks ran. It’s bad that Alabama runs for 409 yards on you but when Kentucky goes off for 443 and Mizzou follows up the next week with 420, you’ve got problems out the wazzoo. Another 9-4 record won’t cut it. If Butch doesn’t get the Vols to Atlanta this year, he will make the coaching extinct species list.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: If the season ended in October, Sumlin would be considered one of the nation’s elite coaches. However, games are played in November and December (and bowl games in January, too) and that’s when Sumlin’s teams fold like a cheap tent. They’re 8-5 the last three seasons after starting out 5-0, 5-0 and 6-0. Now that the ridiculous buyout clause in his contract (it was $15 million last year), Sumlin better bring home something more along the lines of 9-10 wins.
IT’S UP TO THE MEN IN BLUE SUITS (1)
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Ole Miss goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, accused of being the college football equivalent of the Ma Barker Gang. If the committee buys Freeze’s Sergeant Shultz explanation – “I know nothing! Nothing!” – then he might actually be coaching next season and beyond. Right now Ole Miss is doing its best Tammy Wynette “Stand by Your Man” but the Men in Blue Suits might insist on Freeze’s firing for any leniency.
PATRIOTS SIGN GILLISLEE TO 2-YEAR OFFER SHEET
Unless the Buffalo Bills choose to match the offer, former Gator Mike Gillislee will be playing for the New England Patriots next season. The Patriots signed Gillislee to a 2-year deal worth $6.4 million with $4 million guaranteed up front money. The Bills have five days to match the offer.
Gillislee ran for 577 yards and averaged an NFL-best 5.7 yards per carry last season with nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving).
There is an air of familiarity in this latest Gillislee story. At UF Gillislee was productive but didn’t get a chance to show what he could do until his senior season when he ran for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gillislee was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and while he has been productive whenever he has been given a chance to play, it wasn’t until last year that he finally got regular carries. If the Bills don’t match the offer, Gillislee is expected to be the Patriots feature back and they are expected the Patriots to release LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 1,161 yards and an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns last year.
GATORS TAKE OUT UNF, 2-1
Four Florida pitchers combined to limit the North Florida Ospreys to eight hits Tuesday night as the 10th-ranked Gators (25-12) took a 2-1 non-conference decision at McKethan Stadium. Neal Brown, Frank Rubio and Garrett Milchin held the Ospreys to eight singles through the first eight innings and Michael Byrne came on to shut the door with a perfect ninth inning to pick up the save.
Although it was a step backward for the offense, the Gators made the best of their six hits. JJ Schwarz doubled in Austin Langworthy to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth and Dalton Guthrie singled home Keegan Bell in the bottom of the fifth for what proved to be the game-winner.
Next up for the Gators (8-7 in SEC play) is a critical Southeastern Conference homestand with 18th-ranked South Carolina (22-13, 8-7 SEC) starting Friday.
GATORS BACK TO #1 IN ESPN/USA SOFTBALL POLL
Tim Walton’s Gators (40-3, 15-2 SEC) are back in the #1 position in the ESPN/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 after a week in which they went 3-1 with a win over now #3 Florida State and two wins over #21 Kentucky. The Gators will be at home tonight against UCF in a non-conference game at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium.
This weekend, the Gators resume SEC play by hosting #20 Ole Miss (30-13, 6-9 SEC).
JONATHAN ALLEN’S IDEA OF FUN
The former Alabama All-America D-lineman was asked on the Russillo and Kannell Show (ESPN Radio) what was more fun: A sack or watching Nick Saban yell at former Bama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Here is what Allen had to say:
“Oh, easily watching Saban crush Kiffin. At practice, literally, it was our goal to see how many times we could get Coach Saban to ‘MF’ Kiffin. I mean, that was our goal. We would just try to blow it up and destroy it and kill the offense and you just know Kiffin is just going to get it.”
Maybe Kiffin got the last laugh, however. His offense got the Crimson Tide to the Final Four with a former running back at QB in 2014, won the national championship with a QB who couldn’t beat out the former running back the year before, and had the Crimson Tide in the championship game in 2016. Saban fired Kiffin and Alabama didn’t win the national championship. Maybe Lane is the one laughing after all.
The Starling Marte to center field experiment that sent Andrew McCutchen to right field didn’t even make it out of the first month of the Major League Baseball season. Marte has been suspended 80 games for testing positive for a PED so the Pittsburgh Pirates are moving McCutchen back to centerfield.
Grayson Allen has decided to return for his senior season at Duke. Allen’s NBA Draft stock dipped after a season in which his scoring average dipped to 14.5 (from 21.6 in 2016) and he was suspended a game for a tripping incident.
Missouri signee Michael Porter Jr. is considered the top high school basketball recruit in the country. He averaged an impressive 36.2 points per game in high school. That pales in comparison to his mom, the former Lisa Becker, who averaged 58.7 per game as a senior at Cedar Rapids Jefferson in 1983.
Now that he’s helped Aaron Hernandez beat a double murder rap in Boston, defense attorney Jose Baez wants to be the lead attorney for an appeal of the murder charge that landed Hernandez in jail for life. “I think there are plenty of flaws in that conviction,” Baez told ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor. “If they are exposed properly [Hernandez] certainly can and should get a new trial.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Other than Nick Saban, which SEC coaches would you rate rock solid and which ones do you think might be looking for work at the end of the 2017 season?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Pat Metheny is the only artist to ever win Grammy Awards in ten different categories. He’s always on the cutting edge of jazz and bringing something new and fresh to his music. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, he was made a full professor of music in October of his freshman year at the University of Miami. He is a true genius.