Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches

College football's hottest tickets are found in the SEC where the head coaches also happen to have the hottest seats in the game and the highest burnout rate.

With 11 plus seasons, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer is the dean of SEC coaches while Houston Nutt is next with six seasons at Arkansas. Tommy Tuberville had two seasons at Ole Miss before his five seasons at Auburn which almost came to an end after a disappointing 2003 campaign. Nearly half of the SEC's head coaches — Ron Zook of Florida, David Shuler of Alabama, Rich Brooks of Kentucky, Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt and Sylvester Croom of Mississippi state — have less than three years on the job.

Ranking the head coaches in the SEC is a lot like rating recruiting classes in that needs at each school vary as do expectations. However Sporting News endeavored to do just that in its preseason SEC football magazine and here are the results along with comments.

No. 1— Lou Saban, LSU (The guy is tough to work for, no question. But there's also no question he gets results. He recruits top-level players, then turns them loose — within his system — and watches them produce. It has to scare LSU fans to realize this guy will be an NFL coach soon.)

No. 2 — Houston Nutt, Arkansas (He gets high marks as a motivator but doesn't get enough credit for how well his teams produce. His teams rarely are in the upper half of the league in talent level, yet he has guided the Hogs to six consecutive bowls.)

No. 3 — Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee (Fulmer is under the gun a bit this season. His recruiting efforts of late haven't been as good as those in the past, and the Vols have lost four in a row to Georgia. There's also a sense Tennessee has slipped on the national scene. Although the Vols won at Miami last season, there was the Peach Bowl debacle against Clemson to close the season.)

No. 4 — Mark Richt, Georgia (He has the best staff in the SEC and basically serves as his own offensive coordinator. He's still a bit hit-and-miss in the truly big games.)

No. 5 — Tommy Tuberville, Auburn (The ugly coaching "search" at Auburn last year shows what happens when boosters run wild. Tuberville is seen as a bit smug by some, but this guy gets his team prepared to play every game. He still hasn't won a league title though.)

No. 6 — Lou Holtz, South Carolina (The Gamecocks have had back-to-back five-win seasons and there's an undercurrent of grumbling. Holtz might be feeling the pressure a bit — he plans to call plays this season and has a new defensive coordinator.)

No. 7 — David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss (Cutcliffe did a superb job with a talented Rebels team last season, but therein lies the problem. He has shown — at Tennessee when he was the offensive coordinator and with the Rebels last season — he knows how to win with talented players. Now, he needs to prove he can get more than expected out of a less-than-stellar group.)

No. 8 — Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt (This guy has a plan to win at Vandy — no, not win the league; just win enough to get to a bowl — and he's heading into his third season with the Commodores. He has a background on defense, but ironically it's that side of the ball that hasn't played well since he has been in Nashville.)

No. 9 — Rich Brook, Kentucky (He did a nice job building a strong foundation at Oregon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but winning at Kentucky is different. He has a veteran group of assistants, but that might not be enough.)

No. 10 — Ron Zook, Florida (Zook is enthusiastic and, boy, can he recruit. He is 2-0 against Georgia and handed LSU its only loss last season. But there have been some ugly losses, and numerous questions about his game-day acumen. His seat is the hottest of any coach's in the SEC.)

No. 11 — Mike Shula, Alabama (His team didn't always looked prepared last season. Perhaps that's not a surprise; after all, this is his first head coaching job, and he was hired in the spring after Mike Price was let go. Shula wants to throw the ball, which is interesting, given Alabama's rich history of ground attacks.)

MSU's Croom wasn't listed in The Sporting News rankings since he hasn't coached in an SEC game yet.


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