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College Football Coach Rankings 2020: SEC

My "Coach Rankings 2020" aims to compile a definitive list of the best coaches in the sport in each Power Five league. To do this, I tried to weigh the current trajectory of the coach's program, past success at current school and former schools, as well as recruiting impact. Obviously this list is highly subjective, and there should be plenty of spirited debate about which order these coaches fall. Our final Power Five league is the SEC, a league filled with accomplished coaches and fantastic coaching personalities.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Nick Saban, Alabama

Record at Alabama: 152-23
Record Overall: 243-65-1
Notable Accomplishments: 6 National Titles, 9 Conference Titles, 4-Time SEC Coach of the Year (2003, 2008, 2009, 2016)

Even as the Crimson Tide embark on their first season without a Playoff appearance in the Playoff era, it's hard to make any argument that Nick Saban is not the top coach in the SEC. Saban is the winningest active head coach in the country, and he supplements that fact with six National Titles, nine conference titles (8 in the SEC), and 12 SEC West Division Titles. That's truly a staggering resume, particularly when you consider Saban has had all that success in the nation's toughest football conference, with 129 other FBS teams all trying to take down the Tide. Even if you aren't an Alabama fan, you have to appreciate the unprecedented success they've had the past decade-plus. Being able to out-recruit opposing programs, develop all that talent, and then go out and win consistently as they have is easier said than done. I don't believe this train will stop rolling anytime soon; Saban and the Tide should be make in the CFB Playoff in 2020.

2. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Record at Georgia: 44-12
Record Overall: 44-12
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, 3 SEC East Division Titles, SEC Coach of the Year (2017), Broyles Award

Nick Saban's long-time assistant has yet to take down the mighty head man in Tuscaloosca, but Kirby Smart has done just about everything else in four seasons you could ask. After a solid 8-5 debut campaign, the Bulldogs have lost a total of seven games over their next three seasons, winning the SEC East each year. In addition to the success on the field, Kirby and his staff have been absolutely dominant on the recruiting trail, consistently reeling in Top 3 classes, and taking home the top class overall for 2020. That amount of talent coming into the program has continued to raise the Bulldogs' national profile, but it's also put plenty of pressure on Kirby. Georgia fans haven't seen the program take home a National Title since 1980, a fact they're consistently reminded of from opposing fan bases. This program has all the talent do so, now it's up to Smart to earn this ranking and finally deliver one back to Athens.

3. Ed Orgeron, LSU
Record at LSU: 40-9
Record Overall: 56-36
Notable Accomplishments: One National Title, One Conference Title, SEC Coach of the Year (2019)

Ed Orgeron is the perfect example of how a second chance in coaching can make all the difference. His first stint as head coach was at Ole Miss and it went pretty disastrous, as the Rebels went 10-25 in three years under his leadership, including a putrid 3-21 mark in the conference. Orgeron bounced around before making waves as USC's interim head coach when Lane Kiffin was fired mid-season in 2013. Despite a 6-2 record as the interim, essentially saving a lost season, Orgeron was not considered for the full-time gig, ending up at LSU as their D-Line coach. When he got the opportunity as an interim once again, he didn't let it slip away, earning the full-time gig in his home state. There was some shaky early moments for "Coach O", but his last two seasons have shown just how good of a coach he is. He was able to bring in a game-changer at QB in Joe Burrow, and then made the right decisions on offense to unleash Burrow, equating to 25 wins in the past two years, and a magical 2019 that included a National Title. The third act of Orgeron's coaching career will be all about keeping the momentum going. Can he provide a memorable encore without Burrow and a number of other important pieces? Doing so could further cement him as one of the best coaches in not just the SEC, but the entire nation.

4. Dan Mullen, Florida
Record at Florida: 21-5
Record Overall: 90-51
Notable Accomplishments: SEC Coach of the Year (2014), 10 Bowl Game Appearances

Dan Mullen might not have as many big games as the top three guys in these rankings, but his work done at both Mississippi State and Florida prove just how good of a coach he is. When he first arrived in Starkville, he took over a Bulldog program that had almost no football tradition, and turned them into a consistent postseason player while playing in one of the sport's toughest divisions. In nearly a decade with Mississippi State, he missed a bowl game just once, and he finished ranked in the Top 25 on three separate occasions. His jump to Florida wasn't much of a surprise, as he was a former Gator offensive coordinator but what has been surprising is just how quickly he's adjusted to his role in Gainesville. He helped UF jump from four wins to ten in his debut campaign, following that up with an 11-win 2019, capped off by a second straight New Year's Six bowl. His offensive prowess has been on full display in his two seasons with the Gators, as one of the country's worst offenses has become one of the better in the league. What can we expect in Year 3 of the Mullen tenure? If the Gators can overtake Georgia in the division, it will tell us a lot more about just how high of a ceiling he has.

5. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Record at Texas A&M: 17-9
Record Overall: 100-32
Notable Accomplishments: One National Title, 3 Conference Titles, One Playoff Appearance

Replacing a legendary head coach like Bobby Bowden is a tall task for any head coach, and Jimbo Fisher had to do just that when he took over at Florida State in 2010. Fisher certainly did a good job in Tallahassee, returning them to glory on a national level, and winning a National Championship in 2013, still one of the most dominant teams in school history. His success with the Seminoles led A&M to drop 7.5 million dollars annually to bring him in to replace Kevin Sumlin and while the jury's still out, Fisher's first two years in College Station have been promising. He's done an effective job getting top-tier talent to come to A&M, and a 17-9 record in the SEC is nothing to scoff at. Much like others on this list, Jimbo enters a crucial Year 3 with lofty expectations. Some consider the Aggies as Playoff contenders going into 2020, and possible challengers to LSU and Alabama inside the division. If A&M is unable to live up to those incredibly high standards, it could leave some fans wondering if Jimbo's massive price tag is going to be worth it in the long run.

6. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Record at Auburn: 62-31
Record Overall: 71-34
Notable Accomplishments: 2 Conference Titles, 2 SEC West Division Titles, SEC Coach of the Year (2013)

Since a magical 2013 that saw Auburn go all the way to the BCS National Championship Game, Gus Malzahn has been a constant name on college football hot seat lists. His Auburn teams have routinely fluctuated between good and disappointing on a yearly basis, leaving the long-time head coach as a fascinating figure in the landscape of the SEC. To be fair to Malzahn, his numbers with the Tigers are pretty solid when you consider the division they play in, and he has any victories over Iron Bowl rival Alabama as the rest of the SEC does against the Tide since he took over (three). However, Auburn's lack of consistency makes it difficult to rate Gus any higher on this list. He's proven his worth as an offensive mind who can field some really fun groups, and Malzahn has also done well on the recruiting trail. But, until we're able to see sustained success from him, he fits into this conference as a good, but not great, head coach. Perhaps having a young quarterback to build around in Bo Nix may give Gus what he needs to finally reign atop the SEC once again.

7. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 44-44
Record Overall: 44-44
Notable Accomplishments: Four Bowl Appearances, SEC Coach of the Year (2018)

Give Kentucky and Mark Stoops both credit for their partnership since 2013. The school stuck with the head coach through difficult times early on in his tenure, including a 2-10 debut campaign, and it has worked out, as Stoops has Kentucky playing the best football they have in years. The Wildcats have now gone to four consecutive bowl games, and they've won two straight. Included in that bowl streak was the 2018 team, which showed just how much Stoops had elevated the quality of the program. That team went 10-3 on the year, won a New Year's Six Bowl, and came incredibly close to taking home the SEC East Division crown. To follow that up with an 8-5 record is actually pretty impressive; it showed this UK program was not a one-hit wonder, and this team won eight games after their starting QB, Terry Wilson, went down for the year in the season's first month and converted wide out Lynn Bowden was playing the position. It's probably unreasonable to think Stoops can get Kentucky to SEC Championship levels in the current iteration of the league, but from where he started, there is little question he's done a terrific job. Not bad for a guy who had never been a head coach before arriving in Lexington.

8. Mike Leach, Mississippi State
Record at Mississippi State: 0-0
Record Overall: 139-90
Notable Accomplishments: 15 Bowl Appearances, 2-Time Pac-12 Coach of the Year (2015, 2018)

Mike Leach is certainly a unique character, and he's won at some of college's most unique outposts. In a decade at Texas Tech, a school without much of a tradition on the gridiron, Leach averaged over eight wins per season and finished ranked fifth times. After a two-year hiatus from the sport, Leach was brought on at Washington State, another school with little to no winning tradition on the football field. After some initial bumps, Leach was rolling in Pullman, winning eight or more games in four of the last five seasons. Now it's time to gear up for his latest destination: Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State is a program that has upgraded their talent level in a big way over the past two decades, and Dan Mullen proved you could win there. But, getting elite talent to come to Starkville will always be a tough task, and Leach has never been known as a great recruiter. He is going to need different athletes in the SEC than the ones he brought in during his time at TTU and WSU. It's going to be really interesting to see if his patented "Air Raid" scheme is able to survive in the physical SEC. It may or may not but either way, it's going to be awfully entertaining.

9. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
Record at Ole Miss: 0-0
Record Overall: 61-34
Notable Accomplishments: 2 Conference Titles

Lane Kiffin made history in 2007 when, at age 31, he became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. Since then, Kiffin's career has truly been a fascinating and entertaining watch, with some success, but also notable failures. He had an epic, short-lived season as head coach of Tennessee before ditching out West to take over at USC, where the Trojans were crippled by NCAA violations, but still competitive. After eventually being fired at 'SC, Kiffin again made a short stop at one of the sport's blue bloods, this time as offensive coordinator at Alabama. To give Lane credit, aside from constant clashes with head coach Nick Saban, he did a good job leading the Tide offense. From 2014-2016, he helped 'Bama switch from a pro-style attack into a modern, spread look that allowed the Tide to compete with the rest of the sport's elite. From Alabama, Kiffin has been able to further improve his coaching stock by leading Florida Atlantic to a pair of C-USA Titles. The Owls were an extremely forgettable program before his arrival, but they would go 18-6 in the conference during his time there. The next stop in the Lane Train is now in Oxford, Mississippi, where he hopes to energize a program that was extremely underwhelming under former coach Matt Luke. Will he win there? You can never predict how a Lane Kiffin-led team will finish, but he has proven his coaching chops these past few years at FAU. Obviously, the SEC West is quite the jump up from the C-USA, but I wouldn't be shocked if it worked.

10. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
Record at Tennessee: 13-12
Record Overall: 13-12
Notable Accomplishments: 5 National Championships as Assistant

A longtime assistant, Jeremy Pruitt finally made the jump to head coaching at one of the sport's most difficult venues. The Tennessee job is not tough because of its resources or potential to win, but because of how high the expectations are for a program that hasn't won consistently in a long time. Tennessee fans can often turn on head coaches rather quick, and after a poor start to the 2019 campaign, it looked like Vol fans were about ready to ditch the second-year coach. Give Pruitt credit, he righted the ship and by the end of the fall, UT was playing tremendous football. They ended 2019 8-5, capped off from a come-from-behind bowl victory over Indiana. To add to their recent momentum, the 2021 recruiting class is currently ranked as one of the best in the entire nation. That's going to help contribute to what will be lofty expectations once again in Knoxville. This isn't the first time people have begun to consider Tennessee returning to SEC East Title contention, but that adds a lot of pressure on Pruitt. If he's able to weather the storm and keep the Volunteers in the hunt for a division title, his stock should continue to rise.

11. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 26-25
Record Overall: 54-46
Notable Accomplishments: One SEC East Division Title, 6 Bowl Appearances

On a surface level, Will Muschamp's career numbers really are nothing to feel bad about. 54-46 in Power Five football is respectable, and even a 26-25 mark at South Carolina seems fine when you consider the state of the program pre-Steve Spurrier. However, a closer look helps you learn why Muschamp is floundering near the bottom of the league in these rankings. Aside from one 11-2 campaign in 2012, Muschamp has never achieved double-digit wins. In fact, he has reached the pedestal of eight wins just twice in nearly a decade of coaching. His numbers against big-time college football opponents aren't very encouraging either; he's 5-15 all-time against the Top 10, and 7-25 against Top 25 foes. Those numbers get worse when you consider half his coaching career was spent at Florida, a blue blood of the sport that has massive school support and regularly brings in elite football talent. Muschamp will now enter Year 5 at South Carolina on the hot seat, following a 4-8 record in 2019 and fourth place finish in the division. To be fair, he has shown some progress in his time at South Carolina, but the Gamecocks still have been rather mediocre under his leadership. Perhaps that is just where Muschamp sits as a head coach in college football.

12. Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri
Record at Missouri: 0-0
Record Overall: 12-1
Notable Accomplishments: 1 Conference Title

Eli Drinkwitz has been a rising name in the coaching profession since he was the Quality Control coach on the 2010 National Championship Auburn team. After floating around as offensive coordinator at a few programs, Drinkwitz was hired by Appalachian State to replace Scott Satterfield and his lone season in Boone, North Carolina was a great one. The Mountaineers went 12-1 under Drinkwitz, winning the Sun Belt and coming extremely close to a New Year's Six Bowl. Drinkwitz was able to parlay that success into an SEC job at Missouri, a school with significant upside but one that languished under former coach Barry Odom. Drinkwitz certainly enters with a lot of momentum, but there's a reason he is ranked so low on this list. First off, we just haven't seen enough of him as a head coach. Last year was impressive, but Appalachian State won a lot of close games, and keeping a program running over the long run is quite different than a one-year hit. Secondly, App. State was already in great position when he got there. There was no rebuild job for Drinkwitz, as he inherited a roster equipped to dominate the Sun Belt. He doesn't quite get that at Missouri, where he'll be breaking in a new QB and plenty of new pieces. Those two factors alone give me pause before jumping on the Drinkwitz hype train, as he'll have to wait and see what he does in Columbia. He has injected some new energy into a Mizzou program that needed it, but will the wins come too?

13. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 27-47
Record Overall: 27-47
Notable Accomplishments: 2 Bowl Appearances

Replacing a coach like James Franklin is a tall task for any coach, but it's particularly hard at a place like Vanderbilt. In that sense, it's not surprising that Derek Mason has struggled to live up to his predecessor, who orchestrated a pair of nine-win campaigns in 2012 and 2013. Mason has had some success at Vanderbilt, who has gone to two bowls under his leadership, and has generally operated at around .500 level. At a school like Vandy, which has a long tradition of losing, that isn't something to completely overlook. However, fresh off a 3-9 2019 campaign, things are getting hot for Mason in Nashville. It's easier to look past some of his successes and focus in on his failures, which are going to happen at a place like Vanderbilt. Under Mason, the Commodores have finished last or second-to-last in the SEC East every single season except for one (2015, when they went 4-8 overall). That's more excusable in the SEC West, but not in an East Division that has routinely been the the weaker division this decade. There is still some hope that Mason, a defensive-minded coach who helped oversee Stanford's turn to perennial Pac-12 power, can turn things around, but the clock is certainly ticking.

14. Sam Pittman, Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 0-0
Record Overall: 0-0
Notable Accomplishments: None

Nearly Sam Pittman's entire career he has been an offensive line coach, but he's finally making the jump to head coach in 2020 with Arkansas. Pittman won't have it easy; not only does he play in arguably college football's toughest division, he's taking over a program that has gone 4-20 the past two seasons, and has won just one SEC game since 2017. Much like Drinkwitz at Missouri, Pittman does deserve credit for the energy he has injected into a program that has a complete and utter disaster under former head man Chad Morris. But, that enthusiasm and energy is a lot more endearing when there are no results to look at. If Pittman struggles early on, it could really hurt his chances to truly "rebuild" things in Fayetteville. I do give the Razorbacks credit for going with Pittman, who was an outside-the-box hire, even as he was getting recognition for his offensive line work. If he is able to recruit and develop talent, in a way Bert Bielema and Morris were unable to, Arkansas could really be a sleeping giant.

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