Fisher listed as close second to Saban in SEC going into 2019 season
For the first time since 2006, the SEC had an offseason that didn't include a head coaching change at any school. Because of that, there's plenty to work off of when we break down the true coaching talent in the conference.
The top coach in the conference this year is as predictable as the sunrise. It's Alabama's Nick Saban, of course. But how do the rest stack up behind him?
The college football crew here at CBS Sports put our heads and ballots together, and came to a conclusion on how the entire conference shakes out from a head coaching perspective.
Nick Saban has five of the last 10 national championships, two of the last four and hasn't finished with fewer than 10 wins since 2007 -- his first season at Alabama. The questions isn't if he's the best coach in the conference, it's if he's the best coach in SEC (and college football) history? Doing what he's done in the day and age of scholarship limits and success of other teams within the conference, there's no doubt in my mind that he's the best to ever roam the sidelines.
2 TEXAS A&M
Jimbo Fisher led Texas A&M to a second-place finish in the SEC West last season, played Clemson closer than any team not named "Syracuse" and laid the groundwork for the future of the program. On top of that, he has the national title ring to prove that his methods -- and his offenses -- work at the highest level of college football.
Kirby Smart nearly won a national title in Year 2 and coached in a de facto national quarterfinal last season when his Bulldogs lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. There's no doubt that he's one of the top coaches in the country. But the one thing lacking on his resume is the national title, which looks like it's more of a possibility for Georgia now than at any point since 1980.
Dan Mullen built Mississippi State to a point where a bowl game is the floor of the program during his run with the Bulldogs, and immediately revitalized a Florida program that had been spinning its wheels for the better part of a decade. In 2018, Feleipe Franks had the best passing season by a Gator since Tim Tebow in 2009. If that's not proof of Mullen's value, I'm not sure what is.
Gus Malzahn's ride at Auburn is the college football equivalent of the wildest roller coaster on the planet. He was 13 seconds from a national title in Year 1 and hung around for two-thirds of the 2014 season. Then a disappointing run in 2015-16 left him fighting for his job. So what did he do? Beat Georgia, Alabama and win the SEC West in 2017, and then followed it up with a 3-5 record in an offensively-challenged 2018. Serenity now? Auburn fans are hoping for more stability now. If Malzahn can't provide it, they'll look for somebody who can.
Ed Orgeron led the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl in 2018 -- his third bowl win as their head coach (including his work as the interim coach for the majority of 2016). A 25-9 record in three seasons is a solid resume, but the best passing offense he's produced ranked seventh in the conference (2018). Is he on the same path as former coach Les Miles -- a man who became known for being good enough to keep the Tigers relevant, but too stubborn to be more diverse on offense? After two-plus seasons, it's still too early to tell.
7 SOUTH CAROLINA
I can't speak for my colleagues, but Will Muschamp was one of the more difficult coaches to rank. On one hand, there's the disaster at Florida after a rather magical 11-win 2012 season. But that was his first head coaching job. On the other hand, there are three straight bowl games with South Carolina and a nine-win season in 2016 that suggest that he has evolved into a stable and solid coach. The beefy middle of the SEC is hard to judge, and Muschamp is the perfect example of why.
Mark Stoops has enough experience under his belt to show you exactly what he is: a program builder. He went from two wins in 2013 to five in each of the next two seasons, seven from 2016-17 and a whopping 10 wins in 2018. He's exactly what the Wildcats need in a coach -- a steady hand who is patient with his players and knows how to keep the football program competitive at a basketball school.
9 MISS. STATE
Joe Moorhead posted an eight-win regular season and earned an Outback Bowl bid in his first year, but the offense -- his strongpoint -- was erratic at best. With multiple stars gone off one of the nation's best defenses, we will get a much better view of who Moorhead is as a coach after his second season in Starkville.
Barry Odom has posted .500 records in conference in each of the last two seasons, and improved upon his overall win total in each of his first three seasons. But what's the ceiling for his program? We might find out this year after he lured graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant to Columbia.
Jeremy Pruitt went 5-7 (2-6 SEC) in his first season as a head coach. But one of those conference wins was on the road against Auburn and the other was against the best Kentucky team in a few generations. That gave Vol Nation hope that there's more to come, and shows that the speed bumps he faced in Year 1 are only temporary.
Derek Mason doesn't have a winning record during his first five seasons at Vanderbilt. But he does have two bowl appearances and three straight wins over Tennessee. That has to count for something, right?
13 OLE MISS
Matt Luke went from 6-6 to 5-7, and three conference wins to just one during his first two seasons at the helm. Now that his superstar receivers have moved on and Matt Corral is taking over under center, we'll get a glimpse of what this Ole Miss program actually looks like under Luke.
Chad Morris took over an Arkansas program that cratered under Bret Bielema, and promptly went 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC. You have to have at least one conference win under your belt in order to be in consideration to be somewhere other than the SEC cellar.