Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Top SEC Coaching Jobs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to former SEC head coaches and asked them to rank the coaching jobs in the SEC Conference, taking into account fan support, recruiting base, financial resources, athletic facilities, expectations and backing from administration when things get tough — as they inevitably will.

1. Florida

With an athletics budget of more than $66 million and a premier prospect-packed home state that rivals Texas and California, Florida was an easy choice for No. 1.

plez sez: Florida may boast the most blue chip football players in the US, but every coach will also have to deal with the ghost of the Ole Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) looming over his shoulder. They canned Ron Zook after 3 years, 9 & 10 win seasons, but no SEC Championships.

2. Georgia

When Vince Dooley arrived in Athens in 1964, he inherited a program that relied heavily on out-of-state recruits. Then the landscape of the state changed (the population boomed in the 80's and 90's), and the job changed with it.

plez sez: Even though, it's been over 20 years, Georgia can still point to their lone National Championship in 1982 with Herschel Walker. With so many blue chip players, the close proximity to Atlanta, the lack of competition for the top players in the state, a rabid fan base, and relatively low expectations (UGA fans are happy to win the SEC East), this is a great job.

3. LSU

Some would argue LSU should be a spot higher because of the number of top-notch high school players Louisiana produces and the financial commitment the school has made to football. But there's some uncertainty around the job. Hurricane Katrina scattered many top high school players to adjoining states. No one knows if that will have an impact on LSU's future recruiting. Also, it's no secret Fisher and Pelini want to be head coaches.

plez sez: There is some instability with the job, in the last 10 years there have been numerous head coaching changes, but then again, Baton Rogue is a backwater outpost in Louisiana. They love their football, but they also have to recruit out of state. I would've ranked this program 5th behind Florida, Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee.

4. Tennessee

Neyland Stadium, one of college football's great showplaces, seats 107,000 and is packed for every game, be it Alabama or Air Force. When recruits come to Knoxville for visits, they also see one of the country's top indoor practice facilities and hear about the program's stability. Fulmer has been in place since 1993, making him the SEC's longest-tenured coach.

plez sez: The state of Tennessee is only going to produce a handful of top recruits for a program like UT, so this job requires a lot of out-of-state travel. It's also in the tough-as-nails SEC East with perennial powerhouses Florida, Georgia, and upstart South Carolina. Also, the current coach has been there forever, in SEC coaching years.

5. Auburn

Auburn gets the edge over state rival Alabama for a few reasons. First of all, the Tigers have won five in a row against the Tide and have been able to keep their coaching situation relatively stable. Since Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired in 2003, the Tigers have gone 32-5. They'll play in their third consecutive New Year's Day bowl in a few weeks.

plez sez: And Auburn was shafted out of playing for the National Championship in 2004! The school is in close proximity to the top recruits in Florida and Georgia. This job would be third on my list behind Florida and Georgia... just ahead of Tennessee.

6. Alabama

In 2002, Alabama committed to spend $47 million on a Bryant-Denny Stadium face-lift. So facilities, which for so long lagged behind the rest of the SEC, are no longer an issue. Several coaches say the program is micromanaged and that it will take a strong personality to be a consistent winner in Tuscaloosa.

plez sez: This school has had the misfortune of not producing a consistent winner in the past 10 years, having a merry-go-round of coaches in the last 10 years AND being in the same state as Auburn (with its 3 First Round NFL Draftees from 2 years ago). In addition, Alabama fans (the whole slack jawed lot of them) are waiting for the next Bear Bryant and any program that looks to return to its former glory under a particular head coach will NEVER realize its goal. No one wants this job (I'd probably turn it down if they called me!). This program is way past its freshness date and I have them ranked them below South Carolina and Arkansas!

7. Arkansas

Frank Broyles, 81, is Arkansas football: he is in his 50th year at Arkansas and 34th as athletics director. Having a former football coach as an AD is a good thing, the ex-coaches said. Broyles also knows how to find money and how to spend it. He has used his powerful political connections to raise more than $200 million and turn Arkansas' athletic facilities into the country's finest. Arkansas high school football can't compare to that of Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, but it is improving due to the influx of people to the state who either work directly for Bentonville-based Wal-Mart or for companies who do a major portion of their business with Wal-Mart.

plez sez: Although, they shocked many with their winning of the SEC West, Arkansas still falls into the bottom half of the SEC for top head coaching jobs. Recruiting must be a headache - similar to the situation at LSU and Tennessee. I have this job ranked below South Carolina, but ahead of Alabama.

8. South Carolina

The Gamecocks have captured only one title of any kind in their long football history. They've won more than eight games in a season just twice. And if Steve Spurrier takes them to a bowl in 2007, he'll be the first coach to accomplish that for three straight years. Still, ex-coaches say, this is an underrated job because the fans always show up and support the program.

plez sez: If you can beat Clemson, you're doing your job at USC. You'll have to recruit heavily in Florida and Georgia to be competitive. But you're in a nice southeastern US location and the relatively low expectations that come with the job, this is a cake assignment. Luck up and win the SEC East one year... and they'll erect a statue of you!

9. Ole Miss

From 1947-63, Ole Miss won six SEC titles. Since then, the Rebels have zero. There's a lot to sell in Oxford: a tradition that includes Archie and Eli Manning; Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, which was expanded in 2002; an $18 million indoor practice facility. And tailgating on a Saturday at The Grove is one of the most unique experiences in college football.

plez sez: Mississippi is in the second smallest state in the SEC, but it has three Division I-A programs (go figure); the city of Atlanta has more people than the entire state! To even field a team, this head coach must recruit tirelessly and it selling the state of Mississippi must be a tough sell to even the most enlightened Black youngster. I would rank being a head coach at this school near the bottom of the barrel, just above Mississippi State.

10. Kentucky

The "basketball school" label isn't the only obstacle a coach has to overcome in Lexington. First of all, Kentucky isn't known for shelling out big bucks, with Rich Brooks the SEC's lowest-paid head coach ($729,000). Second, with Steve Spurrier now at South Carolina, Kentucky will find it tough to be better than fifth in the SEC East.

plez sez: The football season in Kentucky just means that the basketball season will be starting soon! Low pay, low expectations, few blue chip recruits (who'll probably be lured to a big time program), and a fickle fan base equals a low ranked place to coach.

11. Mississippi State

Like its sister institution in Oxford, Mississippi State must overcome being located in a small population area while being in the SEC West, which also includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas. Sylvester Croom, the former Alabama player who came from the Green Bay Packers and only Black head coach in the SEC, makes $940,000 per year, which is third-lowest among the league's public school coaches. Jackie Sherrill (the Shill) used a combination of high school and junior college recruits to improve the level of play. Some years, it worked. Others, it didn't. In 1998, the Bulldogs reached their one and only SEC title game, losing to Tennessee.

plez sez: Once you factor in that Mississippi State is located in Starkville, MSU is Ole Miss divided by two. This has got to be the worse job in the SEC, you'd be better off at Duke in the ACC!

12. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is by far the SEC's toughest job, the ex-coaches said, because of its high academic standards, relatively small alumni base and puny stadium. It also hasn't helped Vanderbilt football that the university administration decided to do away with the position of athletics director and bring the entire department under the office of vice chancellor for student life. Rival schools used that against Vandy in recruiting, questioning its commitment to football.

plez sez: To Vanderbilt's credit, they can recruit for pure student-athletes who do not have the pressure of performing for NFL scouts every week. Since I attended a college with high academic standards, a relatively small alumni base, and a smallish stadium, I can appreciate how this would be a low ranking head coaching job in the SEC. They won't be contending against Auburn or LSU for the SEC West during any of our lifetimes!

plez's Top SEC Coaching Jobs:
1. Florida Gators
2. Georgia Bulldogs (Dawgs)
3. Auburn War Eagles
4. Tennessee Volunteers
5. LSU Tigers
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (Hogs)
8. Alabama Crimson Tide
9. Kentucky Wildcats
10. Vanderbilt Commodores
11. Ole Miss Rebels
12. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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