There is no denying the SEC’s success over the past decade, but a big part of that success is because of the coaches leading the programs in the SEC.
Of course, talent is the most important aspect to building a program, but the coaches that can recruit that elite level talent, put them in the best position to succeed and make the right decisions in the heat of the moment are who ultimately survives in a field that is as cutthroat as it gets.
Overall, the right or wrong coaching hire can impact the trajectory of a program’s future. So let’s take a look at the best 10 SEC head coaching hires in the past decade.
10. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
It wasn’t a flashy hire, and it’s hasn’t exactly paid off in wins so far. However, Mason could end up being a really nice hire for Vanderbilt. If the Commodores give him time to build a program like he saw up close at Stanford, it could mean fun times ahead for Vanderbilt.
9. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin brought Texas A&M into the SEC on fire with Johnny Manziel running his offense, but since Johnny Football has left College Station, it’s been a series of ups and downs for the Aggies. Sumlin now heads into 2016 with a load of pressure on his shoulders.
8. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn took Auburn to a national title game with some good fortune in close games, but since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Tigers. What once seemed like a home run hire is now a coach entering his fourth season on the hot seat.
7. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema took over a mess in Fayetteville, but he’s stabilized things so far. If he can continue to recruit his style of players and win enough to keep the fans off his back, he could build a nice program at Arkansas.
6. Jim McElwain, Florida
In his debut season at Florida, McElwain won the SEC East. Granted, the East was aggressively bad last season, but it’s a division title nonetheless. Whether or not McElwain can sustain that success will be the ultimate deciding factor on how good of a hire he was. It’s tough to keep momentum going when you start out so strong, but so far, so good for McElwain.
5. Butch Jones, Tennessee
It’s been awhile since Tennessee fans have enjoyed an SEC East championship, but it looks like Jones has the Vols well on their way. Tennessee hasn’t been able to get over the hump quite yet, but all eyes have been on 2016 for some time. Now, the Vols have an opportunity to get it done and build more stability moving forward.
4. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
If there’s anything to criticize Mullen for, it’s for not winning the big games, but give Mullen credit for taking care of business. Mississippi State has been a steady program under Mullen’s direction, and the Bulldogs never lose to a team they should beat. If history holds true, Mississippi State will always be solid with Mullen at the helm.
3. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
No one had ever won at Vanderbilt until Franklin took over the Commodores’ football program. No one. Under Franklin, Vanderbilt won nine games in back-to-back seasons. For a historical perspective, the Commodores had only won nine games two other times in program history, and the last time was in 1915.
2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
When Freeze took over at Ole Miss after the 2011 season, the Rebels had 27 players in jeopardy of becoming academically ineligible. All but two of those players made their needed grades, and that was the first big win of the Freeze era. Under his direction, Ole Miss has won one more game each season, and if that trend continues, there will be a lot of happy folks in Oxford over the next few years.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Saban’s success speaks for itself. Alabama had been in a lull, but he built a machine that is now the gold standard in college football. He’s made winning national championships look easy, and Alabama is the favorite no matter who they lose to the NFL. No football program adds as much value to its university as the Crimson Tide does. It’s not even close actually, and it can’t be debated who’s the best head coaching hire in all of college football in the past decade.