Ten-win seasons are the head coach’s benchmark for a successful college football season, just as the 1,000-yard mark is coveted by running backs and the 3,000-yard mark is considered strong for passers.
In each of those cases, there is room for improvement, but hitting the respective marks generally ensures job security.
Seven of the SEC’s 14 coaches have either never collected a 10-win season or have yet to collect multiple 10-win campaigns, splitting the conference into halves: Those who have established themselves as known commodities, and those who are trying to prove they belong in arguably the nation’s toughest league.
The following is a breakdown of each coach’s career success, measured by that all-important 10-win mark.
Coaches who are running their first FBS team in 2016: Barry Odom (Missouri); Kirby Smart (Georgia)
T-12. Mark Stoops (Kentucky)
Zero 10-win seasons in three attempts
Based on his early returns, Mark might be more of a Mike than a Bob. The three brothers have been in college football for the better part of four decades, but only one of them — the current Oklahoma Sooners coach — has found great success on his own.
Bob has a national championship ring and a baker’s dozen of 10-win seasons under his belt, while Mike failed to reach the double-digit win mark in eight seasons at Arizona. We’ll give Mark a little more time to prove himself, but that’ll be tough with a program that has not had a say in the championship race since 1950, when Bear Bryant was in Lexington.
T-12. Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
Zero 10-win seasons in two attempts
Mason has plenty of experience coaching 10-win teams, as he helped Stanford achieve the mark in four seasons as an assistant between 2010-2013. But he has not come anywhere close that number in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, during which the Commodores are 7-17.
Expectations are tempered in Nashville, but Mason will need his ‘Dores to take a step forward this year if he wants to keep fans happy.
T-10. Dan Mullen (Mississippi State)
One 10-win season in seven attempts
The Bulldogs have only achieved a trio of 10-win seasons since the program’s inception in 1902, including a dream season in 2013 that featured Mississippi State’s first No. 1 ranking in school history.
Mullen was in charge of that squad, and he’s essentially carved out a lifetime job in Starkville if he can delight the faithful with an eight- or nine-win season every now and again. Whether he stays or not has become an annual conversation both Mullen and Bulldogs fans despise.
T-10. Gus Malzahn (Auburn)
One 10-win season in four attempts
Malzahn’s Tigers started faster than anyone expected in 2013, coming within a minute of the national title. But the “offensive genius” tag has slowly faded during the last two seasons, with Malzahn now potentially coaching for his job in 2016.
A 10-win season is not expected in Lee County this year, but he’ll need to get close to keep his seat from burning up.
T-10. Will Muschamp (South Carolina)
One 10-win season in four attempts
Within the last five years, Muschamp has resurrected the Florida football program, trashed it, and failed to meet expectations as an expensive defensive coordinator at Auburn. Now he’ll take the full-time reins at South Carolina from one of the greatest coaches in history.
The new gig in Columbia is a hell of a second chance for Muschamp, who had Gators fans elated with an 11-2 (7-1 in the SEC) season in 2012 before responding with a 4-8 campaign — Florida’s worst in 34 years — the next autumn.
Gamecocks fans will need to be patient with an unproven roster in Muschamp’s first season in the Palmetto State, but 10-win teams will eventually be the expectation thanks to Steve Spurrier’s excellent run from 2005-2015.
T-7. Butch Jones (Tennessee)
Two 10-win seasons in 10 attempts
Tennessee is caught between a legendary past and a recent drought, which explains why Jones still has a job despite failing to reach the double-digit-win mark in his first three seasons on Rocky Top.
His pair of career 10-win seasons came outside the SEC; one at Eastern Michigan in 2009 and one at Cincinnati in 2011. If he falls below that mark in 2016 — and Tennessee loses its 12th straight game to Florida — he might be run out of town.
T-7. Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
Two 10-win seasons in five attempts
Freeze has at least one 10-win season in each of his three head coaching stops, though his first — a 12-1 year in 2009 — came at NAIA school Lambuth, which we didn’t factor into this list.
There are plenty of off-field distractions in Oxford, but there are also reasons for optimism in 2016. Freeze could field another 10-win team thanks to All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly, whose arm gives the Rebels an edge over every opponent at the game’s most important position.
T-7. Jim McElwain (Florida)
Two 10-win seasons in four attempts
Thanks to Will Muschamp, Florida fans are tempering their expectations after a strong start from McElwain, who has notched two straight 10-win seasons at Colorado State and Florida.
Many pundits expect a step back for McElwain’s inexperienced team this year, so another big year would be a nice surprise for Gators supporters.
4. Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M)
Three 10-win seasons in eight attempts
Sumlin deserves credit for making Texas A&M an SEC contender while helping to bring a Heisman Trophy and Cotton Bowl win to College Station.
But while his Aggies teams have been formidable, he hasn’t reached the 10-win mark since his first season in 2012, and his quarterback play has been lacking since Johnny Manziel left town after the 2013 season. Few are calling for Sumlin’s head at this juncture, but one of A&M’s most successful coaches of all-time appears to be trending in the wrong direction.
3. Bret Bielema (Arkansas)
Four 10-win seasons in 10 attempts
After an abrupt exit from Wisconsin in late 2012, Bielema slowly is showing the SEC why he was considered one of the country’s best coaches during an impressive run in Madison.
His first season in Fayetteville (3-9, 0-8 in conference play) was awful in several ways, but the Razorbacks have improved in the two seasons since, capping last year’s 8-5 campaign with a win in the Liberty Bowl.
No one is giving Arkansas a shot to win the SEC West this year, mainly due to the loss of several offensive stars, so Razorbacks fans would save a lot of energy — and keep expectations realistic — by looking forward to a 10-win season in 2017 instead of this autumn.
2. Les Miles (LSU)
Seven 10-win seasons in 15 attempts
The departures of Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt in the last year have thrust Miles into the second spot on this list, but his job is on thin ice in Baton Rouge.
He was reportedly 30 minutes from being sacked late last season, and almost certainly will need 10-plus wins this year to keep his gig at the school where he won the national championship nearly a decade ago. Consider 2016 “Les’ Last Stand,” during which we’ll see if Miles has what it takes to be an all-time SEC great.
1. Nick Saban (Alabama)
Ten 10-win seasons in 20 attempts
Perhaps the greatest college football coach of all-time has eight consecutive 10-win seasons and counting, with all 10 of his double-digit-win seasons coming since he arrived at LSU in 2000.
Saban probably will be at the top of any coaching-related list you read this summer, but that does not guarantee success in the fall. Alabama needs to convincingly replace quarterback Jake Coker and Heisman running back Derrick Henry if it wants to reach the pinnacle of college football again.