Regardless of what happens tomorrow at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the SEC’s Coach of the Year honors should go to the man in the hat… LSU’s Les Miles.
Rather than simply giving your our take on the jobs each of the league’s coaches did this year, as usual we wanted to start with some data. So, just to create a starting point for our rankings of the league’s best coaches, we came up with a way to give coaches’ points for their work in 2011.
It’s a simple formula — and no, it’s not perfect. If a coach beat an FBS team, he got credit for all of that team’s wins (meaning a win over Alabama would be worth 11 points while a win over Ole Miss would be worth 2 points, for example). If a coach lost to an FBS team, he was docked a point for each of the opponent’s losses (meaning a loss to Ole Miss would be worth -10 points while a loss to unbeaten LSU wouldn’t result in a deduction at all).
Coaches got a 1-point bonus for beating an FCS team and a 12-point deduction for losing to an FCS squad (but that didn’t happen in the SEC this season).
Yes, this means that a team beating Western Kentucky would get credit for 7 points as opposed to just 6 for beating Florida, but we were only looking for a place to start anyway.
Below are the coaches’ scores through today. With more games to be played this weekend, these scores can still rise and fall a bit. We’ve also included each man’s best win and worst loss on the season (by won/lost numbers):
|Coach||Total Points||Best Win||Worst Loss|
|L. Miles, LSU||79||Alabama (11pts)||None|
|N. Saban, Alabama||61||Arkansas (10pts)||LSU (-0pts)|
|S. Spurrier, S. Carolina||50||Georgia (10pts)||Auburn (-5pts)|
|M. Richt, Georgia||47||Ga. Tech (8pts)||S. Carolina (-2pts)|
|B. Petrino, Arkansas||46||S. Carolina (10pts)||Alabama (-1pt)|
|G. Chizik, Auburn||24||S. Carolina (10pts)||Clemson (-3pts)|
|D. Mullen, MSU||9||La. Tech (8pts)||Auburn (-5pts)|
|W. Muschamp, Florida||7||Vanderbilt (6pts)||Auburn (-5pts)|
|J. Franklin, Vanderbilt||2||W. Forest (6pts)||Tennessee (-7pts)|
|D. Dooley, Tennessee||0||Cincinnati (8pts)||Kentucky (-7pts)|
|J. Phillips, Kentucky||-9||W. Kentucky (7pts)||Florida, MSU, Vandy (-6pts)|
|H. Nutt, Ole Miss||-31||Fresno St. (4pts)||Kentucky (-7pts)|
So that’s our starting point, now let’s show you how we ranked these guys and why:
1. Les Miles, LSU (12-0 overall, 8-0 SEC)
Miles — already a national championship-winner on The Bayou — had his best season in 2011. He managed to keep his Tigers focused despite: the NCAA hitting LSU with two-years probation, the NCAA asking questions about Willie Lyles, the NCAA suspending Russell Shepard, a bar brawl on the eve of the season, starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s arrest and suspension and eventual return, and a last-minute switch in coaching duties when new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in August. In spite of all those land mines, Miles successfully led his team to wins over Oregon, West Virginia and Alabama away from Tiger Stadium. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Miles gambled a lot less in 2011 than he has in previous years. There were no Mad Hatter moments — good or bad — that drew national attention. Hands down, no one has done a better job than Miles in the SEC this season. No one even comes close.
2. Mark Richt, Georgia (10-2 overall, 7-1 SEC)
Yeah, yeah, some can keep barking about the so-called easy schedule, but Richt has no control over the SEC’s schedule rotation or the fortunes of other programs. He can only beat the teams on his docket and for 10 consecutive weeks he did just that. Regardless of schedule, if you run off seven straight wins in the SEC, you’ve done some heavy lifting. But Richt moves all the way up to #2 on our list for the pressure he, his coaches and his team had to overcome. The coach came into the season on the hot seat. After an opening loss to Boise State and then a sloppy loss to Carolina — a game UGA coulda/shoulda won — most wrote off the coach for dead. He and his team responded by getting better as the season played out. His reward is a date with a #1 team that’s kicked around just about everybody not named Alabama, but win or lose tomorrow, Richt’s work in 2011 is praise-worthy.
3. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (10-2 overall, 6-2 SEC)
The Ol’ Ball Coach created a bit of his own mess this season with his odd handling of eventually-dismissed quarterback Stephen Garcia over the summer and into the fall. Then he had to overcome the midseason loss of Carolina’s far-and-away best player, Marcus Lattimore. The Cocks caught some breaks on the schedule late (Tennessee with a first-time starter at quarterback, The Citadel, a Florida team with zero offense), but bottom line is this: 10 wins for just the second time in school history. Slice it anyway you like, 10-2 in the SEC is a darn good year. Spurrier’s recruiting is clearly paying dividends now and his selection of Ellis Johnson as his top defensive aide continues to pay off as well. He won’t win a championship in 2011, but his has been some of Spurrier’s best work.
4. Nick Saban, Alabama (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC)
Alabama had the more veteran team and the home field advantage in Game of the Century Part I. But Saban didn’t have the best special teams — and knowing that points would be at a premium — he continued to trot them out for long field goal attempts. That’s about the only mistake Saban has made this year. His defense has lived up to its billing and his running game has been dominant. He also kept his team focused despite the heartbreaking OT loss to LSU on November 5th.
5. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas (10-2 overall, 6-2 SEC)
The Razorbacks withstood some big injuries on the defensive line and broke in a new quarterback in 2011. They also made due without preseason All-SEC back Knile Davis who went down with a season-ending injury before the first game of the year. If not for LSU and Alabama both beating dominant, Petrino would have his Hogs back in a BCS bowl this year. Fine work. He just needs to work on his defense.
6. James Franklin, Vanderbilt (6-6 overall, 2-6 SEC)
The numbers aren’t really in Franklin’s favor. His wins came over Elon, UConn, Ole Miss, Army, Kentucky and Wake Forest with Wake being the only team in that bunch with a winning record. He also inherited a veteran team with 37 juniors and seniors (28 of whom also had the benefit of a redshirt year). But the fact is, we’re giving Franklin such a bump because of hype. The hype he’s created in Nashville. Not only did he go bowling with a team that was 2-10 last year, but he’s got people talking about Vandy. Other teams are complaining about dirty hits. Recruiting gurus are wowed by his commitment list. And his name is popping up in connection with jobs at Penn State and North Carolina. Real or imagined, a one-year blip or the start of some real magic, Franklin may not be the SEC’s Coach of the Year, but he’s definitely a man to watch moving forward. A great find by VU’s David Williams.
7. Gene Chizik, Auburn (7-5 overall, 4-4 SEC)
Tiger fans don’t want to hear it, but the preseason rankings they’d complained were disrespectful actually gave AU too much credit. You can argue that Chizik should have had a better quarterback waiting in the wings, but when you look at the number of stars and contributors he lost from 2010 to 2011, it’s hard to imagine him leading Auburn to a much better record than he did. But he should be glad he nipped Utah State and Mississippi State in the season’s first two week or, whoa, buddy, he’d be hearing it right now.
8. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (6-6 overall, 2-6 SEC)
Now we’re into the area where there’s just not much good to say. Mullen had his team claw back to achieve bowl eligibility after a disappointing start. He also happens to oversee a program that was trying to climb in what was the toughest division in college football this year. Still if he doesn’t eventually beat a West Division team not named “Ole Miss,” he’ll stop seeing his name tied to higher-profile gigs like Miami and Penn State.
9. Will Muschamp, Florida (6-6 overall, 3-5 SEC)
Florida’s first-year coach inherited an offensive roster built to play in a totally different system. But he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis tried to turn Urban Meyer’s speed-based squad into a pro-style, power-team anyway. And it didn’t work. The program is also hemorrhaging transfers at the moment. Muschamp’s biggest job is on the recruiting trail. He’s got to find the guys to fit his system… and then he’ll need to grow them up fast. Coaches don’t get much time for turnarounds in Gainesville.
10. Joker Phillips, Kentucky (5-7 overall, 2-6 SEC)
The difference between the #10 coach and #11 coach was a head-to-head victory in Lexington last Saturday. Phillips’ program seems to be going in reverse but that could be a product of Rich Brooks simply knowing when to pull the rip cord and exit. The Cats lost a five-year bowl streak and a four-year win streak over Louisville this year. But last week, Phillips ended a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee. That’s enough to earn him our 10 spot.
11. Derek Dooley, Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC)
There are legitimate reasons for Dooley’s struggles this year: thanks to attrition from two coaching changes his team was made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores, he played five of the Top 15 teams in the country, and his two best players on offense were lost to injuries for much of the season. But. The Vols quit on Dooley last week at Kentucky and some players even admitted as much after the game. The current turmoil surrounding the UT program is approaching the meltdown stage achieved once before when Lane Kiffin departed unexpectedly after just one season in Knoxville. Next year is do or die for Dooley.
12. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss (2-10, 0-8)
At this point, saying much about the Nutt situation just feels like piling on. You can almost discard the last three losses because many times do go belly-up when their coach gets smoked with weeks remaining in the season. Nutt’s failure — ironically enough — was on the recruiting trail. He signed 37 players one year and always outranked MSU in the recruiting rankings, but he had way too many wash-outs to build a stable program. In that end, it’s the reason his run in the SEC ended after 14 seasons, 10 bowl games, and 99 wins.