John Clay: Ranking the SEC football coaches' performances

jclay@herald-leader.comNovember 30, 2011 

If you believe Joker Phillips did a bad job this season — the magical win over Tennessee doing little to convince you otherwise — then the Kentucky football coach had plenty of conference company

Ranking the coaches on their job performance this season

1. Les Miles, LSU — You finished the regular season unbeaten. You are ranked No. 1 in the nation. You beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. You eat grass. You wear a great-looking hat. You speak a unique version of the English language. You are the LSU football coach, King of the Universe.

2. James Franklin, Vanderbilt — The erstwhile Maryland coach-in-waiting brought a feistiness to button-down Vanderbilt football. He also could have easily brought nine wins, considering the Commodores lost to Georgia (33-28), Arkansas (31-28) and Florida (26-21) by a grand total of 13 points.

3. Mark Richt, Georgia — His seat setting was flame-broil after opening losses to Boise State and South Carolina. But with a sophomore quarterback and a true-freshman running back, Richt guided the Dogs to 10 straight wins. There is no more R.E.M. in Athens, but Richt is still standing.

4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina — Coach Superior had to (finally) boot veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia, and he lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury. Yet the Gamecocks won six of their last seven for a rare 10-win season, proving the Ol' Ball Coach can still coach 'em up.

5. Nick Saban, Alabama — I can't help thinking about that LSU game in which Saban's Tide were either spraying field goals or getting them blocked. Great coaches coach great special teams. In this case, Bama's special teams lost the game of the century. (That is until we see the rematch in January.)

6. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas — Petrino's wannabes took 24-point losses to Alabama and LSU. Then Bobby P. had the nerve to whine about LSU kicking a late field goal last Friday. This from the same coach who once called a late timeout so he could tack on another touchdown against Kentucky.

7. Will Muschamp, Florida — Blame the previous head coach, the one who said he quit Florida for two important reasons (his health and his family) only to sign on with Ohio State for two more important reasons (his ego and his wallet). So I'm willing to give Coach Boom a first-year pass.

8. Gene Chizik, Auburn — Under player-coach Cam Newton, Auburn won the national championship in 2010. Reverting to head coach Gene Chizik, the Tigers were much like their previous Chizik-coached selves, losing by 24 to Arkansas, 35 to LSU and 28 to Alabama.

9. Joker Phillips, Kentucky — How on Earth could you put a coach who lost four games by four touchdowns or more in the top 10, even if it is a 12-team league? Simple. Phillips snapped a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee by playing a wide receiver at quarterback. A wide receiver!

10. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State — Penn State might be targeting the Pennsylvania native to be JoePa's successor. Ah, but wasn't Mississippi State ranked 17th in the pre-season? Didn't State wind up 6-6 with conference wins over Kentucky and Ole Miss? Thought so.

11. Derek Dooley, Tennessee — Cold, hard truth on Rocky Top is that while Lane Kiffin is rocking and rolling at Southern Cal, Tennessee's man in the orange pants scored seven points or fewer in five of his last seven games. And lost to a team that played a wide receiver at quarterback. A wide receiver!

12. Houston Nutt, Mississippi — A 14-game SEC losing streak cost Nutt his job. More deserving of the pink slip was Pete Boone, the athletics director and genius who let David Cutcliffe go so he could hire Ed Orgeron. Boone is hanging it up, too, at the end of 2012. Why wait?

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com.

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