It shouldn’t even be a contest, really. Come on now, Kentucky beat Florida for the first time since 1986. It won nine games in a season for the first time since 1984. It posted a winning conference mark for the first time since 1977. Mark Stoops should be SEC football’s Coach of the Year.
As in all things subjective, however, dissenters likely lurk. Voting is a funny business. Ask our political parties. Or ask the people who vote in the AP’s college football or basketball polls only to be ripped in their Twitter time lines by various fan bases across our great land. (Been there, read that.)
So if Stoops somehow loses at the polls, it will likely be to one of the following candidates:
Kirby Smart, Georgia: The splendidly coiffed Peter Burns of the SEC Network argues the top Dawg deserves the award for the second year running thanks to Georgia’s consecutive 11-1 marks and SEC East titles.
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“There’s one coach it should be, and that should be Kirby Smart,” Burns declared a couple of weeks back. “Kirby Smart lost about 70 percent of his entire roster it feels like to the NFL. And he played about 70 percent underclassmen this year.”
Indeed, aside from a 20-point meltdown at LSU, the Bulldogs blew through their schedule with hardly a hiccup. On the flip side, however, wasn’t that what Georgia was supposed to do? It was the runaway pick to win the SEC East again, and the Bulldogs ran away with the SEC East again. (Yawn.) If you’re going to base the award on a coach who met high expectations, we present our next contestant.
Nick Saban, Alabama: Poor Nick is a victim of his own ridiculous success. He just keeps winning and winning and winning and winning. This year, however, the winning extends beyond ridiculous. If you happened to miss the start of any Alabama game this season and flipped it on midway through the first quarter, the Tide was probably already up three touchdowns. And driving toward a fourth.
Alabama did this despite losing (a) another small army to the NFL and (b) about half its coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (to the Bills) and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (to Tennessee). Saban merely changed the batteries and on rolled the Tide yet again. No problem. And that is Saban’s problem. He’s too good.
Dan Mullen, Florida: The Gators were a white-hot mess in 2017. They lost seven of 11 games. They fired their head coach, Jim McElwain, who may or may not have received death threats and who, well, didn’t even last three years in Gainesville before being given the boot.
Enter Mullen, the former Mississippi State coach whom former Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin coaxed into returning to Florida, where Mullen once served as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator. Week two, the Gators lost at home to Kentucky. After that, however, Florida won eight of its last 10 games, including a victory over then No. 5 LSU. Speaking of the devil . . .
Ed Orgeron, LSU: With his colorful background, Cajun/Adam Sandler accent, gravelly voice and habit of saying “Go Tigers” at the end of nearly every sentence, Coach O was considered a comic figure most everywhere outside of Baton Rouge. Or even inside Baton Rouge.
That was until this year when the Tigers went 9-3, including wins over Miami, Auburn and Mississippi State. Alas, LSU failed to score in its loss to Alabama, then scored 72 at Texas A&M and still lost. Those losses likely cost Orgeron any chance of claiming the coaching trophy.
Which brings us back to where we started. Picked by the all-seeing, all-knowing media to finish fifth in the SEC, Kentucky came within one victory over Georgia of clinching its first East Division title. It stands 15th in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. On Sunday, it should get an invitation to a pretty prestigious bowl. All of which makes Mark Stoops the SEC Coach of the Year.