Since football season ended, here at Crystal Ball Run we’ve done our darndest to keep you entertained with fun, interesting and engaging debates on college football’s biggest issues. We’ve looked at the biggest off-season questions in each conference, as well as what games to watch out for this coming fall, coaching hirings and firings, and everything in between.
However starting today, we will engage you in a debate like nothing we’ve ever done: That’s right, we’re going to rank the coaching jobs in each conference, from top to bottom, best to worst. Believe me, I’m already prepping myself for the hate mail that is about to flood my inbox.
A couple notes here: First, a ranking of “best” is something that’s completely subjective to each and every writer putting these articles together. We didn’t give anyone any specifics on the assignment, other than to say “Just put them in order how you please.” Some guys might consider the “best” job to be based on a school’s facilities, recruiting, fan support, or some combination of all of the above. To me, the term “best job” means that if they all opened up today, and every school wanted me as a coach (I know, a very realistic dream), which school would I select, and why would I select it. There’s no guarantee however that my colleagues look at this assignment the same.
So with that, we’ll start with the SEC today, and I’d like to start up front with a disclaimer: This was quite hard. Simply put, just about everyone in the Southeastern Conference has great fans, great support and great facilities, meaning that I had to be quite nitpicky when putting together this list. Just because your school is ranked fifth or sixth or 10th overall in this specific conference, it is by no means a reflection of where it fits in nationally. You could argue that of the Top 25 jobs in college football, easily 8 or 9 of them come from the Southeastern Conference.
Anyway, let’s get to the list.
1. Alabama: After going back and forth on the merits of Alabama and Florida for the top spot all this weekend, I eventually had to track down my buddy Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report’s lead SEC blogger to get his take on the best job in college football’s best conference.
His response was swift, direct and to the point: “Alabama, is the best job in the SEC. No doubt.”
Well then, I guess it’s settled.
The Tide have facilities that can match anyone’s. Their football team is more profitable than any other in the country (at least according to these numbers). And nobody’s fans care more about their team.
Simply put, it’s good to be Nick Saban.
2. Florida: Behind Alabama I think you could make a pretty compelling case for Florida and LSU. Both have incredible fan-bases, top-notch facilities and incredible talent within state borders.
The reason I gave the slightest of edges to Florida, is that it seems like it’s easier to recruit nationally to Gainesville than it is Baton Rouge. While LSU gets by mostly on Louisiana kids (not that there’s anything wrong with that… at all), in recent years, Florida has been able to convince guys from all over the country to come to Gainesville and play college football. Aaron Hernandez came from Connecticut. Brandon Spikes from North Carolina. Ronald Powell from California. Joe Haden from Maryland. The list goes on and on.
LSU is becoming a national program. Florida already is one.
3. LSU: The reason that I gave Florida the slight edge over the Bayou Bengals, is because almost all of their talent is homegrown. That’s not to say LSU can’t get guys out of state like Patrick Peterson or Spencer Ware, just that they’re not doing it at the clip that Florida is.
At the same time, let’s not throw a pity party for Les Miles either. As a matter of fact, let me give you a quick pop quiz just for fun. The question? What do Will Blackwell, Barkevious Mingo, Mo Claiborne, Rueben Randle, Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Faulk all have in common? All made the All-SEC team in 2011, and all are from Louisiana.
Louisiana kids grow up wanting to play for LSU, and Les Miles has proven that you can build a national power almost exclusively with them.
No wonder the Mad Hatter seems so happy all the time, huh?
4. Georgia: Like every team on this list, you could make a case for Georgia being higher or lower, but No. 4 seems about right.
I gave LSU the slight edge over the Bulldogs, because while Georgia has just as much high school talent (if not more) than Louisiana, their geography makes them more accessible for other schools to come in and get the best players to leave the state’s borders too. Auburn has gotten their fair share of high profile Georgia recruits through the years (Ja’Quay Williams in 2012 for example), same with Florida State (Greg Reid in 2009), and Tennessee, South Carolina and Clemson as well.
Still, when you’re coming off an SEC East Championship, and you did it almost exclusively with in-state kids, you can’t be doing too bad for yourself, right?
5. Auburn: Great natural recruiting base, incredible fans, and a recent history that proves that Auburn can not only compete for conference titles, but national ones as well. Don’t forget that in addition to the Cam-New-infused title in 2010, Auburn went undefeated in 2004 as well.
There are a lot of worse places you could coach than down on the Plains.
6. Arkansas: When I initially set out to make this list, I expected to have Arkansas lower. Sure their facilities are as good as anyone’s, and yes, in a state with no natural rivals, everyone from Pine Bluff to Fayetteville grows up a Hogs fan. In a conference where some states like Mississippi and Alabama are divided by two schools, that is a big deal.
At the same time, I wondered: Did the state really produce enough high school talent to compete with the big boys in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana?
Apparently, the answer is yes. Here are some guys on Arkansas 2011 roster who were homegrown, in-state kids: Tyler Wilson, Greg Childs, Darius Winston, Jarius Wright, Dennis Johnson, Joe Adams and Jake Bequette. Others such as Michael Dyer and Broderick Green (who eventually came home) were originally from Arkansas, as were big names like Darren McFadden, Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams in previous years as well.
Where it gets tricky for Arkansas, is that there just isn’t enough in-state talent for them to be any higher on this list; you can build a program around Arkansas kids, but not exclusively with them either. Bobby Petrino has learned that, and has been able to get big names from other states as well. Guys like Marquel Wade (Florida), Ronnie Wingo (Missouri) and Tenarius Wright (Tennessee), grew up in different states, back came to Arkansas to play college ball.
Still, when you add everything up, this job is better than people give it credit for.
7. Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans, I already know what you’re thinking: Texas A&M? At No. 7? You’re out of your mind! Don’t you know anything about our program?
Yes, yes I do. Thanks for asking.
At the same time, this is a list of best “jobs.” And remember that part of a job is who your bosses are.
So what do we know about the people who are running things at Texas A&M? Well, short of being the housekeeper at the Jersey Shore house, I can’t think of a more dysfunctional work environment than being a coach at Texas A&M right now. We saw it last year during the negotiations to move to the SEC (which I’m still not 100 percent sure AD Bill Byrne supported by the way), and we saw it in the bungled firing of Mike Sherman, you know, when he got an electronic pink slip while in the driveway of a recruit.
As my colleague Allen Kenney once said, “At Texas A&M, there are too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Only time will tell if things are settled now that the program is playing in the SEC.
8. South Carolina: For a state with a population of under 5 million people, it’s simply staggering how many quality high school football players come from within South Carolina’s borders.
ff the top of my head, here are just a few guys who’ve come out of South Carolina in recent years: Da’Quan Bowers, A.J. Green (the receiver, not offensive lineman), Carlos Dunlap, Alshon Jeffery, Jadaveon Clowney, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Dunlap, Sam Montgomery, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington. Are you kidding me? With no other help, those guys alone could probably win the ACC.
Well to their credit Steve Spurrier and his staff are keeping more of those guys in-state, and sending more on their way to Columbia than ever before. In a related story, the Gamecocks are also coming off the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history.
South Carolina always had the facilities. They always had the fan support. They’re just now starting to get the players to go with them.
9. Tennessee: In a nutshell, Tennessee is kind of the bizarro South Carolina: They’ve always had great success, but have almost always done it with players outside of the state. That dates back forever, and has continued through the ‘90’s (Peyton Manning for example was from Louisiana), 00’s (Albert Haynesworth was from South Carolina) and into this decade, where the highest rated recruits (Eric Berry, Janzen Jackson, Tyler Bray) have mostly come from outside the state’s borders.
The question now? Can Derek Dooley keep it going?
Understand that Tennessee’s recent struggles aren’t just so much a “Tennessee” thing, as an “everyone else” thing too. It’s easy to say that Tennessee needs to get more quality players, but when you’ve spent so many years successfully recruiting South Carolina and Georgia, and now all those kids are choosing instead to go to school at South Carolina, Clemson or Georgia, there’s not much you can do about it. After all, there’s a reason that when Lane Kiffin got to campus in 2009 he targeted so many kids from out of state: There just aren’t enough good Tennessee kids to keep this program elite.
As my colleague Michael Felder once told me: Tennessee will be good again, but it’s also hard seeing them ever able to get back to the level the truly elite level they were once at.
Frankly, it’s hard to disagree.
10. Ole Miss: Oh, Ole Miss… how do I rank you?
Look, I know a lot of you think this is too high for the Fightin’ Colonel Reb Black Bears, but all I can tell you is that I have been to Oxford, and seen this program up close. It has everything needed to compete; maybe not for National Championships like LSU and Alabama, but they also shouldn’t be winning three or four games in a season either.
Right now, the biggest thing is just finding the right head coach. Ed Orgeron proved that yes, you can recruit to Oxford. And Houston Nutt proved that if you have the talent, yes, you can compete with the big boys. The problem is, Ole Miss just can’t seem to find a guy that’s able to both recruit at a high level and coach at the same time.
Again, I’ve seen the Ole Miss program up close and personal. They have the facilities. They have the fan support. This is a good job. We’ll find out if Hugh Freeze is the right man for it or not.
11. Missouri: Missouri is like Tennessee….only without all the tradition. They have great fan support and they have had varying degrees of success through the years. But with only a handful of difference making high school players within their state borders, can they recruit well enough to truly compete?
Another thing to think about too: For a while now, Missouri has had success going into Texas and Oklahoma to get recruits. Now that they won’t be playing games in those states, will they still have the same level of success recruiting there? Even more so, will they be able to establish new pipelines in the Southeast?
There are a lot of questions that remain with this job.
12. Mississippi State: Don’t let Dan Mullen’s success fool you: Starkville is a darn tough place to win. It isn’t an easy place to recruit to, the facilities aren’t on par with most of the rest of the conference, and outside of Vanderbilt Stadium, Davis-Wade is the smallest in the SEC. That might not be a big deal to you, but when a recruit has a chance to play in front of 100,000 people in Death Valley or the Swamp, or 55,000 in Starkville, my guess is that most will choose the 100,000.
With all due respect to what Dan Mullen has done at the school, there’s a reason they only went to one bowl game between 2000 and 2010.
13. Kentucky: Look, nobody loves Kentucky fans more than I do. Nobody. But the truth is, the Rich Brooks era set up unrealistic expectations at the school. Kentucky has no natural recruiting base, no history and plays in the toughest division in college football. Truthfully, the program would be lucky to get to a bowl game once every five years. But because of Brooks’ success, some people think they should be going every year, which just isn’t realistic.
Add everything up, and you could argue that this is the toughest coaching job in FBS football.
14. Vanderbilt: James Franklin, I love you my man. But there’s a reason Vanderbilt has only been to five bowl games in the last 57 years.
For all his insight, opinions and articles on sports, be sure to follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.