As founder of the SEC Power Poll, I guess I best go ahead and get my preseason ballot out there. For those who haven't heard yet, we're not doing our usual by-team rankings because, well, it's hard to do a power poll when no one's played yet. At least an honest one.
So, seeing as how the SEC is filled to the brim with great head coaches, we are ranking the best coaches in the conference. This has, of course, brought out a variety of methods: recent success, overall success, success with current team, etc.
My method is, as always, a blend. Obviously, recent success is important. Overall success, though, is vital when judging a coach. Success is: (1) Winning it all; (2) Winning the SEC; (3) Winning your division. Doing something with your own players is also key, seeing as how recruiting is a key part of the college head coach job description.
1. Mark Richt
All this Georgia love is killing me, but there's no way around it. Richt has won three division titles and two conference titles since coming to Georgia in 2001. (And, last year, the spelling-challenged Dawgs were clearly a better team than division champ Tennessee.) He has had two seasons with fewer than 10 wins -- two. And those were seasons of eight wins (his first) and nine wins. Even without a national title, he ends up here, because Richt has succeeded, and he's managed to do a good deal with his own players. The national title thing? I'm still thinking they take care of that this year.
2. Tommy Tuberville
Yes, he's won just one SEC title, and he got jobbed out of his only chance at a national title. But Tuberville has turned Auburn into a perennial SEC West contender, and could find himself in Atlanta again for a chance to play Georgia for the conference crown. In a division where the other top teams have been subject to wild swings in either quality (Arkansas, Alabama) or coaches (LSU, Alabama), Tubby has been there and been good. That should count for something. Plus, in an effort to battle climate change, his ears have powered a small windfarm off the coast of Alabama.*
3. Urban Meyer
So I'm not sold on Meyer yet. He won in 2006 with a healthy assist from the recruiting prowess of Ron Zook. And, aside from that magical and very lucky season, Meyer has won nine games each year. Again, that's good, but it's not exactly worth the proclamations that MEYER'S SPREAD WILL CONQUER THE SEC!!!! (For the record, I've never doubted his offense would work in the conference.)
4. Steve Spurrier
Call it a homer pick if you want, but this much I know: Since Bear Bryant walked the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, no one has been as good as long in the SEC as Spurrier was in Florida. And with the possible exception of Richt, no one is likely to do so again. Sure, he hasn't had much success in Columbia. You try running the Cock 'n' Fire with Lou Holtz's players. That said, if he turns in another 7-5 or 6-6 record this year, he slides way down the list.
5. Les Miles
Is it possible to say LSU has underperformed since Miles arrived? After all, the Tigers have won two division titles, a conference title and a national championship in three years. And yet, somehow, it feels like they should have done more. It feels like LSU was stacked with the kind of talent of which dynasties are made. LSU has been elite under Miles -- but dynasty? Not yet. And, so far, not without some of Saban's recruits.
6. Nick Saban
He was solid at Michigan State. He had two great years and three good years in the Bayou. He went 7-6 in his first year at Alabama. And he's one of the best coaches in the SEC? Sure, Saban belongs in the top half, but just barely. If he wins a few more games at Bama, he'll move up.
7. Phil Fulmer
Overall counts for something, which is why he's not further down the list. What have you done for me lately? In the last three years, he's 24-14, including the 5-6 disaster of 2005. Since the national title season of 1998, he has not won a conference championship. A list of coaches who have won in the interim: Mark Richt (twice), Nick Saban (twice, to the NFL and back since the last one), Steve Spurrier (to the NFL and back since the last one), Tommy Tuberville, Urban Meyer, Les Miles ... and Mike DuBose.
8. Houston Nutt
Never won a national or conference title. His record at Arkansas largely consisted of stringing together several good and above-average season with the occasional great season and the odd klunker. He was 9-13 in the two years before Darren McFadden's two H-i-m-n worthy seasons. Nutt's a good coach, but he's not a great one in a league this stacked.
9. Bobby Petrino
I'm honestly not sure where to put him. I'm not impressed by his four-year stint in Louisville, which included one C-USA title and one Big East title. This is not the stuff of which legends are made. His reputation is built on "dominating" subpar leagues over a short tenure. Let's see what he does in this conference.
10. Rich Brooks
He's a career .439 coach with a handful of good seasons at Oregon and a couple of good seasons at Kentucky under his belt. Sure, he won the Pac-10 with the Ducks -- in his 18th season. At that rate, the Wildcats can look forward to winning the SEC in 2020. Brooks has guided Kentucky to unexpected heights the last two years, but now he has to do it again. Without Andre Woodson.
11. Sylvester Croom
One of the toughest decisions on here. I like Sly Croom. But ... How much credit does he get for last year, despite the inconsistent play? How much slack do you cut him for the situation he inherited? How much do you dock him for the early struggles? And how well will he do this year? Too many questions to move him up higher.
12. Bobby Johnson
Any other conference, and this guy's probably in the top half. But we're in the SEC, and by the standards I've set up above, this is a bottom-line ballot. In the FBS, Johnson hasn't done much. "But he coaches at Vanderbilt" can only excuse so much.
*I might have made this part up.