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Ranking SEC head coaches heading into 2020 CFB season

UGA (Georgia) Wire logo UGA (Georgia) Wire 5/24/2020 Joe Vitale
Gus Malzahn et al. standing in front of a crowd © Provided by UGA (Georgia) Wire

The SEC is loaded with head coaching talent as we head into the 2020 college football season.

You have your usuals: Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Gus Malzahn and Ed Orgeron, etc.

But then you have familiar, or in some cases not-so-familiar, new faces: Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Sam Pittman and Eli Drinkwitz.

Ranking the SEC head coaches heading into the 2020 season is as hard as it’s ever been because of all these new hires. It’s also because Jeremy Pruitt waited until October to start winning games in Tennessee last year. It’s because Ed Orgeron took a loaded roster and won a national title. Because Gus Malzahn and Auburn always have the talent, but can’t win the big ones. Or because, despite a 4-8 season, Will Muschamp knocked off Kirby Smart and Georgia.

Related: 2020 Georgia schedule with game-by-game score predictions

With all of this taken into consideration, here’s our SEC head coaching power rankings for the 2020 college football season:

14. Sam Pittman, Arkansas

I would have loved to get Pittman higher on this list, but what is there to go off of? His last head coaching job came in 1992 and 1993 when he led Hutchinson Community College to an 11–9–1 record over two seasons.

I am 100% rooting for Pittman to succeed in his first season as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. It will not be easy, and this is a team that will likely finish with at least five losses for the first few years, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing as long as they play hard.

Arkansas may not field the most talented teams in the SEC, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of it’s the former UGA O-Line coach will make sure his guys fight harder than anybody.

13. Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri

Drinkwitz gets the No. 13 spot because of what he was able to do at Appalachian State last year. In his first season as a head coach, he led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 record and a Sun Belt championship.

But that’s not the SEC. It’s going to be a rocky road ahead for Drinkwitz, as Mizzou will definitely not be one of the more talented teams in the league for a few years.

12. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

I often find myself rooting for Vanderbilt and Mason.

He took over at Vandy when James Franklin left for Penn State, and though it’s been tough at times, you get the feeling that Commodore fans actually look forward to their seasons.

11. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

If Muschamp had not beaten Georgia last year, he might not even be on this list at all.

But he won and that probably saved his job. He coaches a good defense, but South Carolina will need to crank up its recruiting efforts if it wants to start contending in the SEC East. Another season with no bowl game may put an end to Muschamp’s coaching career with the Gamecocks.

10. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

Kiffin is a good football coach; there’s no denying that. No. 10 is pretty low for an offensive genius like him. But this conference is simply loaded.

Kiffin did a great job at Florida Atlantic, but I still need to see him win consistently at a Power Five school.

9. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

If you had told me on Oct. 6 of 2019 that Pruitt would keep his job and be ranked inside my top 10 of SEC coaches of 2020, I’d have called you crazy.

Following Tennessee’s loss to Georgia last year, Tennessee’s fourth loss in its first five games, the Vols decided to start playing football.

They won their final six games and seven of their last eight to finish 8-5.

But he still lost to Georgia State and BYU, something Vols fans will never forget.

8. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

How can you not love the job Mark Stoops has done in Lexington?

Similar to Mason at Vandy, I tend to find myself cheering for Stoops and Kentucky.

It took a while, but the Wildcats are no longer a cupcake game on superior teams’ schedules. His first season in Lexington (2013) saw Kentucky go 2-10, and two years ago he had the Wildcats 10-3 with hopes of representing the SEC East in the conference championship.

7. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

This one’s always tough. The Tigers usually start the season in the top 15 but drop off by the end of the season.

Malzahn has had one season with more than 10 wins, and that was in 2013 when Auburn lost to Jimbo Fisher and FSU in the BCS National Championship.

What he did do though was guide Cam Newton to the greatest individual season I’ve ever seen by a college football quarterback in 2010, when he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator.

Auburn always recruits hard and plays hard. Tough schedules don’t help, but if he wants to crack the top five, he’ll need to start beating some of the better SEC teams on the schedule. LSU, Alabama, Georgia and occasionally Florida are tough, but those are games that Auburn fans should expect to win.

6. Mike Leach, Mississippi State

A lot of people get sidetracked by his unique personality and forget just how good of coach Mike Leach is.

He is entering his first season as head coach at Mississippi State, following an eight-year run at Washington State. Before that he spent 10 seasons at Texas Tech. He boasts a 139-90 overall head coaching record and has had 12 seasons of 8-plus wins since the turn of the century.

I, for one, cannot wait to see his offensive style in the SEC this year.

5. Dan Mullen, Florida

You have to acknowledge the good work that Dan Mullen has done in Gainesville. Last season, Mullen went 11-2 in his second season after a 10-3 Year 1. Overall, he’s 21-5 as head coach of the Gators.

But he has not beaten Georgia yet.

4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Head coach at Texas A&M may be one of the most difficult jobs in all of college football. For starters, you’re coaching in Texas, where football is right next to God on the list of core values. Second, you’re coaching in the SEC West, going up against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and occasionally a Florida or Georgia. The past two seasons, the Aggies also played Clemson — and both times they lost but played the Tigers close.

Fisher has done a fine job so far in College Station. Plus, he is one of the few SEC coaches to say he’s won a national title. (FSU, 2013)

3. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Smart’s time will come, and within the next five years he may very well occupy that No. 1 spot.

For now, he’s sitting at No. 3, right on the verge of taking over that No. 2 ranking. As long as he keeps winning the SEC East, beating rivals and putting his team in striking distance for the College Football Playoff…he’ll be considered a top-five coach in America.

2. Ed Orgeron, LSU

This one was tough. Orgeron or Kirby Smart? I went with Coach O since he accomplished something Kirby hasn’t yet, a national championship.

I’ve heard it all – “Anyone could win with that roster.”

Sure, Smart probably would have won it with that roster LSU had last year. But, at the end of the day, he didn’t have that roster. No other way around it.

Also, how can you not love Coach O?

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

Saban will hold this spot until he retires. What else is there to say about the six time national championship winning coach?

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