Ranking SEC Coaches w/ Simple Numbers

This week Athlon released a list ranking the nation’s college football coaches. I didn’t read the list, but it was discussed on @HeadtoHeadRadio.



Athlon’s is a subjective list — no more — and provides something to talk about during the CFB dog days. Fine. What metric, or criteria was used to rank them? Wins? Wins combined with recruiting success? Trending up or trending down?

Here’s a simple way to rank SEC coaches, with a few numbers to support: Winning % (at their current gig) compared to average recruiting class ranking.

Look at the SEC West coaches via winning % at their current schools:

  1. Nick Saban .853
  2. Les Miles .777
  3. Kevin Sumlin .692
  4. Gus Malzahn .675
  5. Hugh Freeze .653
  6. Dan Mullen .611
  7. Bret Bielema .473

Some coaches have been at their current schools longer. Saban is going into his 10th year at Alabama. Bret Bielema is approaching his 4th year at Arkansas. Please note: the goal of a simple ranking is to rate the coaches based on the job they’ve done — and are doing — at their current school. That’s it.

How do the SEC West coaches compare in average recruiting class rank? (I didn’t do the math myself: from Christopher Smith at SDS done in February 2016)

  1. Saban 2.9
  2. Miles 7.3
  3. Malzahn 8.3
  4. Sumlin 11.8
  5. Freeze 18.6
  6. Mullen 24.6
  7. Bielema 25

SEC West coaches align almost the same by average recruiting class rank as they do in terms of winning %. Should the folks at Rivals, Scout, & 247 take a bow? Gus Malzahn at Auburn requires a second look. His average class ranking at Auburn is third best, but his winning percentage of .675 places him fourth, just behind Kevin Sumlin.

The Texas A&M coach is the only in his division who can boast ranking higher in win % than he does via average recruiting class.


Eastern Division coaches winning % (Smart, Odom, and Muschamp don’t rank because they were hired this past December):

  1. Jim McElwain .714 — *went 10–4 in one season
  2. Butch Jones .552
  3. Mark Stoops .333
  4. Derek Mason .291

Eastern Division coaches via average recruiting class:

  1. Jones 12.3
  2. McElwain 15
  3. Stoops 32
  4. Mason 48.7

McElwain at Florida isn’t the truest case study because he’s only been there one season. *He went 10–2 with a bowl loss at Colorado State in 2014.

Butch Jones record at Tennessee is worth a closer look.

In three seasons under Jones the Volunteers are 21–17. That’s a winning % of .552, which places Jones 8th best in the SEC overall:

  1. Saban .853
  2. Miles .777
  3. McElwain .714 — *one season
  4. Sumlin .692
  5. Malzahn .675
  6. Freeze .653
  7. Mullen .611
  8. Jones .552
  9. Bielema .473
  10. Stoops .333
  11. Mason .291

However, Butch Jones’ recruiting class average rank of 12.3 places him in the top-5 of the SEC — no. 1 in the East — behind only Saban, Miles, Malzahn, and Sumlin. This could be the reason so many preseason prognosticators are bullish on the Vols in 2016. Could this year be the coming-to-fruition of those highly ranked recruiting classes? After all, Jones’ record has improved in each of his previous three seasons beginning with five wins, then seven, followed by going 9–4 in 2015.

Going beyond these simple, on-the-surface numbers you uncover the fact that Tennessee’s schedule in the Jones era has included a game vs. Oregon, a home/home with Oklahoma, plus the annual matchup with Saban and Alabama. Jones is 0–6 vs those teams, losing those games by an average score of 41–15. (*59–14 vs. Oregon; 34–10 and 31–24 vs. Oklahoma; 45–10, 34–20, and 19–14 vs. Alabama)

If you wanted to look at Jones’ record at Tennessee against everybody BUT Oregon and Oklahoma, his winning % would be .600 — still 8th best in the conference.

The deeper into the numbers you dive, and the more layers of metrics you use for ranking coaches, the more subjective your list might become. Ole Miss fans wouldn’t trade Hugh Freeze for Malzahn or Sumlin, even though they both have better winning % and higher average class rankings in their time at their respective programs.

Athlon ranked Butch Jones ahead of both Les Miles and Jim McElwain on their list, but there are no numbers — no hard evidence — to support that ranking. The reasoning can only be a projection. Maybe Athlon is on a limb predicting what is about to happen in Knoxville. They wouldn’t be the only one that likes the Vols. Phil Steele writes in his 2016 preview that UT could be a national title contender.

Lists are fun, and can stoke conversation in June.

Bring on September.

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