Earlier this year, I was invited by Garnet and Black Attack’s C&F to participate in the S.E.C. Power Poll, the first installment of which will be forthcoming shortly, here on the eve of the season.
For the preseason installment of the poll, C&F has asked us not to rank the teams (about which we have nothing but suppositions at this juncture), but to rank the coaches. Please bear in mind that these rankings are relative; I honestly don’t believe there’s a truly bad head coach in the Southeastern Conference, so the fact that a guy ranks eleventh or twelfth in the league doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t one of the top 40 or 45 guys in the game overall. That said, here is the first installment of my . . .
Ranking of the Coaches in the S.E.C.
12. Rich Brooks (Kentucky): Once again, somebody had to bring up the rear, even if his coaching credentials are legitimate. Coach Brooks took over a moribund Oregon program in 1977 and, despite going 2-9 in each of his first two seasons, he had the Ducks routinely winning six games a year by his third autumn in Eugene. His last six seasons on the job saw Oregon attending four bowl games, including a Tournament of Roses, which wasn’t bad for a program that had been to two bowl games between 1958 and 1988. Coach Brooks brought about a similar turnaround at Kentucky, but he finishes in last place because he took his time getting the Wildcats back to respectability. U.K. was 7-5 in its last season under Guy Morriss, but the Blue and White slumped to 4-8 in 2003 and 2-9 in 2004. Compared to the immediate impact made by such coaches as Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier, Rich Brooks’s pace was positively glacial, which drops him to the lowest rung on a ladder that starts pretty high up in the first place.
11. Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt): Once again, I hate to leave Coach Johnson languishing at such a comparatively low level, because he has made the Commodores considerably more competitive. When you look at analogous programs in other conferences (Baylor in the Big 12, Duke in the A.C.C., Stanford in the Pac-10, and Temple in pretty much every league to which they’ve ever belonged), you realize just how tough an out Vandy has become. No one can take the ‘Dores for granted and an annual upset of some sort appears almost inevitable. However, Coach Johnson hasn’t quite gotten the Commies over the hump and the lack of talent on hand in Nashville this deep into his tenure as a recruiter forces me to consign him to the No. 11 spot in the S.E.C., even though he probably would be producing victories at a more than respectable rate at any number of other programs.
10. Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State): The strength of the coaching in the conference is attested to by the fact that the reigning S.E.C. coach of the year barely made the top ten. It’s hard not to root for Coach Croom, who inherited about as bad a situation as you could imagine when he took over a probation-shackled program with little or no longstanding tradition located in an out-of-the-way backwater that is closer to the middle of nowhere than to the epicenter of any recruiting hotbeds. The feel good story of the Southeastern Conference in 2007 was a Bear Bryant disciple winning his first bowl game in the Liberty Bowl, where his coaching mentor won his last bowl game 25 years before. Nevertheless, very little about the Western Division Bulldogs’ resurgence suggests permanence, so, while M.S.U.’s success was more than just luck, the Starkville squad does not yet appear truly to have turned the corner.