SEC coach rankings 2022: Brian Kelly makes strong debut, Kirby Smart ticks up after national title win

Tue, Jul 5, 2022
NCAAF News (AP)

SEC coach rankings 2022: Brian Kelly makes strong debut, Kirby Smart ticks up after national title win

Legendary former Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called July "talkin' season," and now it's time to talk about coaching acumen as the 2022 season approaches. The SEC is loaded with top-tier coaches, including the greatest coach of all time in Alabama's Nick Saban and the reigning national champion Kirby Smart of Georgia. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher also has a national title to his name and first-year LSU coach Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to the meaningful postseason three times during his tenure with the Fighting Irish.'

There is also plenty of intrigue elsewhere surrounding coaches across the league. Lane Kiffin led Ole Miss to the Sugar Bowl last year, Auburn nearly fired Bryan Harsin after one year and Florida nabbed Billy Napier from Louisiana after firing Dan Mullen.'

So how do the SEC coaches stack up against each other? Here are the current rankings as were voted on earlier in the offseason by the AP Sports staff.

Complete Power Five coach rankings:''|'

2022 SEC Coach Rankings
1
Alabama
Nick Saban (1 overall): Alabama didn't win the national championship last year, but that's just a minor hiccup for the greatest coach in college football history. Saban has six national championships since taking over the Crimson Tide in 2009 -- seven overall when counting his 2003 title at LSU -- and has won the SEC West 14 times during his career. He is the five-time SEC coach of the year and has been handed the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award given to the nation's top coach twice. Last year: 1 in SEC
2
Georgia
Kirby Smart (2 overall): Smart led the Bulldogs to the program's first national title iin 41 years when his squad topped Alabama in Indianapolis in January, and he has the program set up for long-term success after stockpiling talent in the Peach State. The Dawgs have four SEC East titles, one SEC title and two national championship appearances since Smart took over in 2016 as a first-time head coach. It's really hard to sustain success, especially early in a coach's career, but Smart did it quickly and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Last year: 3 in SEC
3
Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher (5 overall): Fisher became the first Saban disciple to beat his boss when his Aggies won a 41-38 thriller last season in College Station. That came one year after they entered Selection Sunday with a legit chance to make the College Football Playoff. He hasn't reached the top at Texas A&M, but did win the natty at Florida State after the 2013 season -- which has to be factored in to his ranking. He has upped the recruiting at his new gig to levels the program has never seen, and will likely enter the 2022 season with a top-10 ranking. Last year: 2 in SEC
4
LSU
Brian Kelly (7 overall): The first-year coach of the Tigers led Notre Dame to two CFP berths and a spot in a BCS National Championship Game during his 12-year tenure in South Bend, Indiana. That success came despite academic and geographic challenges that make it difficult to sustain success at an elite level with the Fighting Irish. He is 263-96-2 overall in his career (not including vacated wins) and has been named Home Depot Coach of the Year three times. Last year: N/A in the SEC
5
Kentucky
Mark Stoops (16 overall): Is there a more underrated coach in the country than Stoops? It's doubtful. His only sub-.500 season since 2015 was during the COVID-19 year in 2020, which can be excused to an extent due to the uncertainty that programs had to deal with for nine months. His Wildcats have two 10-win seasons and have gone to six straight bowl games -- with four wins -- during his time in Lexington, Kentucky. Football used to be a fall distraction prior to the start of basketball season for Big Blue Nation. Not anymore. Last year: 6 in the SEC
6
Ole Miss
Lane Kiffin (18 overall): Kiffin was a joke after getting fired at USC in 2013, but he transformed his career as an assistant under Saban from 2014-16. That launched him to Florida Atlantic, where he went 26-13, had two double-digit win seasons and won two division titles. He moved on to Ole Miss and led the Rebels to a 10-win season and Sugar Bowl berth in just his second season in Oxford. Last year: 8 in the SEC
7
Arkansas
Sam Pittman (22 overall): In just his second year as coach at a four-year college, Pittman led the Razorbacks to a 9-4 record and top-25 ranking -- the first time they have appeared in the final AP Top 25 since 2011. Sure, the 11-9-1 record from 1992-93 at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community college was nice, too, but that pales in comparison to what he's done in just two seasons in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Not only has Pittman enjoyed success on the field, but he has made Arkansas a desirable program for high school and transfer prospects. Last year: 11 in the SEC
8
Miss. State
Mike Leach (26 overall): The "pirate" hasn't transformed the Bulldogs into SEC West contenders yet, but he did manage to post a seven-win regular season in 2021, which included wins over Auburn, Kentucky and Texas A&M -- all of which were ranked at the time. He has developed quarterback Will Rogers into one of the nation's most prolific passers and is always a headache for opposing defensive coordinators. Last year: 9 in the SEC
9
Florida
Billy Napier (32 overall): The Gators are counting on Napier succeeding in Gainesville in the same way that he did in his four seasons as the head coach at Louisiana. He led the Ragin' Cajuns to three straight double-digit win seasons from 2019-21, a share of the division title in all four of his seasons at the helm and finished ranked in the top 20 in each of the last two years. He has never been a head coach at the Power Five level, but his brief track record of success is more than enough to give Gator fans hope. Last year: N/A in the SEC
10
Tennessee
Josh Heupel (33 overall): Tennessee fans have been waiting to get excited about football for more than a decade, and Heupel did just that in his first season on Rocky Top. His 7-6 record doesn't jump off of the page, but he developed quarterback Hendon Hooker into a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender heading into 2022 and has established a hurry-up offense that produces more fireworks than a July 4 party. When you factor in his 28-8 record in three seasons at UCF, it's understandable to be excited about what he can do in the SEC. Last year: 12 in the SEC
11
South Carolina
Shane Beamer (41 overall): Beamer's first season as a head coach in college football ended with Beamer getting a mayonnaise bath after a win in the Duke's Mayo Bowl -- that despite struggling to find consistency at the quarterback position all year. He lured ex-Heisman Trophy front-runner Spencer Rattler to Columbia to fix that problem and reeled in a top-25 recruiting class on the heels of the 7-6 season. The SEC East is becoming a tough neighborhood, which will challenge Beamer moving forward. Last year: 14 in the SEC
12
Missouri
Eli Drinkwitz (46 overall): There's a limited sample size for Drinkwitz, and he still has plenty of work to do with the Tigers after going 11-12 in two seasons. But he has earned bowl berths in both of those seasons, went 12-1 in his first and only year at Appalachian State in 2019 and led the Mountaineers to a No. 19 final ranking in the AP Top 25. Is he a great Group of Five coach or a rising star in the Power Five? We don't know the answer to that question just yet. Last year: 10 in the SEC
13
Auburn
Bryan Harsin (48 overall): Year 1 was a disaster for Harsin at Auburn. The Tigers finished 6-7 (their first sub-.500 season since 2012), which was so unacceptable on The Plains that a group of influential boosters attempted a coup in attempt tpo fire him the week of National Signing Day in February. He has had a hard time retaining assistants and isn't recruiting anywhere close to a level that he needs to in order to win the SEC. With that said, he did manage to beat an Ole Miss team that went to the Sugar Bowl and a very solid Arkansas team in 2021. Last year: 7 in the SEC
14
Vanderbilt
Clark Lea (57 overall): The first year for the up-and-coming coach of the Commodores didn't go anywhere close to plan. Lea went 2-10, winless in the SEC and had the worst offenses and defenses in the conference. He hasn't transformed Vanderbilt into a destination for high-end talent and has a massive uphill climb to even become relevant in the rapidly improving SEC East. Last year: 13 in the SEC
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