CBS Sports and 247Sports experts banded together earlier in the offseason to put together our annual coaching rankings. To the surprise of nobody, Alabama coach Nick Saban sat atop the college football world as the unquestioned leader of the pack.
Behind him, at least in the SEC anyway, there were some challenging questions facing all of us. Does Kirby Smart's success getting Georgia back into the national title scene on a virtually annual basis garner runner-up honors? How does Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher, who already has a national title -- albeit at Florida State -- stack up against the rest of the pack?
There are plenty of other extremely accomplished coaches in the league who deserve recognition for their respective success. Here's how the SEC coaches rank in our 2021 coaching rankings. Keep in mind that these are extremely fluid based on how talented coaches and teams are behind Saban -- who's widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college football history.
|Nick Saban (1 overall) : Is this really up for debate? Nope. The better debate would be discussing Saban vs. legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Saban has seven national titles (six at Alabama), nine SEC titles (seven at Alabama) and has recruited better than any coach in the sport's history despite what is the most cutthroat era in the history of college football. If any coach in the conference is even going to get into the discussion with Saban, it'll take roughly a decade of dominance to get there. Last year: 1 in SEC|
|Jimbo Fisher (6 overall): Fisher has built Texas A&M's roster back into one that looks like it can contend with the big boys after multiple years of top-tier classes. Sure, his three-year tenure didn't look much different than Kevin Sumlin's for the first two, but the Aggies went into Selection Sunday last season in the debate for the final College Football Playoff spot. His fourth season will bring tremendous expectations considering the wide open SEC West and forgiving schedule in front of him. Simply put, this year will go a long way toward where he fits during next year's coaching rankings. Last year: 4 in SEC|
|Kirby Smart (7 overall): It's extremely hard to win national titles, but Smart has done a great job of getting his Bulldogs in position to do just that since he took over prior to the 2016 season. They've entered Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a chance to win the SEC title and make the CFP in three of the last four seasons, including after the 2017 season when Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa broke their hearts. He has cashed in on the growing talent base in the Peach State and will enter this season with more hype than any Georgia team since the Herschel Walker era. Last year: 3 in SEC|
|Dan Mullen (10 overall): Florida has gone to a New Year's Six bowl in each of his three seasons in Gainesville, including last season when his Gators won the SEC East. He has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks including Dak Prescott at Mississippi State and Kyle Trask during last season's title run. He hasn't broken through that glass ceiling and led his team into national title contention during championship weekend, but the fact that he has brought Florida back from the depths of the Jim McElwain despair and once made Mississippi State competitive is more than enough for the college football world to recognize him as one of the best in the business. Last year: 5 in the SEC|
|Ed Orgeron (11 overall): There's no doubt that the 2020 season was a massive disappointment for Orgeron's Tigers. Granted, following up what I consider the best college football season of all time in 2019 isn't an easy thing to do. But let's be real -- LSU was a non-factor from the moment it took the field in the season-opener vs. Mississippi State. This is a tricky year for Orgeron. Sustaining success is much more difficult than having success, which is what creates a line of delineation between good and elite coaches. We will know what Orgeron learned during last season's trials and tribulations after the 2021 season -- which is a huge one for his ultra-talented Tigers. Last year: 2 in the SEC|
|Mark Stoops (22 overall): Kentucky has only contended for the SEC East title once during Stoops' tenure in Lexington, but there's no denying that his work since taking over in 2013 has been remarkable. The Wildcats have been to five straight bowl games, the last three of which have been wins, and posted a 10-win season and No. 11 finish in 2018. This isn't at a traditional football power. It's at Kentucky ... a "basketball school." Stoops has done a lot to shed that label and make football a huge deal at Kentucky. Last year: 7 in the SEC|
|Bryan Harsin (27 overall): Yes, it's Harsin's first season at Auburn. But there's no doubt that his experience and success as a head coach speaks for itself. He was 69-19 in seven seasons at Boise State -- a job that has way more pressure than virtually every other Group of Five gig. That matters -- especially at a place like Auburn where there is an expectation of success not only on a national level, but within the confines of a football-crazed state dominated by Alabama fans. This season will be big for Harsin. It'll let us know if he was a big fish in a small pond at Boise State or if he can swim with the sharks in the dangerous SEC West. Last year: N/A in the SEC|
|Lane Kiffin (30 overall): If you're looking for the most polarizing coach in the SEC, Kiffin is it. Yes, even more polarizing than Saban. On one side, there is the camp that thinks Kiffin's offensive acumen and recruiting success will lead Ole Miss back into SEC West contention. The other side of the aisle seems to think that he's in over his head and is more interested in sizzle than eating the steak. But let's be real, he's had a reasonable amount of success as a head coach and offensive coordinator in major college football, is appealing to high school prospects and has the Rebels set up to be one of the most dangerous teams in the country in 2021. Last year: 9 in the SEC|
|Mike Leach (33 overall): The pirate had an up-and-down season in Starkville in 2020. It started out with a bang in the big win over defending national champion LSU, cratered when the Bulldogs lost seven of the next eight games and gained some steam at the end with back-to-back wins to close things out -- including the win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. Leach brought Washington State and Texas Tech to not only national relevance, but legitimate threats to college football's best. That's nothing to scoff at. Last year: 8 in the SEC|
|Eli Drinkwitz (43 overall): Missouri's first season with Drinkwitz at the helm was pretty darn solid. The Tigers went 5-5 and earned a bid in the Music City Bowl (which was canceled due to COVID-19). The passing game showed promise under quarterback Connor Bazelak, but the defense needs some work. With that said, Drinkwitz has only been a head coach in FBS football for two seasons and is still getting his feet wet. Last year: 12 in the SEC|
|Sam Pittman (50 overall): Arkansas definitely took on the hard-nosed mindset of its new coach last season when it re-established itself as a physical force that might not beat you, but will beat you up. The 3-2 start to the season gave way to four straight losses to close out the season, which is a bit concerning. But this was Pittman's first season as a head coach since his stint at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. A little bit of a learning curve should be expected now that he's entering Year 2 in the SEC. Last year: 14 in the SEC|
|Josh Heupel (52 overall): There's no doubting that Heupel's offensive prowess was a big reason UCF stayed on the map after Scott Frost left. But can he handle it in the SEC? Tennessee is about as dysfunctional as any program in the country, and the uphill battle facing Heupel is compounded by the fact that Georgia and Florida are light years ahead of the Volunteers in terms of overall team talent. With that said, his 28-8 record in three seasons with the Knights should give Vol fans hope that things will finally turn around. Last year: N/A in the SEC|
|Clark Lea (63 overall): If anybody knows what it takes to be the head coach at Vanderbilt, it's Lea. The Vanderbilt alum understands the challenges that face the down-trodden program and can sell it as a great opportunity to not only compete against the best of the best, but do so in a great location while earning a degree that will last a lifetime. Lea's success as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame should give Commodore fans hope that they can play in bowl games on a somewhat annual basis. Last year: N/A in the SEC|
|Shane Beamer (65 overall): South Carolina took a big gamble on Beamer, who hasn't even been a solo offensive coordinator, much less a head coach. But he has experience at South Carolina from 2007-10, the last of which resulted in the program's only SEC East title. He has the family pedigree as the son of legendary ex-Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and the backing of a fanbase that is one of the most loyal and dedicated on the planet -- regardless of sport. Don't judge Beamer by his win/loss record in Year 1. Judge him on the trajectory of the program and how comfortable he is making the high-pressure decisions that are part of a head coach's job description. Last season: N/A in the SEC|