For the better part of this month, we on the SEC Blog have compiled the best players at each position over the past decade and debated the selections. We brought back to mind names like Eric Berry, Julio Jones and Tim Tebow. But in the process of doing so, we neglected the men in charge.
Today, SEC reporters Edward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough look back to 2006 and debate the best head coaches of the past 10 years. No. 1, as you might imagine, was a unanimous selection: Nick Saban. The rest of Aschoff's top five was: 2. Urban Meyer, 3. Les Miles, 4. Steve Spurrier, 5. Phillip Fulmer.
Alex Scarborough: If only Urban Meyer had stayed in the SEC, what might have been? That's my first thought when looking at your top five, Edward. But Meyer didn't last and he didn't do enough in his six seasons at Florida to surpass the accomplishments of Saban. Not even close, really. If you only count Saban's first six years at Alabama to make it fair to Meyer, then Saban still has one more national championship. And even then Meyer's 2010 season was a major dud to me. Remember, the worst Saban has done since his inaugural season at Alabama in 2007 was lose three games (which is crazy, by the way).
Overall, I think you have a solid group. Where I did take issue, however, was with the order of Nos. 3-5, and there are two ways of looking at this. One is to look only at the time coached in the past decade, and then I'd boot Fulmer and move Mark Richt into the top five. The other option is to look at any coach's full body of work so long as a portion of his career came in the past 10 years. Under that line of thinking, I think you move Spurrier all the way up to No. 2, put Meyer at No. 3, Miles at No. 4 and Fulmer at No. 5. Why move Spurrier up so high? Because I'm going to count what he did at Florida, which was go 122-27-1 in 12 seasons. All he did was win a national championship, six SEC titles and five SEC Coach of the Year Awards as a Gator. If there's an SEC Mount Rushmore, he's on it and he deserves to be just behind Saban on this list.
Other than that, I have no problem with your other honorable mentions of Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, Gene Chizik and Gary Pinkel, although I'd throw one more name into the mix: James Franklin. What he did at Vanderbilt was unheard of. To take a program with no history of winning, not the greatest facilities and a roadblock from the admissions department and turn it into a team capable of back-to-back nine-win seasons is a serious bit of coaching. He was only at Vanderbilt for three seasons, of course, but what he did there should be acknowledged.
Aschoff: As far as Spurrier is concerned, I based his selection strictly on what he did at South Carolina, because he spent a decade there during our time span and prior to that tried his hand in the NFL. Regarding Fulmer, I carried over his tenure prior to 2006 and not Spurrier's because his time at Tennessee was uninterrupted.
And good point about Franklin. He completely transformed Vandy's program, if only for a couple of seasons. He helped direct the Dores to consecutive Top 25 finishes for the first time in the 124-year history of the program, and his 24 wins tied Dan McGugin for the most by a Vandy coach in his first three seasons. Oh, and he took the Dores to three bowl games in his three years with the program. Before his arrival, Vandy had been to just four bowl games total. Even better, Franklin's 16-4 record over the last 20 games of his tenure was second only to -- wait for it -- Nick Saban at Alabama.
Good on you, Alex. Franklin definitely should have been in the "just missed the cut" list. I actually thought you would come at me for putting Gene Chizik on it. I battled with that because he was fired two seasons after that undefeated national championship season in 2010. And Chizik was fired after going an embarrassing 3-9 on the Plains. Outside of that Cam Newton-led 2010 season, Chizik won eight games twice (2009 and 2011). He also went 7-9 in SEC play in those two seasons. So without that national championship, Chizik doesn't sniff the list. However, it just didn't feel right leaving off a coach who won a national title and went 14-0 in the process.
Scarborough: You know, I did go back and forth on whether Chizik should be mentioned. The poor way in which he left Auburn shouldn't be ignored, and you can make the argument that without Cam Newton that 2010 team finishes in the middle of the pack of the West. But when you're wearing a championship ring, you're allowed in the conversation. That doesn't mean we have to believe Chizik is one of the top five coaches of the past decade -- I'd rank him last if we ranked the honorable mentions, too -- but you have to give credit where credit is due.