Mike Strange: Spurrier, Chizik make the grade in SEC

Mike Strange

Final exams still await, but it's not too early to grade the SEC football coaches on their body of regular-season work.

When the final standings vary considerably from the preseason projections, as was the case in 2010, it leads to some interesting grades.

I don't see the final marks changing much after the bowls are tallied in. Maybe a plus or minus here and there.

Here's a peek at my gradebook:

The As: No matter what happens Saturday in the Georgia Dome, Steve Spurrier and Gene Chizik go to the head of the class.

Spurrier finally pushed South Carolina through to the SEC East title, the program's first. If he can upset Auburn, the Gamecocks will play in their first BCS bowl.

Chizik may be the national coach of the year for getting Auburn to 12-0. Nobody saw it coming. His best strategy was signing Cam Newton.

Bobby Petrino had a very strong year at Arkansas. The Razorbacks improved from 8-5 to 10-2 overall and from 3-5 to 6-2 in the SEC. They'll likely earn the program's first BCS bowl (Sugar) bid.

Dan Mullen of Mississippi State also gets an A. The Bulldogs went from 5-7 his first year to 8-4 his second. State is going bowling for only the second time in 10 years and Mullen is already being mentioned in coaching searches.

The Bs: The loss to Arkansas on Saturday dropped Les Miles one letter. For all the grief Miles gets, LSU still improved from 9-3 in 2009 to 10-2 and beat Florida and Alabama.

The November winning steak upgraded Derek Dooley to a B in his maiden voyage at Tennessee. If he'd had only 11 men on the field that last play in Baton Rouge he'd get a B-plus.

No SEC coach faced more roster issues than Dooley, taking over as the third coach in three years.

Hanging in there at 6-6 was solid work, especially after the team hit 2-6.

Dooley fares relatively well in the 2010 national class of first-year coaches.

Of 23 FBS jobs that came open, just eight are bowl eligible and only four - Florida State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech and South Florida - take a winning record into their bowl.

Jimbo Fisher should be the national first-year coach of the year for getting Florida State to the ACC championship game at 9-3, 6-2.

Lane Kiffin, you ask? He's 7-5 with UCLA left to play. If he wins, the probation-bound Trojans match the 5-4 Pac-10 mark Pete Carroll had last year.

The Cs: Decorated coaches with strong track records, Nick Saban and Mark Richt have seen better days than 2010.

Expecting Alabama to repeat as national champions (which several publications did) was unfairly setting the bar too high. But the Tide still under-achieved, losing to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn.

Richt dropped a game from 7-5 last year to 6-6 and barely got Georgia qualified for a 14th consecutive bowl game.

A sour ending Saturday leaves Joker Phillips with an average grade for his first season at Kentucky. He took over a 7-5 team and finished 6-6, leaving Wildcat fans wanting more - especially an end to the losing streak to Tennessee.

The Ds: Florida skidding from 12-0 last year (regular season) to 7-5 is one of the bigger national stories of the 2010 season. It might be over-simplification, but Urban Meyer never seemed to adjust to not having Tim Tebow around.

Ole Miss was expected to drop off from 8-4, but all the way to 4-8? Houston Nutt won only one SEC game and even lost to Vanderbilt.

Speaking of which, Robbie Caldwell inherited a 2-10 program from Bobby Johnson and produced a 2-10 season. Vandy's administration apparently didn't give Caldwell high marks either since he's already gone.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike 44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 22

volbald writes:

Not only has Urban Myer been unable to adjust to life without Tim Tebow, he hasn't adjusted to life without OC Dan Mullen (Miss. State) or DC Charlie Strong (Louisville). And UF has 5 star athletes at every position. Who says coaching is underrated? Look for UT and Tyler Bray to inflict some damage on UF next season.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

in response to AF1A4:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thank you for putting that in a very nice way.

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

The uncanny parallel is Dooley's first year and Saban's first season, at least record-wise.

tnfanincali writes:

Regarding Fulmer, that is all speculation. It all depends on who he hired to replace the Clawfence, if he ever got rid of the guy. Or if the Clawfence ever got off the ground... Obviously we"ll never know, but I think we'd still be a middle of the pack SEC east team and maybe second this year with the attrition. Best case we'd probably lose to Auburn in the title game. Not trying to talk smack on Fulmer. He did great things for the program. But I think a change was necessary eventually and these growing pains will go away in the not so distant future, and I firmly believe that we may just have ourselves a great coach and bright blue sky's ahead with Dooley, if not a dynasty in the making!

Jakevol writes:

Seems the Vols have found them a QB. This will be major going into 2011.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to Jakevol:

Seems the Vols have found them a QB. This will be major going into 2011.

Yep.

OrangePride writes:

Well, I still give Dooley a B+ because he managed a bowl season with about 65 scholarships and took over a program in total chaos. I give Kiffen a D- or F. All those 4*/5* kids and a not exceptionally tough schedule, he underproduced bigtime. Lose to Notre Dame? Sheesh. As for Houston Nutt, didn't this same thing happen at Arkansas? Start out great and then slowly sink further and further down the standings each year? I have to think this is a D coach at best. But it is Great to Be a Tennessee Vol!

OrangePride writes:

in response to tnfanincali:

Regarding Fulmer, that is all speculation. It all depends on who he hired to replace the Clawfence, if he ever got rid of the guy. Or if the Clawfence ever got off the ground... Obviously we"ll never know, but I think we'd still be a middle of the pack SEC east team and maybe second this year with the attrition. Best case we'd probably lose to Auburn in the title game. Not trying to talk smack on Fulmer. He did great things for the program. But I think a change was necessary eventually and these growing pains will go away in the not so distant future, and I firmly believe that we may just have ourselves a great coach and bright blue sky's ahead with Dooley, if not a dynasty in the making!

Exactly correct tnfan. There are way too many if's, unknowns, and maybes in all these "Fulmer would have done such and such" comments. The fact is, Dooley is here, he did a great job with this group this year, and things look really positive going forward. We should all be behind this staff and team all the way....they left everything they had on the field. And just by the way, Dooley kept his promise.....they were "a fun team to watch."

vol45 writes:

Strange (no pun) how things turn out; the Auburn fans booed Chizik when he arrived in Auburn.

vol49 writes:

in response to bankofdad3:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Vicky?

CrankE writes:

D is generous for the meyer. The real laugh for me is what Jeremy Foley (UF AD) must be thinking right now. "Damn! I should have let him retire."

One more season like that and Meyer won't have to worry about retiring.

All the same, I hope he stays around for a long time. Darker days are ahead for the Gators.

mountainbrook writes:

in response to bankofdad3:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Not with Nick Stephens at QB. Bray would not even be here.

Tau_of_Tennessee writes:

Two years from now we will be realizing we should have been burning cigars instead of mattresses when Kiffin decided to leave.

Orange_Juiced writes:

in response to mountainbrook:

Not with Nick Stephens at QB. Bray would not even be here.

good point...'s why it's impossible to say where we would be in any scenario. Too many factors and intangibles. Another reason to give the CPF thing a rest and get behind CDD. He's our coach...did a pretty fair job of salvaging a recruiting class and a 6-6 season...while returning some class and integrity back to the football Vols. IMO in January 2010 the glass was empty. At 6-6...it's at least half full. That's for those of us who are seeing great things coming in the future.

stratocaster54 writes:

IMHO Steve Spurrier's success this year is as much to do with the East being severely down as it is to with his team's talent or his own coaching abilities. Granted SC is a much better team than usual playing with a lot of upper classman, but in reality, they basically have 2 players - Jeffery and Lattimore, who have single handedly changed SC's ability to close the deal and win. Still, SC's winning in the East has more to do with a "perfect storm" of SC being better than usual (fighting KY and Vandy for the bottom half) and the traditional powers of Fla., UT and UGA being at one of their respective lowest points in school history. For example, UGA and UT both had to win this past weekend just to get to .500. Fla. doesn't have Tebow to pull off a miracle and is playing 18 freshmen. UGA was horrible at the being of the season when SC played them and is still working to improve. UT has been through 3 coaches in 3 years and is starting 15 freshmen and has no depth at critical O and D line positions. Even Bama (lost 3 in the SEC) isn't the same team as it was. So forgive me if I don't believe in the Old Ball Coach's resurrection (and I’d argue that Myers has proved anyone can win at Fla. with all that instate talent) and SC’s second (1st really) coming. SC success is just a temporary blimp of the radar of SEC tradition! The East will return to as it was w/in 2 years. The stars are aligned for SC now and this is as good as it is every going to get for them. In closing, I'll just remind everyone that if SC is so good, then why aren't they ranked higher than 18th? When was the last time the winner of the East wasn't ranked in the top 10 and in a serious hunt for the NC or at least a top 5 finish?

CrankE writes:

in response to stratocaster54:

IMHO Steve Spurrier's success this year is as much to do with the East being severely down as it is to with his team's talent or his own coaching abilities. Granted SC is a much better team than usual playing with a lot of upper classman, but in reality, they basically have 2 players - Jeffery and Lattimore, who have single handedly changed SC's ability to close the deal and win. Still, SC's winning in the East has more to do with a "perfect storm" of SC being better than usual (fighting KY and Vandy for the bottom half) and the traditional powers of Fla., UT and UGA being at one of their respective lowest points in school history. For example, UGA and UT both had to win this past weekend just to get to .500. Fla. doesn't have Tebow to pull off a miracle and is playing 18 freshmen. UGA was horrible at the being of the season when SC played them and is still working to improve. UT has been through 3 coaches in 3 years and is starting 15 freshmen and has no depth at critical O and D line positions. Even Bama (lost 3 in the SEC) isn't the same team as it was. So forgive me if I don't believe in the Old Ball Coach's resurrection (and I’d argue that Myers has proved anyone can win at Fla. with all that instate talent) and SC’s second (1st really) coming. SC success is just a temporary blimp of the radar of SEC tradition! The East will return to as it was w/in 2 years. The stars are aligned for SC now and this is as good as it is every going to get for them. In closing, I'll just remind everyone that if SC is so good, then why aren't they ranked higher than 18th? When was the last time the winner of the East wasn't ranked in the top 10 and in a serious hunt for the NC or at least a top 5 finish?

Amen to that. It's worth pointing out that UF is just one game ABOVE .500 while UT and UGA both just made it to .500.

When Jeffrey and Lattimore go, USC goes back to the barnyard. Spurrier should go while he can.

murrayvol writes:

in response to vol45:

Strange (no pun) how things turn out; the Auburn fans booed Chizik when he arrived in Auburn.

They'll boo him again if this season gets vacated. Fans are like that.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Tau_of_Tennessee:

Two years from now we will be realizing we should have been burning cigars instead of mattresses when Kiffin decided to leave.

Most of us are already there Tau.

OrangePride writes:

in response to Tau_of_Tennessee:

Two years from now we will be realizing we should have been burning cigars instead of mattresses when Kiffin decided to leave.

LOLOL!!! How funny is that! (But true.)

VolsDoc81TX writes:

Well, I feel pretty good about my own prediction for the Volunteers this year. I predicted a 12-0 regular season....not too shabby to only be wrong 6 times! haha. I expect to go 12-0 every year now that the season is 12 games...absolutely no reason whatsoever for me to be a "realist". My career requires me to keep reality based...my enthusiasm for Volunteer sports does not.

I did much much better than people I know who are fans of the usc trojans, the texas longhorns, the tide, and especially the gators and the commodores. The difference between those people and Me is that every day that I wake up, I am a Volunteer...they are something much less :-)

Has absolutely nothing to do with the article, but I do not care....very glad for our team and our new coach...football is much more exciting again!

Go Vols!
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all you Big Orange fans out there!!

gnm53108 writes:

in response to VolsDoc81TX:

Well, I feel pretty good about my own prediction for the Volunteers this year. I predicted a 12-0 regular season....not too shabby to only be wrong 6 times! haha. I expect to go 12-0 every year now that the season is 12 games...absolutely no reason whatsoever for me to be a "realist". My career requires me to keep reality based...my enthusiasm for Volunteer sports does not.

I did much much better than people I know who are fans of the usc trojans, the texas longhorns, the tide, and especially the gators and the commodores. The difference between those people and Me is that every day that I wake up, I am a Volunteer...they are something much less :-)

Has absolutely nothing to do with the article, but I do not care....very glad for our team and our new coach...football is much more exciting again!

Go Vols!
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all you Big Orange fans out there!!

Hahaha

You're not alone VolsDoc.

Merry Christmas to you too.

CroKev writes:

in response to stratocaster54:

IMHO Steve Spurrier's success this year is as much to do with the East being severely down as it is to with his team's talent or his own coaching abilities. Granted SC is a much better team than usual playing with a lot of upper classman, but in reality, they basically have 2 players - Jeffery and Lattimore, who have single handedly changed SC's ability to close the deal and win. Still, SC's winning in the East has more to do with a "perfect storm" of SC being better than usual (fighting KY and Vandy for the bottom half) and the traditional powers of Fla., UT and UGA being at one of their respective lowest points in school history. For example, UGA and UT both had to win this past weekend just to get to .500. Fla. doesn't have Tebow to pull off a miracle and is playing 18 freshmen. UGA was horrible at the being of the season when SC played them and is still working to improve. UT has been through 3 coaches in 3 years and is starting 15 freshmen and has no depth at critical O and D line positions. Even Bama (lost 3 in the SEC) isn't the same team as it was. So forgive me if I don't believe in the Old Ball Coach's resurrection (and I’d argue that Myers has proved anyone can win at Fla. with all that instate talent) and SC’s second (1st really) coming. SC success is just a temporary blimp of the radar of SEC tradition! The East will return to as it was w/in 2 years. The stars are aligned for SC now and this is as good as it is every going to get for them. In closing, I'll just remind everyone that if SC is so good, then why aren't they ranked higher than 18th? When was the last time the winner of the East wasn't ranked in the top 10 and in a serious hunt for the NC or at least a top 5 finish?

Good post. This tells me that SC will enjoy a couple of years in the sun but it also tells me that the Vols aren't the only ones with a young team. The future is bright for UT but maybe even moreso for UF and Bama. The question marks are UGA, Auburn, Arkansas, and possibly Miss. State (actually MSU will go the route of SC once Mullen goes to greener pastures [if I was Miami, I'd be after him]).

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