The Most Hated Coaches in the SEC
By Matt Smith
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It should come as no surprise that Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier rank very highly on this list.
Few individuals are more powerful in the South than SEC football coaches. They are worshipped by many, but hated by even more. Exactly how much hate these men generate is derived from a combination of on-field success and how they deal with both fans and the media. This is by no means a judge of character, nor is it my personal opinion, but rather a discussion of how they are perceived throughout the various fanbases in the conference.
With these coaches having recently put a bow on speeches and meetings season and set to embark on a brief vacation period, I figured when would be a better time to discuss how hated they are than when they’re somewhere far away? From least-hated to most-hated, here’s how the 14 SEC head coaches stack up.
14. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
The new kid on the block has brought some personality to the Aggies' head coaching position after two relatively dull head coaches in Mike Sherman and Dennis Franchione. Sumlin’s Houston teams were always must-see TV with their explosive offense. His youthful energy is apparent both at practice and at press conferences. Until the Aggies start ruining national title hopes of other SEC teams, he’ll continue to be a fan-favorite around the league.
13. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
It’s hard to hate the coach of a team that has won just one SEC game in the past two seasons. While Freeze wasn’t the coach of those Rebel teams, he’s expected to experience some growing pains early on as Ole Miss embarks on a major rebuilding project. His portrayal as Michael Oher’s high school coach and mentor in the movie "The Blind Side" adds to his likeability. Plus, if you walk around The Grove on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hard to think bad of anyone or anything in Oxford.
12. John L. Smith, Arkansas
The former Arkansas coach would rank much higher on this list than Smith, whose quirky mannerisms and inconsistent teams at Michigan State made him a media punching bag. He takes over in Fayetteville under extremely difficult circumstances, and whether you’re a Razorbacks fan or not, it’s hard not to cheer for one of the nicest guys in the sport. At age 63, this is likely his last chance to succeed at a major program after having failed in East Lansing. It’s hard not to pull for him to have a good season and remain at the helm of the Hogs in 2013.
11. Mark Richt, Georgia
You might think Richt has underachieved with the plethora of resources at his disposal in Athens, but it’s hard to say anything else bad about him. The touching story of he and his wife Katharyn adopting two children from Ukraine is well-documented, and he has also done mission work in Honduras. Urban Meyer may not be his biggest fan after the famous end zone celebration in Jacksonville in 2007, but the hate around the nation for Meyer far exceeds that of Richt.
10. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Other than Vanderbilt fans, Dooley has done little to rub opposing fanbases the wrong way in his two seasons in Knoxville. That’s probably because he has only beaten two other SEC teams other than the Commodores. His press conferences are always enjoyable with his folksy Southern accent and frequent American history references. His mother, Barbara, is often considered the First Lady of the South. Enjoy him while you can, however, as his seat is hotter than any in the conference heading into the season.
9. Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Kentucky football is rarely on the radar, sometimes even in Lexington. However, four straight bowl trips under Phillips and Rich Brooks made the Wildcats relevant for the first time since Tim Couch was still in the Bluegrass State. That said, many college football fans were hopeful of a marriage between Kentucky and former assistant Mike Leach. When Phillips was retained and Leach took the Washington State job, those dreams went up in smoke, at least for the time being. It would be nice if Kentucky football had some more flare to it, but Phillips is a players' coach and an overall likeable guy.
8. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Pinkel teams have been consistent winners in his decade-plus with the Tigers, which is fitting given his low-key style. A DUI arrest last November (remember the jumbo glasses of wine?) cast a bit of a dark shadow on Pinkel, but all was forgiven after his one-game suspension and a four-game winning streak to end the season. He doesn’t offer much in terms of quotes, but he’s well-respected for his exciting offense and consistent success in a state without a ton of talent.
7. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mullen took the bull by the horns upon his arrival in Starkville, both on and off the field. He is yet to refer to Ole Miss by its proper name, simply calling it "The School Up North". His involvement in the recruitment of Cam Newton and the reporting of possible violations at Auburn remains a bit of a mystery, but that saga is closed from the NCAA’s perspective. He talks a fairly big game, but it’s gotten the Bulldogs back in the news after a decade of irrelevance under Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom.
6. Will Muschamp, Florida
Prior to his arrival in Gainesville, Muschamp was known as that guy on the sidelines with wristbands who always made crazy facial expressions. Now, he holds perhaps the best job in college football, which automatically prevents him from ever being in good graces with many SEC fans. He’s not the most outgoing coach, but does have a dry sense of humor that will produce a good line or two here and there. That includes one at a Gator Club meeting last month about the lack of appeal of College Station, Tex., site of Florida’s first road game this season against Texas A&M.
5. James Franklin, Vanderbilt
If Mullen took the bull by the horns at Mississippi State, then Franklin kicked the bull in a sensitive area when he took over the Commodores 18 months ago. He’s brought some life to what was a dormant rivalry with Tennessee, and a war of words with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham after a game last season made headlines. His radio interview last month in which he stated he preferred his assistant coaches to have good-looking wives went viral quickly. Franklin has changed the culture in Nashville. Stirring the pot a little is just part of that process.
4. Les Miles, LSU
Yes, lady luck has befriended the Mad Hatter frequently. And yes, he won’t be winning any Pulitzer Prizes for his mastery of the English language. However, Miles is arguably the most unique personality in the game. Many feel he lacks the X’s and O’s knowledge of other great coaches, and his public criticism of Gunner Kiel’s leadership abilities after he reneged on a commitment to LSU to sign with Notre Dame was not his finest hour. While he can be a challenge for sportswriters who must transcribe audio recordings of him, he’s good for college football, and his program is likely to enter the season ranked No. 1 in the nation.
3. Gene Chizik, Auburn
The term hypocritical is most often used by Chizik’s detractors, primarily due to his constant references to his faith despite the Cam Newton scandal. He also ranks high on this list because he coaches the rival of the team with the largest fanbase in the South, Alabama. Similar to the perception that Miles won the 2007 national title with Nick Saban’s recruits, many thought Chizik just rode Newton and Gus Malzahn to the Tigers’ national title in 2010. However, consecutive undefeated seasons as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas in 2004 and 2005 should earn him the credibility that he deserves.
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
There is only one Spurrier. He’s coached in the SEC for 19 of the past 22 seasons, winning eight division titles, seven league championships, and the 1996 national title. He’s a quote machine, having taken verbal jabs at Florida State (Free Shoes University), Georgia (Ray Goof instead of Ray Goff), and Tennessee (can’t spell Citrus without U-T), among others. He speaks his mind on every subject, and while at Florida, was rarely hesitant to run up the score on a soundly beaten opponent. Love him or hate him, he changed football in the South, and is still going strong at age 67.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
When you’ve won two of the past three national titles, you’re likely to find yourself off the charts on the hate scale. In addition, Saban’s stances on oversigning and grayshirting players, although within NCAA guidelines, have drawn the ire of many. He is, of course, forever reviled in Baton Rouge for going to Alabama after having won a national title at LSU, and the circumstances of how he left both LSU and the Miami Dolphins were shady to say the least. That said, there’s no better coach in the sport right now than Saban. Being hated is a small price to pay for winning three national titles.