SEC loaded with fine coaching in 2012

SEC loaded with fine coaching in 2012

December 4th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin talks with Florida coach Will Muschamp, left, after Florida's three-point win in early September in A&M's first Southeastern Conference game.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Six SEC coach-of-year possibilities

Alabama's Nick Saban

Platform: After losing 13 of 22 starters from last season's BCS champions, the Crimson Tide ascended to the top after an opening rout of Michigan and are on the doorstep of a third BCS title in four years.

Stump speech: "We had a young team coming back. We really only have nine seniors on the team, and a lot of people had new roles. For this team to go back to the national championship game is a little unprecedented."

Florida's Will Muschamp

Platform: Muschamp inherited a sizable mess from Urban Meyer and went 7-6 last season, but he is 11-1 this year with a resume like no other with wins over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State.

Stump speech: "We shot ourselves in the foot too many times in Jacksonville. Otherwise we would be sitting here undefeated. That's the bottom line. Our resume speaks for itself. We'll play anyone anywhere."

Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze

Platform: Ole Miss was the worst of a 12-team SEC in 2011 and was expected to be 14th this year. Freeze's Rebels defeated Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State, and they played Texas A&M and LSU close.

Stump speech: "I knew that we had some challenges, and the first thing was getting them to care and to play with great attitude and effort. I can tell you that in all 12 games, we have played with attitude and effort."

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier

Platform: After guiding the Gamecocks to a record 11 wins last season, Spurrier is on the verge of matching it despite playing down the stretch without quarterback Connor Shaw and tailback Marcus Lattimore.

Stump speech: "We still are trying to win the SEC. We beat Georgia and lost two after that, so we've pretty much had identical years. If we win our bowl game, we'll have the exact same year we had last year, which isn't bad."

Texas A and M's Kevin Sumlin

Platform: The Aggies were picked fifth in the SEC West and dropped a heartbreaking opener to Florida, but they rebounded to win 10 of their last 11 games, including a memorable 29-24 upset of top-ranked Alabama.

Stump speech: "We accomplished a lot without a bye week, and it was important to finish what we started. I'm particularly happy for the seniors, who came into a new league with new coaches and won 10 games for the first time since 1998."

Vanderbilt's James Franklin

Platform: The notion that Vandy wouldn't equal last season's six-win success was shattered when the Commodores reeled off six straight to finish 8-4. Only Dan McGugin in 1904-05 had a better two-year start.

Stump speech: "It's significant that we built on last year. We won six games and went to a bowl, and this year we've won eight games and still have one game left. They take pride in doing the little things, and so far so good."

The Southeastern Conference football championship game between Alabama and Georgia this past Saturday came down to four points or 5 yards, depending on the measurement system.

Determining the SEC coach of the year is every bit as chaotic and close.

Six league mentors have provided legitimate reasons to claim the honor, and that doesn't even include Georgia's Mark Richt, who guided the Bulldogs to the East title and came within a whisker of knocking off the Crimson Tide. Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida's Will Muschamp, Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Vanderbilt's James Franklin have all overseen special seasons.

Missouri's Gary Pinkel believes Sumlin or Franklin should get the award.

"There are a lot of good coaches in this league, but those two guys have done a tremendous job and would be very worthy of that honor," Pinkel said. "They deserve a lot of credit and are very, very good coaches."

Sumlin was voted Monday as SEC coach of the year by the Associated Press, but the league coaches will vote Wednesday on their top peer.

According to Chuck Dunlap, the media relations director for SEC football, the league will announce its all-conference teams today, the individual awards Wednesday and the all-freshman team Thursday. Coaches will vote, and they are not allowed to pick themselves or their players.

A year after coaching the Houston Cougars to 13 victories, including a bowl rout of Penn State, Sumlin inherited an Aggies program coming off a 7-6 season and picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Texas A&M instead has posted a 10-2 record and has Heisman Trophy finalist Johnny Manziel, a redshirt freshman quarterback who has set an SEC standard with 4,600 total yards.

Franklin made headlines a year ago in his debut by leading Vanderbilt to a 6-6 regular season, and he has surpassed that this year at 8-4. Should the Commodores defeat North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl on New Year's Eve, they would become the school's first nine-win team since 1915.

"I think it's unbelievable what James has done there," said former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, who was hired Monday as Florida's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. "The thing about this league is that your schedule has to be right, and you have to catch some teams going the other way as you're going up. That has nothing to do with what he's done there, because he's brought excitement to them.

"I would think James by far should win SEC coach of the year. Going 5-3 [in league play] at Vanderbilt would get my vote."

Yet there are more than Sumlin and Franklin who are worthy.

Muschamp has the Gators 11-1 and with more quality wins than any program nationally, with Florida having defeated Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. Many preseason projections had Ole Miss going winless in league play again, but Freeze in his debut led the Rebels to a 6-6 mark that included an Egg Bowl thumping of Mississippi State. Spurrier on Monday received a two-year extension through 2017 after directing his injury-riddled Gamecocks to 10 wins, including double-digit defeats of Georgia and Clemson.

Then there is Saban, who led the Crimson Tide to the SEC championship and a third BCS title berth in four years.

Saban was voted by his peers as SEC coach of the year in 2009, and he shared the honor the season before with then-Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and then-Vandy coach Bobby Johnson. Spurrier won the award for a fifth time two years ago, beating out Auburn's Gene Chizik, who led the Tigers to the BCS title and was the AP choice.

LSU's Les Miles won the honor last year and is 10-2 this season, which can be framed as good work in a year of great work.

Jones top defender

Georgia junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has 77 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks this season, was named by the AP as the SEC defensive player of the year. Manziel was the league's offensive player of the year.

Jones was joined on the first team by Bulldogs tailback Todd Gurley, Georgia's first true freshman to make the team since receiver A.J. Green in 2008.

Alabama had four first-teamers: center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack, linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Dee Milliner. Tennessee's lone representative was Cordarrelle Patterson, an all-purpose selection.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.