Ranking every SEC football head coach after Nick Saban’s retirement heading into the 2024 CFB season

After the shocking news that Alabama head coach Nick Saban will officially retire his post, the SEC is still widely regarded as the most competitive conference in college football, regardless of Saban’s future absence.

This year, Texas and Oklahoma will enter the conference, growing the SEC to a 15-team league in the new age of realignment and “Super Conferences” have formed, making every aspect of recruiting much more competitive in the coming seasons.

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian, just a week removed from the Longhorns’s close loss to Washington in the CFP Playoffs, has the program in tip-top shape heading into 2024, especially with the return of starting quarterback Quinn Ewers.

Due to roster attrition through the transfer portal this offseason, things may be more difficult for Oklahoma and head coach Brent Venables. However, transitioning to one of the toughest conferences in a country bar none. For Texas A&M, new HC Mike Elko already has things rolling, acquiring 21 players through the transfer portal, and is set to host a long list of 2025 recruits this coming weekend.

The team at Aggies Wire has compiled our own cohesive SEC head coach rankings for all of you to analyze and criticize during the winter months. Enjoy!

Jeff Lebby - Mississippi State

OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby speaks during a media day for the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) football team in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby speaks during a media day for the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) football team in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
  • 2023 record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)

Jeff Lebby is undoubtedly an upgrade over the former regime, bringing in a wealth of experience and an offensive mindset that should keep things at least interesting in 2024. Still, there are too many new faces, and the usual first-year struggle is likely imminent.

Vanderbilt - Clark Lea

Sep 23, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea talks with referee Dax Gautreaux after a penalty call during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats at FirstBank Stadium. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC) 

Will this finally be the year for Vanderbilt to turn things around? Who knows, but head coach Clark Lea is now 9-27 in three years with the program, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with matchups against Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.

Arkansas - Sam Pittman

Sep 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas; Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman before the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)

Starting quarterback KJ Jefferson has transferred to UCF, meaning former Boise State signal-caller Taylen Green is essentially a shoo-in to starting 2024. This is a big year for the embattled head coach Sam Pittman, who hired former Texas A&M OC Bobby Petrino to take over the offense and hopefully provide a boost.

Get more Arkansas news, analysis, and opinions on Razorbacks Wire.

Florida - Billy Napier

Oct 29, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida; Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier looks on against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC) 

Billy Napier’s coaching seat is scorching hot, and after losing a bevy of defensive starters to the transfer portal, it doesn’t get any easier with one of the toughest 2024 schedules in the country and the SEC.

Get more Florida news, analysis, and opinions on Gators Wire.

South Carolina - Shane Beamer

David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC) 

Shane Beamer’s future at South Carolina is likely secure, and he’s still a very good coach who dealt with many issues in 2023, most notably a lack of development on the offensive line. With QB Spencer Rattler departing for the NFL Draft, Oklahoma transfer signal-caller Davis Beville has entered the picture and will likely battle with veteran QB Luke Doty for the starting spot.

Auburn - Hugh Freeze

Sep 23, 2023; College Station, Texas; Auburn Tigers head coach Hugh Freeze looks on during the first quarter against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

Auburn fans should be excited for the future under Hugh Freeze, whose flying offenses during his time at Ole Miss and Liberty may take time to transition with the Tigers. Still, the players are coming, including 2024 five-star wide receiver Cameron Coleman, who flipped from Texas A&M in November.

Get more Auburn news, analysis, and opinions on Auburn Wire.

Kentucky - Mark Stoops

Sep 30, 2023; Lexington, Kentucky; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops walks off the field after the game against the Florida Gators at Kroger Field. Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

Current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops was actually Texas A&M’s new head coach for approximately three hours, so there’s that! After landing several key veterans through the transfer portal, Stoops is looking to capitalize off the offseason momentum, including landing five-star QB and Georgia Bull Dog Brock Vandagriff.

Oklahoma - Brent Venables

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)

Brent Venables, who served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator for nearly a decade, returned home to Norman and proved in year 2 that Oklahoma will be able to contend in the SEC, but in 2024, it could be a struggle with a tough conference schedule and a new look roster.

Get more Oklahoma Sooners news, analysis, and opinions on Sooners Wire.

Tennessee - Josh Heupel

Sep 23, 2023; Knoxville, Tennessee; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel before the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the UTSA Roadrunners at Neyland Stadium. Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 season: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

Tennessee’s 2023 season was a success for the most part, as the Vols will transition from big-armed QB Joe Milton to highly touted freshman duel-threat Nico Iamaleava, who accounted for four touchdowns in Tennessee’s 38-0 win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

Get more Tennessee news, analysis, and opinions on Vols Wire.

Mike Elko - Texas A&M

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
  • 2023 season: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)

Jimbo Fisher was given the boot as former Duke head coach, who served as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator from 2018-2021, has already provided a sense of calm and professionalism, with an eye on bringing the Aggie culture that began to fade under Fisher back to the program.

Already gaining 21 players from the transfer portal and signing the talented 2024 recruiting class, the return of starting quarterback Conner Weigman sticks out the most. If the Aggies improve on the offensive line and improve in the secondary, barring injuries, the sky is the limit in 2024.

Texas - Steve Sarkisian

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 season: 12-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Steve Sarkisian has more than proven his worth in Austin, taking the Longhorns to the College Football Playoffs in year three. If it weren’t for a poor scouting report regarding Washington’s poor run defense, Texas probably would have faced off against Michigan in the title game if they just ran the ball. The 2024 SEC schedule is favorable, placing Texas back in immediate contention ahead of the first year for the 12-team playoff structure.

Get more Texas Longhorns news, analysis, and opinions on Longhorns Wire.

Missouri - Eli Drinkwitz

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 season: 11-2 (6-2 SEC) 

Eli Drinkwitz is a hot name and has already been connected to the Alabama opening as soon as Saban announced. Coming off a huge Cotton Bowl win over Ohio State, the Tigers look like a playoff team heading into 2024 with several key veterans returning, led by standout wide receiver Luther Burden.

LSU - Brian Kelly

Head Coach Brian Kelly on the sideline as the LSU Tigers take on Grambling State at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.
Head Coach Brian Kelly on the sideline as the LSU Tigers take on Grambling State at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.
  • 2023 season: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

Credit to Brian Kelly, but it helps to have a Heisman-winning quarterback, Jayden Daniels, to almost singlehandedly win 9 out of 10 games behind a prolific offense and an utterly abysmal defense.

Yes, if Harbaugh leaves, Kelly will be connected to nearly every prolific job opening, including Michigan, but he remains one of the best coaches in the game and one of the top minds in the SEC.

Get more LSU news, analysis, and opinions on LSU Tigers Wire.

Ole Miss - Lane Kiffin

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 season: 11-2 (6-2) 

I’ll say it: Lane Kiffin almost came in at No. 1 after once again proving to everyone, including myself, that he can win and win a lot with a new team year after year through consistent use of the transfer portal year after year.

Heading into the 2024 season, the Rebels look like an 11 to 12-win team on paper after raiding the portal again, which included gaining a commitment from former Texas A&M star defensive lineman Walter Nolen. However, star running back Quinshon Judkins’ transfer to Ohio State is more significant than not.

Georgia - Kirby Smart

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2023 season: 13-1 (8-0 SEC)

With the GOAT’s retirement, Nick Saban’s former disciple has taken the top spot, which is simply a no-brainer. In eight seasons at his alma mater, Smart is a prolific 94-16 (56-9 SEC), including two National Championships and seven consecutive New Year Bowl victories. As long as Kirby is in Athens, the Bulldogs will be in the playoff conversation every year.

Get more Georgia news, analysis, and opinions on UGA Wire.

(Not ranked) New Alabama head coach Kalen DeBoer

Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

2023 record at Washington: 14-1 (9-0 Pac 12)

Following one of the greatest ever to do it will be a tough ask. Still, after taking the Huskies all the way to the National Championship game this season, Kalen DeBoer seemed like the only fit to continue the Tide’s tradition of competing for titles year after year and potentially bringing in Ryan Grubb as Alabama’s new OC wouldn’t hurt, either.

Get more Alabama news, analysis, and opinions on Roll Tide Wire.

Story originally appeared on Aggies Wire