At every school in the SEC, the head coach is the figure most synonymous with its institution. Not even the university’s president is as well-known as its football coach. There are statues, streets, stadiums and buildings named after former coaches — some of whom never won anything of true significance — across the SEC.
All fans and schools want to win. Some schools are more dedicated to winning on the gridiron than others. Vanderbilt’s focus is academics. Kentucky’s will always be on the hardwood. Some just have it easier due to their geographical location in relation to recruiting, like Florida, Georgia and LSU. Some are at a talent disadvantage yet do everything they possibly can to win.
In the SEC, what makes a great head coaching job? The factors we’re considering are: school and program’s prestige, the university’s dedication to football ($$), local recruiting grounds, in-state competition (e.g., Auburn and Alabama), pressure to win, fan support and draw to your university via the perception of your college town (see our SEC college town rankings at the bottom).
Here’s our SEC head coaching jobs ranking:
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This one’s not really a question. Vanderbilt has the league’s toughest academic standards, the least enthusiastic fan base and is hands-down the hardest place to win in the SEC.
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People are still wondering how Missouri found its way into the SEC. Gary Pinkel did some incredible things with the Tigers program, like taking them to back-to-back SEC championships in 2013 and 2014. Columbia is a great college town and the fan support is there, but in a division that includes Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. … Missouri is not the most attractive option.
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Steve Spurrier is gone and so are the expectations of winning football games in Columbia. South Carolina has to compete against in-state rival Clemson for every recruit it wants, not to mention sharing a border with Georgia and North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina, checked in at No. 11 in our SEC college town rankings, and despite the underrated fan support for the Gamecocks, tradition and history is lacking for a program that has never won an SEC title. Not to mention, no matter how good the Gamecocks get, they’ll always have a murderous schedule.
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Mark Stoops has done a phenomenal job at Kentucky, which is undoubtedly a basketball school and always will be. There’s no tradition of winning within the Wildcats football program, and the state of Kentucky does not offer much in terms of recruiting.
But really, it’s a basketball school.
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You can certainly win at Mississippi State. We saw it with Dan Mullen and Dak Prescott. But can you win enough? Probably not, especially when you have to play Alabama, LSU and Auburn every year. The Bulldogs share the state with another SEC program, Ole Miss, and though there’s plenty of talent in Mississippi, it’s a dogfight for every player. Starkville gets a bad name, but we considered it one of the league’s most underrated college towns.
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Fayetteville is a delightful town tucked in the hills of the Ozark Mountains. Sam Pittman has done a fine job so far for the Razorbacks. It’s the only SEC school in the state, which is nice for recruiting purposes. Unfortunately, there’s not that much in-state talent to recruit.
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People definitely think football when they think Ole Miss. That’s not the problem. Instead, the problem is basically everything I said two spots above about Mississippi State. There’s so much competition both on the field and off of it in recruiting. Oxford is about as cool as it gets, but that’s not enough to make the Rebels a powerhouse program. But the Rebels crack the top 10 because if you manage to go 10-2 and maybe even win a division title, they’ll build statues in your honor.
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We’re now at the part in the rankings where although these are middle-of-the-pack SEC jobs they’re still very highly regarded, prestigious college football coaching jobs.
You can win at Auburn. That’s a given. The fan support is fantastic and aligned with the best of the SEC. But Tuscaloosa’s just down the road, and the presence of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide is why Auburn is No. 7 on this list. There is so much pressure on whoever is coaching the Tigers to win the Iron Bowl, and, quite frankly, as long as Saban is in town that seldom happens.
Auburn, Alabama checked in at No. 2 in our college town rankings.
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You may not find a more devoted fan base in college football than that of the Tennessee Volunteers. That, coupled with intense tradition and history is why Tennessee ranks so high on this list despite producing a bad football team for the last 15 years. The Tennessee and bordering states’ recruiting grounds are fertile, but the lack of winning is why Tennessee is not a top-three job in the SEC as it once was.
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There’s local competition with Florida State and Miami, but if you’re a kid from the Sunshine State who wants to stay in-state and compete at the highest level, Gainesville is where you go. But the results have been ugly for the Gators’ program in recent years, and Florida’s winning ways are not as prevalent as they were when Urban Meyer was in town. If this were a list from 15 years ago, I’d put Florida No. 1. But the Gators have made unsuccessful hires in recent years that have lowered the prestige of coaching in The Swamp, and that drops them a few spots. Still, this is a top-10 job in the nation.
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LSU’s last three head coaches — Nick Saban, Les Miles and Ed Orgeron — have each won a national championship while coaching in Baton Rouge. The fact Orgeron was able to do it really shows you can win at LSU. Brian Kelly left Notre Dame, arguably the most prestigious job in college sports, to come to LSU. There’s tough competition, but the Tigers are always considered a contender in the SEC, despite the presence of Alabama. Per capita, Louisiana has some of the best recruits in the country, there’s no in-state competition and their facilities are out of this world.
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Texas A&M was already a highly regarded job. The Aggies signed Jimbo Fisher to a 10-year, $75 million contract to lure him away from Florida State in 2017, which at the time was the richest contract in the history of college football. So there’s always been a dedication to football from the university. But with the emergence of NIL, this is where you want to be as a head coach. Boosters will throw you money, and as we saw during the 2022 recruiting cycle, TAMU can now get practically any player it wants. Not to mention, the fan support is as good as it gets in all of college football.
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Alabama certainly has the best coach in the SEC and in America, but that does not necessarily mean it’s the best job. Alabama has great recruiting, but it’s not like Georgia or Florida. The Tide have to fight Auburn for a limited number of in-state recruits. Though it usually wins, it does not have the same in-state advantage that Georgia has over Georgia Tech. The expectations at Alabama are out of this world, and who is going to be able to live up to those expectations when Saban leaves?
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This has always been one of the league’s best coaching jobs, but in recent years Kirby Smart has brought Georgia back to glory. The recruiting opportunities are fantastic and there’s no real competition in the state with Tech being the only other “major” program in Georgia. Georgia’s investment in infrastructure has led to the Bulldogs having some of the nation’s best facilities. Athens, Georgia, is the greatest college town in America, the Georgia fans are some of the most loyal in college football, and there’s no shortage of history and tradition at UGA.