The LSU fan’s SEC football head coach rankings for 2023

Nov 26, 2022; College Station, Texas, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher talk prior to a game at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; College Station, Texas, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher talk prior to a game at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports /

SEC football in 2023 will feature a murderer’s row of head coaches. So we’re stacking them from first to worst in our preseason SEC head coach rankings.

Credit to ‘Off the Bench’ (OTB) with T-Bob Hebert and Jacob Hester for inspiring the idea. Recently, the OTB boys discussed an article ranking college football head coaches. I don’t recall the article, but the discussion delineated between ranking the best for the 2023 season and the all-time best.

As my title suggests, I’m ranking the best coaches heading into the 2023 SEC football season.

1 – Kirby Smart, Georgia: I’m not too fond of the Georgia Bulldogs football program, but I respect where they’re currently. Smart has successfully copy-catted Nick Saban’s model in Athens and is chasing a three-peat College Football Playoff (CFP) Championship in 2023. Georgia is also dominating in recruiting and recently landed 2024’s top player in quarterback Dylan Raiola

2 – Nick Saban, Alabama: The greatest of all time isn’t done winning quite yet. Moreover, Saban might be the only coach that can stand in Smart’s way of a third-consecutive national championship. Saban’s ability to adapt his program to meet the game’s trends remains second to none. We’ll see another adaptation with his new offensive and defensive coordinator hires in 2023.

3 – Brian Kelly, LSU: Brian Kelly wasted no time in Baton Rouge and put SEC football on notice last season. Kelly led the Tigers to an immediate rebirth, finishing as SEC West champions and with a top-five recruiting class. The former Notre Dame head coach has restored a business-like attitude in the LSU football facilities. As a result, many are predicting another SEC West title for the Tigers in 2023.

4 – Josh Huepel, Tennessee: There’s a solid argument for Josh Huepel to jump Kelly for 3rd on this list. Huepel’s Vols embarrassed the LSU Tigers 40-13 in Baton Rogue last October. The 3rd-year SEC football head coach closed 2023 with a top-12 recruiting class, including quarterback Nico Iamaleava. Huepel has a lot of momentum and lofty expectations in Rocky Top for 2023.

5 – Hugh Freeze, Auburn: The Hugh Freeze redemption tour is one of SEC football’s more interesting storylines in 2023. Freeze did some dirtbag things while leading Ole Miss, but he was winning with the Rebels and won a lot more with Liberty. Like him or not, Hugh can coach, and his 2023 recruiting class finished in the top 20 despite the awkward transition from Bryan Harsin.

6 – Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin’s 2023 recruiting class finished inside the top-25 and included 5-star linebacker, Suntarine Perkins. For context, nearly half of the top-25 classes don’t include a 5-star recruit. To the point, Kiffin can attract big-time athletes and remains one of college football’s premier offensive minds.

7 – Shane Beamer, South Carolina: Few South Carolina fans will complain about an 8-5 finish, including a win over rival Clemson in Beamer’s 2nd season. The Gamecocks will always be a second-rate SEC football program, but Beamer is building the potential to exceed expectations. His 2023 recruiting class also finished with an impressive ranking of 16th.

8 – Sam Pittman, Arkansas: Sam Pittman was born to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks won’t be a national title contender anytime soon, but they’ll continue giving opponents hell in the trenches. Pittman has Arkansas well within 8-to-9 win potential, with KJ Jefferson returning and welcoming the 24th-ranked recruiting class in 2023.

9 – Mark Stoops. Kentucky: Kentucky is typically overrated by several college football pundits in the preseason because of the job Mark Stoops has done. Stoops has a habit of winning ten games in an every-other-season format. Suffice it to say; the Wildcats are poised to win ten games in 2023, Stoops’ 10th season in charge.

10 – Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans stormed Kyle Field after they upset the LSU Tigers in 2022. It was a mass celebration for fans of a 5-7 team that played spoiler to an SEC football foe. Such is unacceptable for a head coach making $95 million through 2031. Conversely, Jimbo does continue recruiting high-caliber athletes to College Station.

11 – Zach Arnett, Mississippi State: Zach Arnett earned the promotion to head coach after the tragic loss of Mike Leach. Arnett did great work maintaining a top-25 recruiting class for 2023. Bulldogs fans will miss Leach but must get excited about Arnett’s potential. He led Mississippi State’s 35th-nationally-ranked defense in 2022.

12 – Billy Napier, Florida: Billy Napier will compete with Jimbo Fisher for the ‘hottest SEC head coaching seat’ during the season. It’s unfair to think of Napier’s potential ouster so soon, but ‘The Swamp’ is far from patient. Napier welcomes a top-15 recruiting class but must look over both shoulders following a losing 2022 season.

13 – Clark Lea, Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt football is more competitive under Clark Lea and demonstrated improvement by winning three more games last season. However, Lea will remain limited in leading a program that is not a university priority and is unattractive to big-time high school recruits.

14 – Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz enters his 4th year at Mizzou and is still searching for a winning season. His 2023 recruiting class finished inside the top 50 but ranked lower than that of Texas Tech, North Carolina State, and Baylor. Drinkwitz remains a poor fit at an SEC program that remains a poor fit for the conference.

The ‘greatest SEC coach of all-time’ list looks much different. Thus, upset Alabama fans can relax. Saban’s resume is etched in platinum, but his biggest protégé is making significant ground early in his Georgia tenure. Regardless, the above list concerns the best SEC football coaches for 2023, and I think I nailed it.

But, of course, how things look on paper in the preseason is often misleading. So it will be interesting to revisit the ‘top coaches’ list after the 2023 SEC football season.

Next. LSU's odd non-conference opponents in 2023. dark

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