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A Look at Paul Finebaum's Ranking of SEC Coaches in the Post-Bear Bryant Era

All right, I get it. The enterprise of ranking coaches is even more subjective than the enterprise of ranking teams, and is even more prone to being skewed by the agendas and biases of the folks doing the listing, so there’s only so much stock that should be put into even the most meticulous list like this. The foregoing caveat is trebly true when the fellow compiling the rankings is Paul Finebaum. For crying out loud, though, doesn’t this guy at least have a proofreader?

Steve Spurrier, Finebaum tells us, "once ran off a streak of 24 consecutive SEC games." Uh, doing what with them, Paul? Coaching them? Watching them? If you mean winning them, you may want to make that clear. Consider working with an editor whose job is more involved than saying, "Attaway to stir ‘em up, Paul."

Yeah, sure, maybe I’m being nitpicky to worry over such details . . . but, then again, details matter. For instance, it is disingenuous to boost the Evil Genius’s SEC title tally by arguing that "he won seven on the field but one occurred while UF was on NCAA probation." I’m sorry, but the Gators can’t have it both ways. Yes, Florida finished first in the league while on probation in 1990 . . . but, in one of the Sunshine State Saurians’ official championship seasons (1993), the probation-shackled Auburn Tigers were the only unbeaten team in the conference and defeated both championship game representatives on the field. If the orange-and-blue-clad cheaters from Gainesville get to claim credit for 1990, then the orange-and-blue-clad cheaters from the Plains get to claim credit for 1993. Either way, Darth Visor still has six crowns.

What is truly disturbing about Finebaum’s supremely silly list is that he ranks Mark Richt ninth while offering this justification for placing Phillip Fulmer fourth:

The bottom falling out of his career at Tennessee is hard to overlook. However, winning the national title, two SEC crowns and appearing in the league title game five times is worthy. Until the Vols began to implode in 2005, Fulmer's winning percentage hovered around .800 and at one time he had Tennessee ranked in the national polls 138 out of 154 weeks. Fulmer's teams ranked in the final top 10 six times in his first 13 seasons. He also ran off a seven-game winning streak against Alabama.

Let’s break that down, shall we?

It’s "hard to overlook" the collapse of the Great Pumpkin’s career . . . although Finebaum goes right ahead and overlooks it, placing Coach Fulmer ahead of Gene Stallings, Pat Dye, and Vince Dooley. The former Tennessee Volunteers skipper is able to overcome his program’s lengthy decline on the strength of the following factors:

  • He won two SEC championships.

  • He appeared in five SEC championship games in 16 full seasons as a head coach.

  • At one time, his winning percentage was near .800.

  • His teams finished in the top ten six times in his first 13 years.

  • He beat a major rival seven years in a row.

  • He won a national championship.

For those of you keeping score at home, Mark Richt has two SEC championships, appeared in three SEC championship games in his first five years as a head coach, has a .789 winning percentage, has guided his teams to five top ten finishes in the last seven seasons, and beat in-state rival Georgia Tech seven straight years (at a time when the Yellow Jackets, unlike the Crimson Tide, were going to bowl games annually).

Ah, yes, but here we go again . . . Mark Richt hasn’t worn the Members Only jacket of the coaching fraternity . . . yet. I’ll tell you what . . . you give a Mark Richt-coached team even half the random dumb luck Tennessee enjoyed in 1998, and Orson Charles will be steering clear of the Georgia Bulldogs’ crystal football, lest he deliver another shatterrific performance that puts the "butt" back in "Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall". Coach Richt gets our all-time leading receiver dropping third-down passes that hit him on the hands and our starting quarterback being injured for one key game, while Coach Fulmer gets Clint Stoerner gift-wrapping a fumble and some questionable officiating against the Gators to go undefeated. Just because Fate spent one autumn wearing dreamsickle orange doesn’t make Phillip Fulmer a better coach than Mark Richt.

None of that is to say Phillip Fulmer wasn’t a fine coach. He was. He wasn’t the fourth-best coach of the post-Bear Bryant era, but he was a fine coach, nonetheless. My attack is less on Coach Fulmer and more on Paul Finebaum’s flawed methodology, which has Tommy Tuberville tied for tenth (with Houston Nutt) yet notes that Tubs "was also 2-0 against Urban Meyer and was 4-3 against Nick Saban."

True enough. He also was 3-5 against Mark Richt, losing five of his last seven against the Georgia skipper (and coming within one wacky fourth down of losing six out of seven) after snidely advising him to run the ball more following their inaugural 2001 meeting. Oh, by the way: Phillip Fulmer was 3-5 against Mark Richt, too.

Once again, I know better than to pay attention to Paul Finebaum, but, doggone it, I’m just sick of this silliness. Pick a standard and stick with it. If you want to make it all about national titles, fine; say with a straight face that Larry Coker is a better head coach than Mark Richt, and you can use that as your yardstick. Otherwise, quit moving the line to suit your purposes . . . or, better yet, quite shoveling out this garbage and requiring those of us who make sense to waste our time refuting this idiocy.

Go ‘Dawgs!