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Ed Orgeron and the SEC/ACC Coaching Hierarchy

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I thought the ACC had caught the SEC. I was very, very wrong.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - LSU v Central Florida
I torched Ole Miss and am awesome at LSU. Hero.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The internet was set ablaze yesterday with one of those usual stupid offseason lists that sportswriters come up with to pass the time in the long, hot summer. You shouldn’t take anything during the silly season too seriously, as we’re all just trying to get through this desolate wasteland until actual football starts again.

So, I’m not gonna fall for the trap and get mad at somebody’s list, but I do want to use it as a jumping off point to talk about the state of coaching in the ACC and SEC, while also letting y’all laugh at me for being stupid.

Anyway, here was the tweet, which made its way to ESPN for peak outrage:

Now, there’s no methodology whatsoever and after the top four or five, it seems he simply spit names out of a computer randomizer. The logic of it makes no sense. Ed Orgeron clearly gets dinged for his tenure at Ole Miss, but at the same time, Mack Brown gets no credit for what he did at Texas.

David Cutcliffe is in the top ten for keeping Duke respectable, which is a nice tip of the cap, but we’re still talking about a coach who is 67-72 in 11 seasons at Duke. He hasn’t posted a winning record in the ACC since 2014 (5-3) and he rode a first round quarterback pick to a 15-11 (6-10) record over the past two seasons. Duke has gone 1-7 in ACC play in 5 of his 11 seasons. I like Cutcliffe, too. But that is rewarding him with the gift of low expectations.

But what I do find interesting is that three offseason ago, I wrote one of these intentionally abrasive columns in the offseason to stir up some discussion. In it, I argued the SEC was in decline and had been caught by the ACC due to the quality of its coaching. Now, I wasn’t entirely trolling, I did believe the central thesis, even if I did overstate the case.

But what has happened since then? Both conferences have turned over their coaching rosters, and to nearly opposite effect. The ACC has lost four of the top five coaches by winning percentage since I wrote my column, keeping only Dabo Swinney, who is obviously great. The stable of great, promising young coaches hasn’t really delivered, and while it’s too early to write them off, they did not have the kind of impact I expected.

Even worse for the ACC is that their top coach by winning percentage, Jimbo Fisher, jumped ship to the SEC. The SEC also lost four of its top six coaches, but it kept its top two (Saban and Malzahn) while adding Jimbo. It fired that next tier for not living up to expectations, and largely nailed the hires.

Most importantly, the coaches who were in their first year or two in the SEC then have now become the backbone of the conference. Kirby Smart and Ed Orgeron worked out about as well as those schools could have possibly expected.

Now, take a look at the chart of ACC and SEC coaches, sorted by winning percentage at their current school. It’s a bleak picture for the ACC.

ACC/SEC Coaches

Coach School Yrs W L Pct
Coach School Yrs W L Pct
Nick Saban Bama 12 146 21 0.874
Dabo Swinney Clemson 11 116 30 0.795
Dan Mullen Florida 1 10 3 0.769
Kirby Smart Georgia 3 32 10 0.762
Ed Orgeron LSU 3 25 9 0.735
Jimbo Fisher Texas A&M 1 9 4 0.692
Gus Malzahn Auburn 6 53 27 0.663
Justin Fuente Virginia Tech 3 25 15 0.625
Joe Moorhead Miss St 1 8 5 0.615
Will Muschamp South Carolina 3 22 17 0.564
Dave Doeren NC State 6 43 34 0.558
Pat Narduzzi Pitt 4 28 24 0.538
Steve Addazio BC 5 38 38 0.500
Barry Odom Mizzou 3 19 19 0.500
Dino Babers Syracuse 3 18 19 0.486
David Cutcliffe Duke 11 67 72 0.482
Mark Stoops Kentucky 6 36 39 0.480
Matt Luke Ole Miss 2 11 13 0.458
Dave Clawson Wake Forest 5 28 35 0.444
Bronco Mendenhall Virginia 3 16 22 0.421
Willie Taggart Florida St 1 5 7 0.417
Jeremy Pruitt Tennessee 1 5 7 0.417
Derek Mason Vanderbilt 5 24 38 0.387
Chad Morris Arkansas 1 2 10 0.167
Scott Satterfield Louisville 0 0 0 0
Mack Brown UNC 0 0 0 0
Geoff Collins Georgia Tech 0 0 0 0
Manny Diaz Miami 0 0 0 0

You still have Saban and Swinney way out ahead of the pack for both conferences, but after that… it’s a bunch of SEC coaches. The ACC has just four coaches with a winning percentage over .500 at their current school, and only two above .600 (Justin Fuente is at .625).

The top ten by winning percentage is dominated by the SEC. Saban’s at #1, but SEC coaches rank #3-7 and #9-10. That’s eight schools above .500 under their current coach, and four above .700.

The ACC’s brief threat to SEC supremacy has been effectively quashed. The SEC aggressively went out and replaced guys who were doing good but not good enough, and now they have a bunch of winning coaches who all have three years or under in tenure. The early returns on this round of coaching turnover is that it’s working.

That’s the story here. The SEC is dominating again, and the problem with the list isn’t the placement of Ed Orgeron, but how kind it is to the ACC coaches who are not winning at the same rates as their SEC brethren.

Yes, Gene Sapakoff ranked Ed Orgeron #16, which is hard to justify at this point. Orgeron has a .735 win percentage at LSU, the fifth highest of any active coach in the SEC or ACC. He’s recruiting like mad and he’s winning at a better rate than Miles was in his last few years.

But the shadow cast by his disastrous Ole Miss tenure is long. Think about how bad Coach O was at Ole Miss. He went 3-21 in three SEC seasons, which is unimaginably bad. OK, locked on? Orgeron has been so good at LSU that he now has a career winning record of 41-36. Yet he is still defined by the tire fire he set at Ole Miss.

You know what? Good. Let’s stay under the radar. I want other teams and fanbases thinking Orgeron is a bumbling moron who is only winning because he inherited a self-sustaining program at LSU. Forget that he’s stripped down the roster and rebuilt the program over the past two seasons. Let them believe the lie.

It makes it all the more satisfying when our moron beats your genius. Orgeron isn’t the same guy he was at Oxford, but for the love of God, let everyone else believe it. Orgeron has gotten a lot of mileage out of the Nobody Believes in Us card, and I’d like it if he could keep playing it as long as possible.

Because everyone else is about to wake up.