From the "Talks too much" studios...
Follow the trickle down here: College sports is ruled by football. College football is ruled by the SEC. SEC football is ruled by elite coaches. Ergo, there is nothing in the game we love more important that coaching excellence.
We can all agree on that right? No questions? And we all agree that at $5 million, Nick Saban may be the best bargain not only in college football, but in all of sports, right? With that in mind, let's grade the SEC coaches, and compare them to a Clint Eastwood movie. Deal? Deal? (Side note: There will be two grades — the first for this year to date and the second for their time at the program)
Nick Saban — A+/A++++
Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Went to the SEC title game and the Sugar Bowl in 2008. Won it all in 2009 and '11 and is poised to do it again this year with the most complete team in college football. How good is Saban? Most of the rest of the SEC is resigned to the fact that the best way to topple his Alabama machine is for him to leave. So basically, Saban has made the SEC — the best college football conference in the country — WWII France, and everyone else is hoping he'll just go away to the NFL or something.
Eastwood movie: Unforgiven. Dude is a bad man, even teams that play Alabama tough and deserve a better fate need to remember, "deserve ain't got nothing to do with it."
Will Muschamp — A+/A
In his second year, Will Muschamp has done work. If the voting was held today, he'd be the SEC coach of the year and rightly so. A defensive guy with an elite defense, Muschamp and Co. get high praise for their handling and development of quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Eastwood movie: Fistful of Dollars. The super-power and uber-rich program that is Florida appears to be back (to be fair, 9er called from the get-go), and like Fistful of Dollars kind of started Eastwood's run, this looks like the genesis for Muschamp, who at the beginning of the season was an unknown with some provin' to do.
Dan Mullen — A/B+
If you think this grade is too high, ask yourself this: would you trade your coach for Mullen? Now know this: Mullen is an inspired and improbable upset of Alabama away from having Mississippi State in the national championship picture. Yes. Mississippi State.
Eastwood movie: High Plains Drifter. Mullen is doing work with the Bulldogs and appears to be content in Starkville (well as content as anyone can be that is). That said, here's saying his name will be bandied about for a slew of openings this offseason.
Kevin Sumlin — A-/A-
Sumlin has made the most of his left over strengths — having two NFL-ready tackles helps any offensive transition — and found a future star in his high-scoring offense with quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Eastwood movie: Sudden Impact. Sumlin and Manziel deserve big props for coming in and taking names from the get. Buckle up gang, Texas A&M is going to be a tough SEC hombre.
Steve Spurrier — B+/A
Spurrier's the man. He's so money. The bottom has fallen out the last couple of weeks, but name one team in this league other than Alabama that could lose its best offensive player for most of two big games and not be affected. His career A is well-deserved since he has reset South Carolina's records and goals.
Eastwood movie: There are so many, but we'll go with the Outlaw Josey Wales. Spurrier has always been infinitely quotable (our favorite remains when asked about the fire at the Auburn library he said, "It's a shame, too, because a lot of those books hadn't been colored in yet.") and excellent.
Hugh Freeze — B+/B+
Freeze has the Rebels eyeing a bowl game and out of the SEC West cellar. For a team that had lost 16 SEC games in a row until this year, that's doing working in year one.
Eastwood movie: For a Few Dollars More. You get the feeling that Freeze may be one more year from being "that" guy for a lot of programs.
Les Miles — B+/A
We love Les Miles. You know this. And his 'B' this year is as much about the Tigers' lofty expectations than any shortcomings this year, especially considering he had to suspend his best playmaker for the season in August.
Eastwood movie: Every Which Way but Loose. Underrated, tough and violent, and at times silly. Is there a better matching for an Eastwood film and an SEC coach than this? We almost went with the Outlaw Josey Wales because it's Eastwood's most quotable movie, and we all know that Les is supremely quotable.
James Franklin B+/B+
Franklin has Vandy on the cusp of history. The Commodores had a tough early schedule and survived it. They are 3-4 with a win on Saturday against winless UMass all-but-certain. They'll go into November with a manageable slate of at Kentucky, at Ole Miss, vs. Tennessee and at Wake Forest needing to split to qualify for back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
Eastwood movie: Escape from Alcatraz. If Franklin, who was the head-coach-in-waiting, makes winning history at Vandy, he'll likely write his own ticket this offseason.
Mark Richt — B/B
Easiest grade on the whole board. Mark Richt is a good guy who is a good coach who has had a good career in Athens. The only question is whether that's going to keep being good enough.
Eastwood movie: Trouble with the Curve. Richt's grade was easy, the movie was not. We'll go with the touchy-feely new release (we haven't seen it) because the title fits Richt's career. If this were the 1990s and early 2000s, Richt's run would be more highly appreciated. Today, since the SEC has won six title in a row and the power-player that is Georgia is not among them, the SEC grading curve is steeper. And Richt's resume suffers because of it.
Derek Dooley — D+/C-
Toughest grade on the board for several reasons. As for this year, yes, the Vols' losses are to teams that are a combined 27-1. But, they looked ill-prepared after a bye week against Mississippi State. Yes, Dooley inherited a mess. But name one player on this team that has improved this season other than the offensive linemen (shoutout to Sam Pittman)?
Eastwood movie: Heartbreak Ridge. Every time we want to believe in Dooley and his Vols, they break our hearts and push us over the ridge. We almost went with City Heat because of the hotseat.
Gary Pinkel — D/B
The Tigers have been bad — home losses to Vandy are not acceptable even for newcomers — and the injury to quarterback James Franklin has been a big part of it.
Eastwood movie: The Gauntlet. Perfect right? Arguably the most forgettable Eastwood movie since he became a star for an forgettable season for the Tigers. But Missouri will realize the reward of running the SEC gauntlet when the roughly $28 million checks are passed out next May.
Joker Phillips — D-/D
Phillips improved his grade last Saturday. The Wildcats are cooked and Phillips is likely gone, but his team fought for 60 minutes against a superior Georgia team and that shows respect for the staff and program in general and the head coach in particular. That said, Phillips inherited a Kentucky program on the upswing and has turned its fortunes around.
Eastwood movie: The Dead Pool. The downward spiral in Lexington is as much about injuries (it seems like the Cats are on QB No. 2,305 and are one more injury from having a halftime drawing for some QB reps) and history (other than Bear Bryant, name one coach who moved up from the UK job).
John L. Smith — D-/C-
The interim replacement for Bobby Petrino endured a disastrous September. The Hogs had national title hopes, but will go to a low-to-mid-level bowl. It will be interesting to see where the Hogs set their sights for their next coach considering a) they had a head start on everyone else, and b) the off-the-field stuff is much more important in Arkansas' search this time around.
Eastwood movie: A Perfect World, a disappointing movie with a star-studded cast that started slowly and got better but still left you walking away feeling like it should have been more.
Gene Chizik — F-/C
This has been a debacle, and as we stand here we still don't believe Chizik should be fired. That said, Tuberville got got for better than this mess, and Chizik has to go to Tuscaloosa to end the year. Remember Saban sealed Tuberville's fate with a 36-0 spanking in 2008. This is Chizik's fourth year. If you look at 2009 as a B, 2010 as an A+, 2011 as a C and this as an F-minus, that leaves with an average bell curve, no?
Eastwood movie: In the Line of Fire. Title alone makes it match, but this is one of the best Eastwood movies and one of the few in which Eastwood is outperformed. The question is, is John Malkovich parallel Gus Malzahn or Cam Newton?
NFL Power poll
Time for our weekly check around the (cue Ron Jaworski) THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.
(Side note: How cool would it be to hire someone with a renowned catch phrase to follow you around at a party or a tailgate and use their money quote. And if you could, who you got between Gary Coleman saying, "Whatcha you talkin' bout Willis?" or the Fonz using "Aaayyyy," or "Sit on it," or Fred Sanford using, "I'm coming Elizabeth" and "You big dummy.")
1) Atlanta: The Falcons are the league's lone unbeaten team. They are built for today's league — they can throw the ball (eighth in passing) and defend the pass (seventh in passer rating against) — and have a legit home-field advantage. We like the cut of their jib.
2) Houston: There are wins and losses and never the twain shall meet. There also are statement games, and the Texans delivered one with Sunday's 43-13 win over Baltimore.
3) Chicago: Holding Calvin "Megatron" Johnson to three catches is good stuff. Holding the Lions to seven points in better stuff. Becoming a Super Bowl contender with Jay Cutler at quarterback is big-time stuff. How underrated is Lovie Smith?
4) San Francisco: Yes, the 49ers defense may be a step better than Chicago's but the Bears' offense is two steps better than San Fran's.
5) New York Giants: The defending Super Bowl champs will be there until the end. This just in... those Manning kids are pretty good. Cue Fred — "You big dummy."
Game 7 letdown
Unless you're a San Fran Giants fan, Monday's Game 7 was a disappointment. So it goes.
But as we head to a World Series that will largely be skipped by most of the country, what can we glean from a Giants-Detroit Tigers showdown?
First, to be a contender you have to have a shutdown ace. The Tigers have Justin Verlander; the Giants have Matt Cain. (And before this season, the Giants actually were holding a pair of aces with Cain and Tim Lincecum, but that was before Lincecum caught a case of the stinky.)
Second, you need a middle of the order stud. The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera; the Giants have Buster Posey.
Third, you need a manager that can role with things and makes the magic happen. The Tigers have Jim Leyland; the Giants have Bruce Bochte (who is not to be confused with Bruce Banner or Bruce Boxlighter).
Finally, you need a few postseason breaks. The Tigers exploited a young A's team that gagged under the pressure and a Yankees team that couldn't hit its collective butt with either hand; the Giants got an epic performance from some cat named Marco Scutaro, who was the NLCS MVP even though he has a name made for Formula 1 racing.
What does it mean? Likely means Tigers win it all since Verlander can go three times if needed. But it's not like we'll be watching any way.
This and that
— In a polling of NBA GMs, the Miami Heat were picked to repeat as NBA champs. We can see that. And we are stoked to watch LeBron James play this year with the onus of winning a title off his back. Giddy-up.
— The SEC preseason hoops predictions from media members were released Monday. Kentucky was an overwhelming pick to win the league. That's not that surprising. Tennessee and Cuonzo "The Conz" Martin were picked fourth. The All-SEC first team was BJ Young of Arkansas, Florida's Kenny Boynton (who has been in school since 1989 — he was in the same recruiting class as Dwayne Schintzius we think), Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, Phil Pressey of Missouri and Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes.
— Rambo turned 30 this week. No not Sly Stallone — he's closer to 130. No, the "First Blood" movie that introduced us to John J. Rambo was released this week in 1982. Earlier this month we did the best movie trilogies. We'd have to give Sly Stallone the No. 2 spot on the list of actors with best multiple trilogies behind Harrison Ford. Well done Sly.
Our question today comes from a post from Jomo on Monday:
"Jay- Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Mike Vick, Joe Paterno, Kobe Bryant ( does anyone remember sexual assualt ), Mike Tyson, Ray Lewis ( involved in murder ), Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Pete Rose,
all falls from grace. Who goes on Scandal Rushmore ? is it based on endorsement ? public perception ? Ban from Sport ? or Who has made a comback ?"
We like this question enough that we brought it out of Friday's mailbag into the here and now.
Here's our serious sports scandal Rushmore (combination of serious crimes and sports stature): Paterno, Tyson, O.J., Vick
Here's our tabloid sports scandal Rushmore (combination of sports stature and overflowing voyeur interest in the case): Tiger, O.J., Paterno, Lance
Great question and feel free to participate.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...