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Column: New coaches short-changed in rankings

LITTLE ROCK — Two points to ponder in a recent top-to-bottom ranking of the 14 football coaches in the Southeastern Conference:

• Why newcomers to the league got shortshrift. Not one of the four new coaches in the league made the top half of the rankings. At No. 8, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema was the highest of the first-year coaches.

• How the rankings will look in the months and years ahead. W-L records would influence a December update and there will be new names to consider by 2015 or 2016.

Athlon Sports put together the rankings in the six BCS conferences, polling their editors on a wide range of topics including football facilities, assistants’ pay, recruiter or game manager, and previous resume.

It is no surprise that Alabama’s Nick Saban, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Georgia’s Mark Richt are 1-2-3. After that, there are arguments to be made and that’s just fine with a company that has a product to sell.

No. 4 was Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, followed by Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, and LSU’s Les Miles. Personally, Franklin, Miles, and Florida’s Will Muschamp would be ahead of Sumlin and Mullen.

Believed at one point to be a candidate for the Arkansas job, Franklin has made a contender out of Vanderbilt — once thought to be an impossible task. If the Commodores crack the top three in the Eastern Division of the SEC before Tennessee, Franklin can be elected governor of the Volunteer State.

Because he says goofy things, Miles never gets enough credit as a coach. His 84-21 record in Baton Rouge is a .800 percentage; Saban was .750 in five years at LSU.

Muschamp’s Gators were 11-1 last year and I don’t know how much more could be asked of a man in his second year as a head coach.

Sumlin’s first year in the SEC was a surprising 11-2, but don’t forget that he inherited a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy and two excellent offensive tackles.

If the rankings are revised after the season, No. 9 Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss is the most likely to move up. Not only were the Rebels 7-6 in his first year, but quarterback Bo Wallace has recovered from shoulder surgery and there is a top-five recruiting class to meld with 19 returning starters. If any of the top three in the Western Division falter, Ole Miss will take advantage.

Outside of Bielema, new coaches Butch Jones of Tennessee, Gus Malzahn of Auburn, and Mark Stoops of Kentucky were ranked 11, 13, and 14 and the interpretation is that those doing the ranking did not give much credence to previous accomplishments.

Bielema’s success in the Big Ten is well documented, including three straight Rose Bowls and four seasons of 10 or more victories. Apparently, the question about Jones stems from the fact that he took over programs that Brian Kelly built at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He will put his own stamp on the Vols just as Malzahn — 9-3 at Arkansas State University in his only year as a head coach — will do at Auburn.

Stoops has the pedigree, but he will never have enough players in Lexington. Because of that, he is the new coach most likely to be gone in a few years.

That said, not all the other coaches in the league will be in place in 2017.

Spurrier is 68, Saban is 61, and Richt, who has been at Georgia for 12 years, was supposed to have been in trouble a couple of years ago.

Not every team can win eight games or more every year and 4-8 followed by 5-7 leads to disillusionment and departures. Those who do turn around a program become a hot property, particularly attractive to the NFL if Chip Kelly’s offense clicks at Philadelphia and the read option gains more traction.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.

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