2021 SEC Coach of the Year Candidates

Kirby Smart — Georgia, 12-0 overall record/8-0 in SEC

Case for Smart:

— Led Georgia to first 8-0 SEC record in program history

— JT Daniels injured for much of the season

— Stetson Bennett has improved and been a leader on the team; even more impressive when fans were ready to move on from him and he admitted he considered leaving the program during the offseason

— Several key players have been hurt or missed time: George Pickens, Dom Blaylock, Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson, Kendal Milton, Adam Anderson (legal issues), Tykee Smith (season-ending ACL), Arik Gilbert (MIA), Jalen Kimber (season-ending injury)

— Beat Clemson 10-3 in the opener; since then the closest game has been a 24-point win at Auburn

— Georgia averages 40 a game in SEC play; allows 8.3 points in SEC play

Case against Smart:

— Georgia is arguably the most talented team in the country; been saying all season they would run through the SEC East

— UGA’s schedule has not been as daunting as many teams playing in the SEC East

— Really only played two road games (Auburn and Tennessee); other away games in Clemson (Charlotte), Florida (Jacksonville), at Vanderbilt and at Georgia Tech

Sam Pittman — Arkansas, 8-4 overall record/4-4 in SEC

Case for Pittman:

— 8-4 in Year 2 of the program after facing what many were calling the toughest schedule in the country

— Led team to break several streaks: Texas A&M (9-game streak); LSU (5-game streak) Missouri (5-game streak)

— Razorbacks own all rivalry trophies for the first time: for beating Aggies, LSU and Mizzou

— Destroyed Texas; that game has more significance than most SEC fans realize. Razorbacks hate Texas and had to hear all season how they were going to lose, Arkansas was the betting underdog in the game

— Offense took a huge step forward; defense more consistent

— Offensive line was a strength of the team

Case against Pittman:

— Bad home loss to Auburn (he admitted he got outcoached)

— Outclassed by Georgia in Athens

— Lost to Ole Miss (the game was on the road and came down to final play)

— Only won one true road game (at LSU in OT)

Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss, 10-2 overall record/6-2 in SEC

Case for Kiffin:

— The first 10-win regular season in school history

— won Egg Bowl in Starkville & won in Knoxville against hot Tennessee team with an incredible hostile crowd

— won despite Matt Corral getting banged up; top 3 receivers all hurt at different times; without several offensive linemen during SEC schedule

— defense no longer a liability

Case against Kiffin:

— too aggressive at times; so many 4th down attempts that didn’t work; not great in the red zone (12th in the SEC in scoring efficiency in the red zone)

— fake injuries, that’s on Kiffin at the end of the day

Josh Heupel — Tennessee 7-5 overall record/4-4 in SEC

Case for Heupel:

— Tennessee 4 games better this season (Bill Martin graphic); which ties Shane Beamer for the biggest turnaround among first year FBS coaches

— outscored South Carolina, Missouri & Vanderbilt: 152-65

— won at Missouri and at Kentucky; 2-2 road record this season

— offense went from unwatchable to can’t miss in one offseason; Hendon Hooker, Cedric Tillman developed into stars; running game was solid after losing Eric Gray; Ty Chandler

— overcame massive offseason defections

— defense played over their head for most of the season

Case against Heupel:

— started Joe Milton to start the season; at least he quickly made the switch

— not great home record: loss to Pitt, loss to Ole Miss, loss to Georgia

— only beat Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vandy in SEC play

Mike Leach — Mississippi State 7-5 overall record/4-4 record

Case for Leach:

— one of the league’s most improved teams: improved from 4-7 to 7-5 with one of the youngest rosters

— Several wins over ranked opponents (NC State, A&M, Kentucky, Auburn)

— Will Rogers was a question mark heading into the season; was competing with Jack Abraham and named starter in fall camp

— won at Texas A&M, at Auburn; 3-2 road record for the season

— defense remained one of the SEC’s most underrated units

Case against Leach:

— loss Egg Bowl at home

— loss to Memphis (horrible officiating)

— special team issues cost the team games

— lost 3 home games (LSU, blown out by Alabama, and Ole Miss)

The winner: Kirby Smart


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