Roy Exum: Who’s The Best Coach?

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Nobody has asked me but as college football morphs into championship games and too many bowls, there is a valid argument that Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin should be the “Coach of the Year” in the talent-laden Southeastern Conference. By all rights the award should go to Kirby Smart, whose top-ranked Bulldogs will likely win every game they’ll play in the regular season with an almost-certain shellacking of Georgia Tech this Saturday. But we knew Georgia was loaded before the first whistle and that Ole Miss was not.

So, does the fact Ole Miss won every game at home and could become the first team in school history to win 10 regular-season games this Thursday night not count for something? Kirby has done what everybody thought he could, which is admittedly no small feat in the SEC, and his Bulldogs have been favored in every game they’ve played.

But what if Alabama wins the championship game?

Ole Miss lost to Alabama (42-21) and Auburn (31-20), but the argument becomes is ‘total victories’ or ‘coaching ability’ the standard for the award? For that matter, if Mississippi State (7-4) upsets Kiffin’s Rebels this Thursday night in the ‘Egg Bowl,’ maybe we should acknowledge the lovable pirate, Mike Leach, for returning State to glory. Leach has done an incredible job this season, with four wins in the last five games.

And how about Mark Stoops at Kentucky? Three straight losses in the middle of the season kayoed the Wildcats but if UK can conquer Louisville (6-5) this Saturday, a nine-win year in Lexington could get Mark elected as Mayor. Arkansas, now 7-4, could get an eighth win against Missouri this week, which would be quite a feather in coach Sam Pittman’s hat in this, just his second year.

* * *


My buddy Scott Hunter, who threw for 484 yards for Alabama in the 1969 Iron Bowl, was the honorary captain Saturday night when the Tide hosted Arkansas. And wouldn’t you know he looked on as Tide quarterback Bryce Young broke Scott’s 52-year school record for the most passing yards in a game. Young passed for 559 yards to trigger Alabama to a 42-35 win.

“Man, if I had receivers like (Bryce) did I would have had 750 yards!” the good-natured Hunter laughed as he saw his record eclipsed. “Frankly, I am surprised the record lasted for as long as it did. I wasn’t tracking it … I was more into the strategy of the game but when he passed me, I was pleased for him.”

Hunter congratulated Young by phone Saturday night. For the record Young’s yardage came on 31-of-40 attempts for five touchdowns whereas, 52 years ago, Hunter completed 30 of 55 passes. “Coach Bryant just told me to keep throwing and I did,” Scott said, the Tide dropping a 49-26 loss to Auburn that day.

“Fifty-two years!” Hunter laughed. “It was time.”

* * *


With Auburn’s three game losing streak, Saturday’s Iron Bowl game (3:30 p.m. CBS) with Alabama isn’t quite as tasty as in many years but Thursday night’s Egg Bowl – Ole Miss at Miss. State (7:30 p.m., ESPN) – could turn into a slugfest. Between Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and State’s Will Rogers, the two have 63 touchdowns combined.

Ole Miss, ranked eighth in the country, has earned it but – get this – State’s Air Raid offense has generated 40.4 points per game in the last five outings, third in the SEC behind Georgia and Alabama. Rogers, two years removed from playing high school football in (hello) Brandon, Miss., has developed into one of the most stellar quarterbacks in the league and, “No, I’m not surprised,” said his coach, Mike Leach.

Incidentally, Corral is a junior and announced last week he’ll forego his senior season to enter the pro draft. Rogers, on the other hand, picked State over Troy and Tulane. Thursday night’s game should be a lot of fun.

* * *


Through eleven games this season, Tennessee has scored 34 or more points in seven games. Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, UT can make it eight. Under three-year coach Jeremy Pruitt, the Vols scored that many points five times in the years Pruett was the coach. I’m just saying …

* * *


There are 16 games that will be televised on Friday this week and the best match-up will be North Carolina (6-5) at N.C. State (8-3). The two will play for “bragging rights” (please!) at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Missouri-Arkansas game, which will be played in Fayetteville at 3:30 p.m. (CBS), is worth a glance, too.

* * *


Start early with No. 2 Ohio State at No. 6 Michigan at noon (FOX). During commercials go to Georgia-Ga. Tech (ABC) or Florida State-Florida on ESPN.

At 3:30 p.m. its Alabama at Auburn (CBS) with commercial peeks at Penn State-Michigan State (ABC). The Tennessee-Vanderbilt game is on SECN at 3:45 p.m.

Among 7 p.m. games are Texas A&M at LSU (ESPN) with commercial breaks to Clemson-South Carolina (SECN), and Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (ESPN)

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