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OPINION | WALLY HALL: SEC Coach of the Year is a three-horse race

by Wally Hall | October 27, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.

Blame Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels.

If not for him and them, Sam Pittman would most likely be one of the top two contenders for SEC Coach of the Year honors.

Along with Kiffin is Kirby Smart and his undefeated and No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

Kirby is a good coach, but Chad Morris could win with that talent.

Ole Miss is 6-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC play with the Rebels' only loss to Alabama, who reguarly beats up lots of teams.

Since beating Arkansas 52-51 -- and if the two-point conversion by the Razorbacks had worked, Kiffin might be third and Pittman second in this coach-of-the-year-race -- the Rebels have beaten Tennessee on the road and LSU at home.

Vols fans left no doubt how they felt about Kiffin coaching there one year and jumping to Southern Cal, where he was unceremoniously fired on the tarmac after returning from a 62-41 loss to Arizona State.

That was seven years ago, but it might have been the start of a maturing of Kiffin.

Nick Saban played a role in that, taking on Kiffin as an offensive coordinator so he could Sabanize his name -- although the truth be known, Saban needed him to update the Bama offense and Kiffin has a brilliant offensive mind.

With rumors circling about Kiffin at Bama, he was fired and landed at Florida Atlantic for three seasons. His 26-13 record got his resume on the desks at Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek pulled out of the race and Ole Miss has gone 11-6 under Kiffin.

Kiffin and the Rebels don't have a clear path to the Sugar Bowl as they still go to Auburn before getting Liberty at home (more on that in a moment) and finish with Vandy at home and at Mississippi State.

If Arkansas was not hosting Mississippi State the day Liberty visits Ole Miss, this scribe would have tried for press credentials to see Hugh Freeze's return to Ole Miss.

Freeze was a dynamic coach for the Rebels. But when the dust settled, Ole Miss vacated 33 games over a six-year span, four of those under Freeze and two under Houston Nutt.

What got Freeze fired was his alleged phone calls to numbers that violated the morals clause in his contract.

Freeze apologized to everyone, including his wife and daughters, and apparently has been on the straight and narrow for five years. After spending two years out of football, he took over Liberty University, an Evangelical Christian school, and its bad football program.

Liberty is 24-8 under his direction and he should be on LSU's short list.

His welcome back to Oxford will be interesting.

Anyway, here's how the coach-of-the-year race sizes up with just November to go.

Kirby and the Bulldogs should run the table and go into the SEC Championship Game against Alabama undefeated.

Kirby will become the second former assistant to beat Saban, Georgia will win two more games and the national championship, and he will be named National Coach of the Year.

If all that happens, voters in the SEC may feel obligated to vote for Kirby.

Yours truly doesn't have a vote, but the race should be between Kiffin and Pittman.

If the Hogs could find a way to win three of their next four and make it a November to remember, then Pittman should get the edge because he has done more with less both years.

Kiffin has done a great job with the Rebels, but he inherited a team with more talent and the two previous seasons had gone 9-15 while the Razorbacks were 4-18 and winless in conference the two years before Pittman arrived.

Most likely Kirby will win it because he has the best players.

Print Headline: SEC Coach of the Year is a three-horse race


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