Editor's note: Bryant. Vaught. Jordan. Dooley. Neyland. These are just a handful of the coaches (among many others) who have come to define the Southeastern Conference due to their dynamic personalities and remarkable success on the field. But who are the top coaches roaming the sidelines of SEC schools today? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 14-1. Today, the series moves on to No. 10.
10. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Record: 45-18 overall (20-5 at NAIA school Lambuth from 2008-09; 10-2 at Arkansas State in 2011; 15-11 in two seasons at Ole Miss from 2012-13; went 8-5 overall last year and 3-5 in SEC play)
National championships: 0
SEC championships: 0
SEC division titles: 0
Some may think this is a little low for a coach who has experienced the kind of success Freeze has in the past six years.
In his first head coaching job, at NAIA school Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee, his Eagles won 20 games in two seasons and won the Mid-South Conference's Western Division both years. Then he moved on to Arkansas State, serving as offensive coordinator for one year before taking over as head coach in 2011. All he did then was lead the Red Wolves to 10 wins and a Sun Belt Conference title.
But arguably his most impressive accomplishments to date have come at Ole Miss. Inheriting a team that had gone 2-10 in 2011 and was riding a 14-game losing streak in the Southeastern Conference, Freeze guided the Rebels to a winning record (7-6) in his first year. That included victories over arch-rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl (41-24) and Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl (38-17).
Things only continued to get better, as they signed a highly-touted recruiting class in 2013 that boasted the nation's top overall player in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche as well as stud offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Laquon Treadwell. With so much positive energy surrounding the program, the Rebels were a popular pick to take a massive step forward last season.
It didn't happen.
Yes, things started off well enough, as Ole Miss picked up wins against Vanderbilt, Southeast Missouri State and Texas to begin the year 3-0. After a 25-0 loss at the hands of top-ranked Alabama, however, it began to go downhill. Ole Miss went on to lose its next two — to Auburn and Texas A&M, respectively — before righting the ship against then-No. 6 LSU. Three more victories against overmatched opponents (Idaho, Arkansas and Troy) followed, giving the Rebels seven wins and the chance to dream of a 10-win campaign.
They were not able to top Missouri at home, however, and then fell to Mississippi State 17-10 in overtime. Still, they ended with the year with a triumph over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl, with the 8-5 mark bettering the Rebels' effort from 2012 by one game.
So what comes next for Freeze?
Once more, Ole Miss will be pushed by many as a team "ready to make a leap" into the upper tier of the SEC this season. To make that a reality, the Rebels will have to do far better in conference play than they have the past two seasons, as they posted a 3-5 record each time.
Freeze's run of success everywhere he's been — including his time in the high school ranks in Tennessee from 1995-2004, when he went 94-30 and won two state championships — leads one to believe the Rebels' rise in the conference will come soon enough. And with it, Freeze's own ascension up the ranks of the top coaches in the SEC (and in the country) will follow suit.