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Report card: Grading the first-year coordinators in the SEC

The Crimson Tide defense was as tough as ever under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

There were 13 new coordinators in the SEC this season. We’re handing out grades to see how each did in his first year at a new school.

Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator: A+

This might be Nick Saban’s defense, but give Pruitt credit. He replaced Saban’s right-hand man (Kirby Smart), and the Alabama defense didn’t miss a beat. Between the defensive touchdowns and the streak of keeping teams out of the end zone in the month of November, the Crimson Tide finished with the highest defensive efficiency rating (98.0) since it became a stat in 2005.

Kevin Steele, Auburn defensive coordinator: A

As impressive as Pruitt and LSU's Dave Aranda were, no SEC defensive coordinator produced a better turnaround than Steele. In terms of scoring defense, Auburn went from allowing 27.3 points per game (No. 69) last season to allowing just 15.6 points per game (No. 5) this year. The move to hire Steele was questioned initially by some, but the veteran coach earned every penny.

Jim Chaney, Georgia offensive coordinator: C-

There were some questionable playcalls that stood out in losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, but Chaney’s grade was always going to correlate with the maturation of QB Jacob Eason. And to be honest, the true freshman quarterback didn’t progress like some thought he would. Plus, nobody should have to tell you to give the ball to running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel more.

Mel Tucker, Georgia defensive coordinator B+

Kirby Smart convinced Tucker to leave Alabama and follow him to Georgia, which turned out to be a shrewd move for both sides. The Bulldogs quietly finished No. 16 nationally in defensive efficiency. And before you give Smart all the credit, it was Tucker who was in charge of a secondary that allowed only 186.9 yards per game through the air.

Eddie Gran, Kentucky offensive coordinator: B+

Kentucky’s offense finished middle-of-the-pack in the SEC this season, but considering where it was in September compared to where it finished in November, Gran deserves a lot of credit. He also had to change the offense and tailor it around backup quarterback Stephen Johnson when starter Drew Barker went down after Week 3.

Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator: A

There’s a reason LSU just paid nearly $2 million to keep Aranda on board. Through all the turmoil this season, the one constant was the defense. The Tigers finished top 10 nationally in scoring defense (16.4 points per game) and defensive efficiency (83.9), and prior to the season finale at Texas A&M, they hadn’t allowed more 21 points in a game all year.

Peter Sirmon, Mississippi State defensive coordinator: D

It’s never good when your defense gives up over 600 yards three different times. It’s even worse when one of those games comes against Samford, an FCS school. The Bulldogs have lost some key defenders to the NFL in recent years, but from a statistical standpoint, this was the worst the Mississippi State defense has ever been under Dan Mullen.

Josh Heupel, Missouri offensive coordinator: B

On one hand, Missouri led the SEC with over 500 yards of total offense per game. On the other, the Tigers were middle-of-the-pack in points per game (31.4) and offensive efficiency (48.6). But maybe the biggest compliment to Heupel was seeing quarterback Drew Lock break through as a sophomore. He wasn’t perfect and yet he still led the league in passing yards.

DeMontie Cross, Missouri defensive coordinator: D:

What happened to the Missouri defense? The Tigers went from allowing 302 yards per game last year to giving up a league-worst 480 yards per game this year. Injuries to Michael Scherer, Terry Beckner Jr. and others didn’t help, but there were issues before those guys got hurt. Cross was asked to hand over the playcalling duties after a rough first month.

Kurt Roper, South Carolina offensive coordinator: C

Based purely on numbers, this grade should probably be a little lower. The Gamecocks finished at the bottom of the SEC in total offense and No. 96 nationally in offensive efficiency. But the offense improved once freshman quarterback Jake Bentley took over, and seeing the growth of Bentley and some of the other freshmen is a credit to Roper.

Travaris Robinson, South Carolina defensive coordinator: B

Robinson won’t get the credit he probably deserves coaching under a defensive guru like Will Muschamp, but in his first year as a defensive coordinator at the college level, he helped turn around the SEC’s worst defense from 2015 and made the Gamecocks respectable on that side of the ball. In conference games, South Carolina only allowed 373.6 yards per game.

Bob Shoop, Tennessee defensive coordinator: C-

It wasn’t that Tennessee was awful, especially given all the injuries that continued to pile up during the season. It’s more about the expectations put on this unit when they went out and hired Shoop. He was a big name who simply didn’t live up to the hype. Over the team’s final three games, the defense gave up 1,983 yards to Kentucky (635), Missouri (740) and Vanderbilt (608).

Noel Mazzone, Texas A&M offensive coordinator: B

Before Trevor Knight got injured, Texas A&M was averaging nearly 500 yards of offense through the first two months of the season. And when Knight returned for the season finale against LSU, the Aggies scored 39 points and put up 472 total yards. That’s a credit to Knight but also to Mazzone, who called the plays all season for a unit that was much improved from the year before.