- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Gary Pinkel and his Missouri staff have earned a well-deserved reputation as talent developers -- a facet of their jobs that is essential in building a program that wins consistently.
Pinkel and Co. don’t sign classes loaded with five-star prospects, but look at what they have accomplished over the past two seasons. Mizzou posted a 23-5 record and won consecutive SEC East titles while more talented teams watched from home as the Tigers played in Atlanta.
Every coach wants to think of himself as someone who gets the most out of his players, and there are heaps of SEC assistant coaches who do just that. Here are five who are certainly getting the job done, even if they are not the most well-known names outside of their respective fan bases:
Arkansas defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Robb Smith: The SEC is loaded with rock-star coordinators – think Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin or Auburn’s Will Muschamp – but Smith isn’t in that category. Yet. In his first season as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator, Smith helped the Razorbacks improve from 76th to 10th nationally in total defense. The Hogs were also 10th in scoring defense, marking the first time in 22 years that Arkansas ranked in the top 10 in either total or scoring defense. Smith signed a three-year contract extension after the season and received a nice pay bump after making $500,000 last season – a modest salary for an SEC coordinator.
Georgia passing game coordinator/recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon: This season will offer a new test of McClendon’s coaching abilities. The 31-year-old served as Mark Richt’s running backs coach from 2009 through last season, and he earned a reputation as an ace recruiter by playing a key role in UGA landing blue-chippers Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Nick Chubb. Now he takes over an inexperienced group of receivers that isn’t stocked with as much top-tier talent. Receiver was McClendon’s position when he played at Georgia a decade ago, so he has plenty of personal experience to rely upon as he instructs his new position group.
LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond: When even outsiders refer to your program as “DBU,” your secondary coach must be doing something right. Of course it helps that LSU’s defensive backs depth chart is annually stocked with talented players, but it’s not like they were all Patrick Peterson-type five-star prospects coming out of high school. LSU led the SEC and ranked third nationally in passing defense last season, surrendering just 164.2 yards per game. But out of the five DBs who handled most of the starts (cornerbacks Tre'Davious White, Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson and safeties Ronald Martin and Jalen Mills), four-star prospect White was the only one whom ESPN did not grade as either a two- or three-star prospect. That means LSU does a good job evaluating DB talent and that Raymond knows how to develop those players once they arrive on campus.
Mississippi State co-offensive coordinator/running game coordinator/offensive line coach John Hevesy: Alongside tag-team partners Dan Mullen and Billy Gonzales, co-workers at several stops prior to Mississippi State, Hevesy has helped transform the Bulldogs’ offense into a juggernaut. After spending five seasons as State’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator, Hevesy added a co-offensive coordinator tag last season and helped the Bulldogs obliterate several school records. With 6,679 total yards last season, Mississippi State surpassed the school record (5,647, set the previous season) by more than 1,000 yards. Hevesy’s running game was a key factor, with his scrappy offensive line helping Josh Robinson and quarterback Dak Prescott combine for 2,189 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
South Carolina co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Shawn Elliott: It’s no coincidence that South Carolina’s offense has actually featured balance since Elliott joined Steve Spurrier’s staff in 2010. Prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks ranked last in the SEC in rushing for three straight years. Since then, they have boasted a productive running game each season. Of course it helped that South Carolina had runners such as Marcus Lattimore and Mike Davis on the roster, but don’t overlook Elliott’s impact, either. He constructed a veteran offensive line – led by All-America guard A.J. Cann – in 2013 and 2014 that helped South Carolina enjoy two of the most productive offensive seasons in school history.
Five underrated assistant coaches in the SEC: The league has some high-profile coordinators, but there are plenty of coaches whose names are rising.