SEC head coaching jobs are the most coveted in college football. The conference houses the best talent, highest paying contracts, and most passionate fan bases in the nation. It is a truly remarkable platform for a coach and the closest thing to professional football without actually being there. Because of the big stage, coaches are required to have success no matter the situation, as we saw this season. Four underachieving coaches were dismissed and replaced by some of the hottest head coaches and coordinators around the nation. Now that the coaching carousel has stopped, let’s assess grades to the various hires.
-When Joker Phillips was dismissed, many thought AD Mitch Barnhart would seek another offensive guy to fill the vacant position. The thought was: Kentucky doesn’t have great personnel at a lot of positions but most of its talent is on the offensive side of the ball so you need to cater to that strength. I thought that would be the best path too, unless Barnhart was able to find a stud defensive guy. Well… he happened to found that guy in Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Stoops has transformed Florida State’s defense from worst to first by implementing one of the most vaunted pass rushes in college football. Stoops is a great hire for the program and undoubtedly will build the defense to great heights but Kentucky has to find an offensive coordinator to compliment him because of his lack of head coaching experience. If Kentucky can find a great offensive coordinator to go along with Stoops this hire immediately turns into an “A”.
-It’s pretty safe to say Cincinnati’s Butch Jones was not Tennessee’s first choice. Tennessee’s process turned desperate after Louisville’s Charlie Strong turned them down, further cementing that the job has lost the luster it once had. The Volunteers were forced to offer the job to Jones or miss out on a “big name coach” altogether. While I don’t think Jones is a terrible coach, I’m not sure if he’s a great fit for the SEC. Why didn’t he have more success in the lowly Big East? Did he benefit by just managing the talent left by Brian Kelly? Is he strictly a program maintainer or can he build a powerhouse? In due time, all of these questions will be answered but right now it looks as if the Volunteers fumbled this hiring process.
-Only two years removed from a National Championship and the Tigers make a coaching change. Auburn brings back Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator of that championship team to be head coach. Malzahn went 9-3 in his first stint as a collegiate head coach while at Arkansas State. Malzahn knows Auburn’s personnel as well as anybody because he helped recruit a lot of them, which should make for an easy transition. A great staff will be key for Malzahn, but I like Auburn AD Jay Jacobs’ thought process on this hire.
-Arkansas continues its rebuild after the Bobby Petrino mess earlier this year. Luring Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin isn’t a bad start to doing so. Bielema’s tenure at Wisconsin can be described as consistent more than anything. The Badgers have been one of the better teams in the Big Ten during Bielema’s seven years, making a bowl game every year, including three trips to the Rose Bowl. Bielema has a great eye for talent and should be able to do some pretty good recruiting down at Arkansas. The number one question will be if he can make the transition from the Big Ten, which is not the conference it used to be, to competing in the SEC West every week. If he’s able to do so, Arkansas will be set at head coach for years to come.