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Grading the SEC Head Coaching Hires

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.


Kentucky: B+

-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”.


Tennessee: C-

-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.


Auburn: B+

-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: B

-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.

Article written by Rashawn Franklin

36 Comments for Grading the SEC Head Coaching Hires

  1. Kneel
    5:43 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Dumbest post ever, I stopped reading after you gave Arkansas a B, they hired a coach that has gone to three straight Rose Bowls. He made WISCONSIN relevant….Wisconsin, my friend. Please re-write your post and give Arkansas no less than an A-.

  2. Ol' Ball Coach
    5:53 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Big 10 football is sub par because of inferior talent, not inferior coaching. Bielema is one of the 10 best coaches in the nation. Arkansas went from great scumbag coach to interim to great coach with high character…granted he left Wisconsin high and dry but there are some things not right with assistants pay there. This was an A+ hire!

  3. JBR
    5:54 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    I think the ONLY way to even have a post like this is after the next couple of seasons. This is like when we build up our teams each spring/summer playing against each other and listening to joker, and then being brought back to reality. #1 is right, we need some more substance in our football coverage on this site.

  4. Ky Realist
    5:58 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Stools will be fired in 3 or 4 years.

  5. Bradley
    5:58 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Bielema is the worst hire. His record against “good” Big 10 teams is terrible. Beats up on cupcakes. He’ll get run out of Fayetteville. Btw, Butch Jones is actually a good hire. Better than many that UT tried to get before him. He’s a MUCH better coach than Chuck Strong and you’ll see that very soon.

  6. UK Freshmen
    6:00 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    UK gets a coordinator and Arkasas gets a winning Bir Ten head coach. However you rate UK a B+ and Arkansas a B. What a joke article.

  7. UKfan12
    6:01 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Easily the worst post ever. I’m excited about Stoops, but to give Kentucky a B+ and Arkansas a B is a joke. Seriously. Bielema has been to 3 straight Rose Bowls. I love Stoops, but what has he proven so far?

  8. NotSatire
    6:01 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Can’t give out grades until after the test. 🙂

  9. Mike
    6:20 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Agree….what a stupid and premature post. How could you give Butch Jones a C- when you knew he was on UK’s list??

  10. Catlogic15
    6:21 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    How could KSR possibly have the knowledge to make these grades?

  11. SeoulCat
    6:21 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    UK & Stoops: A-
    Arkansas & Bielema: A-
    Auburn & Malzahn: B-
    UT & Jones: D+

  12. by
    6:23 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    shocked to see UK’s hire as #1…I remember the same out of control excitement for one Billy Clyde…that turned out well

  13. dave
    6:24 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    10-its a UK sports blog, calm down

  14. Big Whoop
    6:25 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    I don’t know who got the best or the worst coach, but I know Jones and Bielema have no recruiting ties to SEC recruiting grounds. Jones has had some success in the Miami area, but Miami is Miami’s and Florida St.’s base.

  15. Ukalum
    6:31 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    If the grades were given out on a team by team basis, as in stoops is a B+ for UKs search. Then I can see where you got these grades. Bitch jones is a good coach but for what Tennessee thinks it is, it is a mediocre hire. If UT was the program it thought it was they would have lured Bielema not arkansas.
    Bielema is a questionable hire for one reason, the Wisconsin power run. It will take Bielema several years to change arkansas from the pass heavy petrino offense to the run heavy Wisconsin style. If it had been Alabama that hired Bielema it would be an A+ hire since there would be a style change.

  16. kydenman
    6:32 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    I love beautiful women!!!!

  17. Yngvie Malmsteen.
    6:34 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    To grade Aub, a team that won the NC 2 years ago, getting Malzahn as highly as UK getting Stoops is wrong. Stoops is an A for a program like UK. Malzahn a C.

  18. Yngvie Malmsteen.
    6:37 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    It’s unanimous. This was poorly thought out blog entry.

  19. bigbluebear
    6:39 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    The only grades that can really be handed out,as of now,would be for the HC’s picks for his/their co-ordinators/assistants.And as of right now I would say that Stoops has earned a B+ in that area.Especially if Brown comes on board here in the very near future.The others I leave to their own fans.And at any rate we are far better off now than just a couple of weeks ago.I think we can all agree on that at least.GBB!!!

  20. kydenman
    6:41 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    I may had dropped my season tickets had UK hired butch jones

  21. KSR Sunshine Pumpers
    6:45 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Looks like the KSR Sunshine Pumpers are out in full force already and were not even into the new year. By August I expect calls for a 9+ win season despite all the evidence to the contrary just like last year. Again, as a suggestion to KSR football writers–go check your analysis against nationally respected SEC writers. If you’ve come to drastically different conclusions rethink your post.

    Word of caution. The Stoops name is pretty well regarded in the coaching ranks but you should beware…only Bob Stoops has had success. Mike was fired at Arizona. So at best they are batting 0.500 right now.

  22. jacob
    7:04 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    ik im being a smart azz but #21 the referencing to batting .500 batting .500 would be great if we were batting but this is football not baseball 😉

  23. STEVE!
    7:05 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    UT hires a coach with 6 years head coaching experience and 4 conference championships. ARK hires a coach that won the Big 10 the last 3 years and went to 3 Rose Bowls. Auburn hires the coach that was the OC for their NC team. We hire a Coordinator with no SEC or head coaching experience, and you claim we had the best hire. The spin and PR ate starting early this year.

  24. Yitbos
    7:26 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    1) you know jack about Wisconsin football! They had a pretty damn good history before Bielema took over….not sure if you’ve heard about Barry Alvarez before…..also, they finished 3rd in their division and the only reason they get to go to the Rose Bowl is because PSU and OSU are ineligible.

  25. Ares
    8:09 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    I have to agree with others I would say that Arkansas has an “A” hire at least with credentials. Auburn probably B+ depending on how much stock you put in Cam Newton and how much was coaching. I would say Kentucky and Tennessee probably both B Jones on head coaching performance and Stoops on his good defenses and potential as well.

  26. Ridge Runner
    8:18 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Well ummm…for us…umm…anything over Joker is an automatic “C”. I mean…lets be real. I love my Cats but we are the bottom-feeders of the SEC and to get a new, fresh, defensive minded coach jumps it to a “B”. So, I’m ok with it coming from our own site. I get it.

  27. Facts
    9:17 pm December 9, 2012 Permalink

    Is this a new low for KSR homerism? Definitely. has a more realistic analysis (which is the most insulting thing I have ever said).

  28. big blue
    12:27 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    Umm so a guy that has 4+ 10 win seasons 3 ros bowls, outback and capital one bowl has a worse grade than a guy who hasnt been a HC. Bias at all?

  29. KT
    12:47 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    I think it’s funny that if you go to each of those 4 team’s fan sites there is a similar article saying that their program made the best hire.

  30. KT
    12:56 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    I agree 28. I do think we are 2nd behind Arkansas on paper but I don’t know if Biliema will work out there or not in reality, I just don’t see his style working in the SEC but I could be wrong on him. TN and AUB, give me a break, I think Malzahn rode the coattails of Cam Newton much like Chizik, I think that offense looked a lot like the Carolina Panthers current offense, terrible, but…Cam Newton makes plays in spite of it just like he did at Auburn. Butch Jones is a complete question mark IMO but the fan base is extremely split on the guy so I’m not sure he will get much support. Time will tell but I truly think we made at worst the second best hire of the 4 schools. Stoops is hungry to prove himself, so is Brown, that’s a good combination.

  31. BigBlue
    1:31 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    Homer post of the year, at least be fair, this is a joke

  32. big blue
    2:10 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    Ut sports talk radio the drive rated it Ark 1st, ut 2nd, au 3rd, uk 4th. Funny how they are total opposite. Atleast they wasnt bias on the Ark hire

  33. BNClay
    9:40 am December 10, 2012 Permalink

    Agree with 15. Of course Jones and Beilema and more accomplished coach than Stoops. Because they have some successful season as HC. When you look at is case by case you have to say that Stoops was the best or at least equal to the best hire of all for school. I think KSR pretty much nailed it. I would give UK A, Auburn B, Arkansas B-, UT D-.

  34. NotaStoopsFan
    1:04 pm December 10, 2012 Permalink

    “Lets wait to see if he wins a game first…”
    I remember how loud we all cheered when Billy the Drunk was introduced….see how well that turned out.

  35. hello
    10:07 pm December 10, 2012 Permalink

    #1 and #2 you are both wrong on a couple things about Bielema…He did not make Wisconsin relevant, Alvarez did, that being said he is a great coach. #2, He is not a high character guy really…..but you are both right that he is easily the best hire of the bunch, and I think this post is vastly underrating Butch Jones who does come for the Ohio/Michigan coaching factory as well.

  36. for real
    10:11 pm December 10, 2012 Permalink

    real rating BTW: