Grading recent hires in SEC
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 1:57 a.m.
And so it is settled now, the roster for SEC Media Days in July. We know who the new faces will be and unless someone decides to step up to the NFL or gets lost at sea on a jet ski, we know who the 14 football coaches are in the SEC.
The four vacancies have been filled. There were no home run hires. Not even an inside-the-park one.
At the same time, I don't think anybody made an obviously bad hire. You know, like Derek Dooley or Charlie Weis. Or John L. Smith.
Of course, the fan bases at all four schools who went searching believe their job is better than it really is. It's rare that a coach is hired to a 100-percent approval rating. Auburn is just happy this hire wasn't heckled at the airport.
I don't think any of these hires has anyone in the most powerful conference in America shivering in their Nikes. Perhaps the most amazing thing now that the dust has settled is that the best coach available, a guy with a proven track record in the SEC, a coach who let people know he really wanted back into the league is still unemployed.
I'm speaking, of course, of Phil Fulmer.
Oh yeah, and Bobby Petrino, too. He found out his baggage wouldn't fit on any of the Learjets the athletic directors were flying around the country.
So how did they do? Time will tell, but there are first impressions.
Bret Bielema did not enjoy living in Barry Alvarez's shadow and wanted out. Meanwhile, Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and the next Wisconsin coach will have to live with that.
But this isn't about Wisconsin. Bielema was the most surprising hire. I think some of the lure was the chance to prove yourself against the best. Welcome to the SEC West.
This is going to be a struggle. Arkansas is not built to be the kind of team Bielema wants. The new normal in this SEC is to run the ball and play defense. Bielema's Wisconsin team ranked 13th nationally in total defense and 12th in rushing. Arkansas was 73rd on total defense and 108th in rushing the football this season.
It's going to take time. I'd give this hire a B-.
Gus Malzahn wanted out of Auburn after he was reined in by Gene Chizik in 2010. He thought he had the Kansas job only to have Weis sweet-talk the Jayhawks into hiring him. He settled for Arkansas State and won a Sun Belt title there.
While Malzahn may be a head scratcher outside the South, it was the obvious choice at a place that doesn't like to think outside the box. Chizik was a family hire and so is Malzahn. He knows Auburn and knows the SEC. He is an excellent recruiter. He returns all but eight seniors next year.
But let's face it. Six years ago, he was a high school coach who only got a coordinator's job (at Arkansas) because he had five of the nation's top recruits. He has one year of experience as a head coach and that was in the Sun Belt.
He inherits something similar to what Will Muschamp inherited at Florida. He's got players, but he's going to have to weed out the ones with attitudes and entitlement issues. In Muschamp's case, that took a full year.
I'd have hired Petrino in a heartbeat. But I'll give this hire a B-.
Mark Stoops has the bloodline. He is an excellent defensive coordinator. But he was so eager to become a head coach he asked Kentucky out instead of the other way around. And he took the job without ever setting a foot on campus.
What if he's allergic to bluegrass?
Now that James Franklin has Vandy headed in the right direction, this might be the worst job in the SEC. You are always going to be the little brother to basketball, the fans are fickle (or does that go without saying in the SEC?), you are recruiting in a state bankrupt of talent and Louisville has passed you.
Tough gig. It takes a special coach to be a consistent winner at Kentucky. I'd give this hire a C-.
It was another cluster for the Vols, in part because nobody seems really sure about how good this job is.
I don't know whether or not Jon Gruden was ever seriously offered the job. I know that Mike Gundy never had any serious interest, but Tennessee pursued him anyway. And I know Charlie Strong, a defensive coordinator just three years ago, turned it down.
I respect Strong's loyalty, and knowing him like I do, I don't think he was giving us coachspeak (otherwise known as lying) when he said he felt some obligation to Louisville AD Tom Jurich. Charlie and I had some long talks about why he couldn't get a head coaching job.
But I also think this had to come into play.
South Carolina isn't going away under Steve Spurrier. Georgia is going to continue to be an elite team under Mark Richt. Muschamp has the Gators soaring again. Franklin could win nine games at Vandy. Oh, and you have to play Alabama every year.
Welcome to the SEC, Butch Jones.
Tennessee couldn't find a coach who could beat Alabama so it found one who could beat Vanderbilt (last year, in the Liberty Bowl).
Jones was flirting with Purdue and Colorado but put those job opportunities on hold when Tennessee made a desperate call. They couldn't get Charlie Strong so they got a coach who lost to him this season. They fired Derek Dooley and hired a coach who lost to him by 22 last year.
I'm not saying it's a bad hire. I'm just saying it might have been the best they could do. I'll give it a C-.
See y'all in Hoover.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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