SEC experiencing rare moment with coaching stability

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HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference pays big money to its coaches and that’s one reason patience is often in short supply when things go wrong.

But in a rare quirk, there were no new head coaches at the podium during SEC media days for the first time since 2006.

Fans should embrace the stability while they can, because if history is any indication it won’t last long.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason are among several coaches under varying amounts of pressure to show improvement. Malzahn, Mason and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops all took the podium during the final session of SEC media days on Thursday.

If Malzahn is feeling any heat, he isn’t showing it.

“I’ve got a job that expects to win championships, and I knew that when I took this job,” Malzahn said Thursday. “I love the fact that that’s part of the job description here. And the years you don’t win championships, you hear stuff like this. I’ve been a head coach six years, and four of those years you hear, hot seat this, hot seat that.

“That’s just part of this job.”

Malzahn’s enters his seventh year at Auburn after an 8-5 season that included a 3-5 mark in the SEC. The Tigers will have a new quarterback after the departure of Jarrett Stidham and have an intriguing opener against Oregon in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 31.

Mason’s in his sixth year with the Commodores and hasn’t had a winning season, though he’s finished 6-7 twice, including last year. Mason has a 24-38 record at Vanderbilt, but won three SEC games last season.

He expects that positive momentum to continue. Mason believes he has plenty of “swagger,” but that at its core, Vanderbilt requires a blue-collar approach.

“I also know and understand that a place like Vanderbilt is special, and you’ve got to be a grassroots guy,” Mason said. “We’ve been growing this thing organically. It’s taking some time.”

The churn of coaching hires and fires is often cyclical, but SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey believes programs realize that coaches must have a little time to build a program.

One recent example is Stoops, who had some mediocre years before breaking through with a 10-win season in 2018. It was the most wins for the Wildcats in 41 years.

“Patience as a virtue is real and continuity is an asset, particularly when there’s progression, even if it’s incremental,” Sankey said. “Over time, in my experience, that’s how programs really improve.”

Here are other coaches under pressure to show improvement in 2019:

WILL MUSCHAMP, SOUTH CAROLINA

The fourth-year coach has been a solid hire, but a 7-6 season in 2018 — including narrow losses to Texas A&M and Florida — was frustrating. Now the Gamecocks have a senior quarterback in Jake Bentley and there are expectations that the program can be a factor in the Eastern Division race.

CHAD MORRIS, ARKANSAS

The second-year coach doesn’t necessarily need to win big this fall, but there’s no question the Razorbacks expect more success than in 2018. They struggled through a 2-10 record last season, including a 0-8 mark in the SEC. A matchup against Ole Miss in the second week of the season will be a good litmus test.

JOE MOORHEAD, MISSISSIPPI STATE

Moorhead went 8-5 in his first season in Starkville, which was a slight disappointment considering the Bulldogs had one of the nation’s best defenses with three first-round NFL draft picks. The problem was the offense, which must improve if Mississippi State is going to remain competitive in the Western Division.

MATT LUKE, MISSISSIPPI

The third-year Ole Miss coach was a good steward while helping the program weather substantial NCAA punishment in a rules violations case. Now that the two-year postseason ban is over, Luke needs to show that he’s a long-term answer in Oxford. A trip to a bowl game — any bowl game — would certainly be a good start.

JEREMY PRUITT, TENNESSEE

Pruitt had a decent start to his Tennessee tenure, finishing with a 5-7 record, including two wins over nationally-ranked opponents. Now the Volunteers hope that improvement on offense — led by new coordinator Jim Chaney — can help the program improve quickly. Tennessee’s fan base is hungry for success: The Volunteers haven’t won 10 games in a season since 2007.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Good coaching is going to make it harder on all the teams including the upper echelons. But it will improve the conference as a whole. One of the things I like about the SEC is the direction they have chosen in athletics to excel and strive to be better. There is a rub though. IF say Vandy, MS St, Arkansas, KY all have 10 win seasons in the same year that means some traditional team is falling. Fighting clawing to win is a never ending battle and this will help the conference and soon very soon our Gators to rise to the top and see Championships annually.

      • Football reporting is built on cliches. My wife marvels when I say the same thing commentators do before they say it. She wants me to get in the booth. I tell her I don’t want to become a cliche or to come out of the booth as Superman. Don’t want to be boring or put upon. 😉

        • Ain’t it the truth, Phil? So many times you can predict what is going to be said next, you might as well go ahead and say it yourself. I think that’s why I used to like it when Lou Holtz or Lee Corso would call games…..you NEVER know what either one is going to say!

  2. Here’s what SOS said about this subject, revealing that he is just a spoiled fan with unrealistic expectations who knows nothing about football:

    “These coaches that say, ‘Give us two or three years when we get our own players and change the culture,’ that’s a bunch of B.S.” Spurrier said, not speaking about Smart or Kirby.
    He did point out that Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer all won championships in their second seasons.

    https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/beating-alabama-may-not-define-georgia-but-kirby-smart-knows-it-must-happen-soon/

  3. imo, a coach, an athlete, and really any person that is socially dominant, or a leader, has to be strong and also able to see, and take advantage of options during competition. thats why im not sold on any coach ran out of UF as ever being a major success. UF is just too big of a program to hide that kind of problem. Im convinced we have that kind of a staff right now. That is not as common of a trait as it sounds. i think mason and malzahn are both stronger in this dept than champ, and am surprised the newspaper has such a low opinion of them and an overblown opinion of champ. oh well, the games will settle that soon enough.

  4. I’ve been thinking about why we from time to time see AP reports here, especially since they tend to be rather benign in terms of importance at best, and blinding glimpses of the highly obvious at worst. I’ve been unofficially monitoring them for years now, adding up the commissions of distortions and the obvious omissions of relevant facts in many of their non-sports stories, meaning that when I see one of these pop up on GatorSports I immediately begin to question their credibility. That’s a shame, but at least in the sports world they write pretty much classic “nothing burgers” like this piece. So far, anyway.