With 2019 Southeastern Conference Media Days less than a week away, there are plenty of pending issues to be discussed but one aspect that might be worthy of attention will pass without much fanfare.
There will be no new coaches doing the discussing.
Things move in cycles in the college football world. In some offseasons, there is a whirlwind of coaching turnover. Last year, there were numerous changes in the SEC, either with faces that were technically new although familiar to most fans (Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M), some that had been in the league but were wearing a different coaching polo (Dan Mullen at Florida), some that were at least familiar in Alabama (Jeremy Pruitt of Tennessee, coordinator of some powerful Crimson Tide defenses and noted supporting actor as a Hoover High School assistant coach in ‘Two-a-Days”) and a couple who required facial recognition technology just to get into the interview area — Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, Chad Morris at Arkansas and Matt Luke at Ole Miss, who was technically making his first Hoover appearance although he had been handed a broom, a mop and an interim title to clean up the Hugh Freeze mess in the early part of 2017.
Those guys are all back this year. In fact, everybody is back. Not one of the 14 league schools made a change, and that should make 2019 interesting in and of itself.
The primary topic, even if no one would articulate it in quite this way, is why is everyone back in the first place? Many teams in the SEC had a solid 2018, but every single coach will be attempting to explain how 2019 can be better. That’s even true of Nick Saban. It’s ludicrous, in a way, to think the coach of the team that went 14-1 and made it to the finals of the College Football Playoffs will have to go to the podium next Wednesday and talk about what he did to fix things in the offseason. That’s the bar Saban has set for Alabama, though.
What’s more, he will probably tackle the topic head on. He won’t dodge questions about the Clemson game, or the wholesale staff changes that took place afterward. Some coaches will take about their teams gradually getting better, with goals of some sort of championship ahead, maybe in 2020 or 2021. Saban has no such luxury. So the paradox in Hoover will be that a coach who has lost one SEC game — one — since 2016 will have some explaining to do. What’s more, he won’t mind doing it.
The runner-up in that derby will be Kirby Smart, who had a great season with Georgia but has to talk (again) about finding a way to beat Alabama, in addition to the Bulldogs’ lackluster performance. Beyond that, Mullen and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops are coming off good seasons but Florida has higher expectations than being “surprising” and UK is going to have a hard time sustaining what it accomplished last year, no matter how Stoops explains it. For everyone else — yes, they are back but on what is more or less a trial basis.
Economics may guarantee another year for Fisher, but there is a lot on the line in 2019 for Jimbo, Gus Malzahn, Ed Orgeron and Will Muschamp. They can’t stake anything on patience at this point. Pruitt might have another year’s grace with Phil Fulmer’s strong support and it’s hard to know what the realistic outlook for the other teams will be. But fans won’t wait forever and neither will administrators, if the dollars start to dwindle. But all those coaches will have to sell improvement next week, and sell it hard.
Yes, every coach is back for another shot at SEC Media Days 2019. Does anyone want to make a bet that the same will hold true for 2020?
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or on Twitter @cecilhurt