The coaching carousel spins earlier every autumn in the Southeastern Conference. In the upcoming calm-before-the-storm Saturday, three interim coaches will be helping the SEC bake the cupcakes — ummm, I mean participate in some fiercely competitive games — and there could be two more, at least, on the verge of making their final appearance in their current role. That’s a tremendous amount of change for a league that has already had four other changes in the past three years.
There’s no way to know which direction Florida, Tennessee and Ole Miss will go, and no way of knowing whether their eventual move will be the right one. Changing coaches would be easy if all you had to do was follow some preset blueprint but the fact is, what works at one place may not work at another.
For instance, the strategy that has worked best for Alabama has been close your eyes, swing as hard as you can at the fastball and see if the ball leaves the park. Alabama has connected twice. When the 2018 seasons arrives, Alabama will have had a 60-year stretch — a virtual college football-watching lifetime — in which it has been coached by either Paul “Bear” Bryant or Nick Saban for 60 percent of the time, 36 years of the best possible fortune. That’s not totally lottery-ticket luck. Bryant considered coaching Alabama as “coming home” and a lot of work went into persuading Saban, who was the right coach at a fortuitous time in terms of availability. But you’ve got to have a little luck to hire like that (the other 24 years of coaches at Alabama have ranged from very good in Gene Stallings to bad fits for a variety of reasons.)
Setting aside the “Let’s Go Hire The Best Coach Of A Generation” strategy, the other hires that seem to be working best in the SEC have come when the school doing the hiring had a good grasp of what it wanted as a program and what was realistic. Kirby Smart was a Georgia alum, but had also been immersed in a system that could be replicated at a school with tremendous recruiting talent.
Auburn has always seemed to have an understanding of what’s important, which hasn’t always meant the biggest name. But it has meant a familiarity with Auburn and its main motivation, which is never to let itself fall so far behind Alabama that it takes years to catch up. For all the many major ramifications in next week’s game, it’s still important to Gus Malzahn for that basic reason as well.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, didn’t rush, did its homework, found a successful offensive coordinator ready to make the move and showed patience as he grew — perhaps the rarest route of all these days. Now, Dan Mullen is the kind of coach that programs looking for a “name” will consider.
Certainly, Florida can attract a “big name” if it wants, and it might feel the time is right to go that route. Texas A&M, if it wades into the Jimmy Sexton Swimming Pool and Party Cabana, can spend what it wants. Tennessee isn’t as good a job as those two (sorry, Vol fans) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good job. I thought Arkansas was on the right path when it hired Bret Bielema (build it like Wisconsin) but he’s oddly never been able to field much of a defense, so your guess is as good as mine. Ole Miss has to wait until its NCAA ruling to know how much of a rebuild it is facing and who to hire.
The odds of another Bryant or Saban preparing to enter the SEC are slim — but that doesn’t mean programs shouldn’t step to the plate and swing away.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.