- The SEC hadn't retained all of its head coaches in any of the last 13 years—until this offseason's quiet carousel. Will that stability stick?
When the SEC’s head football coaches gather next week for the league’s annual spring summit in Destin, there will be no need for introductions. This year, none of the league’s 14 teams switched coaches in the offseason. How rare is that? The last time it happened, between the 2005 and ’06 seasons Nick Saban was in the NFL, Urban Meyer had zero national championship rings, Ed Orgeron was the head coach at Ole Miss, and this writer was still in college.
This winter, no school fired its coach, nor did any coach leave on his own terms. From Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason to LSU’s Ed Orgeron, everyone who could have conceivably been shown the door if the season had spiraled ultimately stuck around. The 13-year gap between offseasons like this is proof of something we already all knew: The SEC is a cutthroat league where head coaches are employed based only on their team’s most recent performance. The fluidity of head coaching jobs is not only relegated to this conference, of course. The Pac-12 has gone just as long as the SEC has between turnover-free years, and its streak is still alive with Mel Tucker taking over at Colorado. The Big Ten has not gone an offseason without a coaching change since 2010. Meanwhile, the ACC (in 2017) and Big 12 (in ’18) have each entered one of the last two seasons without a new coach.
So what does any of this mean for the 2019 SEC football season? The answer is complex. Several SEC teams changed coordinators, adopting new styles or systems on offense and defense. History gives us some indication of what to expect in a season with no new faces among the head coaches. Often, many teams are still in wait-and-see mode after an offseason of high turnover. A year ago, the SEC had five jobs change hands and welcomed in four new coaches (Dan Mullen left Mississippi State for Florida). The Big 12 and the ACC combined for seven new hires the year before their coaches all kept their jobs. In years of no turnover, the biggest trend is the success of the newer coaches who take significant jumps in Year 2. In 2006, Les Miles won 11 games at LSU, and Meyer won his first national title with Florida. Mark Richt won 10 games in 2017 with Miami, and last year Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas’s Tom Herman took the top two spots in the Big 12 while Matt Rhule led Baylor to a bowl victory. This seems like good news for the fan bases at Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher), Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt), Arkansas (Chad Morris), Mississippi State (Joe Moorhead) and Florida (Mullen) entering year two for their coaches.
You’d think a year with no turnover would result in a transitional season the next year, but that’s not always the case. In the 2006 season, only one coach lost his job, but it was a pretty significant one: Alabama replaced Mike Shula with Saban, who has brought five national championships to Tuscaloosa and set an impossible standard for the league’s other coaches. There was just one change in the ACC in 2017, and it was a voluntary move: Fisher’s jump from Florida State to Texas A&M.
Not every follow-up season goes so smoothly. The Big Ten entered the 2010 season without a new coach and left it with four changes: Minnesota fired Tim Brewster mid-season, Indiana and Michigan canned Bill Lynch and Rich Rodriguez, and plagued by the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal, Jim Tressel resigned at Ohio State the following May in the wake of the tattoo-parlor scandal.
The Big 12 had no new coaches entering last season. It will begin this season with new coaches at four schools: Kansas (David Beaty to Les Miles), Kansas State (Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman), Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury to Matt Wells) and West Virginia (Dana Holgorsen to Neal Brown). Back in 2006, the Pac-12 had two firings at Stanford and Arizona State, resulting in a man named Jim Harbaugh entering the league.
So what’s in store for the SEC? Who really knows. Saban turns 68 in October, but he and his new hip show no signs of slowing. Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Tennessee, as mentioned, just made new hires a year ago. Kirby Smart at Georgia is as secure as nearly anyone. Orgeron at LSU, Barry Odom at Missouri and Mark Stoops at Kentucky each got contract extensions following successful 2018 seasons. That leaves four on shakier ground by comparison: Matt Luke (Ole Miss), Will Muschamp (South Carolina), Malzahn (Auburn) and Mason (Vanderbilt). A year after all was quiet on the head coaching carousel, let the hot-seat talk commence.