Coaching Stability in the SEC

Our fearless leader will be back blogging live at SEC Media Days this week, which run Wednesday-Friday in Hoover, AL.  And as has been the case for the last five years, there will be new faces coming to the podium.  With Bobby Johnson's retirement, we'll have three new coaches in the league this year in Robbie Caldwell, Joker Phillips, and of course Derek Dooley.

Consider that the two pillars of continuity in the SEC are Houston Nutt (who's been in the league with two teams since 1998) and Mark Richt (the longest tenured coach, at Georgia since 2001).  And while Nutt and Steve Spurrier were in the league with different teams, none of the coaches who were at their schools when the Vols won it all in 1998 are still with the same employer today.  And that was only twelve years ago.

Even in five years, things can change dramatically.  2005 was the big move year for the SEC, with four new coaches coming in.  Three of them (Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Les Miles) are still employed, though Miles has both a ring and the league's hottest seat.  The fourth was Ed Orgeron.

But other than those three and Richt?  None of the other coaches from just five years ago are still at those schools, and only Nutt is still in the league.  Which means with all those new faces in 2005, if you go back six years...only Richt is still standing at the same school from the 2004 season.  Almost the entire conference has turned over in just six years.

We'll take a detailed look at the moves and some of the factors after the jump, and we ask you... 

Here's a look at how it all went down in these last six years:

  • Alabama:  Mike Shula (fired in 2006), Nick Saban
  • Arkansas:  Houston Nutt (left for Ole Miss in 2007), Bobby Petrino
  • Auburn:  Tommy Tuberville (resigned in 2008), Gene Chizik
  • Florida:  Ron Zook (fired in 2004), Urban Meyer
  • Georgia:  Mark Richt (since 2001)
  • Kentucky:  Rich Brooks (retired in 2009), Joker Phillips
  • LSU:  Nick Saban (left for NFL in 2004), Les Miles
  • Ole Miss:  David Cutcliffe (fired in 2004), Ed Orgeron (fired in 2007), Houston Nutt
  • Mississippi State:  Sly Croom (resigned in 2008), Dan Mullen
  • South Carolina:  Lou Holtz (retired in 2004), Steve Spurrier
  • Tennessee:  Phillip Fulmer (resigned in 2008), Lane Kiffin (left for USC in 2010), Derek Dooley
  • Vanderbilt:  Bobby Johnson (retired in 2010), Robbie Caldwell

That's 23 jobs for 22 guys with 12 teams in 6 years.  Of the changes that were made, there were only three retirements, only Saban headed for the NFL, and of course, only Lane Kiffin left for another non-SEC program.  Everyone else was forced out the door.

Let's compare the SEC to the landscape in the other major conference six years ago - here are the guys who are still employed at the same BCS school where they were in 2004:

  • ACC:  Frank Beamer, Jim Grobe, Ralph Friedgen
  • Big East:  Randy Edsall, Greg Schiano
  • Big Ten:  Kirk Ferentz, Joe Paterno, Jim Tresssel
  • Big 12:  Mack Brown, Gary Pinkel, Bob Stoops
  • Pac-10:  Mike Riley, Mike Stoops, Jeff Tedford

So in the last six years, 50 of the 65 BCS programs have changed head coaches.  The days of Phillip Fulmer are long gone.  Of the 15 guys who remain, only Beamer, Brown, Ferentz, and Paterno coached a game on the same sideline in the 90s (so did Mike Riley, but he left Oregon State for the NFL from 1999-2002; Randy Edsall coached UConn in 1999, but the Huskies didn't become an FBS school until the next year and didn't join the Big East until 2004).

So change over a six year period isn't unique to the SEC.  What is unique is the absence of any of the longterm institution guys:  the ACC has Beamer, the Big 10 has Paterno, the Big 12 has Mack Brown.  The SEC still has Steve Spurrier, but it's not the same.  And the guy with the longest tenure has the second hottest seat.

The absence of those guys leads to the presence of mercenaries.  Florida, LSU, and Alabama have proved you can win it all with a guy who has no ties to your program.  Others in the league have tried that route as well with Kiffin, Orgeron, and Petrino.

The other thing that makes the SEC unique is the fact that once you get here, you don't leave by your own will.

The last employer of the 12 guys who will take the podium this week:

  • 2 ex-NFL coaches who won SEC titles with other teams (Saban, Spurrier)
  • 1 additional ex-NFL coach (Petrino)
  • 2 Big 12 coaches (Chizik, Miles)
  • 2 promotions from within after retirements (Joker, Caldwell)
  • 2 offensive coordinators with National Championship rings (Mullen, Richt)
  • 2 mid-major coaches (Dooley, Meyer)
  • 1 lateral move (Nutt)

Say what you will about how many "destination jobs" there truly are in college football, but if you get your foot in the door in the SEC, you don't leave her for anyone else.  Some, of course, don't make it...and over time, even those that do make it usually live long enough to see themselves become the villain.

Since the conference expanded in 1992, unless your name is Franchione or Kiffin, you only willingly left an SEC program for another SEC program (Tuberville, Nutt) or the NFL (Spurrier, Saban).  You could argue that every job in this league is a destination job.

For those that survived their "grace period" and continued on, and even for those who won championships, success guarantees nothing, and every seat is never too far from the flame.  Consider:

  • Mike Shula went 10-2 in 2005, Bama's best record in 11 years.  He was fired in 2006.
  • Houston Nutt won the SEC West at Arkansas in 2006.  He left for Ole Miss in 2007.
  • Mark Richt and Georgia were ranked #1 in the 2008 preseason poll.  They fired their defensive coordinator in 2009.
  • Les Miles won a National Championship in 2007.  He fired his defensive coordinator in 2008.
  • Sly Croom won SEC Coach of the Year in 2007.  He resigned in 2008.
  • Phillip Fulmer won the SEC East in 2007.  He was forced to resign in 2008.

Of course, despite all the instability on the sidelines, the SEC is the strongest conference in college football, and in these six years of turnover has won four National Championships, plus Auburn's undefeated season.  The system seems incredibly unhealthy, yet the conference thrives. 

This is truly a place for the best of the best.  If you can't cut it right now, you won't stay employed no matter how recently you enjoyed success.  With two infamous exceptions, no one is leaving here to coach anywhere else, and even when the NFL comes calling for the best of us, they return a few short years later.

The pillars of some of the SEC's best programs won championships in long, tenured careers in the past, guys like Bryant, Dooley, Fulmer, and Spurrier.  Now, mercenaries like Saban and Meyer come in and produce right away, taking patience out of the equation and producing championship expectations from day one.

For every SEC coach, you just never know.  For the majority, every season could be their last.  So how many of these guys will still be standing in five years?

Along with voting, feel free to leave your comments on who you think it'll be (though we don't want this to turn into only a conversation about whether or not Dooley will make it, which we'll have another day) and why.

One thing is true above all others:  winning is king in the SEC, and the throne is up for grabs every Saturday.  Whether or not the system is healthy, right now it's working...and it makes every Saturday count. 

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