Louisiana State University’s decision to terminate the contract of football coach Les Miles this week was a rare one; the school had never done such a thing, and a mid-season switch — by firing or otherwise — had only happened seven times Southeastern Conference history.
We decided to dig a little deeper into those SEC instances in order to answer the question: “Does history say the Tigers will be better or worse after making a mid-season change?”
(NOTE: This does not include teams that made coaching changes before bowl games; only teams whose interim coaches served for at least two contests.)
1973 Ole Miss Rebels
First coach: Billy Kinnard (1-2, -1.0 average point differential) • Interim: John Vaught (5-3, +3.5 APD)
A “lack of developing morale” forced University of Mississippi chancellor Porter Fortune to dump Billy Kinnard after three games and bring back the legendary John Vaught, 64, according to the Tuscaloosa News. Vaught, who had left his post after suffering a mild heart attack in 1970, eventually gave up a couple ugly losses, but his first game — a 47-0 win over Southern Miss — and an upset of No. 16 Tennessee were enough to keep his aura intact.
The verdict: Thumbs down. Vaughn’s eight-game run was nice, but Kinnard had produced a 10-2 record and a Peach Bowl win — albeit using many of Vaught’s players — two seasons prior. After 1973, Ken Cooper and Steve Sloan combined for one winning season in nine years.
1984 Florida Gators
First coach: Charley Pell (1-1-1, +10.0 APD) • Interim: Galen Hall (8-0, +17.6 APD)
The Gators were one of the best teams in the country under Pell, but a litany of NCAA violations forced Florida to part ways with him after three games. An opening-week loss to Miami might’ve made the decision even easier. In stepped Hall, who went undefeated and was recognized as a national champion by several publications, though Florida does not officially claim the ’84 title.
The verdict: Thumbs up. The university should’ve sent Pell away earlier than it did. Hall guided the Gators to a 9-1-1 season the following year. More on him below…
1989 Florida Gators
First coach: Galen Hall (4-1, +14.2 APD) • Interim: Gary Darnell (3-4, -0.7 APD)
In a move the Sun-Sentinel called “stunning,” Hall resigned in early October after admitting to violating NCAA rules. The theatrics were at a maximum: “We contracted a disease in the early 1980s that my predecessor … almost broke his heart trying to cure,” stated interim president Robert Bryan. In stepped defensive coordinator Gary Darnell in a move that looked bad on paper but actually kept the team competitive — three losses by a combined 17 points — before a blowout loss in the Freedom Bowl.
The verdict: Thumbs up. Darnell was not an upgrade over Hall, but the guy Florida hired in 1990, Steve Spurrier, went on to become one of the most successful SEC coaches of all time.
1992 Arkansas Razorbacks
First coach: Jack Crowe (0-1, -7.0 APD) • Interim: Joe Kines (3-6-1, -3.0 APD)
The Razorbacks began their first season in the SEC by losing to The Citadel at home. The loss was so embarrassing that Crowe (career at Arkansas: 9-15) was fired before Week 2. Kines — who was the defensive coordinator on that ’84 Florida team discussed above and later served as interim coach at Alabama when Mike Shula was fired before the 2006 Independence Bowl — took over the Razorbacks and did a serviceable job. The most notable moment was a massive upset at No. 4 Tennessee in Kines’ fifth game.
The verdict: Thumbs up. A bad team collected a few good memories before moving on to Danny Ford, who reached the 1995 SEC Championship Game.
1992 Tennessee Volunteers
First coach: Johnny Majors (5-3, +10.1 APD) • Interim: Phillip Fulmer (4-0, +17.5 APD)
Majors was about to begin his 16th season as Volunteers coach when an emergency quintuple bypass surgery temporarily forced him out of football. Offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer went 3-0 to open the year (including a 31-14 win at No. 4 Florida), then Majors took back his job. But a stretch of three straight midseason losses by a combined 9 points led Tennessee to eventually buy out its storied coach. Fulmer then led the Vols to a win over Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
The verdict: Thumbs up. Fulmer took the full-time job, guided Peyton Manning through an All-American career and won a national championship without the legendary quarterback in 1998.
1998 Auburn Tigers
First coach: Terry Bowden (1-5, -10.0 APD) • Interim: Bill Oliver (2-3, -1.8 APD)
The Tigers began the ’98 season ranked No. 25, but things quickly went south for Bowden, who resigned after six games. Oliver, the defensive coordinator, won his first interim game against Louisiana Tech, but went 0-3 in conference games. Auburn finished dead last in the West division for the first time.
The verdict: Thumbs up. The university hired Tommy Tuberville during the offseason, and he eventually led the Tigers to a perfect 13-0 season in 2004.
2015 South Carolina Gamecocks
First coach: Steve Spurrier (2-4, -8.3 APD) • Interim: Shawn Elliott (1-5, -2.8 APD)
Spurrier shocked the country by announcing his retirement, effective immediately, last Oct. 12. “I think that’s the best thing for South Carolina football, for our university to start another building process,” he said at his goodbye presser. The Head Ball Coach took a job in the athletics department, but left for a similar gig at Florida earlier this year while insinuating that he wasn’t happy with his post-retirement responsibilities (or lack thereof) in Columbia.
The verdict: Undecided. The Gamecocks stayed competitive in every game post-Spurrier, but the hire of current coach Will Muschamp will need a couple more years to prove itself wise or unwise.
So, where does this leave LSU?
Of the seven cases listed above, five received “thumbs up” designations. Four of them would register either a national title or an undefeated season within six years of the switch. There’s a long season ahead for the Tigers, but history is definitely on LSU’s side.
Next up: a Saturday night game vs. Missouri in Baton Rouge (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).