Ten SEC coaches to watch during the offseason carousel
This has been a wild college football season, but the offseason is setting up to be historically hectic.
Fourteen FBS head coaches have already been ousted or announced their resignations. One opening has been filled (Minnesota), but several more jobs could be available in the next couple of weeks. Then, a second wave of openings will be created when head coaches leave one school for another. It’s possible the number of FBS programs with new head coaches next season reaches 30 or more.
Given all the expected turnover, it could be an uncomfortable offseason for fans of some SEC teams. We know there are already two head coaching openings in the league, at South Carolina and Missouri. There are also two other schools, LSU and UGA, where the coach’s job security has been publicly questioned.
It’s not just head coaches who could be on the move. Assistants will be interviewing for new jobs as well, angling for promotions and better paydays.
So, who are some of the hot commodities in the SEC? For this exercise, let’s leave out Mark Richt and Les Miles. They won’t have a new job in 2016 unless they’re told they no longer have their current gig.
Here are some SEC coaching names to watch in the coming weeks:
1. Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Smart’s departure seems like a foregone conclusion after helping Nick Saban build an incredible defense. The front seven might have four first-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. Even the secondary, a weak spot the past few seasons, has played great. Smart’s name has been mentioned frequently in connection with South Carolina, and other schools are likely to be interested.
2. Mario Cristobal, offensive line coach, Alabama
Cristobal is a South Florida guy, and a certain school/cultural phenomenon in South Florida needs a coach. Cristobal could be the perfect choice to restore Miami to glory. It’s even possible he could become the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator for the right head coach. Losing Cristobal to Miami would be costly for the Crimson Tide, primarily on the recruiting front. It would be a lot harder to reach into South Florida for players like Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley and Eddie Jackson if the Hurricanes have a coach more committed to retaining local prospects than Al Golden was.
3. Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Tom Herman is a young Urban Meyer disciple who could have his pick of jobs after leading Houston to a 10-1 record in his first year as a head coach. Mullen was Herman once upon a time, and Mississippi State scooped him up. Seven years later, things are good for Mullen in Starkville, but could another job tempt him to leave? Maybe a situation where the last-place team in the division isn’t bowl eligible and the first-place team isn’t the premier program in America?
4. Barry Odom, defensive coordinator, Missouri
Odom helped Justin Fuente rebuild at Memphis, then returned to Missouri this season and did a phenomenal job with the Tigers defense. The offense has been a mess at times, but the defense is stout. Odom could be pegged to replace Gary Pinkel at Missouri, but multiple national writers have suggested he might instead replace Fuente, who himself is one of the hottest names on the market.
5. Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, UGA
Like Richt, Pruitt has had his critics since leaving national champion Florida State for the Bulldogs. Other than against Alabama and the second half against Tennessee, the defense has not been a problem for UGA this season. He might be ready to try his luck as a head coach somewhere after a quick rise from the high school ranks.
6. Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator, Florida
Maybe we shouldn’t worry about the SEC’s quarterback play, considering all of the great defenses and defensive coaches said quarterbacks have to face. Collins has helped craft a brilliant defense in his first season with the Gators. He spent the previous four years in Starkville, which could make it easier for Mississippi State to try to snare yet another Florida assistant if Mullen were to leave.
7. Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama
Kiffin obviously has to be on this list. Enough people think he has rehabilitated his image while working for Saban that his name is again being circulated for head coaching openings. Kiffin’s past three jobs have been a disaster, but the fourth time could be the charm. That’s how the saying goes, right?
8. Chris Kiffin, defensive line coach, Ole Miss
What’s better than one Kiffin being part of coaching carousel speculation? Two, of course. This Kiffin brother has been building a nice resume with the Rebels. He’s also the recruiting coordinator, and “I was the recruiting coordinator who landed Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell in one class at Ole Miss” would be a nice mic-drop moment during the interview process.
9. Mel Tucker, defensive backs coach, Alabama
The other three Crimson Tide staffers on this list have earned plenty of publicity as coaching candidates. What about Tucker, though? In his first season with Alabama, he’s helped turn the secondary from an obvious weakness into a strength. He’s got NFL experience as a defensive coordinator, and he also worked with Saban at Michigan State and LSU. Even if another school doesn’t try to pry him away, he could be a strong replacement for Smart, if needed.
10. Dan Enos, offensive coordinator, Arkansas
Enos is also a first-year guy at his current SEC post. He left his head coaching job with Central Michigan, but after one very successful year with the Razorbacks, could bigger (than the MAC) programs be interested?