With National Signing Day approaching on Feb. 1, all but one SEC team’s coordinator opening has been filled.
Arkansas took care of its defensive coordinator vacancy by promoting secondary coach Paul Rhoads last week. On Saturday, Auburn announced the hiring of Chip Lindsey, another offensive mind bred in the high school ranks, to help run Gus Malzahn’s offense after Rhett Lashlee left for UConn (the right career move for him).
Only Kentucky needs to find a defensive coordinator after D.J. Eliot took the same job at Colorado.
In all, 10 SEC coordinator changes will have taken place this offseason: Auburn (Lindsey), Arkansas (Rhoads), Florida (DC Randy Shannon), Alabama (co-OCs Steve Sarkisian and Mike Locksley), Tennessee (OC Larry Scott), LSU (OC Matt Canada), Mississippi State (DC Todd Grantham), Ole Miss (OC Phil Longo and DC Wesley McGriff) and whoever Kentucky hires to replace Eliot.
As we saw in 2016, coordinator hires often don’t work out. Shoddy defense became a huge problem at Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Kentucky, and the ensuing personnel swaps weren’t too surprising. But do any of them make our list of worst SEC coordinator hires in recent memory?
See for yourself.
Kentucky DC Mike Archer (2003-06)
Rich Brooks went 9-25 in his first three seasons coaching the Wildcats, and horrid defense played a big part in that.
During Archer’s time at UK, the team never ranked higher than 69th nationally in scoring defense. Notably bad performances include a 2003 loss to Arkansas (71-63), a 2004 loss to Georgia (62-17), a 2005 loss to Indiana (38-14) and, last but not least, the Wildcats allowing 36 and 40 points in narrow wins over Central Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe, respectively.
Following the 2006 season, Archer resigned from a Kentucky program that had just finished 8-5 to become defensive coordinator at NC State.
Oddly enough, this was Archer’s second stint as Kentucky defensive coordinator; he also held the post from 1993-95, when the Wildcats went 11-23.
Alabama OC Major Applewhite (2007)
In fairness to Applewhite, who is now head coach, at Houston, he found himself in a tough spot during his lone year with the Crimson Tide. Having been a full-time coach for two seasons (Syracuse quarterbacks assistant and Rice offensive coordinator), autonomy was probably hard to come by under controlling, accomplished head coach Nick Saban.
Add in the state of the Alabama program at this point — dealing with sanctions after winning 6 games apiece in 2004 and 2006 — and it’s easy to understand why the offense didn’t get better overnight.
Even so, fans find it hard to forget how Applewhite’s offense crumbled that November, scoring fewer than 15 points in losses to Mississippi State, Auburn and always-infamous Louisiana-Monroe.
Jim McElwain took over the offense in 2008 and coaxed tangible improvements out of his unit. Glen Coffee enjoyed a career year (1,383 yards rushing, 11 total TDs), and more importantly, Alabama’s No. 3 signing class welcomed future offensive stars Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Barrett Jones.
Applewhite left Alabama to become an assistant at Texas, his alma mater. Now 38, Applewhite succeeds Tom Herman at Houston, a program on the rise. So things haven’t worked out too badly for him since his stint with the Tide.
Ole Miss DC Tyrone Nix (2008-11)
Nix actually enjoyed a measure of success at South Carolina, where he was co-defensive coordinator and then full defensive coordinator from 2005-07. He joined Ole Miss as one of the youngest and more promising coordinators in D-I football, but his time working with the Rebels under Houston Nutt could have gone much better.
Ole Miss went from allowing fewer than 20 points per game in Nix’s first two seasons to giving up more than 32 points per game across his final two years in Oxford. The 2010 Rebels finished an abysmal season by giving up 440-plus total yards to Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State. In 2011, Alabama torched Rebels for 615 offensive yards in a brutal 52-7 home beatdown.
Weak recruiting played a big part in the downturn. Only one Ole Miss defender wound up getting drafted from 2012-15: cornerback Senquez Golson, a signee in Nix’s final class with the Rebels.
Nix got canned along with Nutt after the 2011 season, and he spent the following five years as a coordinator at Middle Tennessee. Nix was fired from that post in December after the Blue Raiders finished 109th nationally in scoring defense (35.8 PPG allowed).
Arkansas DC Paul Haynes (2012)
As with Applewhite, Haynes showed up at Arkansas during a really tricky time in program history. The Razorbacks fired Bobby Petrino that April following the infamous motorcycle scandal, and athletic director Jeff Long’s ill-fated solution was hiring John L. Smith to a 10-month contract.
But that doesn’t change facts. Arkansas had just secured back-to-back top-30 recruiting classes, and a Hogs defense that allowed 22.2 points per game the year before gave up 30.4 points per game under Haynes’ watch. The unit finished tied for the fourth fewest takeaways in the country (12), while Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers and Mississippi State all rolled up at least 500 total offensive yards in Arkansas defeats. Texas A&M went off for 716 yards in a pitiful 58-10, Johnny Manziel-led smackdown.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: This was an awful, awful season for Arkansas.
Haynes, who went on to become head coach at Kent State, his alma mater, publicly criticized Long’s handling of the situation in an interview with Sporting News after the season.
“There was no stability there,” Haynes told Steve Greenberg. “Again, it goes back to, ‘Who am I playing for?’ Once they can’t say, ‘We’re trying to save the coaches’ jobs’—if they’re just playing for the university, sometimes kids feel the university let them down.”
Kent State, by the way, is 12-35 in Haynes’ four years overseeing the program.
Missouri OC Josh Henson (2013-15)
When Gary Pinkel promoted Henson to coordinator in 2013, the Tigers enjoyed their best offensive season since joining the SEC. James Franklin and Maty Mauk propelled the Tigers to the conference championship game while slinging it to the likes of Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas.
But like Nix at Ole Miss, Henson’s hot start quickly flamed out. Mauk regressed — off-the-field issues played a role in that — and Missouri went from averaging 5.66 yards per carry to 4.62 (2014) and finally 3.49 in a horrendous 2015 campaign. The Tigers’ leading rusher, Ish Witter, had just 518 yards all season. It was a historically bad offense, arguably the worst of Pinkel’s 15-year tenure at Missouri.
The result: Barry Odom chose not to retain Henson following his promotion. Henson wound up as an analyst at Oklahoma State, his alma mater, in 2016 before taking an assistant coaching gig at Arizona State earlier this month.
Texas A&M DC Joe Kines (2008-09)
*Note: No, Texas A&M hadn’t joined the SEC yet. But Kines was a longtime SEC assistant joining a soon-to-be SEC school. Close enough.
Kines was coordinator at Alabama for four seasons, including a 2005 campaign in which the Crimson Tide led the country in scoring defense, and he spent five years running Georgia’s defense, as well.
But Kines’ two seasons at Texas A&M, the last of his long coaching career, were simply horrible. An archived story that ran in the Austin American-Statesman quoted Kines as calling the Aggies defense “awful, and that’s being real polite” when he took over in 2008. And it certainly lived up to that billing.
Texas A&M finished 115th in total defense in Year 1, giving up 400-plus total yards to eight of its 12 opponents, and finished 105th in Kines’ second and final season. The Aggies allowed 521 total yards against a 4-8 Utah State squad. Kines retired from coaching after that.
Tennessee DC Sal Sunseri (2012)
Derek Dooley’s decision to replace the departed Justin Wilcox with Sunseri, a longtime defensive assistant who had most recently coached at Alabama, couldn’t have panned out much worse. The Vols went from being a top-30 defense in 2011 to finishing with the SEC’s worst marks in total defense (471.3 yards per game) and scoring defense (35.7 points per game) under Sunseri.
Tennessee finished 5-7 and allowed at least 35 points in all its losses. That included a 41-18 defeat at Vanderbilt, a 51-44 loss at Georgia and a 51-48 overtime loss to Missouri. The Vols also needed a ton of points to outlast Troy, 55-48, at home. Worse still, that offense featured six future NFL Draft picks: Ja’Wuan James, Zach Fulton, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Dallas Thomas and Mychal Rivera.
Dooley and Sunseri were fired along with the rest of the staff after the season. Sunseri coached defensive ends at Florida State from 2013-14 and is now a linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders.
Florida OC Charlie Weis (2011)
There might not be a more maligned college football coach in recent memory than Weis, who oversaw the Florida offense during Will Muschamp’s first season before taking the head coaching job at Kansas.
First, to be fair, the Gators lost a boatload of talent from their 2010 squad, including nine NFL Draft picks (three first-rounders) and star quarterback Tim Tebow. But the 2011 squad also had nine future NFL players on offense: Jon Halapio, Jordan Reed, Mike Gillislee, Chris Rainey, Mike Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and Maurice Hurt, plus transfers-to-be Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett (both freshman).
Florida finished 105th nationally in total offense (328.7 yards per game) and 71st in scoring (25.5 PPG), kick-starting the offensive problems that plagued Muschamp’s tenure and have continued into Jim McElwain’s time as coach.
If anything, you could give Weis a pardon for recruiting Driskel and Brissett; that the offensive staff couldn’t develop either of them after he left is all the more baffling.
Kansas went 6-22 under Weis, including 1-18 in conference play. Weis was fired in late September 2014.