It’s not often that an SEC coach willingly leaves his team for another conference, especially in recent history.
There’s precedent for bolting for the NFL. Steve Spurrier, of course, left a dynasty-esque Gators program in Gainesville to coach the Washington Redskins in 2002. And Nick Saban left LSU just two seasons after capturing a national title to take over the Miami Dolphins.
But when do coaches voluntarily leave an SEC school to take a collegiate job somewhere else in the country?
Dennis Franchione left a sanctioned Alabama program after the 2002 season for Texas A&M, which competed in the Big 12 at the time. Guy Morriss left Kentucky for Baylor the same year. After a single 7-6 season in Knoxville at the helm of the Volunteers, Lane Kiffin took over at Southern California. And health complications drove Urban Meyer off the throne at Florida before he landed in the Big Ten one season later. James Franklin, meanwhile, is in his second season at Penn State after a voluntary departure from Vanderbilt, where he went 24-15 with three bowl bids in three seasons.
Considering the caliber of football that’s played in the SEC, though, it’s much more common to see an alternate scenario. High expectations and passionate, impatient fan bases often drive relatively successful coaches out of the conference and into lower-profile programs in lower-profile conferences.
A handful of former SEC coaches fitting that mold are finding success in their new roles:
- Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is leading a North Carolina defensive unit that boasts the 11th-best passing defense and 20th-best scoring defense in the nation.
- Former Florida defensive coordinator and interim head coach D.J. Durkin is thriving at Michigan as Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator, overseeing a Wolverines defense that ranks second in the nation in yards allowed per game and sixth in points allowed per game.
- After a three-year stint with Texas Tech, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is in his third season with Cincinnati and has the Bearcats on their way to a third consecutive bowl appearance –– going 9-4 in each of his first two seasons with the program.
- The aforementioned Franklin has led the Nittany Lions to a 7-3 start ahead of back-to-back bouts with conference rivals Michigan and Michigan State.
With the exception, perhaps, of Franklin — whose Penn State gig is pretty high-profile — it’s worth wondering whether any of these names will be mentioned in the conversations surrounding the conference’s two known coaching vacancies, at Missouri and South Carolina.