Fun facts. The dean of SEC defensive coordinators is Dave Wommack, who was fired by Georgia Tech in January 2010 and who’s now at Ole Miss, which has become a bastion of stability. It’s the only SEC program not to have changed offensive or defensive coordinators over the past 14 months.
Eight SEC programs had new DCs – including Vanderbilt, where head coach Derek Mason chose to act as his own — to start the season just completed. Five of those eight have changed again. Three SEC East teams have new head coaches. The 14-team conference just saw a 39 percent turnover in HCs, OCs and DCs, and that’s with LSU reversing its field regarding Les Miles as its final regular-season game unfolded.
Next year’s SEC will look different from last year’s, with more changes looming. Three head coaches – Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin – are in clear and present danger. Having gone 2-14 in SEC play, Mason is no lock to stick at Vandy. Then there’s Miles, about whom nobody knows anything. (Asked how he’d learned he wasn’t being fired, he said: “Telegraph.”)
We’re 223 days from the 2016 season – the loaded opening weekend includes Clemson at Auburn; UCLA at Texas A&M; Alabama-USC at Jerry Jones’ palace in Arlington, Texas; Ole Miss-Florida State in Orlando; Georgia-North Carolina under our doomed Dome, and Wisconsin-LSU at Lambeau Field, where Miles will surely take a bite of unfrozen tundra – but the Hot Stove League for SEC football never cools. Today we assess the latest moves and decide who’s snoozing, who’s losing and who’s cooking with gas.
Best hire, DC division: Tennessee dumped John Jancek for Bob Shoop of Penn State, whose defense was last seen limiting Georgia to 327 yards in the TaxSlayer Bowl, not that Georgia was any great shakes on offense. (See “Schottenheimer, Brian.”) Shoop’s arrival solidifies the Volunteers as the SEC East favorite. Honorable mention to LSU for prying Dave Aranda from Wisconsin to replace the guy we’re about to discuss.
Worst hire, DC division: Kevin Steele was Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007, the year Bama lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Saban then promoted Kirby Smart to DC. The rest is championship-festooned history. Dabo Swinney fired Steele in 2012 after Clemson yielded 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Steele spent one year at LSU as John Chavis’ replacement — the Tigers slid to 25th in total defense, their worst showing since 2009 — before moving to Auburn. He’ll be Malzahn’s third DC in four seasons. Under Ellis Johnson, the Tigers’ defense ranked 86th in 2013 and 64th in 2014. Under Will Muschamp, it was 71st. If Malzahn is counting on Steele to save his job, he should quit now and save himself the angst.
Combustible hire, DC division: Jeremy Pruitt polarized the Georgia audience. Fans loved him; some who worked alongside considered him a brat. (He should pair nicely with Lane Kiffin, no?) Pruitt is Smart’s replacement at Alabama, where the head coach has an idea how defense should be played. The world awaits the great man’s reaction to the first third-and-long conversion against Pruitt’s defenders – and Pruitt’s circumspect rebuttal.
Best hire, OC division: Bob Stoops dumped Josh Heupel after the 2014 season to hire East Carolina hotshot Lincoln Riley. On cue, Oklahoma made the playoff. But Heupel is a Missouri upgrade simply because nobody could do less than Josh Henson just did. Mizzou finished 124th among 127 FBS teams in total offense and scored a worst-in-the-nation 15 touchdowns.
Worst hire, OC division: Noel Mazzone has worked under Tommy Tuberville, Dennis Erickson, Chuck Amato (remember him?) and lately Jim Mora. In 17 seasons as a coordinator, Mazzone hasn’t had a top 10 offense. He isn’t what Texas A&M needs. There mightn’t be a cure for what ails the Aggies, who’ve seen three touted quarterbacks – Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray – transfer. Adding to the festivities, athletic director Eric Hyman announced his retirement a day after voicing support for Sumlin. Is College Station the next stop for Tom Herman?
Iffiest hire, OC division: Jim Chaney has worked five seasons as an SEC offensive coordinator. (Three at Tennessee, two at Arkansas.) The aggregate league record of those teams was 7-33. In chronological order, those offenses finished 75th, 104th, 18th, 99th and 60th nationally. Pittsburgh just finished 82nd under Chaney, albeit without running back James Conner, lost in Week 1 to a knee injury. As fate would have it, Georgia was 83rd. Yes, Schotty is among the all-time easiest acts to follow.
Best hire, HC division: No knock on Missouri’s Barry Odom, but there’s no competition here. Smart was the DC on four national championship teams. He didn’t get the Georgia job because he’s an alum. He got it on merit.
Worst hires, combo platter: South Carolina replaced Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida, with Muschamp, who went 17-15 in SEC play at Florida. Muschamp then hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator. With Roper as OC, Muschamp’s Florida finished 93rd nationally in total offense in 2014. What, if anything, is South Carolina thinking?