Perhaps more than any other level, coaches are the superstars in college football. Hitting a home run, like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, can completely change the prospects of a program long-term.
But on the other end, making a poor coaching decision can completely cripple a program. With the long game of recruiting and player development, even short tenures can have a devastating effect on long-term outlook. This is even true with the blue blood programs in the SEC.
Here are five of the worst SEC coaching hires since the conference split into divisions in 1992.
Will Muschamp, Florida
To be fair to Will Muschamp, his tenure did provide some bright spots. All things considered, a 28-21 record is not a nightmare. But unfortunately, the way everything happened proved to be embarrassing for all parties involved.
Muschamp was hired after the departure of Urban Meyer, one of the greatest coaches of the modern era. Florida hoped to rally around Muschamp, who was previously thought of as the coach-in-waiting at the University of Texas. Things got off to a pretty good start, with an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl berth in 2012.
But starting in 2013, Muschamp’s complete inability to manage and indifference towards the offensive side of the ball proved to be his undoing. Muschamp’s offenses posted some ungodly numbers. Perhaps the best: Florida lost two games under Muschamp where the defense held the opposing offense under 120 yards. Think about that; the defense only gave up the length of a football field over the course of an entire game, and the offense still could not score enough.
Muschamp now has a chance of redemption at South Carolina.
Lane Kiffin, Tennessee
To be fair, Lane Kiffin was only 33 years old when he took the job coaching Tennessee. The son of NFL coaching legend Monte Kiffin, Lane was one of the hottest names in coaching when he was hired in Knoxville, Tenn. However, the long-range effects mean that Kiffin is still one of the most despised coaches in Tennessee to this day.
Kiffin was a pretty good coach, improving the Volunteers from 5-7 to 7-6 in his first season. In almost Harbaugh-like fashion, Kiffin called out many coaches and programs around the NCAA and pulled top talent in recruiting. But after just a year of coaching, Kiffin spurned the program and left to take the job at USC, which infuriated fans.
Soon after, stories were told of how Kiffin fired the entire staff when he arrived in Knoxville and other anecdotes that brought his character and credibility into question. Sometimes when you fly too close to the sun at a young age, the wax melts and you come crashing down to earth.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee
As if the Lane Kiffin fiasco wasn’t bad enough, Tennessee went and made another poor hire soon after. To be fair, Dooley was put in a difficult position after fans turned following the Kiffin situation. Many players chose to leave the program thanks to the uncertainty at coach, which only made the situation worse.
But while he was dealt a bad hand, Dooley certainly did not do anything to make things much better. Tennessee is a historically successful program, but Dooley failed to post a winning record in any of his three seasons in Knoxville. Most notably, he posted a 4-19 record in conference and was part of snapping a 26-game Tennessee winning streak against the University of Kentucky.
Tennessee had a 51-year streak of producing at least one NFL draft pick end in 2015. The Volunteers did not have a player drafted in 2016 either. You can thank Dooley’s lackluster recruiting classes for that fact. For that reason, what Butch Jones has been able to do in just three seasons is impressive.
Mike Price, Alabama
It’s a story as old as college: kid comes to campus, gets drawn in by the party scene, loses control and his work suffers. Of course, it usually refers to a wide-eyed 19-year-old, and not a 57-year-old man. Such is the tenure of Mike Price, who surely had one of the shortest head coaching tenures imaginable.
Price was an excellent coach at Washington State, one of the toughest places to win in the country. The Cougars went 83-78 during his 14 years at the helm, including five bowl games and three 10-win seasons. With that impressive mark in mind, the Crimson Tide hired Price to try and turn around a struggling program.
The results were not good. Just a few months after agreeing to a deal, his contract was rescinded after excessive partying. In one instance, Price was seen at a strip club in Pensacola, Fla., and had $1,000 charged to his room by an unknown woman who was staying in the room with him.
Price went on to coach at UTEP for nine seasons, where he experienced nice success at a small school. He retired in 2012.
John L. Smith, Arkansas
The coup de grace, if you will, is one of the most bizarre situations in SEC history. Former head coach Bobby Petrino was fired from Arkansas after a simple motorcycle accident quickly turned into an extremely public extramarital scandal. The Razorbacks turned to Smith, a recent assistant and former Michigan State coach.
Arkansas had gone 11-2 the previous season, with an impressive win in the Cotton Bowl to finish the year ranked No. 5 in the nation. With a talented roster returning, Arky was still rated a top-10 team. Of course, that did not last long.
Smith led the Razorbacks to an overtime loss against Louisiana-Monroe in the second game of the season, which was part of a four-game slide to start the year 1-4. With only two SEC wins to speak of, Arkansas ended the year 4-8. Smith was quickly shown the door and replaced with Bret Bielema. If you want to see Smith coach today, schedule a trip down to Kentucky State University, where Smith is clutching onto a Division II job.