Okay, we covered the mighty SEC Western Division yesterday and discussed how Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M look to be the division powerhouses for years to come. Now, let’s do a State of the Division for the SEC East.
Is Mark Richt finally permanently off the hot seat?? If we get tired of hearing about him being on the bubble in Athens, think what he and his coaches feel like when it comes up almost every year. Okay Richt detractors, is 11-1, number three in the country, and one win away from a berth in the BCS National Championship Game good enough? The Bulldogs have enough talent to possibly upset Alabama Saturday in Atlanta. If they do, they’ll play Notre Dame January 7 in the Orange Bowl for all the marbles.
Richt does seem to have an inordinate number of discipline problems, as South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has pointed out at least once publicly. But he has rebounded from a disappointing 6-7 record in 2010 to win 21 games so far in the past two seasons. Richt can recruit with the best of them and coach ‘em up too! His 117-39 record and two SEC championships at Georgia only need the addition of a national championship to give him “legend” status by my reckoning.
I really thought Will Muschamp might be in big trouble after the Gators stumbled out of the gate with a weak showing. Florida barely beat Bowling Green 27-14 and I was already working on a rough draft of Muschamp’s obituary.
The very next game, the Gators travelled to College Station and beat Texas A&M 20-17 before redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel really caught fire for the Aggies. Muschamp’s Gators kept getting better every week; humiliated South Carolina 44-11; lost to Georgia 17-9; and then finish the regular season by clicking off four straight victories to finish 11-1 and ranked fourth in the BCS standings.
Florida is one of the true “destination” schools for coaches and players. You are expected to win big in Gainesville, but you are given all the tools to get it done. Plus, Florida is one of the top states in the nation in terms of churning out fast, athletic recruits. In other words, Muschamp and the Gators should be at or near the top of the SEC East almost every year. They may slide into one of the BCS bowls this year since the loser of the SEC Championship Game will have two losses and the Gators will likely pass them in the rankings.
Another Stoops! How many are there? Okay, just four. Kentucky just hired Mark, the youngest of the Stoops brothers and former defensive coordinator at Florida State. Older brothers Ron (assistant at Youngstown State), Bob (head coach at Oklahoma) and Mike (former head coach at Arizona and current defensive coordinator at Oklahoma) have all enjoyed success in the family business. As head coaches, Bob has been very successful and Mike bombed at Arizona. Now Mark gets to try to make their family 2 for 3. But, he’s picked a hard place to become a winning head coach. In football, at least.
Kentucky is a basketball school. Football is just something to do on Saturdays until basketball season cranks up in the Bluegrass State. With Joker Phillips at the helm, the Wildcats sunk to 2-10 in 2012 with an abysmal 0-8 record in the SEC. Basically, Auburn’s equivalent in the SEC East cellar. Only, Kentucky is a lot more adjusted to the dim light of the SEC football basement than Auburn ever will be.
The Wildcats have only posted 13 wins in the past 3 seasons. In other words, Mark Stoops has his work cut out for him. If he can win consistently at Kentucky, he probably won’t be there more than 3 or 4 years. He’ll deserve a job at a school where he has a better chance to win a championship. If he can’t win consistently, he’ll go out like most Wildcat head coaches…looking to land a good job as a coordinator.
I hope Stoops can turn things around, but I don’t think Kentucky’s fans and athletic department have the want to or the resources and recruiting base necessary for consistent excellence in football. The Stoops brothers may go 1 for 3.
The Tigers joined the SEC this year along with Texas A&M. Only the Aggies got a warm welcome. Mizzou was plagued with injuries and finished 5-7 overall and just 2-6 in the conference. Not exactly how head coach Gary Pinkel planned it. Throw in a divorce, a rumored scandal akin to Bobby Petrino’s at Arkansas, and a DWI and you have a recipe for disaster for Pinkel, who has coached the Tigers since 2001.
Pinkel’s record at Mizzou is a respectable 90-61 and includes two 10-win and one 12-win season. But the Tigers are only 8-24 against Top 25 teams under the embattled veteran coach. If he survives all the turmoil currently bubbling and boiling in Columbia, he will have to figure out how to recruit and coach well enough to win in a conference that is much tougher than the Big 12, where he built his record and reputation.
You can’t discuss the Gamecocks without focusing on the Ole Ball Coach, flamboyant and often controversial Steve Spurrier. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, there is absolutely no denying that Spurrier is a Hall of Fame-caliber college football coach. He built South Carolina into a powerhouse capable of beating any team on a given Saturday.
The Gamecocks are 30-9 in the past three seasons. This past weekend they whipped in-state arch-rival Clemson for the fourth straight year and made Spurrier the winningest football coach in South Carolina history. And they did that without injured star RB Marcus Lattimore and starting QB Connor Shaw. Not bad for a coach who by all rights probably should be sipping his favorite adult beverage and hanging out at the Augusta National or at some exclusive golf course in Florida. Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy as a player at Florida in 1966, then coached the Gators to the 1996 national championship and owned the SEC title most of his years as the Head Gator.
South Carolina will remain a contender for at least the SEC East title as long as the 67-year-old Spurrier decides to keep coaching. Once he retires, it will be interesting to see if the Gamecocks can hire another sure-fire winner like Spurrier or sink back into the middle of the pack where they have resided most pre-Spurrier seasons. My bet is on the winner because they have the money, fan support, etc, to remain in the top tier of the division and conference.
Why did the Vols hire Derek Dooley? He was 17-20 at Louisiana Tech with a 4-8 record the season before he was lured to Knoxville. What portion of that record made him irresistible to Tennessee, which was desperate for a winner and now has moved somewhere way beyond desperate? This is a coaching search that may take on life-or-death dimensions. One more mistake hiring a head coach and this program will be on life support for years to come.
Under the now departed Dooley (an instant multimillionaire thanks to a ridiculous buy-out clause in his contract), the Vols won 15 games overall and only 4 conference games in three years. They were 5-7 overall and 1-6 in the conference this year. In the two years prior to Dooley’s arrival, the Vols were 7-9 in the SEC. It’s been a long, hard drought for UT faithful.
But no school has a better base to build on… money, fan support, facilities, national brand… you name it, Tennessee has it in spades. There is no reason for the Vols not to be one of the top teams in the SEC virtually every year. All that’s missing is the right head coach. This is the year to find him or else.
Home run hire! When Vandy persuaded James Franklin to give up being the “head coach in waiting” at Maryland and move to Nashville two years ago, they struck coaching gold. The Commodores clobbered Tennessee 41-14 this year, finished 8-4, and earned a bowl bid for the second straight year, a historic first for Vanderbilt.
Franklin is one of the hottest names on the coaching search hot list, but he insists he’s going to stay at Vanderbilt and the athletic department has indicated that they are prepared to reward him for his loyalty.
Vanderbilt is a private school with high academic standards, equivalent to Wake Forest in the ACC or Stanford in the PAC-whatever it is these days. If you can win at Vanderbilt year-in and year-out, you can coach with the best of them. And Franklin has proven that he is also an elite recruiter. Vanderbilt is getting athletes who would never have even considered the program prior to Franklin’s arrival.
If the Commodores continue to win, it’s going to be difficult for Vandy to come up with the inducements to keep Franklin from sliding over to a program where he would have all the ingredients to build a championship team. Most top-level coaches aren’t satisfied with 8-4 and going to a middlin’ bowl. The winning instinct eventually drives most of them to bigger programs with more resources. Time will tell with Franklin and Vandy.