SEC commentary in five parts, as in there’s one, two, three, four, five of them.
The SEC looked anew in 2012. With two programs – Missouri and Texas A&M (don’t forget, Florida beat them both #smugface) – joining the mix, change had come. When the Aggies overachieved by knocking off No. 1 Alabama and producing a genuine Heisman candidate, we all took notice and realized the future of the Southeastern Conference would be cast in a very different light.
This offseason doesn’t have the look of conference expansion or realignment for the SEC. The 14 teams that entered 2012 will remain in 2013 and no others will join. Sure, we’ll see a 16-team SEC one day, but that day isn’t immediately ahead of us. While 2012 was about new programs, 2013 will be about new coaches. Four, in fact. Out is a man with a secret exposed, a recent national champion and two that never found success. In are hopes and dreams.
1. Kentucky was the first program to find their new coach and we can hardly classify it as a good hire. That’s not a knock on Mark Stoops (Florida State’s former defensive coordinator who should have been run out of Tallahassee after the fourth quarter against the Gators. Uh, BOOM!). Stoops can be a good head coach one day, and at 45 he has plenty of time to do so, but this is Kentucky. The focus will always be on basketball and while the Wildcats will have a bowl season or two here or there, there isn’t much of a chance to make noise in the competitive SEC East. Stoops will most likely get the same three-year window Joker Phillips got.
2. Speaking of Joker Phillips, the Florida Gators finally have a true wide receivers’ coach. I like this hire and you should too. Phillips’s record at Kentucky was nothing special, but as mentioned above, it was Kentucky. It was no walk in the park to compete with the rest of the SEC. So Phillips goes back to the assistant coach ranks and the Gators should be pleased to have him (which I’m sure they are because otherwise Will Muschamp wouldn’t have added him to the staff). In addition to other responsibilities at times, Phillips has 18 years of experience as a wide receivers’ coach. And, oh yeah, he’ll also be the recruiting coordinator. Florida could do a lot worse. Welcome aboard Joker.
3. Gene Chizik came to Auburn from Iowa State where he compiled a record of 5-19. That’s right, he was 5-19. At Auburn, things got better and he brought the school a national title in 2010. Actually, Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn got the Tigers a championship. Did you know that without Malzahn on his staff, Chizik’s career record is 8-28? That’s bad, but even worse is that he went 2-22 in conference games. All he did with Malzahn was go 30-10 with a 15-9 record in conference play and win that title. So after Auburn fired Chizik, they hired Malzahn.. Good choice.
4. By default, I am a Wisconsin fan. Let’s be clear, my in-laws are Badgers’ fans and they would be my Big Ten team of choice if forced to pick a team from a conference that rarely crosses my radar. But over the past few years, I’ve learned to like Bucky and send good vibes the way of the Badgers. I was never much of a fan of Bret Bielema, but he won 10 or more games four times and three Rose Bowls in a row is three Rose Bowls in a row. Then he left to become the head coach at Arkansas, which I don’t understand. None of us do. Bielema has been outside of the Big Ten for exact two years of his coaching career (as co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2002 and 2003). This should be interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the phrase “good fit” even comes close to touching this one.
5. And finally, we waited and waited and waited to find out who would want to coach the train wreck of a program Tennessee has become. It wasn’t Mike Gundy and it wasn’t Charlie Strong (PHEW!) and it came close to being nobody. The Vols are down and recruiting has become tougher. The SEC (and specifically the SEC East) isn’t what it used to be and this will be an uphill battle. Butch Jones took the job and, for him, it makes sense. Tennessee may have its problems, but it’s a definite step up from Cincinnati. I don’t wish him good luck, because I’m not permitted to. I can only hope they are looking for a new head coach again in Knoxville in a few short years.